Andrew Davidson is one of the co-founders of Last ATAK Pictures and directed the short films LiMBO, Autumn Heart and Quondam. He has spent the last year working towards making The Musicals his first feature film.
As creator of lastatak.com, we caught up with the writer/director to find out his thoughts, feelings and memories of the last three years of Last ATAK Pictures.
LiMBO was your first directing job, how did that come about?
Bullying mostly I would suspect. Maybe I wanted it more than Angie, Tom or Kati I don't know. I had directed a play a couple of years before, so I guess I had some experience and just asked to do it and was allowed.
How did you find the process of directing LiMBO?
LiMBO was a very stressful experience by virtue that I had no idea what I was doing. That's not to say that I was clueless about the process of filmmaking, but more that I didn't really know where to start shooting or how to prepare myself for the work. It was just the largest learning curve I've ever experienced. It was a nightmare trying to make sure that it all worked. I still think it's a great credit to the cast, crew and I think especially Kati Reeve while we were editing that the film all came together as it did. I played my part, but with anything, without that kind of support it could have flown out of control.
How was that compared to working on The Silent Voice, Autumn Heart or Quondam?
The Silent Voice was very different as it was really Robbie's baby and vision and I was just along for the ride to try and make his film. I think there's some of me in there, but I think Robbie and I have very different ideals, and it's not necessarily the film I'd have made, but I learnt a lot working on it.
Autumn Heart started out all well and good, with our simple of goal of making a better film than LiMBO, but situations out of our control conspired against us to make it a very difficult experience. It's a film that needed a much tighten reign on it than LiMBO or how Quondam would be, because there is a worry with that sort of story that you can either overplay the emotion and it's very false and hammy, or you can underplay it and you don't get it to the point where you touch people. It was a stress just because so much was on the verge of going very wrong, but everyone stuck by it and we got through it and still managed to create a beautiful and meaningful film.
Quondam was my anti-Autumn Heart. It was by all accounts an easier production than LiMBO or Autumn Heart, as it ran smoothly from beginning to end with the boundless help and enthusiasm of Kevin Brett. The challenging factor of the film was really just making it work, and there were a few times during post-production where I thought it wasn't going to. You've got to be careful with a visual story that your getting the narrative across to the audience. I look at it as my risky film, and thankfully from what we keep hearing, it worked. That makes me very happy indeed.
As a writer, what inspires your stories? Where do you start?
All sorts of things inspire me, but I feel that as a filmmaker it's important to not just tell a story but to also say something else with the story. I think the layers in a movie, any movie, are what make them so lasting and re-watchable. A film that wears everything on it's sleeve won't be as satisfying a second or third time as a film where you are always discovering something new, or being challenged to think about something.
Quondam was really my first solo writing job, LiMBO I had written with Kati and it was about making the right choices in life to be a better person ... the reward being heaven. Autumn Heart I had developed with Kati and written with Angela Slade. It's probably the most dense work, just the amount of layers and recurring themes in it. It was very satisfying to write and both Angela and I got to say something that meant a lot to each of us. With Quondam though, I started with an image and then worked backwards. I created the story around the image of Jack and the Demon. It's about human excess and how that can lead to loosing the people that are important to you. It was my dark piece. I'm over it now.
Both LiMBO and Autumn Heart won film awards, were you surprised by this and how did it make you feel?
Without sounding conceited, I was only surprised that LiMBO won. Not because I didn't think it was any good, I just hadn't given much thought to anyone else liking it as much as we did. Coming as it did during the production of Autumn Heart, it was a boost to me and the team to strive for making our work even better. I knew when we finished Autumn Heart that it was something to be very proud of. It was a great honour to receive the Best Film award for the film after all the heartache and problems that went into making it, felt like finishing an olympic marathon in lead boots and getting the gold medal.
What do you remember most fondly about working on the films?
