This week we have the pleasure of speaking to more Exit 6 alumni, Lewis Carter and Kristian Kane of Fine Rolling Media (Royal and Campfire Story). We catch up with them about Showdown, their latest directorial project which focuses on autism and features a young autistic actor in the lead role.
Hi Lewis and Kris, tell us about Showdown and what's the inspiration behind it?
Kris: We were on a long drive to a corporate shoot and Lewis dropped this new script called Showdown in my lap - and it just hooked me. You know it’s a good script when you can picture the movie playing in your head in real time – and I thought we had something special on our hands with this story. That was about 2 years ago and due to a busy work load we didn’t have the time to move into production straight away, but this strange story about a young boy with autism who loved cowboys became this constant talking point in the office for over a year. Eventually it came to a point where we just had to make it.
Lewis: I spent a lot of time in this small village called Bedlinog in South Wales when I was growing up, and I always knew it would be the perfect setting for a Western movie. So, I started thinking about what the archetypal Western gunslinger hero would look like if I re-imagined him in a modern-day, working-class setting. I was as surprised as anyone when it turned out that I was seriously picturing him as an 11-year-old autistic boy. I told Kris my initial ideas and he totally got what I was going for – which was a relief! From there I knew I had something worth exploring.
The young lead, Charlie Lock, has autism – did you learn a lot about the condition while you were filming and how did you go about the casting process?
Lewis: When I knew I wanted to write the character of Sam as an autistic child, I did an initial period of research, but as autism is a spectrum condition, I knew that whoever was cast would bring so much of their own experience of autism to the role. So, I deliberately didn’t delve too far into it during pre-production. Charlie taught us more than we can ever imagine. He’s a great ambassador for autism awareness, and he was the only person we looked at for the role. We’ve never told him this, but the part was his as soon as he walked through the door.
Kris: I feel like I learned not to pigeon-hole autistic people. In my eyes I now look at autism as a positive in most cases. With Charlie, because everything is very structured on a film set, he thrived under those conditions. The casting process was short because Charlie just got it. It almost felt like fate. Casting Charlie was by far the easiest part of making this film.
Do you think actors with disabilities are still greatly underrepresented in film, or (hopefully) do you think the opportunities are improving?
Kris: I think they’re improving. There is a lot more awareness on behalf of filmmakers that they are doing themselves a disservice if they refuse to cast authentic actors in a role just because they are neurodiverse or not ‘of the norm.’ I’m sure there is a long way to go but there does seem to be a shift in the right direction.
Lewis: I’m certainly not qualified to make a judgment on that. And after working with Charlie and our Exec Producer, Richard Mylan, we don’t really consider autism as a disability – at least in the case of Charlie and Erin – our two autistic actors. But I’d like to think people are more and more open to casting outside the norm every day.
How long did it take you to produce Showdown and what obstacles (if any) did you have on the way?
Lewis: Too long is always my answer to that. Probably far longer than I ever thought I’d spend making a short film but when you make a film that seeks to represent and appeal to the autistic community, you can’t really rush it. Our biggest obstacle came from the climactic showdown scene in the film, which takes place in a corner shop. Due to the blocking of the scene, we needed the shop layout to be a specific way and we just could not find a shop anywhere that would conform to our needs! Luckily, our amazing prop guru, Hywel Rose, solved the problem by building a prop counter so we could re-align the shop layout to work for our showdown set-piece.
Kris: It’s taken nearly a year since we went into production. The obstacles we had to overcome largely came from being an indie-production, everyone had at least three roles on crew for example – and we had to cram the whole production into a three-day shoot. But with our amazing cast and crew we pulled it off. Every obstacle feels like it will be the one that kills off the movie, but then you just find a way to solve it and move on to the next one. We feel like the challenges that this film threw at us made us better problem solvers and filmmakers.
Let’s go back a little bit and talk about you – did you always want to make films?
Kris: I knew I wanted to do something in the film world, but I wasn’t sure what exactly. I’ve always loved documentaries, but since I’ve worked with Lewis we’ve really embraced the narrative side of filmmaking. Even with our brand films and corporate work we now look to incorporate a story into everything. I’m an entrepreneur at heart, and I’ve been lucky to create a company around my passion for filmmaking, I can’t see myself stopping any time soon.
