I’ve spent the last month shutting down my life. I’m often prone to burn-out as there are no boundaries in my life. I’m always constantly working, whether being paid to or not. I have the best ‘day’ job working on various film and film education projects with Screen Education Edinburgh (I’m part-time but like everyone else at SEE; we love the place, we fight for it daily; there is no such thing as part-time. It’s like running your own business; it’s morning, noon and night). Time off over evenings and weekends are spent working on Write Shoot Cut, Tartan Features, punting out my debut feature, writing, planning, meeting people, attempting to put any number of other projects into production plus spending time with my wonderful family. That’s a lot to pack in and that’s why my Christmas was spent ill in bed with a nasty chest infection; when I stopped so did my body.
I was looking forward to starting a fresh new year with new focus and renewed energy. My time in bed had allowed me to recover and feel 100% again, plus I had my debut feature preview screening in London, Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as a short film in preproduction and a producer for a second feature. It was rock and roll, time to go… but this was all on top of all that other stuff I was doing (and had to pick up again when I recovered) and it wasn’t long before my body and mind were taking a complete battering and for want of a better phase, telling me to fuck right off.
After the debacle that was the March Write Shoot Cut screening at the Banshee I decided enough was enough. I needed to rest, refocus, cut down on what I was doing outside of paid film work and wonder again (like we all do all the time) why the hell am I doing all this? What’s the point? What do I actually want?
The answer to these questions often gets lost in the chase to achieve everything you want to achieve, fighting against the system, or simply wanting to find your way of fitting into it but taking the time to consciously think about them and to weed out all the distractions I come back to the fact I want to create cinema. I have a burning desire to make films, not television or any other visual media; I want to make films. Indeed in college I called my production company ‘I Wanna Make Films’ and I was heartily ridiculed for it but it’s the one single truth in my life. I want to make films. I want to make feature films. I want to make films that screen in cinemas. That’s it. That’s what I want. I enjoy other stuff, especially teaching and supporting young people to find their own voices, but that’s on top of the main objective of making my own movies.
So in the process of refocusing I have been watching a lot of films and remembering the people who inspired me in the first place. We are all on our own journeys and no two journeys are the same but sometimes it helps to seek inspiration and wisdom from others in order to clear away the cobwebs and focus your own ship. That’s why I have decided to post here about 3 filmmakers who inspired and continue to inspire me, that way I get to articulate my feelings about these people in a way that others may discover their work or relate to it but more importantly I get to say thank you to them… even if they’ll never know this post exists.
So anyway, here we go…
1. Sam Raimi
I was 20 before I knew I could even dream about being a filmmaker. Before that I was busy making up for all the drinking I didn’t do as a teenager while also flunking out of my second degree course after falling out of University once already.
When I had the realisation that I loved films and that maybe just maybe I wanted to believe I could actually make one I looked at the only film franchise I was obsessed with at the time. Not Star Wars or Indian Jones or anything like that…. The Evil Dead. A friend at school gave me the trilogy on VHS and I remember watching it and being blown away. The first one terrified me and made me feel physically sick, the second was the funniest, goriest thing I had ever scene and the third was this weird Hollywood blockbuster that was so not a blockbuster it was brilliant.
I found out the guy who made them was called Sam Raimi and that he made the first Evil Dead when he was 20. Instantly I felt justified in my dream to be a filmmaker “if this guy did it when he was 20 then of course I can be a filmmaker”. There was no question. Sam Raimi was the first filmmaker to give me self belief, which might have been deluded, but I just believed I had to go for it.
Throughout college I envied Sam Raimi and wanted to basically be him. I remember reading that he wore a suit to set (because he was working and you wear a suit to work) so I did that for my first film. I loved all the Sam-o-cam and Ram-o-cam DIY approach to camera work. Just going out and doing it. Not caring what the rules were and whether you had the right gear, permission to do it or not. It was rough but it was brilliant and it was cult, geeky, marketable. I was seriously obsessed with the whole Evil Dead world for years; buying books, watching all their old films, becoming obsessed with Bruce Campbell and just loving everything about everyone involved.
I’ve fallen off the Raimi bandwagon in the past few years and that’s my fault not his. Spiderman 3 was a disaster that he’s well aware of but he’s an exciting filmmaker who I miss caring about. I’m glad I’ve taken the time to write about this stuff as it’s high time I gave some love back to Sam and I can’t wait for the Evil Dead TV series.
2. Shane Meadows
Back in college the kind of films I watched were Hollywood blockbusters, horror films or 80s action movies; basically movies made by people on the other side of the world. I don’t remember the catalyst but I ended up seeing A Room For Romeo Brass by director Shane Meadows and I was blown away. Here was a film with characters and a setting that I could actually relate to; it looked like my house, my village, my family, my friends. The fact it was actually dark as fuck appealed to me too. Everything about this film was perfect. It had an 80s teen movie feel while being set in the working class Midlands, it was incredibly quotable, funny as hell and dark…. very dark. Paddy Considine is blinding in it…. and there is a shot out of the back of a van that made me understand the power of camera movement in telling a story.
