Family & Companions
A former director of TV commercials, Fred Schepisi made his mark in the late 1970s and early 80s with sensitively handled dramas which defied easy categorization and were therefore somewhat underrated. Schepisi is generally attracted to stories pitting strong outsiders against small-minded establishments which are recounted with a smooth and straightforward filmmaking technique even when shifting back and forth between flashbacks, time zones and diverse locations. He has also proved a master at translating difficult material (i.e., plays and novels) into entertaining and captivating feature films.
Schepisi dropped out of Catholic school and drifted into a professional career in advertising. Literally working his way up from messenger to copywriter, he eventually directed commercials and ultimately headed his own agency. Schepisi's first fiction film was "The Priest," a 30-minute segment for the episodic feature, Libido" (1973) that he made in collaboration with Australian writer Thomas Keneally and which earned a Silver Award from the Australian Film Institute. Encouraged by the recognition, Schepisi wrote, produced and directed his first full-length feature, "The Devil's Playground" (1976). Drawing from his own 18-month experience at a Marist Brother monastery, it was a deft look at the repression and hidden undercurrents of seminary life. But it was the probing race study about a half-caste aborigine based on a novel by Keneally, "The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith" (1978), that brought him international attention and paved the way for his first US-produced feature, "Barbarosa" (1982) starring Willie Nelson as a legendary outlaw on the lam.
Now a part of the Hollywood scene, Schepisi next directed the haunting sci-fi parable, "Iceman" (1984), sensitively capturing a resuscitated Neanderthal's battle with the inhumanity of the scientists studying him. Schepisi continued to demonstrate his mastery of atmosphere and dramatic rhythm in the intriguing, if slightly overwrought, adaptation of the David Hare play, "Plenty" (1985). He teamed with Steve Martin on "Roxanne" (1987), a witty and surprisingly solid update of the "Cyrano de Bergerac" story, and reteamed with "Plenty" star Meryl Streep on "A Cry in the Dark/Evil Angels" (1988), a skillfully rendered thriller based on the true story of a mother falsely charged with killing her own infant. His stylish adaptation of the acclaimed play "Six Degrees of Separation" (1993) cinematically opened up the story of the escapades of a young con artist who convinces wealthy benefactors that he is the son of star Sidney Poitier and preserved original stage star Stockard Channing's brilliant performance. Schepisi's fanciful romantic comedy "I.Q." (1994) allowed veteran Walter Matthau to cut loose as the celebrated physicist Albert Einstein playing matchmaker for his unmarried niece (Meg Ryan).
Schepisi was called in to provide triage on "Fierce Creatures" (1997), which reunited much of the cast of "A Fish Called Wanda." While both strove to recapture the zany qualities of the Ealing comedies, "Wanda" at least had Charles Crichton in charge. "Fierce Creatures," on the other hand, suffered from a lack of a single directorial vision. (Schepisi shared credit with Robert Young.) After nearly a four year absence (during which he attempted to mount a film version of "Don Quixote" with John Cleese and Robin Williams), Schepisi returned to the director's chair for "Last Orders," the film adaptation of Graham Swift's award-winning novel about a group of old friends determined to carry out the dying wish of one of the group. The veteran helmer, who had developed a deserved reputation for being an "actor's director," assembled a virtual who's who of British talent for the project, including Michael Caine, Bob Hoskins, Tom Courtenay and Helen Mirren.
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Director (TV Mini-Series)
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Began working at age 15 as a dispatch boy for a Melbourne advertising agency (date approximate)
By age 25 he took over a Melbourne advertising agency with two partners (date approximate)
Founded The Feature Film House (later The Film House) production company
Film directorial debut with "The Priest" segment of anthology film, "Libido"
Feature film debut as director and producer, "The Devil's Playground"
Directed and produced most expensive film made in Austrailia up until that time, "The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith"; garnered international attention
First US produced feature, "Barbarosa"
Helmed "Iceman" about an explorer who discovers a 40,000 year-old man
Directed the uneven but well-acted adaptation of David Hare's play "Plenty", starring Meryl Streep
Earned praise for his light touch on "Roxanne", Steve Martin's updated version of "Cyrano de Bergerac"
Reunited with Streep for "Evil Angels/A Cry in the Dark", based on a true life story of an Australian woman accused of murdering the child she claimed was carried off by a dingo
Returned to producing with the big screen adaptation of John Le Carre's "The Russia House"; also directed
Directed the screen adaptation of John Guare's play "Six Degrees of Separation"
Teamed Meg Ryan and Tim Robbins in the romantic comedy "I.Q.", featuring a splendidly hammy turn by Walter Matthau as Albert Einstein
Executive produced the Australian-made "That Eye, the Sky"
Shared directorial duties on "Fierce Creatures", a comedy that reunited much of the cast of "A Fish Called Wanda"
Helmed the screen version of the award-winning novel "Last Orders", featuring Bob Hoskins and Michael Caine; screened at Toronto Film Festival
Directed "It Runs in the Family," the first film teaming of Kirk Douglas and his son Michael
Produced and directed an ensemble cast, including Ed Harris, Helen Hunt and Paul Newman in "Empire Falls," the HBO adaptation of Richard Russo's novel