I have followed Lance's work through Facebook and Twitter and he is great at offering me advice, so I thought he'd be great to write a guest blog to share his knowledge. We almost made a film together, but you know....money and timings etc! But one day, who knows :-D
What made you pursue film making?
I saw several films at the cinema when I was really young that always made me want to get into making movies – ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ was one of them and the second was the original ‘Star Wars’ – I think more than anything I have always been a story teller and it is that aspect of taking people on this journey that interests me as film maker.
What is your greatest achievement till date?
In life still being here is probably my biggest achievement, in work it’s probably writing my first book – Diamonds in the Sky - Parousia. It was a completely new craft for me, writing a novel and extremely nerve wracking. I also wasn’t sure if it would be any good but it’s slowly finding its audience and people seem to love it and I also made two short films to go with it. I think most creatives have a good book in them and I kept putting it off so eventually I just went for it. It was a real learning curve and it really challenged me, much more so than writing a script where I have had literally decades to perfect my craft. The most important piece of work I’ve probably done to date would have been my stage plays about the Hillsborough Football Disaster & the Victoria Climbie Inquiry (Performed in 1998 & 2003 respectively) which tackle important issues which needed bringing to the public attention. But ‘The Journey’ the film about my late friend Angela Thomas, will probably always be my greatest achievement because everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong to stop that film from being completed but somehow we managed to finish it.
How do you come up with ideas for your films?
Every idea tends to have a different genesis. Often I am inspired by something I see or read (which was the case with the two plays that I just mentioned.) or it might be something I have personally experienced. The Journey was all about bereavement as by the time I hit the age of 40 I had lost over ten friends under the age of 40, so it was a good way of exploring and coming to terms with those issues. Other times a fictional idea will just come to me. I’ve written a 90 page script before in 72 hours because all the dialogue and characters were already in my head but I’ve taken two years to research another project, the script of which took 6 weeks to write the first draft. Although I am very interested in the true story drama narrative, I write and direct an equal amount of fiction narratives.
Can you tell us more about your upcoming project(s)?
I’m doing some really nice collaborations at the moment, writing scripts for other people. One was a Western which again was a genre I hadn’t done before and I am massive fan, so that was great to tick off and another is a horror. Both of the filmmakers (Patrick Ryder & James Bushe) are really lovely people and these are people who have also assisted me with my own projects in return. I’m currently working on the second Diamonds book which has two new fictional characters whom I have loosely based on two of my favourite living actors, Rhys Darby and Peter Dinklage and in the book they share all their scenes together, so I just picture and hear those actors when I write those scenes which is really fun. There is also ‘Paratrooper’ which is a television drama series which we’re making the pilot episode for and I am writing a different pilot for something else called ‘Presenting Myself’ about a female television presenter in her 40s who is single and reassessing her life. Lots of pro-active grafting going on to open the right doors and move on up as it were.
Do you have any advice for young film makers out there?
Be pro-active and remember no one in this industry is going to give you anything. Just grab whatever camera you can get, even if it’s your phone and go out there and make something. I just saw a film called ‘Searching’ where the entire film is played out through things you only see on line, which is an amazing idea but it’s also something that could have been made by a young film maker. It all starts with a good script though, so if you aren’t a good writer find one and get them on board early on. Film making is collaboration, remember that above everything else. Don’t claim someone else’s idea as your own. Share the glory, there’s plenty of it to go around and your team will thank you for it. Get out there and make some noise. You have to make your own mark and do it such a way that is so loud, those in the higher echelons (with deeper pockets) of the industry can’t afford to ignore you. Above all remember that it’s a business so try and monetise what you do. And if you figure out how to do that, please let me know.
Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful film maker?
No, but it’s a great way to get into debt.
Which film has inspired you the most?
Hmmmmm – gosh so many have inspired me for different reasons at different times. I lost a really good friend of mine called James Ollet when I was at college and ‘Dead Poets Society’ came out about a year later and when I saw the scene with Ethan Hawke running out into the snowing screaming ‘Neil’ really loudly – I thought ‘Wow, that’s me, that’s what I am going through right now…’ So DPS was one of them for sure. Now I find it even harder to watch because of the tragic death of Robin Williams. I think ‘Sometimes in April’ would be another which is an amazing film with Idris Elba that almost no one saw about the Rwandan Genocide and it really highlighted the ineffectual use of the United Nations when the right will is not behind it. That film made me so angry but also deeply disturbed me that we (The West) allowed such a thing to happen in the modern day and age. My favourite directors are Michael Mann, John Carpenter, Peter Weir and Terry Gilliam plus of course the late and great Richard Attenborough to name but a handful.
Which book would you love to make a film out of one day?
