Web Series Wednesday: Last Breath

Cinema Australia Original Content:

The women of Last Breath. Photo by Laura Jane Turner.

Creative Directors: Perri Cummings and Jennifer Monk
Writing Coach and Script Editor: Perri Cummings
Producer: Jennifer Monk
Acting Coach: Shanon Kulupach
Cinematographer: Laura Jane Turner
Episodes by: Jennifer Monk, Shanon Kulupach, Hannah Davies, Kelley Kerr Young, Lisa Dallinger, Lee McClenaghan, Eva Torrkola, Emma Jo McKay and Constance Washington.

Last Breath is a web series inspired by the stories of real Australian women executed or imprisoned for life for murder. Set in a grim waiting cell with just a chair, Last Breath is about the moment before each character is either brought to the gallows or about to be brought back into the court for sentencing. Created by Girls Act Good in association with F Word Films. 

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Article by Emma Caldwell

The shadow of the gallows looms large over the women of Last Breath as they await their fate. What will they say in those final moments, before their fate is determined? When Perri Cummings (long serving Girls Act Good member and writer extraordinaire) and Jennifer Monk, founder and brains behind Girls Act Good (GAG), proposed this concept to our ensemble, the excitement from GAG members was palpable. In short, we knew it would likely be heavy subject matter and an emotional rollercoaster, but as a group, we were intrigued. What would these women say in their final moments? Were they remorseful? Were they themselves victims? Who were they and what made them tick?

These are all questions participating GAG members had to ask of their chosen incarcerated Australian woman. Each of the nine episodes is written and performed by a member of our ensemble, and because these stories are inspired by real women, we had our work cut out for us, delving into not only the performance, but the research aspects of the craft. The GAG team behind Last Breath wrote, performed and coached each other under the direction of Perri Cummings. The project started with writing workshops facilitated by Perri, who explains that Last Breath was an opportunity for her to test out a new writing process and help GAG members who were keen to write, but weren’t sure how to get started. 

And what does that new writing process look like? “If you think you have stories in your head and you want to get them out, find a way to get them out,” Perri explains. “Because when you get them out it’s like being a sculpture, the ideas are always terrible, but you need to get those terrible ideas out so you have something and then you can chip away at it. And I think knowing how to chip away and knowing how to get that really good stuff underneath sometimes you need a little bit of guidance.” Wise words from a very wise woman!

So, with writing workshops and research under our belts, a final list of the female murderers who inspired the episodes of Last Breath were defined. The women who inspired these episodes are Martha Needle, Katherine Knight, Catherine Bernie, Elizabeth Woolcock, Jean Lee, Louisa Collins and Martha Rendell. Some of those names might sound familiar, and others will not, but rest assured every single one of these women has a fascinating and disturbing story to tell. It’s not an easy thing to have to get inside the psyche of a murderer as often murderers are equated to monsters, but Shanon Kulupach, whose episode “Wild Heart” was inspired by Jean Lee, told me, “Perri prepared us so well during the writer’s workshop that by the end I had made human choices about my character. I began to understand her and even sympathise with her. She became a person and not a murderer to me.”

Once the writing process was complete, we moved into filming mode in an exciting collaboration with F Word Films. Jennifer Monk told me that working with Laura Jane Turner and F Word Films to create Last Breath “has been a reminder that collaborating with like-minded, passionate and reliable creatives is the only way to go. It’s great having another opinion in the production room that also supports women and women’s stories in the industry, even if they are dark.”

Last Breath is now in post-production and we’re in the process of making notes, editing and preparing to release our web-series baby into the world.

Last Breath will be released from the 26th September on the Girls Act Good YouTube channel. Subscribe to our channel to watch Last Breath as it drops. 

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