Susan Kouguell Interview With Award-winning Australian Filmmaker Joe D’Arcy

Posted by Susan Kouguell

In the final days of the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, I had the pleasure of meeting Australian filmmaker Joe D’Arcy, whose 6-minute short film Je suis un Crayon(I am a Pencil) curated by Academy-award winner Whoopi Goldberg, was included in the animated shorts program. This program was described as ‘showcasing imaginative storytelling and captivating craft’ and indeed Je suis un Crayonwas no exception.

D'Ary with his wife Carol and Whoopi Goldberg

D’Arcy and I have continued our talks via email from our respective homes in Australia and New York. Since our initial meeting, ‘Je suis un Crayon’ was a finalist at the (Academy accredited) St Kilda Film Festival where it received a 'Highly Commended' award and has just been invited to Academy-award winner Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival in July.

About Joe D’Arcy 

D’Arcy wrote, directed and produced the award-winning film, ‘Beauty’. He was a finalist in 'Project Greenlight' where he wrote, produced and directed from his feature film the dramatic comedy, ‘Follow the Tao’ for the ‘Project Greenlight’ TV series, an initiative set up by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. D’Arcy has successfully integrated dual careers of filmmaking and Clinically Accredited Psychotherapy. He has worked professionally as an actor, writer, director, producer, cinematographer and editor. 

Je suis un Crayon'

Joe D’Arcy: “Je suis un Crayon’ is dedicated to the expression that exists within all of us. The original Charlie Hebdo crew dedicated their lives to free expression and after they were murdered, three million people marched through France, in support of this expression, standing alongside the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, stating 'Je suis Charlie' i.e. we are (all) Charlie; just as Charlie expresses, so do we. My desire was to create a hand drawn 'styled' film in honour of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists who dedicated their lives to the hand drawn image.

When watching this unfold, on the other side of the world, this passion and sentiment of the

people resonated deeply within me, and the script emerged. The focus of the story is that of a regular person/artist/ cartoonist going through their life, on a day-to-day basis. The pencil represents the ordinary person and like every ordinary person, it must express in order to live. Without expression there is no life. Expression, especially for the artist or the satirist, is expressed 'as it is-as I see it' and so this became the common theme for the film.”

A Family Affair

D’Arcy: “As my birthday approached, my family asked what I would like for my birthday and I said, “I would like you to work on this film with me". Each of them is very talented, award- winning creatives: My wife Carol is an accomplished oil painter, my daughter Jazz (20) is a singer songwriter and composer and my son Byron (16) is a filmmaker and cinematographer. They all agreed to work on the film although Byron initially asked, ‘Can't we just buy you a shirt, Dad?’”   

The D’Arcy Team 

Carol D’Arcy - Artist/Animator

Joe D’Arcy: “Carol has spent over 30 years painting, primarily in oils. Her work is hanging throughout the world, and she has had sellout exhibitions in Australia, she runs a private gallery from our home and is currently in discussion with a Gallery in Chelsea, New York to exhibit her work. (

When Carol agreed to work on the film, we had no real idea of the level of commitment required to complete the project. For approximately three months we worked about 3-4 days a week at 20 hours a day and then whatever time we could squeeze in around our day jobs for the rest of the week. Carol was phenomenal to work with. Carol's ability to research and learn animation coupled with her willingness to do whatever it took to complete the project was the key to the film's creation.”

Jazz D'Arcy - Composer

Joe D’Arcy: “After Jazz was given the opportunity, at age 9 to compose the soundtrack for the short film ‘Just One’ in 2004, (won second place in the Australian primary Schools Film Festival), her desire to compose for TV and screen was triggered. Her later projects include the TV drama ‘No Brainer’ (2011), and soundtracks for the award-winning short films 'Boy Soldiers' (2014) and 'Instinct' (2015). 

Jazz was in Denmark at the time we were making the film and after a few discussions on Skype, she began to compose the soundtrack and theme song. Jazz could only access equipment after midnight as she was using a borrowed laptop, keyboard and mic. Jazz would normally compose with ProTools but had to use GarageBand because of limited access. Jazz managed to deliver an amazing original soundtrack and theme song that fit all of the film sequences perfectly without ever seeing the finished film. Her intuitive ability to match the timing of the sequences astounded me and the quality of her work and voice was breathtaking.” 

Byron D'Arcy - Assistant Director, CGI and Colour Grader

Joe D’Arcy:Most people are either highly creative or skilled technically. Byron is both creative and technical and so when working with him, everything is possible. Byron’s credits include: 'Cab' (working title) 2016: Writer/Director/Cinematographer/Editor 'No more turning Away' (2016) documentary (re-enactment) about Iranian asylum seekers' Cinematographer; (2015) 'Je suis un Crayon' (I am a Pencil) Assistant Director, CGI and colour grade; 'Instinct' (2015) Co-writer/Director/Cinematographer/Editor/CGI (Shindig Student Film Festival winner); 2015 Awards Australian Cinematography Awards (ACS) Gold Award winner for 'Boy Soldiers'

In 2015 Byron began working at Fotomedia Productions Australia in the 'Emerging Director' program. Next semester Byron will begin an internship in the multimedia department at All Saints Anglican School.”

