Filmmaker Interview #7 – Ruth Paxton
September 1, 2011 1 Comment
It’s about time there was a female filmmaker featured on this blog and I am extremely excited that the first is a writer/director whose career I have followed with great admiration for some years.
Ruth Paxton is from Edinburgh where she studied film at Edinburgh College of Art and the Screen Academy Scotland. Since then she has taken her talent and potential global, travelling the world with her work and being recognised for her unique artistic auteur style.
I don’t really know Ruth all that well, other than being a fan, but it has been clear for the past few years to anyone in Edinburgh that she is going to be “big”. As a creative she has an aura of confidence or at least belief in her work, which I’m sure comes via bouts of crippling self-doubt like all artists. There has always been something special about her and her work and I think below in the interview you’ll understand what I mean.
I am delighted to feature Ruth on the blog and will now hand you over to her:
Please tell us a bit about yourself and what you are currently working on?
WELL, tomorrow, I’m leaving for Amsterdam to begin the Writer’s Programme at the Binger Film Lab. It’s a five-month intensive development programme where I aim get to first draft on my first feature film, SHOWLAND; a love story set in the Scottish Highlands.
I have also just completed work on a short project called BAROQUE, commissioned by the Festival Delle Lettere in Milan, where it will premiere in October screening in competition. This project was a delight to work on. I had to interpret the contents of a passionate letter by Italian actor Vittorio Gassman into a short film, which has taken form as a kind of, experimental drama. It’s unapologetically indulgent anyway! I was lucky enough to be able to collaborate with many of my talented good friends and cinematographer, David Liddell, who I love to collaborate with.
David and I are also embarking on a project with Scottish super-musicians LAU. It’s an on-going, organic process dictated by the progressions made at each stage we meet. We respond to music with pictures, which LAU respond to with further developed themes. We hope for this adventure to culminate in a live, installation exhibit, and a live concert experience – each with a sister documentary exploring the themes and processes behind the making of.
Aside from these projects, and working on the seeds for a new short film, I am also developing a dramatic mini-series with my Dad, set in the Scottish prison system in the 90s. I thoroughly enjoy working with my Dad and intend to develop further work with him too.
Who/what inspired you to embark on a career in Filmmaking?
Mam and Dad. Simple as.
From the outset, their boundless support, encouragement and raw belief – plus the provision of a childhood education in a wide range of world films – has installed my brother [Louis Paxton] and I with the faith that we’re capable of achieving our big-screen dreams.
I am also very blessed with the confidence of my whole family, my pals and my husband, strengthening my commitment to my chosen path.
Have you had to make any sacrifices and how have you coped with that?
I feel extremely lucky and privileged to be able to build a career in filmmaking. Put simply, my husband has enabled me to pursue this career by supporting me entirely, so therefore living has been tight. But I can’t complain, my shorts to date have taken me to India, Canada, Ukraine and China! Thankfully, this year it feels as though there’s been some acceleration regarding my professional standing – particularly since the success of my short film, PARIS/SEXY (2010) at the London Short Film Festival in January, where it was awarded the UKFC prize for Best Short Film.
But it can certainly get testing at times; seeking eternal self-motivation in an industry where reward and payment are scarce and rejection is commonplace, especially if you choose to stick to your guns and make no artistic compromises.
I think it’s true about the “gut feeling”. You know when whatever it is that you’re working on actually has potential, and equally when it’s tosh. You’ve got to ride your instincts right through a project until the end: because that’s all you’ve got that’s uniquely yours and I believe it’s the best shot you have at making something successful.
What is your ultimate goal/what drives you?
Often I find myself thinking about this is really specific terms; like how much I’d like to premiere a feature at Venice or shoot a movie in New York. I’ll watch a film starring Sean Penn and hope that one day I’ll be directing him, or Tahar Rahim or Vincent Cassell. I’d like to meet Lynne Ramsay and talk about our projects over dinner. That sort of thing.
But ultimately I’m driven by a desire to tell stories and a belief that I can write drama that will affect people. I aspire to earn a comfortable living as a respected writer/director making movies that make waves, and at some point, to be able to have children without having to abandon my place in the running.
I’ve also begun to put pressure on my brother, who’s more of a genre filmmaker, to make something HUGE that will afford us a family Villa in Tuscany. Nice.
How do you define success?
When you feel the pride of those you value most.
How do you feel about collaboration?
I am very enthusiastic about collaboration! I thrive on collaborative relationships with fellow artists, friends and family. You can’t make good work without it. Making connections with talented people on the same wavelength is crucial.
