An interview with Jo-Anne Brechin and Claire Harris on their debut feature film Zelos

Zelos will be a breath of fresh air to Australian cinema. The upcoming Australian film to be helmed by new Australian face Jo-Anne Brechin and written by Claire Harris will be a female-led endeavor exploring the wreckful throes of contemporary romance.

The Iris sent Fergus Halliday to get some insight on the films progression as it nears its’ completion, and sat with the films’ creators to better understand their coming of age story for thirty-somethings

How did the concept of this film originate? Where did it come from?

Claire: So I wrote the film, it actually started as sort of a short story some years ago based on some feelings I was having about a relationship at the time. It’s not based on an actual event that happened, I was just thinking about the way relationships are affected by infidelity and then I met Jo-Anne at the Australian Film Television Radio school in 2013 where we were studying screen writing together and it kind of became my screenplay project for the year. Then we had the idea of making it into a film.

Jo-Anne: [think I should mention] the pact we made together. So [Claire and I] said to each other let’s make sure we make this film with in the next couple of years and then Claire went overseas and I went off and did other things and then it sort of all came back together and we realised as soon as we wrapped that we’d actually got in the two year [period] just in time.

With this style of film that this is, were there any specific influences you had in terms of the way it looked or the way you directed it?

Jo-Anne: We spent a lot of time watching mumblecore and some really great indie films that used their budgets really effective to make their films look far more expensive than they were. We looked at things like Like Crazy as well as Blue Valentine, a bunch of mumblecore films too. Not so much the cinematic style of The Puffy Chair but films that have really worked to use very minimal lighting and yet make their films look a million bucks.

What was the casting process like, did you have friends who you knew you already wanted to cast?

Claire: So the pact that we made was kind of forgotten about for a year or so while I finished writing the script and I was working and editing and revising it. And then in the middle of the last year I submitted for a live script reading before an audience at a place called The Hub Studio in Chippendale, which hosted it.

The Hub is like an actor’s resource centre so they had access to a huge database of actors that they knew so we started off going through their database and casting from that for the script reading. And some of our actors who ended up in the film were in that original script reading, but not all of them.

Once we had those actors locked in it kind of branched outwards through the network of who they knew and we trawled through a lot of show reels for probably months and months and sort of through contacts of contacts of contacts we managed to get into contact with the sort of people who we wanted to cast in the main roles.

So there’s a lot of the film’s premise and set-up that feels very contemporary, was there a statement you were trying to make? What can you tell us about the thesis of the film?

Claire: That it’s really complicated. I think this probably isn’t very fair to our ancestors but in the actual script a couple of characters reference how things were sort of simpler in our grandparent’s generation or in earlier times.

Jo-Anne: I don’t know if there’s just one key thesis but I think something what is really interesting about this concept, and modern romance is that we are all really self-sabotaging in relationships in a way.

I feel these ideas of cheating and jealousy a lot of the themes explored in Zelos for me, also stem from this idea where, I don’t know if it’s something about modern society but we seem to have this idea where we can’t really discover who we are as an individual while we are in a relationship with another person. So we always seem to be kind of going between these two things like having to step away from a relationship to discover who we are only to discover who we are when we actually could be with that person. I think they are some of the things that underpin it.

Claire: I think it’s also the characters that I wrote or knew that I was thinking about when I was writing it are people from my generation who are in their 30’s. The central character is surrounded by very cynical people and I think that we are a very cynical generation and I think that modern dating the kind of swipe left swipe right disposable dating culture, I don’t know if it’s shaped by our cynicism or whether it feeds into our cynicism. I think the protagonist is the least cynical and he’s trying to negotiate his values in that world, which is the whole journey that he takes really about how far he is willing to compromise on the values that he has.

Unfaithfulness and adultery are such timeless ideas, what aspects did you want to leave audiences thinking about or reevaluating?

Claire: The particular aspect of infidelity that Zelos explores – where one partner cheats and gives permission for the other to do the same – was one that I’d thought about but hadn’t come across in any film. When I discussed this idea with other people, I found that everybody had something to say about this concept – not necessarily that they’d been in that exact situation, but a surprising number of people had had some variation of that story play out in their own lives. Even if they didn’t, almost everybody had a strong reaction, often with very opposing views. So I found the discussions that it opened up really interesting, and also that there are no easy or blanket answers – everyone has to negotiate that situation for themselves.

The process to bring Zelos to the screen has been a pretty involved one. What was the hardest part? What was your darkest hour?

Jo-Anne: The hardest part has been wearing so many hats. Claire and I wrote, produced and directed the film but we were also casting directors, location scouts, continuity, we sourced costumes, help production design, sourced and created props, etc. It was definitely involved. And to top it all off – we did all this in 6 months.

From the time we decided to take the money we had in our accounts and actually make this film to the day we wrapped was 6 months. Which is crazy. But we achieved that by setting shoot days and sticking with them. Even when we didn’t have our lead cast in September/October and we were shooting in January, we still stuck to our shoot dates and just made it happen.

Claire: There was definitely a moment of panic around October, and we talked about pushing back the shoot – but what was amazing was once we’d made the decision to push on with our January deadline, everything fell into place very quickly. We found our perfect Bernard in Ben Mortley and locked in our main location within about a week.

Doing everything ourselves has been both exhausting and exciting. On the one hand we have creative control from the start of the process to the finish – on the other hand, taking on so many roles at once doesn’t leave much time for anything else in your life.

Where to from here? How long till we can see Zelos?

Jo-Anne: Once we raise the rest of the finance we need to finish the edit, colour grade, finish sound design and score, I think we should be ready to release Zelos to the world late this year. That’s if we can raise the funds we need in the next month or so.

Claire: We have a campaign with the Australian Cultural Fund — all donations are tax deductible: australianculturalfund.org.au/projects/zelos-feature-film. When we’ve finished Zelos, the plan is to hit major independent film festivals and drum up some publicity.

Thanks for the Interview.

Zelos has wrapped filming earlier this year and is now in the post-production stage. Follow https://www.facebook.com/zelosmovie/ for any updates on the film.