Steve Jaggi: Digging for Pearls

March 13, 2019
Best known for his work as a producer (Rip Tide, Zelos, upcoming Back of the Net), the filmmaker broke all of his own rules when he embarked on his directorial feature debut, Chocolate Oyster.

You’ve primarily worked as a producer, so why direct now?

Producing has, and will continue to be my primary focus. I’m immensely proud of the business we’ve built, in less than ten years going from micro budget to three studio acquisitions in a row. Having said that, a by-product of these successes has been a move towards very defined verticals (we have two – both female focused – tween and 40+). Consequently, there is a part of me which yearns to explore, and experiment, in a fashion which wouldn’t be permissible with the more commercial titles. Chocolate Oyster provided me with that outlet and allowed me to explore storytelling and techniques which I’ve been fascinated with for quite some time – namely retroscripting and cinema verite.

Why black and white and improvised, and what are the things that you learnt through that process that both benefitted the film or otherwise?

Black and white was something I decided on right at the beginning of the process – the conceit being that since we were telling a story about a group of millennials, we would strip the story of modern artefacts as best we could to really focus solely on their journeys. This included limiting use of mobile phones, there are no computers, etc. From a narrative perspective, we followed an aforementioned technique called retroscripting. The plot was mapped out, and the crew all knew what was going to happen, but the actors had to improvise their dialogue. Further to this technique, the actors were often given goals which were at odds with one another – which lends to the film’s unique voice.

Chocolate Oyster lead actress Anna Lawrence

The film premiered at Sydney Film Festival to some divisive reactions from the media. What are your thoughts on the reaction?

We were thrilled to premiere at Sydney – it was an honour we weren’t expecting. Both screenings sold out pretty quickly, and the film was one of, if not the most discussed prior to the festival. We were featured in the Sydney Morning Herald and a dozen other publications. We were also on the Festival curators top 10 films to watch at the festival. Early reviews were excellent as well – so all in all we went into the screenings very buoyed. But as they say, what goes up must come down. Immediately after the first screening we started receiving anonymous emails, FB messages, etc, which were incredibly rude. Some were attacking me as a director, but many were attacking the film and the two central (female) characters. The real shock came when News Corp gave us a one star review, which was followed by another couple of negative reviews from more conservative news sources. There’s also an entire chat site online dedicated to attacking the film. This was all rather shocking! Coming from a background of producing lots of G and PG rated films, I wasn’t used to this sort of strong response from people. The film definitely triggered something. Recently, I was on a radio show in Byron Bay discussing this and the host had an excellent word, “future shock”, which is defined as a personal reaction to too much change in too short a period of time – alluding to the documentary style portrait of millennial women displaying (and exploring) agency in regards to their bodies, careers, etc and how this might be difficult for more conservative viewers to swallow. I’m no expert here, so I’ll have to rely on the experts to comment further on why Chocolate Oyster triggers certain people.

Now that the theatrical tour has started, the backlash seems to have disappeared. Audiences have been (so far) very receptive, and with a couple of excellent Q&As behind us we’re very much looking forward to touring the rest of the country and sharing Chocolate Oyster with Australia.

Chocolate Oyster Producer Christine Luby and one of the cast, Stephanie King at a recent event screening at the Brunswick Picture House

Chocolate Oyster is screening in Sydney at Dendy Newtown on Friday March 15, Dendy Canberra on Saturday March 16, Mercury Cinema in Adelaide on Sunday March 17, Classic Cinema in Melbourne on Monday March 18, Majestic Cinemas in Nambour on Friday March 22, New Farm Cinemas in Brisbane on Saturday March 23, Dendy Coorparoo in Brisbane on Sunday March 24, Mercury Cinema Club in Adelaide on Tuesday April 2 and Perth’s Luna Leederville on Wednesday April 2, with each screening followed by a cast or crew Q&A.

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