Former NRL player turned filmmaker Jason Stevens swapped footy boots for pom poms for his directorial debut, Finally Me, which has commenced production in Sydney.
After writing and producing 2018 AFL/NRL comedy-drama Chasing Comets, Stevens’ newest project pays tribute to his own Greek heritage while delving into the competitive world of US high school cheerleading.
Set in the ’90s, the film stars Jazz Laker plays Soula Mitsos, a plus-size teenager of Greek heritage who works after school in her family’s takeaway Souvlaki store. Her dad wants her to take over the store and marry a Greek boy named Jimmy, but all Soula wants to do is cheer for her school, Westend High.
Despite being a complete novice at cheerleading, Soula’s dream becomes a reality when she’s unexpectedly chosen on the team. However, the opportunity however is laced with much opposition, including from her West End’s arch-nemesis, Taylor White (Alea O’Shea), who’ll use every dirty trick in the book to succeed. However, Soula’s greatest battle will come from within as she struggles to believe that she belongs.
The film’s cast includes Tony Nikolakopoulos, Tiarnie Coupland, Josh Heuston, Naomi Sequeira, Rhys Muldoon, and Rhonda Burchmore.
Stevens penned the script and will also produce the independently financed feature via his company, Jason Stevens Productions, with the crew rounded out by DOP Chris Bland and composer Helena Czajka. Shooting will take place at various locations across the next four weeks, including Cronulla and Newington.
The 49-year-old told IF that while the story was well outside the realm of rugby league, it still carried elements of his own journey.
“I’ve never cheered before but in many ways I was Soula,” he said.
“I was a big lad when I was young and the odds were definitely against me to go for the dream of playing rugby league.
“There were many voices telling me it was beyond my reach and so I really drew from that, as well as the Greek heritage, with my grandfather being Cyprian. A lot of what is in the film was taken from real experiences that I had.”
Having begun development on the project in 2010, he was encouraged to take the reins as director by script editor Gary Eck, while also receiving mentorship from Wayne Blair.
“Gary said to me a couple of years ago, ‘You know this so well and you know what you want, so you should direct it’,” he said.
“It took me a little bit to come around to the idea but the more I thought about it and listened to other directors who had their baptism by fire without any formal directorial education, my confidence grew.
“Gary’s been a great sounding board for me as a more established director and I’ve got some great mentors in people like Wayne Blair, who has given me a lot of time and advice on the whole process.”
A distributor is yet to be confirmed for the film, which has a prospective September release date.
Stevens has the option of doing it himself via his company, having arranged for Chasing Comets to be screened on more than 80 screens across the country before selling the film to Network 10 and Stan.