Focus on WA Screen Awards #2: James Pentecost’s Twisted Minds (Exclusive)

Twisted Minds:
Article written by James Pentecost (director)

Development

‘Twisted Minds’ had a long genesis behind it before my involvement in the project. Executive Producer Jag Pannu had come up with the basic plot outline several years before and had engaged a local screenwriter, Teigan Isobel, to draft up the screenplay based on his story ideas. Teigan and Jag worked together on finessing the script for about a year or so before they felt the script was in a good enough place to start bringing a team on board to get the production under way.

Jag had previously invested in local feature production ‘Raven’s Cabin’, a horror film set in the Perth Hills and was ready to start on the first feature film under his own production company, Jag Pannu Productions. Through a network of acquaintances, I was called in to read over the script and consider taking the reins on the production. Serendipitously, Raven’s Cabin was the very first feature film I worked on, as an Assistant Director whilst in my first year of film school a good few years back.

After reading over the script, I saw a lot of potential in the plot, especially as the pace picked up in the third act and the twists and turns came thick and fast, revealing the truth behind the mysterious circumstances. I was definitely intrigued. The production then became a co-venture with JPP and VCR Media (the production company I run with Young Filmmaker of the Year Nominee Hayden Fortescue).

Over the course of the next couple of months, we managed to raise just under $100,000 in private investment, to fund the movie. It was my first feature film and I was excited (and perhaps a little terrified) going into such an immense project. I did numerous re-writes on the original screenplay, re-structuring some parts, adding some scenes and removing others whilst maintaining the original plot and structure that had appealed so much in the original draft.

The story is about two emotionally damaged women who kidnap a man in order to gain information. The two women grew up in an orphanage, and I tried to really get inside their heads to bring that authenticity to the screen. A lot of research was done, and applied to the screenplay.

DoP Hayden Fortescue and director Jame Pentecost

DoP Hayden Fortescue and director Jame Pentecost. Photo by Margaret Bertling.

Pre-Production

Pre-production was a huge learning curve for myself and co-producer Anthony Wootton. There were a lot of areas we certainly never covered in film school!

We were essentially producing a fast paced psychological thriller with some very challenging sequences on a shoestring budget. Our production office was actually sharing space with a handbag shop. Passers-by actually used to wonder into the office to enquire about the handbags in the window!

It was a real blessing to have Claire Blake sign on as our First AD. Claire has worked professionally in the industry for many years and ran what could be called a ‘tight schedule’, admirably. We had the budget for only a three week shoot, which meant fifteen days to get the entire film in the can.

Locations were also a major challenge, in particular locating a police station and the deserted farmhouse in which the girls hold their captive. I knew exactly what I was looking for, but we had to stay close to the metro region and of course, we didn’t have money to burn on location fees. We ended up utilising a site out in Hazelmere that was actually one of the key sets used on ‘Wormwood’, a now cancelled kids TV show. When we arrived there were still some of Wormwood’s props and things lying around in fact. The police station ended up being set in Murdoch University’s Rockingham Campus, which actually worked really well in the end.

The Shoot

Hayden acted as DoP in addition to being a key part of the Production Team through VCR Media. We shot the entire film with a Canon 7D, attached to a custom rig for stability. It was actually a really useful set up in many ways as, being on location, we were able to get the camera into spaces a RED or Alexa would never fit simply by stripping away parts of the rig to fit. As the 7D is such a common camera, it also enabled us to utilise many of the crew’s own cameras as B Cams, or C Cams where required. For one shot where we were using a squib during an action scene, with only chance to get it, we had 7 cameras running at once. I think it took about three minutes just to slate all of them. For good measure, we actually also wedged Hayden’s iPhone into a nearby tree and recorded on that as well (the iPhone footage actually made it into the final cut of the film and looks surprisingly good once graded).

The shoot was definitely full on, shooting a 90 minute film with lots of locations, stunt driving, action sequences, guns firing blanks and a lot of intense scenes all crammed into this short timeframe. I think we managed to get through the entire shoot with less than a couple of hours of overtime though, so we definitely did well there. Our crew were absolutely fantastic, especially with many of them working for deferred pay or reduced rates and under what were sometimes very trying conditions.

We were also blessed with a fantastic cast. The movie has some very intense, very emotional scenes throughout and these guys had to really work with that, knowing that there was such limited time for them to pull a lot of this off. They absolutely delivered and gave the film the powerful emotional punch it needed.  One of our lead characters was played by Australian veteran performer John Howard, of All Saints/Sea Change fame, and it was a real pleasure to work with someone of his level of experience. He was also a really great guy to have on set in general.

Cast and crew on set with John Howard

Cast and crew on set with John Howard. Photo by Margaret Bertling.

Post Production

The initial edit took some time to come together as we wanted to make sure we got the edit just right. I finished the first rough cut using Final Cut Pro about four months after the shoot and we then spent the next six or so months finessing the edit. We were really working to keep the fast pace of the plot present in the edit whilst giving the emotional pathos of the film space to breathe. Again, it was a difficult process on a low budget as it left a lot for me to deal with personally and meant asking for a lot of favours!

Now

I’m really happy with the end result. The finishing touches, I think, were fantastic, from the sound mix and score to the grade and VFX. We’ve also received a lot of positive comments from audiences we’ve screened to thus far.

Last month we received our first festival award from The Indie Fest in California, so to now get a WASA nomination, particularly for best long form drama is awesome. I don’t know how we’re going to go up against films like Drift and The Turning, but being nominated alongside them is an honour.

We’ve got a few screenings coming up in international festivals and hoping to scoop a few more awards if we can, plus we are negotiating a release date for later this year in Malaysia, Singapore and a couple of other territories in that region too. Still looking for Australian distribution, but we have got some wheels in motion here also.

VCR Media are currently in post production on our second feature film project, ‘Broken Contract’, an action comedy starring Christopher Morris and Esther Anderson which I also wrote and directed and which has a budget a little larger than that of Twisted Minds. We’ve applied every lesson we learnt during this production and we’re pretty hopeful we’ll see Broken Contract up here for the same award next year and much more!

You can find out more about the film at http://www.facebook.com/twistedmindsjpp.

Information on the 26th Annual WA Screen Awards can be found at www.fti.asn.au.

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