LiMBO I will remember for the time I got to spend with Amy [Kemp] again, who I hadn't seen for a long time and also for meeting Darren [McAree]. Autumn Heart, weirdly, I have fond memories of script reads with Darren at my house and a lot of laughter. With Quondam I'll remember working with a wonderful cast and crew who all worked so hard and with utter dedication to create something that I feel I made whilst in a really bad mood. (laughs)
It seems as if The Musicals may be delayed for another year, what's the situation and how does it make you feel?
The Musicals has plagued me for years. I created the basis of it back before we made Autumn Heart ... in fact, the first 10-15 minutes of the feature film are more or less the same as the short film we developed. Once we changed and worked on Autumn Heart, I just put the idea away and it wasn't until after the premiere of Quondam when Steve Coltart asked what I was doing next that it went back to the idea, and as I wrote it just kept getting longer and no one batted an eyelid when I mentioned making a feature so that's what we were going to do. We were ... or are ... trying to make the film for £10,000. Which is pretty reasonable for a feature, but after a few false starts it looked like we were going to get a whole bunch of the money, but, as is the way in this business, it didn't go through. It's not over, we're going to keep trying to make it, I've waited three years so far, I can wait another couple. It's just a little sad to have come so close.
Can you tell us a little about the story, where it came from and what it's about?
The story focuses on a young girl called Rosa Musical and her family who can only communicate through song, and as such are really marginalized from the town and treated like freaks. It's a love story between Rosa and a guy from the town called Tim Luther who falls in love with her, and how they must over come the prejudice of the society to be together. I guess in some ways it's a little Romeo and Juliet ... well ... maybe more West Side Story. But at it's heart we're dealing with current issues of racial hatred, bigotry, sexism ... those sorts of things. All wrapped up in a comedy, romance and musical bow. It also gave me the chance to work with Ben Brennan from The Silent Voice again.
Are you currently working on anything new?
I've been writing a couple of new short films. One is a Second World War set drama piece, very visual, a little unsettling, very interesting. Unlike any of the previous films. Probably the most serious work I've done. The other is a film I've written for Ben [Brennan], it's a romantic comedy, but that's really about half the film. It's a film about loss and carrying on with life but not forgetting loved ones who have died. We're exploring that feeling of loss in a visual way during the romantic comedy story. It's very sweet.
Are any of your previous films showing at any new festivals or screenings?
It's probably too late for LiMBO or Autumn Heart to get many screenings, as festivals tend to want more recently produced work, but I think Quondam has a few more months of life in it. So we'll see what happens.
You started lastatak.com in 2002, what was your original intentions for the site and how has it changed over the years?
It sounds sort of stupid, but really it was a way of not having to keep telling my family and friends how my filmmaking was going. But I learned pretty quickly that there was more to it than that. Since those early roots my 'vision' has expanded to tell the world how my filmmaking is going. In a world where it's not possible for filmmakers like me and the films I make to reach a mass audience in cinemas, I can create my own world to showcase the work and let people come to me. I think the thing that has change most, other than the fact that more people are involved in the site now, is that the wealth of information and media for our work has grown. I think it's easier now that it has ever been to gauge the work and find out all about the films. Also, the message board has opened up a whole area of communication between us, the filmmakers, and the audience. It will be nice to see that community continue to grow and people discover us.
What's next for the site?
We're addressing the lastatak.com|SHOP at the moment. I'd like to get some more of our work from The Musicals online, some of the demo tracks.
What's next for you?
Hopefully making another short film soon. For the last few months, since we started work on the new LiMBO and Autumn Heart DVD, I've been thinking a lot about returning to the world of LiMBO. There's not really much to talk about as I've not written anything. There won't be a new movie as I just couldn't think how to make the set up work for any longer than it did in the short, but hopefully there'll be a chance, somewhere down the road, to revisit that world.
If you could sum up your experience with Last ATAK Pictures in a sentence what would it be?
Wow, my experience with Last ATAK Pictures and the films I have made has been life changing. I mean that literally. Perhaps if LiMBO hadn't worked, or if Autumn Heart had falling so far apart as it threatened to do things would be different, but the work has filled me with just joy and passion for filmmaking. I just want to keep going. Was that more than a sentence?