“One of the awesome things about winning this award at SF3, is that I get to take comedy improv classes as part of the prize!” says Stephanie King when we speak to her following her win at this emerging film festival, in which all entries have been shot on a phone.
In Joel Perlgut’s uproarious comedy, Sad Sachs, King plays Ella, the eldest of the privileged Sachs siblings, who along with her brother Jacob (Jared Jekyll) and sister Gabby (Victoria Zerbst), are late for a family wedding, and end up getting into an unexpected incident with their driver (Tony Nikolakopoulos).
“From the moment I read the opening scene I knew I wanted in,” says King. “There was such a rich dynamic between the siblings, and Joel’s ideas are so wacky and his dialogue is just so damn funny! The shoot in Bowral was one of the most calm, supportive and joyful film experiences I’ve ever had – not something you’d necessarily expect from a short film shot on an iPhone, or a first-time director. Even doing ADR was fun! That’s a testament to Joel’s natural gift as a director and his generosity as a real collaborator, as well as the professionalism of producers Sleena Wilson and Sarah Christie in running such a well-oiled machine behind the scenes. I found it to be a real lesson in the value of on-set culture, as it gave the actors the freedom to play and find all the unwritten moments between lines, which is essential for comedy, and I think corresponds directly to the number of laughs and level of glee expressed by our audiences so far.”
Initially working as a dancer, it was a natural step for King to turn to acting.
“I grew up competing as a dance soloist all around Sydney, predominantly in jazz and contemporary, although I trained in most styles,” she tells us. “After Year 12, I went full-time, convincing my very academic family that I was just taking a “gap year” to dance, and would soon go to uni. I then worked as a professional dancer in live stage-shows and music videos, but more significantly, it was during this time that I first came to take acting classes. It was quite a revelation for me, as I had been feeling disillusioned by the lack of agency often afforded commercial female dancers, and suddenly having words to say seemed to alter this dynamic. I had also been a really bookish kid, so acting was a welcome excuse for me to merge the interiority of my natural bookworm mode with the extroversion of a life of performance.”
And it’s clear that agency is extremely important for King, who has also stepped into producing.
“I’ve always been someone who just makes things, ever since I was a kid. So, it never really occurred to me to be only performing, or only writing – both of which I was doing from a young age. While I was establishing myself as an actor, I was also doing a communications degree at UTS, majoring in writing and cultural studies, with a keen focus on film, literature and politics. After graduating from the three year degree, I had to leave in the middle of my Honours when Observance was picked up for an international festival circuit and I was offered a great role on The Code. Something I still quietly lament, but wouldn’t dare complain about!”
Observance was a stylish, cryptic indie genre film in which King played a crucial supporting role. Her next production credit, though, was much more all-consuming.
“I sort of fell into producing by virtue of being able to get things done on films that I was already close to, but I quickly saw this as a vehicle to facilitate my greater passion for story-telling, particularly stories for social change,” King tells us. “My first feature documentary, Undermined, with director Nicholas Wrathall, was the first project where I was really strategic about this. I had spent some time on other projects in the Kimberley when the Western Australian government of the day announced the plan to close a large number of remote Aboriginal communities. We were invited to hear from a number of key leaders in the region, who had not been given the air time afforded the Premier and wanted to share their concerns with wider Australia, and so producing a documentary of this scale was the logical way to amplify these critical voices to a broader audience.”
King also continues to take informed risks as a performer, working on material that excites her, including Sad Sachs, which was shot on an iPhone.
“It was actually a bit of a novelty to not have a large metal box in your face while you’re trying to feel things! Not that I am averse to such things, luckily, given my chosen profession. But the iPhone did end up affording us a lot more time and flexibility than a bulkier camera would have, especially given that a great part of the film’s action plays out inside a car, and we didn’t have to deal with the trouble of car mounts and the time-sink of new set-ups.”
Another project that King appears in, which is yet to release is the intriguingly titled We’re Not Here to Fuck Spiders.
“It’s a crime thriller, a sort of neo-noir, that subverts the power dynamics of traditional gender tropes in genre films,” she explains. “The film was shot in a really innovative way, with this dilapidated house in Enmore rigged with about 13 hidden cameras, and each scene improvised, shooting in chronological order. Sometimes two scenes would be playing out simultaneously in different rooms, as they would in a real house. It was shot so quickly that Lindsay [Farris, co-star] and I decided to move into the house, and hardly left the place during the shoot, so that we could focus on developing what we did know – the space, our characters’ relationship and our given circumstances – so that we’d be ready for anything Josh [Reed, writer/director] threw at us. It was a super risky shoot, but fast-paced and full of adrenaline, which are definitely all things that drew me to the project.”
Signed with US management group, Fourward and recently nabbing “a great recurring role on a much-loved Aussie drama for one of the major networks, which I’m looking forward to sharing after the announcement,” Stephanie King is definitely going places, but where exactly is still up for grabs.
“For someone who works across so many different mediums, it’s important to know what each medium can and should – or shouldn’t – do,” she tells us. “I believe that content should dictate form, or more specifically, that a story will let you know its best container, and I find the freedom to do that by wearing multiple creative hats.”
Sad Sachs will be making its online premiere on NoBudge, a US-Based independent platform for short film, in early November.