An interview with David Lawson, director of ‘A Clockwork Heart’
David Lawson is the director of the short film A Clockwork Heart. For nearly twenty years Lawson has worked both as an electrical engineer and as a live sound engineer. One of his favorite hobbies is photography, which eventually turned into a love of filmmaking.
Not long ago David Lawson joined a small local filmmaking group which makes their projects just for the fun of it. After assisting on a few projects, which was a completely new and exciting experience for Lawson, he decided to take on the challenge of making his own film. Lawson is now crowdfunding his finished project so that he can submit it to various film festivals.
We had the opportunity to ask David Lawson some questions about the film, his burgeoning filmmaking career, and few other things. Here’s what he had to say. (If you want to stay up-to-date with A Clockwork Heart you can follow the Facebook page.)
Can you tell us a little bit about A Clockwork Heart?
A Clockwork Heart is a 14 minute film that takes a simple story and tells it visually, along with narration to guide the viewer. I made a conscious decision to stay away from the horror genre as I’ve been involved in a couple of these now and didn’t want to become pigeon-holed. A Clockwork Heart tells of the complexities of love from a simple point of view (as it is only 14 minutes long).
Where did the concept for A Clockwork Heart come from?
A Clockwork Heart was dreamed up in my head during 2017. A filmmaking group I was involved with was taking a lot of time to get work out into public view, so I decided to develop this idea during my down-time. Late 2018 saw the narration complete and early 2019 saw the story-board develop. It does borrow ideas from The Wizard Of Oz and from Pinnochio, but with a steampunk twist.
The idea behind A Clockwork Heart was to teach me filmmaking as I’ve only really dealt with the camera before. Looking after art, directing, set building, logistics, and casting were all new to me. It was quite an undertaking, but I was determined to fulfil as many of these positions as possible in order to learn and appreciate the whole process.
While working on A Clockwork Heart, what is one of the most important things you learned?
The most important lesson I learned was never take for granted your cast and crew. Without their hard work the film would not have been made. Some of the crew and cast only vaguely knew me, but were willing to take time off work in order to help a friend out. I’m grateful for their dedication; it meant a lot to me.
Another thing I learned was from building a set from scratch in order to give me some set building experience. [sic] I underestimated just how much clutter and how many props you need to make a living space look real. I’m still not convinced I pulled it off!
Is there anything you’d like people to know before watching A Clockwork Heart?
Don’t look for my mistakes! Seriously though, in a world that is currently in turmoil, enjoy this short 14 minutes as an escape into a different place. I made this film to entertain you and hopefully cheer people up.
You currently have an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to help you send A Clockwork Heart to film festivals, what do you want potential supporters to know?
The crowdfunder is live during the month of August 2020. It is on the Indiegogo platform where you can see more information, the trailer and photographs. The film was entirely self funded, and having now edited and finalised the film, it’s grown to be loved more than I could have imagined by the cast and crew.
We’ve even had some great reviews from independent reviewers. By supporting the Indiegogo campaign, you are supporting not only the possibility of getting A Clockwork Heart in front of festival goers, but you are supporting the festivals themselves. You are giving hope to crew and actors, some of whom never actually see their films completed, and you’re helping keep independent film alive.
Tell us about your career before you found filmmaking.
My professional career has been in the electrical and electronic engineering discipline – but that is my day job. By night for around 20 years I was involved as a professional live sound engineer, which certainly gave me a good background in sound. This was an easily transferable skill to filmmaking.
I’m also a keen amateur photographer, which has helped with the transition into filmmaking. Even as a hobby, I liked to push myself to produce interesting images. I spent time travelling and learning in order to develop my photography skills.
How did you start your journey into filmmaking?
With doing photography I found that cameras were getting more capable and I was already trying to utilise this when taking pictures. When I saw a post in a forum looking for people to help start a local filmmaking group I decided to get involved. Our first film together was made mostly to see how we all got on with each other.
We filmed an adaptation of a 1967 poem by Cees Buddingh. Our single actor was just eating a sandwich at a table and found “simple pleasures” in discovering that his two jam jar lids were interchangeable. It was a quirky little short and amusing to work together as a team for the first time.
You’re very hands-on with your projects. How hard is it wearing all the hats?
There is both bad and good. For example, planning the project has to be meticulous as no-one is checking my work. When filming we don’t film in chronological order, so if I make a mistake and miss a scene, I only really find out when editing. By then, it’s too late as to organise and guaranteeing the same weather in Scotland is beyond my capabilities! [sic] So, it can be very nerve racking. In contrast, by wearing all the hats, none of the departments had any disagreements.
Can you talk us through your creative process?
When filmmaking there are some really good guidelines as to how to approach this, but every film is different. It would be wrong to think that there is only one right way to make a film. Sometimes a different filmmaking technique can be the creativity, for example for The Blair Witch Project.
For me, wearing all these hats, I wrote a story that I believed in. I then checked that my wife also liked it (which is a crucial part, especially as a portion of my life will be spent on the film). With the story in hand, I sat down at the kitchen table and tried to imagine how each individual take would flow from one into the next. I knew that to tell this story I wanted longer camera takes, as this is not a quick cut scene/action type of movie.
As I imagined and reimagined the scenes, I drew up the storyboard for the filming process. As this film was narrated (by the fabulous Catherine O’Donnell) all these scenes had to be meticulously timed. Once the narration was recorded it was out with a stopwatch to check the narration against the storyboard and vice-versa. This possibly made my first directed short a bit more complicated than a scripted film might be, and for a couple of scenes we only just got away with it.
I’m very glad we had good handles at the top and tail of the footage. To top the creative process off, I screened the film to four people prior to showing the cast and crew. These were my trusted testers who I let watch the film and then pass comment before I finalized the edit.