I soaked up all Shane’s work after seeing it; Dead Man’s Shoes, Small Time, 24 7 and Once Upon a Time in the Midlands and as an avid fan I took to the internet and discovered a whole community around his work. Shanemeadows.com was/is a fan site with a forum filled predominantly with aspiring filmmakers who are inspired by Shane’s work. I became a very active member of the forum around 2004-2009 and what was really cool was that Shane and many of his team were actively involved in the forum as well. Through the site I met Shane, Mark Herbert, Paddy Considine, Jo Hartley and many others (I even got into an arguement with Paddy Considine that ended with us chatting it out on the phone, and for the record I was being a dick). Shane would update us on his latest projects and be candid about his successes and failures.
The other forum members were all fans and wannabe filmmakers like me. We started sharing work, supporting one another and even collaborating. It was a ‘safe space’ where you could share your work and get real critical feedback. It was a really amazing time, back before Facebook really existed. Loads of filmmakers I know now who are still working and even successful I met first through that forum.
The height of the whole community and period was the release of This is England. A colossal achievement for Shane and all his collaborators and an opportunity for many of us to meet for the first time, go to premieres and hang out with actual filmmakers. It was a very special time.
Shane as a filmmaker is still a huge inspiration to me. He makes films in his own backyard that are personal but also cinematic. He raids his experiences and memories and molds them with engaging stories. For me he really is the UK’s Martin Scorsese. He takes risks. He has been beaten down to the point of quitting then comes back all guns blazing with something as amazing as Dead Man’s Shoes. The fact he still struggles to get anything made is indicative of how hard it is to make a career as a filmmaker in the UK. I love the This is England world but I’m extremely excited to see his next feature length original drama, whatever that may be.
Shane Meadows taught me that you need to look into your heart and tell stories that are personal and speak to you. He taught me how important collaboration is and the power of acting.
3. Tom Wilton
Back in my days on the Shanemeadows.com forums I met many filmmakers who supported and inspired me but none more so than a man I can now call a close friend. Tom Wilton is a maverick. He’s a guy who has been plugging away for years, ignoring the rules, the naysayers and the knock backs to carve out a career for himself; which currently sits in New York writing a feature film with stars already attached.
A lot of people reading this will know Tom or at least know of him and I don’t want you to think this is a love in, he genuinely was and is the biggest inspiration to me s a filmmaker. There is no way I would have made Take It Back and Start All Over without Tom.
Back in the Shane Meadows days Tom was this guy on the forum talking about making his first feature film, Icharus Broken, and like many he was just another faceless avatar claiming to be a filmmaker… but then he came up with the goods. Based in Derby at the time his film won International Awards and got a DVD release. He was probably the first person I actually ‘knew’ who’s DVD I could buy in the shop. I bought it expecting it to be a pile of shit and it wasn’t. It had tight intertwining stories and strong performances. Sure if I watched it now I’d pull it apart critically but that’s not the point. The point is that he went out and made a feature film for fuck all and got it out into the world. Tom never cared what people thought. He was too busy moving onto the next project including making 3 feature films in a year in 2013.
Tom’s journey is all freely available online, so I won’t go into it here, but what was so inspiring and refreshing was that Tom was painfully transparent and open about the whole process. His successes and failures were there for everyone to see and learn from. He’s much quieter about his creative process now but back then when it counted I got to see exactly what it takes to make it as a filmmaker. Tom taught me that I needed to be fearless and persistent, that I needed to listen to my gut and that when you fall down you need to get back up.
The fact he is the biggest champion of other filmmakers is just another part of his charm. He is relentless, having made 6 feature films as Writer/Director and produced many for others. When he falls down he gets back up punching and, crucially, producing. He answers his critics at every turn, making better and better films; always learning and moving on – although he doesn’t really give a fuck about his critics anyway. Tom makes films because he has to, not because he craves acceptance or accolades. I certainly need to remember that.
Tom is by far the biggest inspiration on my last ten years as a filmmaker. The fact that we became close friends during his time here in Edinburgh is an enrichment to my life that I am truly thankful for.
Tom has taught me that positivity is crucial in filmmaking. If you succumb to the knock backs, the closed doors, the raised eyebrows, the politics, the people laughing at you and questioning you, then you’re finished. You need to sift through all the noise and surround yourself with positive people. People who are secure in themselves, people who want the best for you but ultimately you have to just not give a fuck and make films no matter what.
There are plenty of other filmmakers and individuals who have inspired and continue to inspire me but I wanted to just highlight these guys, mainly for my own cathartic process but also hopefully so someone else out there can look back and remember why they are doing what they are doing and how important it is to reflect.
Taking time out is very important. It’s easy to feel like if you don’t stop everything will go to shit but the reality is that the last three weeks have been very helpful for me. I have a great day job at Screen Ed and now I feel like I have an action plan for my own work that is focussed, refined and, most importantly, not going to kill me.
If you are looking for inspiration yourself please check out our No Excuses post with advice from filmmakers across the indie film world.
Keep making movies folks…. and remember why you are doing it.