28 Mar 2018

Kiwi break-up tale a US hit

From Nine To Noon, 10:13 am on 28 March 2018

New Zealand comedy is now making a mark in America, according to Jackie Van Beek and Madeleine Sami.

Van Beek and Sami are familiar faces in the worlds of film, television and theatre as writers, performers and directors.

The duo have just come back from the US where their film, The Breaker Upperers, has just received rave reviews at the launch of its world premiere at the South X Southwest Film Festival.  

“[What I] noticed in Austin is [this] kind of hunger from American audiences for New Zealand comedy, now more than ever - they really get us,” says Sami who adds that Flight of the Conchords and Taika Waititi have helped to push a distinctly New Zealand voice into the international scene, paving the way for others to follow.

Van Beek says the pair feel great about the response, but nerves definitely kicked in at the launch.

“It was so wonderful to be sitting there for the world premiere surrounded by a bunch of Americans [with] Madeleine and I quaffing champagne nervously, wondering whether they’d laugh at any of our Kiwi jokes,” she says.

But the jokes weren’t lost on the audience who laughed at 95 percent of them, according to Van Beek - the only reference lost was about ‘Rainbow’s End.’

The Breaker Upperers is a comedy about friendship and love. The pair spent years working on the script, with plenty of rewrites and work-shopping and the premise was based on an idea Van Beek had during a brief 15 minutes of free time in her kitchen.

“I was reflecting on conversations with friends about that horrible moment when you have to break up with your partner and the immense amount of dread that immediately follows,” she says.

It got Van Beek thinking about what it would be like to have someone else take care of the awkward break-up for you. The next day she pitched the idea to Sami, and so The Breaker Upperers was born.

The pair agree that being funny and making it work in an international context is largely about being authentic.

“What I’ve learned, is the more specific you can be with your writing, the more original the script comes out,” says Van Beek.

Writing a script can be arduous, they say.

“It’s torturous at points,” says Sami.

“It’s an ongoing process where you’re trying to get the magic combination of characters and stories together -  we would [both] often freak out and go off on tangents,” she says.

Van Beek says one of the biggest challenges they faced was dealing with a premise that was slightly larger than life, and trying to anchor it into the real world so that the audience could see the characters as real, relatable human beings.

The pair cast some of New Zealand’s best comedians alongside up-and-coming actress, Ana Scotney, who was pitched to them as a wild card.

The duo were blown away by her audition and cast her immediately.

While the film may have taken years to make with many iterations along the way, working in such close collaboration across different aspects of the film, the pair say one of their main goals was to make it out the other side as friends.

“I think we’re even closer friends,” says Sami of working with Van Beek and maintaining their twenty-year-long friendship.

The Breaker Upperers opens in New Zealand cinemas on 3 May.

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