Jesse, James and an arm-wrestling odyssey

James Wilson


James Wilson’s passion for filmmaking was never a secret.

The first time we met he was lugging cameras, microphones and accessories into a 110% workshop, talking excitedly about specs and tricks and tips.

He had arrived alone but eagerly teamed up with Liz Arcus and Emmet O’Dwyer and together, they starting working on a story.

Over the next few weeks James put everything he had into the video. He had filmed weddings, made music videos and shot a news program for his church youth group but it was documentary that James was interested in exploring and 110% was the perfect playground.

A hand written card at the end of the workshop only reaffirmed his love of film. Tucked down the bottom, almost as an afterthought was a final sentence.

P.S. Thanks to you, I love documentary filmmaking more than narrative filmmaking.

As we waited in the ABC Studios for the film to upload, the four of us spoke about ideas for other stories. James suggested Jesse Johnson, a 22-year old friend from church who was mad about arm-wrestling. He fought no stop, lived on a strict diet, had a competition table in his garage and was preparing to compete in the World Arm-Wrestling Championships in Brazil.

“You should go!” I exclaimed, half serious, half joking, half because I loved the idea of going to Brazil to shoot the story.

The idea struck a chord with James and as he was driving home he thought, “Why shouldn’t I go to Brazil to make the documentary?”

He spoke to Jesse who was excited about it and James starting building the project in his head.

He began filming Jesse and making plans for South America. Thing were looking good until he found out he was unable to stay in the same accommodation as the Australian team. James wasn’t keen on the idea of staying by himself in Brazil with all his filmmaking gear. He started questioning the trip.

“God, if you want me to go, please give me a sign,” he said as climbed into bed, somewhat dejected.

James had felt this before.

School failed James. A short attention span meant that he was left behind in classes and today he has trouble reading and writing, the words and ideas getting scrambled in the journey from his head to the paper.

“I was bullied a lot and had low self-esteem.”

This coupled with three car accidents and his vehicle bursting into flames means that James often feels anxious, a recent attack rendered him unable to drive and he was stuck in Geelong for three days.

Teased a lot in school and harassed by previous employees, James had struggled to settle into a job. Being a filmmaker had given James the space to think and create without the criticism that’s hounded him in his past.

But as James fell asleep, he questioned if Brazil was going to come off.

The next morning he got a message from Jesse to say he was able to stay with the competitors. This was the only sign that James needed and he became determined to make Brazil a reality.

Just six weeks after completing his first 110%, James has booked flights, bought insurance, sorted the accommodation and is applying for his visa. He’s told everyone he knows about it, excitement jumbling his sentences into smiling, laughing passages through his constant grin.

His passion has quickly rubbed onto others and many friends have pitched in money for the trip and equipment, one generous sum enabling James to get a radio mic and monopod. His parents have thrown their support behind him and told him that they’ll make up the difference.

Others have offered skills. The boyfriend of one of James’ friends is a musician with a home sound studio and will write music for the film and mix the audio.

“Having him on board is really going to lift the project”, said James.

While all you may see is a documentary, for James this project is much more. He’s confirming his talent as a filmmaker and proving his ability to those who have doubted him. He’s also proving it to himself.

“It’s a great story and an amazing experience”, says James. “It feels like a real project. It feels professional.”

“It’s all very exciting. I’m pretty pumped,” he says, slouching back into his chair.

“Actually,” he pauses. “I’m really pumped.”


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