Director Jan Hendrik Verstraten Speaks To The Blog About His New Film Thessalus & Medea


Good Morning Lovelies,

A few weeks ago, I was kindly contacted via Twitter about an upcoming short film called Thessalus & Medea, directed by Jan Hendrik Verstraten. Telling the classic Greek story in a modern way, the film has everything you are hoping it will and more.

There so, I sat down with the films creator to discuss how audiences have reacted, what he learnt from the making of the film and which scene you should all look out for, ahead of its film festival run.

Firstly, congratulations on Thessalus & Medea! For those who don’t know, please could you tell us what the film is about?
Medea is best known as the mother in Euripedes' play who killed her own children to avenge her husband Jason's unfaithfulness. It was quite common in Ancient Greece that stories would know multiple versions, and it’s no surprise that there are many different accounts as to what truly happened to Jason & Medea’s children. One version tells us that Thessalus was their son and the twin of Alcimenes, who escaped being murdered by his mother. This idea is the inspiration behind Thessalus & Medea.

The story begins with two warriors entering Medea’s hideout (a labyrinth). One of them is Thessalus. Medea, an oracle and exiled queen, defiant and regal, will have to face her son who has come to kill her. Medea appears cold and yet still shows compassion for her only living child. When facing each other, Thessalus challenges her about what truly happened in the past, with unexpected consequences.

The film is a take on the Greek tale of revenge and jealousy. What made you decide to capture and create such an intense short film?
Medea is a powerful and dramatic character, and in combination with the startling appearance of her son after 20 years of believing him dead, creates the right kind of emotional intensity and the explosive situation I was looking for. All of this takes place in the atmospheric location of an underground location (a labyrinth in the story), with almost no light other than the open fires in the rooms. At the same time, I was looking forward to exposing the two warriors to a thunderous rainstorm before they enter the labyrinth and the challenge of having a sword fight later on in the story.

How did you find the process of directing the short film?
The process of writing the script took a long time. I enjoyed the research and the writing of it a lot. I had the initial screenplay reviewed by the script editor Lucy V Hay which was incredibly helpful, and of course, it was Massimo, my producer from Flying Dutchman Films, whose input shaped the story as well. I knew that I wanted to work with Simon Rowling, the cinematographer, again, and I was happy to find out that he liked the script and was immediately excited about it. From there onwards, he and I started to discuss the look of the film, while I also began talking to Belle Mundi, the production designer and to Kristen Ernst-Brown, the costume designer. Massimo and I organised a casting call for the four roles, and after struggling to find a proper location on my own, I found Shan Stephens, who found the right location.

How did you find and cast the people that star in the film? And what was it about them that made you want to cast them?
The casting process is a lot of fun and at the same time a very tense period. As a director, you know that choosing the right cast is one of the most important decisions you will have to make. The easy part is that if an actor can’t convince you during the casting, it’s not worth pursuing it any further. An actor has to be able to deliver right there and then. Living in London is a privilege because there is so much talent out there. And most actors are keen to work.

With David Cotter who plays Thessalus, Massimo and I were blown away by his audition. It sounds embarrassing, but we were both crying and struggling to keep it together when he delivered his monologue during which he tells his mother about the last time they saw each other.

To choose the right actress for Medea was a lot harder. We had found several actresses that we were really impressed by. Each one of them very different. It was a very tough decision, and then suddenly Massimo suggested Emanuela Ponzano, whom we had met at the New Renaissance Film Festival in London. She is an excellent female director herself, but first and foremost an actress. However, Emanuela is based in Italy, and as we had a limited budget I was not sure if we should even consider her. Massimo, however, spoke to her and she sent us a self-tape for an audition. When I saw it, I immediately knew that she had the presence and the force to play Medea. Massimo’s instincts were right.

Is there a scene in the film that you want audiences to look out for? Why this one?
There is more than one scene that I love, and the short film is certainly intense throughout. Thessalus’ entrance into Medea’s world is intriguing, and the confrontation between her, Thessalus and Posidonius during the second part of the film is full on. But my favourite part has always been when Thessalus tells his mother about the last time he saw her. It’s his story that touched me as a writer and as a director the most, and it is also makes ‘Medea’s story’ very different from any other told about her.

During the making of this film, was there something you learned that you didn’t know before that really interested you? If so, what was it?
Making a short film and working with 30 or so people and trying to keep the finances from spiralling out of control is always going to be a tough learning process. You are vulnerable during that journey. So many things can go wrong and do go wrong. That’s why you need to work with people who are talented, responsible and motivated. The film is a result of a lot of talent other than my own. That is not being modest, that’s simply true. And each time I take this journey I learn again how dependent you are on the team you work with. During this production, I learned not to be afraid to include a sword fight, having rain, or setting something on fire. It was fun to discover new things: that it’s all possible with enough planning!

What have you been hearing from audiences so far about the film?
So far we have not shown the film to too many people, but what I’ve noticed is that those who have seen it are intrigued the story. They find it full of suspense and remain curious until the very end. The acting is really strong, the world that has been created is mysterious, and the music is powerful and carries the viewer on the Thessalus’ journey.

Finally, can you tell us about anything you are working on next?
This is the beginning of the journey for Thessalus & Medea. We are approaching international film festivals and organising screenings. We are also thinking ahead and would like to make a feature film of FLOOD next. It’s a story set in 1961, on the cusp of the swinging 60’s. A hotel in Northern Italy is surrounded by rising flood waters when an angel appears. I think it would make an amazing story, and I think Thessalus & Medea proves that we have the right team to take something like this on and make it a great success.

For more information on Thessalus & Medea check out their website lovelies: 

Blog Soon, 
Joey X 

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