Interview with Director/Writer Josh Zammit

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

P9180083What 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.

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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.

Ascendant is just starting out on it’s film festival run. For updates on the film, like Ascendants Facebook page here.  Find out more about Josh Zammit’s work here.

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Facon is released online!

Happy to say that Facon has finally been released online to watch and enjoy! Please watch and share!

Facon gets special mention at Flickerfest and is included in Flickerfest National Tour!

Flickerfest

Two updates from the festival front! Facon got a special mention at the Flickerfest Green Flicks section. Joshua Dang, Barbara Ings and I were thrilled to hear it, since there were really really good films in the section. Greenflicks was judged by Costa Georgiadis, Gregory Miller and Kate Harris. The judges praised Facon for its sense of humour dealing with environmental issues.

We’re also really happy about how well the film played at all the screenings. The Short Laughs Comedy sessions were sold out and it was great to be alongside such hilarious company!

Facon at Flickerfest

Shaun Colnan, who starred as Travis, makes a short speech after Facon receives an honourable mention at the closing night awards ceremony. 

The other great news is that Facon has been chosen to tour nationally. The full tour dates can be seen here.

Flickerfest Closing Night 1

Me (Writer / Producer), Barbara Ings (Producer), Jane Watt (Tia), Costa Georgiadis (Greenflicks Judge), Shaun Colnan (Travis) and Kate Harris (Greenflicks Judge) at the Flickerfest Closing Night. Facon director Joshua Dang was sadly unable to attend.

Flickerfest Closing Night 2

Shaun Colnan (Travis), Barbara Ings (Producer), Me (Writer / Producer) and Jane Watt (Tia) at the Flickerfest Closing Night. Director Joshua Dang was sadly unable to attend.

Facon At Flickerfest!

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I’m thrilled to announce that the film I wrote and produced Facon is having it’s World Premiere at Flickerfest. It’s an amazing accomplishment for the director Joshua Dang, producer Barbara Ings and the whole team to have achieved. Come along to support the film and laugh enthusiastically at the jokes.

Flickerfest 2017 Festival Trailer from Flickerfest on Vimeo.

Facon is being featured in the Short Laughs Comedy screenings and GreenFlicks 2017, so there will be three screenings that you can attend:

Short Laughs Comedy – Fri 13 Jan, 8.45pm
http://flickerfest.com.au/programme/short-laughs-comedy-2017/
GreenFlicks 2017 – Sat 14 Jan, 4.30pm
http://flickerfest.com.au/programme/greenflicks-2017/
Short Laughs Comedy 2017 (repeat) – Sat 14 Jan, 6.30pm
http://flickerfest.com.au/programme/short-laughs-comedy-2017-repeat/

Tickets are $20 and it will be held at the Bondi Pavillion. Come along to watch some great comedy/environmental ideas and support the film!

http://flickerfest.com.au/film/facon/

Facon; Behind The Scenes

‘Facon’ has been filmed!! I’m really happy with how it turned out.

You can see the full credits of the film on the IMBd page. Click on the film poster below to download the Press Kit. If you’d like to discuss the project or future work contact Josh for a private link to the film (UPDATE! You can watch it here: http://bit.ly/2qkGnb1.)

Facon Poster
Hopefully it will be having a film screening near you soon!

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Facon is being made into a film!

In 2013, I went to ATYP’s National Studio and wrote a monologue called ‘Facon’. In 2014,  the monologue was performed at ATYP in the show Bite Me and published by Currency Press. In 2015, ‘Facon’ is going to made into a film directed by Joshua Dang!

Over the past few weeks I’ve been working tirelessly to adapt Facon (which was an all-rhyming monologue) into a screenplay. After lots of hard work we’ve finally got it polished.

It was always a dream of mine to have ‘Facon’ made into a film so I am thrilled. Please watch the crowd funding campaign video above and donate if you can spare any money.

I’ll keep you updated!

http://www.pozible.com/project/197147

What I made in a semester during my Masters of Media Arts and Production

So before I went all deep in that last post I was going to show you what I made this semester during my Masters of Media Arts and Production. The point of this blog post is two-fold. Firstly, it’s for me to show off, and also put the spotlight on projects that may other wise never see the light of day again. Secondly, showing the creative products of one semester studying at UTS might help people who are wondering about the course or trying to figure out which courses to take.

Directing

I made two videos during my directing class. In this first video I had to shoot a scene from ‘Silence of the Lambs’ within an hour in class, using only other classmates as crew and actors.

How we wanted the scene to be played was up to our discretion and it’s pretty weird, but I like it. I had to drag one of my classmates, Francisco, on a skate board to get the shot in the corridor, which was cool.  

For my final directing exercise we had to choose one script, from a collection of four, to direct for our final project. I’m happy with how it turned out.  

Sound and Interaction

So if you thought those projects were weird you’re in for a surprise with these two, because they are much weirder.

During this course I had to make one audio piece and one interactive work. Working with John Scarpias and Barbara Ings, I made this experimental sound piece for the audio component.

Sound

‘Cults’ is an experimental sound piece that focuses on the Australian cult, ‘The Family’. It explores notions of passive control and psychological manipulation. Using a sixty minutes interview with the leader of the cult: Anne Hamilton-Byrne, as the sound mark, we created a rich and diverse soundscape that highlighted the surreal elements of this horrible section of Australian history. We utilised sounds that are usually classified as acoustic rubbish (dial up tones, static) to rework into a rich tapestry that evokes a sense of the dystopia.

Interaction

For the interactive component of the course I made an interactive game on Hype. My interactive project was called ‘Miss Matilda’s Shop of Pretty Little Things for Pretty Little Girls’. The project is a comment on femininity and how video games are so highly gendered. I wanted to present the facade of a traditional ‘girly game’, the type of game that was offered to me as a child by Barbie and Polly Pocket, and subtly interweave violence and masochism which is usually associated with male gaming culture.

If you click the picture below it will load.

Miss Matilda's Shop of Pretty Little Things for Pretty Little Girls

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/spa/x6gpip9j3v0nblb/Exports/MissMatildasShop/MissMatildasShop.html

Digital and Multiplatform Storytelling

Multiplatform Storytelling was a course created to follow Sound and Interaction for those who wanted to expand further into Digital Media. I took it as an elective because I’m really interested in different ways to use the internet and apps in fiction. However, UTS doesn’t specify that it’s a course that is meant to proceed the other. So I ended up doing both in the same semester which was annoying.

Stephanie Phillips, Sally Massos, Clare O’Halloran and I created Personality Punch Up for our project. It was made in Hype.

If you click the picture below it will load.

Personality Punch Up

file:///Volumes/FELICITY/Master_PersonalityPunchUp/Master_PersonalityPunchUp.html

The target audience of Personal Punch Up is school aged children. In the game you are asked to choose between two groups of historical figures. You are then given facts about the historical figures and are asked to choose which historical figure will win in battles against each other.

By asking children to battle historical figures we hoped that, under the guise of a game, the children might learn about the figures and their lives.

My favourite thing about this project however is that I finally got to apply my experience as a spoken word poet in a more commercial type setting. We also went super well, which is always nice.

Conclusion
So there you have it. This is what I made in one semester at UTS doing the Media Arts and Production course. One thing I love about UTS is that they do really encourage you to do very experimental projects and urge you to think outside commercial media products and mediums. The only downside of this is that sometimes you can end up with a lot of strange little projects that don’t add up to a portfolio as such. If you’re a UTS student trying to choose which subjects to do next semester, I hope this helps.