Once again, the Midlands are sprunging up the next generation of influential filmmakers, and we'd like to introduce to you all Aaron Dunleavy; the director behind the 'Throw Me To The Dogs' & 'Truants'. Both of these films were done on a tight budget; with inexperienced cast members that were taken from the streets of Blackburn. Yet, both of these films were highly successful, screening at the biggest film festivals in the UK as well as Italy. Not to mention getting a premiere in his home town.
Already, 'Truants' has been selected for the BFI Future Film Festival and British Shorts Film Festival in Berlin. He recently won Best Short Film at the 29th Castellinaria Film Festival, and is currently producing a project for Random Acts Network Centre North, which we hope would air on Channel 4.
So we had to get into the mind of Dunleavy at such a youthful and early time of his career. The dude is not even 30 and he's already getting praises from Danny Boyle. Yes folks, we mean THE REAL DANNY BOYLE.
Dunleavy chats with us about being in the fast lane already after finishing university, as well as the influence of Shane Meadows on his filming execution. Plus, he talks about how he's become a sense a motivation for a young cast in terms of aspiring them to considering acting as a career.
All of this and more in this interview with the future of British Cinema.
1. Great to have you on our website Aaron! You're experiencing massive success with your movie 'Throw Me to the Dogs', as not only did it get positive reviews from film festivals such as No Gloss Film Festival, London Short Film Festival, CortoLovere Film Festival as well as the BFI Future Film Festival you even had a premiere at the Vue Blackburn Cinema of your next film 'The Truants'.
Thanks for having me New Wave District! It's been a great couple of years and I definitely never expected to have such a big amount of success with my two short films. Both of them were made whilst studying in London and were really my first attempts at telling my own stories based on my experience of life in my hometown up north in Blackburn. Moving away made me realise how many interesting stories were there to be told, so both of my shorts brought me back to focus on stories which my town had influenced.
2. What inspired you to continue with having an inexperienced acting cast in 'Throw Me to the Dogs' and 'The Truants'? Which we hear was screened at Italy's Giffoni International Film Festival!
It’s a style of filmmaking which has always interested me; I feel it adds a lot of authenticity and truth to the story. All of the local kids really embraced the opportunity and many of them now want to pursue acting at school and college. There’s something great about watching a scene unfold when even the actors themselves don’t quite know what will happen next! I don’t think the film would’ve had the same spirit if we'd have cast experienced actors, which feels more important than anything else to me! Everybody mucked in and nothing was glamorous, but in the end it was worth it! I’ll always try to cast local people as I feel it adds a layer of authenticity, not just with the dialect and accents but also as they’ll have a better understanding of the area and why the story is relevant to them. In 'The Truants' we had to cast the right kids who would already have an understanding of the issues and themes explored in the story. As I like to shoot without scripts, the cast can have lots of freedom in relation to how scenes unfold, and so it’s really important that they can represent their characters honestly.
3. Congrats on being Danny Boyle's Shuffle Festival winner! In celebration of this we divide this question in two parts:
a) Describe your win.
b) Reflect on getting this amazing achievement at the early start of your film career. You can confirm to us whether the legendary British Director gave you tips/advice. Trust us, this is a step from being the recent Staff Pick at Vimeo.
It was honestly completely unexpected for us to win at such a brilliant festival, with a fantastic price of worldwide distribution on MUBI. It was a very surreal experience and it all happened so quickly, but we are really proud to have such a prestigious director in favour of our work!
4. British Cinema has been evolving over the past few years; as the industry was well known for its mainstream romantic comedies, gangster movies, historic films or novel-to-film adaptations ('Nottinghill', 'Braveheart', 'Oliver Twist', 'The Bridget Jones Diary'). However, thanks to Ken Loach, Noel Clarke and Danny Boyle, we're witnessing a new range of content that allows film directors, screenwriters and producers alike to experiment more with the social realism and gritty content, which allows these types of film to reflect the diversity of the British public ('Billy Elliott', 'Slumdog Millionaire', 'Bend It Like Beckham', 'East Is East'). What are your thoughts on this change? Do you think that this can be a plus considering the rise of independent filmmakers taking over the industry?
For me personally, I kind of fell in love with filmmaking before I fell in love with films, which seems to be a bit of a strange way of getting into it. Me and my next door neighbour were always making short films and comedy sketches growing up, and I loved being behind the camera. I went to study Media Production at my local college after finishing school, and when my tutor asked what my favourite film was I struggled to think a bit, but ‘This Is England’ came to mind. He replied 'Shane Meadows', and I nodded, but didn’t really have a clue who he was on about. I spent the next year watching all of Meadows’ films, fell in love with his filmmaking style and read up as much as I could about him. As a director, he filled me with hope and made it seem like I could have a go at it myself, focusing on the small people and small stories in the town where I grew up. The way he uses improvisation, non-professional actors and street casting inspired me to take it into my own hands and put my own twist on it.
5. What are your three top points that you want to share to other aspiring filmmakers? This can range to either advice, myths or reflections of your personal journey (i.e. lessons that you've learned in terms of making it in the film industry).
I'd say firstly, stick to what you know and try to make films about stories which mean something to you. Secondly, don't worry too much about money or big production values, but try to just make something with whatever you can get your hands on. Lastly, make sure you put the work in afterwards to try and get your film out there as much as possible! It won't get noticed sat on your hard drive, and there's loads of really great free festivals and competitions out there to submit to! Your film is much more likely to get noticed online if it has a bit of momentum behind it first.
6. So...is filmmaking your final career goal? Or do you like the idea of creating television content? Afterall, WE DO NOW have Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Sky Digital...BBC Three is now an online channel...
I'd love to get into the industry in any way possible, and whilst my dreams definitely have the silver screen in sight, I can't ignore how popular other forms of content are becoming! It has definitely been a great way to get noticed with online platforms such as Vimeo, and I appreciate how important this has been for the start of my career.
7. As a filmmaker, do you feel that you can be a perfectionist, in terms of seeing the final vision of the content to be fulfilled as a finished viewing product?
There’s a lot that I’d do differently, but every mistake is a lesson for the future and I’ll always try to take in as much as I can and improve upon it for future projects!
8. Which filmmaker do you wish to shadow if luck will give you a second chance? This can be anyone, dead or alive.
Definitely Shane Meadows, that would be a dream!
9. Now that two of your short films have been proven a home-grown success, what other exclusive projects do you have under your sleeves. We want to know your next moves! You're not far from getting that BAFTA nomination one day...
You'll have to wait and see! It's a scary world now that I've graduated as I can't call myself a student anymore, but hopefully in time I'll be able to continue with my passion and for now I'm working on new projects!
10. Both of your films deal with socialist themes in a new creative way for a young audience such as school truancy, fatherhood and adolescence. What inspired you to deal with these important themes in a film context?
Making films not only about but involving young people has been a great experience, and I've always loved being able to give people the opportunity to star in a film at a young age! The inspiration came from seeing the potential of taking an important issue such as truancy and making a film to engage and hopefully educate younger audiences, which has been fantastic!