MEMBER MONDAYS | Patrick Nicholls

MEMBER MONDAYS is a new weekly interview series highlighting current members & alumni of the Austin School of Film + Austin Cinemaker Space community! Each week, we’ll be featuring one of our incredibly eclectic community members, and doing a deep dive into their work. Insight into what makes them, them.

For our inaugural interview, we spoke with Patrick Nicholls, one of our past students from the International Artists Connection program at the Austin School of Film, who is based out of Manchester, England. Now a working filmmaker in England, we caught up with him and what he’s been doing since interning with us in 2014.

When were you involved with the organization?

Patrick Nicholls: I’d been living in the US as part of my degree (I was studying at the University of Nottingham) from August the previous year and was due to leave in July. I was looking for places to go and travel after College was out for the year, but knew that I should take the opportunity to get more film experience. I’d read about the Film scene in Austin, so I got in touch with the ASoF, and they were kind enough to offer me an internship. I was involved in the classes, writing blog articles, and attending events for the school. I’ll never forget the kindness of everyone at the School, especially Faiza [Kracheni], who really looked out for me when I had absolutely no idea what I was doing! Being at ASoF, and Austin in general, really opened my eyes to the real spirit of what Independent Filmmaking should be – I was blown away by how open and selfless people were in comparison to film scenes in more mainstream cities.

Directing At The Bus Stop

Director Patrick Nicholls (right) on location in East London with two of the actors in our Psychological Thriller Still Dark.

After your time at ASoF, where did you take your career?

PN: After interning at ASoF, I started a month’s course at the New York Film Academy and lived in the City for 6 weeks. I wouldn’t have been able to jump into the course as much, had it not been for all the time and advice everyone at ASoF gave me to help me prepare. After New York, I returned to the UK to finish my degree and come back down to Earth after an incredible year!

I was lucky enough that my time in the US had allowed me to really think about the films I wanted to make and I felt the experiences I had there helped me grow as a person ready to start my career. I’ve gone on to write, direct and produce 4 short films and have several in the pipeline for the near future. After working at several film companies in varying roles, I now work for the BBC, helping organize their daily TV News programmes across the World Service (worked during US, UK, Iranian Elections as well as several breaking news situations during this year’s disgusting attacks in the UK), whilst realizing my own personal film projects on the side.

You mentioned some short films you’ve made? 

PN: Yes, I’ve worked on several film productions of my own outside of work for the BBC. Films like Still DarkTeaching a Whore About Romance (currently in Post Production), and my latest film, The Spirit of ’58 (and arguably my most personal to date), which is a story set across ten nervous days, when United are playing to win a historic treble of the Premier League, FA Cup and European Cup, Joe and his dad contemplate the luck in his life with the desperate hope that it will mirror that of their beloved team. A heartfelt look at hope, the father-son bond and pre-millennial working-class Manchester.

 That film is due to receive its TV Premiere in September giving me my first TV Credit as a Writer, Director and Producer.

58Poster1

Poster for the Short Film The Spirit of ’58

I watched The Spirit of ’58. Incredibly impressed with the chemistry between your actors in the film, and just the overall intimacy of their dynamic. You had mentioned it being a personal film for you. What was it like having these two actors harbor that personal story for you?

PN: Jody [Latham], who plays Joe Reddy in the film, is a well-known TV actor here in the UK for starring in Shameless (the British original) and I was trying to assess what would be the best way to approach our conversations, because after years of working on TV, he had his own process of getting what he needs for each character. He’s very down-to-earth, so it was very easy for me to just talk to him openly about my wanting to understand more about his personal process.

I’ll admit that I was nervous about the relationship between him and Mark [Vanhendrijk], who played Patrick Reddy. Due to time-constraints they hadn’t spent a great deal of time together before the shoot and the film revolved almost entirely around the intimacy of their father-son bond. We talked about where these ideas came from, about my own relationship with my Dad and family, as well as Moston, Manchester where I grew up, which is also where we shot the film.

What kinds of conversations were you having with them on set?

No matter how personal these characters are to me, on every film I treat them as only half-complete on the page, as I love working with the actors to bring out the details of these people and give them life in ways I may not have thought of before. We focused more on discussions about what they brought to the characters themselves as I didn’t want to take away from their space to explore their relationship in those deeper moments. It was so special for me to see these two incredible actors bring together these people from my childhood. It was difficult not to choke up on set, because for me, it’s the very reason why I got into filmmaking – to give a piece of myself to these stories. To make this film set in north Manchester, where I grew up, was an absolute dream.

Do you have any new projects on the horizon?

PN: I’ve several projects coming up, as it’s the only way I keep myself sane! One that I’m particularly excited about is a fantasy-drama short called The Dance Inside, which we are going to crowd-fund in the next couple of months and I think has enormous potential. It’s perhaps even more personal, as it revolves around a young person’s struggle with mental health issues, mainly depression, which is something I’ve unfortunately had to suffer with for years and never openly discussed like this before. I wanted to create the feeling of having the condition; externalizing the internal view that mental health difficulties give you.

We’ve already got a wonderful actress onboard, Julia Pagett, who is one of the most naturally gifted actors I’ve ever worked with. She was perfect for this film because she gives so much of herself to her work. She recently starred in a short play she’d written called Sophie in London and it was easily one of the most moving performances I’ve seen in a long time.

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Patrick Nicholls (left) and lead actor Josh Harper on set of the Linklater-inspired dark comedy Teaching A Whore About Romance

What draws you to working in film and the visual media industry?

PN: Film has always been such a big part of my life. To me, film is everything. It’s poetry, it’s music, it’s philosophy. Walter Benjamin talks about how film allows us to re-examine elements of life like nothing else can and I really believe in that.

At the heart of it is story and that’s the thing that attracts me most to film. When I was a kid and saw the films of directors such as Ken Loach, Shane Meadows, Alan Clarke and Mike Leigh – it was the first time I really felt that this was something that I could do myself someday. They brought to life these emotionally complex stories about the everyday people and places that I grew up with in England. For the first time, I saw a beautiful sense of importance these stories had in my own life; the characters, the humour, the hope, the despair. From there, the world opens up to you and I realised there were so many types of stories I wanted to write and explore. Austin really rejuvenated my love of American Indie cinema, particularly Richard Linklater and Jim Jarmusch, who were both big inspirations behind my film Teaching A Whore About Romance.

There are very few things I enjoy more than the excitement of jumping into each stage of the filmmaking process, particularly the camaraderie on set. The buzz of seeing this world you’ve crafted come to life is like a drug and I don’t think I could live without it anymore. I’ve lived with depression for most of my life and there’s nothing that re-energizes me every day like another project to work on, whether it’s writing, beginning production, or even working on marketing our short films. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very hard work and it can be defeating at times, but when you sit in the cinema and see a film that truly inspires you – you realize there’s nothing you’d rather be than a Filmmaker.

INTERVIEW BY: Spencer Mirabal

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