Interview #37: Paul Moxon

Paul Moxon

Paul Moxon is an independent filmmaker and composer based in Birmingham, UK. At Lightweaver Productions his work has included critically acclaimed projects ranging from short films such as “Karma” and “Deception” – which starred British TV Legend Brian Croucher, to music videos, highly successful promotional work and feature length films of live events and dance performances.

What or who inspired you to become a filmmaker?

I actually came into filmmaking through music. My Grandmother had a piano and when I was young she’d let me mess around on it and basically make a load of noise. Afterwards she would sit down and just produce this incredible music and from then on I knew I wanted to make music.

At about the same time my love of film started when “Star Wars” hit the cinemas. Growing up in the 1970’s my whole childhood was pretty much accompanied by the music of composer John Williams. As you can imagine, hearing the amazing scores to films like “Star Wars”, “Superman” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” was hugely influential and it just gave me that nudge of inspiration to not only want to write music, but to actually want to write music for film.

Star Wars A New Hope
Star Wars A New Hope (1977) – Dir: George Lucas

I think the key moment when I moved more into filmmaking was when my wife suggested I actually make a short film of my own. I’d always had a strong visual sense when composing, so it felt like a natural progression. If anything it emboldened me as a storyteller because now I didn’t have to use just sound to tell my stories, I could also use the powerful and expressive visual language of film itself to try and have a deeper connection with the audience.

What films have been most influential to you and your filmmaking?

I find myself influenced a lot by great visual storytellers like Alfred Hitchcock and Steven Spielberg. These filmmakers along with so many films over the years have basically shaped my filmmaking. “Rear Window” for instance would have to be on my list because it’s the skill with which Hitchcock manages to tell us so much about what is happening in the outside world, even though we spend practically the duration of the film confined to a single room with James Stewart.

“Jaws” is another one because it is such a perfect example of how to keep your storytelling lean and focused. I mean every frame is used fully to give the audience so much information. Absolutely nothing is wasted and every scene and character is there for the sole purpose of driving the story.

If I had to pick one film though which has been the most influential to me it would have to be Merian C. Cooper and Willis O’Brien’s original 1933 “King Kong”. As a piece of cinema it has everything, from adventure, romance and horror to ground breaking effects and great storytelling. However, I think the single reason why it has had such a profound impact upon me, and why I go back to it time and time again, is that they gave Kong a soul. There are so many layers and depth to the character that you get this genuine connection with him and almost feel what he’s going through. It’s just an incredible achievement and a masterclass of characterisation.

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

As with most filmmakers who are starting out I pretty much had to learn the practical aspects of film production as I went along, taking lessons I’d learn on each film and applying them to my next project. I mean at the start it was just me and a camera so it was more out of necessity than anything that I took on multiple roles within the productions.

Paul Moxon and actor Val Monk
On location – One Day

Looking back though I think having done it that way was actually a huge benefit to me as a filmmaker, because now that I work with a much larger team I find it easier to have a broader perspective on a project. I can empathise not just with the view of the writer, the director or the producer, but also with many other areas of the production team and in my experience that has always helped to make a very positive creative environment.

I think that no/low budget filmmaking should be a prerequisite for anyone who wants to go into film. Not having a huge budget has actually been quite a positive for us because from a practical perspective it’s meant that we’ve always had to think more creatively to find ways to achieve some of the shots that we wanted. In a way it also strips away a lot of the distractions and lets you simply focus instead on the writing, your characters and the core of the story you’re actually telling.

How do you go about developing your ideas and how do you find the scriptwriting process?

Once I’ve got a basic concept or idea I’ll usually spend a while just trying to figure out the core of the story and then build it from there. A lot of the time I’ll have a treatment or some ideas already written down, but I’ll also use a lot of other references such as sketches, photo-boards, colour charts and even music.

I find doing this invaluable when I’m writing because by the time I come to write the first draft I’ve pretty much got the structure and plotting, as well as quite extensive biographies on all my characters and so having the additional visual and music references helps me to define other aspects such as the tone and mood. From then on I’ll just continue to rework, refine and edit each draft, until it feels right.

I do genuinely love scriptwriting because of the huge amount of creative freedom it brings. At that precise moment when I’m sat in front of the blank page I’m not confronted with any barriers, it’s just me and the story that I want to tell. It’s only much later on, when I actually have to work out how to film it that I tend to regret some of the more elaborate ideas I may have had.

How have you found the experience of being a filmmaker in the West Midlands?

