The True Spirit of Netflix: How Director Sarah Spillane’s Vision Came to Life

Thirteen years after one of the most euphoric human endeavors in Australian history, the story of Jessica Watson finally hits the big screen.

Most people won’t soon forget where they were when 16-year-old Watson sailed into Sydney Harbor in May 2010, leaving her mark on history and at the heart of her story of triumph, embodying the Australian spirit.


Then it seems appropriate that the feature film about her 210-day solo trip around the world is called true spiritthe same title as Watson’s best-selling book.

If there’s any doubt about whether there’s anything to explore in the yarn so woven into the fabric of this country, you only need to look at writer/director Sarah Spillane’s approach to digging even deeper.

The Los Angeles-based Australian director, originally from Manly on Sydney’s northern beaches, was so determined to faithfully convey Watson’s thoughts on her world tour that she went completely off the grid in a cabin in Joshua Tree, southern California, to begin writing the screenplay.

“In my case, I didn’t trust myself on the boat. So I did what I thought might be similar, I went to the desert, rented a small shack there and did not see anyone for three weeks, ”Spillane tells


“I wanted to experience what she was doing emotionally and connect with what it would be like for Jessica to be alone at sea for 210 days.”

This begs the question, what did Spillane discover in the depths of isolation?

“A lot of self-talk when no one is around, you have to watch your own happiness, for lack of a better term. And so I think that’s where the mental health aspects come into play, it’s very easy to start feeling like you could easily slip into a downward spiral,” she says.

“At least I could go out and walk and stretch my legs, which in itself makes me feel better, but Jessica didn’t even have that. She only had a boat.


“Keeping yourself for 210 days in a positive mood and with the stakes so high is an incredible challenge and achievement.”

The film may arrive on the Netflix platform on February 3, but at its core, true spirit it’s a local story fought for by locals and starred by locals.

Spillane was proudly born and raised on the northern beaches of Sydney, where she had early ambitions to play rugby league. In between training sessions in the paddock, she liked to go to the movies. But it was a show ET when she was only six years old, it set fire to her ambitions.

“Everyone wanted to be Drew Barrymore, I wanted to be Steven Spielberg,” she said.

Fate decreed that years later, fellow creatives from the northern beaches asked her to create true spirit This is her second feature film.


Production agency Sunstar Entertainment, which also assisted in the production of the 2016 Oscar-nominated film. a lionco-producer True Spirit. It was a long-term passion project of company founder Andrew Fraser, who has also been Watson’s manager since 2009.

Fraser, along with his business partner Shahen Mekertichyan, met Spillane at the Sydney premiere of her acclaimed 2013 feature debut. Around the block. As the credits rolled, they knew they had found their seer.

“Fraze and Shahen asked if I would like to work with them on a feature film based on Jessica’s story. And I think by that time they had a few dry runs, but no one really figured out how to adapt the story, because this story is difficult to make cinematic, ”says Spillane.

“One man sailing around the world… He has his own set of challenges to turn this into a visceral story suitable for the screen.

“But the more time I spent with Jessica and the more I really immersed myself in the story itself, as well as the topics involved in such a journey, I just fell in love with her and agreed to join her as a writer and director.”


It was one big tick. But it was necessary to cross out one more glaring feature – financing.

Spillane admits that the trio endured a demoralizing amount of “no” while trying to green-light the project.

But if Watson was a beacon, perseverance pays off, and Spillane finally had a bite to eat during a meeting with Netflix executives about a separate project.

“I met with Netflix and the executive I’m working with on this [separate] I saw the project on IMDB, to which I was attached true spirit and asked me about it,” Spillane says.

“And so I started talking about Jessica, and she asked if she could read the script – the one I wrote in the desert.

“So it was the right place at the right time, but luck, I believe, is the opportunity to meet with the preparation. If you are not ready for the moment when the opportunity presents itself, it will pass.”

Filmed primarily in Queensland at Village Roadshow Studios last year – with further support from the Queensland government. true spirit It stars up-and-coming actress Teagan Croft as Watson, and Anna Paquin and Josh Lawson as Watson’s parents, Julie and Roger.

Viewers won’t go hungry for action scenes like the ones Watson endured during her journey aboard the iconic ship Ella. pink lady yacht, but the behind-the-scenes reality of filming such episodes was almost as chaotic as the real thing.

During the three-day shoot at sea, everyone except Spillane and her director of photography became very ill.

“They say that of all the visual effects, water is the hardest to work on film, and I can see why,” Spillane laughs.

“Everyone, except for me and the director of photography, was terribly motion sick. It was like a domino effect. I’m talking about dozens and dozens of crew members …

“It was like triage in a hospital. There are a lot of things you can’t control on set, and this was definitely one of them.”

Ultimately, this is a story about relationships and Watson’s journey.

Spillane believes that the film’s focus on Watson’s personal relationships at the time gives viewers a fresh perspective on the known story.

“I think the most amazing thing about the movie, based on the feedback I’ve gotten so far, is the relationship that was so heavily influenced by what Jessica did,” Spillane shares.

true spirit obviously primarily about Jessica’s dream and her incredible journey around the globe, but equally about her family and the impact it had on her family.

“You know, the conflict that her parents felt… On the one hand, they wanted to support their daughter, and on the other hand, they wanted to protect her and were helpless in that.”

Spillane cites the scathing criticism that Watson, at a tender age, received during and after her achievement.

Many experts thought it would be foolish to undertake the grueling adventure without the proper experience, while others even argued that she covered less than the distance necessary to break the world record for the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe.

“Many Australians unfortunately have tall poppy syndrome and it is very easy for someone who has a dream to be cut down and criticized.

“This is definitely an element of this story. We don’t shy away from it for a second because it was an important part of her journey.”

True Spirit will be streaming on Netflix on February 3, and from January 26 in select cinemas in Australia.

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