Your new movie Friends,
Foes & Fireworks - in a few words, what is it about?
IM: Fiona has recently received a life-changing health diagnosis, so in
an attempt to curb feelings of isolation and anxiety she hosts a NYE
reunion with her closest female friends. However, not everything goes to
plan. Old tensions surface, past rivalries are reignited, truths are told
and sparks fly, forcing each of the women to reflect on and re-evaluate
past decisions going forward into the new year.
We actually filmed Friends,
Foes & Fireworks in a single night on New Year’s Eve. And
it was all improvised. It’s an experimental drama exploring
relationships, love, friendship and the truths we try but fail to keep to
were your sources of inspiration when coming up with the storyline for Friends,
Foes & Fireworks?
IM: It was a couple of factors actually. The first was frustration. We
had just completed a big short film backed by council funding called Half
for the Made In Melbourne Film Festival (which we ran at the time), but it
was a difficult shoot in the country; cold, rainy, politically-charged and
driven by egos. Neither Sarah nor I enjoyed the process, we were at the point of being
burned out with film, so we needed to either give up or make something to
rediscover our love for film again. Obviously we chose the latter. We
chose to create, free of expectations, traditional structure, rigid rules.
We chose to experiment and work with a small and intimate team we trusted.
While the New Year’s Eve storyline was the result of reflection on
past celebrations. The night was always so full of hype, but for us it was
invariably a letdown, crowds and drunks and disappointing parties and
boredom. So let's do something we typically enjoy on NYE instead. Let’s
make a film. Once that idea and storyline was established it was a natural
progression to film it all in a single night as the filming would mirror
the story. In terms of characters, we had spent a decade in the Melbourne
independent film scene before filming Friends,
Foes & Fireworks so we had a ton of real
life stories and experiences with actors to draw upon. Many characters and
scenarios in the film began grounded in reality before going in new
directions as they developed.
Foes & Fireworks is a film that's 100% improvised - so why is
that, and what are the advantages but also challenges of making a movie
this way? And how much of a narrative groundwork did you give your cast to
improvise on? Plus, how much did you rehearse before actually shooting?
SJ: The film was totally improvised because we, at the time, were very
much inspired by films written and directed by other indie filmmakers
within the mumblecore/experimental movement which took off in the early
2000’s. Films like Frances Ha, The Puffy Chair, Drinking
to name a few more recognised films in the genre, and more recently Victoria, which was shot in one night. Ivan and I also enjoy working with
actors, so creating our own improvised style allowed us to do that, and of
course do it without the restrictions of traditional filmmaking, which we
were finding stagnant and uninspiring at the time. Friends,
Foes & Fireworks was an
experiment with a bunch of really cool and talented people, that is
how we look at it.
Just quickly, the challenges were numerous, such as the no-script
challenge – we were not sure how this would turn out, as we just gave
the actors the story beats, the character breakdowns and worked deeply
with them months before to know their characters and their motivations.
IM: Improvisation is completely immersive for both cast and crew. One
of the sins of mediocre actors, we feel, is waiting for your next line,
instead of being “in the moment.” But with improvisation you
have no choice but to listen and react to situations and conversations
around you. You are not performing. You are being human. The freedom of this approach is liberating and can be surprising.
Though we work with outlines of each scene and have an idea where we want
to go, what is said and how we will get there is a complete unknown. As
filmmakers this keeps us on our toes and as actors it means you are
constantly engaged – there is no going through the motions because every
take is different, every conversation is different. Sometimes, things will
go in a direction nobody expected, but you have no choice but to go with
the flow, go where the character takes you. In our eyes, that is
definitely an advantage of making a film utilizing improvisation.
The biggest challenge, for me, is maintaining continuity. It’s
actually impossible. Each take is different so you have to find ways on
the day and in the edit room to smoothly get from take 1 to take 2 if you
choose to. This means a lot of patience in the edit room, and on the day
it means looking out for cutaways to use as a backup if need be. It also
means a two-camera set-up is essential because so many moments and
reactions that happen are only going to happen once – the scene may not
go down the same road again – so you better do your best to capture it.
