Interview #34: Cameron Moon

Cameron Moon was introduced to film and television on a multi-cultural level from a very young age via trips to the local cinema to see the latest Indian/ Bollywood/ Hollywood blockbusters to tuning into whatever was on tv. He soaked up every possible film and television programme growing up, he remains a child of pop culture. Cameron was always a very artistic child and enjoyed art / pottery lessons more than anything so was always deemed creative by his school teachers. During his early teens his dream was to be an actor and make films but the technology just wasn’t there so it remained just that, a dream. Eventually technology caught up and became more accessible hence he finally got his chance.

What or who inspired you to work in the film industry?

My initial inspiration came from working as an extra on a spoof of Blade Runner called ‘Blade Dumber’ (circa 2011/12 I think). I’d originally contacted the director Mark Hevingham about whether or not they needed a stills photographer. I have a degree in photography which I thought I’d put to good use but it turned out they didn’t need one. What they did need however were extras. Mark required a photo of everyone who responded to his callout. I sent a photo of myself in a red military jacket which I wore at the time. Mark loved the look and asked me to pop along as an extra anyway which I did.

I really enjoyed the experience and as a result my involvement in the film grew. I enjoyed watching the actors, how shots were set up and the general buzz on the set. It was a real learning experience for which I am always grateful. That reignited my passion for becoming involved in film which had laid dormant for many years. My directing career only came to the fore after I was diagnosed with cancer in 2016 (I am in remission and on my way to a full recovery). After that difficult time, I really felt it was time to do what I really wanted to, which was direct and star in my own movies. I created my own production company ‘Hazel Tree Pictures’ as a result to make films I’d like to see. Cancer was in a strange way the catalyst of many things, directing being one of them.

Were there any actors/films that influenced your approach to film?

Truth be told I’m influenced by films/actors going back to the silent era onwards so pretty much every actor/ film/ decade/genre out there. To keep things condensed I’ll focus on those that influence my current work. I have a real love of world cinema and cinema of the 1960s/70s in particular, regardless of genre. Films by Fellini, Truffaut, Godard, Bertolucci, Varda, Wenders, Dassin heavily influence both ‘The Beauty of It’ and ‘Petrichor’.

To these filmmakers, their craft was an art form. They were creating art. That’s exactly how I approach my films. Every single frame must matter, every single action has to has to have meaning no matter how trivial it may appear. There are huge visual nods in both films to ‘La Dolce Vita, 8 ½, Last Tango in Paris, Le Bonheur, Pierrot le Fou et al which probably explains why both films have been embraced by international audiences. The style / editing of the films and the way they were shot always leaves you asking questions which I really love and try to do with my own films. The notion of taking the audience away from their everyday really appeals to me.

Influential actor-wise there are many, for example including Delon, Karina, Belmondo, Brando, Mastroianni, Bardot, Clift. They and many like them have a certain mystery about them, an almost otherworldly aura which is so rare today. Once again, I love actors that leave me asking questions about their actions and little nuances. This observation has influenced my work greatly and continues to. An actor/ actress who can hold an audience’s attention in-between dialogue with just an expression or gesture is something I really home in on as an influence.

How would you explain your experiences of no/low budget filmmaking?

From a personal point of view with regards to my own projects it has been a smooth road so far. I keep every element to the bare minimum and that includes cast, crew and locations. I usually aim for a cast of 2 maybe 3. I try not to use extras if I can help it because it just means having to manage more people. A few years ago, I went to a screening of ‘Slow West’ at the Mockingbird theatre followed by a Q & A with the director John Maclean and I noticed the film had no extras, each actor had a part to play no matter how small. I asked him why that was and he said just as I said, it means having to manage less people.

If you’re on a tight budget you need to minimize everything but do it in such a way that does not compromise on quality. I’ve taken his advice ever since. Location wise perhaps one or two places as once again it means you’re not travelling from one end of town to the other but make those locations count. I’ve shot in a street and a library and both times I’ve given the locations a character of their own. I’ve always asked for permission if needed. The worst that can happen is they say no. Move on. I’ve forged tremendous relationships with my casts and crew. The likes of Gary Rogers & Dave Hastings et al I’d work with again at the drop of a hat. I’ve tried and I hope I’ve succeeded in maintaining a genuinely loving atmosphere on set where everyone matters. The calmer and more relaxed people are the better they will perform.

