Jack Clark and Jim Weir are Australian filmmakers who recently created their debut feature film – Birdeater. The film has won awards at festivals around Australia and is now going international. After months waiting to see it, I was finally able to watch it at the Brisbane International Film Festival. Birdeater was one of my most anticipated movies of the year and it did not disappoint. It was a harrowing and hilarious experience that perfectly encapsulated young Australians. Read on for my conversation with Jack Clark and Jim Weir.
FRAZIER: “I have read about how challenging the shooting was with weather, actors changing and funds running out so I wanted to ask how you maintain motivation when all things feel hopeless and over in production?”
JACK: “You really must rely on each other. We had our worst moments when we were in ourselves and not communicating. To establish the tone of a set is such a big part of being a director that is often overlooked. We realised that if we established the tone on set it would spread across everyone. Ultimately, the crew and cast were the biggest support for us. Especially people like Roger Stonehouse (Director of Photography) who were shooting every single day.”
JIM: “For upcoming filmmakers, follow through is important. Doing the entire life cycle of a project is where you really learn. It’s a common trap we saw at film school where when you start a project and it gets tough, they would throw in the towel. Another one is when you have a project that might get made, people will just start thinking of the next thing. Just having the discipline to ride the life cycle of a film.”
FRAZIER: The paranoia game, these men always wearing masks in front of their partners, it all felt like I was watching people I knew. Can you talk about creating these very specific but relatable moments and characters for an Australian audience?
JACK: “It was all about bringing an audience to the bucks night. Irene and Grace come to the party which is something that girls aren’t usually present for. We felt like that was enough for the characters to panic and reveal their paranoias and insecurities. The paranoia game just plays into all this.”
JIM: “Something we used as a rule of thumb is start with an archetype where the audience will instantly form an opinion of them. Then, add dramatic contradiction that opens them up to being more interesting. Like Dylan, he is this party animal and antagonist that is desperate to have a good time but also is deeply lonely and sad.”
FRAZIER: What did the writing process look like for both of you?
JACK: “We are both writers since film school. It has taken a while to build up a regularity with writing. They always said it at film school that you need to write everyday, and it felt very daunting but slowly it did become a regularity. It is a lot of shit ideas I feed Jim that sometimes work and are exciting. We were always writing. We were writing on the day; we were writing narration on the last day in case we needed it. It is just a constant thing. Then you get the actors on board and if they are good, they will have their own opinions.”
JIM: “Actors will see something in their character that is there but is usually a small part of the character that they latch onto. Most of my day-to-day job is being available for conversation and being able to talk through ideas and try to work out what we are trying to say. I will just sift through 1000 ideas Jack throws at me and I will just say what is good”.
FRAZIER: So the core focus is just on chipping away everyday together at it?
JACK: “It is definitely hard. I remember I used to get nice notebooks. A big change for me was getting really shit notebooks because then they aren’t precious about what is on the page. I also like the process of writing it because you are already editing it from physical to digital.”
FRAZIER: “So you don’t do the first draft by hand? It is just writing all your ideas down first and then bringing it onto the electronic document.”
JACK: “If my writing was more legible, I would trust myself. But honestly I would just focus on not being too precious.”
FRAZIER: “I won’t ask you again about Wake in Fright but I did hear you both talk about the Celebration, Nashville and Mishima, but more specifically this period of watching just the weirdest films you could in AFTRS. How important do you think this period was and its effect on you as filmmakers?”
JACK: “A lot of the movies we watched in film school were probably above my paygrade. I probably latched onto a cool dolly. It’s more the process of realising how many different and unique perspectives are out there. It is realising that if you want to make something that is cutting you have to overwhelm yourself with content. There are still so many areas I haven’t even scratched yet.”
JIM: “It is crucial. Slowly building up that film literacy is important because when you are stuck you will have a catalogue of great movies in your brain. An example would be we have seen so many movies with a character having a quiet moment reflecting in a bathroom mirror. We had the idea that in this bathroom there is no mirror because it denies the girls a moment of reflection.”
JACK: “You will come to a scene and shooting its coverage and straight away you will think “I know how to shoot this scene.” You have to forcibly stop yourself and realise you have taken that movement or shot from something else. You just have to be aware that you have taken it from something else.”
JIM: “Something we are quite conscious of is having as many references as we can outside of the genre and especially not taking references from recent films that are doing the same thing. That is when you have work that feels derivative. You have to go further back. People say Birdeater feels original but that is because so much of it is stolen from films people haven’t seen.”
FRAZIER: “Yeah I remember you saying Jim that if you just watch enough films you will shoot in the way you watch.”
JACK: “It is tough as well and a question people in film school need to ask themselves. If you want to make narrative content, do you like movies and do you watch them.”
FRAZIER: “I know Jim you have said that the best advice is to just keep making shorts and eventually they will look like what you watch, but I was wondering if you both had any specific advice on the ability to keep the film dream alive when it doesn’t feel like anyone cares and what your making isn’t receiving attention?”
JACK: “It comes down to a method thing. There will be a day when it looks like what you want to make or maybe even better. But then another questions arises which is do I really care about this? Now that you can do it is it something you truly want to say. When you are young you can focus on learning how to make films but then be aware that the harder challenge is what to do with that.”
JIM: “From a more practical perspective it is easy to get caught up in the trap of the filmmaking success being where you get your joy in life. I think the challenge is what can I do to be happy in my life as a struggling filmmaker. If you aren’t happy struggling, you won’t be happy successful. Getting good reception to a movie, everyone is surprised by how little that does for you on self-perception and how happy you are in life.”
JACK: “There was a big trap in film school where people thought their third-year film was going to be “it” and the best thing they have made. But it should just be a process where you are looking ahead.”
FRAZIER: “There has been this recent shift in the last 5 years with Australian films and the direction they are moving. I was just wondering your perspective on where it’s going and where you want the film scene to move and explore?”
JIM: “I am feeling very optimistic. I have met a lot of aspiring filmmakers and directors who have such interesting things to say. There is a trend of filmmakers playing with different genres which is something I definitely want to see continue.”
JACK: “I want to see something we didn’t do and that is more stuff in cities. Maybe it is a self-defence thing, but we push our movies away where there is nobody else. I saw films shot in Sydney and I was so excited to see films shot here. A good Sydney drama would be nice and I will be happy. But I am very excited because there are so many young filmmakers coming up.