In terms of rehearsals, though there was no traditional rehearsal as
there were no lines to rehearse, there is still much discussion, many
individual and group meetings with cast, going over character, story
beats, relationships, analyse what drives each character, what they are
feeling behind each interaction, and where they believe they stand in each
relationship. We also play improv games to build team camaraderie; sometimes
tailoring the games to play in character or learn more about each other's
histories. And we would also film scenes the characters have shared in the
past – recreating history – to give each actor common ground to draw
do you approach an improvisation piece from a director's point of view,
also as opposed to a scripted movie?
IM: You have to have an open mind, a willingness to be flexible, and a
lot of trust in your cast. With scripted films you may already have an
idea on how certain lines should be delivered so you have take after take
to hone the performance you want from the actor and get everything how you
picture it. But with improvisation, there is no predetermined picture. We don’t
know what the lines are going to be. So you are multitasking even more so
than usual. You are listening to entire conversations for the first time,
processing them on the spot, providing feedback immediately, becauses I
guarantee the first thing the actors will do at the end of a take is turn
to you for an analysis on what they just did. Not only do you have to evaluate performance, you have evaluate whether
the dialogue just said was too wordy, not wordy enough, did it convey the
right emotion, was there any crucial story info that needed to be conveyed
and was it? Did the cameras get enough coverage as there was no blocking
either because the actors are free to move where the moment takes them and
it is our job to follow. What do you want to focus on in the next take,
what do you want to exclude? What can you film cutaways of to use as
overlay if you need it in the editing room, because in the next take the
dialogue and movement won’t be the same again. And so on and so on. You are flying by the seat of your pants and it's exciting. You are
always switched on and it's exhausting. You just have to run with it.
Trust your cast. But also place a lot of trust in yourself to keep up.
From what I know,
you've shot all of Friends,
Foes & Fireworks in a single day - so what were the
challenges there, and how did you pull it off even?
Lack of time is obviously the biggest challenge. Sometimes we would have
liked to spend more time on a scene, on a shot, another take, but the
schedule forced us to move on. The first half of the night was key and the
most crammed in terms of moments we needed to capture – we had to be at
a certain spot at midnight to capture the fireworks so it was go, go, go
right from the start. To accomplish this you are you are forced to strip back film to only
the essentials. Bare minimum crew, practical lighting, no, we can’t have
that extra take for safety. You are also forced to think on the spot,
adapt as you go, and trust your instincts – it’s creativity on the run
and there is something invigorating about that. At the same time, despite the flexibility needed, you need to plan and
schedule extremely well. We had seven locations to film in a single night,
so not only did we have an overall schedule, but everyone involved had
their own individual schedules with separate breaks, locations, timings
all factored in.
can you tell us about your collaboration with one another on Friends,
Foes & Fireworks? And since this is not the first time you're
working with each other, what can you tell us about your previous movies
together, and how did you first meet even?
collaboration is one of balance first and foremost when we work together
in a directing capacity. We had been friends for a long time before we
were married and have always worked together to make films in some
capacity through Nexus
Production Group. Now that we run the production company
together, the only thing that has changed is our workload and our
increased drive to succeed. The fact that we are different in nature works
well when we co-direct, co-produce and co-write our improvised feature
films as we complement each other but also sometimes butt heads, which
leads to a healthy balance in the outcome of our projects.
In regards to how we met, both Ivan and I were helping out a friend on
his short film, myself in art department and Ivan as a production
assistant. However we had not met on set, I worked full time in retail and
dressed the sets the night before the shoots and dropped off props when I
could, and to this day I have no recollection of having seen Ivan around
the set. When the film made it to a major festival in Sydney called Tropfest, we both attended as part of the crew, and Ivan and I ended up
chatting at the afterparty while enjoying overpriced champagne at a snobby
and pretentious bar. When we arrived back in Melbourne we met up to watch
a movie as friends, and we stayed friends for many years after, but we are
always together either working on films or dancing at city bars or
IM: We have contrasting styles as directors but somehow we find a
balance. For instance, I tend to push too far – louder, harder, more
extreme, while Sarah is more conservative and always wants to tone things
down. In there we find a happy middle. But it is great having a second
director you trust on set as you can bounce ideas off each other, seek
feedback, trust your partner to pick up things you may miss yourself. It
also forces you to explain why you want to do things a certain way and
what is the meaning behind the angle, the colour, the performance, etc. A
co-director holds you accountable. And honestly, without co-directing, we would not have been able to
Foes & Fireworks in a single night. Prior to midnight,
we were all together as a group, but after midnight the characters and
stories split, and so did our teams. So I am shooting in the apartment
with a sound recordist and a pair of actors, while Sarah is out at Catani
Gardens filming with the DP and another pair of actors. And we even
sometimes used this method when we were all in the same location too such
as the apartment – I would shoot a scene in the bathroom while Sarah
would be simultaneously shooting a scene on the balcony.
