Fear Sum is an award winning project of MIFF in the Best Script category of the spring edition of the festival. The script is about a trivia show host in a midlife crisis which has his world upended when his old punk bandmates – a drug-addled nihilist, a sex fiend and a mentally unstable conspiracist – turn up to help him win back the love of his life. The script is written by James Mayson. He is a freelance writer, music and food journalist, published cookbook and environmental author and feature writer for broadsheet and magazines for over 35 years. In 2017 James turned his attention to scripts and completed an Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS) course for screenwriting. His first script, a dystopic sci-fi entitled second sKin, was shortlisted for the John Hinde Award. His next script, Fear Sum won the Byron Bay International Screenwriters Competition in 2019. He has also written: Guard. Dog. - an Action/Thriller and Woke - a Psychological Horror Series.
In 2021, James was selected for Hoodlum Entertainment’s Romantic Comedy Program. In 2022, James will be placed with EQ Media’s Inside the Writer’s Room Program on Troppo, Season 2. James is a participant in AiF’s Untapped development program from March to November 2022. James is one of 8 Regional Writers from around Australia to work with prominent New York Screen Professional Mentors as an Australian International Screen Forum Alumni.
James’s work is character-driven, often with a dark comedic element that contrasts existential issues with the absurd challenges of the everyday. He lives with his two teenage daughters where he wrangles his other passions, surfing and dogs.
What draws you to writing scripts?
I’ve been a freelance writer for 35 + years. Mainly music and food – I’m a published cookbook author! A few years ago, I decided to set some time aside for creative writing. Movies have always been my first love, (studied Film and Theatre at Uni straight out of school and spent some years as a sound editor), so once I understood the basic laws of screenwriting – and how to break them – I felt compelled to have a crack. I mean, how hard could it be??? (Very, as it turns out). The beauty of scriptwriting is that the audience already has the language of cinema in their mind’s eye – so with just a few words, it’s possible to paint a world that we can all populate together. To share and connect with a character and ride their emotions to a climax that is both exhilarating and satisfying.
How and when did you start studying screenwriting?
In 2017, hand-wringing my way through a morbidly obese novel, the option to study screenwriting at AFTRS (Australian Film, Television and Radio School), came up. I was having a few issues writing prose - not so much writer’s block as a tendency to indulge in over-wrought descriptive text. Learning the skinny language of screenwriting was like taking my excess prose to boot camp.
What makes screenwriting stand out to you in the language of cinema?
There is nuance and space in screenwriting that makes it very seductive. Film making is the extreme sport of creative collaboration. To open oneself up with the original vision and then to hand that to another creative to put their interpretation to it, is unique in the world of art. Simultaneously the most frightening and exciting rollercoaster one can imagine.
Do you ever plan to direct and produce or direct one of your scripts?
Defo! My scripts are like an extended business card. Hopefully someone will like the way I write, ‘my voice’, and offer some work. Eventually I would love the opportunity to produce and direct my own work – how hard can it be? ; )
Tell us more about your latest script and the inspiration behind the writing of your script.
Neo-Farsi is an absurdist comedy: When two clueless gamers lost on their way to a Neo-Nazi induction camp in outback Australia are rescued by two refugees on the run from the Department of Immigration, they discover they are all pawns in a sick game run by a cabal of lunatic, left-wing sadists and must join forces in order to survive.
Whilst doing research for a thriller based on white supremist groups, I fell into the rabbit hole of their online recruitment propaganda. If it weren’t so serious, it would be hilarious. So, at the risk of offending everyone, I decided to write a comedy. Refugees and the inhumane way we treat them in Australia, (and many parts of the world), is a heinous stain on our moral and ethical character as a nation. I mean, if you are not a first nation persona, you ARE an immigrant – whose parents most likely fled their country of birth for a better life. Comedy can be a covert can-opener that can burrow surreptitiously into the subconscious and make us think deeply about the innate bias within us all.
What were some of the challenges of writing your script and the research that went into it?
My research for Fear Sum was autobiographical: In the 1990’s I thought I was going to be an Alt-rock, rock-god. In 2022, I am, middle-aged, single father to two teenage girls, who, post panic attack, nostalgically looks back at those times and wonders ‘who am I and what is my purpose?’ I used to play in really dour, post-punk rock bands and I have the mental scars to prove it. I have a family member, now in their 60’s, who has suffered from mental illness since a teenager. And I have had partners who have suffered sexual abuse. Where I’ve had to do the most research is in ensuring that my representation of a non-binary character is inclusive and informed. My writing is a never-ending evolution and I hope to do justice to the characters that I bring to life.
What is your cinematic goal in life and what would you like to achieve as a writer?
To have an original story on screen. Writing can be such an isolating pursuit and whilst success does not necessarily dictate my worth, it would be very satisfying to know that it has reached an audience and most importantly, made them feel something.
What kind of impact would your work have in the world and why do you think these themes are important in your script?
To be a storyteller is an extremely rewarding, fulfilling profession. To weave into these stories the topical issues, is what makes them relevant. Ideally, I want to make people think - What is truly important in life? The self-improvement revolution to be richer/fitter/more youthful, has created a perversely narcissistic society that rewards self and pays no respect to commonality – to what unites us. Compassion is critical. We need to connect like never before, especially after the past couple of years of what the entire world has been through and take responsibility for the planet that sustains us. We need to engage and debate and listen and disagree and compromise to find common ground. Art in all its forms – be it painting, sculpture, literature, music, film – moves us. Motivates us. Connects us. That’s a worthy goal.