An honest and brutal account of the creation of Chapter 5 studios. David Black interviews their CEO, James Di Martino
I recently had the pleasure of being in a short film called “5 O’clock”, which was set way back in the rugged Aussie bushranger era. I must say that I was impressed to be on a shoot with some of the most sought after people in the local indie movie industry such as the armourer – John Fox, actor – Albert Goikhman, and sfx make up artist – Emma Rose.
To get up to this level, Chapter 5 had already produced 4 amazing short films. I didn’t want to let the chance slip through my fingers to interview their CEO, James Di Martino. Not that he had a choice really, because we were so far out the back of Bourke that even the kangas didn’t know where the legendary black stump was. This was the sort of remote place that even psycho killers are afraid of, so James just had to humour me.
Albert Goikhman on the the set of “5 O’Clock”
David – Hi James, thanks for taking the time to chat to me today for Oz Indie Cinema. Can you tell me a bit about your personal background? I mean, this is a tough industry, so what possessed you to get so deeply involved? I just want to make sure that you aren’t crazy.
James – From a young age I had a love for the big screen. Good movies were always something I enjoyed and It didn’t take me long to understand what was good quality and what was made with the intent of just making money. There was a period of time where I just watched Asian cinema and loved it. However, I never really had much love for Australian stories. Yes there are greats such as Mad Max, Crocodile Dundee and Wolf Creek but I always had a desire for good story telling. I guess it’s those memories that drove me to create a business that focused on creating interesting unique stories.
David – I believe that we both have something in common in that we started our movie careers after having recovered from cancer. I know that’s something that can be a personal subject, but I was hoping you could share that with us.
James – When I was 18, I was unlucky to get diagnosed with cancer and while I don’t want to dwell too long on that facet, it was a traumatising experience that gave me a perception of life I never knew existed. My personal trials and ordeals in turn helped me to become a stronger person and also understand human emotions at a much deeper level. This actually helps me direct today.
Upon recovery I decided I was going to make a film, without any experience. I was a university student in business at the time. I went off and made a feature film which went for 2 hours. The film took about a year to make with friends, but I soon learned you can’t make a film with friends.
I broke into a warehouse and somehow was able to film in a church by just asking. When I edited the film and showed people my reception was poor, first it was a fan film, “Double V Vega”, a film set as a prequel to reservoir dogs and pulp fiction. It was a film Quentin Tarantino never made, so I could never do anything with it but I realised that I had no idea what I was doing. The film was made on a budget of $150 and we had no sound equipment in fact it was shot on handy cams.
I considered this project to be a complete failure of a year’s hard work. What I did not know was that I developed skills. Very important to my later life decision on what not to do when making a film or writing a script.
James himself, on the set of “5 O’Clock”
David – Seeing as you felt that your first effort was a failure, what did you do after that? Many people just give up, but you obviously kept going.
James – I spent the next three years working. I worked bottom line life-guarding and gym instructing where I got bullied and abused for showing too much enthusiasm. My idea at the time was that I could motivate people due to my past story, the only problem was that the people in positions of power never saw what I saw. Its really depressing when you want to do something to benefit people have all these ideas but are burned and betrayed at every step of the way.
David – James, that is depressing. So you recovered, threw yourself into something, only to find yourself being bullied and ground down? How did you turn all of that around?
James – I moved to working in different sections such as sales and one day just snapped.
“Why was I working for people that did not care?”
I always thought I could do a better job as a manager and was never given a chance.
“I literally said fuck it, I am making movies now”
So I started up Chapter 5 studios with the sole intent of making quality films from Australia.
David – Good on you James! Kudos! Can I ask how you go about starting up a whole film company? Most just struggle to get one film off the ground, but to actually decide to create the whole shebang is sort of ambitious.
James – I went back to University to do a masters in marketing, which really helped me out starting the company. The amount of business skills you need in the film industry is ironically more than people think. My ultimate idea was that with the power of film, I could tell the stories and get the reach I wanted to and be my own boss. “Creativity Ink,” the book written by Pixar founder John Lesseter, was also a motivating factor which gave me the courage to start Chapter 5 studios.
My brother Marco chose to help me with a vast knowledge of science background he was very analytical. This is a trade David Mamet said to be a very strong factor is what differentiates good writing. Daniel Facciolo who I knew had a desire to act and manage a business from my days life-guarding.
David – So now that you’ve studied and have your dream team together, tell us about your very first Chapter 5 film.
James – I soon realised that running a business was hard. Very hard and its even harder to keep employees when little money is coming in. The goal of making the company was to provide quality services and production which leads to the very first short film “The Lazy Barber”
“The Lazy Barber” came about with the recent beard trend, and the promise to make a marketing campaign for the lazy barber company, which my cousin was running and he in turn made our website.
I wrote the script and then with the help of my team we made the story of the Bearded God. I was then tasked with the difficulty to find a man with a god like beard. I spent a day on star now and somehow found someone I thought was the perfect casting choice. AJ Kelly loved the script and came down to do the role. I always respect the fact he came when we had very little to show that we could make something good.
While The bearded god scenes all came out good I made a mistake of casting a non-actor. This is a decision I would come to never do again and I blame myself. A non-actor was chosen as he was the face of the lazy barber. What happened after that was a puzzle of files, and there was up to 20 takes per shot!
“The film from every one’s point of view was that it was un-editable”
That left everyone depressed. We were unsure if the film was useable. Hell it may have been a write off, but due to my brothers amazing editing we ended up with a project that was decent and no one would question we had major problems with.