What part of filmmaking excites you the most?
I think most filmmakers might say when you are on set and actually filming. This is the point at which the real buzz and excitement happens. This was also true for me. But it was also exciting to see the reactions on the faces of the cast and crew after they saw the film. It’s one thing to say I made a short film that I like. It’s another thing when the cast and crew are beaming too.
Can you tell us about any future project(s) you have planned?
I’m focused on the Indiegogo funder for A Clockwork Heart and film festivals at the moment, so there is nothing solidly in the pipeline. That said, I am researching an idea that is unique to the North East of Scotland, and at least at this point in time – I believe it would make good short film material. There are several angles to research and I’m still at early stages yet.
What’s your filmmaking mission? Name the most important thing you want viewers to experience when watching your movies.
I think I want the viewer to take away the emotional intent of the film; be that love, as in A Clockwork Heart, hope, sadness, feeling scared or rage. And I want everyone to feel they have been entertained during the process.
What’s your favorite film of all time, and what did you learn from it?
I’m certainly drawn to fantasy and sci-fi films, as special effects have leapt forwards massively over the last number of years. Filmmakers can tell stories that at one point in time would be better left to your imagination in a book. One that I do come back to from time to time is Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings. Not only would I rate the film on many levels, but if you’re a fledgling filmmaker Jackson gives so much back in the ways of extras (if you bought the DVDs) where you have a laugh with the cast.
In the extras he also goes into deep explorations into how the movies were made and this is an excellent insight into some of the “hows” within the industry – if you have the time available to actually watch what is a mammoth amount of material. There is so much in there; one can learn a lot. For me, one learning point was how complicated working with color can be, yet how simple it looks on the surface.
If you could have someone create a soundtrack for your life, who would it be?
Although known largely for a more aggressive metal/rock musical style, European singer Floor Jansen has an incredible vocal range that thrills, and a stage presence to match. It is maybe less known that she also has a gorgeous classical voice. So if I was going to have someone create a soundtrack for my life, I would have Jansen create a slower, calmer track to help me slow down and relax.
What’s your five-year plan?
I certainly intend to make more films. There is just so much more I want to learn as well. Some of this will have to include the dreaded legal side of filmmaking, but also the possibility to work with larger teams and develop newly acquired skills.
As a newer filmmaker yourself, do you have any advice for people who are looking to get started in making film?
It’s funny giving out advice as a new filmmaker (I’m not supposed to know that much), but one point I’d humbly raise is – did you watch The Blair Witch Project? Did you enjoy it? This shaky camera movement would never be tolerated as acceptable in our usual films. Yet, here it was a creative style that was utilized well. The sound was alright but not great, as it was captured on small camcorders.
However, would you have still enjoyed or even finished the movie if the sound had been terrible? Possibly not! And this is my point. Don’t overlook the sound department. I think as filmmakers we get caught up in cameras and fail to pay proper attention to sound or sound budget. It almost seems like an afterthought. It may not be what you see on-screen, but it is everything you hear. This sense is just as strong as vision when we tell our stories.
What’s the best movie you’ve watched this year, so far? Why did you enjoy it?
With lockdown in place for much of 2020, so far most of what I’ve been watching is TV shows. Particularly the Spanish show Money Heist, which I loved for its simple main story, but more complicated character lines and twists.
But if we are to just go with film only, then this year I finally saw a film from 2018 called Alpha. It’s about a boy who befriends a wolf and is set in prehistoric times. Visually this is rich, and the story is simple, brought to life by the cinematography, color and what is largely Keda’s (played by Kodi Smit-McPhee) dialogue.
Who are your current influences as a filmmaker?
I don’t tend to jump on bandwagons with filmmakers, but if I mention two who both (to me) have a similar trait. Again Money Heist, directed largely by Jesús Colmenar, and Joss Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer (the TV show). Both of these shows and filmmakers (not just the directors) brought to life relatable, flawed characters that so many people could identify with, and this is so important in engaging with your viewers.
So for me it’s not a given set of filmmakers or directors, it’s the creation itself, and whether I am emotionally invested in these characters.
What indie filmmakers should be on our radar?
I haven’t seen any recent material from these guys, but Stirton Productions created a film called One Day Removals. It was a comedy caper revolving around two characters who don’t want to kill people, but that’s just what life has planned for them. NB the bad language count is as bad as a body count in a Rambo film. If these guys produce anything further though I’d certainly watch it.
Also, one that I’ve been made aware of recently is Winners (2021) by Hassan Nazer and produced by Nadira Murray. It is known to one of my cast, and again with many of the traits I like, being richly character developed, this seems to have much promise between the characters young Yahya, and the much older retired filmmaker Naser. I hold much hope for this Iranian produced film.
And, well, there is always me!
What five TV shows do you think everyone should watch this year?
Well, if you haven’t seen Buffy or Money Heist those are two good character shows to start with. The Haunting of Hill House is great too, and the second last episode (I think) has got an incredibly long Steadicam shot, which was amazing to pull off. Its second season should be out soon.
Lucifer is due to return this year. It is based on Neil Gaiman’s writing with fun characters and is comical. Finally, and I know I’m behind the times on this one as I’ve not yet seen it but very much wish to, is the fantasy drama Stranger Things.
Have you worked with mentors? How would you recommend people go about finding them?
Sadly I’ve not worked with mentors so far. In this neck of the woods most short indie filmmakers do struggle as the creative hub of Scotland tends towards the central belt.
That said technology is great nowadays and you can get a good cohesive grasp of filmmaking from various internet training sites. If you do want a mentor, then I think you could try taking a filmmaking course or asking someone you know in the industry.
And finally, an easy one: cats or dogs?
Dogs. Every time.