Not a book but a graphic novel (well technically a character from a comic because we called them comics back then) Strontium Dog from 2000AD. He’s a mutant half breed whose father tried to disown him and oddly enough looks very similar to Donald Trump. The father is an awful racist who wants to lock all the mutants up and throw away the key – His son Johnny Alpha leads a band of rebels against him. Life imitates art as they say. I’d also love to write scripts for the up and coming Judge Dredd Television series because I grew up reading his stories.
If you got the opportunity to remake a classic, which one would you go for?
Remakes seem to be all the rage these days and I have to say honestly I try and avoid them at all costs. That said I would remake absolutely anything if Judi Dench was signed up to do it but then never say never because three of my favourite films of all time have all been remakes (Scarface, The Thing and Heat)
How do you go about casting for films?
I keep a list of actors I have seen in things that I want to work with or people I have met and get a good vibe about, everyone from those who are really established to those just starting out. Most of the more well-known actors on that list are more the work horses of the industry – people like Donal Logue, Danny Webb and Lindsey Coulson rather than big studio stars. Actors should stay grounded, it’s a job just like any other only more people get to know who you are. When it comes to casting my own work, either we will approach their agent or actors will get seen by my Casting Director normally with myself and the Producer. I always make sure there’s three of us in the room and if we can’t decide over casting a part most of the time I give final say to my CD. I have lots of friends who are actors so this keeps everything completely impartial.
Do you hire casting directors or do it yourself?
I do have a core of go to actors I will call if I have something for them like say a short with only two roles, in which case I might just call people I know but otherwise I always use a Casting Director. I know many low budget film makers don’t use them or if they do they ask for completely unrealistic choices from them for their meagre budget. A good Casting Director will suggest great people you can afford and will bring something great to the project. Their role is greatly underappreciated in the industry. I always use Sharon Sorrentino to cast my work.
What do you look for when choosing actors to audition ie their CV, headshots...
If we’re casting a wide net I would imagine show reels and headshots would be the first thing. Obviously for some roles a certain look can be really important if you’re for example casting a role of someone from history. On Paratrooper we were looking to cast two brothers, so we had to cast two actors who could believably be brothers side by side and we know they looked similar in real life and I didn’t want to change that. So once we cast one part that narrowed down our shortlist for the other role to a look with certain characteristics. You can be surprised though, sometimes you’ll see a role in your head a certain way and someone comes in and really blows you a way and you think ‘wow, they owned that part.’ Ultimately I also like to see how giving actors are to other actors in their audition scenes so from this perspective I prefer when possible, not to cast from a self-tape.
What makes actors stand out?
That’s a really hard one because different people will stand for different reasons but sometimes for the wrong reasons. Always be polite and punctual and if you’re late apologise and say it’s unacceptable, don’t give the reason because no one wants to hear it. I recommended one actor I had worked with for a job and they were twenty minutes late and walked into the room liked they couldn’t care less and didn’t even apologise. It was embarrassing and I had recommended them! Needless to say they didn’t get the part. I like to try and give every actor we audition the chance to do a part twice if there is time and do our best to make them feel as relaxed as possible. At the end of the day it’s better for me to see them at their best and they’re already under pressure as it is. There’s not always time though, so put your best foot forward on your first go and if you want to try something another way, ask if you can do it again. People can always say no.
So do you ever consider actors who don't have a full CV or showreel?
Yes of course, especially for younger roles. Everyone has to start somewhere and some raw talent can often be incredible. I use to go to a lot of showcases and you do see some incredible people there.
Anything else you'd like to add?
We live in the age of social media where followings, likes and crowd funding are all part of both independent but also big budget film. Even Netflix bank rolled the new Scorsese film and that’s because they know he has a global following and can estimate their sales. Yes, you are your own brand now more so than ever but don’t forget to give it back. Take a bit of time every month to support the work of others and don’t wait for people to ask you to do it. Do look for films or plays or creative projects that you think look interesting, where you can see the passion of your peers in the work you see before you. Give someone a personal plug (And I don’t just mean a share) or give someone a shout out on your own Social Media. It doesn’t always have to be someone you know. Now some people will give it back and some won’t but I am a big believer in karma and I’ve met some great and wonderful people that way, so my belief is, if you want people to share and follow your work keep doing the same for them and to that end I would like to plug the work of a good friend of mine, another independent film maker, Simon Cox, who has spent well over a decade bringing to the screen his Science Fiction epic, Kaleidoscope man – there’s a special screening of it on January 26th at the Birmingham IMAX at 7pm, do check it out! I shall be there!
Link - https://www.eventbrite.com/e/kaleidoscope-man-special-audience-test-screening-tickets-53447936216?fbclid=IwAR1kv_jP67SBkaZvmO9-wpNhEtzVh7NP5bON3boKSjDRQ5otCyawZxCFQMk
Writer / Director / Producer - Paratrooper Original Drama Series
Peter Brook Empty Space Award
Time Out's Critics Choice
Best Director St Tropez Film Festival
Jury Prize International Film Festival Milan
Best Talent in New Writing Liverpool Arts & Entertainment Awards