The Lazy Barber went on to get 10K views on Facebook as well as win the Audience Choice Award at the Short and Sweet Festival 2017. Not bad for a film we did not grade or use any lighting equipment on.
David – One down, three more to come. I believe that you have four finished films and two in post-production? Your first Chapter 5 film has now been a success, despite a brush with near disaster. I believe that you’ve finished four all up and have two in the editing suite. Can you tell us about your second film?
James – Our second film was written and directed by my brother for Tropfest. Daniel was given the task to lead with me as a support. I guess it’s always good if the manager of the company knows how to act. “Coinflipper” is about a gambler unable to make complex decisions and thus uses a coin.
Tritia DeVisha brought a lot of experience we did not have at the time and was very helpful. The production ran smoothly but the technical side did not. I quickly learned that this was a problem in the independent industry when money is scarce.
We made the shortlist for tropfest but the film was unfinished, the sound was not completed so we knew we would not win. My brother spent 2 months fixing the audio. “Coinflipper” went on to win best short film at Melbourne underground film festival 2017. This shows how much editing and polishing can do to a film.
David – You worked with Tritia DeViSha? I’m working with her on a hosted horror series called Horror House. My experience with her was the same in that she came in and pretty much saved the project with her brilliant acting and by sharing her experience in producing films with me.
OK James, now onto film number 3! Let’s hear the story.
James – After “Coinflipper” I lost two members of the team. This is an industry were people drop off all the time. It’s a hard business to crack, and when most people don’t see the money they flee. Having said that I did what any mad man would do and jumped straight into another short film.
My brother had a desire to act and thus he presented me a comedy about an eccentric painter on a mission to make the best painting in the world a short film called , “The painted world of Alasius Pinkarmy”.
I directed with Daniel and over 3 days we shot the film, a total of 40 hours. “I don’t remember leaving the house for three days”
The film ended up in post for over 8 months and taught me a lot about the importance of doing things right on the production line. I also learned the importance of a proper shot list. I always look back and think I would do things so differently. Having said that the film went on to win two film awards at the Oniros film festival in Italy. Best Acting went to Marco Di Martino and Best Costume was won by Saphire Gaskas.
David – So onward and upward. I can see the struggle and the rise of the studio so far. Now to film number four ……
James – “Congratulations” was a small project I was working on as a way to improve the team. I had a desire to play around with 4th wall breaking for a while and wanted to experiment. The initial goal was to make a short for Sundance, but I learnt that getting in is very, very hard.
I was lucky to get two very talented actors in Sinead Brown and Damian Oheme. Both actors helped me to grow as a director and I feel they both got a lot out of this project.
The film won a few awards including best actress for Sinead Brown at the Top inide film awards, but the story requires a bit of thought and it did not appeal to the majority. It still remains our most under rated film.
David – Now that we’ve covered the first four movies, which are now out, let’s move on to the two in post-production. What can we expect here James?
James – After “Congratulations” I really needed to work on the core structure of the production line. I needed to fix sound problems and other things that hindered our work. This was at the end of the day a business and I needed to put our egos aside and look at what was working and what was not. Rhys Sherring came on board and helped the business to grow and develop. This increased the quality of our next two shorts. Which were shot back to back pretty much.
“The Immigration game” Was written by Daniel Facciolo who had experience directing and acting. It was an experience I wanted Dan to have so he could understand the burden of the director.
The short follows a group of friends all of different ethnic but are born in Australia as they go on a hiking trip in the mountains only to be thrust into a game of survival as an ex-military psychopath tries to murder them or they escape and earn the right to live in Australia.
Daniel did a great job on his first ambitious short film and I can see this being a stand out for Daniel Reader who played a real sinister role in this film.
David – I saw a little bit of “The Immigration Game” on the screen at your recent wrap party and networking night. It looked crisp with nice editing. I’m dying to hear about “5 O’Clock” though. Mainly because I’m in it! lol
James – “Five O’Clock” was made as a proof of concept for a film or TV show Pilot. Thus, the pre-production on getting an 1880 film was monstrous.
Emma Rose, “The Queen of Gore,” creating exit wounds and rigging up spurting blood
It took a good three months of Prep and I have to thank Matthew Holmes for his help. Matthew recently brought out the block buster “The Legend of Ben Hall”, which is set in a similar era.
The plot, which takes inspiration from Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” and “Hateful eight,” takes a look at the alternative history where we see the remnants of the Kelly gang as washed up con men, trying to gamble a rich merchant out of money but he happens to be a very important person who has to meet the towns Sargent at “Five O’Clock” sharp.
The shoot was very successful and we managed to film a shoot out sequence that is quite impressive. Expert armorer John Fox, who has worked on big budget films such as Ned Kelly, Killer Elite and HBO show the pacific, was a big help in helping with stunts as well as making the set very safe. We were using real blanks and guns.
David – With four completed shorts and two in post, what are your plans now?
James – The plan is to have 7 shorts. We have one more to go to be directed by Rhys Sherring. After that, we want to then sell all of them as a feature. Use the shorts as concepts for potential series and then move on to bigger projects.
Chapter 5 studios aims to make a feature film and a TV pilot in 2018 so stay tuned. The story has just begun.
David – That is one amazing story James. I thank you for having me on 5’Oclock too. Can you give us some links so that we can keep up to date with all the projects of Chapter 5?
You can follow Chapter 5 Studios here:
And for those mentioned within the article: