Filmmaker Interview #26 – Tom Chick

I first found out about Tom Chick when he submitted his short film The Fisherman’s Daughter for consideration at Write Shoot Cut. It was unlike anything that had been submitted before and yet it was the most ‘British’ short film I had ever seen from a contemporary director. It reminded me of Michael Powell and of the archive footage from St Kilda. I knew I had to screen it. Then at the Edinburgh International Film Festival I took the opportunity to watch Tom’s later short Death in a Nut in the videoteque and I was very glad I did. Similar in story style but stylistically different, I knew I was watching the work of a very talented and very focused director. Tom isn’t conventional and thank God. He makes films for himself and it just so happens that these films are good and have found an audience and acclaim. I look forward to seeing what he does next. In the meantime please check out this interview and at the end you will fins links to Tom”s various personal sites. 

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

I’m 23 year old writer/director/editor from Edinburgh and studied Film Production at the Arts University College at Bournemouth. I graduated 2 years ago now and won funding from IdeasTap when I left to make a short film adaptation on Mull of a Scottish Selchie (seal people) folk story as told by storyteller/traveller Duncan Williamson, ‘The Fisherman’s Daughter’. This was kind of a second chance at making a graduation film and was a really great experience. It has been shown at The Edinburgh International Film Festival, Glasgow Short Film Festival and, just passed, at Write Shoot Cut.

After that I lived in London for a few months and even had a spell working as a production runner on ‘The Inbetweeners Movie’. I ran out of money and came home to Edinburgh where I was shortlisted and then commissioned for Creative Scotland and DigiCult’s Incubator shorts scheme. The film I made was ‘Death in a Nut’ and was also based on a Scottish folk story and filmed in Argyll. This was quite a step up for me in terms of production scale and was a huge learning curve but I think it’s my best film yet and has just premiered at EIFF and is currently being submitted to other festivals.

Other than that I’m trying to earn a living whilst writing a new short film in which I’m trying to incorporate the folk and landscape aspects of my work into a more contemporary and personal story. I don’t know how successful it will be, but I’m enjoying writing something that’s more character driven, and I’m hoping I might be able to expand it in to something longer than my previous work.

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

When I was 13 I started going to a filmmaking charity called Scottish Kids Are Making Movies where we had filmmaking workshops and got to make films. It was run at the time by a woman called Shiona Wood, who was incredibly inspiring and really changed how I saw films, filmmaking and life in general, she really gave me the freedom and confidence to be the person I wanted to be. She died when I was 17 but she’s really been the most important person in my life outside my family and I still have her voice in my head when I make films and day to day. I also met my best friend Rory Stewart through this and having someone my age also obsessed with film was also really important. I might be making films without her, but they wouldn’t be the same and if I hadn’t met her and Rory I don’t think I’d enjoy life half as much.

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

I’ve got hugely supportive parents, so to be honest I haven’t really had to make many sacrifices yet. On the last DigiCult film I worked for along time without earning any money and I found this hard because it really stripped me of a lot of freedom, I had to live at home and not really have much of a life except for the film. I think I might have made a better film if I’d been a bit more independent outside of its making.

What is your ultimate goal/what drives you?

I really just want get better at making films and make something that I’m really proud of. It could be a short or a feature – I really just want to feel I’ve been able to go as far as I can go as filmmaker. There’s a good bit of bitterness and jealousy thrown in there too.

How do you define success?

Just that – knowing that I’ve taken an idea to a strong end point and where I think I’ve shown the best of myself in my work, which is hard sometimes with all the other distractions and stresses.

How do you feel about collaboration?

Collaboration is really my favourite part of filmmaking. Neil Smith has been the composer on three of my films now and I just love hearing what he writes and having a hand in that, and the same goes for the animators I’ve worked with, Leo Bridle & Jessica Ashman. On ‘Death in a Nut’ I worked with Martin Radich, who’s a director but also works as a cinematographer, and who I honestly don’t think I would have been able to make the film without him, both creatively and personally. Meeting people who you can connect with like that gave me creative freedom and really expanded on what I was capable of doing as a filmmaker. I’m often quite controlling and have a hand in most aspects of the film but I think I can burn myself out working like this and the more trust I have in the people around me the better decisions I make.

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

A lot of my films so far have been drawn from British folklore and stories; this is something that still interests me and that I feel I haven’t managed to get to the bottom of showing what it isI like so much about it. I’ve kind of always written about people disappearing in some way or other, and once I started reading folk stories I saw the theme recurring a lot, as well a strong emphasis on landscape which is something else that’s really important to me.

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?

It was called ‘A Day in the Life of Bishop Bruce’ and was made with my friends when I was 15 during Activity Week at my school. It was a kind of surreal improvised comedy about a Bishop who lives in the woods and gets into strange incidents which end up with him being strangled to death and lain down beside Morningside clock. It involved quite a lot of clunky references to Spaghetti Westerns and ‘Pierrot Le Fou’, by Jean Luc Goddard (which I’ve never seen since), and the only dialogue was recitals of the lyrics of ‘Old Man’ by Neil Young. We made a sequel when we were 17 called ‘Bishop Bruce Becomes a Nun’. It has it’s moments… I spent quite a while around the same time making a documentary called ‘Bullets Through Space’ in SKAMM, which was kind of when I felt I knew what I was doing – that one’s online…

Favourite Filmmaker?

This changes a lot, but I feel I should say Nicholas Ray as I’ve loved him since I was 13 and his films still amaze and surprise me, especially when I see them in the cinema. I don’t like not mentioning Bill Douglas though, because I think he’s the greatest British director there’s been and he’s from Newcraighall.

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

  1. ‘I Walked With a Zombie’ – Jacques Tourneur
  2. ‘Comrades’ – Bill Douglas
  3. ‘Zero For Conduct’ – Jean Vigo
  4. ‘They Live By Night’ – Nicholas Ray
  5. ‘Tropical Malady’ – Apichatpong Weerasthakul

I know that’s five – but I feel I have to add Yasujirō Ozu to the mix as his films are incredible important to me but I can’t really pick one. ‘Late Spring’ & ‘There Was a Father’ are two of my favourites.

What is the best short film you’ve seen?

I love Buster Keaton’s ‘The Goat’ and also Quay Brother’s ‘The Street of Crocodiles’ and I also think a lot of Jan Svankmajer’s shorts are as good as I’ve seen.

First film you ever saw in the cinema?

I really can’t remember – my parents took me when I was like 2 years old. I vaguely remember ‘The Fox and the Hound’, but I think that must be wrong as it came out before I was born…I think it was a Disney film.

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

I once took a whole load of fireworks from Glasgow to Inverness on the coach because the courier wouldn’t take them. They had load of explosive signs on them and I remember covering the box in brown paper to try and hide them. I was terrified they would go off for some reason in the hold. It was for a really great short film called ‘Believe’(2009) by Paul Wright, which you should try and see if ever you get the chance.

Favourite film related website?

Mubi Notebook is great for reading and I love Ubuweb for watching more experimental films.

What advice would you give to first time filmmakers?

Um…work really hard – and judge yourself harshly because I think at the end of the day you’re often the only one that really knows what you’re capable of.

You can find out more about Tom over on his officer website, follow him on Twitter and watch more of his work on Vimeo.

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2 Responses to Filmmaker Interview #26 – Tom Chick

  1. Pingback: Filmmaker Interview #39 – Rory Alexander Stewart «

  2. Pingback: No Excuses, Just Shoot – Advice for First-Time Filmmakers «

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