The working relationship between David Jowsey and Ivan Sen goes way before they formed boutique feature film company BUNYA in 2009. Outback noir film, Mystery Road, marks the latest stepping stone in the pair’s shared career path. The director and producer duo talk to Emily Blatchford about their partnership.
Ivan and I have a long history of working together at the ABC. Ivan made programs and documentaries for the ABC which I commissioned. For maybe four or five years we made a documentary every year.
Eventually there came a time where I said, “look, I want to get back into making drama.” Ivan had this plan to shoot a very low-budget, sci-fi film in Nevada called Dreamland so I ended up getting involved with discussions about that. One thing led to another and I said, “Right. I’ll leave and we’ll do this together and we’ll form a company and we’ll set out in the world and go on an adventure.” So I promptly left the ABC, we set up BUNYA productions and away we went.
Ivan is really the creative leader of the company and I’m the producer. I run the business and he is the creative engine. It’s a good balance and I think you do need both. A director could consider having an agent and getting people to negotiate for them but Ivan benefits more directly from being the owner of the company. He has more control over what he does. And me, I get to work beside Ivan, which is a big plus.
I don’t think either of us have a particularly commercial sensibility. Working out a way to be slightly more mainstream in the sense of finding a wider audience is a struggle for us. Our tendency is to talk one another into doing slightly crazy, arthouse stuff and to go off on tangents that are interesting to us rather than being more business-like. We’ve tried to become more focused on that and Mystery Road was a direct result.
Ivan is a very unusual person in the sense that he is highly creative but he’s also very technically-minded. It’s not something you find a lot, where there’s that crossover. I’m just a lucky person to be able to tap into a mind like that. On the reverse side of that, I had many years working in a TV station where I was able to manage the government systems and bureaucracies of film funding. So I’ve got a good understanding of how to manage that process and to make it work for us.
In the first few years we spent a lot of time in each other’s company, now we’ve sort of got our own lives. We live in separate locations and go about our business separately. You have to have an ongoing trust in the relationship and sometimes that’s a tricky thing. Ivan and I work in each other’s interests and I think that’s the key.
I think my first contact with David was around 1997 in Alice Springs. He was the manager at CAAMA (Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association) and I was doing one of my first television documentaries for the ABC. He left CAAMA for the ABC and that’swhen we began working together. I distantly remember his relaxed attitude and his genuine understanding of Indigenous people.
After making a lot of TV documentaries, it was around 2008 that we decided to make an experimental feature film together. With this film and plans of making a production company together, David made the big decision to leave the ABC.
For the first film, it was only really the two of us. We funded it from our own pockets and that set up a model of working which was very efficient and intimate. Both of us developed multitasking abilities, which we have carried with us into larger projects. I guess it’s been David’s strong belief in me and my potential that has taught and encouraged me to be brave and push boundaries.
David and I are similar in the sense that we are both pretty calm and try not to get too carried away with negativity or unnecessary details. If something not so great happens, we just get on with it and do what we can to deal with the issue. Also, we both share our long term goals of reaching bigger audiences with meaningful films. I guess David is slightly more social than me, although I know he enjoys a bit of isolation, like myself. I admire David’s generosity, sincerity, his calmness and his ability to get excited and passionate about a project.
If David were to describe me, he’d probably say that I was a workaholic.
Over the years, I don’t think our relationship has really changed all that much. We don’t see a whole lot of each other these days. Maybe that’s the secret to our success!
There is certainly a long working future ahead of David and I, we’ve got a lot of stories we want to make with BUNYA. You’re always one film wiser when you go into the next one, so we always want to make sure we step up a level, not repeat ourselves and keep on learning.
Mystery Road is currently available on DVD.
This article first appeared in IF Magazine issue #156 (Dec-Jan).