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THOUGHTS ON SHORTS: ACTOR-TURNED-DIRECTOR PATRICK MYLES ON SANTA’S BLOTTO

Santa's Blotto posterI don’t know about you but I think “We need to talk about Christmas”. And I’m sure actor-turned-director Patrick Myles would agree, since this is the witty tagline of his second short film, Santa’s Blotto starring Brian Blessed, a very successful short that won international distribution and can also be found on iTunes.

SYNOPSIS: Last year, 7 year old Jonny sent a letter to Santa asking for a quite specific present. He didn’t get it. This year, Jonny has his own little surprise in store for Santa…

Patrick Myles is an actor, writer, director and producer. He was raised in Ireland and Cyprus and trained at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. His stage work includes: Love’s a LuxuryA Chorus of Disapproval (written and directed by Alan Ayckbourn), Icons and EverafterTartuffePera PalasThe Freedom of the CityThe Lady’s not for BurningThe Revenger’s TragedyRomeo and JulietOthello, Harold Pinter’s Victoria Station.His film and TV credits include: PlanespottingThe Bill, Secret Smile and Red Thursday. For his acting work, he was nominated for the Laurence Olivier Bursary and Best Supporting Actor Award at Thessaloniki Film Festival.

His first short film as writer/director was Anthropopopometry, with Peter McDonald and Lloyd Hutchinson. He also co-wrote Will: The Lost Years, which won the Channel Four/Stellar Network Pitch Up 2009. Santa’s Blotto is his second film and he is currently developing an action/horror feature and several sitcom ideas.

In an interview taken on 18 October 2012  at Filmmakers Afternoon Teas, Mayfair Hotel, London as part of LFF 2012, Patrick vehemently declared: “I hate seeing bad acting in short films.” Could this be his motivation for turning to directing himself? Read on and find the answer below, as well as numerous industry tips on how to get your first short made…

Dana: “What is your relationship with the short form?”

Patrick Myles photoPatrick: “My relationship with the short form is a relatively new relationship. My background is in acting, I’m an actor and I started writing/directing in the last two to three years. And I wrote a couple of shorts that weren’t bad but they weren’t very filmable, as in you needed a big budget, a big cast, that kind of thing. So I wanted to write something that I knew I could make. So my first short was quite a surreal piece inspired by Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, about two inanimate objects that have a life and can chat, that kind of thing, so it was very easy to shoot. Whereas my second one is all self-contained, which is Santa’s Blotto and I managed to get Film London funding for it, which made the whole process a lot easier. I guess my relationship with the short form is getting experience as a filmmaker and obviously a stepping stone to features, a calling card. And I think both my films give a sense of my sense of humour, the way I look at the world which is quite dark and left-field, therefore they are a good advertisement for my voice as a filmmaker.

Dana: “You said you got funding…”

Patrick: “Yes, from Film London…”

Dana: “Was it difficult, how does one go about getting funding?”

Patrick: “That was a long process, a process that lasted two or three months, whereby you send in your script, you send in your vision for it, how you want to shoot it, your ideas for casting, location, mood boards. This was the first round. Then you undergo a period of development where you’re appointed a BFI development executive to help develop the script into a shooting script, into a new draft, and you have to go in to explain how you are going to shoot it…”

Dana: “So even for a short film the process is very convoluted”

Patrick: “Oh yes, because there is so little funding available, even for features, let alone for shorts. And they have to be utterly confident that everyone that they are giving money to is going to use it properly and will produce something of a certain quality. So the whole process was very rigorous and it culminated in a final interview whereby I had to go in front of a panel and they fire questions at you, and you say I’m going to do this, I’m going to shoot this, all that kind of thing. So I was delighted to get the funding for it because it means so much, it’s a stamp of approval from a recognised body, it means you’re in a cycle of young filmmakers, it means getting funding for the next one will be easier if someone has already trusted you with funding, and you delivered something. And Santa’s Blotto has gone down quite well, Film London were delighted with it, I secured a distribution deal with Shorts International, so it’s going to be on iTunes, it’s going to be sold around the world through the Short Film Channel…”

Dana: “So you can make money with a short…”

Patrick (laughing): “Well yeah, apparently so, I didn’t expect it either but apparently yes because the distribution deal with Shorts International is that we the filmmakers have a slice of anything that they sell the film for. Which is great, so we essentially got someone selling it and they are going to give us some money back. And also crucially, very crucially, it’s going to go on iTunes…so iTunes as you know, you download the film for £1.50 and out of that I believe, Apple takes one third, the distributor takes one third and we take one third. So depending on how many downloads, I mean, you know, no one is going to get rich out of it but at least…”

Dana: “That’s encouraging for those making short films…”

Brian Blessed

Patrick: “Exactly, very encouraging to know that’s going to come out. And because we have Brian Blessed in it playing Santa Claus, he has quite a large following of people who love him, I think he’s a living legend and hopefully that will help drive sales and crucially get people to watch the film. That’s what we want as filmmakers, there’s no point in making a film for yourself, you have to make a film for people to watch and be affected by, whether that’s laughing or crying, whatever it is, you want to create an effect in the audience, and I hope Santa’s Blotto will do that. ‘Cause we all have Christmas memories from when we were kids, and also in the run-up to Christmas I think it will do well…”

Dana: “Indeed, commercially the strategy is very well thought out. Are you going to make other shorts?”

