Interview with Steve Jaggi and Stephen Sewell: Embedded
Stephen Sewell's erotic political thriller sees a war correspondent meet an alluring, enigmatic woman at a cocktail party, before a dangerous power play engulfs the two. Ahead of the film's World Premiere at Sydney Film Festival, we caught up with the film's director/screenwriter, Stephen Sewell and its producer, Steve Jaggi, to learn about the film's production.
In your words, can you tell us what Embedded is about?
An Australian journalist embedded with US Special Forces in Africa hunting down terrorists witnesses what he believes is the massacre of a Bedouin, and driven insane by his guilt and grief decides to do something about it. Preparing to assassinate the American he holds responsible, he meets a mysterious woman interested to know his story, exploring with her the questions of what’s worth dying for and what’s worth living for. Wertmuller’s Love and Anarchy meets Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris.
How did you come across the story and what made you decide to turn it into a feature film?
Sewell: It’s an original story arising from the disaster of contemporary geo-politics meant to address concerns I have over Australian and Western neo-imperialism.
Jaggi: Stephen [Sewell]’s canon of work addresses complex issues in a mature and considered fashion, and Embedded is no different. This picture is both an extremely personal, and painful examination of one individual’s struggle to deal the consequences of political actions which are meant to only effect “foreign” lands and peoples – while also making a broad statement about the currently geo-political landscape.
Who is the audience for Embedded?
Sewell: Serious cinemagoers and festival audiences; international, arthouse and political audiences.
Jaggi: While fans of Stephen’s existing work will no doubt enjoy Embedded, what makes Stephen unique in the current Australian film landscape is his conviction and singular vision. Whether you nod your head in agreement, or completely disagree with Stephen’s point of view (which is certainly polarising), there’s no denying his courage and conviction as a storyteller. Cinemagoers longing for a distinct vision from a culturally unique filmmaker will benefit from viewing Embedded.
The film has a strong and moody colour pallet that is visually striking. Can you tell us how you decided on the unique look and feel for Embedded?
Sewell: It’s a matter of personal taste. I like the dark saturated colours of Lynch and the Europeans, evoking for me both sensuality and death, the two deep themes of Embedded.
The two leads in the film are actually partners in real life – the film requires them to have a dangerous, sexy chemistry. Can you talk on your decision to cast them together and also how you directed them to create this unique chemistry?
Sewell: The fact that Nick and Laura were already involved with one another – and are now married – was both an advantage and a disadvantage, in that they were physically comfortable with one another and felt safe in one another’s company. This is crucially important in this kind of acting, but at the same time, that frisson of the unknown and the danger of being so exposed with another human being is also an important part of the thrill and anxiety of a first-time sexual encounter, and that was something we had to work on and explore in the rehearsal process. Fortunately both Nick and Laura are exquisite actors capable of great nuance, and I never felt the slightest resistance to the world we were exploring.
Independent projects can be particularly difficult to fund. How were you able to get your project into production without sacrificing on the finished project?
Sewell: I had a wonderful producer in Steve Jaggi who backed me from beginning to end. I also had great actors and a wonderfully supportive creative team who all believed in the project. And finally a group of friends I had first met at school, and my brother, did me the great honour of supporting my vision by investing directly in the film. Altogether a tremendously humbling experience.
Jaggi: The picture was financed completely independently, through a combination of private investment and foreign pre-sales. We were financing throughout the entire production lifecycle, which was a stressful process, although I note that this is more and more becoming the norm.
What surprised you most making this film?
Sewell: How much fun it turned out to be.
What is the distribution plan for the film after the festival?
Sewell: We’ve partnered with FanForce, and post Sydney Film Festival will be releasing the film nationally through a series of Q&A screenings held in conjunction with charities and political and cultural interest groups. This is not a multiplex film, but neither was The Boys, but that didn’t prevent the latter from becoming a deeply influential film, and I hope the same will be true of Embedded.
What’s next for you?
Sewell: Making movies. I have a number of other film projects in the pipeline. It’s a world I love being part of, and look forward to making a significant contribution now that I’ve been given the opportunity of directing my first film.