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Midlands Interview - Tommy Draper

By midlandsmovies, Jun 19 2016 11:07PM

Midlands Movies roving reporter Guy Russell interviews local filmmaker Tommy Draper from Nottingham.

Hi Tommy. You’ve recently launched the funding campaign for Songbird, is this a format you’ve used before and if so been successful with?

We, myself and the Triskelle Pictures team, have crowd-funded before. We did it for both Stop/Eject and Night Owls. They were both successful, but it’s not the way we would like to fund our films! It’s always risky to rely on the generosity of others. With Songbird we are creating a fantasy film, a real crowd-pleaser that we know everyone will enjoy, and we have Janet Devlin on-board to star and write original songs for it. Fingers crossed, we will get the money we need to make the movie.

2016 has seen the release of two of your short films Fade and Night Owls, how has their reception been?

Both have been great. Night Owls was screened at the London Short Film Festival, which we (cast and crew) went to. We held our own against all the films backed by Channel 4, BFI, etc, which is impressive as we were totally self-funded. As for FADE, it has been in a couple of festivals and I’ve heard good things from people. It’s little bit different from my normal style. The people who connect with it are really impressed. I’m very happy with the reaction both films get. If you hear of any screenings near you, I recommend giving them a try.

What is your experience working within the filmmaking community in the Midlands? Do you think it’s a good city to work in creatively?

I love working with the filmmaking community in the Midlands. There is so much talent close to home in Derby and Nottingham, and it just spreads out from there. I have been very fortunate to work on some great projects and film them right on my doorstep.

Was there a specific moment that made you start writing and if so what was it?

I have always loved movies, since seeing E.T. at the long gone Heanor cinema. I was in my 20’s though before I decided to try to do something with movies. I was watching an indie film (I don’t even remember the name of it now) and thought ‘I think I can write this’, as you do. So I brought some books on how to write films, and learnt by writing really really bad screenplays! Eventually the bad screenplays turned into not-as-bad screenplays, and it went from there.

We hear so often about the lack of original stories in film today. That we've all "seen it before". How do you stay fresh?

I try not to worry about things like that. I just write what I find works. If I think I’m straying too close to something I’ve seen before, I change direction. But like everybody else, I am influenced by the movies I love. I just try to use those influences in new ways.

Where do you draw your stories from? Personal experiences, people you know?

Where the stories come from, who knows! They can be from watching a scene in a film, listening to a song, or just daydreaming and looking out of the window. When I start to write, I like to add bits of myself in there, bits of people I know and then let the story and characters take over. I think you have to put something personal in there, somewhere. People can tell when things are real and mean something.

When you feel creatively sapped and inspiration is needed for writing what do you do to reignite the fire?

Last year I had bad case of writer’s block, felt low in confidence, couldn’t get anything started. I talked with Sophie Black about the original idea for Songbird, she told me to write it. So, I sat down with a blank page open and worked on it. With the help of some good music and a story I was connected to, I felt inspired and creative again. Sometimes, you just need to start putting one word in front of the other. The inspiration will come, eventually.

What is the one mistake most screenwriters make, regardless of experience?

I have always found that a lot of people start something and can’t finish it. For various reasons, you end up with a half-finished screenplay. The biggest mistake you can make is not finishing that first draft. If you can get that done, you’ll have something to work from, even if it’s bad.

What one piece of advice would you share with fellow screenwriters?

Don’t over think it. I’m terrible for sitting and trying to consider everything that’s going on in a screenplay, to a point where I’m thinking more than writing. Sometimes you just need to work, and same as I have said, finish what you start.

When you are writing, what is the one aspect you have to get right and make sure is perfect?

Tough question. I tend to be more bothered about making sure things are simple. I don’t like it when stories get contrived and characters do things that aren’t natural. If I keep it believable, and the characters honest, I feel like I’ve got a good script.

Is it hard to find time to write? A full time job and being a parent can take up a lot of time I would imagine.

Yes, it’s very hard. When I first had the kid, I spent some nights writing with him in one arm, typing one handed to get the work done! Now, I try to find time for it all, I just don’t sleep much. I have to make time to write, but when I do sit down to write I make sure that I’m focused. I don’t sit waiting for inspiration, I do what needs to be done. If I’m inspired at that moment in time, even better. As long as words are going on paper then the script is getting there.

What should the film/t.v industry be doing for screenwriters that it isn’t?

I would love to find more avenues to get funding to write a script. It’s very hard to get paid to do what I do. Trying to do all the writing while working a day job is tough. Being able to make this the day job would make life a lot easier.

The 2012 horror film Wasteland was your first feature film, have you got plans for anymore?

I have plenty more feature films planned. I am under contract to write two for a director/producer in L.A. I have a feature script with the Pro Kopf team in Germany. A feature script looking for investment over in Poland. And I’m talking with a friend about collaborating on a horror script. Then I have a folder of ideas for ones to write that I haven’t had time for. Oh, there’s also a feature film script of Night Owls in the mix too. So yeah, I have lots of plans!

Ever thought of directing your own work?

No, directing isn’t my thing. I just want to write and collaborate with other talented people to bring the best out of a movie.

What would you say has been a highlight for you so far?

So many highlights. Getting awards for Pro Kopf and Stop/Eject was great. Stop/Eject being long-listed for a BAFTA (we made the final 15), getting Wasteland sold across America in Walmart, getting in London Short Film Festival with Night Owls. I loved all those things. I’ve been pretty lucky.

Apart from Songbird have you got any other projects planned?

Currently I have three short films in post-production with the Pro Kopf crew in Germany. They will be trickling out this year. At the moment I’m mostly focused on all the feature film writing that I mentioned. I have enough projects to last me until the end of the year. You never know which one will land first, so I try to keep working.

If people would like to take part in the funding of Songbird, how can they do so?

They can take a look at our Indiegogo page https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/songbird-a-modern-fantasy-for-music-lovers/x/147432#/ - and we really need the support. We’ve got Janet Devlin (an amazing singer who was in the top 5 in X-Factor 2011) starring and writing songs for it at the moment. It has one of the best cast and crews lined up that I have worked with so far, but if we don’t raise enough funds we can’t make it. And I really want to make it. Any contributions will help us, and there’s a load of great rewards in exchange for your donations but we have just gone £2,000 over our goal for Songbird funding! We're pushing for £10,000 now!

Midlands Movies Guy

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