Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Talking Jake, the movie

Talking Jake, the movie

I caught up with Doug Dillaman, the writer / director / producer of new self-funded feature JAKE and the film's lead actress / producer Anoushka Klaus to discuss the making of the movie. (They've worked on this as well as producer Alastair Tye Sampson) 
The film releases in Auckland on June 27th for a limited run at the Academy cinemas.
More details are at

What’s Jake about?
Doug: Jake is about a man (Jacob) who discovers he’s been replaced in the role of his life by an actor (who takes up the nickname “Jake”). It’s about identity, and what it means to be you, and what would happen if someone else took your place and no one noticed. It’s about fighting to get your life back. And it’s about 88 minutes long.

     How long had the idea been gestating?
Doug: I came up with the idea in mid-2007. Hybrid Motion Pictures (our DIY filmmaking collective) formed in 2008 and pretty quickly the idea of it being our first feature became our goal. The first draft was complete in early 2009 and we shot winter/spring 2009.

     What were the challenges of getting a shoot together?
Anoushka: Being a self-funded feature film I suppose the most pertinent (and yes, it is very obvious) challenge was having no money. It meant everything was a negotiation and we were at the mercy of people’s goodwill and schedules. The silver lining that came from it though was that we were strict about sticking to our shooting schedule so there was very, very little overtime done during the shoot. We felt it was important to not take advantage of the time given to us and to look after people well when they were on set - so they were fed like royalty.

We did make the rookie mistake of thinking we producers could take turns being the First AD and Continuity while we were shooting, which in hindsight was an absolutely ridiculous idea and we very quickly rectified our mistake by bringing on a First AD within a couple of days.  It’s definitely not a mistake I’ll make again anytime soon.

     What was the most surprising element of shooting this film?
Doug: Seeing actors perform a scene and bring reality and emotion to it that I didn’t anticipate in the writing. For instance, the role of the actor who plays “Jake” (Leighton Cardno) was thin on the page – I imagined him as a cypher with a slightly plastic quality. But Leighton brought an intense focus to his preparation and a consistently surprising but deeply real take to it. There are scenes where his character’s emotional arc is 180 degrees from what I’d imagined when I wrote – and so much richer for it.

     What was the best part of doing this?
Doug: Hard to say because they’re such different pleasures. Rolling camera for your first shot and realising you’re fulfilling a dream you’ve had for 14 years? Wrapping several months later having gone through an unimaginably intense experience? Seeing the first cut of a complicated scene that moves across four different time frames and being awed at how simple our editor Peter Evans made it look? Having some of our young assists move on into industry roles as a result of working on the film? The big hugs when we finally, finally, finally finished the film last year? The first time I heard the audience at our cast and crew screening laugh at a joke that I’d forgotten was funny because I’d heard it so many times? Having critics come out of the screening and say, hey, that’s actually a good film? They’re all pretty great things. Don’t make me choose.

In terms of a great moment, I would say there’s a scene with Jacob (Jason Fitch) that I won’t spoil but involved an uninterrupted 10-minute take in a bedroom at a bach (jump-cut in the final movie) that I will never forget. It was at the end of a hard day and it was a pure stripped-down moment of filmmaking – just me, Jason, two camera people and our sound recordist in the room – and it was intense and powerful and raw and it was the sort of buzzy moment filmmakers live for.

Anoushka: There are many but personally I think the best is yet to come...I cannot wait to see the film in a cinema where it is being viewed by the public for the first time! It’s going to be a very proud and cathartic experience I think.

But so far...I would say my favourite moment was watching our trailer for the first time. James Brookman has done such an amazing job of really capturing the tone, tension and humour of the film while really clearly articulating the premise.  Seeing that trailer for the first time really hit home what we’d achieved.  It completely blew me away.

Now every time I show someone the trailer and see their eyes light up’s a thrill!

Talk to us about your casting process
Doug: As a filmmaking team, Hybrid had a couple of actors on board – most notably Anoushka, who became our lead actress, which worked out wonderfully. But obviously there were heaps of other roles to fill, and that’s her story to tell …

Anoushka: It was really important to me to bring in professional actors so I approached the agents in Auckland with a breakdown of what we were doing and we held auditions over a couple of weekends in the beginning of 2009.  We were still not sure at the time whether Jacob and Jake would be played by the same actor or two different actors; we’d toyed with the idea of lookalikes but when we saw Leighton and Jason’s auditions we knew straight away we needed to use both of them.  Once we’d made that decision it all came down to the story and the other actors selling the concept of Leighton’s “Jake” being able to replace Jason’s “Jacob”.   

All cast (and crew) agreed to work for a percentage of any profits so we really hope we can get some good audiences in to see the film!

