Midlands Interview - Award winning director Andrew Rutter
Filmmaker Andrew Rutter recently won Leicester’s 2017 The Short Cinema Main Competition Award for Best Film which is the culmination of many years hard work for the local director. Mike Sales interviews Andrew who tells us more about his winning film and more.
Midlands Movies Mike: Hi Andrew, congratulations on your win! The Short Cinema is a great event for the region so are you from the area at all?
Andrew Rutter: Hi and thanks very much! Well it all started for me in the Black Country where I was born and raised. I grew up in a small area called Rowley Regis where my brother and I would rope our school mates in to making horror films with us using the family camcorder. We managed to produce all sorts of whacky stuff, a few zombie films and our own little homage to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre at one point. Aside from a brief stint in backyard wrestling we very much enjoyed making horror films. Fast forward to now, I’m a freelance filmmaker full time. Of course I work a lot in corporate video to pay the bills but I tend to turn my hand to all sorts of film production, continuously trying to carve some sort of career out of all this madness!
MMM : And when did that home-made filmmaking become more professional?
AR: Well, I guess I started working “Professionally” right out of the gate after my stint at Wolverhampton University in 2011. I landed a freelance editing job cutting toy adverts so that helped me financially and grow professionally. When not working I was continuously shooting Music Videos for next to nothing, fully realising that I kind of had to build a brand new portfolio since the DSLR movement had swept the filmmaking scene and the bar had been raised.
I found it quite hard to navigate to where I am now, and even still I find it difficult because freelance is such a life that is all about unpredictability, not fully knowing if a job is coming through or not. The key factors for me were making friends and making cool art. I always believed that if you strived hard to make the best possible thing you can, time and time again, then eventually it’d be hard for people to ignore you.
MMM: So do your films focus on any particular genres or themes?
AR: It’s weird really as I pretty much grew up on genre movies, but my work tends to blend a lot of stuff, or at least that’s what’s going on in my head during the process. As a kid I made horror movies, but I haven’t made a horror film since then. I’m a big fan of dark comedy, quite a few past Music Videos have gone down that route and I think I’m leaning more in to that for some future shorts I have in mind. I kind of fell into music videos because they had a formula that meant you could get your ideas funded but you’d just have to tailor them to some music. I’m at a point now though where I want to fully dive in to all sorts of genre filmmaking.
MMM: You just mentioned the problems of balancing the corporate and freelance work but what have been other difficult hurdles you have overcome?
AR: It’s very difficult to pin point as I can honestly say my whole ‘career’ has been a constant struggle. Building a network of people, establishing regular work, detecting untrustworthy people, the list goes on. Then there’s the difficult reality of trying to navigate the film industry, which is this insane beast; to ‘break in’ to something riddled with elitism and blind luck. I didn’t come from money or have an uncle in the biz, just an encouraging mother, a camcorder and loads of ideas. Early on I really struggled with the notion of working with other people for a long time, I hated that I needed other people to make my films. I couldn’t tell you how many times I was let down by people I thought were trustworthy, at the risk of sounding really negative, I grew to dislike the industry after meeting so many bull-shitters. The positives from this though is that I learnt a lot from these people, it’s been useful to be stung a few times because my bullshit radar is pretty strong now! The reality is that you need to find the right people, sometimes it’s just a small tight-nit group of friends that will fight to get your film made and as a result champion each other’s talents through success.
I think the biggest challenges over time have not been the physical graft but my mental state. It’s hard to get anything done when your mind is rooting against you, filmmaking can be a lonely journey and when you do eventually meet these liars, they contribute to the gradual chipping away at your own mental stability, often causing doubt in your own ability. I’ve been fortunate to find strength in loved ones and other filmmakers who are also chasing this crazy dream. There’s a whole lot of inspiring stuff being produced all over the world so I think it just takes giving yourself that time to absorb some of it and recharge your batteries - a great cure for any negative thinking!
MMM: And how was the shoot for Ultrasound and how did you get involved in it?