I love the intimacy of low budget filmmaking as you really get to interact with artists and we also learn from one another too! I’m always learning constantly from my experiences which luckily have all been positive. The most crucial thing I can do on set is to look after everyone. It’s so paramount.

You’ve worked as an actor in both film and tv, how do these experiences compare?

On television shows there really is a faster pace. I don’t mean crazy urgency but definitely a sense of moving onto the next set up as quickly as possible. Everything is planned within a certain time scale. Plus, most of the time they’re shooting other scenes whilst you’re doing yours which gives you an idea of how much they need to squeeze into the day.

I’ve really enjoyed my television experiences. One of the bonuses is meeting actors you’ve worked with on other shows. There does develop a certain camaraderie on television which is lovely. Film is perhaps a little more relaxed although no less important to keep to a schedule. I’ve mostly worked on Independent films which have mainly been lovely experiences and very personable too as it’s that person’s passion project and so it’s great to get swept up in their enthusiasm no matter how small the budget. I have done one very big budget Hollywood film which was a real eye -opener. No expense was spared on anything but it was strange not actually seeing the director or even the actual camera. It’s less intimate but no less exciting to do and once again provides ample opportunity to look and learn.

You’ve also written and directed film; do you find there are benefits to having experience both in front of and behind the camera?

Absolutely, yes. Having been in front of the camera one can relate to actors in the most immediate and personable sense. You can relate to the questions, suggestions, concerns they may have and you are well equipped to answer them in the most satisfactory way possible having been in their shoes at some point before. Plus, you know what’s going to work and what isn’t. When I’ve written scripts, I envisage it not only as director but also as an actor. Things may appear great on paper but may not translate so well on screen. The experience of being both in front of and behind the camera gives you that important know how.

What do you look for in a director and do you feel your experience of acting influences your approach to directing actors?

In a director I look for compassion, patience, respect and understanding. If you possess these qualities your set will be the most divine place for cast and crew. I can’t put it any simpler than that. If they don’t have these qualities, they really should not be directing at all.

Cameron on location – The Beauty of It

My experience of acting does indeed influence my approach to actors. I don’t like the term ‘handlings actors’ as it makes them seem like cattle or children. They aren’t there to be ‘handled’ at all. As a director I become both director and actor when working with my fellow actors. I do my best to explain to the actors how things are going to look and give them every opportunity to watch the playback so they understand what I’m after. This really helps the process along which is a direct result of having experience as an actor too because actors need to know they’re doing the right thing for their director both verbally and visually.

Having an understanding of your actors is crucial, being an actor as well as a director, you become instantly relatable to the actors which is really, really beneficial. The actors feel more comfortable addressing someone who ‘knows what it’s like’ so to speak. Another example is that I don’t audition actors. I just ask whoever I feel is right for the role. I dislike auditions like most actors and knowing that why would I put my fellow actors through the trauma?

You recently produced and acted in the short film Petrichor. Could you tell us a little about the film and what were your experiences of making it?

‘Petrichor’ is a short silent film based upon the opening sequence of ‘Last Tango in Paris’ (1972). In Bernardo Bertolucci’s film Marlon Brando’s character is seen walking in a very melancholy fashion down a beautiful Parisian street when Maria Schneider’s character passes him and looks at him in a concerned fashion. I thought what if she had stopped and spoken to him there and then?

I built ‘Petrichor’ around this premise. It’s about strangers/humans connecting as we all should be at any given time. The film itself is the 2nd in my planned silent film trilogy. The 1st being ‘The Beauty of It’ which was filmed before this but which I plan to screen in a cinema as a fundraising charity event at some point. ‘Petrichor’ was a film I had originally planned to direct myself but when I showed the script to my talented filmmaker friend Dave Hastings (whom I originally wanted to act as AD/ cinematographer) he was so taken with the script that he wanted to direct it.

I was more than happy to let him take the reigns and I’m so glad I did. He directed it with such passion and beauty. Exactly what was needed for the film. We filmed it in one morning in Birmingham city centre on a very cold February morning back in 2019 (way before anyone had even heard of COVID-19) We had a crew of three and a cast of two (which included me) and that’s all. It was a small intimate shoot with a perfect team. Everyone knew the source material and its influence inside out. It’s so important for everyone to know the genre they’re working with on my films, my films otherwise we just won’t connect. Luckily everyone knew exactly what we were aiming for so it was a beautiful experience. Keeping your shoot simple is key. The result (as hoped) was something with an international flavour which would appeal to people of all ages on a global scale. Judging by the number of awards it has garnered all around the world I think we succeeded.

