Art is not a frivolous job.

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My housemate-at-the-time sighed and said she wished she also had a frivolous job like filmmaking.

I understood what she meant: She was a nurse, doing a physical job with high stakes for long hours, and ~*~ art ~*~ must sound delightfully, well, frivolous, from that perspective.

But it made me reflect on the value of art, and especially film. Personally, I don’t think I could live (happily) without it.

There’s the practical use: Maybe a trial lawyer really needs to escape into a supernatural Netflix show to forget court for a few hours. Maybe a resilient story of hope is just what someone needs to get them off the sofa when they’re in a black hole.

But it’s more than that.

Film is commentary on life. It shapes our expectations about the world, it gives us roadmaps through difficult terrain. In a fellow filmmaker’s Twitter bio, I read “We live a million times through each other” and my heart exploded.

Especially as a writer, you get to live dozens of lives without sacrificing your own, you become hundreds of people. I can imagine to be almost anyone. Understanding how a person works makes it a lot easier to love and forgive.

And you can’t tell me there isn’t value in that.

What You Need Needs You Back

When asked for advice on how to be less nervous in presentations or other high-stakes social situations, some will tell you to imagine everybody naked. I don’t know about you, but being in a room full of naked strangers does not sound particularly calming to me.

Another piece of advice is to remember that everybody is insecure, or that even your heroes have imposter syndrome.

I’ll always remember director Jane Campion battling nerves when making The Piano because actor Harvey Keitel was so much more experienced than her. He took her aside and told her that as an actor, he just wants to please the director. Cool!

But to me, one realisation made the biggest difference:

Those you need need you back.

Job interview or audition? The employer needs a skilled person to take the position. They wouldn’t be hiring if they didn’t.

Pitch or presentation? One time, I was in a room and realised that if the person I spoke to brought their bosses a good pitch, they themselves would get a promotion. Publishers need authors to publish. Distributors need movies to acquire. Agents need talent to represent. Great actors need great roles to play.

In business and dating alike, there’s no greater deterrent than desperate energy. Arrogance is a sure sign of an insecurity cover up.
Focusing on what you genuinely have to offer, rather than what you want the other person to provide, will reduce your anxiety and heighten your chances of success.

A Directing Technique You Can Use IRL

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Generally speaking, whenever an actor goes into a scene, you want them to have an “intention.”

A simple example could be a fairly straight forward dialog that you want to make more dynamic. Instead of two people sitting and talking, you could decide that Anna really wants John to sit down, but John absolutely wants to stay standing.

Take this further in a situation with conflict: A superior delivers criticism to an employee. Is their intention to:

  • punish
  • blame
  • inform
  • help?

The same lines, delivered with each of these intentions, would sound entirely different.

You can use this in your own life! If you are about to have an argument with your partner, your intention might be “to find a solution”, “to listen” or, whether conscious or subconscious, “to make them feel bad.”

When you’re meeting a friend, do you want to… impress them? Make them feel loved? Motivate them? Encourage them? It will shape the interaction.

I find this incredibly useful when pitching or selling, too: Instead of trying to “promote”, I try to “educate”: Here is a thing you didn’t know about that you might find useful. While the words you say will stay the same, the new intention changes your tone, and the energy you express will feel confident instead of nervous.

How One Good Cover Letter Changed Relationshit

When I cast for no budget productions, I post casting calls online and deal with actors directly rather than going through an agent. That means I’ll write a breakdown of roles and information about the production, and actors send their showreels and cover letters to me for consideration.

Guys, there a lot of bad cover letters.

And while I appreciate there’s a limit to the time investment we want to make when applying to no budget gigs, if someone doesn’t take 15 seconds to write my name and one line about why they’re interested in the production, I can’t trust them to take it seriously.

For Relationshit, I got the single best cover letter I ever read.

Ingvild Deila wrote three paragraphs about what interested her about the project, why she liked a previous film of mine, and how she shared my production philosophy.
She was a totally different type than what I’d imagined for Zoe, but I always want to work with people who put in the extra effort, so I suggested her to audition for June. After reading the script, she candidly explained why she didn’t feel right for June but would still love to try for Zoe.

While I wasn’t totally convinced, she had evidently been putting a lot of thought into this, and even if it wasn’t going to work out this time, I was sure we’d end up working together later. So I invited her to audition.

Guys.

She was the perfect Zoe.

Relationshit – Zoe from Ivy Jelisavac on Vimeo.

This also meant that I remained open for a June, and the role finally went to Faye Sewell, who understood the June I’d written on such a deep level I barely had any work to do directing her scenes.

Relationshit – June from Ivy Jelisavac on Vimeo.

The trend continued: Shamir Dawood, whom I’d asked to audition for Paul, called me and explained why he felt better suited for Roman. I generally recommend trusting actors when they ask to try for another role too, because even though their previous roles may have been of one type, they may know of skills they have but that aren’t on their reels yet.

