Sarah Spillane on Pursuing Dreams & Seasickness

ComingSoon Senior Editor Spencer Legacy spoke with True Spirit director Sarah Spillane about the inspirational Netflix movie. The movie will debut on Netflix on February 3.

“When the tenacious young sailor Jessica Watson (Teagan Croft) sets out to be the youngest person to sail solo, non-stop and unassisted around the world, many expect her to fail,” reads the film’s synopsis. “With the support of her sailing coach and mentor Ben Bryant (Cliff Curtis) and her parents (Josh Lawson and Academy Award winner Anna Paquin), Jessica is determined to accomplish what was thought to be impossible, navigating some of the world’s most challenging stretches of ocean over the course of 210 days.”

Spencer Legacy: What was it about this story specifically that really grabbed you and made you want to adapt it?

Sarah Spillane: I think I could really relate to the plight of a young girl in a somewhat male-dominated field who had a dream and was told “no.” I think a lot of young people can. But despite the odds and despite the knockdowns Jessica proceeded and accomplished what many said was impossible. Sailing aside, I think the essence of this story is, for me, it was incredibly inspirational and something I was really interested in exploring: how the pursuit of this dream affected Jessica and attracted the interest of so many people around the world.

As an Australian yourself, what did it mean to get to tell this incredible Australian story?

Oh, so much. I’m actually based in Los Angeles, so for me, the opportunity to return to Australia to tell this story of such an iconic young Australian woman was really such a gift for me

What made Teagan Croft the perfect choice for portraying Jessica?

I’ve heard a lot of filmmakers say that you either find your lead actress very early or very late in the process. For me, that was certainly the case with Teagan. She was the very first audition that I watched. We started casting during Covid, so everything was online. I watched her audition and read a couple of scenes — the first tapes that I watched — and she just set this benchmark that no one else could meet. So yeah, I thought she was amazing. She just really captured the essence of Jessica and gave it some nuances within these sequences that, like I say, it’s such an emotional journey that she was really able to, uh, dive deep

What was the most challenging part of the story to adapt into film form?

I think the most challenging sequences … so much of this story is set on water, so from a production perspective, we only had two days shooting on open ocean and a lot of the crew became very seasick. In fact, I think myself and the DP [director of photography] Danny Ruhlmann were the only ones that that survived one of the days on the open without getting seasick. So we ended up building several sets on a sound stage and shooting a lot of it on the water tank at Village Roadshow Studios. So that in itself was a very challenging aspect of production, but we had a great visual effects team. I think we pulled it off in the end.

What message do you hope that people might come away from True Spirit with?

For me, True Spirit is not only a story about having a dream and working hard to fulfill that dream, but how the pursuit of that dream changes you in the process.

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