Gabriel Bisset-Smith is an award winning writer/actor/director/comedian. Gabriel has recently been named one of the Dazed Visionaries by Dazed and Confused. Also, Gabriel’s short film Thrush won numerous awards, including the Rushes Soho Shorts Festival Tenderpixel Audience Choice Award, the 2010 Vimeo Best Narrative Award and the Grand Jury Prize at the Disposable Film Festival. We had a chat with Gabriel about his work and what’s on the horizon for him.
A lot of your work explores the hardship of trying to find love, how much are your films a reflection on your personal experiences? Or do you take influence from elsewhere?
Yeah I’ve had a few cracks of the love whip (copyright) and slashed my own face (a lot). Most of my films are based on my experiences or of those close to me (sorry Dan). Even if the exact story is pretty out there or seems heightened, it all comes from core emotions I’m feeling at the time. When you’re making something on no budget, telling the truth is usually the only way to make it work. Whether it’s a film, a play or a comedy show. I like to start with an idea or experience that’s bugging the hell out of me, then find the best way to express it.
You attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, at this time did you always see filmmaking as your passion or did you see yourself on a different path?
Ok this will make me sound like an utter wanker (because I am) but I really don’t see myself as just a filmmaker. Cause I work in lots of different mediums, darling. But, yes, when I attended Guildhall I did think I’d just become a big shot Hollywood actor and have people adore me. Also you needed zero A-levels to get into drama school and I had less than that. But Guildhall changed my life. I grew up on a council estate and went to a pretty rough school (it was considered the worst in London at the time bruv) so Guildhall was like another world. It was an acting training, but it covered so much. I devised my own work and for my dissertation I got to put on a solo show, which I directed and produced. In it I interacted with different versions of myself on lots of TV screens and that was the point when I realised I wanted to make different types of work. I really respect actors but I’m too much of a control freak and want to be in charge of everything. Also I should say that even though I did have a slight rough Mike Leigh upbringing (they actually shot one of his films in the flats next to mine) both my parents are very talented artists. They really are the reason I do what I do.
Each of your films have very different styles from the last, you’ve used still images, non-linear narrative etc. Are you searching for a style that suits your storytelling best or is experimenting with different styles something you can see yourself continuing with throughout your career?
I’ll always experiment. I think every story has the right style to suit it. Also it’s what makes the audience connect with the emotions I’m trying to express. I’m really fucking bored of linear storytelling. I hated the movie “Ratatouille” because it’s probably the most perfectly formed movie ever. I like stuff that’s unusual, rough around the edges and surprises you. Like “Mulholland Drive” or the “SpongeBob SquarePants” movies.
I’ve read that Woody Allen is a huge influence on yourself as a filmmaker, which aspects of Allen’s work in particular have had the biggest effect on you as a filmmaker?
Well the answer to the last question for one. He plays with style and tone a lot. But a filmmaker saying he’s inspired by Woody Allen is a bit like a table saying it’s inspired by a tree. He’s just part of the process. Love him or hate him he’s one of the greats who you have to watch if you want to make good movies. Allen’s movies had a huge effect on my growing up. My dad can take full credit for making me and my brother watch all of his work. What’s strange is that I’d watch them when I was young and love them. But then when I was older, once I’d experienced the emotions he was talking about, I’d watch them again and cry.
The success of Thrush must have opened a lot of doors for you, how important is it to gain critical success at an early stage of a filmmaking career?
So I just read an interview with a writer who gave a great answer to a similar kind of question. This is from a writer called Terry Rossio (Aladdin; Godzilla; The Lone Ranger, Shrek; the Pirates of the Caribbean, Zorro, and National Treasure) who is like the highest paid writer in the business. He’s asked by the writer John Robert Marlow about breaking into the industry and this is his answer. I think it sums up what kind of effect awards or critical success can have on your career in any field really. (You can read the full interview here)
Creating short films are a great way for young independent filmmakers to express themselves, but only having a short space of time to get your narrative across must be difficult. Is this the hardest part of making a short film?
To be honest, no. I find it quite easy (big shot or what). What I find hard is when I’m writing a feature and trying to justify why it’s so long. You can do so much in such a short amount of time that you really have to work at a script to make it entertaining for two hours. Or I do anyway.
Is there any short filmmakers that have had an influence on you at all, or inspired you in some way?
Chris Marker’s La Jetee is a pretty big one. My first film Thrush is made up entirely of still photos and so is La Jetee. It went on to inspire Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys and shows that as long as you have a story you can make a film out of anything. I found that pretty inspiring starting out with no budget or equipment.
What qualities must a short film have to make it stand out?
Good story. So many shorts look good but have fuck all story. Even just a decent story would make it stand above the others.
What are your opinions on the short film industry at the moment? Do sites such as YouTube and Vimeo make it easier for young filmmakers?
Yeah. I obviously have a fondness for Vimeo cause they gave me an award but I think it’s a really good site. I only really upload comedy videos to YouTube but all my shorts go on Vimeo. Vimeo is where I premiere all my work (mostly to little fanfare) but I like the community on there and I wouldn’t have an audience at all if it weren’t for them. I still think there’s a lot of snobbery about uploading your stuff to YouTube or Vimeo in the short film community. It’s usually what people do once they’ve exhausted the circuit but I think those people are gonna be left out in the cold soon. These are the places where short film really lives. Not at some bullshit film festival.
Is lack of funding an issue in the industry for short films?
I think less so with the increase of technology. People are shooting really cool stuff on their phones now. But I will add that I was very lucky to go to drama school and have lots of actor friends who will work for free (sorry Dan) but not everyone has that. So budget can effect how ambitious you are, depending on your connections.
What’s on the horizon for you as a filmmaker? Do you see yourself moving up to feature length films in the future or continuing with shorts and music videos?
Definitely moving to features. But I will always continue with everything else.
We at Bizarre Culture recently published an article looking at the importance of film festivals for independent film-makers, how important do you see festivals for getting your work seen? And is there any other advice you can offer young film-makers to help get their work seen?
OK, so film festivals are part of the game and you have to enter to them to some degree. I’ve spent a lot of money on festivals and won very little by comparison. But winning does help your career and build an audience. Especially if you’re literally starting from nowhere. The only advice I can give is to enter the big ones but also the small ones that you’ve really got a chance of winning. A win’s a win and still looks good on the old CV.
But I do also wanna comment on premier only film festivals. Ones that state that a film cannot have been shown online prior to the festival. These make up a large chunk of festivals and they can all go fuck themselves in my book. People go to film festivals because they trust the curator’s taste, not because the films are a fucking premier. The comedian Adam Buxton does a thing called Bug where he shows the best music videos on the web at a live event. It sells out because the audience trust his taste and enjoy the show. They can watch the videos any time at home but they still go along to see his choices. Short filmmakers having to keep their films locked up for up to year just in case they might get into a festival is nonsense. And lazy.
Do you have any screenings or future projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?
So I’m currently writing two feature films for other directors and one for myself and have just finished directing and co creating this big online murder mystery drama for the BBC called “The Last Hours Of Laura K” which you can play here.
Then next month I’m taking my debut live solo show “Gabriel Bisset-Smith tells the most original & funny joke in the universe” to the Edinburgh Fringe for all of August. It’s a multi media comedy show about originality and you can get tickets here.