He auditioned for both, and, you know where this is going, he was a brilliant Roman.

roman from Ivy Jelisavac on Vimeo.

The moral of the story: If you’re a director (or producer, or other decision maker) – it’s a good idea to trust an actor if they suggest auditioning for a role even if it’s not intuitive for you.

And if you’re an actor, the extra effort of googling someone and adding a few lines to support your application can make an enormous difference.

 

Relationshit Premiere or I Only Cried Like Twice

Hi friends!!!

I MADE A SHOW!!!

I’ll be honest: I put a dangerous amount of emotional significance onto that evening and I was really setting myself up for a real let-down there.

But guys! It was actually perfect. I felt like a beautiful badass, people I never thought would come showed up, one person was jet lagged after arriving back from Boston that morning and one person CAME STRAIGHT TO THE SCREENING FROM THE AIRPORT! SHE WAS STILL WEARING HER SKI JACKET!

As I was on sabbatical in Germany – the reason this show got finished is I was able to take a few months off work and supervise post-pro full time – I flew into London just for the weekend and stayed in a hotel like a fancy person. I had one of the best breakfasts ever with A…

… which was lucky because I wasn’t going to be able to eat again until midnight from nerves!

I once made a list of things that made me happy, and “good hair” was definitely in the top 20 or so. YUP I GOT A BLOWOUT

This was when my nerves really started getting the better of me and I told A, who was NOT EVEN REMOTELY FREAKING OUT WHAT IS WRONG WITH HIM to ideally not talk to me while I attempt my eye liner because I didn’t want to be snappy at him from stress, but I luckily realised within 3.5 seconds that there was literally zero probability that someone was going to walk away thinking “Yeah I mean the show was alright but uh why didn’t Ivy have good eye liner.”

I got compliments on my dope eye liner.

We arrive at the venue and they have sectioned off an area of the bar with MY SHOW’S NAME ON THE TABLE and we’re in an ACTUAL CINEMA and I AM HAVING A PREMIERE!!!

People start arriving and by the luck of a technical delay, I end up talking to everybody before we go and take our seats. I’d been nauseous from thinking about a speech all day (week), but getting to chat with everyone beforehand and realising that they were all there cause they were interested and supportive and not a single person was waiting for a ‘Gotcha, you embarrassed yourself!’ moment completely melted the fear away.

So believe me or not but… this is my normal talking speed

https://vimeo.com/258529621/1cb0034a65

The show starts… and I immediately start silently ugly crying. It’s my show! I made a show! It’s on the silver screen in a damn cinema! All these people are here cause they believed in me! I am so glad my eye liner is waterproof!

There are few happier moments I’ve had than hearing the audience laugh at the jokes. Watching it as a viewer for enjoyment instead of with a critical eye felt completely new as well, and now I’m making the same muffled sounds as before but this time from laughter because you can’t be seen laughing at your own jokes. (Which you’ve seen 80-100 times before.)

It’s Episode 6 and… I *really* have to pee.

It’s Episode 7 and I *really really* have to pee.

It’s Episode 8 and too many cool things happen in all three of those eps for me to sneak out now, and I don’t want to disturb the audience, and oh my god I have to pee SO BAD I cannot possibly sit through the Q&A after…

Luckily I have selective inhibition, so after the credits roll, while the chairs are being set up on stage, I just, you know, tell everyone I gotta pee and will be right back. I’m relieved everyone finds it funny and not awkward (except A, he’s more of an awkwardness type guy)

The Q&A brings out so many amazing questions and responses I literally have anxiety about the fact that nobody filmed it and I can’t show it to anyone.

When Faye (who plays June) explains how much she loved the script and how great it was working with me I want to melt into a puddle of joy and tears and love and goo right there.

When someone asks about budget and I tell them the number – for non-filmmakers: I spent 3% of what the show would have cost to produce fully paid – I feel like the baddest bitch. My two favourite feelings!

Afterwards, my friends call me over to, yup, open the floodgates:

https://vimeo.com/258530671/319c73d352

Someone calls me the next Shonda Rhimes

WHAT

Someone says they’re convinced I’ll have an HBO deal one day

WHAT

Guys let’s be very clear here I will be feeding off the positive feelings from this premiere for  m o n t h s.

During the Q&A, someone asked me what the best part of making the show was. I said it was this one.

It really is.

 

Relationshit – Q & A

RELATIONSHIT – Season 1 Teaser from Ivy Jelisavac on Vimeo.

