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BFI Future Film Festival 2023
Interview

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Tom
Anson
I Like It Here

Nikita, a young Kyivan refugee in London misses his last bus home to his host family. Lost and alone he must navigate his emotions and the dark city streets.

 

Hi Tom, it’s great to talk with you, how has everything been going?

 

Great to talk with you too! Everything is going well. Life has been very busy recently but that’s just how I like it.

 

Congratulations on having your directorial debut “I Like It Here” part of the Future Film Festival 2023, how does it feel to be part of such an incredible line-up of short films?

 

Thank you! I’m honestly pretty blown away by my selection. It still hasn’t quite sunk in; to go from a cold tunnel in Greenwich with a camera in my hand to be in the position I’m in now, all I can say is I’m extremely grateful to be given this great opportunity.

 

How important are festivals like Future Film Festival in creating a platform for short films?

 

I think in this day and age where making a film has never been more accessible, giving new filmmakers a platform to show their work and the opportunity to learn and network is extremely important in planting the seeds and setting up the path to a career in film. It’s inspiring to be accepted into this festival and it only makes me want to work harder, improve my craft and to keep creating more.

 

Can you tell me how “I Like It Here”, came about, what was the inspiration behind your short?

 

The concept for “I Like It Here” came about in March last year. Sean (who plays Nikita) and I had been discussing everything we had seen in the news ever since the conflict had begun. We always discuss the potential for film in every element of life. One evening I’d met with Sean, Al (Bill) and Elliot (Mickey) to have a chat about potential for future projects, we’d all worked together in the past and we wanted something new to sink our teeth into. From the conversations Sean and I had had prior to then, Sean came up with the rough concept for the film which I developed into a script. We’d felt so passionate about the idea that we decided to go that very evening to create it, striking while the iron was hot.

 

Due to the salient themes of your film did you have any apprehensions about making a short film that would highlight these contemporary political themes?

 

I think there always is when addressing such a sensitive subject, especially as someone who lives and has grown up in England. Sean is half Russian and so the conflict was not only personal but something he felt very conflicted about. I myself am neither Ukrainian nor Russian and so I understand that although I feel very deeply about the matter, I could never comprehend the full depth of the situation for anyone involved in the conflict. However, I am English, and I feel there is a lot we can do as a nation to help anyone that has been torn away from their homes and families. The conflict is a major theme in “I Like It Here”, but primarily it stands against xenophobia, bullying, and to inspire people to be more accepting of others; to be better people. This is something I felt had to be told and something that I will always stand for even in the face of apprehension.

"When Im acting, I can understand why a director would choose a shot and the part my performance plays in it as well as doing everything I can to make technical side run smoothly."

How close do you like to stick to your screenplay once you start shooting, do you allow for much flexibility?

 

I had only just finished refining the script by the time we arrived at our location! Although the words were on the page, I had a very vivid idea in my head as to how everything would pan out. As an actor myself, I like to work with improvisation and so that’s something I did with Al and Elliot to help develop their characters and dialogue when we had arrived. However, for the Sean’s character Nikita I felt that it was really important to stick to what I’d written as every line included a message. The only issue was that he was speaking in Russian, and I don’t speak a word of it. Luckily, I’ve worked very closely with Sean over the past years and so I was able to pick up on the nuances in his performance, and the odd Russian word I did eventually recognise, to keep him on track. I also have to give huge credit to Yulia who not only stars as Nikita’s mum but also helped massively with the translation. She’s not an actress by trade but you definitely wouldn’t think it!

What where the challenges you faced making “I Like It Here” that was shot in one day with zero budget?

 

As someone who has never had a budget, the struggles of no budget filmmaking are no different than the struggles of filmmaking itself to me. I was very lucky to have caught Adriano Goldman in a talk at the BSC Expo on High and Low budget filmmaking. He had said that working with a low budget can only force you to become more creative in your solutions and I couldn’t agree more. It’s an exciting feeling knowing all you have is your brain, a camera and your own two hands to make something. I like to be forced to think outside the box and when you’ve got no money behind you that’s exactly what you have to do.

 

Is it something you will do again?

 

Absolutely. I’ve made a few no budget films now and so I do feel it’s time to crack a few metaphorical eggs and progress to making something on a larger scale. However, the principles I’ve learned from no budget filmmaking are something I will always take with me going forward.

 

Looking back, what would you say have been the most valuable lessons you’ve taken from making “I Like It Here”?

 

Follow your gut and your heart. If you really feel passionate about something there is nothing to stop you from doing something about it. You have the power to find the solution to any problem you face. I never went to film school; my film training went as far as sixth form. There was a whole lot I didn’t know how to do and countless hours spent on my laptop feeling stuck and alone. All along the road to making this film I’ve been faced with obstacles but through the drive I felt to make it and to share it with the world I managed to overcome them. I’m just so happy that now I’m seeing results for all of the perseverance.

 

Where did this passion for filmmaking come from?

 

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved telling stories. At the age of 8 I was making comic books (storyboards) and giving them out to my classmates. I used to steal my dad’s camera and use the scanner on his printer to record my Lego figures and make stop motion sequences with them. Acting too, it was a way for me to overcome my painful shyness. So, it felt like the penny dropped when I realised that I could put all of these elements together to make something special. There’s a feeling I get, from pre-production to the final export, that makes me feel like I’m living as my best self and that I’m doing the right thing in life.

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Starting out in the film industry how essential has it been for you to work on as many filmmaking departments as you could?

 

It’s a principle I’ve taken from acting; it’s not enough to just do one thing, you need multiple prongs to your attack. By working in every department, I can learn how to better myself in each role respectively. When I’m acting, I can understand why a director would choose a shot and the part my performance plays in it as well as doing everything I can to make technical side run smoothly. Working as a director I can better understand and connect with my actors, as well as doing everything I can to make my crews’ life easier.

 

What was the first film you saw that made you want to try your hand behind the camera?

 

I had experimented behind the camera previously but it wasn’t until I had started film studies at my sixth form college BHASVIC and I saw La Haine that I really felt the passion. I learnt a lot about different styles of filmmaking there, the French New Wave in particular really opened my eyes to the potential of just the director and their camera. It didn’t have to be so black and white; I liked the experimentation and the artistic edge to it. Seeing the efficiency used with such little equipment made me realise I didn’t need a huge budget, loads of equipment and a big studio to make a film, I could start with just my phone’s camera!

Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the films/stories they want to tell?

 

If we don’t keep moving forward, we will stagnate. With the level of technology exponentially growing we must grow with it. People are tired of seeing the same plot recycled and repackaged as reboot in a never-ending franchise. It’s fresh stories from a new generation of voices that excite us.

 

What top 3 tips would you offer a fellow filmmaker?

 

1. You can start today! All you need is something to record on and an idea you feel passionate about.

 

2. Don’t be afraid to take a step outside the box, that’s what it’s there for.

 

3. If at first you fail, push onwards. A film might not turn out how you want it to but the lessons you learn from the experience are invaluable.

 

And finally, what massage do you hope your audiences will take away from “I Like It Here”?

 

Show compassion and love to everyone around you. They benefit your life more than you could believe. We are all human irrespective of who you are and where you come from, treat each other as equals. You have to be the change you want to see in the world.

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