With an almost embarrassed grin, he relates the story. “It sounds really silly but I had this dream that someone was standing there yelling ‘Les Darcy’ at me.” The following day Zac was meeting with a producer colleague and asked if anyone had shown interest in the story before. “We realised there had been no feature film,” said Zac, “no real avenue to chase it. So I emailed Peter that day.”
Fitzsimons later described Zac and his lifelong primary school friend Tom Arthur as “more anonymous than a wrong number”, yet he must have sensed something in the young men to trust them with his work. The intelligent Novocastrians have a mixture of filmmaking skills that are a perfect fit for their production company, El Chupacabras Film Company, which they launched together last year. More importantly, there is a drive to the duo, grounded in a strong mateship and respect for family, that make them an obvious choice to bring one of the great Australian stories to the big screen. They show an undeniable respect, even reverence, for the tragic East Maitland boxer. Talking about their film, they throw the name “Darcy” around with such affection and comfort that you must remind yourself that they are talking about a major cinema project and not a long unseen friend.
Tom and Zac first met in Year 2 at St Therese’s Primary School, New Lambton, and later attended St Pius X High School, Adamstown, and St Francis Xavier’s College, Hamilton. Like many who have trodden this well-worn path through our region’s Catholic schools, they formed a tight friendship. At the University of Newcastle, Tom achieved Honours in Media and Cultural Studies, majoring in English and Film. Zac gained a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and History and has chased his acting dream, appearing in programs such as “All Saints” and “Home and Away” before moving to Los Angeles where he has been cast in the long-running series “General Hospital”. When Fr Greg Arnold recently presided at the wedding of Tom and his fiancée, Amy, at St Kevin’s Church at Cardiff, the new “flakey Aussie hippie” character from Port Charles (General Hospital’s fictional, disaster-prone town) stood proudly by Tom’s side as his best man.
There is much of Darcy’s gentility and modesty in Tom and Zac. There is joking and ribbing to keep feet on the ground but also a deference to the skills and gifts of the other. “Tom is a spectacular editor,” says Zac. “There are so many people, writers and actors, who don’t have the final pieces of the puzzle. We are very lucky because we have such a great group of mates and wonderful families.” Tom says, “Zac is tireless, his strength is his passion. He keeps the energy up, even in long meetings. We grew up within a couple of streets of each other but we have had to fight for everything we wanted. I think we allow for each other’s faults and strengths.”
The story of Les Darcy is actually eight or nine stories in one. It is a tragic love tale and a tale of a sad sporting injustice. It has elements that reverberate today, highlighting concepts around war and the media, bullying, service, faith and corruption. So how do two young “Frannies” boys do justice to the legend of a gentle Maitland champion who put his family before the “Great War” and died in Memphis - many say of a broken heart?
“Les’ story is so big,” comments Zac. “With Les, you don’t always know what to leave in and what to omit. One thing we are wary of is over-sentimentalising, making it overly emotive, because it is such a sad story.” Tom highlights the importance of respecting the man, not just the icon. “Les had a remarkable sense of service and social justice. It wasn’t learned, it was innate in him, like he was born with it.”
There is a certain serendipity to the story of Les Darcy being entrusted to these passionate, local young men. Searching for costumes to shoot a “teaser trailer” to show investors, Zac’s mother stumbled across a pair of boxing trunks worn by Peter Phelps when he portrayed Les in a 1988 telemovie. The pair is also excited to shoot large parts of the film in East Maitland and Newcastle, giving back to the community that played an important role in Darcy’s life. “We are very proud of where we come from. It makes sense to shoot the film where Les worked and cared for his family.” says Zac. For the moment, however, the pair is busy meeting with local investors and refining the script. “Developing scripts can be a long process. Our first draft was huge, almost 250 pages,” notes the actor. “It’s usually one page per minute,” Tom explains. “So that would have been a 250 minute film.” The story of Les is big indeed.
When he was alive, Darcy was betrayed on a number of occasions by those meant to care for him and his legacy, including managers and promoters. “He saw out all of his contracts, even when they made him fight his mentor!” yells Zac, momentarily betraying his passion for one of many injustices the young boxer faced. Tom and Zac have no desire to repeat this history of betrayal. Ninety-seven years after his untimely death, the future of Darcy’s story rests in earnest, solemn hands.
You can learn more about Tom and Zac’s film company at www.ecfc.com.au. Zac also has an active Twitter account where he interacts with fans and talks about the film’s progress – www.twitter.com/ZJGarred