Interview With Jason Raftopoulos – West Of Sunshine Writer & Director


West of Sunshine tells the fascinating story of Jim, Damian Hill (Nowhere Boys (TV), Broke) who’s divorced from his wife, with whom he has a son, Alex, Ty Perham, and who struggles with money problems.

To try to gain his life and money back, he gives into dodgy practices such as smuggling drugs and gambling. However, that decision might not turn out to be the best one.

The movie is the feature debut of Australian writer-director Jason Raftopoulos and we had to chance to interview him about the film at the East End Film Festival and what the future holds for him.

Liselotte: Where did the idea of the movie come from?

Jason: I always have been fascinated by how the behaviours, controllers and stories of our fore-fathers can consciously, or unconsciously, create the methodology around family. When I was about to become a father, I knew consciously what was coming but I didn’t know if I was prepared for it psychologically. So I started to meditate on fatherhood just as a whole and I think the start of the film has its birth there.

Liselotte: What’s the link between the title of the movie, West of Sunshine, and the film itself?

Jason: West of Sunshine is the mind state for the main character Jimmy. It’s almost like a fantasy of where the character believes happiness and love is. A place somewhere the sun never sets. The story of the film is how he digs into his own past traumas to realize that love and connection could just be right in front of him.

Liselotte: The main relationship in the film is the one between Jim and his son Alex. How hard was it to cast the actors for those roles?

Jason: It was really hard. Once I had cast Damien (as Jim), who I think is sublime in the role, it turned out that finding the boy was very difficult. It was only after Damien suggested what about if we cast his stepson (Ty) potentially for the role, that I thought that this could maybe work. What I started to do was bring him along to some production meetings where we used to meet once a week. I just talked to him a little bit and I could see that there was something inside him and then I got him to audition. I really wanted to cast a non-actor in that role because of what the boy was going to experience in the film. I wanted him to experience that for the first time. It was a very excited time to cast both of them together.

Liselotte: Was there any specific scene that they had to act out for you before you finalized your casting decisions? 

Jason: Well, I don’t really audition with the actual scenes. I audition by using improvisation. Those are basically about the theme or the meaning of a certain scene but I just get the actors to use their own words. I did have to prove to myself that Ty was able to go to a certain place, emotionally, and he did. More importantly, I think, he as a boy was going through his own transition from boy to man. There was emotional terrain that I could see that was there ripe, willingly and ready for this.

Liselotte: You mentioned that Ty was a non-actor. How was it to work with him? What’s the different between working with an actor and a non-actor? 

Jason: Well I cast him because he was fantastic in the role. As I mentioned before, I wanted him to be exposed and get to know his father on the job, so to speak. Working with a non-actor requires a different set of tools. They are incredibly open to the new world you ask them to believe in and that’s the gift of working with a non-actor. They just bring all their imagination and openness to it. You do need a different set of tools to work with them than you do with a professional actor. You have to speak with them in a different way to be able to get the performance you need for the film.

Liselotte: There are always a lot of things involved in making a movie. What was the hardest thing about making this one?

Jason: I think the hardest thing was shooting on 32 locations in 18 days. We had to move and get things in locations where people were still working. We shot in a café where people were still ordering and making lunch. In all the locations that we shot people were working because we didn’t shut down any location. We were limited with the time and we had the challenges of working in and around real people during the working days, which was part of how we wanted to craft the film. It was all intentional. There were definitely some technical and other problems but it did bring vibrancy to the film that I don’t think we could have achieved otherwise in the time we had to shoot in.

Liselotte: So the people were very open and responsive to that?

Jason: They were incredibly open and very generous with their time. Obviously we had to meet with them all beforehand but they were really generous. We didn’t have much time to location scout so a lot of it was like getting into location, finding how to block out the scene and see what the actors wanted to do. Just working in and around what we had to get the best possible shots that we needed for the story.

Liselotte: Your film will be screened at the East End Film Festival tomorrow. Are there any other festivals you guys are going to attend with the film? 

Jason: Yeah, the Australian premiere will be at the Sydney International Film Festival in June, that will be the next one. And tomorrow night then at the East End Film Festival at 8:50 pm, which is a public film festival. It’s going to be really exciting event.

Liselotte: Do you have any advice for people who want to make movies as well and to get their films screened at film festivals?

Jason: My only advice to young filmmakers or filmmakers in general is just make the movie as best as they can. Have a clear idea about what you want to say. Do it with all your heart and passion that you have inside you.

Liselotte: What was the reason you got into film making?

Jason: I think it started when I was very young. As a young boy during my first trip to Greece I was given my dad’s 8mm camera and I started to make footage with it. I was just captivated by what those images did. When I grew up I had a love for cinema, storytelling, the ideas that cinema gave us as and the power of cinema. I suppose I always loved it.

Liselotte: One last question: What are your plans for the future?

Jason: I’m working on another feature film at the moment with Alexandros Ouzas, the producer who worked on West of Sunshine as well. We’re working really hard on the screenplay of that at the moment and we’re looking forward to hopefully get this up in the near future.

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