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WATT, SARAH – MY YEAR WITHOUT SEX

Sex has become so commoditised we’re all stressed by it and encouraged to spend money on it, says Sarah Watt, whose new film, My Year Without Sex, is a rebellious response to that social pressure, she explains to Andrew L. Urban.

Sarah Watt doesn’t start with a story when writing a screenplay, she starts with ideas. Big, free ranging ideas. Her second film, My Year Without Sex, after her tremendously well received debut, Look Both Ways, has its origins in a general unease about how sex has been commodified in our society. “It’s become measured; how good or bad you are at it, and how many products you must buy to improve it,” she says by way of explaining the trigger process.

She and collaborator Sue Maslin were talking about sex scenes in movies, and Watt expressed her reluctance to include any in her films. “They never work. And it led to us talking about the growing confusion about sex and where things are going in our society. It used to be a private matter between you and your partner….”

"the ideas were worked into a structure"

Gradually, the ideas were worked into a structure. The structure took the shape of 12 chapters, each representing one month of the year. “I wanted to use colour like you use underscore … each month with a different colour.”

Although she starts with ideas, she structures her films and is drawn to the notion of “verse and chorus”. So the verse becomes the story and the chorus is the themes and ideas …”

My Year Without Sex begins when Natalie (Sacha Horler) collapses one August day and undergoes emergency surgery for an aneurysm. Her husband Ross (Matt Day), their two children Louis (Jonathan Segat) and Ruby (Portia Bradley) face an uncertain future. Once back home, Natalie’s anxieties include paying their mortgage, as Ross faces the possibility of retrenchment, avoiding stress – and that includes sex. Natalie gets a part time job and joins a church choir led by Margaret (Maude Davey) – all the while trying to make the best of Christmas and Easter for the kids. The dangers of stress – and sex – lurk around them. Almost a year later Natalie has another blinding headache and goes for a brain scan. Terrified she’s used up all her luck, and having decided she doesn’t believe in God so she might go to hell, it all hangs in the balance. As does her sex life.

Even after making her second film, Watt says she feels “like such a total beginner.” To compensate, she over-prepares, going into pre-pre-production well ahead of time, making notes about every aspect of the characters, totally immersing herself in the film. This may seem excessive, but it helped her to be fully prepared to answer the thousand daily questions, from the big issues to the smallest detail.

"making all those millions of decisions"

“I recognised the truth in what someone once told me about film directing; the real meaning of making all those millions of decisions hits you when you finally go home at the end of a day’s shooting and sit down to a glass of wine, and someone asks if you want red or white, and you suddenly scream back: ‘Shut up! Shut up!’

Published May 28, 2009
 

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Sarah Watt

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Matt Day and Sacha Horler in My Year Without Sex

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