Jeremy Stanford’s Relationship Thrills in 13 Summers

Jeremy Stanford is an Australian actor, director, theatre personality and voice over artist. He is known in Australia for his work on award-winning television series such as Wentworth, Winners & Losers, and Jack Irish. Jeremy recently appeared in Natalie Erika James’ debut film Relic.

Filming has just wrapped in Hervey Bay, Queensland on the feature film 13 Summers. Directed by Tam Sainsbury, the psychological thriller focuses on an estranged couple, Ben (Nathan Phillips) and Vee (Hannah Levien), who have their secluded beach holiday disrupted by a backpacker (Ben Turland) of mysterious origin. The couple soon find themselves tangled in an escalating web of lies and deceit that not only threatens their marriage but also their lives.

The film’s impressive cast also features Georgie Parker, Bec Hewitt, and Jeremy Stanford. The feature comes from the mind of cast member Stanford, an established actor who is also making waves as a writer.

FilmInk sat down with Jeremy to discuss the project.

You’ve had an extremely diverse career on both stage and screen, what made you want to write a thriller?

“The film is inspired by Polanski’s debut feature, A Knife in the Water. It’s one of the first of the European-style psycho thrillers. And a trailblazer in the subgenre of love triangle thrillers. I wanted 13 Summers  to have that feel about it: the story is heavily based on character relationships – an underlying tension that takes its time to burst forth. The first ending I wrote for the film was quite oblique and European in its feel. As I developed it, I brought it up to date and gave it more grit, making the ending full of unexpected twists and danger.

“I love thrillers because really, they’re dramas that revolve around the characters being in danger. That allows the characters to be fleshed out and really live. I hope the tension in the film makes it compelling, so the audience really goes on the journey with the characters. As an actor and director myself, I was interested in deepening the story arc of the characters.”

What are some of your favourite examples of the genre?

Get Out and Cape Fear both spring to mind. Both are very different styles of thrillers. I love the surrealism in Get Out and the straight-up monster that Cape Fear embodies. I love Hitchcock, David Lynch, anything that makes my skin crawl and stops me looking away. Mulholland Drive is one of my favourite movies. I can watch it again and again because of the extraordinary tension Lynch is able to build throughout it.”

Australia has been fertile ground for genre films, why do you think that is?

“Australia does genre well because it has to. Genre can be done on a budget, and let’s face it, there’s not a lot of money around for film. You don’t see many Australian sci-fi movies for that reason. But also, you have filmmakers willing to really go the extra mile. Wolf Creek for example. I mean, dear god, that film pulled no punches and really attracted some attention. It embodied a real sense of the danger in the Australian outback. We wanted to capture a bit of that in 13 Summers: an isolated beach, no mobile reception, no escape. There’s no one around for miles, so the threat of danger becomes intense. Of course, the beach can be beautiful too, and we wanted to include that in the palette as well.”

Your writing has attracted a stellar cast, did you modify any characters or scenes after the casting?

“Once we were cast and we were rehearsing, the actors, and director Tam Sainsbury really began to make it their own. I wasn’t going to shut down any discussion about where things could go, as once an actor is inhabiting a role, they really start to make it their own and things can move around. They need to be in charge of the story. I loved watching the process. There were times where I absolutely said ‘No, I don’t want that’ and then something else was offered and it worked.”

Relationship dynamics run through this film, what ideas about coupledom did you want to explore in your script?

“It is a very relationship-oriented film. But as I mentioned before, I think a good thriller is really a drama where the characters are in danger. I wanted to explore how a couple who are having marriage trouble could be either brought together or torn apart by being placed in a dangerous situation. There were drafts of the script where it saved the relationship, but in the end, the way it plays in the final draft, it tests them, and they don’t pass the test. No spoilers, but the question is posed at the start of the film, will their relationship survive the summer, and the answer comes in the final scene.”

13 Summers is slated for release in 2023

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