Q: Talk about the story and concept behind RELATIONSHIT. How did this idea come to you?
A: It’s a power move. Now I can threaten everybody I meet that I’ll put them in my show, so they have to behave!
On a more serious note, I spend a lot of thought on artistic responsibility: The stories we send out into the world shape expectations – life imitates art.
It was important to me to make something that wasn’t “boy meets girl, they fall in love, happily ever after.” So I did the opposite of that: Person meets person, they fall in love, oh no, oh dear, no no no, oooh crap.” But there’s also a lot of positive love and fun, because nothing is ever all bad or all good.

Q: Can you talk about the experience shooting and working with the team on this film?
A: It was humbling and magical. For so many exceptionally talented people to come together and give it their best, and to remain loyal to you and the project throughout a long and difficult completion process meant everything to me.
Any creator goes out on a limb when trying to get something off the ground, and there’s justified shame about asking people to work on no or low pay. Seeing highly skilled people believe so much in what was then my, but is now our, work, was one of the most motivating factors for me.

Q: Were there any challenges?
A: For sure. I financed this show from my earnings in corporate video production – like some sort of lunatic! – and because of the scope of this project, I had a team of over 50 cast & crew members working with me, shooting for 30 days at over 20 locations. For free! Since I was either going to pay everybody or nobody, it had to be the latter.

In situations like these it’s important that both production and the cast or crew member get something out of it, so I spent extra time ensuring things were the right fit. Actors got scenes for their portfolio, locations that allowed us to shoot there got a promo video of their business in return. It was time intensive, but the result I was able to produce is exponentially higher than what I could have made any other way on no budget.

We also had an actor disappear shortly before completing the show. After weighing all our options – re-casting, and re-shooting everything we already had, wasn’t possible – we decided to re-write a few scenes to make it all work.

Q: What advice would you give a filmmaker who wants to do something similar?
A: Going against the usual advice for web series writers, I did not write for production assets I had access to, I wrote a show I’d want to watch – then worked out the logistics. I joke that I didn’t know it was going to be impossible, so I just figured it out.
We got almost all of our brilliant locations without money changing hands: In exchange for the owner allowing us to shoot at their restaurant or store, we made a promo video for them. For residential locations, we used our personal networks.

Also, get 2-3 people to help in production.

This one’s going to feel counter intuitive but if you’re going low budget: Plan your shoot dates around your sound recordist. They are near impossible to find for free, and shoddy sound will ruin your project.

Q: How did you get cast with such impressive credits to work on Relationshit on no budget?
A: A truth in any business is that you will probably only be hired to do work you’ve already done. This means that actors who have thus far only shown one side of their talent will sometimes take unpaid work to get scenes for their showreel, or they might just have a personal interest in the role.

The other side is showing professionalism: Working hours and conditions can be brutal on low budget films, so unless you can prove that you know what you’re doing, you’ll have a hard time convincing people to sign on, let alone stay on.

Q: There are several positions – producer, costume designer, set designer – that I can’t see credited.
A: Yeah… I did all that. I know! Don’t try this at home!

So, I started out in the film industry at 15, interning on student films. Later, I worked as an AD as my day job before becoming a full time director. During that time, on 18 hour days, people would tell me that if I couldn’t handle the hours, I could get out of the industry.

I took as little BS then as I do now, so my response was “How about you organise your shoot a little better?!” I made up my mind to start a production company right then, and made a point of interning in almost every department in order to know what was realistic to expect, and where things can be made easier for those working in them.
That experience has helped me tremendously in taking on all the different roles.

Throughout, the quality of my directing was always paramount, so I ensured enough time to sort out everything else and then having headspace to prepare the scenes thoroughly.

Q: How come this took two and a half years to complete?
A: There’s a limited amount of pressure and expectation you can put on people who work unpaid. Everyone has to make the work they do for Relationshit fit their life both in terms of time and finance.

Even though we managed to film all but 3 days in the first two months of shooting, our cast & crew started getting really exciting roles like, oh, no big deal, STAR WARS.

Ingvild had to dye her naturally blonde hair dark brown for the role on short notice, and then painstakingly bleach it back in several increments over a span of months. Those things were the happy reasons for delays – we were so proud of her.

The unhappy ones were when two members of post-pro never delivered the work they said they had created, and we had to re-hire several positions several times.

And while some post production departments delivered absolutely stellar work, others needed a bit more quality control – that’s understandable though as often, people who will work unpaid are starting out and building portfolio, and both parties should end up enriched. It just means it took a little longer, and I really appreciated their time and effort.

IVY JELISAVAC (WRITER, DIRECTOR): Relationshit, Thick Air, A Short Little Eternity
Ivy Jelisavac is the creator of Relationshit. After interning in every film department to learn the ropes, she founded London production company The Friction. She invests in creating an ethical work environment and humane working conditions for crew, while providing high end services to clients like Greenpeace, TimeOut, trainline, GlaxoSmithKline, Roche, and many others.

She is currently developing her first feature.


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Thanks so much for reading! If you have any questions, I’m super happy to answer them.