I am over the moon to bring you an interview with the lovely writer/director Jo Southwell. Chosen by That Film Festival to create, shoot and screen a short at the prestigious Berlin Film Festival with the futuristic Carol, she recently won ‘Best Live Read’ at British Urban Film Festival with her feature drama Loyalty co-written with Fiona Hunnisett selected by HBO.
Jo thank you very much for taking the time to chat with me today. Tell us about yourself and what makes you tick creatively.
I was introduced to film at a very early age - the experience of escapism, smell of popcorn and sitting in the dark, hooked me from day one. As a child I was drawn to mythology, Star Wars especially, and this carried on into my adult life when I studied Theology and Media in Leeds. My dissertation examined mythology and religion in sci-fi films.
Story for me is the biggest influence, whether it is a comedy or high-end drama, I have to believe the characters and story arc. As a director I am now more aware of sets, shot choices and how to make a scene look the way I want it too. I love watching films and TV and if the story is there and the actors are great, I’ll watch it!
How has the COVID-19 lockdown been for you so far?
COVID has been a strange time. The overwhelming sensation of total unknown. Will we work again? Will we get on set again? How will my projects in development be affected? Over the last week as things are starting to move slightly, I can see a light at the end of the tunnel.
You have a solid background of work in short films – how important are they for a filmmaker as they start out do you think?
I think shorts are a great place to learn your craft and develop story, and the understanding of how to make a story work in less time than more. Really great place for all filmmakers to start.
As a finalist in That Film Festival and part of that was to create a short Carol which was screened at Berlin Film Festival in 2019. Can you tell us what that experience was like for you as a filmmaker?
Gaining the opportunity to go to Berlin and have a short screened was quite simply brilliant. The experience gave me a further opportunity to shoot a film with a high-end feel under pressure.
Jon East has been an inspirational mentor for me. He was so generous with his time and knowledge and he really gave me the foundation to look at how I prepare and execute my shoots. I would say that as a result I am now a really efficient storyteller, being able to make shot choices early on that will communicate the story with style and intention.
Your upcoming feature film, co-written with Fiona Hunnisett, Loyalty won the ‘Best Live Read’ competition at the British Urban Film Festival chosen by HBO, which is fantastic, huge congratulations! What is Loyalty about?
Loyalty at BUFF was a brilliant accolade. Over the last few months I have co-written a new draft which is being read by producers at this time.
“A gritty thriller feature set in the modern-day criminal underworld of London - When her gangster brother is kidnapped by a drug-lord, an upstanding but reclusive teacher must risk everything by plunging into the criminal underworld to save him.”
Next steps are finalising funding.
You have created some beautifully nuanced performances from actors in your films, what is your process as a Director?
Performance is key for me in my work, finding the right actors that embody the characters. As a director if we have rehearsal time it will always help, if only to establish trust with my actors. I always try to keep an open mind for the shoot day. Magic happens on set!
Do you have any top tips for up and coming filmmakers?
Make films you’re are passionate about - always.
You can follow Jo on Twitter: @JoSouthwell