Patrick: “I have an idea for one more short and then the rest of my ideas are features. I’m already developing one, because I know how long it takes to get a feature off the ground. But in terms of my features, I’ve got three ideas, one is quite a sprawling fantasy/adventure set in Ireland, because I’m originally Irish, another is a horror film which always go down very well and the other is a comedy, again, quite a bizarre comedy about a pair of New York mobsters who lie low in a small English village and get involved in a local amateur dramatic society. But I have another short film that I’m writing at the moment, that I intend to shoot in summer of next year. Again it’s very shootable. It’s quite an out-there idea again, but it’s not one that will be very expensive. I come from an acting background and I know how effective good actors are in your short films and I hate seeing bad acting in short films. And I think, like with all films but especially shorts, it’s all about the script and get some good actors, if you’ve got a cracking script and you’ve got good actors, they make your film look better…”

Dana: “So you’re not one for sophisticated camera movements…”

Patrick: “No, I’m not that kind of director, I’m not a technical wizard, I like telling stories and I like having good actors telling that story. That’s my belief. But perhaps I think that way because my journey to directing didn’t come through film school, I don’t have a technical background, I’ve been an actor and I produce as well so I know it’s all about, as I said, telling a story in the simplest, most effective way, rather than going “look what a great director I am”!You know what I mean? I think that’s really important, it should be all about the story, that is after all what we’re doing…”

Dana: “Do you intend to act in your own films?”

Patrick: “No.”

Dana: “Why not?”

Patrick: “Because I want to keep them separate. I mean, perhaps, some people do it very well, Kenneth Branagh does it very well…”

Dana: “Woody Allen…”

Patrick: “Woody Allen yes, and in fact I’ve just come from a screening of Argo, it’s very good, and Ben Affleck directed it and he starred in it, and he did it brilliantly, but I think at this stage in my career, I don’t want it to be about me, it’s about the story, and it also depends on the script that I write…For example the script that I wrote for Santa’s Blotto was about a child and Santa Claus, so even if I wanted to be in it, there was no part for me. So it can’t be an exercise in vanity, it’s got to be a story being told, that’s the priority. So I have no intention to…But who knows…”

Dana: “What are your thoughts about directing? Have you developed a method yet?”

Patrick: “Well, do you mean in terms of directing the actors or the kind of visual style?”

Dana: “Both. For instance David Mamet says that directing is all about where to put the camera and what to tell the actors”

the boy in Santa's BlottoPatrick: “Yeah, I’ve read David Mamet’s A Whore’s Profession and many other books on acting and filming and I do like that philosophy of work. But he again is very much of a school of “it’s about the script and about the acting”. And I would agree with him on most things. His essays On Directing Film are brilliant. Also Alexander Mackendrick’s book On Filmmaking and Sidney Lumet’s Making Movies are two other fantastic books. And these are all very practical filmmakers who get the right actors with the right script. And because I am an actor I can talk to them, I think my greatest strength is being able to direct them knowing how they tick. I mean I know first hand, and it’s a common actors’ complaint that a lot of filmmakers, because of their technical background or whatever, they don’t know how to talk to actors, they don’t know how to get what they want, and I think that’s extremely important, because it makes the actor feel comfortable, and it’s only when they’re in their comfort zone that they can really perform to their best ability, especially when you’re working with kids. My actor was 10 years old, so I had to make sure that everything I was telling him was appropriate for a child but also guiding him. He was very smart, whip-smart so ironically I didn’t have to talk to him like he was a child…So I would say that yes I enjoy what Mamet has written about filmmaking and I think that is my approach also: practical, get a good script, good actors and just shoot it!”

If last year you sent a letter to Santa asking for a quite specific present and didn’t get it, find out how to get even with the old man by downloading Santa’s Blotto from iTunes here.

Also, become a fan and join Santa’s Blotto on Facebook and Twitter.

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!

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About Dana Knight

Formerly staff writer for The Independent Film Magazine, Dana is a NYC/London/Berlin-based freelance film journalist, screenwriter & editor-in-chief of IDEAS | FILM. She currently travels to film festivals all over the world interviewing filmmakers for a book project on contemporary cinema. Dana received her BA (Hons) in Film and Media from Birkbeck, University of London in 2013. She also holds a BA (Hons) & MA in English and French Language & Literature (2005). As a screenwriter, Dana has written several feature scripts and shorts and is currently involved in getting off the ground her first documentary project about "the molecule of creativity and the oddball banker who quit his job to become an artist”. Only, she’s yet to find him…

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