Is there anything that you’d change in the film industry?

There are two parts to my answer. Firstly, I’d like to see funding made more accessible to independent filmmakers. Funding or applying for funding is almost a thankless task. Some will offer funding if you’ve already raised £15,000! If I had that amount to begin with, I wouldn’t need funding. There are so many talented artists in the film industry here in the Midlands. I think they’d work miracles even with £500! Yet, even that amount is hard to get. I’ve financed all my films using my own money which is tough but it’s the only way so far. I know crowd funding is an option too but money made available via funding/ grants would save us a lot of time and effort.

Secondly, I’d like to see the ageist attitude in the industry change. Literally every filmmaking / mentoring course available is aimed at 18- to 25-year-olds. It IS great to nurture the next generation of filmmakers BUT there are older filmmakers out there who are just starting out (via a career change or otherwise) who have wonderful ideas too and could use such courses to help encourage them too. I recently called out BAFTA on this issue. I have (of course) yet to receive a response.

What advice would you give to anyone starting out as an actor/filmmaker?

Watch lots & lots of old films. Watch films from every decade of every type of genre in every language possible. That is your training and inspiration. I say this to so many people. Watch silent films, watch noir, political, horror etc. It’s not enough to be ‘inspired’ by the likes of Scorsese, Nolan, Tarantino, De Caprio, Winslet, Robbie’s work etc. Seek out what inspires ‘them’. They’ve so many elements in their films that are nods to films of bygone eras. If you simply focus on the now, you’re just getting information which is second hand. Look back and learn from old films. They are a goldmine for aspiring filmmakers/ actors. Go beyond the 1990s and seek out classics and lesser-known films. There is so much more out there than Netflix.

Don’t put too much emphasis on social media for your value as an actor or filmmaker. It has its uses but don’t fall into the trap of judging your self-worth by how many likes your last tweet/post received. It’s dangerous and unhealthy. Do the work and if it’s good people will come calling and you’ll be surrounded by people who respect you for the effort and quality of your output.

I also recommend people watching. It’s a great way to observe and understand human behaviour. When the situation will once again allow it, go and sit a café all day with a book/ note pad/laptop etc and watch people’s interactions. Listen to everyday sounds too. The sound of the wind, traffic, nature, music because on a subconscious level it will affect you, its just a matter of making note of it.

Keep it simple. Don’t over-complicate things. If you’re making a film, strip it down to its bare essentials as far as it will go without compromising quality and integrity. If you’re starting out as a filmmaker keep your cast and crew to a minimum. Make your scripts filmable. You may write the most wonderful script but there’s nothing worse or frustrating than knowing you can’t film it because you don’t have the resources or money. If you’re starting out as an actor/actress know your worth. It’s ok to say no and not do everything. If you need the experience & training then choose wisely and question whether it will be a worthy experience. Quality over quantity is so important. Whatever you decide to do, bear in mind that this is going to be your legacy. It is what will be left behind long after you’ve left this mortal coil. Question how you want to be remembered.

What’s next for Cameron Moon?

I’m going to finish filming ‘Saudade’ which is the 3rd and final film in my silent trilogy. We shot one scene in Birmingham and several second unit shots in Portugal before COVID-19 hit the world. It’ll be in the style of International thrillers circa 1960s/ 70s and is heavily influenced by Hitchcock, Giallo, German expressionism etc. It’s a Greek tragedy with firearms! It’s of a slightly larger scale than the previous silent films but still maintaining the simplicity in terms of filming/cast. Apart from that I’ve written three award winning scripts during lock down – ‘The Bride of Darkness ‘, ‘Kill Snap’ & ‘In the days when we are dead’ which are all in various stages of pre – production. I can’t wait to start filming again as I’m sure many others feel too.

You can find Cameron Moon on IMDB and StarNow.

Twitter: @leopoldroad

Hazel Tree Pictures:

You can watch Petrichor here:

Photo credits:Rob Tromans & Kevin Totts

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