By Amanda Diaz

Artists are known to turn to drink when times get tough. It is only on very rare occasions that the drink actually gives back.

Since 2008, Irish whiskey company John Jameson has been offering aspiring Australian screenwriters the opportunity to get their short films produced.

Entrants submit a 200 word synopsis, with six finalists selected to take part in a workshop to develop the ideas into screenplays. From there, three scripts are chosen to go into production, each with a $20,000 budget.

The budget was given to Sydney-based production company Chaotic Pictures, who are thrilled to be producing the three winning shorts.

Beating over 780 other entrants, this year’s three winners are Shannon Browning, Jonathan Samiec and Kate Schmitt.

“It’s gone ridiculously fast,” says Schmitt. “It feels like I was only writing the synopsis two seconds ago.”

Schmitt’s film, The Seamstress tells the story of ailing bird watcher, Clive (Barrie Otto) and his obsession with his next door neighbour (model-turned actress, Mink Sadowsky). Schmitt describes the feel of the short as a cross between Rear Window and In the Mood for Love.


Barry Otto in short film Seamstress

The idea came to her ten years ago, but languished in a bottom drawer until she heard about the scriptwriting competition. After initially envisioning Barrie Otto for the role a decade ago, it was strange for her to see that dream eventuate. “It’s all really come together in a fantastic way,” she says. 

For Jonathan Samiec, the best part of the process was watching the shoot take place. Roman’s Ark was shot both at Fox studios and on location at Lake Mungo, almost 1000kms west of Sydney.

“You feel kind of blessed and lucky when you see these professional people working to bring your vision to life,” he says.

Samiec hopes that the film’s take on post apocalyptic science fiction will appeal across the board.

“Because it’s a one man show with no dialogue, set in a place that looks like it could be anywhere; it’s lent itself to a very cross cultural story.”


A scene from Roman's Ark.

While The Seamstress and Roman’s Ark are both in the final stages of editing, Shannon Browning’s Customer Service is still in pre-production.
Not that he’s being idle.

As a comic book author and graphic designer, Browning has a few ideas about how he hopes the film – a tale about an aspiring supervillain – will look. He’s even planning a comic book adaptation.

“I’m like a kid in a candy store,” he says. “I love it.”

Although Browning is a longtime fan of the superhero genre, the inspiration for the story actually came from real life.

After a trying experience speaking over the phone to a particular company, he started thinking about customer service.

“These people are only ever a voice on the phone,” he says. “But they can be either your worst enemy or your best friend.

For Browning, winning the competition has been an "in" into the industry.

“It really is a huge opportunity,” he says. “I didn’t realise it until I’d won it.”

Schmitt agrees.

“It’s great for a company to be behind something that develops screenwriting talent. And, as a mum, it was great to do something creative that didn’t involve nappies or mashed banana.”

Not that her son is impressed by his mum’s artistic venture.

“He doesn’t care,” she says. “If it was a film with Thomas and Elmo then maybe I would’ve gotten some cred.”

The three films will screen together at a John Jameson world premiere later this year.

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