Gold Coast radiologist-turned-filmmaker Angus Watts plans to “go away and sleep for a couple of months” after the April 11 premiere of his debut film.
Next month’s Gold Coast Film Festival screening of the noir crime thriller Locusts, which Watts wrote, produced and co-financed, marks the end of a hurly-burly few years mounting the film while maintaining a flourishing medical career.
“It’s been tough finding a balance – basically daytime is for medicine and after hours is for film,” he says.
“Screenwriting has been a great outlet though, but it does it does take time to switch my brain from one mode to the other.
“Lucky for me, my wife and two beautiful daughters are very tolerant!”
An Outback Thriller
Locusts is a twisty Broken Hill-shot crime story set amid the wake of the mining boom. Prosperity’s departed the fictional outback town where the film takes place, replaced by an ice epidemic and unemployment.
Into this ravaged landscape comes tech entrepreneur Ryan Black (Ben Geurens), reluctantly returning to his desert hometown for his father’s funeral.
Ryan and his ex-con brother (Nathanial Dean) are quickly entangled in an extortion scam run by a crew of desperate thugs with links to their father’s shady past.
“I’m fascinated by the idea of how far a normal person will go when faced with extreme circumstances,” says Watts of his lead character’s hometown odyssey.
“Not the one-dimensional Liam Neeson ‘avenging angel’ archetype – which I think is overcooked – but more the flawed antihero thrown into a morally ambiguous situation where they’re forced to question their own set of values.”
The film lands at the Gold Coast Film Festival having already bagged four nominations in the Ozflix Independent Film Awards including Best Film (under $2m) and Best Original Screenplay.
Locusts’ stars and director will fly in for next month’s screening, then two week later, Watts’ film makes its US debut at the Newport Beach Film Festival.
“It’s very early days for the film, but it’s a wonderful shot in the arm, a great way to start,” he says.
“I love that I can start this next phase of the journey in my hometown, I feel stoked to get so much support from the Gold Coast Film Festival.”
Filmmaking a “Lifelong Itch”
Watts grew up in the tiny NSW town of Quirindi and drove with his family to the drive-in at nearby Tamworth each Friday night. It was the dawn of the blockbuster era; Watts was spellbound by Jaws and Star Wars and Alien.
His family moved to Queensland, where Watts studied medicine and later specialised in interventional radiology – a high-stakes field where live CT and ultrasound imaging is used to guide internal medical procedures.
“I like anatomy and using my hands,” says Watts, “but I had this lifelong itch to scratch – writing crime thriller screenplays.”
Five years ago he began studied screenwriting at “the university of YouTube”, watching hours of instructional videos and producing three scripts.
In 2016, Watts met director Heath Davis at a Gold Coast Film Festival event and started a lengthy interstate conversation that led to Sydney-based Davis directing their favourite of the three – Locusts.
The film was shot in Broken Hill, often within a stone’s throw of iconic locations for Aussie classics including Wake in Fright, Razorback and Priscilla Queen of the Desert.
“We actually shot a scene on the exact stretch of road where the truck rollover scene from Mad Max 2 was filmed – it was very surreal,” laughs Watts.
“Heath and I agreed that Australian genre cinema has been undercooked for a long time – it’s disappointing to consumers, and I’m a consumer too.
“We’re blessed with these amazing desert environments – you just have to insert some interesting stories and characters into those landscapes!”