Do you have a niche or genre that you specialise in?
I would say that I focus on writing cinematic narrative drama, but I also like to make work with a looser, more experimental edge too. Much of my previous output has had a fairly surreal quality and as such, has been exhibited in more arts-focussed gallery spaces, but my goal is to make feature length drama that sits somewhere between European cinema like, BREAKING THE WAVES (Dir. Lars Von Trier, 1996) or THE FAMILY FRIEND (Dir. Paolo Sorrentino, 2006) and American Independent films like, JUNEBUG (Dir. Phil Morrisson, 2005) or THE SAVAGES (Dir. Tamara Jenkins, 2007)
People have commented that I make work with strong sexual tones and that I explore passionate relationships. I’m happy with these readings! I feel drawn to darker, stronger, more extreme subject matter but always a story with heart and something positive to say about the human condition. I’m not really into bleak movies that are unremittingly grim.
I am interested in writing and directing stories about family as a powerful institution. I am also particularly affected by sibling relationships. I also want to write about power structures: like those within prison systems and amongst gangsters, Monarchs, Romans. I’d love to make a bloody historical epic one day.
What was the title of your first film (Your first first film, not the one you are happy to call your first film) and can you tell us a bit about it?
Probably my Barbie-on-Action-Man porn classics, Švankmajer style.
This is a taxing question! But I’m going to go with my current filmmaker crush, which is Michael Winterbottom. I am by no means a fan of his entire back-catalogue, in fact I found 9 SONGS (2004) painful, but I recently saw – and absolutely adored – THE CLAIM (2000) and before that, the film to make the greatest impact on me in a while was, THE KILLER INSIDE ME (2010), which I thought was outstanding and provocative – in a good way. AND beautifully designed. JUDE (1996) is also one of my favourites.
I admire Winterbottom’s prolific career and the evolution of his style and range. I wouldn’t mind travelling his filmmaking roadmap.
All-time top 5 movies (as of this date, we all know it changes daily)?
Tough stuff, but I’d go with the following:
- UN PROPHETE (Dir. Jacques Audiard, 2009)
- FACTOTUM (Dir. Bent Hammer, 2005)
- BUFFALO 66 (Dir. Vincent Gallo, 1998)
- WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE (Dir. Lasse Hallström, 1993)
- GOODFELLAS (Dir. Martin Scoresese, 1990)
What is the best short film you’ve seen?
I hugely admire the work of fellow Scot, Paul Wright – and my favourite film of his would be, UNTIL THE RIVER RUNS RED (2010) – which deservedly won the British BAFTA for Best Short Film earlier this year.
I admire Paul’s fearlessness, his handling of love and romance, his stylistic vision and above all the uncompromising boldness of his storytelling.
I will also cheat and site a second choice: an American film, which I saw when judging at Wiz-Art Film Festival in the Ukraine this year, called CIGARETTE CANDY (2009) by Lauren Wolkstein. It was awarded the Best Fiction Prize for being a masterful short. CIGARETTE CANDY is a story about a disturbed teenage marine. It’s a powerful and finely nuanced short, which speaks a universal truth. It also looked awesome.
Favourite film related website?
IMDB. I know it’s a tame answer, but I do use it daily. It’s almost become ritual to check the trivia following every film viewing. I like to know the gossip.
What advice would you give to first time filmmakers?
Keep it simple.
Explore a moment, an exchange or a very basic idea. Limit your characters, your locations and your scene count.
Although, it’s not like I’ve actually practised what I preach – this advice comes from learning the hard way!
In terms of short projects, recently I’ve found that my (and my Cinematographer, David Liddell’s) starting point has often been a location. We’ve found ourselves in affecting spaces, which inspire me to think about what stories could be played out there, what stories have played out there. If you can start with a location that you know you can access I think this is a cool way to work forwards.
I also recall director Daniel Elliot – who wrote and directed the brilliant Cinema Extreme short, JADE (2009) – talking about securing the caravan site where his story was set and sitting in the caravans to write, then shot-list, and get as much of a feel for the environment as possible – ahead of filming. Most low budget productions won’t allow for this luxury, but I think it’s worth striving for where possible.
See what I mean? What a great interview, thanks Ruth. In another time I would have plucked up the courage to say hello to you rather than just standing back in awe. Good luck with all the exciting projects you have happening now and in the future.
Hopefully this interview will inspire you the reader to go out there and fulfil your passion and potential.
If you’d like to ask Ruth anything or comment on this interview, please do so below.