Freelance journalist Don Groves is a Deadline contributor, based in Sydney

After laboring for years to make a live-action film centered on a ménage a trois involving famous Australian painter Sidney Nolan, his wife and mistress, Philippe Mora is taking an innovative approach by shooting the film using puppets. The Los Angeles-based filmmaker has started production on When We Were Modern, the saga of Nolan (seen in his self-portrait here) and his lover Sunday Reed, who was married to the surrealist artist’s patron John Reed. Clayton Watson (The Matrix Reloaded, 33 Postcards) will voice Nolan’s character, and Mora is casting the roles of John and Sunday. Mora’s Hard Drive Pictures is producing and Arizona-based Needle & Associates will handle worldwide sales.

In 2004-05 Mora had Alec Baldwin lined up to play John Reed and Jennifer Jason Leigh as Sunday for the live-action version, but the Australian funding bodies rejected the project. The film will utilize a combination of hand puppets, stop motion and conventional animation, with the last act in 3D, supervised by 3D cinematographer Dave Gregory. Mora, who knew the Reeds as a child, says: “Personally I loved John and Sunday, and Sweeney Reed, their adopted son, was my best friend as a kid. My parents helped John and Sunday set up the Museum of Modern Art of Australia. This Nolan-Reed ménage is an important story that must be told honestly, no holds barred. It’s a great Australian epic of love and modernism. We are using puppets done in the style of the painters involved.”

This is Mora’s second project revolving around a romantic triangle. In early 2013, he plans to start shooting in Australia The Surrealist, a 3D movie about an imaginary threesome between Salvador Dalí, his tempestuous wife Gala and the Mona Lisa. Alan Cumming will play the Spanish artist with Judy Davis as Gala. Some believe Mona was actually a man, so Mora is toying with the idea of casting an actress to play a bloke impersonating a woman, a la Victor/Victoria, or an actor playing a woman. The $US20 million film is a co-production between Australia’s Column Pictures (in which Mora is partnered with Charles Waterstreet and Fred Bestall), Canada’s Arrow Entertainment (which is also sales agent) and Germany’s Peter Kreutz.