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When we heard about a recently released independent film called Zelos, made by a majority female crew, we were intrigued. We figured our members and followers would be too, so we had a chat to the woman behind it all, Claire Harris.
Like many creative pursuits, the career path of a filmmaker never seems straightforward. Tell us a little about the journey that led to where you are now?
My journey was particularly unusual - prior to making Zelos I'd never worked in the industry, never made a short film and never even set foot on a film set. After finishing my degree in film, I went travelling for ten years, working in various odd jobs in different countries and backpacking in between. I 've written travel articles and short stories but I wanted to write a screenplay. I returned to Australia to study at the Australian Film Television and Radio School where I met the director. It was never my intention to produce a film, but we just decided to go ahead and make it ourselves.
Without giving away any spoilers, what is your film, Zelos, is about?
In a nutshell, it explores the aftermath of an affair and the corrosive effect of jealousy on a relationship. It's about a couple in their thirties - the girlfriend Sarah returns from an overseas holiday, and her boyfriend Bernard finds out she has been unfaithful while she was away. To save the relationship, she insists that he also sleep with someone else. He has to decide whether to go through with the infidelity - and if he does, then with who?
What was the inspiration behind the film?
I get asked a lot if it's based on a true story... The events didn't unfold in my life the way they do in the film, but when I started writing it I was in a long term relationship and I was thinking about the way that every couple has to navigate jealousy one way or another. It doesn't mean that there's always infidelity, but when you've been with someone a long time, you'd be lying if you said you didn't at least think about the possibilities. The more I talked to other people about this, especially couples in their thirties who are thinking seriously about their future with their partner, the more I realised that everyone had a story to tell on this theme.
The film is written and directed by women, but centres around a male protagonist. How do you think this impacts the story and the way it is told?
The approach to the main character's journey and even the look and feel of the film would probably be quite different (our cinematographer is also a woman). But I find it very hard to generalise, as no two people would write, direct or shoot this film in the same way - no matter what gender they are. I'm often asked why I wrote a male protagonist, and it makes me wonder whether men who write female protagonists get asked about it to the same extent. But I'm keen to write more female-centred stories in the future, because I realise the importance of redressing the imbalance.
In addition to the writer and director, most of the crew were also women. Is this unusual in the industry and if so, how do you think it impacted the filmmaking process?
I've never really worked in the industry, but from what I've heard this is very unusual! We didn't necessarily set out to have a majority-female crew, but starting with a female writer/director/producing team, we found that the project naturally seemed to attract other women. I think this created a pretty unique dynamic on the set, working with a mostly-female team.
What is the best advice you have ever received, and what is the one piece of advice you would offer to a young female filmmaker?
I'm fortunate enough to have a mentor in the industry who gives me ongoing encouragement, support and advice. One of the most important things I've learned is to keep things in perspective and remember that your first film is for making mistakes and growing from the experience... The advice I always give is to be extremely careful who you work with. Filmmaking is a very intense and stressful process, it's a lot of hard work and it takes a long time. Trust your gut instincts and choose people who are in it for the long haul because the last thing you want is to be left doing all the work by yourself. And for god's sake, don't listen to the people who tear you down.
What project are you working on or do you hope to work on next?
Now that my producing role on Zelos is winding down, I'm excited about having more time just to focus on writing again. I'm working on a bunch of writing projects : including developing my next screenplay with a producer, and finishing up some prose writing that I had to put on hold for the film.
What are you or have you recently enjoyed…
Watching? Lovesong - written & directed by So Yong Kim
Reading? Half of a Yellow Sun - by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Listening to? Anything by Mercedes Sosa
Which female creatives inspire you right now?
When I grow up, I want to be Miranda July. I love that she writes across various forms: films, novels, short stories, and always stays true to her own wacky style.
Closer to home, I recently met Melbourne-based actor/writer/director Saara Lamberg and am absolutely in awe of her tenacity.
How can people find out more about the film and where to see it?