Midlands Movies writer Guy Russell interviews local Nottingham director Liam Banks, owner of SuperFreak Media – a an independent production company creating short films packed with a nostalgic punch and specialising in horror…
Congratulations on finishing 3rd at the 24hour Film Challenge at the Derby Film Festival, are you happy with the reception Wreckage received?
Hello, thanks for having me. I’m a big fan of the site! Myself and the team attended the screening and were blown away by everyone’s comments and kind words. It was great to place and the other finalists were incredible so it was an honour to be up there with them. We set ourselves the challenge of creating a zombie film with a difference, knowing full well it was almost frowned upon to create a zombie short in the competition. In the previous years there had been quite a few, so it was great to place and generate a reaction like we had with the audience.
What is your experience making films in the Derby area? Do you think this is a good city to make films in?
Well I studied at the University of Derby for 3 years and have since moved back to Nottingham. In my time at University it was a great place to explore and find new locations in. I think that’s where Derby’s strength lies, it has some great locations and a lot of great people who are open to helping you out. I think similarly to Nottingham there is a growing network of creatives in Derby with QUAD at the centre. Nottingham is a lot more prolific I think when it comes to filmmaking, the majority of filmmakers I know are from Nottingham. With that being said in the last couple of years I have found myself heading back to Derby to direct funded projects with the help/guidance of people involved with QUAD. I think all over the midlands, filmmaking and the creative arts are really being bought to peoples attention, in the last few years especially the support from all over has been incredible. Both Derby and Nottingham have monthly/bi monthly screening nights whether it be Five Lamps in Derby or Short Stack in Nottingham. These events are vital for filmmakers like me, there is a real encouragement from the community to be generating fresh content all the time.
Where do you draw your stories from? Personal experiences, people you know or do you come up with them completely on your own?
The stories I like to tell vary, and where they come from varies. It’s not often I will collaborate with someone on a script or a story I want to tell, but this is something I am looking to change. I like to be open to inspiration however I can, I have a journal by my bed in case something comes to me before bed or after a dream (cliché I know) or I have a small notepad in my bag I carry with me.
The majority of your short films have a horror element, is this your favourite genre to work with?
Horror is my favourite genre, to work within, to watch, everything! I think it is often a genre that is overlooked, the performances and the creativity behind them are often so different to any other kind of film. Working on set I always have the most fun making a horror, the energy from everyone is just amazing. When a film is complete I always love when I am lucky enough to go along, to check out an audience’s reaction to my work. Horror is one of the only genres with a key intention – to scare people. Just like a comedy if you don’t get the right ingredients together it could fall short, so it is always rewarding to see a scare land or hear an audience scream.
Which director(s) career do you look at and wish to emulate one day?
There are plenty of directors I look up to, particularly those that have a strong visual flare. I think anyone can tell a story but a great director to me is one that really puts their own stamp on their work, watching it you immediately know whose work it is. Being a great fan of horror, a lot of the directors I love are strong genre players. I do apologise as I anticipate my answer being quite lengthy to this question.
John Carpenter is a huge influence who I could only hope to be compared to one day. His body of work is so diverse yet he retains such a unique style. The 80’s are a great era for me to look at and draw from and I think he is the most quintessential director of that decade. The likes of James Wan and Ti West are contemporary directors I really look up to as modern masters of horror. Wan has done so well to bring horror back into the forefront of popular cinema with the likes of ‘Insidious’ and ‘The Conjuring’.
Have you ever envisioned any of your shorts as features first?
I haven’t ever seen any of my shorts as a feature, to be honest it has only been recently that I have thought of taking on my first feature. It is of course something I have always wanted to do, but not something I have yet felt ready to take on. I haven’t up until now really written something I felt needed to be told at features length. Now the other way around, that has happened. There are plenty of my shorts that I feel could be moments of a much larger tale upon reflection.
Do you aim to make a feature within the next five years?
Yes. After getting Mr Creak screened on BBC Three last October, it was important for me to not lose that momentum and let the story evolve. As I said, some of the shorts I have created feel like moments from a larger story. Since releasing Mr Creak and hearing great feedback I decided that this was to be my first feature. The short itself is now a scene within a much longer, expanded story.
What excites you most about filmmaking? Which is your favourite period of making a film?
