James Harvy and Jennifer Kerry Wu
Actors, James Harvy and Jennifer Kerry Wu met at a random dinner party, had a whole lot of meetings during oyster hour at a bar on Smith St and created Destrier Films. Now they want to share the story of the female pilots that contributed to WW2, and they want Ben Stiller’s help.
Tania: Tell me about your journey with War Birds and how you came across this story.
Jen: Our first project was ‘The Hungarian’. It’s on the back burner right now. That was about my grandfathers life through World War 1 and 2, being captured by Nazis twice and escaping twice, once as a 12 year old, once as a young man. He died about twenty years ago. It’s a homage to him and I really feel like he’s guided us to where we are. James was living in Germany, building our website and working through the story with me. I was doing research for the project and having a conversation with my Grandmother, who said, “You know there were a lot of women that were soldiers in the partisan army as well as men”, and I’m like “Really?” She said “Yes, and there were female pilots during the war”. I was really curious, so I went to Google and typed in ‘female pilots WW2’ and there was this explosion of information.
James: Which is interesting since it’s so available, but no one knows about it.
Jen: There were three amazing squads of women that contributed to WW2 and I knew nothing about them. I called my sisters and I spoke with several generations of women asking if they knew about it, and no one did, yet we know all about the men.
Tania: And that was after you’d done quite a bit of research on WW2?
James: It’s rare to find unless you’re looking specifically for it.
Jen: None of it came up until I specifically searched for ‘female pilots WW2’. It was phenomenal and I felt this story has to be told. Their records were sealed for 35 years, they weren’t recognised as military, they were paid as little as 65% of what their male counterparts earned, they had to pay for their own uniforms and lodgings and if they died, their family had to pay for their body to be flown home. They got no military burial, nothing. I think that’s what drew me to the American story, because the British were paid the same as the men, the Soviets were heavily respected, the Americans, no. The records were sealed like they never existed, then in the 1970’s, a US Air Force press release incorrectly stated that for the first time ever women were allowed to fly military aircraft.
James: It’s crazy, isn’t it.
Jen: It’s fascinating, and this book kept popping up, ‘Yankee Doodle Gals’ and I had this gut feeling and felt I had to look into this book. I was like, “I have go for this”, and James said, “Do it”. Next, I called Bobby (Galinsky) who is now Executive Producer and going to write the screenplay, and told him I’d found this book, I had a strong gut feeling, and asked if I should read it before optioning it. He said “No, contact her, she wont respond by tomorrow”. So I go on the authors website and immediately connect with her blog. I email her, and the next morning there’s a response saying “I’d love to talk. I don’t own the rights to the book, National Geographic does”. I thought oooh Nat Geo, we have no chance. I called Bobby and said she’s responded and wants a Skype call, and he’s like "Buy that book!" [Laughs]
I ended up getting it expressed from America and when I finally read it, I was blown away by the history, the photos, and I knew this was the project. We had this amazing Skype call with the author, and while we were on Skype the subsidiary rights manager at Nat Geo emails and says ‘I’d love to speak to Jennifer and the Destrier Crew’. So then we Skyped in with them and got the ball rolling. We are the first people in their history to be given the rights to turn one of their properties into a feature film.
James: So they’ve maintained the whole time they want to make sure this thing happens.
Jen: Exactly, and we feel very privileged that after researching us, a company no one has heard of, they believe that we can deliver and are behind us 200%. You just sit there and kind of pinch yourself, and at the same time Fox takes over National Geographic!
James: The merger was happening during our conversations.
Jen: We got in at the best possible time and it’s such a great human story.
Tania: What was appealing about it for you, James?
James: I grew up with a single mum and two sisters so I’ve experienced first-hand the incredible strength and resilience women are capable of and deserve to be acknowledged for. Nothing about being a man or a woman should have any affect on what someone should do, or is allowed to do, and I think that’s the key. There’s talk in the industry that there aren’t enough strong roles for women, and the answer to that is to make the films.
Jen: Yes! Kick ass female films.
James: So I’m really excited about getting this one made.
Tania: And you want Ben Stiller to direct, why him?
Jen: One of my favourite films is his version of ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’. He produced, directed and starred in it. Visually, emotionally it just captures your heart, and his acting takes the character to a whole other level. I was watching a documentary on this film and I thought, he’d be amazing for War Birds. He’d be able to bring out the vulnerability and the strength of the women, and visually it would be beautiful.
