Once I have the idea I don’t write anything straight away. I let the idea tell me it’s important. So it’s the thing that keeps coming back to you.Joel Stephen Fleming
Award-winning Brisbane-based writer director Joel Stephen Fleming has a new short film in the works. His company 13th Street Films is in collaboration with producer Derek Griffiths, and here’s how Derek announced it on Facebook via his Visul brand.
Here is the log line for ‘Jacks’:
A police officer’s first time undercover takes a series of surprising turns on the night he partakes in a gangland drug deal.
What’s the deal with shorts?
Joel said a short film is generally the way filmmakers get started, but for him. the short has become a creative outlet.
“13th Street does content for other people, we make our own, and we work on bigger long-form stuff in the professional industry. We do feature films, TV series, big TVC commercials, music videos, people’s YouTube channel shows, all sorts of creative video stuff.
So short films is a fun way to practise your skills, and get our whole team together and be creating something! I thought I’d write another one, since I haven’t done one since ‘Night Fill’, and that went really well.”
‘Night Fill’ won several best film awards at local and rural film festivals around Australia. It played horror-related film festivals like MonsterFest and the Halloween Film Festival in Belgium. It won at Sanctuary Cove – Best Performance and Best Horror. Then played at the Stellar Short Film Festival. “They are curators and only take award-winning short films, so you have to have won a Best Film award just to be eligible” Joel said. “They choose their top 12 favourites and they’re from all over Australia. The patron of the festival is Michael Caton, heaps of Australian actors are involved and it’s a great festival. That was a big, fun experience from ‘Night Fill’. Cameron Hurry wrote ‘Night Fill’ – it was basically his real life experience. So we brought his film to life.”
“It’s good on your resume to have hit short films. I wanted to do something really fun. I don’t want to be on set for a short which is heavy and dramatic.”
A labour of love with complete creative control, right?
“Yes, of course we have control and that’s great. That’s the thing with developing shows, you know? It’s your idea, you put all this effort into it, and then producers come along and go: ‘Just change this. You don’t need this character.’ If you’re going down that road of funding where millions of dollars will be spent if this gets made, you have to sacrifice. So it’s fun to be at this level where we agree on exactly what the thing is, between the crew and the cast, and we make it like a little family. It’s really fun when you’re making a good quality short.”
Actor Jake Doak, who plays the undercover cop DREW in ‘Jacks’. This photo is from ‘Welcome To Wrigleton’, a 13th Street Films TV pilot.
Joel said the idea for ‘Jacks’ came while joshing around with some comedy writers at the Sanctuary Cove Film Festival last year. He’d made a comment about an idea for a story. It stuck.
“If an idea keeps coming into your head, then it means something to you or it’s more important or maybe juicier than the other ideas. So once this one kept coming up, I thought I need to write it down. Then I got excited, like: Who suits these characters? I started writing (the character) Drew, and I was writing it for Jake Doak, because Jake’s been in some of our TV pilots and stuff. He has a certain style of comedy that suits, and I elaborated from there.”
But it’s film, not a novel. Joel writes but he doesn’t write down a story. He writes random dialogue for his characters completely disconnected from what is actually going on! So how does that work?
“We’re telling a story, with all the tools. You’ve got music, sound, actual dialogue. Then you’ve got the actions that the characters take, so in that way you’ve got a lot of facets and different ways to elicit emotion, which is what you are trying to do with a film.
Sound, music, dialogue, props = team effort
“Yeah, it depends on the project and the process. So I actually co-write some projects with Sian Laycock, my partner. She’s a really smart, funny person. We live together and I talk ideas out with her. So when it’s the right project I’ll do it with her. If something’s particularly female or there’s a lot of female character structure, then it’s always better to do it with her and have that authentic viewpoint.”
Sian Laycock, Production Design and Costume Design.
Sian does production design and costume. She’s going to fill that frame with the colours that we imagine. The world’s going to be painted by her. The camera is nothing without the production design, and the costumes selling you who the characters are. It’s a very underrated part of film and TV.Joel Stephen Fleming
“They always talk about the cinematographer, which is the camera. But I think production design is hugely important and the more fun and quirky a movie is, the more the production design is a huge part of that. Have you ever seen a Wes Anderson movie? Some people use a distinct, quirky visual style and that’s really important to me. The comedy that me and Sian can do together – visually – we understand each other really well.”
