Rediscovering the Love
of Filmmaking


by Ivan Malekin & Sarah Jayne

Friends, Foes & Fireworks (2017, 75 mins, Australia, dirs: Ivan Malekin & Sarah Jayne)




Friends, Foes & Fireworks
is a completely improvised feature film shot in a single night on New Year's Eve across seven locations in St Kilda, Victoria. It is also the reason we still make films today.

 

Prior to 2016, and filming FF&F on the final night of that year, we had been involved in film in Melbourne for a decade. We tried all sorts of genres, from thrillers to dramas to musicals to westerns, even making a completely over-the-top gross out comedy feature in 2011. We would have decent budgets for our short films, topping $10,000 a few times, money raised through grants or crowdfunding or family or our own funds, even doing the typical indie credit card film a couple of times. We had big crews, big schedules, strict hierarchies, structured scripts, more lights than we needed, greenscreens, and a constant desire to challenge ourselves, go bigger, do better with each new project.

 

In the second half of 2016, we would produce a short called Half, a project for the Script to Screen Initiative, a program which we had launched as part of our Made In Melbourne Film Festival, to give indigenous scriptwriters a chance to see their script developed and made into a film that would premiere at the festival. It was another big, expensive, and complicated short film. And it was full of conflict and clashes behind the scenes, all the cooks in the kitchen (and there were many) working together without ever agreeing on the recipe. And we weren’t blameless – we were one of the chefs. But after the film was done we were exhausted and frustrated.

 

2016 would also be the final Made In Melbourne Film Festival. It was our biggest ever, funded by the City of Melbourne, six days, more than 1000 people in attendance. But after a decade of filmmaking, after eight years of running the festival, after so much time and money spent on this passion and living and breathing film in Melbourne with so many crazy people we loved (and a few we didn’t), we were simply burned out.

 

We were no longer enjoying filmmaking.

 

 


And it was in that state of mind where the idea for Friends, Foes & Fireworks sparked. We could either walk completely away from film (and we did consider that) or we could do something to try and rediscover why we fell in love with filmmaking in the first place. The collaboration. Collective creativity. Seeing our ideas brought to life, enhanced by incredibly talented actors and artists, right before our eyes.

 

We wanted to strip away all the excess. The rigid structure. The big crews and big cameras. We wanted to be free to experiment, to try ideas and be allowed to fail, to create as a trusted team and have no expectations other than enjoying the process of creating. Filming for the love of film.

 

We had been watching mumblecore films for a couple of years prior to Friends, Foes & Fireworks; the work of Joe Swanberg, the Duplass Brothers, Greta Gerwig, and even Melbourne’s own Sophie Townsend and Nic Barker. The raw and ‘real’ nature of the genre appealed to us and it was the perfect vehicle for us to test drive our experiment. Once we had the premise of our story – a group of friends reunite on New Year’s Eve but the celebration turns to confrontation when tensions from the past resurface – it seemed only natural to attempt to shoot it in a single night to keep within the ‘reality’ aesthetic.

 

But how could we do it?

 

 


The first step was casting. We chose actors that had experience with improvisation or theatre backgrounds so we knew they would be active listeners, honed to respond naturally, quick on their feet. We also had a history with all the actors involved; if we hadn’t cast them previously in one of our films, we had worked with them on a set somewhere. We knew they were passionate and committed to their craft, and we knew we could collaborate with them and leave all ego aside.

 

We looked for the same mentality with crew, people who were enthusiastic and humble and weren’t afraid to juggle multiple roles as we wanted to keep the crew tiny to move quickly and blend into the chaos of New Year’s Eve. Our Director of Photography, Stephen Ramplin, came from a news background, so he was used to the ‘run and gun’ style we would utilize, the handheld camera going from face to face as the action unfolded, like eavesdropping on the conversations of real people.

 

Scheduling was also crucial. Not only did we have an overall schedule, but everyone involved had their own individual schedules with separate breaks, locations, timings all factored in. Co-directing and two cameras also made it possible to shoot certain scenes simultaneously – even when we were all in one place such as an apartment one of us would direct a scene on the balcony while the other would direct a scene in the bathroom. Later in the night, when the story called for it, we would split up completely, one director leading one team to shoot a scene in the park, the other director leading another team to shoot a scene in the apartment and so on.

 

 


So really, despite the improvised nature of the film, it all came down to good and thorough planning. There might be no script, but there was an outline, a breakdown of each scene, story beats to hit, and detailed character histories and relationships developed first by ourselves as directors, then refined over multiple back and forth discussions with our cast. The rehearsals, where we recreated scenes from the past the characters would have shared, were wonderful to witness. As we watched our actors improvise long takes naturally and build on the drama in the outlines we became confident this crazy idea could work.

 

We were feeling alive and energised again while making a film. We were challenging ourselves, but enjoying the process. Improvisation keeps you constantly on your toes because every take is different, every conversation is different. There is a joy of discovery in every moment. And, for us, it was like falling in love with filmmaking all over again.

 

Since Friends, Foes & Fireworks, we have relocated from Australia to Malta, and gone on to film another completely improvised feature called In Corpore, an anthological story dealing with love, sex, and betrayal set in Melbourne, Malta, New York and Berlin. In Corpore is in the last stages of post production at the moment. We have also started filming improvised micro-shorts called Life Improvised, focusing on the mini moments in relationships, the awkwardness, a first connection, a lingering heartache, etc. We are also developing a follow-up of sorts to Friends, Foes & Fireworks called To Hold the Moon, focusing on a couple of characters from the film and their relationship two years later.

 

We haven’t touched a script since our film life crisis in 2016. And, frankly, we don’t know if we ever will again.

 



Melbourne Screening: Friends, Foes & Fireworks will headline night six of the Oz International Film Festival on Wednesday 28th November starting at 7pm, Alex Theatre, St Kilda. Buy tickets here: http://oziff.com/friends-foes-fireworks/

To learn more about how Friends, Foes & Fireworks was made, enrol in the 10 Chapter online course taught by Ivan Malekin and Sarah Jayne on Udemy: https://www.udemy.com/how-to-shoot-direct-an-feature-film-filmmaking-video-production/

For more info on Friends, Foes & Fireworks, or to stream it online or purchase a DVD, go to:

https://www.friendsfoesfireworks.com/watch/



Ivan Malekin & Sarah Jayne are two Australian independent filmmakers who are now based in Malta.



Published November 24,, 2018. © Ivan Malekin & Sarah Jayne, 2018.