Filmmaker Interview #32 – Andy Mark Simpson
August 30, 2012 1 Comment
Andy Mark Simpson is someone who was brought to my attention by Tom Wilton and after I watched the trailer for his debut feature film I knew I wanted to know more. Shooting a feature before you’ve even shot a short is no mean feat but it’s one that Andy managed, picking up awards and acclaim along the way.
Studying History and Politics at the University of Liverpool, Andy started as a runner while a student working his way up to production manager on features. He started his own film company at 23 and then went on to the make the aforementioned feature film.
Read the interview below to find out more and seek out Andy’s work.
Please tell us a bit about yourself and what you are currently working on?
Andy Mark Simpson
Based in Northumberland
When I was 24 I wrote and directed, and produced, my self-funded debut feature film Young Hearts Run Free, made for under £10k, and self-distributed it; winning some festival awards, getting it into cinemas around the country and grabbing good national press attention (***Total Film, ‘Heartfelt’ The Guardian). It’s a coming-of-age story set during the 1974 Miners’ strike. You can find out more about it on the film’s website.
I’m now working with a producer on my next script Girl and the Ghost, a magic-realist coming-of-age story about a teenage girl who is visited by ghostly apparitions. We’re starting to build up a bit of interest in the project.
Who/what inspired you to embark on a career in Filmmaking?
I’ve always liked watching films and I’ve always had a good imagination for stories so maybe you could say it started when I was a really little kid but it wasn’t until I was 14 that I realised I wanted to be a film director. Feature films are a brilliant art form for communicating with an audience, entertaining them (in the broadest sense), keeping their interest and tugging at their emotions – that’s how I felt when watching films and realised that’s what I wanted to create.
Have you had to make any sacrifices and how have you coped with that?
Making your own film does curtail your social life quite a lot and I’ve been short of time and money for all of my twenties. If you want an ordinary life don’t be a filmmaker. I want to have a bigger-than-normal impact on the world and I want to be a film director; it’s part of the bargain you make with yourself when you know you’re going to have to sacrifice everything. You don’t quite completely throw away all self-respect; but you come to define self-respect and success in a different way to how normal people would define or measure it.
What is your ultimate goal/what drives you?
I really want my life and my work to stand out I suppose (maybe I’m just an attention seeker!) I really love people and love working with actors to create characters that audiences can fall in love with. I think and feel a lot and have a lot to say about people and the world so I think films are the best way for me to express that.
How do you define success?
Churchill said ‘Success is the ability to go from one failure to another without lack of enthusiasm’ – and I suppose that in an industry as tough as this then an ability to survive and keep doing it could be seen as a success although for me personally I’d like more than this; I really want to have an impact. A bit of a mix of awards, critical reception and box office is certainly nice but storytelling is an act of communication, so as an artist success means that the things I communicate (an emotion, an idea, a political statement) resonate deeply with as many people as possible, or at least with all the intended audience.
How do you feel about collaboration?
Love it. Collaboration doesn’t mean being indecisive or diluting your vision; it means communicating with cast and crew and using their skills and ideas to help you achieve the vision you want. I love actors especially and the chance to communicate so intimately with them to bring characters to life.
Do you have a niche or genre that you specialise in?
My films have a kind-of gritty social-realist (or sometimes a kind-of magic or poetic realism) style. Often they’re coming-of-age dramas starring teenagers although some of the scripts I’m writing at the moment are about adults.
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 a 2-minute rom-com called How About Next Week? starring me narrating and trying to chat a girl up. Edited in-camera and made when I was 18 when I didn’t even know what film school or media studies was. It was dreadful.
Mmm. It’s more specific films than directors’ whole works but some names to throw in are Frank Capra (for always saying something important and for It’s A Wonderful Life). Terence Davies because, like me, he’s obsessed with time in films and I like his poetic-realist style. These days I like Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement).
All-time top 5 movies (as of this date, we all know it changes daily)?
- It’s A Wonderful Life
- Back To The Future
- Distant Voices, Still Lives
- Umbrellas of Cherbourg
- The Sound of Music’
- Last Year In Marienbad
- The Third Man
- Pride & Prejudice
- Gregory’s Girl
- The Great Escape
[Neil – erm… that’s 11!]
What is the best short film you’ve seen?
I don’t watch as many shorts as I should do. Maybe La Jettee but some other ground-breaking shorts I like are Pas de Deux (McClaren), Powers of Ten (Eames) and Girl Chewing Gum (Smith).
First film you ever saw in the cinema?
My Mam says it was Disney’s Peter Pan, but I can’t remember it. First I remember is Back to the Future 3. First cinema date was Sixth Sense and she snogged me right at the end so I missed the twist.
A random/funny story of anything you have experienced in the film world?
When I was doing the Miners’ Strike riot scenes in Young Hearts Run Free we invited local people to be extras and I had dozens of people ringing up asking about this fight I was organising, did I want them to get a gang together and who did I want them to beat up? That was a bit mental. I also filmed in a chipshop early one morning and asked for some chips as a prop but they hadn’t cooked any yet. I had to ring home and get some cooked then brought up to set. I also had a funny drunken argument with a prostitute at Cannes once but I was too wrecked to remember much about it.
Favourite film related website?
Maybe Movie Review Query Engine or some high brow film appreciation sites.
What advice would you give to first time filmmakers?
Experiment a lot and watch a massive variety of films. Make short films before jumping headfirst into a feature (like I did) then make sure your first feature has the potential to really stand out. It’s not for the feint-hearted so throw out any notions of glamour or having fun. Make sure you have something to communicate with your work and if you believe filmmaking is the best way to do that then don’t let anyone stop you.