Interview: Director JJ DeCeglie on his new film, Can’t Win. Do Try.

Cant Win Do Try Cinema Australia 3With only one other, rather unsettling film to his name, director JJ DeCeglie has created a genuinely hilarious film with Can’t Win. Do Try.

Can’t Win. Do Try. follows Gordon, an engaged 25 year old with a fresh mortgage. In a bid to extend his adolescence he convinces his reluctant fiancée to allow his best-friend Jez and himself to live in the house they have just bought in a bachelor pad situation for the year before they get married.

Jez organises a third housemate, O’Hara, who enters the house and adds his personal brand of crazy to their everyday existence.

We chat with director JJ DeCeglie ahead of the film’s world premiere at CinefestOZ on Friday, 26 August were DeCeglie and Producer Simon Camp will be hosting an interactive Q&A experience.

Interview by Matthew Eeles

Can’t Win. Do Try. is an entirely different beast compared to your first film, Jugular. Was it always the intention to try something completely different?

I love all kinds of movies and wanna make all kinds too, so it just happened naturally. I’d been toying with different versions of the story for a few years. It was originally going to be a pilot episode for a TV show, and was written that way, but I saw the potential to blend some more complex elements into it if I kept writing past the thirty page mark, so I tried that and it came pretty quickly once I went for it. I wrote the first half of it whilst still living in Melbourne and then finished it off once I’d moved back to Perth.

One of the best things about Can’t Win. Do Try. is the incredible cast. Tell us about casting the film, because many of these guys have never acted in a feature film before, right?

Yeah most hadn’t, we spent much time on it to get it correct. Some of the parts I had people in mind for, actors I’d made Jugular with in Melbourne (Christopher Millington for Jez and Matt Furlani for O’Hara), but I still made everyone audition either in person or on tape to be sure. I scoured Perth for the rest of the cast, auditioned a heap of people, some parts were harder than others to find the right person for. For example, as soon as I saw Harry Quinlan I knew he was Gordon, but it took us a long time to find the right girl to play Sloane. I actually found two actresses via my cousin putting a post on Facebook for me, Bianca Roose (Sloane), and Chelsea Gibson (JimJam).

There’s a great chemistry between the cast. Did any of them know each other coming in to this?

Not really. Chris, Matt and Fiannah knew each other from Jugular. Adriane Daff knew some of the crew from other projects. Bianca and Chelsea actually went to High School together. Nobody else knew each other. There was a great atmosphere on set. It was summer and a lot of fun. Most of the scenes lent themselves to everyone laughing anyway, and kinship grows quickly from that. The actors from Melbourne were sleeping at the house which we used as the main set, I lived five minutes away in one direction and our Producer, Simon Camp, lived about two minutes in the other, so sometimes it was kinda like camp. You’d arrive in the morning and actors would be eating breakfast and wandering around the house. Then after the day’s shoot people would hang around and have a drink and talk about the day.

There are a few confronting scenes between two of the male cast members. How did they go acting out this kind of material? I imagine there where quite a few laughs between takes.

I had to walk away a few times so as to not ruin the sound with muffled laughter. But they were really pro about it. Those scenes can be very draining on the guys doing them, so you can’t be doing 10 takes or anything, though we occasionally did I think. It was mainly Matt Furlani and Christien Reid going at it as O’Hara and BMW, both those guys are troopers, fully committed, ready for anything. Matt walking around with just a sock on became pretty standard…and I mean Christien, on top of everything else, rode a BMX off a jetty, he even saved the bike from sinking…

Can you tell us a bit about coming up with the story and characters for the film? Are any of the characters based on people you’ve come across in real life?

The premise of getting engaged, getting a mortgage and then convincing your fiancé to let you live in the house as a bachelor pad for the year before you get married is based loosely on something a good friend of mine did many, many years ago, and I spent a lot of time at that house during that year as one of my best friends was the other guy that moved in. The film, like most of my writing, is an extrapolation on stuff that happened, pushing it way out past the bounds of anything factual, and after about the first thirty minutes, it shoots off into pure fiction.

Did you always want to shoot the film in Perth?

Yeah, I’m from Fremantle, so it felt right to set it in WA in the summer. We shot the bulk of it in Cottesloe and the rest mainly in and around Fremantle.

Jugular was shot with a one man crew in Melbourne, how did you find the experience of working with others artistically, like your cinematographer David Le May?

It was a learning experience for me. We kinda came up with a communication system as we went. As you said I’d come from a very different place, and had never worked with a crew before. I had very specific ideas for most shots and scenes, sometimes he had his, we had our moments early on I guess, but we worked that out pretty easily. Dave and the crew all worked so hard for the film, it was a micro-budget film shoot, and these guys are working their asses off every day, as are the actors, the sound guys, sometimes racing around and shooting five different locations in a day. You can’t make films at this level without total commitment from everyone there. We had that.

Having a great producer helps, and Simon Camp is exactly that. He and I produced the film together, but he was the heart that kept the blood constantly flowing smoothly day to day, first on set and last to leave, doing a hundred different jobs a day, no problem too large or small to fix, the fact is that the film wouldn’t have happened without him. His belief in the script, and my ability to get it across on screen, through every stage of production, was just incredible.

As of now the film is unclassified but is no doubt looking at an R18+ rating which is rare for an Australian film. Are you hoping for a cinema release, or would you prefer audiences discover the film via the festival circuit?

We’re not entirely sure yet. A cinema run of some sort would be great, either with a distributor or done independently, you just never know how it will pan out.

The CinéfestOZ screening of the film marks its world premiere where it’s screening amongst some fairly family friendly content like Jasper Jones, Girl Asleep and Spin Out. You must be excited to be offering audience something a little different.

Yeah, it’s exciting and daunting. I just tried to make something that would make my brothers and friends laugh. There are films that are constant reference points for us, and a lot of them are comedies, Old School, Made, Bottle Rocket, Swingers, some aren’t, say Training Day, The Rock, Tango & Cash, we throw those quotes around daily, it’s a kind of language we use… I think possibly a lot of people do that.I guess all I can hope is that the film’s sense of humour translates, and I get a whole heap of laughs from everyone else too.

Can’t Win. Do Try. is screening at CinefestOZ on Friday, 26 August. Tickets and details at http://www.cinefestoz.com

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