Global Love:
Interview with Sarah Jayne & Ivan Malekin

by Bill Mousoulis

Bill Mousoulis interviews film directors/producers Sarah Jayne & Ivan Malekin, who are
filmmakers from Melbourne currently based in Malta, and working under the banner
Nexus Production Group with a committed team collaborating with them.
Their new feature In Corpore (2020), shot in Melbourne, Malta, New York and Berlin,
will be released through the Australian company Lido at Home from November 26.

Congratulations on the release of your new feature film In Corpore, a spirited and colourful work observing the relationships of four couples in four different cities in the world.  How difficult was it to complete and release the film in this Covid-affected year of 2020?  I gather you are great believers in VOD distribution anyway?

Sarah Jayne: Yes, releasing In Corpore this year, through a global pandemic, has been excruciatingly difficult. We had a February deadline to complete the film, but as soon as we were about to book cinemas in New York for May, the pandemic hit, everything shut down. Our flights were cancelled and we were left holding this finished film which we didn’t know how to release and because we didn’t have a distributor, we could not be considered for an online cinema screening with larger cinemas in the US, which was what was going on cinemas were joining with distributors and streaming the films from their catalogue.

We emailed a bunch of cinemas in the States anyway, but the ones we did hear back from wanted a fee to screen the film online. We also looked into screening the film in Malta, but though cinemas are open here, they have limited seating due to restrictions so there was no chance of selling enough tickets to make money on any screenings. And with people reluctant to go into public places due the fear of catching Covid, we wondered if we could even draw numbers to a screening of an indie film?

So we went to what we knew and once again teamed up with Australia’s Lido Cinemas, who have started their own online cinema for these times. And it’s great to have a world premiere exclusive for Australia and it’s great to finally release In Corpore after all this uncertainty.

Ivan Malekin: I’ll add VOD had to be the way to go in the end. I won’t say I am a great believer in VOD distribution, I still make films with the desire to see them up on the big screen and I love the magic of watching a movie in a cinema, but as a micro-budget independent filmmaker I need to be practical and VOD is where the distribution landscape has landed. Even the majority of festivals around the world have been forced to go online. So we had to think about how we could make the most of this new world. We wanted to do something special for the premiere of In Corpore and by teaming up with Lido at Home, to launch the film as an exclusive for Australians only, where we began the journey for this film and still our own home country in our hearts, we thought we could support a Melbourne cinema and still have that feeling of ‘special’ for the launch.  

You are both from Melbourne, but have based yourselves in the past couple of years in Malta. How has living in Europe affected your filmmaking?  Do you feel more connected to “world cinema” as it were?

IM: I do feel more connected to “world cinema”, in fact I feel more connected to the world. Though Malta is an island and somewhat of its own bubble, the rest of Europe is only a short flight away and prior to 2020 we were regularly travelling. We are more exposed to films and filmmakers from all over Europe as Malta does have many people from different cultures living here, so our film crews would constantly be a mix of nationalities. In fact, in Berlin, rather than being a predominantly German crew for In Corpore, Spanish was the dominant language on set after English, with people from Spain and Venezuela in the ranks. We even had a couple of Canadians on the team, such is the hodgepodge of artists that make up Berlin.

Living in Europe, I think, has also made us more comfortable and relaxed as filmmakers. I don’t know if it is to do with gaining a more worldly perspective, more maturity as a filmmaker, or just the general relaxed vibe of the Mediterranean, or perhaps a combination of everything, but I feel more content in my own skin and in my work. The Melbourne film community is more competitive, I think. More enamored with status and a ‘proper’ way to make films. Whereas here, I don’t feel a need to prove myself.  

You both extoll the virtues of independent filmmaking (small budgets, tight crew). Did shooting in Malta, Berlin, and New York present you with any challenges you weren’t expecting?  And what were the pleasant surprises (experiences or attitudes) you discovered shooting in these cities, compared to shooting in Melbourne?

IM: Berlin and New York were both challenging as we had never set foot in the cities prior to filming. So we were doing a lot of the planning and organising exclusively online, using Google Maps to look at locations, or relying on others to organise aspects of the production for us. In Berlin, we needed to hire a local production designer to dress the AirBnB we filmed in and bring in all the props as Sarah wouldn’t have time to prop hunt once we arrived and we couldn’t bring our own props over on the plane. While in New York, our co-producer Clara Francesca organised all the crew and locations and confirmed the schedule. As a very hands on producer, I am not used to sitting back and letting someone else do this for me.

In Malta it was a case of we didn’t know anybody. We filmed In Corpore only a month or two after arriving in the country, so had to find our cast and crew by advertising online. When you are new to a country, new to a community, how do you know who is reliable, who is a time-waster, who you will work well with? It was a leap of faith. Luckily, it paid off, and everyone we worked with for the Malta chapter of In Corpore proved to be genuine and super talented on top.

The Maltese also have a strong work ethic when it comes to being on set something they do here is 10 hours continuous days with running lunch. Which means they don’t stop working for 10 hours straight and they eat lunch on their feet. I’m not sure how common this is in the rest of Europe but I had never experienced anything like it on crews in Melbourne.

Filming in Malta, with the exotic location and surrounded by forts and towers and cities which are 500 years old, well, you just can’t get that sense of history and wonder in Melbourne. It looks stunning on camera.

Same as New York. I would go around thinking I am shooting a film in the same city that is the backdrop of so many films and television shows I grew up watching. I was always remarking to Sarah I feel like I am on the set of Sesame Street, of all things. There was a wonderment to the whole process.

In New York I would go around thinking I am shooting a film in the same city that is the backdrop of so many films and television shows I grew up watching.

