Joy first came into being when Billie Dean (writer/director) entered
the Sunrise Pitching Competition in 1999. The 500-word concept about
a woman who wanted to be a singer but couldn’t sing was one
of 10 finalists out of 535 national entries.
Encouraged, Dean and Andrew Einspruch (producer) raised enough money
from friends and supporters to make a decent short. However, understanding
that character-based stories lend themselves to low-budget filmmaking,
they felt they could make a feature without compromising the script.
“The secret to working with low budgets, is to use what you
have,” said Einspruch. “We had a beautiful location
in Braidwood and a great dog.”
The story of Finding Joy came to Dean when Braidwood’s monthly
Folk Music Nights were held at the Eureka Pizzeria. Dean wondered
what it would be like to be someone who wanted to be a singer, but
“Joy is a compilation of many of my comic characters from
when I was a stand-up comic,” says Dean. “Low self esteem
is as big an epidemic as depression in the Western world, and I
felt lots of people could relate to her because of that.”
“What I do in my humour is to simply reveal the things unspoken
in our society. In the 80’s I talked about first night nerves
with a new man, orgasms and cellulite. Today it’s aging, perimenopause
“Joy doesn’t have much confidence in herself but she’s
not afraid to have a go. She can’t believe Peter loves her
– especially when she finds out the truth of his marriage
and past. Joy was married to a successful singer, and his success
stifled her own creativity to the point where she had to leave him.
It crushed her love and her spirit because she wasn’t secure
enough in her self.
“Her insecurity stemmed right back from when she was a kid,
with a bright and beautiful older sister. I’m sure we all
know people like that.
“Is Joy like me? Sure, I’m sure there’s a part
of me in Joy. I love dogs and like Joy I’ll give things a
go even when I’m scared. But there was no fear in my heart
when I met Andrew. Neither of us had the emotional baggage that
keeps Joy and Peter apart. We met, fell in love and that was it.”
Peter Wolfman (Andrew Einspruch) is a love interest with a difference
in Finding Joy.
“Peter is typical of the men friends Andrew and I have around
us. They’re caring, they love their kids, and they’re
either into saving the earth or being creative. Peter’s a
lot like Andrew in that way. When I first met Andrew he was a maniac
comic improviser. The press called him the ‘mad scientist
of the stage’. So to me he was perfect casting for a charismatic,
yet sensitive performer.
“Besides I didn’t want to kiss anyone else.
“Peter’s big fault is that he isn’t completely
honest with Joy from the start. He doesn’t lie, he simply
omits the truth. But women are intuitive and Joy ‘knows’
there’s something not quite right. It builds a wall between
them without them ever realising it and fuels Joy’s insecurity.
“But Peter and Joy are soul mates, and I purposely had them
dress in similar colours and styles so that the audience would be
aware subliminally that they were meant to be together.”
The big star in the movie is Raffi the dog who’s unconditional
love helps Joy to find her strength and turn her life around. Coincidentally,
Raffi turned up at Dean and Einspruch’s old farmhouse, just
when Dean was thinking about the story for Finding Joy. Right away
she knew he was the right dog for the part.
“Raffi has an appeal that I knew would transfer well from
the screen to the audience. He also turned out to be a terrific
actor, hitting his mark for the camera every time and looking depressed
or joyous on cue,” says Dean.
“We didn’t bother to train him, we didn’t have
“My original idea was to try and make people aware of dogs
as gifts to be treasured, not thrown away in the pounds when they
get a bit naughty. Many people don’t even realise that dogs
need exercising. If they had a good run in the morning it would
solve a lot of ‘problem behaviour’.
“I got the line ‘You should go to Toy’s R Us for
a pet’ from an animal rescue worker when she complained to
me about people who get dogs and then dump them in backyards, expecting
them to already be well behaved and perfectly trained.
“Dogs are pack animals and love to be with the family. I tried
to make the characters in Finding Joy good doggy companion role
models. Raffi pees on Peter’s guitar and he doesn’t
dump him in the pound or lose it with him. He simply takes him for
“The issue of dogs is central to the themes in Finding Joy.
