A few months ago, I saw an Instagram account promoting a feature film in Brisbane. I instantly followed it and started seeing more and more behind the scenes photos. In each post, it seemed like a new location, more actors and more incredible set pieces. I was so intrigued by what this film was about that I knew I had to get an interview with the creators.
Hannah Smith is the director of My Tai. She has worked on countless feature films like Love and Monsters, Godzilla vs Kong and the Portable Door. In 2021, she created the short film The Empyrean which was a selection for the St Kilda Film Festival.
Jake Ashton is the writer of My Tai and plays Noah, one of the leads. He was also a lead in the show Friends of Atticus and voiced AJ the Rooster in Cluck!
Abdul Mateen (A.M) also known as Kash, is the producer of My Tai.” He is currently in post-production on his graduate short film – Welcome to the Esh Life. He also created the short film Disconnected which follows a First Generation immigration struggling to find his identity.
FRAZER: Could everyone just go around and introduce themselves, and their roles in this film?
JAKE: I wrote the film and I play one of the two leads – Noah. Also, I am a producer…
HANNAH: With the indie life, it makes him a producer.
JAKE: My two producing credits are this and Dune.
HANNAH: I am the director and producer #indielife. Jake and I are unwilling producers but AM is the actual producer.
AM: I got to produce for these two amazing humans.
FRAZIER: I feel like I should say I am a producer now as well.
AM: The gofund me is still live if you want to be one…
TALKING MY TAI
FRAZIER: Jake could you just give me a rough log line about My Tai?
JAKE: My Tai is about a bartender named Tai who is trying to make a masterpiece cocktail. He is named after a Mai Tai cocktail which his grandfather made. As a result, he has lived in the shadow of that his whole life. With a tropical cyclone coming in to destroy his beachside bar, he only has a couple of days to figure out the cocktail.
FRAZIER: For you Kash and Hannah what really grabbed you about this project?
HANNAH: I was able to read it through the lens of Jake and Ruben. I knew without a doubt it would be a hilarious project. But for AM he had no choice.
JAKE: Yeah we had actually kidnapped his family. Their safe return was quiet the incentive.
AM: It played a small part… But what actually grabbed me was that I just sat there and instantly read through 40 pages of the script. The script was just so fucking entertaining.
HANNAH: It is refreshing to have an Australian comedy that’s a genuine comedy.
FRAZIER: I have seen the BTS photos, and I truly have no idea what is going to happen. But just taking it back a little, I want to dive into your writing process Jake and how you got a screenplay completed?
JAKE: It was January 20th, 2022. I had ten days while we were working from home because of COVID, and I wanted to write a movie in ten days. I wanted to write a script for Ruben because he is so funny and charismatic. I got it done in ten days, printed it off and gave it to him and was like “dude I wrote you a movie.” I didn’t think about it again. At the time, I was also writing a movie for Hannah. She ended up reading the script and messaged me saying we should make this.
FRAZIER: I can’t even get something written in a month…
JAKE: The biggest help for me in order to get something written quickly is to say to yourself “this can be terrible.” Just let it be terrible, who cares.
FRAZIER: For you Kash, what were some of the biggest problems you faced and overcame in producing an indie feature film?
AM: Locations were our biggest challenge initially. We didn’t know what the bar was going to be or where it was going to be. Huge shout out to Darrin Smith, one of the best construction coordinators in Australia. Not only did he build us an incredible bar with his team but also did it inside his home, allowing us to use his space to comfortably film. Another massive challenge was our preproduction time which was less than 2 months. We were just trying to make it work in the 2 months that we had. If the crew wasn’t passionate about getting this to life, it wouldn’t have happened.
FRAZIER: Hannah, how do you balance keeping true to the script while allowing for improv?
HANNAH: As long as I get a take I am happy with, I am totally happy to throw the script out the window. Jake and Ruben are really good improvisational comedic actors. I also like not calling cut and letting a scene sit for way too long because then magic always happens.
FRAZIER: For you Jake and Hannah, what were some film inspirations when you were re writing the script?
JAKE: Anchorman, Zoolander, Naked Gun, Flying High, Top Secret. We talked a lot about how it felt like a live action cartoon like the Simpsons. I love comedies where it’s just machine gun jokes.
HANNAH: Naked Gun is like my favourite. Any Leslie Nielsen movie was just perfect.
FRAZIER: Hannah do you have a specific style for shooting, or does it change depending on the project?
HANNAH: I think I am consistent in what I like and now I’m more confident on a set I make sure I push for it. I love my wide shots and I really love delving in and building a world from the ground up, so I think stylistically a film is built from the ground up as well!
FRAZIER: I was just wondering if I could get everyone’s core piece of advice after completing the shooting of a feature film?
AM: Getting the right people. It will help you conquer any challenges. We had a 17 page shoot day and having the right people made it work and made it successful.
HANNAH: Momentum. In our early days, we had a meeting 2 months out. We were debating whether to push it back till the following year or do we keep the momentum going. We chose to keep it going and it was truly lightning in a bottle.
JAKE: We also never set out to make a movie that was the most popular genre. We didn’t want to appease anyone but ourselves. You must make the thing your passionate about – no matter what the story it is. Just surround yourself with good people and make what you want to make.
FRAZIER: What is your one dream film wish?
JAKE: When the movie wrapped, we all went to see Barbie, so getting to work with Greta Gerwig would be the dream.
HANNAH: I would love to work with Del Toro because he is my hero. Also working on a Spiderman movie. But I have a feature of my own that represents everything I want to put out into the world. I have always said that “if I can make this one movie, I don’t care what happens after that.”
AM: There is a project I would love to create and show run. It is a series that is superhero oriented. It would be a mix of the Boys and Invincible. It would be low scale series that would slowly become bigger. Another core dream is a Bollywood film that becomes global. It would encompass everything I have learned growing up in all these different places.
FRAZIER: Where do you all want the Australian film scene to move in the next 5 to 10 years?
JAKE: I think the future of our industry is built entirely on us being inclusive of all people in our community. To make sure we are not just pidgeon holing the type of work that people from all communities are able to make. The idea that anyway from minority group are being told “yes they might be able to make something” but only specifically this. I hope the future includes all group while allowing them to make every type of film.
HANNAH: I think introducing more genre and bigger budget into Australian film and Television would be great! There is a shift coming and our content is already changing, but I feel like, generally, our stuff is very safe and we can go much bigger and much bolder.
AM: They are trying harder to say they are being diverse, but these stories aren’t diverse. It’s very specific formulaic storytelling. I did a test with my international friends a few years ago. I played different movies form UK, US and Australia. I asked them to tell me which movie was from which country and unless a film was set in a desert with a strong accent they didn’t know it was Australian. I hope Australia embraces its multiculturalism and explores stories from cultures and perspectives we’ve never seen or heard from before.
Below is the link for the films Go Fund me if you want to support this incredible project!
All photos taken by Dylan Robbins