‘One Man’s Loss’ dir. Phil Sansom
You never know what fate is about to throw your way.
Writer-Director: Phil Sansom
Cinematographers: Ross McLennan
Editor: Hande Kodja, Tracy Feith, Jeremy Mitchell
C8: We last spoke to you when we featured your film ‘The Black Hole’. What have you been up to since then?
PS: There’s been a lot going on to be honest. I’ve been busy developing my company PHIX which I started in 2012 working with my brother, it’s pretty great getting to shoot both film and photography projects. It’s been a rewarding experience building our own company and developing new work and making new contacts. It takes a lot of hard work and can be stressful at times but nothing ventured, nothing gained.
I’m still making TV commercials and recently signed with a new production company FEEL FILMS. They also look after some great film talent and produce TV drama, which is an area I’m keen to move towards.
My main focus though over the last couple of years has been working hard to develop feature film and TV projects that either I want to direct or help get made. My first feature is called UNARMED which is currently in development with Northern Ireland Screen. It’s early days but fingers crossed.
Oh and I also went travelling for a month to Chile, Peru and Bolivia. It’s good inspiration for the soul and the portfolio.
C8: Where did the idea for ‘One Man’s Loss’ come from and how long did it take you to write?
PS: I had been shooting in LA and visiting there a lot for a few years and I’d always wanted to make a short there. I had also just decided to work solo and was looking for a new short film idea to develop to add more drama and dialogue to my reel. I decided shooting an argument between a couple would be a great way to get work with actors and try something new. I had an existing idea based around luck and how it can change your life. So I decided to mash the two together. I’d often wondered how someone might be able to turn things around if they were living on the streets and LA has a huge street population downtown.
In terms of timescale I had just finished a commercial shoot in Australia and had a four-week window to make it before coming back for a job in London. I wrote most of it on the plane and then tweaked it during casting. My friend Hande flew over to play the lead girl and I did a week or two of casting where I met Jeremy Mitchell. Between us we work-shopped the action and dialogue until the script was ready to shoot. I guess it took about three weeks.
The biggest problem was finding the right guy to play the homeless guy. I ended up street casting Tracey Feith in Venice. He’d never acted before and had only moved to LA that week. Amazingly he was also shoe designer for Toms, which seemed to fit so well with the story I guess it was just fate.
C8: The narrative is very contained. Was this intentional heading into the writing process?
PS: Having limitations to your story is a great way to create a tight piece of storytelling. Seven minutes start to end. Three characters and each with their own life-changing event taking place. I wanted it be fun but also convey a serious message. We can all make changes for the better and enrich our lives and learn lessons – even if sometimes we need a little courage or luck along the way.
It was a self-funded project using money I had saved from my advertising work, so I needed to keep the locations and characters down in order to make it affordable. Naturally, I called in a lot of favours – thanks again to all involved! I was very lucky to have a great producer friend Richard Weager in LA who took a lot of the stress out of the process and made everything possible.
C8: How did you develop the visual aesthetic of the film?
PS: I love the sun-kissed streets of Downtown LA. It was a side of the city that not many people were showing at the time and I wanted to shoot something as far away from the bleak East London as I could possibly get. I’d often drive around parts of LA I didn’t know and spent a long time looking for the perfect location. I knew it was there somewhere; it was just a question of finding it. It had to have a second floor apartment with a sidewalk and street corner below. Not as easy to find as you might think.
The film has a positive message so the look was always about sunshine and heat. It also had to be shot with available daylight to a certain degree (budget restraints) so it made sense to give it that hot sun-kissed feel of LA during a heatwave. The last place you want to be is barefoot on the sidewalk when it’s 100 degrees – only Vagabonds and Englishmen walk in LA it seems. The downtown streets are a ready made movie set – for me it was something new, exciting and I was wonderfully out of my depth trying to get a film shot in 4 weeks in LA on my own money.
Once Ross McLennon (DOP) came on board we worked on the look of the lenses and framing, he’s got a great eye for that and the location was just so cinematic we had lots of options. I was also fortunate to have a great cast too who all helped bring the look to life. Hande was given dresses by Caven and a hat from Channel to use, Tracey just looked the part (he’s a surfer and has naturally shredded feet) and the blue suit I had just brought from Reiss for a wedding gave a bold splash of colour against the dusty red bricks. Mona May the stylist is also incredible. She brought everything together and made the most convincing homeless guy outfit – people even wondered why there was a vagrant was on set.
