TNC Interview 2021
Will has just started his new crowdfunding campaign for his new film Personal Effects which you can support via Kickstarter here: kickstarter.com
In the aftermath of a death in the family, a huge task sprawls out in front of you: how do you remember someone who isn't there anymore?
Hey Will, it's great to talk with you again, how have you been keeping during these strange times?
I'm good thanks! Lockdown was bad for making art but good for consuming it. I was able to engage with a wider range of media than usual, in particular video games. I learned about Redstone in Minecraft.
Has this time offering you the chance to find some new inspiration or opportunities?
I was midway through writing a first feature when covid hit the UK, and now I'm almost finished writing the second one! I also got to make two great micro-shorts with fellow members of the BAFTA Crew programme. My video essay work has grown massively in the last year, too. I even got to do two physical media releases with Arrow.
The last time we spoke was during the 2015 BFI Future Film Festival where your film Kissy Lips Man won the Fiction Award, what was this experience like for you?
It was a wonderful and totally unexpected experience. Kissy Lips Man was made for very, very little money. There's no dialogue in the film because we did not own sound equipment. It was made for fun with one of my friends, and yet it won the BFI award, and played at lots of festivals around the UK and internationally! It was a great introduction to the UK film industry and also helped me to understand more about the festival circuit. Winning the prize was what finally spurred me to start approaching filmmaking as a profession, rather than just messing about with mates. I'm really grateful for that experience.
Since being part of BAFTA Crew Programme what would you say was the most valuable lesson you took away from this opportunity?
I learnt a lot about the industry from meeting people who were much more actively involved in it than me, doing day-to-day work on set or in post. There's such a wide range of people on that programme, so learning about the different creative disciplines that go into film from composers, editors, production designers, was a richly informative experience. As a director, I work closely with all kinds of creative people and it's been so rewarding to get to know so many through the BAFTA Crew community.
You have just started your crowdfunding campaign for your latest film Personal Effects and the response has been amazing, is this the first time you have crowdfunded a project?
I crowdfunded a short film way back in 2012, shortly after Kickstarter launched in the UK. It was a very different beast back then. I remember going to a fundraising talk and I was the only person in the room who had crowdfunded a project. And now everyone has!
Personal Effects felt like the right project to go back to crowdfunding with because of its very universal themes around grief and memory. It reflects my personal experiences, but it's also something many people have lived through. The support we've had so far shows that reach, I think. There's a community of people gathering around and supporting the film, friends and strangers alike.
How important is crowdfunding for independent filmmakers, does this extra pre-production opportunity add any additional stress or pressure on you as a filmmaker?
Crowdfunding is almost a full-time job in itself. Producer Evangeline Williams and I spent several weeks planning our campaign. We came up with ideas for rewards, graphics, project videos and social media strategies.
Happily, our pre-production on the film itself has been really smooth and is informed by lots of experience in short filmmaking, so we're handling the additional pressure well. We're still recruiting crew and aiming to cast the film in December.
Did you have any apprehensions about making a film that is inspired by your own personal experiences?
A lot of my previous work has drawn on my life experiences, but this is of course a very emotional topic to cover for me. I discussed it at length with my family, making sure that I was being respectful of their wishes and feelings, and I considered what my brother would have thought of it too. While it's closely inspired by the experience of losing my brother, Personal Effects is more about how I felt then than what actually happened, so I feel comfortable in telling that story.
As writer/director how cathartic do you think making Personal Effects will be for you?
Writing the script was very much a cathartic experience. The story is quite different from my experiences, but the emotions are all the same, so there was plenty to work through. It also came at the end of a long series of therapy sessions, which were immensely helpful.
In a strange way, a lot of the emotions in the film are actually quite warm. There's lots of tenderness, particularly around the coming together after death and beginning to understand what someone leaves behind. While that was still emotional to think about, it was also an affirming experience. I'm looking forward to sharing that with the cast and crew on set.
"I'm mostly self-taught, which meant my early films were often a one-man-band affair."
How close do you like to keep to your screenplay when you start shooting, do you allow yourself or your actors much flexibility?
I'm constantly working on the screenplay throughout pre-production and the shoot itself. Ultimately I think of a screenplay as a plan for the film, not a finished product in itself. All that planning allows you to make room for improvisation when needed.
I love working with actors and think of them as experts on human behaviour. When I think someone is the right fit for a role and cast them in a project, I really trust their judgement on what a character might say or do, even when it differs from the script. It has to be consistent with the rest of the story and with the overall tone, but their input is invaluable. The same is true of collaborations with a crew.
Where did this passion for filmmaking come from and hows has your approach to your films changed since your debut short?
I was a big film nerd from the age of about 11, but making short films on mini DV was always a pretty disappointing experience, so I mostly stayed a fan. Then the DSLR boom made filmic images way more accessible for low budget filmmakers just as I was finishing university, which was a perfect opportunity to develop as a filmmaker. I'm mostly self-taught, which meant my early films were often a one-man-band affair. Now I get to work with incredibly talented teams of cast and crew, which is much more rewarding. It's great to share a vision and collaborate with others to see that come to life.
Do you have any advice or tips for any up and coming filmmaker taking part in FFF or BAFTA Crew Programme?
In both cases, the best thing to do is to meet a wide range of people and engage with the community. Get to know people, find out about their work, share opportunities and find that fine balance between telling people about your work without marketing it to them. Many people (including myself) find networking difficult, but I always come away from those events energised. It's amazing to hear about all the interesting things people are working on in our industry and to support them.
And finally, what do you hope to take away from making Personal Effects?
Despite the difficult subject matter, Personal Effects ends on a note of hope. It's about opening up after a long period of being closed in. I hope the film leaves viewers with that feeling, of the bravery that we can all have in facing difficult experiences, and of the importance of reaching out to others. This theme is something I hope to explore further in my first feature.