     Give us a secret from the set
Doug: What happens on set stays on set.

Okay, how’s this: I dance when I’m trying to pretend I’m not nervous. 

This has taken 6 years to get to this stage, how has that process been?
Doug: Tough, but it’s part and parcel of self-funding (although I don’t think any of us realized just how long it would take!). We’re doing this on the smell of an oily rag, which means relying on favours, taking breaks to do paid work, and the old quick-cheap-good rule (which is, you’re never going to get more than two of those, and we’d already chosen cheap). At the end of the day, we have a film with a flash grade by Alana Cotton at Images & Sound and a great sound mix by Jason Fox at Envy, it’s been finished with love by our other producer Alastair Tye Samson, and it looks and sounds as great as it ever could. And I’d rather have that on the shelf in 20 years than something that was done sooner and finished to a lower standard.

What are the challenges of film-making these days?
Doug: As challenging as films are to make, it’s easier than it used to be. I think the biggest challenge is at the end - getting people to watch it! You’re competing against not just new $250 million blockbusters and festival favourites but the entire history of cinema and more - 100-hour long video games, box-set TV, cat videos on YouTube, etc, etc. Feature films are losing their dominance as the pre-eminent moving image form. These things happen, of course, and I’m being nostalgic, but it just means if you’re going to make a feature you need to try harder to make something that stands up against all those other options and justifies the investment of 90 or more minutes of a person’s life. (The flip-side, of course, is that it’s also easier than ever to get your work out to the world. Always pros and cons!)

Was there ever a moment when you were tempted to give it up?
Doug: No. There were times when we had to take a step back and take a breath though. This isn’t always a bad thing. We rushed our first cut to meet a festival deadline – it was 104 minutes long and had a really long, unnecessary subplot. Now that we’ve removed it no one would ever miss it (apart from some actors who did great work in it – sorry!).

That’s really the one piece of advice I’d give to any DIY filmmakers – take your time before locking the cut, because things get a lot harder if you try to make changes after you’ve done that. You’re not making a piece of Hollywood product to meet a stockholder-pleasing deadline – so take the time to make the film you’ll be happy with for the rest of your life.

You’re holding Q&As with the screenings – what’s the one question you don’t want to be asked?
Doug: “What does it look like when you dance on set when you’re nervous?”
Anoushka: “What’s it like to kiss so many guys?”

Do you think we’re at a stage now where crowdsourcing / kickstarter/ self-funding is going to be the way to go with films and their subsequent releases?
Doug: I hope not. I have a lot of issues with crowdsourcing – the biggest one of course being its abuse by people who could get their fund filmed by conventional means but instead go to fans and beg for money, then keep all the profit when they sell it. It feels like a way to get poor people to pay for stuff rich people or arts organisations used to pay for, and that irks me. There’s also a danger that the only things that will get funded are things that look like things you already know, instead of offbeat projects. That said, genuinely interesting films that I’ve enjoyed, like Blue Ruin, funded themselves that way, and I’d crowd fund the next Shane Carruth film in a heartbeat should he choose that option, so I shouldn’t be too judgmental. But it’s just another layer of filmmaking-related work that’s not filmmaking and I think it’s too easily and too often looked at by filmmakers and funding bodies alike as some kind of magic golden ticket.

Self-funding (which is what we did) is kind of a different beast, and I would encourage it for anyone who a) wants to make a film of modest means independent of external entities and b) can afford to lose all the money they put into it. We may have not made the most sensible film from a market perspective, but I couldn’t be prouder of it, and I’m not sure the things I love most about Jake would have survived a traditional development process.

Finally, as ever with these things, what’s next?
Anoushka: I am really tired of seeing women on screen (particularly in American films) that are just there to react to the decisions/situations of male characters or just provide a bit of eye candy, so I’ve been writing. I’ve always been a bit shy with sharing my work in the past (and the story of Jacob not living boldly always hit a nerve for me) so after the release of Jake is finished, I will be focusing on completing a set of short films and a feature that I’ve been writing.

Doug: Also, Alastair has directed the last several Hybrid 48 Hours films with stunning results (check out last year’s PARALYSIS - - for a taste of what he’s capable of) and has been developing his debut feature, a horror film.

Personally, I probably won’t be writing/directing my next film anytime soon, as I’m currently writing my novel while doing the MA in Creative Writing at Victoria University in Wellington. I got passionate about telling a story about weapons testing in New Zealand and New Caledonia during World War II and decided that it’d be quicker and easier to pull off in book form. But I’ve always got a list of script ideas in my notebook that I’m working on … but first we have to bring Jake into the world and get people to see it!

JAKE trailer from Alastair Tye Samson on Vimeo.

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