The Filmmaking Process

Joe D’Arcy: “After discussions and advice from VFX supervisors, Simon Dye and Sterling Osment, some research on the Internet, YouTube, etc., we formulated a strategy for the animation. We decided to use traditional hand-drawn images combined with some filtered footage (converted by Byron D'Arcy) and 3D animation to complete the film, along with filmed footage of Carol's hand drawing at the beginning of each sequence.

All of the footage was then broken into single frames and printed before being individually hand sketched and or shaded (over 5,000 images in total). We went with 25 images per second and then manually selected it down to 17 frames per second -- for effect. (I'm sure there are easier and quicker methods, but this was our method). We then reshot each image on a cinematic Red camera, backlit on a lightbox. We used overhead lighting (2x2K blondies) bounced off the ceiling through silk held by two A-frames. The footage was then colour graded by Byron in 'After Effects' to create the burnt sepia finish.

In our final week of sketching and cel shading, Carol realised we were not going to finish in time and so she put out an open call to her artist friends on Facebook to work as cel artists under her guidance.”

Filming of the Live Drawing

Joe D’Arcy: “The basis for the images and the sequences were mostly worked out during the script phase of the project. This was necessary in order to create seamless transitions from one image to the next. (The image sequence of the pencil drawing/shooting and the subsequent pencil protest were created during the drawing stage by Carol). During the drawing/animation stage, Carol often created simpler and more effective images than originally envisaged, drawing from her depth of creative experience, beautifying or enhancing the original ideas.

The Voiceover

Joe D’Arcy: “After scouring the web, listening for a voice with 'heart,' I came across voiceover artist, Pierre Maubouche, who (seems to effortlessly) express heart in much of his work.”

3D Animation

Joe D’Arcy: “Sterling Osment (frameworkvfx) completed the 3D animation of 'The Pen'. He was so meticulous in his detail that we spent two days going back and forth before settling on just the 'eyebrows' for 'The Pen'”

‘Je suis un Crayon’ and Its Impact

Joe D’Arcy: “A filmmaker friend, Gerd Schneider, contacted me in March and told me that members of the Charlie Hebdo crew were coming to the Kirchliches Film Festival in Recklinghausen, Germany under police guard and that the Festival director, Michael Kleinschmidt, would like to screen our film. We sent him a HD Vimeo link and a few hours later we received an email from a member of Charlie Hebdo thanking us for making our film. That was a mind-blowing experience.”

The Filmmaking Community on the Gold Coast of Australia

Joe D’Arcy: “We live on the Gold Coast, which is a regional coastal area about 50 miles south of Brisbane. There is a very small filmmaking community in the area where I live. Although we sometimes receive support from Chris Fleet at Fleet Lighting, as well as local production companies, Fotomedia and AbleVideo (who mostly work on Corporate videos, commercials and documentaries), there are very few people in our community who make live action narratives.”

Funding in Australia

Joe D’Arcy: “Funding really does not exist for most independent filmmakers in Australia. At the best of times, funding is allocated to filmmakers with solid commercial credits. However under our current government, which seems to be anti -- 'the arts', funding is not available to nearly all filmmakers. 'Live action narratives/animations' are often self-funded by filmmakers who 'have to' make films, i.e. insane obsessed people.”

Current Projects

Joe D’Arcy: “I am currently producing and directing a live action independent feature film, ‘Life Goes On’ (working title) set in 1966 Australia. The film is four stories in one where each person’s dilemma not only requires their own effort but also the love and support of their family in order to make it through. We have been working on this film for four years with a view to completion in 2017. We often shoot one minute of footage in a very busy day.”

Upcoming Screenings of ‘Je Suis un Crayon’

The St. Kilda’s Film Festival’s Victorian Tour as part of the Artistic Director’s Choice program: June 16-July 17, The SouthSide Film Festival Pennsylvania June 14-18, the Westend Film Festival, Brisbane June 26, and Michael Moore's Traverse City Film Festival, Traverse City, Michigan: July 26-July 31.

For more information visit: and


About Susan Kouguell, contributor for SydneysBuzz

Award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker Susan Kouguell serves as chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC - a motion picture consulting company where she works with international filmmakers and studios. She writes about film and screenwriting for SydneysBuzz,Script Magazine, and other publications. Kouguell teaches screenwriting at Purchase College, SUNY, and presents international seminars. Her films are in the Museum of Modern Art's permanent collection and archives, were included in the Whitney Museum Biennial and screened in many festivals worldwide.

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