BFI Future Film Festival 2023
Sitting backstage for the biggest audition of his life, Matty sticks out like a sore thumb. Surrounded by violins, clarinets and flutes, his love of drumming is a far cry from the musical elite. And there’s one other thing...
Hi David, it’s great to talk with you, how has everything been going?
No worries, it’s been going really well thank you! Bit of a whirlwind start to the year with my Future Film nominations. I can’t wait to attend and have been going over various scripts and project ideas that I’m excited to share with the people I meet.
What has it meant to you receiving the Malcolm Bradbury Prize?
I feel like I was one of the few people who actually enjoyed working on their dissertation. Getting to take time out each week to work on a feature film script with guidance from an experienced screenwriter as my supervisor was such a fantastic opportunity. I got to pour a lot of my own life experiences into that script, travel to Finland for research, and push myself to make something as tight as I possibly could. Getting recognition for what I produced from all that effort meant the world to me.
Congratulations on having The Audition, part of the Future Film Festival 2023, how does it feel to be part of such an incredible line-up of short films?
I’ve been so inspired watching the other films selected for the festival, they’re all absolutely fantastic! I love seeing the variety in styles, stories and talent on screen. Having my film included in this line-up is incredible, I can’t wait to meet the other talented filmmakers behind the other films.
How important are festivals like Future Film Festival in creating a platform for short films?
I couldn’t overstate how important the Future Film Festival is for my own career right now. The Audition was my first film and since its release I’ve been itching to get back on set directing again. Being in the early stages of my career I don’t necessarily have that many contacts. This festival and others like it are an opportunity for me to kick into the next gear and establish myself as a filmmaker.
Can you tell me how The Audition came about, what was the inspiration for your short film?
I made The Audition with Screen South’s New Creatives programme for the BBC. I’d heard that Screen South weren’t putting a limit on the number of scripts you could submit so I spent two weeks brainstorming almost 24/7 and writing everything I could. In the end I submitted around 7 different projects to them! The Audition came to me on a walk home from uni, listening to classical music. It’s heavily inspired by my own relationship with writing (though I am a drummer too). I wanted to tell the story of how your creativity can often feel like it isolates you from others and how daunting it can be to try and establish yourself in a field of more experienced/polished acts. But ultimately, the breakthrough comes when you stop doing your craft for those people, and start doing it because it is a fundamental and beautiful part of yourself.
"I believe that stories are our best way to see through each other’s eyes. In particular I have loved the positive steps that have been made by female writers and directors over the last ten years."
When writing a short film screenplay do you ever draw from your own experiences?
It’s all that I draw from! My faith, my time in the army in Finland, friendships, heartbreak, mental health, the beauty of the world. When you’re a writer, it’s your duty to tell the truth and the only truth I know comes from my own life. Adventures and characters I’ve met along the way always weave their way into my writing, even if I can only see them in retrospect.
What were the biggest challenges you faced making The Audition?
COVID hit midway through pre-production. I feel like I need to say this very quietly, but I actually really benefited from it in an odd way. In Norwich, the entirety of the production industry shut down overnight and stayed that way for about two months. At first that seemed awful, but it actually turned around to be in my favour. Everyone was sitting at home, desperate to be back on set, and so they were thrilled to join onto my little short film. We had two days of glorious summer sun with a set full of smiling (masked) industry professionals. On the one hand, it was an incredibly difficult time for all of us, but it warmed my heart that making my film was a break from all of the bleakness for a whole group of people.
Were you able to be flexible with your script once you got into production?
My script changed a couple of times, but was mostly the same as the initial draft. The first round of changes were because I was not happy with the monologue at the end. At first it was just about finding purpose through your art, which is true to an extent, but as a Christian my faith is a much more powerful source of identity. It felt like a risk but at the same time was more reflective of who I am and I believe it strengthened the film massively. The second round of changes was to conveniently ‘socially distance’ all of the characters from one another without it being too obvious!
Looking back, what would you say have been the most valuable lessons you’ve taken from this experience?
I’ve learned what I love. In your early twenties the world is so overwhelming with possibilities in all directions. It’s like being a domesticated rabbit and suddenly being dropped in the middle of Hyde Park, you can easily be paralyzed by opportunity. Getting to stand there on a professional film set with a pretty large cast and crew all looking at me for direction, gave me that direction that I want to run in. Straight away I felt calm and confident. I’ve never come across another job where on day one I’ve said ‘I am home’.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
Always. I was a big ‘art kid’ at school and I was obsessed with animation. I found just one drawing was so restrictive, I wanted to tell a story! I’ve written books, poems, short stories, and the works, but none of them have made as much intrinsic sense to me as screenwriting.
How did you get involved with ‘Dr Bob’?
I fell into it by accident really. I have a friend from university who's always been involved in writing horror and sci-fi stories for various podcasts and online content. I was just catching up with him out of the blue when he told me that he wanted me to join the writing team for the Dr Bob YouTube channel. It’s because of that that I am now proud to say that I work as a writer full time. That’s a milestone I dreamt of growing up so I couldn’t be happier to have reached it already at 25.
Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the films/stories they want to tell?
It never ceases to amaze me the stories that I see on screen. Almost 8 billion people in the world, all with drastically different lives to me. I believe that stories are our best way to see through each other’s eyes. In particular I have loved the positive steps that have been made by female writers and directors over the last ten years. Greta Gerwig, Chloe Zhao, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and countless others. Their work has done more to truly represent how the female experience feels than a thousand academic essays could do. Whether it’s gender, race, sexuality, or neurodivergence, there are countless beautiful new stories to be told by filmmakers of all backgrounds. Perspectives to challenge and grow us all.
What top 3 tips would you offer fellow filmmakers and writers?
You don’t need to wait to make something. Look at what you have around you and start making what you can with it. Only have a smartphone and a park to film in? Make a ‘Blair Witch’ style found footage horror short filmed vertically. It will look more genuine than the awful phone screen moments you see in high budget films. Use your limitations to create your style and the boundaries of your story. Creativity is turning the inside of a box into a spaceship.
Your first story is always going to suck. Your second one probably will too. But trial and error is pretty much the only way to find your style. By the time you reach your hundredth story, you’ll have at least one hundred lessons under your belt.
At some point, you need to include others in your process. It’s terrifying. I hate not being in control of my ideas, but you would be amazed at how talented other people are at things you didn’t realise you needed help with. Focus on getting good at what you love and for the things you don’t love, find others who do. Let them do their thing.
And finally, what massage do you hope your audiences will take away from The Audition?
Everyone’s at the bottom of the ladder at some point. In all walks of life the world is full of audition halls teeming with people who look and sound more ‘correct’ than you. There are always stages you have to stand on while you’re tripping over your words and wishing you were anywhere else. What matters, more than succeeding or falling short, is being authentic to who you are and giving it your best.