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Filmmaker Interview with Michael Turnbull


Please can you tell us a bit about how the opportunity came about for you to make/be involved with short film Empty Encounters?

The opportunity was thrown at me quite strangely as I’d kept seeing the National Youth Academy adverts on my social media feed. But as an avid watcher of Philip Schofield on This Morning, the news was floating around about scam adds. So I thought nothing more of it, until my ex told me to give it a good gander. And so, forgive my toilet humour, I followed through with it. The course seemed like a great opportunity. After finishing the course and meeting the people I did, I can confidently say it was.

Michael Turnbull filmmaker interview
Michael Turnbull filmmaker interview

Having made short films before, how was the process different this time? What were the new opportunities and/or challenges?

Ooooft sweet Jesus.

Well doing this film was a completely different bag of fish to how I'd usually like to work so it was a steep learning curve. Story wise I’ve always been drawn to telling stories where the #drama is small scale in scope with a small cast of characters. BUT WITH THIS ONE GEEEEEZ, we were given a greater number of actors than what I was used to, all with their own set ideas and each needing a good part that could allow them to shine.

Not only this but the writers, bless them, had to constantly face an uphill battle by not only incorporating all the actors, but have it be no more than 15 minutes in length and to top it off they had to actually tell a story.

So many of the days we went in blind with only a handful of the behind the scenes crew knowing what was going on in the scene. Out of necessity some scenes required I write them the night before and others on the spot with the cast and crew.

While I’m a big fan of improvisation to reveal character…this bad boy was something different entirely.

When approaching a new project, are there certain aspects you will prioritise over others? If so, which ones and why?

My usual approach towards any project is first and foremost the script. As when my brain can muster it I too like to write screenplays so I’d like to think I understand how hard it is to put pen to paper. So I only ever really do a project when I believe the script is strong enough for everyone to build upon or do justice to.

Then begins storyboarding!

This is the fun part for me as I can find the visual tone, break down the story and strangely for me it's when I feel more connected to the film and allows me to understand it. As when I draw it out I give me a small level of ownership.

Then when all is well and the script is solid I workshop the characters with the actors and start to physically flesh out some key memories, in relation to the story, through improvisation.

I've found, at least through the lovely actors I’ve had the pleasure of working with, that they enjoy this part of the process as even though we’re playing around we are able to find key things and situations that bring out the characters more.

I love actors so I think that if you cast them well enough and have the same end point, it's only right that you give them to space to bring something you may have missed.

What are your plans for Empty Encounters?

For a lot of the cast and crew this marked their first big film, and given the constraints, it was a miracle to make a rather entertaining little film with a beginning middle and end. It’s for these reasons and how well the crew worked together that I too am proud of it. There are moments I HATE but there are small quiet moments that I think really shine through.

#Festival-wise it's been entered into one or two but whether that pans out we’ll see. It's one of the main reasons why I wanted to get the film reviewed by you lovely people, as ‘yes, WE like it’ and so did people from the course. But when you're surrounded by people who had been living this same work environment and understood making a film in this time scale, I wanted to know how an outsider/reviewer would see the film.

In all honestly I hoped Empty Encounters would get a solid 3 star film review. “Entertaining, showed heart but a lot of flaws” but that just shows me I have more to learn. Once again though I can’t commend a site like this enough, that give filmmakers unbiased feedback.

I'm just happy that I was able to surround myself with people who love telling stories again, and after so many years since The Sea Monsters Funeral, wandering around seemingly alone, the course has really reenergised my passion with storytelling again.

What's next for you?

Off the back of Empty Encounters I’ve been sent a few scripts to direct, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while. As I’ve only really written my films out of necessity or seemingly a need to bring it to light. So I’m interested in trying to lend my perspective to help someone else do the same.

But the two big things I'm wanting to do are A) do a little film called EIGHT BALL, which reunites me with the wonderful actor Ross Newell (Murray Williams in Sea Monsters) who tells the story of a blue collar criminal who, despite his failings in life, just wants to play pool. Alas his coworkers aren’t having any of it. It’s a strange little personal piece about how dreams confront reality, and what happens when you are not doing something you love. Not at all autobiographical of course….But the writing of this is turning out to be harder than I thought, but I CANT GET THE DAMN IDEA OUT OF MY HEAD….anyway…

It's a different angle for me, as I’ve long been cursed with my family falling asleep at SMF when I first showed them it so I’ve been wanting to shake things up bit. Other than that I’d love to make a feature film and have a few in long term development i.e. The Sea Monsters Funeral feature, but scripts are hard to write you know?

What advice would you have for a first-time #filmmaker?

I’d say the classic one I always used to get told was “just get a camera and film”, I used to think it was bo**ocks but it's true haha.

I’ve made so many bad films that only now are some of them more watchable. But it’s all a learning process and it's something young filmmakers need to go through. And if it a story you want to tell, at the end of the day the only person stopping you from making it is you. If you can make a film personal, even if its not for everyone someone in the world is going to connect with it (you can re read that in Morgan Freeman’s voice to hammer it home more).

I love watching some terribly reviewed films, like just bad films, but my belief is that there is no one bad film, there is just a film that that person doesn’t like.

Everyone is open to opinion, that's just that. OH!! and another key thing for first time filmmakers is LEARN TO DO EVERYTHING. You will gain so much respect for people when you work in bigger teams. #Filmmaking is about collaboration after all.

Lastly without sounding too profound I’d like to say something that has inspired me in my filmmaking, so here's hoping it does the same to anyone reading this. I can’t remember specifically where I heard it but the filmmaker Sam Raimi described directing as being the captain of a ship, and it being your job to get everyone safely from A to B. I carry this in my head every time I ever do a film, even if I’m not the captain.

Speaking of profound, what would you say if you were a dolphin?

Beautiful question, for a long time I’ve been waiting for this moment. I suppose the only thing I would say if I were a dolphin would be -

(*clears throat, cough cough cough)

SQUEAK GRUNT CREAK so long and thanks for all the fish EEE GRUNT GRUNT SQUEAK.

Then I’d try reboot ‘Flipper’ as a #JasonStatham action vehicle.

Read the UK Film Review verdict of Empty Encounters.



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