For June Again writer-director JJ Winlove, it was a “pinch myself moment”.
Overseeing his maiden major project, JJ couldn’t believe the likes of Australian screen legends Noni Hazlehurst, Claudia Karvan and Stephen Curry were attached to his heartfelt dramedy.
But, he quickly found out he had nothing to fear, as the trio loved his “creation” as much as JJ himself.
“It was terrific; one of the things I was most happy about was the cast I got,” he said.
“I still can’t believe we assembled the actors we did.
“I must admit, I was a bit anxious coming up to the shoot working with people like that.
“It’s such high-calibre.
“However, as soon as I met them and started talking about the film and script, I realised they were hugely supportive.
“The three of them were really excited to make the movie.
“Even though I was a first-time feature director, and they boasted years of experience, it worked brilliantly.
“It was a really great collaborative process, going through the characters and the scenes with them.
“That’s how I like to work.
“We’d have open discussions to make sure we were all aligned – and on the same page.
“Hopefully, the result is better for it.”
If you haven’t seen the preview clips, June Again – released on 6 May – will not only tug at the heartstrings, it’ll provide many laughs along the way.
A twist of fate gives family matriarch June (Hazlehurst) a reprieve from an ongoing illness.
Much to their amazement, she re-enters the lives of her adult children, Ginny (Karvan) and Devon (Curry) and learns that “things haven’t gone according to plan”.
With limited time but plenty of pluck, she sets about trying to put everything, and everyone, back on track.
When her meddling backfires, June sets out on a romantic journey of her own and discovers she needs help from the very people she was trying to rescue.
“Noni was the perfect person to play her,” JJ said.
“And, she nailed it.
“Surprisingly, Noni, Claudia and Stephen had never worked together before.
“In fact, it was the first time they’d been in the same room, so I think they were all a bit nervous meeting each other.
“It was quite a beautiful moment.
“We had a couple of days where we sat around the table and talked about the script.
“For Claudia and Stephen meeting Noni, they were a bit star struck.
“However, once we sat around talking, it was all fine.
“But, it was very interesting to know they were as keyed up as I was.”
JJ Winlove’s long road from NZ to June Again
Born in New Zealand, JJ spent much of his childhood writing stories and plays, shooting short films and inventing board games.
Later, he discovered photography and a new love affair began.
He spent his teenage years staring through the lens of a Pentax Spotmatic or watching images magically appear in the noxious peacefulness of the darkroom.
After arriving in Sydney, while working as a commercial artist, filmmaking was always in his sights.
His first offering, The Falling, was made for the Sydney Film Festival competition – the mandate: to make a one-minute short using only a mobile phone.
His little tale of a news-reading leaf won and screened to a full house at the closing night of the event.
JJ was nominated for the Australian Writer’s Guild Monte Miller award for best screenplay for The Mind Job (2012).
It went on to rank as one of L.A. Weekly’s Ten Films You Must See at the 2013 L.A. Comedy Shorts Festival.
In 2015, he set out to write, produce and direct 12 short films in 12 months.
The success of this project, entitled 12:12, was made possible through his sheer willpower, entrepreneurial social media presence, and love of storytelling.
Then came June Again.
“It was quite a ride [the production],” JJ told the Canberra Weekly.
“As it was my first feature film, there were a lot of new elements to it, as opposed to ‘shorts’.
“However, it was an amazing experience.
“I [first] had the idea for the movie at the beginning of 2019.
“So, it took a bit of time to work with producers, and go through a few rounds of drafts, until we were happy with the script.
“That ended up being about six months.
“Afterwards was the pre-production process.
“Then we were shooting the film – and it was due to come out in the middle of last year.
“But, of course, the pandemic hit.
“We were delayed by almost a year, which was a silver lining in some strange way.
“I’m cautious to say ‘it’s a blessing in disguise’ because COVID-19 is such a horrible thing affecting many people in a horrible way.
“However, for the Australian film industry, and movies like The Dry, High Ground and Penguin Bloom, it’s had a chance to attract an audience it mightn’t necessarily have gotten otherwise.
“Hopefully, that will be the case for us, especially since studios are holding the big American blockbusters back.
“So, with that in mind, I think it’s a great time for Australian films.”
And, if the early reaction to June Again is anything to go by, it appears JJ will have a hit on his hands, too.
“We screened it at the Gold Coast Film festival a couple of weeks ago,” he said.
“The reception there was amazing.
“We went up on stage afterwards for a Q&A – and you could see the looks on their faces and that it really moved the audience.
“That’s so gratifying.
“Sitting in the room, you could hear all the emotional moments, as well.
“The feedback was also amazing.
“I’m hoping it’s a good indicator of the way it might reach people.
“When you’re writing a script, you try to imagine how you’ll connect with an audience.
“So, to get that reaction – of what you’re trying to achieve – it’s a really great thing to hear.
“For people dealing with dementia, they told me it was cathartic.
“That was probably the most positive feedback.”
By Rod Thompson
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