The Jammed’s writer/director Dee McLachlan and executive producer/script consultant Andrea Buck told a Melbourne meeting of the Australian Writers’ Guild how they used a life coach to rehearse with actors.
Coming fresh from a private screening in Canberra which included several Ministers, the presentation at RMIT’S School of Applied Communication included the trailer for the film and a scene that was deleted from the final cut.
More than fifty Victorian writers heard how the screenplay for The Jammed was developed and prepared for shooting.
Dee explained that she and Andrea had worked on countless productions and scripts over the past 15 years, often without positive result. “So many times you get close but then the funding drops out or the actors become unavailable or something happens.”
Dee saw an article in the paper about human trafficking, and found that nobody had made a film about the subject, despite its obvious importance as an issue. And knowing that going through script development processes of the funding bodies, she wanted to fast track the film to make it while it was still relevant.
They located a private investor for the film, and scheduled the shoot in Melbourne in February, when the city is quiet. They only had a limited window for shooting as the Commonwealth Games was about to happen, and that meant permission to film from local councils became impossible.
The film was completed with post production funding from Film Victoria, and a digital master struck. Faced with a lack of interest from distributors, Dee and Andrea arranged to have a two week screening at the Cinema Nova in Carlton.
“Next year all the cinemas will have digital projectors but right now there are only a few,” Dee said. “Luckily, Cinema Nova is one and so the cinema loaded it onto their harddrive system from a DigiBeta master taken from the HDCAM master, and screened it from that.”
The Jammed did spectacularly well, breaking audience screen average records for the opening of an Australian film, demonstrating that even a subject as dark as human trafficking can find an audience.
Dee scored a breakthrough when the film was invited to the Brisbane International Film Festival. “ “I happened to be standing next to David Stratton from ABC TV’s ‘At The Movies’ and I told him about the film as he was about to go to lunch. He returned for the screening of the film, and he grabbed me afterwards and told me how much he thought of it. Margaret Pomeranz saw it as well, and they rejuggled the schedule for the show to include a review, which was glowing. So if it wasn’t for that two minutes when I talked to David Stratton, he may not have seen the film at all, and we wouldn’t have got all that positive publicity.”
When informed that the total budget for the film was $600,000 all up, the audience gasped. People commented how good the film looked, and were staggered when they heard that cinematographer Peter Falk did all his own lighting, except for one night shoot. “We used a Sony Z1 HDV camera, and I also shot using a second camera,” Dee said. “The actors felt it liberating that we often did only one take. They didn’t feel that they had to keep their performance for four or five takes, if it was there in the first we went with that.” As well, the film benefited from a terrific grading by Complete Post.
The film was shot over 19 days just before the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. “I wanted to do it in 18, but we needed an extra day,” Dee commented.
The film has uniformly excellent performances and Dee explained that early on they brought Greg Moore, a life coach in to work with the actors. “We had very little time for rehearsal and so we got Greg to identify parallel experiences that the actors had with the characters they were playing. Saskia Burmeister got it immediately, and she said right, that’s okay I’ve got it now after an hour.”
Greg Moore has also worked with Dee in the writing of other scripts, employing a similar process of helping her discover the challenges in her own life that paralleled that of the characters.
Dina Mann was invaluable as a casting agent. Melbourne based, Dina suggested a number of key actors who are not based in Melbourne, including the lead playing Ashley, Veronica Sywak and Emma Lung as Crystal.
The script was carefully researched, and it is significant that agencies agencies dealing with refugees and human trafficking have given such positive feedback on the film, which is a source of pride for Dee and Andrea.
Interestingly, the Australian Film Commission got back to Dee just a few weeks before the shoot, regarding their application for script development. “I’d forgotten we’d even applied,” said Dee. When they were told they were about to shoot the film, the AFC suggested an emergency meeting to tackle the script flaws. “I knew the script contained flaws, but I had committed myself to the structure and I also knew that if I rewrote it to deal with those flaws, new ones would emerge. But I decided the script was good enough to proceed.”
“No script is perfect,” added Andrea Buck. “All scripts have flaws and blemishes, and if you waited until the script is perfect, you’d never go into production.”
The Jammed is presently in cinemas across Australia. Do yourself a favour and go and see it. And Dee McLachlan is slated to speak at the forthcoming National Screenwriters Conference at Marysville, October 19 to 21. Details at http://nsc.emm.com.au/index.html.