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Sydney can be cold in winter, but the lure of an Idyllic Spot is too strong for ANDREW L. URBAN, who parks himself in Centennial Park on location with A Change of Heart, a feel good romantic comedy about a bastard with no heart finally getting one.

A snappy chill shifts down the sloping lawns of Centennial Park – Sydney’s green reminder of the good old days of Federation – as the cast and crew pretend it’s warm in the sun. Well, the cast do, the crew don’t. The crew snuggle into windcheaters in the brilliant early winter sunshine, and the three young girls in party frocks sitting in the horse and buggy grin on cue, teeth chattering. That’s showbiz.

The scene is one of the last in the film, one that producer Murray Fahey describes as "riding off into the sunset scene". In fairness, we won’t divulge the details, except to say that red balloons fill the carriage, and the little girl in the middle is wearing a gold sheen dress, and the blonde twins beside her are wearing red heart shaped contraptions.

The horse and buggy is standing beside a small pond. Overhead, a cloud of white cockatoos swoop and screech, settling in an old fir tree nearby. The call sheet refers to it as an Idyllic Spot.

"It’s a rare film being shot here... for its creative freedom"

This is the happy ending to a story about Jason (Grant Bowler) a selfish, amoral advertising guru who is ruined by the Asian crash. His devious accountant Harry (Chris Haywood) devises a scam…er, scheme to fix the problem by setting up a heart foundation that would attract cash. But faced with Sally (Polly Cheshire), an eight year old girl suffering from a congenital heart condition, Jason begins to change. Meanwhile, Harry’s fiddling has created a problem with an Asian drug cartel and Jason is getting very keen on Sally’s mum, Anne (Roxanne Wilson)….

It’s a rare film being shot here, not so much for its original storyline (but that included) as for its creative freedom: financed privately, a rare thing in Australian filmmaking, A Change of Heart is free of the reporting rigours that accompany most feature films on a daily basis. And free of the creative constraints that outside investors inevitably bring to bear, no matter how well meaning.

Fahey relishes these aspects, although one gets the impression he would rather be directing than producing. Sure it’s more demanding and frantic – but it’s also more satisfying, especially when you are more a director than a producer. But Fahey is going along with it, and producer/director Rod Hay is energised by the story.

"It’s a moral redemption story," he says over a short lunch.

"The sudden arrival of this little girl who needs a heart has a bif impact on a guy who metaphorically doesn’t have one. His confusion is heightened by Mervyn (Tony Barry) a kind of voice of conscience…but he’s an affable rogue, originally triggered by a sort of (Australian ad-man and radio owner) John Singleton. But his age is wrong; we needed someone younger to make it more appealing."

"Elements of City Slickers, Sleepless in Seattle and a bit of The Full Monty"

The film veers from being too realistic, says Hay, with a rich and colourful look. "It has a distinctive first and second half; in the first, Jason is in his uncaring mode, then it moves through the period where Sally has started to have an effect on him, and he realises that doing something for someone else has as much value as chasing the dollar."

Hay says the film combines elements of City Slickers, Sleepless in Seattle and a bit of The Full Monty. "It’s about how we handle failure…what is more important than being perceived as successful."

Hay has unlocked finance from private investors who have been investing in the industry for 20 years, and is producing the film through his company, Moving Targets. The original idea, "was a joint idea by myself and Murray. The idea of the charity was spawned from the manner in which the cocaine drug cartels have been laundering money through Jewish foundations in New York for over a decade now."

Coral Drouyn was brought in to write the final screenplay. Fahey says it was an idea "triggered by the Asian financial crash. And I’ve always fantasised about having my own charity…" Some years ago Fahey even made a short film about a man started his own charity, as a church. "I wrote two treatments and one full draft."

"It’s a feel good movie with a great cast and very user friendly"

Hay, who was finishing work on the award winning series, Champions of the World, (7 pm, SBS TV July 2 – 11, 1998) was originally going to co-produce with Fahey, but finally ended up directing and producing, with Fahey also producing. Pooling their contacts, the two brought in the investors who bankrolled the entire budget.

The film will appeal to anyone between 8 and 80, Fahey says; "it’s a feel good movie with a great cast and very user friendly."

July, 1999

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Grant Bowler as Jason

Bowler and Polly Cheshire as Sally

Bowler and Chris Haywood as Harry

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