Interview by Libby Gandhi.
One of Australia’s most talented and accomplished directors, Jasmin Tarasin adds a raw, stripped back cinematic beauty to all her projects. With a unique background in music video, documentary and art installation Jasmin bridges a range of disciplines, as well as being a driving force for gender diversity in the Australian production industry.
On the eve of International Women’s Day, CTL caught up with the Photoplay director.
What prompted you to get in to the filmmaking industry? Was there a defining moment or a memory?
Growing up I was always into role-play and when I was thirteen I joined a community theatre company where we used to write, direct, and act in our own plays. I loved it and grew involved in all elements of that. But you know when you’re a young girl you want to be an actress and growing up in Newcastle it’s a smallish town and I didn’t really knew what Directors did so the most obvious thing was being an actress. I actually pursued acting and went to VPA to study acting but I didn’t like it! I just wanted to tell people what to do and I also found that it’s actually really hard to be a good actor and I don’t think I was the best at it so I left.
I did the big travel/finding myself thing and found that I loved photography and art, and also acting and performing. I went back to University and to study film and that’s where it all started. I felt like it all started to sing from that point because it was all of those things that I loved together. I felt like it was all of the bits that I enjoyed finally making sense.
You understood the jobs that were out there …
Yeah, I think when I moved to Melbourne I met a whole lot of people who were making films and being from a small town it was like ‘oh my god, I’ve found my people’! It was really exciting and I just kind of worked it out. From then on I’ve completely felt at home in each role.
Was it straight from there into directing? Or did you explore other roles on your way?
At the beginning I was working as a Production Assistant, then I went into Production Managing, and then I was Producing for a while because that was the natural progression. I got an SBS documentary series about Australian fashion that I directed and produced and at the time my executive producer at Podfilm, Catherine Kerr, said you’re not producing you’re just directing now. I was straight onto the roster as a Director and I haven’t stopped working ever since. That was thirteen years ago. From then on I just Directed so it’s good because I know the business side of things from Producing so I keep a check on that when I’m working.
Your filmography is so eclectic from art installations to features, documentaries to music videos and advertising. Where do you get your inspiration? Is it medium, the message, or a bit of both?
For me, the thing I love about making films whether it is an advertisement, video art, or documentary is that it’s all about visualizing and exploring the human condition and how we relate. It doesn’t matter if you’re making a campaign for Westfield or for the bank – they’re all stories to be told and maybe it’s in connection with a brand but its all about human connection and exploring that visually is what I find really fascinating. Film is such as visual mirror to society, that’s really fascinating to me.
You’ve directed Virtual Reality projects such as the Ghost Train at this year’s Sydney Festival. How have you found the experience of directing VR and interactive film as opposed to traditional film? Do you approach it differently?
It was very different. As my six-year-old son said, I had to ‘fall into the learning pit’. With the Director Of Photography I worked with, Katie Millar, we really had to delve into exactly how we would do it – it was fascinating. We were storyboarding in pies, literally. Directing Virtual Reality was very different and there was lots I loved about it – I’m looking at doing another VR project now – but there was lots I also found limiting. Personally, I’m not a real technology person. It’s all about the content for me, so using VR was like ‘right ok let’s do it, let’s use VR, let’s work out how to do that’ so I made that concept work for that. It wasn’t that I just wanted to do VR. I think it’s fascinating but I don’t think I want all my work to be VR though it’s a very interesting tool to use.
Is there a particular direction you do see your work going in?
Well this year I’m focusing on a feature film that I’ve been working on for the past seven years. So I’m really gearing up! I’m going to stop having children and I’m going to get healthy so I can make this film. I feel that everything has been pushing me in the direction to make this film. I optioned a book ten years ago, I’ve been developing it for seven years with Screen Australia and Film Victoria, and I’ve got a great team so hopefully in the next twelve months that’s going to come about. I really want to start exploring longer form expansive works. I really enjoy it so that’s where I’m heading.
While continuing to work in advertising?
Yes. I love making TVCs because they’re so short and you get to work with really talented people. I think now because of the style of my work and the type of work I do I get sent really great scripts, and I always find something in myself in the scripts so I can make it my own and put a mark on it. I really enjoy it.
Especially the last few years because I have a body of work that’s quite signature I get sent stuff that I like. I really enjoy making beautiful pictures and I get to meet really talented and interesting people – I love it!
Looking back, have there been any standout career highlights?
It was really interesting, I got asked to do a history documentary for the ABC on the history of women’s rights in Australia. They asked me to do it because I hadn’t done any kind of historical documentaries before and they wanted a young edge on that traditional framework. So I got the script and there was all this archival material that I had to present, and I was like ‘ok, god, what am I going to do with this?’. Then when I started to go to the public archives and record offices and started going through the material we were using there were all these beautiful newsletters and old papers and handwritten letters. I got really inspired and scanned everything, and then I built all of these templates as beautiful pictures that told the story throughout the documentary. I got nominated for an AACTA Award for the Visual Effects in it because I went to town and it was really lovely to turn something that had been such an old traditional format into something that was really exciting and unique.
Another career highlight was making a video clip in Berlin. That was exciting. It was a really fun experience. And I had a really fun experience making a video art piece called ‘Live’ that I did for Sydney Festival where I travelled around the world filming all my favorite artists one-on-one. It couldn’t get any better than that really!
I’ve also done quite a lot of international work with commercials in Italy and Turkey, London and the US and that’s really exciting.
Did you find you had to change your approach while working internationally?
Yes in different countries definitely. In Turkey it was pretty strange because there were about sixty people in the crew and I was the only female – they kind of wouldn’t listen to me. So that was interesting and kind of weird.
TUNE IN NEXT WEEK FOR PART 2 OF THE INTERVIEW WITH JASMIN TARASIN.