To be honest I truly love all aspects of filmmaking. I think one of the most exciting times of making a film is at the conception of an idea. Right at the start when you’re not worrying about shots, camera set ups or fixing things in post, when you have that fire with the initial idea and you feel like it could go anywhere – I wish I could bottle that, it’s so exciting. With that being said I must say that being alongside an audience and seeing them react to your work in the way you could only dream of completely eclipses that. Knowing that all your hardwork has paid off and you have entertained an audience and made them feel something is magic.
When you are making films, what is the one aspect you have to get right and make sure is perfect?
Performance. Performance is key when you want to tell a story. It can undo everything you have worked so hard to create, with all the budget, props, costuming, everything. If a performance is not convincing and you can’t feel that spark on set, it won’t come across on camera and resonate with your audience. I think this is something that I have really come to understand as a director. I of course have a long way to go and will always be learning when it comes to directing, but I have made sure my focus remains on performance, no matter what genre, to ensure the film will be the best it can be.
Are you a Fincher/Kubrick type of perfectionist who will get 100 takes to get it just right? Or more of a Clint Eastwood cut it and move on type? Why is this?
I am a perfectionist and Fincher is someone I really look up to. Both him and Kubrick have really elevated cinema to an art form. If I have the time to go a few times on one scene I will, the more you have to play with in the edit the better, even a subtle change to a performance can change the tone of a scene entirely, so I always like to give myself options in post.
What would you say is the hardest part of independent filmmaking?
I think there are many challenges when it comes Indie Filmmaking. One of the main problems lies in the word ‘indie’. It’s key to network and try to bring as many people on board who can help out when you want to bring something to life. A lot of the challenges I come across are ambition sometimes outweighing capability, some things simply can’t be done on a shoe string budget, an alien invasion for example. But this is where things get creative, instead of showing it in full Hollywood glory, allude to it and it opens up a whole new viewpoint on something quite familiar. Budget is often something that bothers me, I can’t always afford to pay everyone involved in my projects and I really wish I could. I am lucky as a lot of people involved in my work, donate so much time and energy, it would be great to give back.
What would you say has been a highlight for you so far?
I have been incredibly lucky, with the body of my work so far, it has toured the world and made it to national television. I couldn’t really ask for more. Something that will always be a proud moment for me would my short ‘Mr Creak’ opening up ‘THE FEAR’ on BBC Three last Halloween. I entered the competition on the off chance we would get in or at least it’d be a step in the right direction. I got a phone call the same day we submitted the film to say the producers loved it. After a few months of waiting I got a phone call to say we made it to the show out of over 850 entries. That alone was incredible.
Leaving University myself and the production team behind ‘The Copy-Writer’ pushed our film out to festivals all over the world. We were blown away by the response and to know it was being screened in countries I hadn’t even visited yet. The big one really came when we found out our little short would be shown on the big screen of the Chinese Theatre in LA. When I got the email I nearly fainted, like this is the place where Star Wars had its premiere!
What kind of career would you ultimately want?
It would be great to experience both. I would love to one day work to a similar degree to Del Toro and have a big studio budget genre film on my hands, at the same time though I find some of my best work comes from times I have had to use my initiative and get creative. I think the more you have at your disposal the easier it is to use that use of creativity. It would be great to one day work with the backing of a studio like Blumhouse or James Wan’s new production company Atomic Monster that specialise in low budget horror. I would love to create something that is released world wide and hits the masses, fundamentally as a filmmaker we just use film as a way to tell our stories.
What one piece of advice would you share with fellow twenty-something filmmakers?
This is the time to push as hard as you can.It’s not as glamorous as I guess everyone would expect but it’s a start, supporting myself fully from my film work is great. Before life gets in the way its great to push harder with my career and build a foundation for myself. To other people my age I would just say try it! Never give up, so many people I have known along the way so far have given up and it really upsets me. I live and breathe film so I couldn’t imagine not having that in my life.
Have you had a chance to think about your next project?
Which one? I always have plenty in the pipeline, I sat down the other day actually and planned the next year out month by month. For too long I have let plenty of ideas go by the wayside and not come to fruition. I of course always have a horror short planned for this coming Halloween, for the last 6/7 years now I have been putting out a fresh horror short online, it’s kind of become a tradition. The Mr Creak feature is still being written and developed, and no doubt will take plenty of time so will keep me busy. I have some other shorts planned that sit a little out of my comfort zone which I am really looking forward to shooting in the coming months, this year especially I have tried to push myself in some new directions.
Midlands Movies Guy Russell