SCOTT HICKS (Director/Co-Screenwriter)

SCOTT HICKS (Director/Co-Screenwriter) was propelled to the forefront of international filmmakers in 1996, following the release of his film Shine. Its triumphant premiere at the Sundance Film Festival was just the beginning of world-wide box office success and numerous honors, including seven Academy Award nominations.

Even before Shine, however, Hicks had made his mark as a documentarian. He won an Emmy in 1994 for Submarines: Sharks of Steel and a coveted Peabody Award in 1989 for The Great Wall of Iron.

The progeny of adventurous parents, Hicks was born in Uganda and lived in Kenya, just outside Nairobi, until the age of ten. His family then moved, first to England and, when he was 14, on to Adelaide, Australia. Though British citizens, his father and grandfather were born respectively in Burma and the West Indies, and spent their lives in exotic, far-flung locales as civil engineers building railways, bridges and harbors. His mother is Scottish.

Though Hicks had limited exposure to cinema while growing up, he did go to theatre and concerts, as available, and was an avid radio listener, particularly of classical music and plays. Youngest of four, he recalls his childhood as rather solitary.

At 16 he had completed high school and was about to enter Adelaide University for a law/arts degree when a chance encounter spun him in a different direction. "After a performance of the anti-war musical, Vietrock, there was a discussion, led by a long-haired, denim-clad, philosophy professor from Flinders University. He instantly exploded my stereotypical notions about philosophers - and awoke me to the existence of another university nearby."

Newer and more liberal, Flinders attracted drama students from all over Australia. Intrigued, Hicks entered Flinders to major in English and Drama without realizing that cinema studies were part of the curriculum. Instantly attracted to the medium, he threw himself headlong into the study of great directors, film movements like German Expressionism (a favorite) and filmmaking techniques. The demands and pleasures of hands-on filmmaking were to dominate his entire Honors degree.

Four years later, he graduated into an industry which was emerging from decades of inactivity, stimulated by renewed government support for the arts. South Australia was at the forefront of this Australian film revival, with established directors Peter Weir and Bruce Beresford coming to Adelaide to make their films. Hicks worked as a crew member on a dozen features over the next few years. At the same time, he was successful in bidding for contracts to write and direct short dramas and sponsored documentaries.

Between then and now, Scott Hicks has always had a job in some aspect of filmmaking, but the 20 year stretch between graduation and Shine often felt labyrinthine and lonely. By the mid-1980s, he had managed to make a couple of low budget features, one for the South Australian Film Corporation. In 1988, he came to Los Angeles for the American Film Market with his children's movie, Sebastian and the Sparrow, about a rich kid and a poor kid who decide to swap lives. "But I could not figure out how to break into the filmmaking environment. You can drive around the streets of LA and never see a sign of the film industry. There's a whole world going on, a parallel universe, to which you're not admitted."

Hicks began to make non-fiction films. The Great Wall of Iron explored the incredible secret world of the Chinese Army. "I traveled everywhere with the Army. I had two camera crews, cranes and all the accoutrements of a feature filmmaker. It forced me to draw on all my skills and was, in fact, the making of me." The 4-part series, shot in 1988, just a few months before Tiananmen Square exploded, became the Discovery Channel's highest-rated program, a record Hicks would later break with his series, Submarines: Sharks of Steel.

But Hicks was not able to rest on the laurels of his documentary achievements because he was passionately involved with the development of a feature inspired by the life of pianist David Helfgott. "I'd seen him play in Adelaide on May 30, 1986. I became friends with him and his wife Gillian, and was expending enormous amounts of energy researching and writing a screenplay, getting little bits of funding from different bodies to keep it going - but no encouragement." Later, one of the sticking points was his insistence on having Australian stage actor Geoffrey Rush play the pianist.

He has since come to see those years as crucial. "When we finally did secure financing, I felt totally in command of the elements because I'd lived and breathed it for so long."

By September of 1995, while Shine was in post-production, Hicks had begun research for a new documentary series, The Ultimate Athlete. During a scouting stop-over at the Orlando Airport, an associate recommended David Guterson's book, Snow Falling on Cedars. "It completely absorbed me, so I asked my wife Kerry to investigate rights. She learned that Universal had just optioned it for a huge figure; I figured that was the end of it." He continued with the documentary which took him back to Kenya for the first time in 30 years. "As soon as I arrived, I sensed a powerful connection which made me feel at home."

A few months later -in January, 1996, at the Sundance Film Festival- Hicks gained entry to the "parallel universe" which had seemed so unattainable just a few years earlier. Shine was a resounding hit and soon became a cultural phenomenon, beloved by people around the world. It resuscitated the career of David Helfgott, created a spot in the film firmament for Geoffrey Rush, and brought an original new directorial talent to the fore in Scott Hicks. Among its many citations are seven Oscar® nominations (winning Best Actor for Geoffrey Rush), five Golden Globe nominations, a Directors Guild of America nomination for Hicks and a Best Film citation from the National Board of Review. In its native country, Shine was accorded nine Australian Film Institute Awards, including Best Film and Best Director.

Hicks had signed with a prestigious agency (CAA) and was reading hundreds of submitted scripts, books and treatments. None totally engaged his interest until, once again, Snow Falling on Cedars came before him, this time in the form of a screen adaptation by Ron Bass. "The combination of an intricate story and dense atmosphere was irresistible," he recalls.

Hicks continues to live in Adelaide with his wife and collaborator, Kerry Heysen, and their two sons. He has projects in varying stages of development at several studios.

© 1999 Universal Studios