Artist, Director & Writer, Josh Zammit, sits down to talk to the Unreliable Narrator about his newest film, Ascendant. Since Ascendant conception in 2014, the short, set on a Greyhound Track, has hit more than its fair share of production hurdles, but by the look of it, it’s going to be a real winner. The Ascendant trailer has just been released and it’s already gaining traction. Words by Felicity Pickering.
The trailer looks fabulous! Can you tell us a little about Ascendant and what led you to make it?
Thanks! Ascendant is the story of a man who breaks into an abandoned greyhound racing track in a bleak future, in his ventures he finds a greyhound that was left behind and from there begins to find out the dark truths behind the track. I wrote the film with Samuel Loveridge back in 2013 after just finishing Post Production on a film I wrote and produced called ‘Observance’ and was looking do something I could direct. I wanted to make something Black and white and to be more like an atmospheric mood piece rather than the punch line short film.
What was your development process?
The idea for Ascendant came from a character Sam (Co-writer/Producer) and I had written in another script called Seeder. We wanted to explore the characters past and ended up finding him in this abandoned Greyhound track. After that the ideas started rolling in. We do a lot of talking about the tone and the world before we start writing the story usually, then when we have that all figured out we’ll write an outline and move onto the script.
Ascendant is shot on an ambitious location, a greyhound track. Why did you feel you had to shoot there? Were there any obstacles?
When we started writing we had already locked a location for the greyhound track and weren’t really worried at all. The difficulty at first was actually scouting the interior locations, we found it very difficult to find any hall locations that fit the style of the film and we were hunting for almost a year to find the right place. In the end we found something and then the out of nowhere the Greyhound Industry was banned in NSW. This basically put the project on halt, as the Greyhound Track location was no longer willing to have us due to all the controversy in the media. After a while the ban was lifted and we were able to figure something out with the track but it came with a lot of compromises and intense scheduling limitations.
How long have you been working on this film?
It took us nearly 4 years of attempts to get this thing off the ground. We first tried to get Ascendant off the ground as far back as 2013 but got knocked back due to budget limitations and logistical issues. When we realised the scale of the production we had to get to work on funding sources and that took a long while. We had two round of crowd funding campaigns and I ended up putting a lot of my own money into it too.
You’ve got a very talented cast and crew aboard Ascendant. How did you assemble your team?
Yes, I’m very proud of the cast and crew, many are longtime friends and others we found through online call outs and or recommended by friends. All amazing hard working people. Sam, Co-writer and Producer, and I went to TAFE together and have been collaborating for years, he was was massive part of this project and was there every step of the way, battling through the endless struggles. The Cinematographer, Carl Robertson has been a close friend of mine since I first started in the industry back when I was a 17 year old kid. We’ve been talking about collaborating for years and were finally able to do something with Ascendant, I learned so much from him on this project. The lead actor Harry is actually a dear friend of my cousin, and we met through her. This project was written with him specifically in mind and I had been having conversations with him about it before we finished the script.
Ascendant is almost a silent film. What led you to this choice?
Silent in terms of dialogue, yes. It wasn’t a conscious decision, we kind of only realised this after we wrote the thing and it’s just what the story called for. I find that characters I write are usually very passive or silent anyway, probably because I’m a massive introvert.
Ascendant is shot in black and white, what led to this choice? Were you inspired by any particular films to do this?
I love the world of black and white, it’s a dreamier, darker and more mysterious place to play in. Ascendant is set in a 50’s alternate reality, so it works beautifully with the tone and the mood that we were trying to create, also this being a crowd sourced/self funded film, I knew it might be my only opportunity to shoot in Black and White.
What do you say to the age old adage, ‘never work with children or animals’? Agree or disagree? How was your canine talent?
I’d agree, though when you get it right it’s certainly worth the risk. We were very unlucky at the start, the first dog we had booked ended up dying of cancer just before our first attempt at shooting, but later on we got a replacement and ended with amazing results BUT it’s a was a huge risk.
Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking was not just a hobby, but that it would be your life and your living?
I was pretty determined at a young age, I left school at 16 and enrolled into a screen and Media course at TAFE. During that I started working on sets in Art department. I was pretty certain from then that I’d be working in film for a long while or a least I hoped. After Observance, the disease had taken over and there was no turning back. Plus I don’t really know how to do anything else.
What makes a film great for you? Are there certain qualities that make a film better for you?
Anything that challenges you as an audience member, something that takes you into a world or makes you think or question reality and doesn’t take the easy way out.
What films have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why?
The films of David Lynch have been a massive influence on my style. Eraserhead was a big game changer for me, when I first saw that film I had realisation and confidence that there was an audience out the for the kind of stories I wanted to tell. Director’s like Michael Haneke, David Cronenberg, Roman Polanski, Luis Bunuel, Ingmar Bergman and Andrei Tarkovsky also have had a huge influence on me. Like everyone else.
Do we see these influences in Ascendant?
Visually, I think a few may have slipped in, perhaps a bit of Tarkovsky and Lynch. Not to compare this to anything on their level! No way!
Is there something you try to subvert or avoid or rebel against in your work?
I hope to rebel against most of the conventions of story telling and to leave the audience with questions and something to wonder about when the film is over.
Any parting advice to other filmmakers starting out in the industry?
They all say it, but yes, go make a film. I’d suggest try you’re hardest to make something completely unique and that’s meaningful to you. There is so much suffering and pain involved when making a film, so be sure whatever you’re making is meaningful to you.