This month, two young Australian filmmakers have launched their first joint project, a short film called Serving Joy (Nebula Pictures, shot by Eric Maddison, FSF).
Having acted on stage and screen since a young age, Ivan Bradara and Martin Sharpe have since screened their films at over fifty international film festivals between them.
Now, they have turned their talents to collaborating on a new venture—this time, uniting some of Victoria’s most renowned theatre veterans.
The richly textured team includes (alphabetically):
Andrea Swifte (over forty years of theatre, including for the MTC; QTC; Malthouse; La Mama and Red Stitch, as well as films including Till Human Voices Wake Us with Guy Pearce and Helena Bonham-Carter); Carole Patella (over thirty years theatrical experience, nominated for five Green Room awards, current Artistic Director of Dreamhouse Youth Theatre Company; Kate Fitzpatrick (recipient of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal for Services to the Theatre on the Britannia and whose extensive theatrical experience includes the MTC, Ensemble, Paris Theatre Company, Old Tote Theatre Company, and Big Toys, written for her by Patrick White); Ian Rooney (over thirty years of screen and stage experience, most recently in Rules for Living (Red Stitch Actor’s Theatre); Marita Wilcox (over thirty years as a writer, director, producer and actor in theatre, film and television); Paul Dawber (QTC, Malthouse, Los Angeles Shakespeare Co and multiple screen projects including Underground: The Julian Assange Story(Rachael Griffiths, Anthony LaPaglia) and Paper Planes featuring Sam Worthington, David Denham; Roger Oakley (over 50 years in classical and contemporary theatre and television); and Tom Gutterdige (twenty years’ experience, including as Artistic Director at Black Swan Theatre Company Perth, directing the Australian/NZ production of Yes, Prime Minister, world premiere of Birthrights by David Williamson for Melbourne Theatre Company, The Sound Garden for Oz Opera, and David Williamson’s Charitable Intent for the 2001 Melbourne Festival (Winner: Best New Australian Play, Victorian Green Room Awards).
The film serves (pardon the pun) to highlight what can be achieved through the power of creative collaboration, and how having a novel idea—even without funding or major budget—can be enough to spark the fire of talented veterans to dedicate their time and craft to new work.
Read on for how Martin and Ivan took a conversation at a Melbourne pub to a full-scale production.
TA: Congratulations on Serving Joy! How did the idea come about?
M: Without giving too much away, the story has been with me for years. I honestly never imagined it would be the next project I would direct but apparently Joy’s time was 2017. I always find that the ideas that stay with me and keep coming back are those worth pursuing, as though they’re stories that for whatever reason need to be told until they’re out of your system. As soon as I mentioned the idea to Ivan I saw his eyes light up and things snowballed pretty quickly from there!
I: Thank you! The idea was actually born in a grungy bar on Chapel St, Melbourne. Both Marty and I had been meeting for over two years at this one bar discussing ideas and drawing inspiration to create a project. During one of our meetings last year we realised a perfect opportunity had opened up time wise and we really wanted to get the ball rolling. We knew a short film would be a great starting point. Marty had been sitting on an idea about a hugely ambitious, dialogue-rich ensemble piece called Serving Joy— instantly hooking me in! Marty finished writing and once I finally had the script in my hands, I just knew we had to shoot it. I remember calling Marty and telling him it was the funniest short I had ever read! We hit pre-production pretty much on that same day and the rest, as they say, is history.
TA: You have some impressive, theatrically heavy-hitting cast members. What has your relationship been with theatre prior to filmmaking?
M: Theatre is a huge part of my experience. As an actor, I was a member Red Stitch Actors Theatre ensemble for a few years, which was actually where I first encountered Andrea Swifte who plays Joy. Interestingly, Andrea was always my only choice for Joy and I wrote the role with her in mind. I’ve also worked with the Melbourne Theatre Company many years ago and being surrounded by and having connections with so many veteran actors in the industry certainly helped the casting process.
I: It’s safe to say we wouldn’t have had such an in incredible cast for Serving Joy if it wasn’t for our theatre roots! Theatre is still a huge part of my craft. My early acting days involved studying and being a part of many solely theatre based schools. I truly believe that theatre opens many doors. It is the gateway for any actor, director or even producer to understand the craft and work ethic required to achieve any form of success in our industry. It’s also a great way to meet and collaborate with industry people!
TA: How do you each bring different strengths and perspectives to the collaborative process?
I: I know this might sound a little corny but I truly believe the industry bought us together! We both grew up acting together and being around the same people and in a funny way, we kept an eye on each other’s work (I remember going to watch his successful film Still Life and he coming to my short, Liar). We had been wanting to collaborate for a long time, feeling that we would make a good director/producer combo. We also knew we each had a great network of people behind us, giving us confidence in creating a team. The dominos were all in place and Serving Joy was the perfect starting point for our production company and our working relationship.