Do talk about
Foes & Fireworks' cast and crew, and why exactly these people?
SJ: Ivan and I had been active within the Melbourne indie film scene
for a decade each at the time of production, so when we are casting for
the five female leads, we knew who was available to fill the roles and
this eased the drama of the casting process. For Friends,
Foes & Fireworks we simply cast actors we already knew and had worked with in the
past, directly on our films, or on other people’s projects. This approach was used as
we had an idea of each actor's skills, and if they could pull off
improvisation, while also being easy to work with.
With Dan Hill, the only male character, he actually stepped in for
another actor we had written the role for. We were super blessed Dan said
yes as he comes with so much experience in the improvisation technique due
to being part of his own improvised series on YouTube called Improv
Sessions, of which he has produced and acted in over 100.
IM: In terms of crew, it was also working with people we knew and
trusted and had proven themselves on past projects. Our director of photography, Stephen Ramplin, came from a news background so he was
already familiar with the 'run and gun' style of shooting we wanted to use
– a fly on the wall type of look, as if we were eavesdropping on the
conversations of real people. So being at the right place at the right
time is what Steve does best.
Following this mindset, we hired people who had strong skills in at
least two aspects of filming – indie professionals – as we knew we
would use a tiny crew to move quickly and be inconspicuous in the anarchy
of New Year’s Eve.
Our sound designer, Gerard Mack, mixed the film very naturally, keeping
the trailing thoughts, stuttering, people talking over the top of each
other, because this is what real conversations sound like. Feedback on the
film has often praised the sound design and how real but also clear the
dialogue is – something mumblecore is not known to be hence why it is
dubbed ‘mumble’. So Gerard did a fantastic job, in fact, everyone did
and we could not have been blessed with a better team.
can you tell us about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
SJ: On set with the cast and crew at the very first location, as you
can imagine the vibe was ecstatic and exciting, we were all just really
pumped to be on set together giving this improvised one-nighter a go. As
we had not much of an idea as to what was to unfold in the coming 12
hours, so we had this shared sense of anticipation. I can’t speak for
the others, but I was a little bit nervous too about the whole process and
what we were about to undertake. You see when you watch that the actors,
as we open the film look all fresh, the tension is there between the right
actors, the vibe is chilled and fun, a little bit competitive, but the
cast is all hyped and they all look great. Of course as the night wears
on, the energy and overall appearance of the actors change – just as it
would when you are doing an all-nighter with friends, running around town
and drinking. Because it was shot in one night, the atmosphere what you see on the
screen in a way mimics the real life feeling. By the end we were all at
the point of collapse and the energy went really low, but emotionally for
the actors, due to the storyline, that was bound to happen.
you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Friends,
Foes & Fireworks?
SJ: The reception overall has been quite positive, even at the cinema
run we secured in Melbourne, the audience seemed to enjoy the
rollercoaster ride through the lives of these women and it gets the right
Reviews for the film have all been positive from critics and many have
mentioned it’s like eavesdropping on real conversations between friends.
Understandably, a lot of people are fascinated with the process and
can’t believe it was shot in one night. The actors have been praised
multiple times for their strong, relatable performances and we have also
had positive mentions about our sound design and score, created by Gerard
Mack. We also recently won Best Drama at Oz International Film Festival while
our lead Lara Deam won Best New Talent as Fiona and Jess Riley won Best
Supporting Actor for her role of Zoe.
Any future projects you'd
like to share?
IM: Right now we are deep in post production on In Corpore,
another completely improvised feature which delves deep into the grey
areas of relationships, exploring how four couples deal with love and
lust, commitment and infidelity, and traditional expectations versus
self-interest. Set in Melbourne, New York, Berlin and Malta, we worked closely with
four separate teams to tell anthological stories about couples under
strain, loyalties tested, and what happens when one partner's desires
deviate from the expectations of the relationship. We wanted to explore
the nature of commitment and the idea of sacrificing personal desires at
the altar of love – is it selfish to follow the desires of the body and
the soul or is this the only path to fulfilment? Even if it means hurting
the one you love?
