Jinx Sister script hooks Sara Wiseman
It is not uncommon for actors to rave about how they became involved in a small budget New Zealand film because the script was so riveting they couldn't put it down. Sara Wiseman is no exception.
The appeal of the big screen and playing the lead character of Laura in Jinx Sister, who features in nearly every scene, was enticing.
The director Athina Tsoulis and Director of Photography Rewa Harre were also draw-cards. The universal themes of love and fear appealed. But it was the fresh, genuine writing, by Athina, that had Sara hooked.
"After reading a few scripts you start to develop a gut reaction. As an actor you don't really have control of how a film is shot, edited, produced or distributed. But we do have a direct link to the script and for me I really loved how it was written and the deep themes it explored. It's about as bare-bones as it gets."
Her gut reaction proved to be correct with Jinx Sister gaining recognition at this year's Qantas Film and Television Awards with nominations for Best Picture (budget under $1 Million) and Sara's nomination for lead actress.
Sara was approached early on in mid 2007 to play Laura, as Athina knew her lead had to have the strength of character to carry the film.
Laura thinks she is a jinx after her parents die. She thought fleeing to America would help but instead develops a serious drinking problem and as her life unravels she returns to New Zealand 10 years later to visit her sister in South Auckland and discover 'you have to let go of your past to embrace your future.'
Once Sara was on board Athina was also open to suggestions for the other actors and chose three lead characters, Rachael Nash, Will Wallace and Jarrod Rawiri, who were already good friends with Sara.
The prior relationships between actors helped build the relationship between the characters, especially with a film that relied on a deep back-story, which can be hard to develop on a tight 20-day shooting schedule.
They also enlisted the guidance of Milton Justice, Oscar winning producer and acting coach to stars like Kevin Bacon and Mark Ruffalo, who was visiting his brother, Jinx Sister producer Larry Justice. They worked on script analysis, which Sara says included sitting around the table interpreting the characters, breaking down the scenes and improvising the history and memories, rather than the actual scenes.
"So when it came to doing the scenes it really helped create the history between the characters."
It was also during the rehearsals that Milton suggested, four days before the shoot, that Laura should have an American accent, as her character had been overseas for 10 years. It was decided the accent wouldn't be strong but rather a mish-mash of accents, which also reflected how Laura didn't really belong in either place.
Sara's decision to spend six weeks in Los Angeles just prior to filming came in handy. Despite regular trips to the US, with her handy-dandy green card, during this visit it became more of a character study of a woman who had emersed herself in the culture where anything goes and its about standing out, making an impact and speaking your mind - otherwise there is something wrong with you.
This was in contrast to how you carry yourself in New Zealand, especially where the film is set in Manurewa in South Auckland, and a self-projecting image can be perceived as arrogant and self-centred. This is captured in the very real looks of passer-bys during the 'guerrilla style filming' at the Otara markets.
"That kind of identity really stands out in a place that is much more relaxed."
Although Sara had emersed herself in LA culture, the feeling of superiority wasn't a vibe she carried around on set.
"I hope not, I was very aware everyone was doing it for love and I definitely didn't want to have that demeanour around them."
That same supportive environment on set helped her feel safe and pull-off the heavier scenes - although during the more emotional scenes she kept to herself, to stay focused and "not carry that energy around anyone else."
"You have empathy for her because she truly believes she is the cause of the pain for her family, and the way she dealt with it was to escape and go as far as she can from them and medicates herself to avoid thinking about it.
"But as most people are aware you can't escape your past it is who you are. As soon as you can address it and move on from that and forgive yourself or take responsibility is when real good starts to happen in the world."
While Sara related to some of the universal themes of fear and love, she didn't consider it method acting, and says she doesn't 'get that term.' She takes clues from the script, the dialogue, the director and the actors on set.
"It all layers on top of itself to give you the quality of the character. There's so many things that can assist you."
Despite the accent and visuals of blonde hair, nails and clothes, Athina didn't want Sara's character to be 'too Valley Girl". Athina, as the writer, was very clear about the overall arc she wanted to create but if Sara's instinct was different, Athina would discuss, rehearse or shot both ways, maintaining the final choice in the edit.
"She was very hands on and passionate about the script and open to personal feelings about the scenes and would take it on board. It's great to know you are with a director who knows what they are after."
Athina began writing Jinx Sister ten years ago and it was originally inspired by a friend who had lost both parents in childhood. "Losing my parents had always been my worst nightmare and I was interested to explore how this might affect the child as an adult," says Athnia.
While writing the script, Athina lost both of her parents "so the film's theme of grief has been heartfelt."
Athina said the shoestring budget, which included volunteers from Unitech and deferred fees for cast and crew, relied on getting the emotional subtext right so that the film packed an emotional punch that is cathartic rather than depressing.
"Sara Wiseman, the consummate professional, gave her all. The casting for Laura was vital as she is virtually in every scene."
Sara said as a lead in every scene on a tight film it can be a constant treadmill whereas in bigger productions, with larger down-time, it is a skill to stay ready to shoot. In the future she would still like to continue to work on films, TV and Theatre but most importantly she will go wherever the next great script takes her. And while her green card will allow that journey to take her to the US, she has a genuine love and respect for New Zealand scripts.
"New Zealand is such a multi-cultural mish-mash and we are pioneers at creating our own identity and really interesting stories. It's great we are now embracing those stories and coming to love who we are as a nation rather than looking overseas to identify ourselves."
Writer/Director: Athina Tsoulis
Producer: Larry Justice Executive producer: Athina Tsoulis
Directory of photography: Rewa Harre
Editor: Julie Alp
Make-up: Sam Cairns Morrison
Sound: Michelle Mascoll
Sound design: Chris Burt
Original music: Brigid Bisley
Additional music: Sean Donnelly
Laura: Sara Wiseman
Mairie: Rachel Nash
Sam: Jarod Rawiri
Phil: Will Wallace
Hine: Jenni Heka
Cameo: Rawiri Paratene
Athina Tsoulis, sole director of Ample Films, funded the film. The Murray Hutchinson fund gave the production a small grant to assist the edit - with assistance from RPM Pictures and Julie Alp. A small grant from the New Zealand Film commission helped grade the film and do the sound mix - with assistance from Chris Burt and Inside Trace.