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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

The Rewriters: How Director Jason Perini Went From KFC Commercials to Hollywood

Meet the Sydney director who's now casually working with Tinseltown superstars.
By Imogen Baker
April 29, 2016
  shares

The Rewriters: How Director Jason Perini Went From KFC Commercials to Hollywood

Meet the Sydney director who's now casually working with Tinseltown superstars.
By Imogen Baker
April 29, 2016
  shares

in partnership with

What would you do if you were a little less freaked out by consequences? Would you talk to more new people, fear a bit less, dance a little more like FKA Twigs, quit your desk job and make that film you've always wanted to?

Some sparkling young Australians are already flinging their inhibitions into a ziplock bag and seizing this little ol' life with both hands. Concrete Playground has teamed up with the Jameson crew to give you a sneak peek into the lives of some bold characters who took a big chance on themselves. They've gone out on a limb and rewritten their path, encapsulating 'Sine Metu', the Jameson family motto which translates to 'without fear' — getting outside your comfort zone and trying something new. After all, we only get one shot at this. Take notes.

Sydney's Jason Perini knows all about the anti-comfort zone. He's a man standing on the precipice of an opportunity so monumental it's overwhelming — a fully loaded-career with seriously big names already sitting in his credit roll. Alright, so it's not quite as dramatic as all that but he has recently found himself hurtling from struggling up-and-comer to directing Oscar nominated Maggie Gyllenhaal in a film he wrote himself in the space of a few short weeks. One of three winners of Jameson's 2016 First Shot competition, an international short film comp giving aspiring writers and directors their 'first shot' in the film industry, Jason's channelling 'Sine Metu' all the way to Hollywood with his film The New Empress. But how the heck did he get there?

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GET BY WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM YOUR FRIENDS/AWESOME WIFE

Jason started his directing career, as all great directors do, on the other side of the camera. Graduating from the Actors Centre Australia in 2009, he starred in a few short films, episodes of Underbelly, and a few plays for the likes of Belvoir, RockSurfers and NIDA. Highly sought after as a voice over artist, he churned out ads for KFC, Sony and Samsung before taking a little more creative control over his film career. He wrote and starred in multiple award-winning short films including 2012 Tropfest finalist and Best Comedy winner at NYC's BrownFish International Film Festival Kitchen Sink Drama, and the Cannes-screened short A Little Bit Behind. Being a director, writer and actor was paying off.

In his new arrangement though, the scales are loaded. On one side is his family (wildly supportive wife Susan, three young kids and preschool fees stacking up), fear and niggling self-doubt. On the other side is the pure joy of making films and a fair dollop of entrepreneurial spirit. In the end, they balance each other out — but it doesn't come easy.

"My wife reassures me to keep moving in this direction and making short films because… I think she just sees the joy it brings me," he says. "And that it brings me a level of satisfaction."

Perini doesn't fit into any preconceived notions you might have about actors and directors. He could be your brother, your mate, your neighbour, your uncle — there's not a skerrick of Tinseltown pretentiousness in him and he seems acutely aware of that. What he lacks in old Hollywood gravitas he more than makes up for in relatability. He's not a polished protagonist and seems to have no faith in things working out for him. For some, that fear might be calcifying, but for Perini, it makes him cautious, calculated and hardworking. His approach isn't razzle-dazzle, it's a hard slog, and maybe that insight is why Trigger Street Productions president Dana Brunetti, Kevin Spacey and Maggie Gyllenhaal, chose his script out of hundreds to win First Shot.

FYI, this is the straight-up baller way Jameson, Trigger Street and Spacey told the three First Shot winners they'd won (get the tissues ready):

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EAT HUMBLE PIE FOR EVERY MEAL

There's nothing glamorous about clawing your way up the film industry ladder. Like most of the creative professions, there's a dearth of funding and a saturation of hungry mouths to feed. Putting a dollar value on creative ideas can be challenging but not as difficult as going hand-to-mouth to potential investors and supporters. But that's the reality for most filmmakers. There's no fat stack of Hollywood money, no personal assistants and no safety net. Making it work means calling in a lot of favours.

"Constantly having to approach people I don't know and say, 'I don't have much money, my idea is probably not very good but would you be willing to come along and help out with this thing,' you think, 'I don't want to do this, it's out of my comfort zone.' But in five years, if I hadn't given it a shot, I would kick myself.

"I'm not getting any younger. I get nervous calling anyone on the phone, I can't stand it. I get weirded out by emailing people [the same as] approaching people cold. But the more you do it, you still don't like it but you know that's what you have to do."

Herein this simple admission lies the crux of Perini's appeal – he's you. He's all of us, unpolished and goofy and cringing about having to pick up the phone and ask a favour. He's a man with the same hang-ups, the same road blocks we all have (age, time, money, warring responsibilities), who's managed to somehow close his eyes, steel himself and awkwardly run screaming into the fray 'without fear'.

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FAKE IT TILL THE HOLLYWOOD HEAVYWEIGHTS NOTICE YOU

Perini quickly discovered that for him, being an actor was far easier than being an everything else (don't throw anything at us, actors). As director, producer and writer, he finds himself holding a lot of threads which threaten to unravel at any moment and ruin everything.

"What's nice about it is that you get more of a vision but then if it comes crashing down, it sucks," he says. "If I was acting it I'd just go, 'Oh they cut it badly, the director was a jerk.' But there's nowhere to hide once you start producing, directing and writing."

His approach to his craft is one of self-assured humility; an oxymoron that blends equal parts ability and uncertainty. When asked if he thinks he's a good filmmaker, he's characteristically self-deprecating. "No I don't," he says quickly. "I think I'm a baby in it. Now that I've made two films completely on my own, in the sense that I produced them and wrote them, I think I learned the hard way really quickly. I look back at both those films and would do them completely differently. But I've learnt so much… that's kind of helpful."

Trigger Street and Maggie Gyllenhaal evidently disagree. Perini's script, which he nearly didn't submit, was chosen out of hundreds as a co-winner of First Shot. The prize is a filmmakers' dream Your script is brought to life with you as the director, Kevin Spacey as creative director, Trigger Street as producers and Maggie Gyllenhaal in front of the camera. As you may guess, Perini is dealing with it in a characteristically low-key way.

"They're gonna have a rude shock when I turn up and don't know what I'm doing... I'm just thankful and I want to learn from them as much as I can. I want to be as ignorant as I can and soak it all up."

Want to experience a little bit of 'Sine Metu' yourself? Thanks to Jameson and The Rewriters, one extremely fortunate Concrete Playground reader (and their even more fortunate mate) will get the chance to 'fear less' and go on a big ol' adventure to Ireland.

In addition to two return flights departing from your choice of Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane, this epic giveaway comes with five night's accommodation and $500 spending money you can use to paint the Emerald Isle red.

ENTER HERE.

For more about how 'Sine Metu' influenced John Jameson's journey visit Jameson's website.

Images: Michael Ciccone, Jameson, Trigger Productions.

Published on April 29, 2016 by Imogen Baker

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