Director Tam Sainsbury has crafted award-winning short films such as Pinky Promise, web series Time & Place, and now she directs her third feature, 13 Summers.
Sainsbury’s first was Ryder Country, a psychological thriller set amongst a group of scientists in the Australian outback; her next feature was Perfect Messy Love, a romantic comedy based on her web series of the same name. Sainsbury is heading back into darker territory with 13 Summers, a coastal-set thriller, written by Jeremy Stanford, that sees an estranged couple (Nathan Phillips, Hannah Levien) locked in a battle of wills with a mysterious and unwanted houseguest (Ben Turland).
FilmInk sat down with Tam Sainsbury to discuss the project.
This is your second psychological thriller (after Ryder Country), what attracts you to this genre?
“It’s my favourite genre to watch – there is nothing more fascinating than the human mind. The reason why it is my favourite is clever storytelling, and this genre can be exactly that when done well: with its unexpected plot twists, familiar characters who then change in reliability and motive as the story progresses, and the slow, but cleverly, revealing of information and backstory. When the right balance is achieved, this genre has proven itself to create some truly spectacular films, and the way in which Jeremy Stanford’s 13 Summers script is written, I have full confidence it can be one of these.”
You are a writer in your own right, what differentiates your directing style from your writing style?
“Directing and writing are very different crafts, but also very similar, as they are both about telling a story through dialogue and characters to engage an audience. Directing, for me, is about bringing the performance out of the actors to make the story as engaging as possible. In writing, for me, it is about creating the story and making it engaging through the process of creating the dialogue and the characters. The main difference with directing is that the characters have now come alive, and are not just on the page, so it is about finding the right performance to make the written words and story work.”
Creatively, what are your main priorities as a director?
“My main priority is performance. I work closely with the actors to create real and believable characters. I want the actors to truly understand who they are playing; this leads them to be more understood and engaging on screen. From this starting point, I then focus on helping them to deliver the dialogue, plus each beat of the story, believably. We try to stay true to their characters in a way that can best serve the story, and ultimately, engage the audience. Camera style and shots are important to me too – I work closely with the DP to ensure our choices consistently serve not only my vision but the story as well.”
A lot of your work is set in coastal environments, what attracts you to that landscape?
“Mainly from living around the coast (laughs). I have always found it easy to set my work in locations around me, and for the last 15 years, this happens to have been the coast. Also, I love what the coast and Queensland beaches offer in terms of cinematic beauty, and in the case of 13 Summers, mystery. Coastal towns also offer great storytelling. I find them to be filled with characters that have returned home after moving, often searching for a new beginning.”
What conversation/s would you like 13 Summers to start with audiences?
“Conversations about relationships. One about women having the ability to make their own choices, and not needing to be stuck in a relationship that isn’t working. Conversations about marriage breakdowns, about relationships being 50/50, and about people needing to do whatever they feel is personally necessary to find themselves and discover what truly makes them happy. In 13 Summers, these concepts are all tied up with the thriller element, but underneath it all, it tells a story of a couple falling apart. For example, Hannah Levien’s character, Vee, tries to discover herself with the help of Ben Turland’s mysterious stranger – whom she forms a connection with. However, in psychological thriller style, this doesn’t necessarily work out, but it does lead to her having a deeper understanding of herself and what she needs to be happy.”
13 Summers is slated for a 2023 release