Both Marty and I bring different strengths to the table but many are very similar: We both understand the creative process of filmmaking (very important), we knew what we wanted to achieve with Serving Joy and we understood the challenges. There must be a lot of trust in place for a director/producer combo. My role as producer requires a lot of problem solving and is essentially to minimize problems and offer ideas on how seemingly impossible things can be done. I guess you could say that a key strength of any producer is to bring a sense of initiative from pre-production right through to post production and work closely with all heads of departments.
M: I think the reason Ivan and I work so well together is that we both bring strengths to different aspects of production which is why we compliment each other so well. We also share a really intense work ethic! There’s been many other collaborations over the years where one side kind of lets the team down, or someone is less committed than the other but Ivan and I will both work through the night and do what it takes to get the job done. We’re both as crazy as each other!
TA: Filmmaking is an expensive business. How can we keep costs down while not compromising on cast and quality?
I: It’s all about the script! If you have a brilliant story and show genuine enthusiasm to bring your story to life, the cast, crew and quality will follow. There is no doubt filmmaking is expensive and no matter how hard you try, your budget will most certainly always blow out. In saying so, if you want something you can’t be afraid to ask for it. When I’m bringing a crew together, most of them are full time professionals I have worked with in the past.
“It’s all about creating a network of people who know you’re serious and passionate about your work.”
Everyone wants to get paid (including myself), however there are plenty of people who want to be a part of a quality project if you provide them an environment they can work within. Again, it’s like the domino effect, once word gets out that you have professional and experienced people coming on board to work on your film, phone calls start to come your way with people asking if there are any positions available to fill on set.
M: The reality is that filmmaking is a very expensive pursuit. Unless you come from money or have some sort of private investment, in the early days you’re going to have to fork out some money. A short film like Serving Joy was very much a passion project. We had no government funding or investment and the majority of the budget comes out between the director and producer.
“When you’re doing a project that’s a bit ‘beg borrow and steal’ (as the saying goes), a lot of people work for free or for a very small fee, so the main tools you have to work with are the previous relationships you have formed, your reputation, and the quality of the project itself.”
Basically if people like you and enjoy working with you, they’re much more giving with their time and if people love the project then you’re in a really good place.
TA: What excites you both as filmmakers and what future directions would you like to see the industry move toward?
M: I think Ivan and I agree that we should be making more genre films! We’ve seen so many ‘kitchen sink heroin stories’ in Australia, I think Australians are a bit fatigued of seeing constantly grim or depressing suburban stories. Films like Wolf Creek and The Babadook have proven horror has an audience regardless of a big name cast or director.
“I think due to the lack of money available in the industry, filmmakers tend to minimise or limit their ideas with fear that more ambitious stories could never possibly get funded. To me that’s a creativity killer and I think we should be thinking big.”
I’d love to see more Aussie adventure or sci-fi films! People just want to be transported when they enter the cinema and leave behind whatever is going on in their lives and escape for a few hours and I want to see more of that.
I: We are both excited about creating passionate, innovative stories. You could spend days and weeks plotting the perfect script and writing it but at the end of the day if you don’t have the resources and a team behind you those ideas will only stay on paper. For me it’s about working with as many people as I can.
“We have all the right ingredients in Australia. We are so lucky to have some of the most talented writers, directors and actors but we just don’t have an adequate platform yet to allow these people to flourish.”
We are definitely missing more genre film and TV in Australia. I think we need to take more risks and create more genre-based content. Audiences are craving something a little different to your stock standard drama shows or biopic films. I believe we need a stronger platform to allow independent filmmakers a chance to showcase their work.
“We need to definitely invest in local talent and work on keeping them on home soil.”
We should also work harder in attracting major overseas production companies to collaborate with our talent and shoot projects in Australia.
TA: Lastly, what are your Five Top Tips for Success?
1. Create your own opportunities
There is an abundance of passionate and talented people in any creative field who want to do exactly what you want to do, so no one is going to offer you an opportunity to begin with. When you’re starting out you have to give yourself the green-light and through sheer force of will, make your own opportunities happen. The snow ball effect takes place from there and other opportunities will always follow.
Your attitude on set is infectious. As producer and director, our passion and enthusiasm trickles down to the entire crew. This can be really tough when you’re looking at 5am starts and exhausting days, so you have to be the most energized presence on set, keeping everyone focused on the same goal. At the end of the day, people like working with nice people!
Strength in numbers. Filmmaking is the ultimate collaboration and surrounding yourself with the best people means that not only will you elevate your output but also you’ll learn and grow from everyone around you.
4. Be Unique
Having your own unique story and experience is like gold. Trying to copy someone else’s style or ideas is always going to come across as inauthentic. If you create something that is different from everything else out there, you automatically have an edge.
5. Work ethic
Work harder than everyone else in the room!