Whaam! Shorts Q+A with Director John McPhail on 'Notes'
WS: Notes is interesting in that you'd never previously directed or written a short before. You were working as a camera assistant, so how did the film come about? To be honest I was really lost at the time, I never knew where I was going, what I was doing, I'd thought about becoming a stand up comedian, an actor, an A/D, props, production. I wasn't enjoying my time in the camera department, not because of the people, I LOVED who I was working with. I felt like I had all this creative energy and I just wasn't able to channel it into anything. So I wrote Notes. WS: Was it a make or break moment? Did it feel like you had a lot to prove, and if so in what way did that manifest? Looking back it wasn't make or break, at the time I'd maybe put a bit of pressure on myself to make a good film, but I think that's how most people feel. This was more of an opportunity for me to show the stories I can tell and in the way that I like. It was also a hell of a lot of fun, I got to work with some of my best friends at the time. We all put so much pressure on ourselves with our first films. No one's first film is going to be amazing, the main thing is you enjoy it, be creative, and learn. The only way you fail at making a film is by not learning from your mistakes WS: Where did you start? What previous experience did you have in shorts, and did you seek help elsewhere? I started like most people by going to college and university and learning the basics, I specialised in camera but I still listened and watched while I was out on sets, watched how directors worked, what everyone's jobs was and why is it important. I think the more on set experience you get the more it can help you find a style and a way of working. My self and the producer Andrew where working together on Waterloo road, our sound guy was the trainee and my camera team was made up of my mate Bob and another camera assistant at Waterloo road. When I told Tyler about the film he was eager to be part of it and fancied scoring it. It wasn't easy getting crew together I mind I asked a guy who I was working with if he'd want to help. He laughed at me and said "why would I want to come help you make a short film on my day off" I was hurt but, that's what happens, not everyone will get behind you on your first few shoots so get used to that.
WS: How long was the shoot, and what kit did you use? We shot the film over a weekend, at the end if the first day Tyler, Bob and myself ordered pizza and sat up till 4am plastering the kitchen in post it notes, it was a silly idea to stay up that late, but we had a ball and it was one of the highlights of the shoot. The film was shot on the C300 and most people wont know this but it's all shot on a mini jib. We didn't have time for setting up track, and the mini jib gave us that movement of the camera being on a track with none of the set up time.
WS: What was the post production plan? Did you do it yourself, did you wait a long time after the shoot? One of my friends is an editor and a comedy writer so it was perfect to get him on board for the edit, and Stuart was awesome, he's got a weird since of humour which I always liked about him, Stuart when onto edit the full trilogy of shorts. WS: How did it feel to have made your first short? It wasn't until we got a first cut that I thought, hey this isn't bad, and got pretty excited about putting it into festivals. I don't think there was a time I was unhappy with it, since it was my first proper short I was just excited to be making it. I remember the withoutabox email coming in to say we had been selected for our first festival. I was buzzing. I turned up 2 hours early for the festival starting I was that excited. WS: What's inspiring about this film is how successful it became, which is very unusual for a first short. When did you realise you had a good film on your hands and how did you get that out to people?It's notoriously difficult to promote and market a short so how did you do it? It's funny I don't think we pushed it too much on the marketing, I think because it picked up so many awards in its first few months on the festival circuit. I also have to give massive thanks to the bootleg film festival who gave us out first screening and first award, from that one screening we got fans, people really enjoyed it and wanted to see more. In fact most of the people from that screening are still championing us and still asking for more.
WS: It's been an important milestone in your career as it eventually allowed you to make an even more successful feature. How do you feel about it now? I will always love Notes, it was the film that helped me find myself as a story teller. All the years growing up I was never really good at anything, I was always a middle of the road actor (as a kid). I struggled for years to be able to play the guitar, I was a bad footballer, if I ever got an award it was for participation. I've never been naturally good at anything well until I made Notes. WS: The film was essentially made of your own back. How important do you think it is to push forward with ideas when there seems to be very little in the way of established schemes? Schemes have boxes they need to tick and you might not be in those boxes, you might not have enough experience, or want to tell they stories they do. When you make the film its your choice, it's your choice to spend that money, it's your choice in your team, the story you tell, the cast you pick, there is less pressure so it allows you to make the mistakes you need to become a better film maker WS: What do you hope that Whaam! Shorts can do for emerging filmmakers? I hope people see that they aren't alone, and that the only person stopping you make that film in your head is you. WS: What advice do you have for anyone thinking of doing what you did – essentially new directors who are wondering if they should take the plunge? Please go out and do it. Don't be scared to fail, and if the film is shit, you can burry it deep and no has to see it, and the only way you can fail is if you don't learn from your mistakes. Be brave step out of your comfort zone and be will to work with everyone and anyone who wants to work with you
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