The age-old themes of love, betrayal, passion and jealousy are explored in award-winning independent Australian dramedy ‘Zelos’, in which a man is asked by the woman he loves to have sex with someone else to save their relationship, after she has cheated. Written, produced, directed by women and made with a largely female crew, ‘Zelos’ takes a look at a male protagonist through a female lens, a reversal of the norm. Writer and producer Claire Harris took the time to answer some questions for us ahead the film’s screening at the 2018 Gold Coast Film Festival.
Can you please tell us how the story was conceptualised? Was it based on a real life scenario?
Not exactly no – and I probably wouldn’t admit it if it was! I first wrote this as a short story some years ago now. At the time I was in a long-term relationship and I wanted to explore the themes of jealousy and infidelity. I was interested in the way that every couple has to grapple with this issue at some point, not necessarily because of an actual affair but there’s always the possibility. One way or another, jealousy has to be negotiated within the relationship. While the story didn’t play out in my life the way it does in the film, everything I write is based somewhat on my experiences and those of people I know. Is that sufficiently vague?
Why was it important to you to have a mostly female crew for the film?
Interestingly, we didn’t set out to have a majority-female crew – it just evolved that way naturally. We started with myself, the director, and a cinematographer she often works with. Once we had three women on board, it just seemed to attract more women to the project. I think everyone was excited about being part of a female team and the sort of dynamic that it created on set. It’s worth mentioning that we did also have some wonderful men work with us.
What kind of differences do you think become apparent when you tell the story of a male protagonist through a female lens as opposed to that of a male lens? And vice versa?
I wouldn’t like to generalise – no doubt they’d come at the story from another angle, but then every filmmaking team will have their own perspective and vision, whether they’re male or female. I have often been asked why I decided to write the story from the man’s POV, but I really wanted to play with those traditional gender stereotypes and make it the female character who cheated. It actually never occurred to me that it was odd for me to be writing a male protagonist since men write about women all the time. By way of research I spent a LOT of time talking to men in their 30s about relationships.
What is one thing you would really like people to know about how the film was made?
That it was the first film for many of the people involved – so we’re really proud of what we achieved. I would like to tell other aspiring filmmakers not to be held back by lack of experience. A lot of people will tell you that you’re not capable of making a film and you’ll often believe them – but it’s important not to lose confidence in yourself. I’d never set foot on a film set before producing ‘Zelos’, and as long as you learn from the mistakes you make (and boy are you going to make a lot of them) then you can get there in the end. With a lot of hard work, of course!
The foibles of romantic relationships have always provided endless fodder for storytellers. What do you think are some of the more unique challenges faced by lovers in the modern dating world?
How long have you got? Dating has completely changed since our grandparents’ time when you chose a life partner from a small pool of people you knew. Through dating apps, that pool is now almost unlimited – and with endless possibilities it’s harder to settle for just one option without feeling like you might be missing out on something better. This is amplified by the fact that our expectations have become a lot higher and we look to a romantic relationship to “fulfill” us in ways that earlier generations probably didn’t. I’ve noticed that people’s attitudes have changed even since the invention of Tinder. It seems much more difficult to make genuine connections and there is far less emotional investment – I think it’s really just a way of buffering our feelings so that we can’t get hurt.