James: It’s about getting the right person, with the right insight.
Jen: He started writing directing and producing very early on. He created a lot of his own work, and that’s what inspires us as well.
Tania: So how are you going to get him?
Jen: We’ll we started this Twitter campaign where we are going to stalk him and said to the crowd on the media night, here’s the hash-tags, lets get it trending. That’s not happening in droves just yet, but every night I’m going on and I just keep tweeting at him. We just need more of an army to help us do it.
James: We have these big dreams and we just go for it. It’s a process of strategizing, going for the big guys we want and taking it one step at a time to get the best team for the film.
Jen: All you can do is ask, so we are just going to keep asking. Eventually he just has to go who are these people?
James: So if you can send this to everyone you know and tweet for us!
Tania: How do other people respond when you tell them that’s the goal? It’s a big goal!
Jen: A lot are really supportive and say go for it, and some are really dismissive, rolling their eyes. But I’m living my dream, with my dream business partner and I have nothing to complain about. We’re going to do it. We’re going to keep going for it.
James: I find most people have this attitude like, I’ll believe it when I see it. But that’s the wrong way around. For us, we believe it, so we will see it. That’s what we are all about. We both have iron clad belief. When we first started the company we were talking about this.
Jen: We were poor art students with big dreams. Two years, and a lot of tears later….
James: We have exactly what we talked about. A book option, and there’s more to come.
Tania: So what’s your inner critic like?
Jen: Two, three years ago I would have ripped shreds off myself. I think it was when I ended up very sick in hospital. I remember having a text conversation and thinking fuck it. I’m just going for it. I’m not going to listen to the negativity because if I die, my biggest regret would be not following my passion. Now I’m at a stage in my life where I’m enjoying everything. I’m going for it.
James: When I was younger, it was horrible. Right now I feel the most balanced that I have in my life. I could go on about all the books I’ve read. I’ve bought out the self-help section of every book-store in Melbourne.
Jen: That’s why he’s great to talk to.
James: A book that helped me a lot was the Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. That changed my life when I read it while studying acting at the VCA. These days my inner critic is pretty quiet. As soon as that voice comes, and it does, I just say, “hey voice, thanks for telling me you’re scared of something”, and I move forward.
Tania: What do you love most about doing what you do?
Jen: When I first moved to Melbourne I was very young and naive, met some of the wrong people, had a psycho housemate and hit a really low point. I’d be scared to be at home and didn’t know how to deal with it. So I’d go to the movies and escape for that two hours and I’d forget all the crap that was going on.
James: That’s what they’re for.
Jen: I thought how amazing, to be able to help people escape whatever crap they are going through, and I went wow, I want to do that. It’s such a beautiful thing. Connecting with another human being and making them feel something.
James: Acting theatre performing and film can almost be more real than real life. People wear masks and if you look at the way a lot of things are structured in society in general. You get pushed to be and behave a certain way and it’s a bit contrived. I’m into the rawness of what it is to be a person, the human condition. People don’t talk about when they are crying themselves to sleep, and there are people who have all this passion and creativity but repress it because they are too caught up trying to pay the rent. Acting is an opportunity to let that out. When I’m acting I feel that I can take horrible experiences and turn them into something positive and productive.
Tania: And what keeps you going when it gets really tough?
Jen: I wont lie, we’ve had some really tough times getting where we are with Destrier. There have been some bombs that have exploded.
James: It’s been tough, yes. But everything worth doing has its challenges.
Jen: What keeps driving me is passion, and I have this awesome person who always has my back and I always have his back, knowing if I died tomorrow I’d regret not chasing it, plus I have an amazing husband who says just keep going for it. What’s the worst that can happen, you pick yourself up and you move on.
Tania: The last book that inspired you?
Jen: Yankie Doodle Gals!
Tania: In a big way!
Jen: Yes, I was getting tingles, going I have to do this. It’s changed my life.
Tania: If you had to pick another?
Jen: Larry Moss’ Intent to Live. I really connect with that man. It just makes you see things from a different perspective.
James: Stella Adler, The Art of Acting. One of the best things it says is Nobody should ever tell you, you cant do something, because the desire to do something holds within it the seeds of talent. I love that book, it spoke to me where I was and helped me to see I was doing the right thing with my life. I think everyone should read acting books!