Filmmaker Interview #23 – Tom Geens

Tom Geens

I first discovered Tom Geens in 2004 when I attended the Dead by Dawn horror film festival in Edinburgh. His short film Shame screened as part of an ‘alternative horror’ strand and I really loved it. It was simple but so thought provoking. It was such a great piece of filmmaking and definitely ignited my passion for directors like Michael Haneke and Roy Andersson. I contacted Tom and he sent me a DVD of his other work including a ton of weird but inspired commercials (you can watch them for yourself here).

Ever since then I have been following Tom’s career closely. His first feature Menteur (Liar in English)  is well work tracking down, a dissection of middle class expectations and the lengths one man will go to in order to find acceptance from his father. His latest short film You’re The Stranger Here is screening with us at Write Shoot Cut in Edinburgh on Monday 14th May 2012. It is demented and brilliant, a communist nightmare about a woman with a crazy leg. Shot on SVHS by the extremely talented Lol Crawley. It is a worthy addition to Tom’s already bulging catalogue of work.

Tom has kindly supplied an interview for the blog that is full of insight and wit. Check it out and watch all the videos included, you’ll discover an artist who sees the world through a warped lens. Just the kind of filmmaker I love. 

Please tell us a bit about yourself and what you are currently working on?

I’m Belgian and I’ve been living in London since ’93. So quite a long time… not pure Belgian anymore, nor British, I guess a Londoner.

I’m prepping my second feature film COUPLE IN A HOLE, which we are planning to shoot this summer. We just did a test shoot last week. Very exciting to see it finally come to life after three years of writing.

I’m also developing another feature film script, BLEACH, and looking for finance for SING, a low budget feature. And I might be doing another short, if I can fit it in.

And finally, next week I’m shooting an internet film for the Terence Higgins Trust. And I’m pitching on a few commercials. Yes, sometimes I need to eat too.

Shame by Tom Geens:

Who/what inspired you to embark on a career in Filmmaking?

Watching FESTEN in ’99. I ran out of the cinema and bought myself a mini DV camera, thinking ‘I can do this myself!’

I had written loads of short film scripts until then and had one of them made by another director. But FESTEN really made something click inside me. It was a truly liberating moment.

Have you had to make any sacrifices and how have you coped with that?

No, not really. I always did what I set out and wanted to do, otherwise there is no point. The FESTEN moment was quite big for me, almost like a ‘St Paul to Damascus’ moment, I knew I could do this for the rest of my life.

I was also very realistic, always working within the means available to me. And I still do and it’s become integral to my way of working, to try to achieve as much as possible with as little as possible. The fact that I was never interested in doing BEN HUR type movies definitely helped.

Yes I lead a frugal life, but I never really cared about materialism. So I wouldn’t call that a sacrifice. When you do what you want to do, you get so much other stuff back.

What is your ultimate goal/what drives you?

Is there an ultimate goal? Not so sure….

To get an audience as excited as I am about the subject matters I’m into is definitely a goal. Cinema can be an amazing/thrilling/life changing experience. For me there’s no better drugs than seeing people really getting involved in watching one of my films.

Also Id be lying if I said I didn’t want recognition for my work… more peer than public. We all want to win a Palme d’Or! Of course! So my parents can say ‘oooh isn’t he a clever boy?’ hahaha!

Wrong by Tom Geens:

How do you define success?

When you have been true to your own voice AND able to communicate/transfer that voice onto an audience.

How do you feel about collaboration?

I love it and embrace it. I find it very healthy and helpful to have my work challenged at every stage, from the writing to the shooting to post. To check if and how it comes to life in other people’s heads. BUT it’s crucial that you know what you want to write and talk about through and through, before you let other people in of course, otherwise you might be left with nothing at all.

Also after working in isolation whilst writing on a script, the fact that you are suddenly surrounded by a mass of people if you are making it, is great. What a job!

Do you have a niche or genre that you specialise in?

I write about what I know best. Middle class values and relationships. It’s shied away from here in the UK. I guess it’s also down to my continental roots, where these kind of films and subject matters are much more prevalent.

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?

15 foot square: 4 people stuck in a confined space. It’s in two parts and I used the same 4 actors in both. In the first part, the 4 are strangers and meet unwillingly in a lift that’s stuck between floors. In the second part, they are 4 friends, stuck in a car. After a near crash experience, they stop at a motorway car park unwilling to drive on.

Trailer for feature film Mentueur (Liar) by Tom Geens:

Favourite Filmmaker?

Pier Paolo Pasolini

Totally inspiring filmmaker. In storytelling and image. He took massive risks without any compromises. His films are still as modern and thought provoking as they were when they first came out. They really get under your skin.

Pasolini always feels truly free.

All-time top 5 movies (as of this date, we all know it changes daily)?

Very tricky question, lots of films are great. These are the 6 first that popped in my head.

  1. Salo by Pier Paolo Pasolini
  2. Lacombe Lucien by Louis Malle
  3. Secret sunshine by Chang-dong Lee
  4. Close up by Abbas Kiarostami
  5. Apocalypse now by Francis Ford Coppola
  6. Space odyssey 2001 by Stanley Kubrick

What is the best short film you’ve seen?

The Provider by Matt Smith

A strange film about a family man who goes into a ramshackle house and finds weird stuff to eat, stuck to the ceiling. I tried to find it on the net but can’t find it anywhere. Saw it at the Milano film festival.

First film you ever saw in the cinema?

Hard to say, but I think it was Jonathan Living Seagull… some of those images of the gulls combined with the Neil Diamond score I have never forgotten.

A random/funny story of anything you have experienced in the film world?

Filming a man with a super enlarged bum accosting people (bum first) on the streets of Stockwell was pretty funny.

Walkers Wotsits “Bum Man” Commercial by Tom Geens:

Favourite film related website?

In all honesty I don’t really look at film sites. IMDb of course, but that’s about it.

What advice would you give to first time filmmakers?

Make mistakes and take risks. Seems the only way you can really find your own voice and what you are on about (if there’s anything at all).

Trailer for You’re The Stranger Here by Tom Geens:

You can keep up with Tom’s work at his production website The Chicken Factory and follow him on Twitter.

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