Rookies Ambush: Watch Out, Behind You!

April 4, 2019
With their first feature film, the broad rom-com The Naked Wanderer, the WA based production company managed to nab John Cleese for a key role, and sell it to China. With their focus on audience and market, Rookies Ambush are looking to live up to their name by doing things differently.

Callan Durlik (left) and Josh Horneman (right) discuss how they can stand out in an ever-expanding market, and what it took to get The Naked Wanderer from script to screen in only 3 years.

What is the history of Rookies Ambush?

Josh: Callan and I met at a random lunch and learn session in late 2015 where we bonded over our admiration of Jason Blum [producer Paranormal Activity, The Purge, Get Out, BlackkKlansman, Us] and his awesome approach to creating content. Callan had the script that had been really well received at CinefestOz and was trying to get it made and I was running my consulting business, but we decided to take a look at how to approach The Naked Wanderer from a commercial perspective. We approached a tonne of producers to partner with until we met Alan Lindsay from Vue Group…. and the rest is history. We then went about raising almost half of the budget through private investment to ensure we got the film made as soon as possible.

In your mission statement you claim to “doing things differently” – what do you mean by this?

Josh: From the very beginning we will develop an idea with the final audience always as our focus. Product market fit is critical in modern content creation, but so often overlooked. We know we can begin marketing to an audience and engaging [with] them throughout the process…[this] has them even more invested in it when it is released.

There is also a focus on only creating globally applicable content, where what we create is going to connect with an audience regardless of their location.

And finally, we are driven to turn around projects quickly and efficiently by leveraging technology and collaboration every chance we get.

What are the day to day roles that you play within the company?

Callan: For me, it’s writing and creating projects and speaking with other writers… to develop our projects. Each project is at a different stage so I could be working on three to four different projects every day.

Josh: For me, it’s about structuring our projects, finding the right investment or brand partners to work with, and ensuring we have the best people involved to deliver what we create and prove has potential.

Callan, who has a supporting role in The Naked Wanderer, with the film’s star Angus McLaren

The Naked Wanderer took 3 years to get from script to film, how were you able to do this?

Callan: When I first started talking to producers about making The Naked Wanderer, most people said you don’t ever get your first feature script made, which I couldn’t understand…I mean why write it?

Our lead producer, Alan Lindsay, was really the only person who understood that we wanted to make a low budget, commercially viable film that would sell internationally. So that’s what we did.

Alan’s motto throughout was “we are not making it unless it sells”. So that became the pitch…  We weren’t spending twenty million dollars on a big budget sci-fi. We were making a low budget, romantic comedy with broad appeal.

How did you manage to get John Cleese on board?

Callan: To put it simply, John loved the script and wanted to be part of the project. Most actors aren’t going to be pitched every project that they get offered, but that’s not how John works. We still had to go through his agent, but John likes to be in control of the projects he’s attached to.

After working with him in London for two weeks we saw first-hand that John is given a short pitch of all the projects people want him for and if it’s something he’s interested in he will read the script and respond personally. So, once he had said yes to The Naked Wanderer, we didn’t really speak to his agent again and John made time to phone us from America to discuss the role in the middle of his stand-up tour.

Among other distribution streams, you have managed to get your film to stream on the “Netflix of China”, how did this come about?

Josh: We were really fortunate that one of our wish-list cast worked out and Natasha Liu Bordizzo [Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, Detective Chinatown 2 , Hotel Mumbai] was available to play our female lead, Valerie, in The Naked Wanderer. Asian Australians have been under-represented in film for a long time and someone of Tash’s calibre, who already has a great brand in China, has helped us break into a market that is so often overlooked.

Romantic comedies are obviously hugely popular all over the world, especially in China. You see Netflix spending more money on rom-coms than any other genre so we knew the film would play very well on SVOD [Subscription Video on Demand] there. The film will be made available to watch on eight hundred million mobile devices and we are the first non-Chinese film ever to do this!

Can you give any details about your upcoming projects?

Josh: Our next feature is another that Callan wrote titled It Only Takes A Night which is a female led comedy that is the first in a trilogy. The first film is targeted at being in production in late 2019.

Callan has also written a comedy TV series that is being pitched to several national and international broadcasters with a lot of interest.

As well as the scripted content, we are co-producing two docuseries TV shows, focused on travel, and also looking to bring a unique Australian’s story to TV screens in a similar way to Steve Irwin or Nick Cummins.

For more on Rookies Ambush, head to their website. Watch out for The Naked Wanderer in cinemas later this year.

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