Director and actor Jackie van Beek on surrendering her ego

Posted Thursday 26 Apr 2018


Jackie van Beek has a very special on-set memory of her first feature film, The Breaker Upperers. The actor and co-director had turned away from the set, and on turning back, noticed there were all of seven female camera crew working that day.
"I wish I'd taken a photo, because it was amazing, I've never seen that on a film set before."
In fact, that film's crew was around 60% female, according to co-producer Georgina Condor, including a female lighting assistant (lighting is a traditionally male-dominated area), plus women working on sound and post-production.
Written, directed by and starring van Beek and Kiwi actor and comedian Madeleine Sami (above right), and due for release on 3 May, the movie follows two best friends who run a business breaking-up couples for cash. However, when one develops a conscience, their friendship threatens to unravel. Van Beek says she and Sami consciously wrote a lot of roles for women into the script, and she loves the fact that the characters of tough-girl Sepa (Ana Scotney) and her crew, were the crowd favourites during the film's world premiere in this year's South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas.
Van Beek and Sami, both screen industry veterans, felt like "real" female filmmakers while being interviewed by press at the SXSW Festival, van Beek says, adding "but I really do look forward to a day when being a woman director is not a talking point, it's normal." 
The pair wrote the script over four years, aided by a cash injection from the first New Zealand Writers Guild Seed funding round in 2014. There were a number of challenges. Sami was in Los Angeles while writing a lot of the script, which made coordinating ideas difficult.
"It was really hard not being in the same country and at times we'd find that we'd both gone in completely different directions," van Beek says.
And because the pair wore several important organisational hats, the set was, at times, "a circus", laughs van Beek.
"When we decided to co-direct we knew it would be chaotic, and it was, but in a good way. We surrendered to the fact. We were often meant to be in three places at once, and we just hoped that our Heads of Department wouldn't quit on us!"
However when it came to co-directing, the pair's 20-odd year friendship never wavered.
"I can genuinely say that Madeleine and I had a good time together. It's actually nice to relax and direct another person. If there was tension (well, there's always tension on a film set) or if we disagreed on things, we'd just talk it out."
Van Beek, a mother-of three who has seven short films and feature film The Inland Road under her belt, believes being a woman definitely influences the way she makes films.
"As a director I feel it's my job to facilitate talent and just try to get the best stuff on the hard drive in the short amount of time we have available. An ego is necessary [for a director] but you don't need to parade it around on the set. I think in general, surrendering your ego is easier for women than men."
While on set, she keeps a piece of directing advice from industry coach Brita McVeigh top of mind. It's a piece of advice that is perhaps easier for women to take on board.
"She said, 'You're not actually there to show how competent you are,' and that was so valuable to me because my reaction to not knowing what to do as a director is usually to get louder and bolder, and pretend even more that I know what to do. But now I've actually asked the crew to take a break because I need time to think, and I talk things through with the actors. And I think that's a 'woman' thing to do."

IMAGE/Madman Films