AR: The shoot was very challenging as it was my most ambitious piece to date. The band were great, they literally gave me free reign over what the film could be and left me to it. I came to work with the band a few years ago, I was literally just a fan that sent them a tweet along the lines of “Let me do your next video”. They called my bluff and a few weeks later I was in Hastings doing the first video with them. A couple years later they had album three coming out, they invited me to the studio and that’s where I first heard ‘Kon-Tiki’. I knew from that moment that it was the one I’d do a film for.
A lot of things went wrong during the shoot, a producer dropped out at an awkward time and I became buried in multi-tasking alongside the DOP Christopher Hood. We shot for around 5 days, lead by location availability really, which was primarily Wolverhampton, Wales, Peterborough and an evening in Leicester. I was running on 3 hours sleep for most of it, barely eating and generally a silly mess. For all it’s hardships a lot did go right on the shoot, it had to or we’d have been well and truly…
This shoot also happened to be the last with my good friend Keith ‘Casablanca’ Whitehouse who sadly left this world not long after the film came out. I was so happy he got to see his work in it, that he really loved it and supported it massively. Whilst he plays a rather negative character in the film, I have a huge smile when his face pops up on the big cinema screens that it’s been playing across recently.
MMM: And which do you have any heroes or people who have influenced you from the film industry?
AR: My heroes of the industry have kinda changed as I’ve grown up. I managed to meet a few when I was in my early teens. At thirteen I attended a TROMA master class in London with my brother where we got to meet and talk with Lloyd Kaufman, a real champion of independent cinema. I got to briefly meet John Waters and George A. Romero many years ago too, both who’ve made extremely influential films. Seeing John Carpenter play his music live last year was also a beautiful treat.
There are so many great filmmakers out there now doing amazing things, I’m a frequent visitor of Vimeo, which is a great injection of inspiration when you need it. The filmmaking duo DANIELS I’ve followed for a few years on there, watching their journey from Music Videos to feature film Swiss Army Man is amazing. Nowadays though I find my heroes to be the people who are fighting to get their films made, the ones who are pushing on regardless of doubt and naysayers. I suppose it transcends film though, artists in general have a positive effect on me when I see what they’ve been through to get something made.
MMM: And what do you think has been your greatest achievement on your journey so far?
AR: I don’t have any defining moments of success to be honest; it’s been a series of little victories that have kept me going over the years. Last year I learnt to drive and bought myself a car, which I was pretty proud of, as it’d been something that tormented me for years! Every project I’ve completed has been a victory for me, knowing that something exists because I willed it to, whether it’s good or bad doesn’t matter. So many people don’t get past the ideas part of the process so to have something actually exist in the world is a win, to get accolades for it is a bonus.
MMM: And for the obligatory “impossible” question – what are your favourite films?
AR: I live and breathe all kinds of cinema and my top ten is forever changing. As a kid I was introduced to stuff like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Dawn of the Dead, and John Carpenter’s The Fog. In early high school I saw Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste, which was a massive influence; the behind the scenes of that film alone is a testament to him as a filmmaker. When I reached my teens I was discovering a bunch of stuff from David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Jan Svankmajer, Terry Gilliam, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Roman Polanski, Werner Herzog and so many more. I fell in to a deeper world of film and it all opened up for me during my teens. It was magical stumbling upon something that blew your mind; in college it was stuff like Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Boogie Nights, Todd Solondz’s Happiness. Even now I’m still catching stuff I missed out on, such as Tarkovsky’s Stalker and the work of Kenneth Anger.
MMM: With The Short Cinema win now in the bag what can we expect next from Andrew Rutter?
AR: I’m developing a few short narrative films at the moment; I’ve done a lot of Music Videos and Documentaries so I’m trying to push myself in to some narrative shorts that aren’t either of those. I’m not ruling out anything though as you just never know what may present itself at the right time.
MMM: And finally, what are your favourite Midlands films and is there anyone for our readers to look out for?
AR: I’ll use this moment to plug my brother’s new film which he’s just released as you couldn’t get any more Midlands than this. It’s called Bella in the Wych Elm and you should definitely check it out here
MMM: Wow! I didn’t know you were related and we reviewed his film earlier in the year. Huge thanks for speaking to us today Andrew.
AR: A pleasure.
Check out Andrew’s showreel below and follow the filmmaker on Twitter here https://twitter.com/AJRutter