I’ve loved making films in the region because the collaboration and support within the creative community in the West Midlands is absolutely incredible. There is a great sense, particularly within the low/zero budget filmmakers, of not just waiting for opportunities to arise but actually going out and making them happen. You only need to see how many films from the region are regularly screened at festivals to know that there is a huge amount of talent here.

Your most recent short film ‘One Day’ is currently on the festival circuit. How did the idea come about and what were your experiences of making the film?

I lost both my parents to cancer in 2011. As the years progressed I had this growing need to make a film which not only showed the stages of grief, but also how deeply we connect with those we love and how we cope when that connection is suddenly broken. My own experiences showed me that grief is a universal and at the same time a very personal reaction to loss, it affects us all in different ways and yet it’s something that a lot of people find difficult to talk about. So I really wanted to make “One Day” as a way of helping to engage with audiences and hopefully use it to start a conversation about the subject.

In terms of the process itself, the actual script came together pretty quickly. I think the most challenging part was actually finding the moments where it felt natural for the character of Megan to move through the various stages of grief. I mean it can take many years for someone to come to terms with a loss, so the timing of the emotional changes in the film had to be absolutely right. Not only did we have a large range of emotions to get through in a very condensed timeframe, but also Megan as a character still had to develop within her own arc and take the audience along with her through the story.

Val Monk (who plays Megan) and I had many conversations about the changing dynamics of the emotions within the performance and what we could do to really bring the audience into this quite personal and in some ways intimate journey. I think that was when we decided that whilst Megan was going through all these stages of grief, we’d use a single unbroken shot. It’s quite a long scene and it’s an unusual way to shoot it, because you’re keeping the audience’s focus fixed throughout and in times of heightened emotion it can be a very intense experience. However, because I really wanted the audience to be with Megan as things unfold it did seem like the right decision for the film. As a Director I was really aware that from a performance perspective it was going to be such a huge task for Val. I mean we’re not just talking about the incredible pressure of delivering a great performance, we’re talking about also doing it in a single shot with no cuts or edits. I think in the film it lasts about 9 minutes and all credit to Val she really delivered, even now I can remember being blown away by her performance and watching the film you can just feel the raw emotion she gave in that scene.

Post-production was interesting because like a lot of other filmmakers in 2020, COVID-19 meant that we had to make major changes to how we put the film together. In the past I’d always been quite involved in the editing suite when cutting the films, so to suddenly be working on the film remotely via video call did initially feel very strange. After a while though everything kind of fell into place and it pretty much became second nature for us to edit, score and mix the film in this detached way.

Ultimately, I’m very proud of “One Day” and everyone in the team who worked so hard to make it happen. It is the most personal film I’ve made so far and I think the whole process of making it did actually take me to a place where I was able to truly come to terms with and accept my own personal loss.

How do you feel about modern/contemporary cinema?

At times it has almost felt like a constant stream of sequels, franchises or remakes from the larger studios and in recent years I think a lot of the more interesting and engaging work in contemporary cinema has come from the independent scene, particularly from Scandinavia and Korea. I’ve become a huge admirer of the work of filmmakers such as Bong Joon Ho and more recently Camilla Strøm Henriksen, whose 2018 film “Føniks” was a real highlight for me and just an outstanding piece of character driven cinema.

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

I’d like to see things open up a lot more so that new writers can get their work seen by the larger studios. At the moment if you don’t have an agent it’s extremely difficult to get a script seen by a studio, let alone actually get anything into production. At Lightweaver Productions I’ve actively championed work from first time writers and in fact several of our films which enjoyed official festival selections around the globe, were written by first time writers.

What advice would you give to anyone starting out as a filmmaker?

I’d offer two pieces of advice. Firstly, just watch as many films as you can and from as many different genres and directors as you can find. Yes, absolutely watch the classics and see why they are so revered, but also take the time to look at those films that maybe don’t work quite as well and try to understand why.

The second piece of advice is simply to make sure your script is the best it can be and that any problems with the narrative or dialogue have all been sorted. It’s a lot easier and cheaper to spend the time to do a rewrite, try a new idea, or work on a problem area before you start filming, than it is once the cameras are rolling or even worse trying to fix it in post-production.

What’s next for Paul Moxon?

At the moment I’m co-writing a horror feature which skips between the past and the present and delves deep into Anglo-Saxon mythology and lore. It’s proving to be a lot of fun to write, particularly as horror is a genre that I’ve wanted to work in for quite a while. I’ll also be directing a music video and am in the early stages of development on an action adventure series for television.

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