When you surround yourself with a great team everyone brings their best and helps to elevate the look. I really wanted to have a feature film aesthetic. True Romance was something I was watching a lot at the time as Tony Scott had just passed away and that was pretty significant to me as my friend Daniel Kent was working with him at the time.
C8: You also edited the film as you did on ‘The Black Hole’. How much more control does editing your own projects give you?
PS: I have always been an editor; it’s second nature to me really. It kind of went hand in hand with playing the drums, the rhythms, beats and cutting points just made sense to me. I’ve loved it ever since I started out cutting art installations at college and club projections in the late 90s.
I love the process of putting stories and images together, putting my editing hat on and looking back at my rushes with a new perspective. It takes time but it’s well worth getting it right, especially with something you really care about. It also keeps costs down and allows me to revisit my work any time I like. It’s true you have to draw the line at some point and stop tinkering – that’s the hardest part.
There is also no client to please so you really have to be brutal with yourself and be very disciplined. If a shot or dialogue isn’t working, don’t be precious with it, lose it.
C8: The film had a great run on the festival circuit. What do you attribute its success to?
PS: That’s kind of you to say but to be honest I really didn’t submit it for many festivals. I made it as a showreel piece to go online. There seemed to be a lot of darker more ‘gritty’ or ‘drama’ based films around at the time and I’d had enough of depression and gratuitous violence, so I decided I would make something with an upturn positive ending. Once festivals started to play it I guess word just got around – I think perhaps it made a refreshing change. The LA film festival was the first one I entered.
C8: Do you think that film festivals are still the best place for emerging filmmakers to showcase their work?
PS: To be honest it really depends on the film and what you are trying to achieve. There are so many festivals now and so many shorts that just getting it out there and having it seen is really my priority. It can cost a lot of additional money, time and energy to submit to festivals and to stay on top of submissions. If you’re on your own then it can be a bit of a struggle.
The best responses for me have been always seemed to be online, Vimeo Staff Pick, Nowness etc. When it made the Short Of The Week website I started getting calls from the US film studios and called in for meetings with everyone from Fox to Paramount to Warners. That was quite a trip.
Most of the young Execs at studios trawl the Internet much more now than actually going to short film festivals. A few festival laurels are a nice bonus, but I don’t believe in making work to win festivals. If it’s good then people will play it and share it online.
C8: You’re also an active photographer. How do you think your photography work influences your filmmaking?
PS: Yeah I love pictures and image making of any kind. I learnt to mix chemical baths at secondary school and was always in the dark room developing black and whites. At college I shot a ton of Super 8 and 16mm and looking at the world through a lens really helps your understanding of composing a frame and picking your angle – which ultimately informs you as a director.
I think I first shot on a VHS camcorder we had at home in the 80s, then it was my mums Pentax film 35mm stills camera which I used all through college. The tools that inspire you to get creative in the first place are often things that you have in the house as a child.
Now when I hike up to get a landscape shot it builds patience and motivation to find the perfect shot, or if I am working with a model or actor it builds a dialogue and communication. You need to learn how to get the reactions you want as a director and always be ready to go the extra mile for a shot you love. Working in stills can be a great grounding for that.
Many photographers are now being asked to shoot moving image, for me it’s just natural to want to be a filmmaker and also shoot stills. I studied fine art for four years and I always worked across many mediums.
C8: What advice would you give to emerging creatives who are both interested in photography and filmmaking?
PS: Pick up a camera and get shooting! It’s never been as accessible as it is now, you can research a world of imagery online, post your work and get feedback directly from other people. In the professional market place there is a vast array of talent and it can be daunting to compare yourself too much, so just do what you are passionate about. The fact is that nobody is going to just hand you the opportunity so it’s really all yours for the making. Just focus on what you like to do, what interests you and go see as much as you can. Be proactive and enjoy it!
C8: You’ve directed music videos and commercials. What is the biggest difference in your process in terms of how you approach narrative shorts?
PS: At the end of the day music videos and commercials are about selling something or someone. They have some creative freedom and some useful limitations, but shorts give you the freedom to express yourself, unbound by anything other than your own process.
C8: What’s next for Phil Sansom? Any exciting projects on the horizon?
PS: Watch this space I guess. I’ve uploaded a few photos from my recent South American trip which you can view on my website.
I hope you enjoy them. Thanks for the support.