We also release micro-shorts semi-regularly on our YouTube and Vimeo
channels called Life Improvised. With these films we tell small human
stories and try to capture the moments that make up relationships; the
awkwardness, joy, love, despair and more.
Finally, we are developing a feature called To Hold the Moon which
actually takes two characters from Friends,
Foes & Fireworks, Summer
and Lucinda, and explores their relationship two years on. So an indirect
sequel, set in Malta and London, a story we have been drafting for several
months now, working with a producer in Malta, but also working with Asleen
Mauthoor (Summer) and Whitney Harris (Lucinda), doing poster shoots,
filming teaser concepts, so it has all been very exciting.
You can find links to all these projects on our website www.nexusproductiongroup.com
You of course also have to talk about
your production company, Nexus
Production Group, for a bit, and the philosophy behind it!
Production Group was established in 2007 by myself and Patrick Siscar in
Melbourne, Australia. It was a means to produce our first films and learn
the craft of filmmaking. Our early work was raw and rough – in fact
years and years ago you reviewed my very first feature from 2011 on this
site called Dace Decklan: Private
Eye, a b-grade gross-out action-comedy.
How things have changed.
Sarah joined Nexus
in 2010, and in 2014 Clara Francesca joined,
completing the collective. Today, myself and Sarah are based in Malta,
Clara is in New York, while Patrick mans the ship in Melbourne.
So for us Nexus
is shared visions, passions, and skills gelling
together to make film that pushes boundaries, that doesn’t shy away from
the beautiful and ugly in humanity, the intimate, the dirty, the
contradictions of men and women, of love, sex, loneliness, confusion –
it’s an exhaustive list and it changes every day depending on our mood.
In the past we aimed wide and played in all sorts of genres, trying
everything from comedies to westerns to horror while we found our feet,
but today we focus on stories about relationships, usually stories told
from a woman’s point of view, and often stories told through
- Relationships because we are fascinated with exploring the innate human
desire for connection and all the rules and expectations we place on that
connection and what happens when those expectations are subverted.
- Women because in a male dominated world we want to hear the voices of
women. This new narrative has almost been a subconscious shift for us,
capped off with our latest feature In Corpore, which is also female driven
storywise. We now have a number of short and feature films starring female
protagonists who are relatable, strong-willed, flawed, driven and
conflicted, and we will continue telling the stories we feel we need to
- Improvisation because it is so exciting to us, so collaborative, so
freeing that we simply don’t feel like going back to scripts any time
talk about some previous releases from Nexus
SJ: Our best-selling film is Daughter, an award-winning 28 minute short
film and awareness project starring Katherine Langford (13 Reasons Why,
Love, Simon) as Scarlett, with the main themes explored in the film being
violence against women and victim blaming. The film was inspired by two
real life murder cases in Melbourne and the unjust media reporting which
followed. The story explores the themes through the eyes of the three varying
female characters, who separately venture out on a Friday night but their
lives entwine as they each become affected by a single act of violence. In 2017
Daughter joined BeamaClub through a distribution deal with
Beamafilm, making it available as an educational tool, on hand to be
screened to groups in selected libraries Australia-wide. The film is also
available on the Australian Teachers of Media Educational Shop website,
making it available for teachers to utilise the film in the classroom
alongside their learning and also internationally on FanForce – a
based site which allows fans to curate screenings in Australia, Canada,
America and New Zealand. Also watch internationally via streaming through
Vimeo On Demand, Amazon and IndieFlix.
We have a large collection of diverse short and feature films, many
available to watch for free, all the links on our website. If you want to
watch some of our latest improvised micro shorts titled Life
you can do so on our Vimeo channel or search us on YouTube - Life
Improvised, Nexus Production Group. All we ask from you in return is that
you subscribe to our channels and leave a comment.
production company's website, Facebook, whatever else?
Links aplenty. We are very social. Follow us, subscribe, come say hi:
else you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
SJ: We have a monthly newsletter, where news is shared with our
subscribers first, before it hits social media. Creatively Connected is
how we stay in contact with our community of like-minded people, share
links to articles we have read and feel inspired by, share links to our
work, any job postings, updates on the progress of our films, and much
for the interview!