interviews Lewis Coates


Today we share with you part 17 in the ‘ interviews’ series. shrtfilm interviews Lewis Coates.

What is it that appeals to you about the short film?
“I think the way we tell the story is quite unique, which gives ‘When Voices Unite’ an extra layer of authenticity. We’ve all watched Facebook Live videos or Youtube bloggers talking directly to camera, so it’s a concept we’re quite familiar with. We’ve played on this idea by beginning the short film the way many live videos or vlogs start, but within minutes, the character’s world has spiralled out of control and we’re there with her, watching every moment. Being able to watch the comments appear at the bottom, and having the character interact with them too, makes the piece feel less like we’re watching a short film, and more of a real-life digital interaction’.

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What qualities do you believe make a good short film?
“I think mostly the same qualities that make a good feature: A gripping narrative, beautiful creative visuals, committed performances & great sound design. But being short films, it needs to grab the audience’s attention and take them on a journey in much much less time than a feature film. I think When Voices Unite succeeds in engaging the viewer from the get-go, talking directly to them and keeping them engaged and on-edge throughout its short 3 minute run time”.

To what extent is making short films a stepping stone to making feature films?
“Ironically, I began making 20-30min short films with multiple character backstories, many locations and story arcs, whereas my most recent is less than 4mins including credits… But I think if you can learn to successfully capture an audience in a very short amount of time, you can then understand how to properly develop a story into long-form cinema – but I think it’s important to realise they are two very separate things, two different creative mindsets and two different ways of making film”.

What is the most challenging aspect of making short films?
“There are so many important little jobs within a production that usually go forgotten, and unless you have a solid team behind you to help with all the details, it’s a lot of work for the one or two people in charge. I was lucky to get some production assistance from the Random Acts team, but the bulk of scriptwriting, location/talent scouting, directing, editing, marketing, festival submissions was done by me. So I think dedication and commitment can be one of the most challenging aspects, but when it’s a project you’re really passionate about, you don’t mind the 20 hour days and sleepless nights”.

Do you have a preference to a certain genre?
“I enjoy writing many genres, but they all seem to have similar themes. They’re never very upbeat and usually end in some kind of personal disaster (I’m not sure what that says about me). I currently have interest in drama’s set in the near-future, where technology and social unrest plays a large factor in the narrative. If the audience can relate to the character or understand the emotions conveyed in the piece, they usually enjoy it more. And with the current social climate being very volatile, there’s a lot of emotion to play on and technology and fears of the future I think are a good starting point with a lot of creative scope”.

What do you like most when making a short film – writing the script – directing – camera?
When Voices Unite by Lewis Coates | FIRST ACTS“I think it changes from project to project, but I really love imagining and developing a fictional world. Creating a smart and thought-provoking storyline, then developing the characters that live in it, then which camera angles and clever techniques we can use to convey their emotions – and slowly the story is brought to life. I’ve always been a cinematographer & editor at heart, and I think the visuals and slick editing are some of the most important aspects in filmmaking; but as I’ve been developing my work further, and I’ve worked with much more experienced cam-op’s and editors than myself, I’ve realised that it’s the idea and narrative concept that creates the basis for the piece, and if this isn’t exciting or compelling enough, even the strongest visual style isn’t enough to achieve overall success”.

Do you work with a script – where do you get the inspiration from?
“I watch a variety of independent & foreign films, read books, research topics on the web – literally absorb information any and every way I can. Use voice-memo’s to capture every idea, merge them, delete a bunch, rework them and slowly enough of an idea comes together to start scripting scenes and plot points. I think it’s pretty impossible nowadays to come up with an entirely original idea, but if you can come at something from a new perspective or tell it in a way that hasn’t been seen before, I think that’s pretty impressive!”.

Do you leave room for improvisation?
“What makes a good filmmaker is how you use problems and obstacles to your advantage, so it’s very important to leave room for improvisation. You’ll get 3 hours into a shoot and realise your location doesn’t give you the right angle to get the shot you wanted; or the actor can’t force the same emotion you intended as he says his big line – nothing is ever going to go exactly as you plan, so it’s important to keep your idea organic and constantly mouldable in your mind, rather than etched permanently onto paper. Nearly every film I make I have actors and actresses sharing their opinions on how they think a line should be said, or improvising whole scenes with new lines that carry more weight that I had originally thought of. A real good production is a collaboration from everyone involved, so I think it’s very important to keep your mind open throughout the whole process!”.

Did you receive funding for your project?
“I did – this is actually the first project I’ve been part of that I haven’t funded almost entirely myself. I sent a script to Channel 4 for their newest ‘Random Acts’ season and they got back to me pretty quickly to say they’d like me to direct it. I attended a few meetings where we discussed the idea in detail, an itemised budget and the rules of what we can and can’t do – it was all very professional, something I hadn’t experienced before. We were also on quite a tight deadline to get the final project completed for the summer broadcast, so it actually went from script to screen in about a month – a very hectic month. We pretty much filmed and edited it all in a weekend!”.

How did you go about assembling a film crew and actors?
“This is where I was able to rely a lot on the Random Acts producers – they already had a great team of DOP’s, sound tech’s and editors ready to help. I sorted the location scouting and suggested some talent that could work well, and they done most of the leg-work, so I could concentrate on finalising the script and everything from the creative side”.

What did you use to edit the film and what camera did you use?
“I’d usually use a Canon DSLR for shoots, but as this is suppose to resemble a live social media video shot on an iPhone, we needed a lightweight and portable camera to get the intended feel. We used a 4K BlackMagic Pocket Camera – still really great quality, but we didn’t want it to feel overproduced so we could achieve a gritty, authentic British style. The social media overlays were then created with Photoshop and AfterEffects, then the full edit was on Final Cut Pro X”.

Could you name one or two filmmakers that you consider great influences?
“Well I watch a lot of foreign and independent cinema to really get a variety of filmmaking and storytelling techniques. I enjoy the work of Park Chan-Wook, Michael Haneke, Denis Villeneuve – but it’s hard to say which filmmakers directly influence my work, as it’s probably an organic culmination of many. I’m proud to represent the UK film industry, I love the work of Ben Wheatley, Edgar Wright, but I’ve really enjoyed Charlie Brooker’s ‘Black Mirror’ which has similar themes to some of my work and think his way of creating entertaining film that also acts as a social critique is very influential”.

What are you working on next? Do you already have a new project in mind?
“I always have a list of projects in various stages of pre-production; sometimes I work exclusively on one, then drop it for months and work on something else, so it’s very interchangeable. I usually have a competition or festival in mind when writing – ‘When Voices Unite’ was written specifically for Random Acts because I knew technology and social criticism is a topical interest of theirs and knew that their teams would have a similar creative mindset to me, so I’d be very interested in working with Random Acts again. But with this being my first professionally funded project and after gaining recognition at film festivals, I think I’d like to produce something for even more recognised festivals and competitions; maybe Raindance, BFI, Creative England’s iShorts or many other companies doing great things to help the UK film industry thrive”.

What advice would you give to other short filmmakers?
“Never stop writing. Sometimes jobs and personal lives can get in the way of physically making short films, it can take months of prep on top of the cost of actors, locations and equipment. But if you keep writing & developing your ideas and watching great cinema, you’ll find that moment where everything falls into place and you get your chance to shine!”.

Thank you Lewis!

Watch When Voices Unite here:

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