Interview: Jess Black – Young Filmmaker of the Year award winner

24-year-old Perth-based producer Jess Black was awarded the prestigious Young Filmmaker of the Year award at the 28th annual West Australian Screen Awards.

Black and her short romantic drama Lola & Luis, written and directed by Miley Tunnecliffe, received three nominations, including Young Filmmaker, Best Film (Short Form) and Best Actor for the late Wayne Davies’ performance as Luis. Black says, “It’s such an honour to be awarded Young Filmmaker of the Year, it’s like a nod from the industry that I’m on the right track. And for our film to be nominated for Best Film and to win Best Actor is humbling.”

Black looks forward to Lola & Luis’ world premiere at CinéfestOz in August, “The CinéfestOz team have been strong supporters of us and our company Black Milestone over the years, so to be able to share such a special film at this festival is wonderful”.

The hard work is paying off as Black has forged a name for herself as an emerging producer and the go-to travel coordinator in WA after working on a number of WA feature films. This year, the prolific award-winning young filmmaker is working with several exciting up-and-coming writers and directors on a number of projects. But the big one on the horizon is securing the final funding for her debut feature film under the newly re-launched company Black Milestone Pictures.

“It’s all go for our company at the moment, we’ve got a new name, two new short films in post, shorts and a feature in the works, and this year we’re releasing some of our previous films to the public after their successful festival runs. Including the crowd pleaser, Love in a Disabled Toilet.” Black says.

Jess Black

Miley Tunnecliffe (L) and Young Filmmaker of the Year winner Jess Black (R).

“Any grant that produces more work and jobs, and allows more people to tell their stories is a great step in the right direction.”

Interview by Matthew Eeles

Lola and Luis received two nominations at this year’s WASAs including best actor and best film. Tell us a bit about the film.
Lola & Luis is romantic drama written and directed by Miley Tunnecliffe and produced by myself. It’s a story that delves into the ideas of love and loss, and challenges the audience to think about choices they might make if they had a second chance. The film is a proof of concept for a feature script written by Miley but was also created as a stand alone short to showcase our talent as a creative team. We lived and breathed that story for months and months so to be recognized at the WASA’s was such an honour.

What does it mean for you to win an award like Young Filmmaker of the Year?
To be recognised and awarded Young Filmmaker of the Year is such an honour, it’s like a nod from the industry that I’m on the right track. It’s humbling to think that only a few years ago I walked out of university with a degree and a dream but absolutely no idea which direction to go and have since produced a variety of films that have been appreciated and awarded. I see this award as a tool to use in the process of my career, to help my next film get up and the feature after that.

Lola and Luis is having its world premiere at this year’s CinéfestOZ. Are you excited to finally share it with the world?
Of course! This film has been very special to us and to be able to premiere it at CinefestOz is wonderful. The festival has been a great supporter of our films so it means a lot to be share Lola & Luis at one of the most popular events in the program.

Tell us a bit about your partnership with writer and director Miley Tunnecliffe. You two obviously have a great working relationship.
Miley and I have been working together for over three years now and have just re-launched our company Black Milestone Pictures. We’ve made quite a number of films together in a variety of roles so we’ve mastered the art of working together for intense periods of time. We’re both heavily involved in the whole process of making films; I think that’s the key. Miley writes them, we both make them and then I re-write them in the edit but we are constantly communicating and giving feedback all the way through so it’s definitely a team effort.

How long have you been interested in making movies for?
I was first exposed to filmmaking in high school, where I started as an editor and developed an interest in the process and organisation involved in filmmaking. I’ve always loved watching movies but once I discovered the world of producing, it sparked a passion that I was fortunate to be able to follow through with.

Who have been some of your inspirations?
I’m most inspired by filmmakers; hearing the behind the scenes stories from industry professionals with years of experience behind them. To understand and empathise with the stories they tell and the things that inevitably go wrong on set is reassuring. I’ve learnt no one has the magic formula, every project has its ups and downs, which motivates me to keep working and trying to be the best I can be.

What can you tell us about some of the projects, including the feature film, you have coming up?
I have a few projects in the works at the moment. I’ve been collaborating with a number of writer/directors on some exciting new stories; a mix of dramas and dark comedies. I’ve also got two shorts in post-production, which will be hitting the festivals and screens later this year. But yes, the focus is on moving into the feature film world. I’ve got two scripts I’m developing at the moment with finance looking positive but I don’t like to get ahead of myself so I won’t say too much.

58 projects helmed by women have just received funding through Screen Australia’s Gender Matters initiative. What kind of impact do you think this is going to have on the industry and women in film?
I think the initiative is fantastic, for the sheer number of projects that have been funded alone. This means the amount of content coming out of Australia will increase, hopefully along with the quality and reach to larger audiences. Any grant that produces more work and jobs, and allows more people to tell their stories is a great step in the right direction. As the recently appointed treasurer of WIFT WA (Women in Film & Television WA) I can see the benefits the industry will receive as more women rise into key creative roles and the positive influence it will have on Australian content and stories, across all visual mediums.

Love in a Disabled Toilet is available to watch here.

Keep up to date with Black Milestone Pictures here

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