Lewis: I always wanted to tell stories. When I was younger, I guess I would have said I want to write books or something like that. I never had grand ambitions of directing, but when we made our first film, ‘Campfire Story’, I didn’t want my role to end by handing a script over to someone and hoping for the best. Now I see filmmaking as a natural extension of the writing and storytelling process, and I’ll do it for as long as I’m allowed to get away with it!
Royal was a documentary, while Campfire Story and Showdown are both fiction – what genre do you prefer working in?
Lewis: I consume more horror than any other genre, so I guess it’s no surprise that my first film was a horror and I’ve recently been involved in another horror short as a producer, but I love all genres to be honest. I never thought I’d make a documentary – but I’ve come to love the way that the form relies on a storyteller with a strong vision in order to form a narrative out of factual events. Real life doesn’t conform to the trappings of genre that we love to play with as filmmakers, but when making Royal, we still felt a strong responsibility to place something in front of an audience that has a pleasing rhythm and tempo. It’s not a million miles away from making a fictional film. I’d definitely do another documentary if the right story came along.
Kris: Documentaries are still my first love but working on Showdown and Campfire Story has opened my eyes to what you can explore with genre. I think I’d honestly try any kind of genre at least once – as long as you’ve got a good story! You have to know the rules of the genre your working in without feeling like you’re constrained by them. With Showdown it was obvious we were making a Western, but it was interesting to see how far you could experiment within that genre.
You both wear multiple hats - Lewis, you’re a writer and director, Kris you pull double duty as a cinematographer and director – do you each have a role you prefer, or are you happy to spread your talents?
Kris: At the moment, I love doing everything from directing to editing – and even marketing and exhibiting the film. One thing I want to differently in the future is to sit back as a director and focus my efforts into that one role. But as you know, with a lot of indie projects, that’s not always possible.
Lewis: Writing is my default state. If the writing is going well then it feels like I’m walking on air, but it can also be the loneliest part of the filmmaking process. It’s been a steep learning curve, but I do love directing. I think working with the actors and seeing how, with the correct direction, they take your characters on and give them life is one of the most special experiences I’ve ever had. I also love the editing process as it really does feel like you’re writing the final draft of the film – only this time I have Kris next to me to joke around with.
You’ve also directed music videos, how different is that to directing a short film?
Lewis: There’s no dialogue – which always scares me at first, but then you get down to the real business of telling your story entirely through visuals and music, and you realise that that is filmmaking in its purest form. So, you had nothing to be afraid of in the first place – apart from certain musician’s egos.
Kris: Not much is different for us. Lewis scripts everything and we like to use actors and the same crew we use on our short films. To be honest, everything we do now feels like a short film because our process is so deeply rooted in the story behind the video. If I had to narrow in on a difference, I’d say that you’re able to experiment more with music videos. They don’t have to conform to the same level of realism that short films often do. We’ve made some pretty wacky lighting choices in music videos that would not fly in our short films.
As you know, Exit 6 is a great showcase for film makers both experienced or just starting out. For those who are thinking about making their first short, what advice would you give?
Kris: Collaborate with as many different creatives as possible. Especially people that can do things that you can’t. If you can’t write a script, don’t just wing it, find a writer. Don’t cast every single one of your friends as your characters, find people who genuinely love acting convince them to collaborate with you. Collaboration is key! Don’t be afraid to jump into something that scares you. With the right team you can do anything.
Lewis: I can only really think of two pieces of advice. The first being, make sure you make a short film – not something that feels like it’s a scene from a longer film, or a sketch. Those may feel like petty distinctions but they’re not. Films, no matter their length, should take you on a definitive journey inside a self-contained world. The second piece of advice; just make it. Learn by doing. If you hate yourself and your movie at the end of the process, learn what went wrong and make another one until your happy. Or, at least as happy as any self-loathing perfectionist can be.
Finally, can you tell us about any new projects you have coming out in the future?
Kris & Lewis: We’re looking forward to hopefully bringing Showdown to Exit 6. It really is one of our favourite festivals. We’ve always got our eye on the next big creative project - it’s just finding the right time to launch into it. But we’ll continue to support each other in our creative endeavors, and we hope to continue to collaborate for many years to come.
Follow Lewis on Twittter: @Fictionist4Hire
Fine Rolling Media: @FineRoling
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