Stuart Beattie looks to 'Tomorrow'

Will make directorial debut on adaptation of book series

Stuart Beattie is keeping things local.

The Australian "Australia" co-writer is readying his directorial debut, an adaptation of the young-adult novel "Tomorrow, When the War Began" for an Aussie-centric production this year. Beattie also wrote the screenplay.

"Tomorrow" is the first novel in a popular series of seven written by Australian John Marsden and published from 1994-99. The Tomorrow Series, as it is known, details the insurgency efforts of a band of Aussie teenagers fighting off an enemy invasion and occupation of their homeland.

"It's coming of age in a war zone," said Beattie, who said he has read and loved all the books.

Beattie is casting and crewing up for a September shoot Down Under. Sydney-based Omnilab Media ("Dead of Night") is financing and will handle the sizable visual effects through its company Iloura, which worked on "Australia."

The filmmakers plan to make a trilogy of features from the first three books and then, if they're successful, spin the next four off into a TV series. The production is taking advantage of Aussie government money through Screen Australia and Film Victoria as well as a 40% tax break for shooting locally, though Paramount Vantage will co-finance and handle worldwide distribution. Matt Brodlie is overseeing for Vantage. Attorney Joan Vento-Hall negotiated the deal on behalf of Beattie.

In the age of "Twilight's" immense success, "Tomorrow's" youth-targeted themes and PG-13 sex and violence could appeal to the same audience. The main character is a teen named Ellie Linton, who struggles to become a fierce leader even while navigating relationships with the seven other teenagers in her group.

The Tomorrow Series is one of the most popular Australian series ever published; the books are taught in schools there. Most of them were not available stateside until recently, but the filmmakers hope to persuade Scholastic to reprint them in tandem with the movie's launch. Marsden also penned a follow-up trilogy called the Ellie Chronicles, which look at the war's aftermath.

Beattie is aware of the inevitable comparisons to the American version, "Red Dawn," which played out the Cold War scenario of Midwestern American high school kids -- Wolverines!! -- fighting off Soviet and Cuban invaders.

"I don't want to make 'Red Dawn,' " said Beattie, though he admits to liking the movie that MGM is in the process of remaking. "Do you remember when 'The Full Monty' and 'Striptease' were coming out together? They came out within months as the exact same premise -- the parent strips for money so they can see their kid. But completely different. One was all flash and rockin' body, and the other was completely the opposite, of total insecurity about getting up onstage. We're more like the 'Full Monty' version."

The CAA-repped Beattie wrote "Collateral" and "Derailed" and co-wrote "30 Days of Night." He co-scripted the August Paramount release "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra," and he has "Tarzan" in development at Warner Bros. with Stephen Sommers directing and Jerry Weintraub producing.

The idea of making a commercial action movie that might help revive the Australian filmmaking industry appeals to Beattie. "Australia hasn't made an action movie, I think, since 'Mad Max,' " he said. "So it's the opportunity to do something in the biggest sense. And it's only doable because there is this great property out there that everyone in Australia knows."