THE production team behind Jenny Hicks' debut short film, The Stranger, has praised the Upper Hunter township of Denman for its recent hospitality.
The local backdrop plays a pivotal role in the writer-director's offering, which stars Harry Greenwood (Hacksaw Ridge, The Nightingale), AFI Award winners Fiona Press (Waiting, The Heights) and Steve Bisley (Mad Max, Doctor Doctor).
The psychological noir thriller centres around a stranger who arrives at an isolated farmhouse in the middle of the night, seeking to confront prejudices and stigma against people living with mental illness.
And, the heritage-listed Pickering Homestead provided the ideal site for the cast and crew of 25 people earlier this month.
"I'd been looking around the Hunter Valley for a grazing property," Hicks said.
"The film is set on a farm and that's the kind of farming I know the most about, which isn't a lot, but enough to write authentic characters to tell the story.
"The Hunter is pretty close to Sydney where our cast and crew were based and I knew the landscapes were going to be big and open, which I wanted.
"I sought an isolated farmhouse where we could shoot interiors and exteriors.
"I sent out 1500 flyers, dropped in letterboxes by Australia Post.
"I had quite a few calls but all were from single storied houses and I wanted an upstairs veranda and a staircase.
"There are not too many of those kinds [of houses] in the bush.
"Miraculously, someone handed Gary Cooper of Pickering Homestead a flyer at work in the mine.
"Then Donna Cooper, his vivacious wife, got a hold of it and called me.
"I dropped by and knew straight away it was the perfect location that ticked all the boxes.
"In the end, the biggest asset was the custodians of Pickering Homestead, Donna and Gary Cooper.
"Donna is the most 'can-do' person on the planet and was on board straight away with lots of ideas and much enthusiasm."
Hicks was also keen to commend the local community.
"We had a fantastic time shooting in Denman," she said.
"Everyone welcomed us with open arms, with many businesses sponsoring us through equipment and accommodation, including Two Rivers Winery, The Royal Hotel, Denman Serviced Apartments, The Grapevine Motel, Coates Hire Muswellbrook, Minemate and Mangoola.
"It was a very successful shoot.
"We know we have a great little film - and we're looking forward to showing it to the Denman community when it's finished later this year or early 2021.
"To all those in the town, as well as our local sponsors, thank you.
"We couldn't have made it without you."
Hicks, herself, is an experienced film editor who has worked internationally on Twin Peaks for David Lynch, The Matrix trilogy for the Wachowskis, The Last Samurai and Blood Diamond for Ed Zwick and The Thin Red Line for Terrence Malick.
She's also edited long-form documentaries, television drama and feature movies, including Imogen Thomas' Emu Runner, which was nominated for an AACTA Award, and AACTA and Walkley Award-winning TV series The House and You Can't Ask That for the ABC.
Nate Heinz is producing with Harriet Dixon-Smith co-producing.
"The Stranger is a sophisticated psychological drama that plays on how we often respond with fear and uncertainty to people with obvious signs of mental ill-health; how we tend to turn away rather than engage," Hick said.
"Mental health is an important and personal subject for me, many friends and colleagues have committed suicide and many more struggle with bi-polar, depression and anxiety.
"With The Stranger, I hope to contribute to a growing conversation that is liberating and normalising mental ill-health.
"We are blessed with a fabulous cast and I am delighted that PAYCE Foundation is working with us to help bring our story to the screen."
PAYCE Foundation director James Boyd echoed Hicks' sentiments.
"Mental illness has broad-ranging affects to so many people in our community and most of it is hidden," he said.
"We're delighted to be able to support a short film that will shine a light on an illness that so desperately needs a deeper level of understanding and assistance, especially in the current environment.
"We wish the cast and crew every success in the production."