Zelos: A Female Driven Aussie Drama

June 22, 2016
Writer/producer, Claire Harris, pulls back the curtain on Zelos, a female-driven Australian drama currently in the final stages of post-production.

Unlike most Australian film projects, Zelos is helmed by women, with a majority female crew, including writer/producer, Claire Harris, producer/director, Jo-Anne Brechin, cinematographer, Emma Paine, and editor, Christine Cheung. “Jo-Anne and I met at AFTRS in 2013 and, after I finished the screenplay, we made a pact to shoot the film ourselves within two years,” explains Claire Harris. “We gathered a team of passionate cast and crew who worked for little or no financial reward, and then founded a production company and put forward our own money to cover development and production costs. We completed the shoot in January 2016 with the support of Definition Films [The Water Diviner, Ruben Guthrie], who lent us camera equipment and post-production facilities. We’re now raising finances for completion of the film, through a campaign with The Australian Cultural Fund and private investment.”

Featuring a cast of exciting Australian talent led by Ben Mortley (Lantana, McLeod’s Daughters), Shannon Ashlyn (Wolf Creek 2, Love Child) and Jeanie Drynan (Muriel’s Wedding, Paperback Hero), Zelos (from the Greek, meaning “zeal” and “passion” but also “jealousy” and “suspicion”) is a coming of age story for thirty-somethings. The film focues on 35-year-old Bernard, who has a successful career, a meticulously neat beachside apartment, and a girlfriend, Sarah, whom he adores. But his pristine existence is turned upside down when Sarah confesses to having had an affair. To salvage the relationship, Sarah insists that they equal the playing field, and that Bernard should sleep with another woman. It’s a suggestion which may ultimately destroy them…

Shannon Ashlyn in Zelos

Shannon Ashlyn in Zelos

Your inspiration for the story…where did that come from? It’ll certainly get audiences talking!! “It started as a short story, and at the time I was writing it, I was in a long term relationship. The story itself never actually happened, but the idea evolved out of reflections on relationships and how they all touch the subject of infidelity eventually one way or another – not necessarily that one partner cheats, but they may toy with the idea at some point. Then I was thinking about whether a relationship could survive infidelity, and I was interested in how that might play out.”

This is very much a female driven project. Was that always your aim when putting Zelos together, or was it something of a “happy accident”? “We didn’t entirely set out to get together a female crew, and we also had some great men in our crew, like our sound recordist, Tim Lloyd, and associate producer, David Bedelis. But the director, Jo-Anne Brechin, had worked with our cinematographer, Emma Paine, before. And then I think the more women that we got on board, the more the project attracted female crew because they were interested in that aspect – working in a majority female environment, which is so different from the industry standard. Once we started putting women in the key crew roles, we really loved the particular dynamic that it created…so we kept going with it.”

How did you source your crew? You were all doing this for little or no money? Did that include cast? How did you get your impressive players? “We went through the networks that we already had, and we got recommendations, as well as a bit of advertising through social media, which got an enormous response. Most of our cast and crew were generous enough to work entirely on a deferred payment basis, which means that they won’t get paid until the film makes any money. Some of our cast were involved in a public script reading that we did at The Hub Studio last year before pre-production, so we used their actor database to cast that. And for the rest, it was a case of trawling through showreels and getting in touch with people directly or with their agents. We were very lucky to cast actors of the calibre of Ben Mortley, Jeanie Drynan, and Shannon Ashlyn, who already have a lot of experience under their belt. But they were really open to reading the script, and they jumped into the project for little financial reward as well.”

A scene from Zelos

A scene from Zelos

You put your own money into the project too. What kind of pressure does that put on you? “Financially, it puts a lot of pressure on us, unfortunately! But in terms of the project itself, it actually gave us an enormous amount of creative freedom. We don’t have to answer to any investors or any executives, so we can maintain total control over the process, and that was really appealing. It also enabled us to shoot the film in a very short space of time – we wrapped filming six months after we kicked off pre-production. We didn’t want to spend years trying to raise the funds and end up stuck in development waiting for the green light from somebody else.”

The support of Definition Films – how did you arrange that? “That was our fabulous editor, Christine Cheung. She’d previously worked with Definition, and had a good professional relationship with them, and they were keen to help her out on her first feature. It’s a really wonderful aspect of the industry in Australia: how much support companies are willing to give to make a project like ours possible. We also had sponsorship from Lemac Film & Digital. The equipment and access to facilities that we received from these two companies has enabled us to enormously lift the quality of our film. We’re exceedingly grateful to them.”

How is the completion finance going? When are you hoping to release etc? “We’re at rough cut stage, and we are so close to finishing Zelos – we just need a bit more to get us there. We’re currently raising finance to complete post-production through The Australian Cultural Fund. All donations are 100% tax deductible. If all goes well with funding, we’ll be able to get the film finished and ready for release later this year.”

For more on Zelos, head to the film’s official website or Facebook page. If you’d like to contribute to the post-production campaign for Zelos, head to The Australian Cultural Fund.

Leave a Comment