If a man treats his dog right, then you know he’ll probably
be a good dad and husband. That’s what makes Sally so nervous
about Matt. Like many people Matt says he’s an animal lover,
but he doesn’t embrace the caring for them like Sally wants
him to. And after the death of her dog, she learns to stand up to
him and say what she really feels.”
Dean dedicated the film to all homeless animals because she wants
to help raise awareness of the problem in our society.
“Hundreds and thousands of dogs (and cats) are killed every
year in shelters because people lack commitment. We have seven dogs
and each one is an irreplaceable gift. The idea of them being thought
of as a disposable commodity is completely foreign to me. I find
it cold-hearted and shocking."
The casting for Sally, Matt, Tessa and Nick was quite extensive
and local auditions in Braidwood attracted over 70 people trying
out for the minor roles.
a director, one of the biggest compliments I get is ‘oh you
just got a bunch of your friends together’. Other than Andrew
and Tamsin, I knew none of the other key cast and it means that
the chemistry is indeed working,” says Dean.
“I met Janet Watson Kruse at a screenwriter’s workshop
in Melbourne and immediately thought of her as Tessa. I was delighted
to find out she was an actor.”
Actors had a week’s rehearsal with Dean and to familiarise
themselves with the local culture of Braidwood. “Braidwood’s
culture is unique. It attracts a lot of city people and artists,
but it is still very down-to-earth,” she says.
“One production designer we were considering wanted to make
the sets all up-market and Berry-like, which is a tourist town on
the south coast of NSW. He wanted Joy to wear dresses and I’m
sure he pictured someone beautiful and willowy. He was shocked to
hear I was playing the part – and in jeans and work boots.
“But it was set in Braidwood and I wanted it authentic. We
didn’t end up with a production designer at all.”
Dean wanted to try shooting with a digital camera so she could minimise
crew, and do maximum takes for performance. She also wanted to experiment
with low light conditions.
“I was very influenced by the naturally shot, small stories
of England and Ireland, which are about real people living in small
towns, and their culture. In these films, you feel the warmth of
support from friends, there’s humour, and there’s stunning
photography of the landscape in which they live. I felt I could
do this, painting the landscape with an Australian brush.”
Dean worked a lot on gut instinct and one that paid off was her
desire to shoot in March 2001, before they were properly funded.
Straight after the shoot, the country fell into the worst drought
the country had seen for over 100 years. Two years later it still
hadn’t recovered. Shooting when they did, meant that Dean
had her lush scenery in the can.
“We were blessed with some incredible movie magic during the
shoot,” says Dean. “I always visualised Joy in a blue
VW, but we didn’t have one. Then one of the crew turned up
in one. And another crew member had a JOY number plate. So Joy got
her car – with personalised number plates!”
Shooting was done on a professional Sony DSR-500 and took 19 days.
“The shoot was tough on us financially,” says Einspruch.
“Our car died, and we were out of work for a while afterwards,
living on home-grown tomatoes and wild fat hen, an edible weed.”
“We didn’t get the support from the industry we expected
and had to finish the film out of wages. We’ve had a very,
very quiet lifestyle the last couple of years and made good use
of the library.
“We payed for the sound design from public screenings, using
the digital format and decided to go ahead and self distribute as
“It hasn’t been an easy journey. We’d rather be
making the next film. But audiences are finding Finding Joy and
responding so well to it, that it makes you want to go the extra
Finding Joy is one of the first Australian features to be screened
digitally in select cinemas around Australia and it is also the
first Australian feature to have its trailers screened digitally
Einspruch pioneered relationships with emerging digital cinema advertising
agencies (who install digital projectors at no cost to the theatre),
to help them give their clients additional value by screening features
using their equipment.
It is this kind of tenacity and lateral thinking that makes Dean
and Einspruch two of today’s truly independent film makers.
. . . . . .