The Limelight Index: David Anthony Thomas – Writer/Director/Actor
David Anthony Thomas is a filmmaker from Newcastle. He is currently in the process of embarking on a feature length project. I was lucky enough to catch up with him and ask a few questions about what got him where he is now, what to expect and his interests as a filmmaker.
David, as a writer, director and actor, what first sparked off your real interest in filmmaking?
I don’t come from an arty family, and it’s really bizarre that for as long as I remember I always wanted to work in the arts. I decided I would be an actor from a young age when others at school still all wanted to be firemen or ballerinas. I’ve been acting since I was 8 years old and doing it professionally since I was 10. I started off by working in theatre and I learnt so much working with and in such close proximity to some of the all-time great directors like Greg Doran. I started doing film and TV a few years later and began fall in love with filmmaking. I eventually made the move behind the camera and it seems to have turned out well.
Who are your influences?
I’ve loved Joe Wright’s work since Pride and Prejudice and I also love the old Ealing films. I’m a huge fan of British cinema and British characters, British stories and British history are always at the forefront of my mind when I write, because I think it’s important that our culture reflects our identity. However I’ve always thought I’ve been more inspired by authors and playwrights than by filmmakers, and perhaps this is why we do things a bit differently.
Your main body of work is in period dramas, what attracted you to this particular genre?
It has to be working for so long in theatre. Working with the RSC early on opened the door to the possibility of setting something in different eras, as it’s somewhat easier to pull off in the theatre. I grew up thinking “Why should cinema be different? Why should everything we make be set here and now?” Most people make the transition to that way of thinking later on, but the assumption that everything should be in a contemporary setting because it’s easier to make is just laziness to me when there are so many great untold stories still out there. Solitary Trees, for example, is set in 1940, but it’s still a very modern film about the role the press plays in British politics. The historical aspect just gives it a new angle.
The Brontes, will be your debut feature film, how did this project all start?
I did a location scout up on the moors outside of Haworth when a film I shot called Love Thy Neighbour was screening at the Bradford International Film Festival. That film eventually became The Business of the Day that was screened at Cannes and Cyprus, but it was actually during the shoot that suddenly everything just hit me: I saw everything and realised that this needed to be done. I swear that the Brontes drew me there and wanted me to tell their story because of the suddenness and intensity of it, I’ve never experienced anything like it before. I kept going back up to the moors throughout the development and pre-production of Solitary Trees and getting a bit more every time, and I’d always have my notebook so I could just sit and write it all down by hand – I never do that but the words just kept flowing.
Do you find it a big risk taking on a biographical project of this nature? How much of your own creative input will there be in the story?
Not really, no. Challenging, but certainly not risky. I know the Brontes and all of their works through and through. We’re collaborating with anyone we can find with specialist knowledge on the subject and we’ve got a fantastic, world-beating team together. It would be dangerous to be arrogant about it and project anything I want to put across in a film using the Brontes as my characters, not to mention completely inappropriate. It’s about letting them tell their own story through the medium of film. It’s about the empowerment of women, about social issues and identity, so to an extent I understand my role is as much of an editor as a writer, using their own words and works where I can to piece together a strong narrative about their lives. When I look at it as a director, I then feel the freedom to tell the story knowing that the script is there and will keep me in check.
Can we expect any prominent names, cast or crew, from the independent circuit to be cast?
Definitely, and likely from the studio circuit too.
Can we look forward to any important dates for the movies future?
The only date that we’ve revealed so far is Charlotte Bronte’s 200th birthday in April 2016. We’re planning something really big for it and that will be the film’s official unveiling.
Finally, can you give any parting advice for young filmmakers on the industry?
I can tell you that working in theatre, film and television is a lifestyle, not a job. I can tell you it’s one of the most rewarding lives to lead but it can also be incredibly tough, and most people don’t think of that going into it. Make sure you’re in it for the right reasons and treat your contemporaries like collaborators, not competition. You’re all in it together and you’re in it for the long hall so you can definitely benefit from helping each other out.
Never use the excuse that you’re “just” a student or “just starting out” to allow for mistakes or corners to be cut. If you’re calling yourself a director you should act and behave like one and you should maintain high standards and ask the same of your crew. Raising a budget to at least feed them, pay expenses and getting some quality equipment may not seem like much but it certainly makes a statement of intent and often your cast will give you that little bit more. Look after your cast and crew and they’ll look after you.
Also most young filmmakers, it seems like, make the same film over and over again. If you’ve seen a film about drugs, Facebook or dating in your film school or on your course for the past three years running, you should probably think about making something else. No festival selection committee will care that you insist yours is the better project because they’ve been told it all before. An understanding of your audience and your platform for exhibition is vital.
Thank you David.
There’s a lot to learn here. I particularly like what David said about culture reflecting our identity and treating your contemporaries as collaberators and not competition. Everyone should support each others work positively, after all how will the industry ever thrive if we’re not all in it together? David has definitely made a strong statement by delving away from common contemporary themes like drugs and the internet (as he mentions), and it has definitely worked for him and made a strong impact. Try and be different, it appears one of the few ways (or dare I say only) to make a stand in this industry.
Find David on IMDB here.