In the stages of developing Island Queen, were you aiming to get BAFTA nominated?
I had it in mind that I would try to submit but my previous films had barely made a dent on the festival circuit, so any hope of a significant award seemed far-fetched. However, I had learnt how to submit and who to submit to, I became aware of a list of qualifying festivals and I targeted them. You want the films to do well, but you can’t count on anyone engaging with the finished product, you just hope for the best.
Comedies seldom get nominated for major awards, unless those awards are comedy-specific. Are you conscious of the work you direct having a key balance of drama and comedy?
I have flitted between silly comedies, pitch black humour and dramatic comedies and I have noticed some trends. Festivals will play short one-gag comedies as a sort of palette cleanser, they’ll play dark stuff in purpose-built late lounges and they tend to get a great audience reaction, otherwise your comedy is usually going to be programmed as comic relief in amongst a collection of depressing dramas. If you want to get nominated for an award, as you say, it seems you need to have a dramatic element and possibly stay quite naturalistic in tone. It’s my own fault that I don’t tend to make those films so I really have no right to complain that straight up comedies tend to get nominated only in dedicated comedy categories.
How has being nominated for a BAFTA helped you in your career since?
It helps lend legitimacy. Agents were willing to take meetings, producers can cite the nomination when trying to sell you. It’s helped open doors, but in doing so it’s shown me how much further there is to go.
Naturally, most people making shorts look to make the leap into features. How have you found this transition process?
I’ve yet to make a short which accurately reflects the feature I would have hoped to have made. There’s a weird disconnect for me; we have a feature idea and we condense it into a short, and in doing so it becomes something else. But I know people have had success selling a feature concept based on shorts so I just need to focus a little more I guess.
One observation is that a lot of untested people just go out and make a film without securing a proper budget, they are then referred to as a feature director. I don’t know if this helps getting money for the next film, but it must help with legitimacy.
Comedy can be a tricky genre on the international circuit. Have you found your work in territories you did not expect?
I wish I could show you my Vimeo stats. After all the english speaking countries my films are most popular in the Philippines, India and Mexico. So yes, you never know who’s going to engage. But my stuff has quite a lot of visual gags so maybe that translates easier?
Any important lessons you’ve learned along the way in your film career so far?
Keep making stuff, work with people who are smarter than you, keep analysing what you’re doing and keep re-aligning as necessary. I’m not where I want to be but I feel like I’m slowly moving in the right direction.
A special thanks to Ben Mallaby for taking part in this interview. To find out more about Ben Mallaby and his current work, visit his website.