An interview with Andy Jans-Brown | Hell Is Light | VMA20 BEST 1st TIME SCREENWRITER | February Edition
A psychedelic Soap Opera. This is how the feature film ‘Hell is Light’ was defined directly by its creator Andy Jans-Brown, a multifaceted international artist of Australian origin.
Known around the world as a musician, actor, poet and now also as a filmmaker, Andy has long been involved in the local East Coast Australian community, which survived the tragic Victorian Bushfire incidents, in the process of expressing authenticity through art.
Winner of several awards around the world, ‘Hell is Light’ speaks directly, bringing the problems of a society whose young people are struggling with drugs, corruption and violence to the attention of all.
Here’s the interview we made with Andy about his experimental and dramatic project.
• Writer, director, producer, publisher, cinematographer, aerial videographer, actor, as well as composer, musician and sound designer. Yours indeed is an eclectic personality, which is not spared when it comes to Art. When did you realize you had such an artistic gift, and how did you develop your skills?
I remember constantly reading on School report cards that I was a dreamer. I have always loved to dream. I love those mornings, rare as they are now being a parent, where you can drift effortlessly into a sleep-in and back into the world of your dreams. Learning the skills required grows out of the necessity to turn those dreams into stories and art.
• Of all the artistic roles listed above, which one of them best expresses how you feel inside? Who are your sources of inspiration?
I feel most at home as a writer and a song writer. I love to indulge in flights of lofty poetry and within the feelings of a chord progression or a song. Words and music continue to take me to my happy place. Writing the dialogue for 'Hell is Light' was such a pleasure, somehow the characters and the scenes sung their hearts out like songs. I laughed and cried at the things they said. I have always been inspired by films in which music plays a key role. Quentin Tarantino, John Carney, Oliver Stone, Alan Parker, Richard Linklater, David Lynch and Wim Wenders come to mind.
We have lived in a glossy touched up magazine cover version of reality, overflowing with 'selfies' and social media masks, but the soul has always fed on that other beauty, 'meaning'.
• All the film’s feelings are conveyed by music, for which you won one of our Best Song awards. Do you want to tell us about how you can identify the right combo between images and sounds to get straight to the viewer’s heart?
Music and image sure make for a wonderful marriage. So much of what I learnt about sound design and the relationship between the two worlds, the diegetic and non-diegetic came from scrutinizing the Roman Polanski film 'Chinatown' with music by Jerry Goldsmith. Every piece of subtext brilliantly executed in the score. The internal world of the characters revealed with absolute craftsmanship. Whether you are trying to juxtopose the image or highten it, whether to elucidate irony or just rip straight into the heart of the viewer, such are the joys of marrying music to an image. • Your film narrates an absolutely real social cross-section between young people and their families, with a raw language and without patinas of any kind. Who and what inspired the writing of ‘Hell is Light’?
I've always been drawn into the deeper water. I love films and art that explore the very depths our human experience. 'Wings of Desire' by Wim Wenders, 'Waking Life' by Richard Linklater and then weighty scripts like 'Naked' by Mike Leigh ,'Requiem for a dream' by Darren Aronofsky or 'Leaving Las Vegas' by Mike Figgis come to mind for the cuts they left in me.
• Your psychedelic soap opera deals with absolutely important issues such as violence, incomprehension, the need for acceptance and the frantic search for lasting happiness that becomes, instead, a spasmodic escape from reality through drugs. But it also speaks of a contrasting theme: love. What difficulty did you find during the writing of the script in linking such different themes together?
It was a search for the points at which these themes come together. Two brothers broken by the same axe and searching for the same light at the end of the tunnel, but defined by their unique choices. It was difficult to be honest, it seemed a lot easier to simply just tell the crime story of the older brother and follow a 'Goodfellas' type story arc. It was snappy like that and the humour flowed as did the misfortune and fall, but I stuck to my logline and looked for the contrast and similarities to communicate a bigger story.
• In your work the audience is invested by gory and, at times, distressing images. The choice of not letting them understand anything, but on the contrary, of making the reality of the facts clearly visible is deliberate. Would you like to argue your stylistic choice?
The film was made on a shoestring budget. We worked against the clock to get to get the story told. Editing was about accepting what I had and letting go of what I didn't have. This process most certainly informed the overall style of the film, but I also made a choice to confront and expose the darkness to the light. There seemed to me a natural poetry in doing so.
• We know that more than 150 volunteer actors participated, proving how much your film touches and shakes people’s souls. How did it make you feel to be the spokesperson for your community?
It was a huge honour and continues to be so. The amount of people who have opened up to me because of this film is humbling. We have lived in a glossy touched up magazine cover version of reality, overflowing with 'selfies' and social media masks, but the soul has always fed on that other beauty, 'meaning' . We suffer so many losses in our lives and there is chaos in our mortal limitations. It's terrifying to confront one's vulnerability, but that is where the poetry lies. I don't want to add to the alienation of our time, I have always wanted to bring people together and normalize their struggles. There is a beauty in broken things.
I don't want to add to the alienation of our time, I have always wanted to bring people together and normalize their struggles. There is a beauty in broken things.
• What do you really feel about the film? Which character do you feel closest or most closely related to?
It has been a cathartic experience that is for sure. I sat in the cinema with my older brother's first girlfriend and my best friend from school and felt every one of their tears and their laughter as well. Each character has some part of me in it. It was the character of 'Lou' the philosophy sprouting villain that helped me to enter the script. I had a lot of fun writing his rants, but I was most certainly the love- struck younger brother through most of my life.
• ‘Hell is light’ is not a children’s movie. But it speaks to teenagers, telling stories about their peers. What do you recommend to the heart of a boy who is living or sees a situation similar to the one you mentioned?
Take solace in your struggles, search for meaning, there is a deeper beauty there, read, read the classics, read the greats, you'll find a friend upon their pages. You're not as alone as you feel yourself to be. Express your sorrows. Expose them to the light. Make the world a more beautiful place somehow - one day at a time. Dare to dream and never give up on it.
• After all these awards, what will your next step be? Do you have other projects in the works?
I certainly hope to continue telling stories. I have a Christmas Movie Script in the works.
• Thank you for participating to Vegas Movie Awards and for helping to provide independent cinema with your unique point of view on such relevant topics. Is there anyone you’d like to thank?
I like to thanks my partner Bella, everyone involved in the making of 'Hell is Light', all those who generously contributed to the crowd funding campaign and the Vegas Movie Awards for all that you do to promote the cinematic arts.