British Shorts Berlin 2019
‘The Last Storm’
Festival Screening / Documentary Special
Documentary / Animation / Experimental
Fri 18.1. 18:00 / Sputnik Kino 1
Mark, a 60 years old fledgeling storm chaser recently diagnosed with lung cancer, sets out across the Midwest with his friend's nephew in search of his first and possibly last tornado, before the two-month storm chaser season comes to an end.
Hi Liam, thanks for talking to TNC, you all set for British Shorts 2019?
Yep, they’ve got the video file and everything is good to go. Sometimes I think how hard it must have been back in the day when you had to send a 35mm print of your work!
Do you ever get any nerves ahead of a festival screening?
A little, I find it hard to watch the film without seeing all the mistakes, but when you’re in the cinema with the audience and you hear them respond to the film, there is nothing better, you’ve made a connection.
How does it feel to be at the festival with The Last Storm?
Having the film shown at festivals on a big screen with an audience is for me the pinnacle of filmmaking. When people watch your film online, you may get likes and comments, but there is nothing quite like having a bunch of people come together to watch your work.
The reaction to your film has been amazing, has it surprised you to have gotten the response you've gotten for this film?
I was surprised a bit, but I knew it was a great story so I hoped people would respond to it in the way they have. In filmmaking (not so much in life) I’m an optimist, I think that’s the only way it’s possible to overcome all the difficulties and get films made.
Tell me a little bit about The Last Storm how did the film come about?
I was filming in Duluth, MN, with Chris Plys, an Olympic curler. On my last evening, Chris began telling a story about his friend Mike, an amateur storm chaser in Minneapolis. A man, recently diagnosed with lung cancer, had contacted Mike and wanted to see a tornado. His name was Mark, 60 years old recovering alcoholic and friend of Mike’s Uncle.
It was such a unique story; I had to find out more. When I came back to the UK, determined to follow it up, I tracked Mike down on Facebook and we talked about the possibility of making a film.
What was it about Mark & Mike's story that interested you so much as a filmmaker?
I'm always on the lookout for interesting stories and often that means finding them in unusual places. Whether it’s through hunting tornados or collecting stamps, I believe we are, in our own unique ways, searching for meaning in life. No matter how strange or dangerous it may be, people find meaning in a singular love or passion that helps them to deal with the chaos of life.
The film, whilst being about two men’s search for a tornado, is also about the need for deeper friendships. Adult men have long struggled to maintain meaningful bonds with other men, especially as they become older. Having a shared passion allows us to connect with others.
What was the biggest challenge you faced bringing The Last Storm to life?
I filmed, directed, recorded sound and booked motels all by myself, so at times I felt completely stretched. It would have been great to have an assistant/producer with me, just to help pick me up when I got tired or a bit disillusioned. The first week the weather wasn’t looking good and the few storms we chased were a bust. I wondered if the same would happen for the film! There was a lot of downtimes, but this allowed me to hang out with the guys and get to know them. For me, making documentaries is an intimate process and it takes time to build trust and allow a connection to develop.
There is always an element of luck to filmmaking. Just as I was facing the possibility of going home empty handed, three states away in Wyoming, the weather started looking good. Mike, full of joy that we might finally see a twister, loaded up the car and we set out on the epic 2000 mile journey.
Have you always been interested in filmmaking?
I’ve been interested in film since I was a kid watching the same film over and over again on the VHS player in our front room, but I never thought I would end up making films. It was a closed world to me. So I did lots of different jobs and life experiences. Then about 7 years ago I became friends with a couple of filmmakers and started playing around and making some stuff together. I then quit my job and became a cameraman, from there I quickly moved into directing and the rest is history.
What is it about filmmaking that interests you so much?
I love the process of telling stories visually, all the aspects from writing, to shooting to editing. They all have their pleasures and pains, but I enjoy the collaborative element and the opportunity to create something that moves people.
As a filmmaker how important is the collaborative process for you?
It’s important because the whole process is so difficult and specialised. Working with others who are great at what they do makes me a better filmmaker and the films better.
How much has your approach to your work changed since your debut short film?
My approach has changed a lot; some from a technical point of view, like in how I film action in a wide and then go in for details afterwards. It’s always about coming back to story and character and not getting distracted by making things look overly pretty. I feel that I’m a bit more relaxed now when I made my first I was always wondering if what I was doing was any good, but after making a lot of films there is a confidence that comes with experience. That said I’m looking a making a feature film, which I’m sure, will make feel just as lost and stupid as I felt when I made my first short.
Do you have any advice or tips for a fellow filmmaker?
Just to start making and keeping making and making, the best way to learn is by doing. It’s also worth doing all the parts at some point; learn to record sound, edit, shoot, write. You might just specialise in one thing, but having an understanding of all the elements will enable you to communicate with your collaborators through a mutual language.
What are you currently working on?
I’m working on turning ‘The Last Storm’ into a narrative feature film. In addition to that, I’m writing and researching some other longer-form documentaries. I find it best to have a bunch of potential projects at different stages of the process, so if one isn’t moving forward for one reason or another, I have another project I can focus on.
Finally, what do you hope people will take away from this film?
There's a lot to unpack and delve into with Mike and Mark. In some ways it's a father-son story, each character ultimately filling the gap in the other's lives. The journey is them realising it. Accepting it. And for us, though the journey is important, it's about the connections with others that we make along the route.