“There is a hierarchy in film. I’m directing, and I always try and work like a team, and ask: What’s your viewpoint, and why? But I can also say No, we’re doing this. I met Derek Griffiths through networking with other filmmakers. He makes really good films as well, as a producer and a director. We’ve always wanted to do something together, so I said: I’ve got this really fun idea. You know, we’re in lockdown, do you want to start working on this and when we can shoot we’ll do it. He was like: Yea, it’ll be awesome. Derek’s roommate Connor Armitage is a cinematographer so Derek says: Let’s try doing it with this guy. So it will be interesting as this is the first time we’ve actually worked together on a set.”
Derek Griffiths, Creative Producer at Visul, True Blue Film, Pizza Deliverance.
‘Jacks’ will probably be a maximum of ten minutes. “The shorter the better. A festival will have a night – maybe a two hour slot – where they screen their best films. You don’t really want to go more than fifteen. If you can do it in ten, do it in ten. Why not? You get through all the beats and hit the ending.”
Actor Sen Shao play cool assassin ZHI in ‘Jacks’. Can’t believe I’m working alongside this beautiful man in this film. Better still, I’m his crime boss YANG…
The long and winding road to film school
After an initial career as a sports coach, Joel went back to university to study film and graduated in 2017. He has been making films full-time for over a year.
“At the orientation on the first first day in film school they say, “Five per cent of you will have a career in film.” So I’m like: That’s really disheartening but if it’s true then that’s me – I’m one of them. It fuelled my fire. I’ve always been a competitive person, that’s my mentality. It’s quite annoying sometimes to people, that I’m too full on.”
“As a kid I had a lot of imagination. I’d be the one who comes up with the game, you know when you’re a little kid? We’re cops and you’re the robbers and we’re doing this… So I was already directing, in a way. I was also a keen sporty kid, being a leader in a team sport, and then I became a coach. I think a lot of those skills transfer well to directing and casting a crew. It’s interesting because a lot of creative people are not sporty, and they kind of look down at sport, while I think I’ve learnt a lot from that.”
“A lot of it is just believing you can do it. At uni, me and my friends created three times the amount of content required for the course. We made films all the time. I’d be like: I’ve got this idea guys, on the holidays or on the weekend we’re doing this, doing that. I pushed everyone in my group that we’re really going to do this.”
“I haven’t directed or made my own feature film. I’ve got a few scripts going around, trying to get financing. That’s a huge goal of mine to make my own feature film or to direct a feature film. I’ve actually had one win a competition and then – just by bad luck – a film with a similar kind of plot came out. It blocked my film, because it was like: ‘We don’t want to make that film, it’s really similar to this one, and we can’t bring it out in the same market in Australia.’ So, that’s one of those unlucky stories for a writer. You work for years on an idea, and you don’t know who else, anywhere in the world, has a similar idea. You’re not copying each other, but you both have the same idea – that kind of stuff happens!”
Tristan Barr plays SPUD in ‘Jacks’. Tristan is a producer, director and actor. He is the co-founder of Continuance Pictures, and his award-winning movie Watch The Sunset, released in cinemas in 2019 was labelled as one of the top 5 films of the year by Cinema Australia. Photograph is from ‘Watch The Sunset’.
“For a feature film, you have an idea, and then you’ve got to put time in to write 100 pages or whatever, to make sure it’s really perfect. Depending on where you are in your career – I’m quite known in Brisbane, but in the wider world I’m an emerging film maker. The less well known you are the more you have to prove you can do the work, and show them the script. ‘Night Fill’ is being turned into a feature as well at the moment. So we’ve got about six different projects on the go, and a lot of them are with Tristan Barr, who plays drug dealer Spud in ‘Jacks’.”
“Tristan’s an experienced producer as well. He has a company, and a lot of our projects are connected with him. Together we pitch to networks and he does a lot of important producing work. He’s good at talking the talk and networking, unlike me. I just want to work and do the writing, and make the thing. So we’re a good team in that way.”
Tristan directed ‘Watch The Sunset’ which is on Stan at the moment. I’ll post about his formidable work with Continuance Pictures, and about Derek, his film crew and companies. There’ll also be something about Sian and her wacky costumes and designs, actors Sen Shao and Jake Doak, plus something about my badass drug dealer character YANG and what she means to me.