Tom Paton, director of indie features such as vampire tale Redwood and action-horror Pandorica, talks to us about working with the right people, his latest project Black Site, his experience making the film and screening at at Frightfest this year.
Tell us all about Black Site – what’s it about and where did the story come from?
Black Site is a Lovecraftian action film with a giant heaping of John Carpenter references packed in. The film revolves around a government agency whose job it is to find, capture and deport Elder Gods (Ancient entities older than mankind) back to their own dimension. The film began life as a script called Supernatural Max, about a prison holding Lovecraftian creatures, before it evolved into a sort of Guantanamo Bay deportation site for these eons-old creatures. It’s a love letter to the movies that inspired me to start making films in the first place.
How did you go about getting the budget for the film?
My previous movies Pandorica and Redwood had picked up a lot of attention and momentum and I was approached by a guy called Alvin Adams who was looking to invest in something outlandish and fun. I pitched Black Site and before I knew it we were in an underground military base shooting these big fight sequences.
How was shooting the film? Was it exactly as planned, or torrential trouble-shooting?
Has there ever been a movie in the history of filmmaking that went entirely to plan? I don’t think that’s part of the job description. But being pragmatic is. As a director I see my job as a Problem Solver. There will be a myriad of problems on any given day and my skill set is staying calm, figuring out a solution and pulling off the vision I have with whatever I have available to me. I think that’s why I’m able to work so quickly and move from film to film.
It’s not your first feature, nor is it your last! How did making Black Site compare to Redwood and the upcoming Stairs?
So Black Site is my third feature film, and I’ve literally just wrapped production on my 4th, a time travel horror war movie called Stairs. As a filmmaker, obviously I’m hoping to get better with every film and keep raising my game, but my movies are like children...I’m proud of them all even if some of them got better grades in school than the others. The process is very much the same on every film though, I have a strong idea for what I want from the scripts I’ve written and because I’m also the editor on each of the films I know how I want to carry that into completion. It’s really worth learning as many facets of your craft as you can, I believe.
What would you say is the biggest lesson you’ve learned across the making of the three films?
The biggest lesson I’ve picked up is that you can’t control everything no matter how hard you try, and some people will really let you down, even when you were certain they wouldn’t. Surround yourself with people you share common goals with and who trust you to get the project over the finish line. A director is literally nothing without the crew so find the people who treat you right and make sure you treat them right in return.
You collaborate with many of the same people from project to project, what does having a tight-knit unit like that mean to you?
Like I said above, it’s the people around you that make a project sink or swim. It’s the same with the actors I work with. There’s a trust and a bond formed when you go through an indie film together that tightens up with each film. We’re constantly growing and evolving that family with each new movie though.
You’re fresh from the Frightfest screening, how did that go and what was the overall experience like?
Frightfest has been a real launch pad for me as a director since they screened Redwood in the opening night line up last year. But with Black Site the experience was so much bigger and exciting. We sold out our 300 seat screen pretty quickly and it was amazing to share the movies first big screen outing with such a receptive audience. It seemed to go over well and the reviews have been more than awesome so far. Getting into Frightfest has been a turning point for a lot of directors and I’m honoured to be taking a similar path.
Did you catch any other films at the festival you’d recommend?
I did, I watched Upgrade and absolutely loved it. Big shout out to The Book Of Monsters team too who really deserve the accolades they are currently getting.
What’s next for you?
So I’ve just wrapped production on Stairs, which was exec produced by Steve Mosley, and I couldn’t be prouder of the movie. So post production begins on that and I’ve got a few other things cooking that you’ll be hearing about soon I’m sure.
What advice would you give a short filmmaker looking to make their first feature?
The best piece of advice I can give you is that if you feel ready to do a feature film then don’t let budget or fear hold you back. With iPhones, Filmic Pro, Osmo mobiles and other ultra cost-efficient ways of filming, there’s nothing holding you back anymore so go for it.
You can follow Tom on Twitter: @TomPatonFilm