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Jacob climbs ladder to indie release

Ahead of independent feature Jake’s limited theatrical run, which began with a sold out screening in Auckland last Friday and continues this week, screeNZ was lucky enough to catch up with producers Alastair Tye Samson and Anoushka Klaus.

Back in noughties, if a film was travelling the NZFC funding route, it was common to spend years in development. If a film went beyond that, it usually made the journey through production, post and on to release in a reasonably timely manner.

For independents, the reverse is often true. The longest part of the process is traditionally post, when actual cash has to spent, and Jake is no exception. It was shot between July and November, 2009, on weekends and in two six-day blocks. Four and a half years later, it hits screens.

Jake's Doug Dillaman, Alistair Tye Samson and Anoushka Klaus on the first day of production

Jake’s Doug Dillaman, Alistair Tye Samson and Anoushka Klaus on the first day of production

It’s the product of a team that began working together some time before the 2009 shoot – and have continued to work together on other projects. Writer and director Doug Dillaman, Klaus and Tye Samson have been Hybrid Motion Pictures for several years. They started out “practising filmmaking” on weekends, simply to improve their skills, progressed to become regular 48Hours participants and pursue individual careers and, in and amongst, made Jake.

Last year’s 48Hours entry Paralysis, directed by Tye Samson, was selected as a Peter Jackson wild card for the Grand Finals where it was also nominated for the Best Cinematography gong.

By contrast with the pressure cooker that is 48Hours, Jake has taken a longer if not necessarily leisurely route.

Alongside pushing Jake along the road towards release is the need to live. Dillaman is doing an MA in Creative Writing at Wellington’s Victoria University and writing a World War II-set novel. Klaus has writing projects under way and continues to act, appearing in smaller screen productions Nothing Trivial, Bloodlines, Go Girls and Shortland Street since shooting Jake. Tye Samson’s post work keeps him busy.

The biggest challenge of completing Jake, naturally, has been the absence of money – although it was a conscious decision to make the film without the funding and support of the NZFC or other agency. “No budget” feature filmmaking is not something Klaus and Tye Samson aspire to attempting again. For the benefit of others contemplating that route, they shared that their biggest single expense (but one that they believe paid dividends) was food.

“Feed the crew,” both said. If people are giving up their time and donating their expertise to – hopefully – make you look better, it’s the least you can do. So the crew on Jake were well-fed.

The other thing to do for people who are working for free or very little is thank them, which Tye Samson and Klaus also made a point of doing.

One of the more pleasing aspects of the whole experience – other than making a film, of course – is to have reconnected with people at various stages of the journey through post. More than once they’ve been told by some of the younger crew who volunteered on Jake that they’ve since got professional work based on their experience of working on Jake.

It’s heartening to hear that some of the time given has led to paid opportunities although by no means everyone associated with the production, on either side of the lens, were at the CV-boosting stage of their careers.

James Brookman cut the trailer, as he has for a long list of NZ films and his work was much appreciated.

Jake trailer

As was Peter Evans’ work in the edit suite.

While all that time in post doesn’t come for free, it’s not always been a case of saving the money to pay for the next round of work. Both Klaus and Tye Samson have backgrounds in post, which is how they first met. Tye Samson continues to earn the daily bread in that area of the industry, and credits the generosity of Images & Sound’s Steve Finnigan and Grant Baker for allowing a fair amount of Jake’s post work to be done after hours in their Grafton premises.

Images and Sound’s Alana Cotton graded the film, which was mixed by Jason Fox at Envy.

The process hasn’t been one of working to achieve a rough cut and then spending a lot of time refining and refining and refining.

“We’ve locked picture three times,” admitted Tye Samson.

The team rushed to meet a festival deadline, securing a rejection but some very helpful feedback. They canned the first cut and removed a sub-plot. It was good for the length of the film but inevitably disappointing in other ways – particularly for cast members involved.

Tye Samson described the process as “punk rock”, although he’s speaking far more about the DIY ethos that underpinned the process than the final product, which is finished to a much higher standard than any self-respecting punk band would aspire to. \

Leighton Cardno as Jake and Jason Fitch as Jacob

Jake’s Leighton Cardno as Jake and Jason Fitch as Jacob

In a nutshell, Jake is the story of Jacob, who is replaced in his daily life by an actor (who looks nothing like him). It works for all concerned – except Jacob – and tells a tale of changing identity. Is it sci-fi?

“Magical realism.”

The film is a tricky one to stuff into a genre box. Unless you’re a fan of the late Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate, or the animated films of Hayao Miyazaki, magical realism might be one of those wanky labels that appear in festival catalogues to describe a film with a difficult-to-pronounce title, slim plot, subtitled dialogue and a bladder-straining run-time.

Jake ticks none of those boxes … and is the better for it. Although it ends in a place one wouldn’t expect from its opening 20 minutes, the journey is well-made and its shifts gradual not jarring.

While not (easily) ticking a genre box might make for an interesting film, it doesn’t make for easy marketing – either to prospective partners like exhibitors or distributors, or to audiences. That has contributed to the delay getting Jake in front of audiences and is something Klaus is keen to get a much better handle on next time around. We should “ID the audience and get into marketing before shooting”, she reckoned.

After Jake’s theatrical opportunities are over, there’s a deal in place for VOD exploitation through VHX. Maybe it will have a DVD release, maybe not. There are pros and cons, the obvious con being the hard costs of creating and challenges of distributing DVDs, but it’s also possible that the vast majority of the natural audience for Jake is young enough to be digital natives – and very possibly not in NZ. Digital delivery seems a sensible option.

For those in Auckland and Wellington, there’s no need to wait for either VOD or disc. Jake had its Auckland premiere at the Academy last Thursday (27 June). It screens again at the Academy Wednesday 2 and Saturday 5 July. Wellington screenings at the Paramount commence 11 July.

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