It took years before I could drive past the school and not think about it. Even now it is still not far from my thoughts. Since we heard the first reports of the missing teenager in December 2003 and saw hundreds of volunteers in their orange vests scouring the bush beside the highway of our peaceful Sunshine Coast, our community has travelled with the Morcombe family in the journey and mystery to answer the question Where Is Daniel?
As a community we have watched a family go through the worst of nightmares, the abduction and murder of a child. We have cried for them, prayed for them and hoped with them over the years even though most of us have only met Bruce and Denise through snippets of news reports and public addresses.
The 2014 release of the book, Where is Daniel – written by Bruce and Denise Morcombe with Lindsay Simpson, allows us the honour of learning more about this couple who persevered and survived what most people dare not think about. From the beginning we have wanted to put a protective arm around them, to see their son reunited with his family, to see an end to their pain. But as we know, this was not to be.
The incredible strength of Bruce and Denise Morcombe has instigated a new drive to protect children across our nation. After Daniel’s disappearance, Bruce and Denise made two deliberate choices: this was not going to destroy their marriage, and they would work to prevent any other family from having to go through the same thing.
Through the development of the Daniel Morcombe Foundation, Bruce and Denise have dedicated their lives to educating school children and adults in the hope of creating a safer world for our children. They are also working to see legislation change, to create consistency of child protection laws between States across our nation at a Federal level.
I recently met with Rod Hopping, founder of Heritage Films situated here on the Sunshine Coast. He had not only read the book but, like most of our nation, had watched from the sidelines the series of events as they unfolded over the years. The fact that this tragedy happened here on our doorstep only made it all the more real for him. Driving past the overpass where Daniel was abducted, the locations of the events are part of the Hopping family’s daily travel.
“Everyone on the Coast felt for Bruce and Denise and we quickly discovered the whole nation did,” says Rod.
Rod felt he had to do something. He had always been drawn to real life stories of hope and endurance and this was a story that tugged at his heart. There was something about Bruce and Denise that, from a distance, he really respected.
When approached, Bruce and Denice happily agreed to Rod’s proposal of making their story into a film. It would be an opportunity to bring a message of child safety and awareness to a broader audience. Their only concern was that it would not be too demanding on their time as Bruce and Denise’s priority is to their work with the Daniel Morcombe Foundation.
As Rod got to know the Morcombes through preparation for the film’s production, his respect for them only grew. These people are real heroes who survived the unthinkable and were still able to give so much back to the community.
In announcing the film, Bruce Morcombe said, “Denise and I feel we have reached a place where we can finally reveal our story in a different way. We have found a production company and director we trust and with whom we have a great connection. We believe in their hands the world will discover our story and the legacy of Daniel from the unique perspective of a feature film.”
The decision to take Daniel’s story and make a movie of it is one that Rod doesn’t take lightly.
“I feel incredibly responsible as they trust us in how we present their family on the screen. In the midst of it, I feel really humbled just to be involved.”
Rod’s desire is to make the film of the Morcombe’s story and take the message of child safety to another level of accessibility and exposure. “Daniel’s legacy is quite profound with about one million people involved in Day for Daniel,” says Rod, “We want to make a film that can elevate that legacy and tell the story on a global stage.”
With Australian director, Peter Cousens and American Director of Photography, Dean Cundey on board, Rod is overwhelmed at how well the process is coming together. Peter Cousens is known for Directing ‘Freedom’ starring Cuba Gooding Jr. as well as his vast experience within the performing arts with over 30 years in major roles acting, singing, directing and producing.
Dean Cundey was the Director of Photography on movies Apollo 13, Jurassic Park, Back to the Future I, II and III. He was awarded the American Society of Cinematographers Lifetime Achievement award in 2014. Cousens and Cundey are looking forward to working together on this movie.
“It is impossible not to see this story in the context of the forces of good and evil which makes it ideal for cinematic treatment,” says Cousens.
Heritage Films are raising the budget as they go along. Funding is being sought through film funding bodies and investors.
“It may be a range of people investing,” says Rod. “Because it’s about Bruce and Denise and giving back to the community, we are expecting community minded people will step up and be involved.”
The script writing will be a three to six month process. A lot rides on the script and it will be refined and edited over and over until the end result is agreed on by all and presents the story in the best possible way. According to Rod, the story will be predominantly about Bruce and Denise, with a fascinating police story interwoven.
After the script is written, they will be pitching to agents for actors. Finding the right actors is something Rod wants to be careful about. He would like to see some well known Australian actors star in the movie. They must represent the Morcombe family in a correct and respectful way so Rod will be taking the casting of actors very seriously.
“Ultimately, this will be a celebration of those who worked at the core,” says Rod. “Bruce and Denise are Australian heroes.”
Rod wants to portray a story of hope. Even in the worst of circumstances, when you persevere, out of the ashes of death, pain and suffering something good can be birthed, something that may even save others.
“Everyone of us will be faced with some sort of tragedy whether it be health, financial or whatever,” he says, “the perseverance and strength of Bruce and Denise is inspiring.”
As we adjust to the knowledge that Daniel is now at rest, he still can be found. He is in the hearts of Bruce and Denise and his family. He is in the feet of those who searched to find him and bring justice. He is in the hands of those who fight for children’s rights, their protection and value.
He is in the thoughts and minds of Australians, a people who rose to help support a family. A family who lost their boy, a boy who changed a nation – a boy called Daniel.
Originally published in the GoodLife Magazine Spring edition, 2015
(c) Rebecca Moore 2015