One-minute pitch perfect witch hunters

EQUAL PARTNERS: Gemma Arterton (Gretel) and Jeremy Renner (Hansel) in a scene from the movie Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.
EQUAL PARTNERS: Gemma Arterton (Gretel) and Jeremy Renner (Hansel) in a scene from the movie Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. David Appleby

UNIVERSITY professors do their best to bestow their industry wisdom to their pupils, and sometimes it pays off - big time.

Tommy Wirkola was a film student at Bond University when his original idea for Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters came to him.

"As part of our scriptwriting class we had a pitching contest where the teacher pretended to be a Hollywood producer," Wirkola said.

"We had one minute to sell him an idea. I remember going up and that was all I had at that moment, Hansel and Gretel 15 years after the incident and they grow up to be witch hunters.

"He told me, 'Never speak of this idea again until you're in front of a Hollywood producer and I guarantee you'll sell it'."

The budding Norwegian filmmaker followed his professor's advice, returning home and making his Kill Bill spoof Kill Buljo and zombie Nazi horror film, Dead Snow, before pitching Hansel & Gretel to Sanchez Productions.

The fantasy action film, starring Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton, is Wirkola's first big-budget feature.

"In the beginning it was all daunting with huge sets and a huge crew, working with Jeremy and Gemma and a big studio checking on everything, but I really enjoyed it," he said.

"When you make a movie in Norway you have to compromise a lot. You can never afford what you envisaged.

"It was quite liberating seeing all these things coming to life in front of my eyes."

The result is a dark and bloody twist on the popular fairytale, where siblings Hansel and Gretel grow up to make a living off killing witches.

"Our goal was to make a funny, crazy, gory, action-filled ride," Wirkola said.

"Hopefully we got the mix right."

Leather-clad and carrying an impressive array of semi-automatic weapons, Hansel and Gretel are called to a small town to investigate the disappearance of almost a dozen children.

Hired by the town's mayor, they immediately get on the wrong side of the sheriff (Peter Stormare).

What follows is a lot of witch hunting, fighting and killing.

Renner is well suited to the action, and as it turns out, the comedy too.

Wirkola was lucky to secure Renner just after his breakout role in The Hurt Locker, before he signed on to The Avengers, The Bourne Legacy and Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol.

"He's a really funny guy, and he really responded to that side of the script," he said.

"He liked the idea of doing something like that, showing his funny side."

But it's Arterton who clearly revels in her butt-kicking role, where she plays a strong female hero rather than a damsel in distress.

"One of the draws of this movie was the stunt work," she said.

"I was so pleased I didn't have to kiss anybody, or do all that lovey-dovey, gushy stuff. I do enough of that in other films. One of the most appealing things about the character is she is as strong as the boys. She doesn't have to have the guy."

Wirkola said it was important to him that the brother and sister be equals in the fight scenes.

"Gretel is probably the smarter one, while Hansel throws himself into everything without thinking twice," he said.

"She's the one who's thinking and calculating but she fights like a man and gets beat up."

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is in cinemas now.

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