In Corpore
continues the form and style of your previous feature Friends, Foes and Fireworks (2017) in that it sets up lengthy improvised scenes that are then captured with two cameras running at once.  What attracts you to this form?  What do you believe an audience gets from the end result that is clearly different from a more conventional approach to dramatisation and emotional effect?

SJ: What attracts me to this improvised process depends which hat I am wearing, my producer hat, my storyteller hat or my director hat. They can often blend into one. When I am the storyteller, working through our improvisation process allows me to write an outline that is open to growth and change and I am drawn to telling a story that I know will flow naturally when the cameras roll.

It’s somewhat similar to directing an improvised film, as you observe the actor bringing the story to life in the moment, in front of the camera, through that character and the situation and you guide them through the process organically. But what I love most about the director role with improvisation is working directly with the actor to build the character and get in their head, find out what makes them tick. It’s crucial to have made discoveries with the actor through rehearsals and it’s super exciting seeing a character become multifaceted before you even jump on set to film.

I also love the spontaneity and realness you get with improvised film, which you rarely get with scripted films. And as a producer, we work quicker this way, it’s more affordable, but most importantly we end up with a unique product at the end of the day and a story told through a relatable real character.

IM: I am drawn to the authenticity of improvisation, where actors can simply ‘be’ a character, feel the truth of a moment, and react. There are no lines to memorize, nobody waiting around for their next chunk of dialogue, no staccato back and forth monologues between characters meant to be a conversation (that’s not how people talk). I am also drawn to the surprise improvisation includes, in that we don’t exactly know what is coming next in action or dialogue, so filming a scene means we are constantly on our toes and engaged.

I believe an audience will see something more ‘real’ and feel it too. It’s like being the fly on the wall and witnessing the real lives, thoughts, and emotions of these characters.

I love the spontaneity and realness you get with improvised film, which you rarely get with scripted films.


In In Corpore, I was intrigued by the older character, the New York art critic, he made for a nice change after all the heated exchanges between all the younger characters.  Do you think you will explore more mature characters in future films?

IM: Timothy McCown Reynolds was the art critic and he was wonderful. He really brought a mature, sophisticated, and controlled presence to his character in the film. And yes, Sarah and I have discussed telling more stories with older characters. In fact, if Vietnam opens for travel again and we end up there in 2021, I have already begun writing an outline for another feature based in the solo female travel niche, but with an older female protagonist.

You keep yourselves busy with different projects, including documentaries, and have key collaborators in New York and Melbourne.  You do film work for money, but you obviously are also able to mount the more personal films you want to make.  What advice do you have for younger indie filmmakers who want to “do their own thing”, as they look to get a foothold in this complex world?

SJ: Be smart, arm yourself with knowledge is what I say. Try different things when it comes to distribution and don’t listen too closely to anyone who tries to tell you you have to go through the old school model to not only make your film, but to sell it afterwards. They most likely have been doing the same thing for years, and they know no better. Selling your film to a distributor does not make you a successful filmmaker. It means shit 90% of the time and it’s fair to say that most likely you won’t see a cent of that 50% that you signed on to receive from revenue. Not all distributors are bad, but a majority are, so why give someone full control of a film you spent a big chunk of your life and time making.

It’s already a jungle out there for indie filmmakers, and because the traditional distribution model is so broken (and has been for years) and rigged against the filmmaker it’s a tough time to release a film and actually see any money. These days we have turned our focus to self distribution due to the fact that it’s a risk when you sign a contract with a distributor, as it’s a really shady process and we learnt this with our first improvised feature film Friends, Foes & Fireworks, which we shopped around AFM in 2017.

After a horrible distribution experience (which we finally released ourselves from this year), we have taken the time to re-learn what we thought we knew about indie filmmaking, distribution and the goings on plus the possibilities for indie filmmakers, so we have started to move towards self distribution. Having said that, online platforms and social media are now oversaturated with indie film content and that is also making it difficult to stand out in the crowd.

So don’t treat one film as gold, as your lottery ticket, instead produce a large amount of content on a regular basis, put that out on various platforms through an aggregator such as FilmHub, or one of the few honest distributors out there like Indie Rights, and set up passive income, which is what we do a lot of these days. We make courses about indie filmmaking on Skillshare and Udemy focusing on teaching our improvised process and also micro budget filmmaking, which we practice. Aim for creating passive income to supplement your films, so that you can continue to make more films and films you like to make and don’t get stars in your eyes, they will blind you.

Be smart, arm yourself with knowledge.

IM: My goal is to make a living solely from our own original work and these personal films we enjoy making so much. We are not there yet but each year we get closer. In fact, in March this year I was forced to stay home from work due to the pandemic. I got so used to being home and working on nothing but our own production company that I ended up quitting my job and never going back to the regular 9 to 5. So all my income would come from freelancing as an editor or camera operator, renting gear, but also selling films and educational courses about filmmaking.

And that’s my advice to younger indie filmmakers – same as Sarah – diversify your income streams. So when one well dries up, you have other sources that still pay your rent. Treat your films as a business. Think about auxiliary products, think about your audience, think about a niche you can make films for.

It may sound overly capitalist of me, but for a long time I had the exact opposite attitude I am an ‘artist’ and I am not going to worry about making money because the art is all that matters. Well, the older I get, the more I realize I like to eat and there is nothing attractive about being a starving artist. And this passion of ours, filmmaking, is one the most expensive and resource intensive passions you can pursue, so you better think about how to make money “doing your own thing” otherwise you won’t get to do it for long. And you’ll end up doing someone else's thing (ie. a boss and a job) in order to eat. I definitely don’t want to go back to that, I know that much.

You can watch In Corpore from November 26 here: Lido at Home.


Bill Mousoulis is a Greek-Australian independent filmmaker since 1982, and occasional writer and programmer.

Published November 19, 2020. © Bill Mousoulis and Sarah Jayne and Ivan Malekin, 2020