A different dynamic: indie feature ‘Zelos’ boasts female-dominated crew
Indie feature Zelos is somewhat of anomaly in Australian cinema – it’s a film helmed predominantly by women, including a female director, co-producers, writer, cinematographer and editor.
The film is the feature debut of director Jo-Anne Brechin, who first met writer Claire Harris when studying screenwriting at AFTRS in 2013.
“I remember hearing her pitch [Zelos] in class and just being like, ‘let’s do that together,’” Brechin told IF.
They formed a pact to make the film when Harris finished the screenplay; a vision that has now come to fruition, with Zelos currently in post.
A coming of age story, Zelos follows 30-something Bernard (Ben Mortley, Lantana, McLeod’s Daughters) who feels he has his life set up. He’s got a successful career, beachside apartment and a girlfriend, Sarah, who he adores.
However, his life is turned upside down when Sarah (Shannon Ashlyn, Wolf Creek 2, Love Child) confesses to having an affair overseas. To salvage their relationship, she suggests he sleep with another woman to even the score.
The word ‘zelos’ is Greek for jealousy, and it is this, alongside the nature of relationships and infidelity, that the film explores.
While the events of the film didn’t actually happen to her, Harris said the idea came from her own reflections during a relationship.
“I was also turning 30 and that played a part as well,” she told IF. “The ‘third-life’ crisis that happens when you reach that age, weighing up how you imagined your life would be against the reality.”
Harris said she wanted to make the film with Brechin as she knew the story well.
“As a writer, your biggest fear is that you’ll hand the screenplay over to somebody else and they’ll turn it into something completely different and they’ll try to cut you out of the process,” she said.
“Whereas with Jo-Anne obviously it wasn’t going to be like that; I knew we would keep having those discussions.”
Combined with her script, Harris said Brechin’s strong visual eye has made for a “good creative collaboration.”
The pair are co-producers on Zelos, and formed their own production company, The Painted Gate, in order to get it up and running. They were inspired by the DIY filmmakers of the mumblecore movement, such as the US’s Duplass brothers.
“We were really influenced by that in the way that we literally took the money in our bank accounts and shot it,” Brechin said.
“It was really just about not waiting for permission from funding agencies or from anybody to give us the green light.”
Total production time – from casting, design, through to wrapping principal photography – took a mere six months.
It was a schedule that Brechin concedes was “kind of mad”, however, said she would still recommend it. The pair set themselves a deadline with no excuses, and she credits this with allowing the film to get completed.
“It was rapid, and it was crazy, simply put. But it was basically really exciting and shows you can do it,” she said.
Brechin chose a small crew for the film, which she said allowed things to move quickly. That it was predominantly female she calls an almost effortless and organic decision, with each woman that came on board seeming to attract another.
Harris agreed, saying “I don’t think we originally thought, ‘okay we’re going to upset the gender balance’. But I think for a lot of people what drew them to working on that project was that it was a completely different gender dynamic to the norm in the industry.”
It’s the female crew that Brechin also credits for attracting the support of Definition Films (The Water Diviner, Ruben Guthrie), who lent the team top-of-the-range camera equipment and post-production suites.
Despite the influence of the mumblecore movement on the film, Brechin said that alongside cinematographer Emma Paine, she chose to avoid the hand-held aesthetic.
Instead, Zelos was shot predominantly on sticks using the ARRI Alexa, in order to allow the film to compete against others of bigger budgets.
Shooting itself took less than three weeks, which Harris said was full on. “I think I slept about three or four hours a night. I was pretty much operating on pure adrenaline,” she said.
Despite the fast pace, Brechin said it was a beautiful experience as a director.
“The team just gelled so well together and everyone was so motivated, because everyone was so invested in the film. We really handpicked people on temperament and it paid off.”
In order to complete post-production for the film, Brechin and Harris have established a crowd-funding campaign through the Australian Cultural Fund.
To donate, visit: australianculturalfund.org.au/projects/zelos-feature-film.
The campaign closes tomorrow, with funds going towards final edit, sound design, score, and colour grading. Donations are tax deductible.