First of all, why don't you introduce yourself to those of us who
don't already know you?
Tom Jolliffe. Iím a screenwriter and film journalist based in the UK.
Iíve also occasionally taken on other production roles, like producing
and may well do more in the future.
Do talk about some of your
current and future projects for a bit, and how did they fall together?
been pretty prolific in the last two years. I think altogether between
films Iíve written which are out, those in pre-production and those
currently in development, Iíve written over 20. Up until lockdown I was
writing predominantly horror. Most of these were commissions for a number
of British indie film companies. Recently, Return of the Tooth Fairy (aka
Tooth Fairy: The Root of Evil) debuted on DVD in the UK and itís due out
in mid July in the US too. Later this year, Witches of Amityville starring
Emmy winner Kira Reed Lorsch is also coming out.
now moved from horror to doing action films. Renegades (an old boys
revenge film) will shoot this fall, starring Lee Majors and a few
recognisable British stars like Billy Murray and Ian Ogilvy. There will be
a load more names confirmed on that one soon. Iím also working on a film
called Backlash (which will probably have a title change) that will star
an action legend. Iím very excited about this one, with our hero due to
partner with a British cop and take on Yakuza in London. Backlash and
Renegades will be directed by action specialist Daniel Zirilli, who really
knows his stuff ,and these will be overseen by prolific British producer
Jonathan Sothcott [Jonathan
Sothcott interview - click here], who is flying the flag for quality genre entertainment
in this country with Shogun Films. We also have several more films in
development such as Pretty Boy (a biopic of British gangster/fist fighter,
Roy Shaw...think Hardy in Bronson), The Star Chamber and Dragon
what got you into screenwriting in the first place, and did you receive
any formal training on the subject?
always loved film. I was a little obsessive about it I guess. When I was
younger I particularly loved action films or fantasy films. Spectacle,
when spectacle wasnít all CGI. Iíd play around with making scripts
when I was a bit younger, though I became more interested in writing film
reviews. Around 10 years ago I began approaching screenwriting more
seriously. I had a few close calls here and there. Nearly moments where
companies would fall apart at the last minute or couldnít find
financing. I hadnít trained as such, though I did study film (theory)
and creative writing at University. My study has mostly been in watching a
ridiculous amount of films I think.
What can you tell us
about your past filmwork?
I was struggling to get my scripts taken off me and made (in some cases,
even giving them away) I figured that taking more control myself meant if
a film wasnít made, Iíd only have myself to blame. I made my first
short called Out (crime drama) in 2015. I co-produced with my friend Alex
Lawton. He directed and edited it. I wrote it. Between us we sorted all
the cast, logistics etc. We had a great cast in it including Shone Romulus
from popular UK drama Top Boy, and Joerg Stadler who was the German P.O.W
in Saving Private Ryan. Odd guy, intense, but kind of brilliant. We made
it and it premiered on the big screen in London. I made a few shorts
beyond that, including Winter Hill (a drama, directed by Alex again), The
Dark Recess (horror, available on Prime UK) and Estranged (drama), all of
which did great on festival circuits.
Over the years, how do you
think you have evolved as a writer?
think with doing commissions Iíve got better at writing to
specifications and demands. Iíve learned about compromise. Iíve also
learned the benefiting of drafting, redrafting, redrafting and redrafting
(sometimes to the point of insanity). Thereís only been one film I felt
like I couldnít get 100% right, called Cyber Bride. I got close, but
ultimately there were too many conflicts (without any animosity) between
what the producers wanted, what distributors expected, and what a
ridiculously low budget can actually deliver on a sci-fi film. That said,
between us we got the middle third right and I really enjoy parts of that
On several of your
films, you also have other behind-the-camera (and sometimes even
on-camera) duties - is that something you enjoy, or a necessary evil, and
being more involved in the film than just writing, how much creative
control do you demand and/or get?
previously mentioned. When no one was making my scripts I had to turn to
producing to get the first one out there. I enjoyed it, even if it was
stressful. Casting is something I have a love/hate relationship with. I
love when you find brilliant talent who are undiscovered. Many actors
appear in several of my films across short, and features, because Iíve
been happy to recommend them to the producers making the features. Katie
McKenna is a young actress who worked with me on The Dark Recess, and then
I put her name forward for Return of The Tooth Fairy. I feel like I could
be a future interview question when she makes it big, ĎDo you remember
making a short called The Dark Recess?í Sheís incredible and does
introspection very well (which is hard. It can be the difference between
being a soap actor or a film actor). Iíve also loved certain auditionees
who werenít quite the right fit for what they originally applied for, so
I went back to them in another film.
far as acting myself, that was a necessity. I enjoy making virtually zero
budget shorts, and the less people you can have on set, the better. The
benefit of that, if I work with my brother for example, is he can shoot,
cut, light, grade and do sound work. Iím a keen musician, without any
aspirations to do it professionally, but Iíve scored a few shorts.
Again, sometimes it takes a while to hire someone, get their music back,
and it becomes easier for me to do it. I like to work quickly, so does my
brother. I have lucked out in having composers share the workload on a few
shorts. Ultimately though, one thing I enjoy about the shorts is the pick-up-and-go mentality you can have. As long as your story can fit around
having no money, and you have willing collaborators, thereís a fantastic
freedom. I do like that control, and I can do things that in terms of
feature commission guidelines might be deemed not commercial enough.
Could you take us
through the whole process of you writing a screenplay, from first idea to
those ideas that come to me completely out of the blue, I occasionally do
out a treatment, or at least a synopsis. For the shorts Iíve
occasionally had the rough basis for an idea, a logline and just launched
right into the script. I do 1-2 drafts maybe and then itís either good
to go, or itís in the vault for a time when someone is looking for
similar (at which point it may get another draft or two).
are a bit different. Occasionally I get asked if I can write a script
based on nothing more than ĎVikings vs Scarecrowí. Occasionally itís
a little more detailed, or specifics on characters (particularly if
theyíve been cast already). I wrote Witches of Amityville with the lead
cast all in mind. That went through 4 drafts I think. Iíve had two week
deadlines before, and been asked if I can do that. I usually can. The only
thing Iíve turned down was a 3 day deadline for a film, but that was
because it was too similar to Cyber Bride. I love concepts that excite me,
even if theyíre utterly ridiculous. So Iíve got Jurassic Island
shooting this autumn, Iíve had demonic scarecrows, witches, cyborgs. I
love all types of cinema, and ridiculously bad B movies I find enjoyable
in the right mood. So writing them is great fun. What I love is the mix.
The range of genres and concepts Iíve been able to write has been
amazing. Some of which will ultimately get battered by the internet
critics, but others which have cult film potential, or acclaim potential.
Working with Shogun particularly is providing a bigger platform, which
excites me. However if I get a call asking if I can write some batshit
crazy horror film thatíll be shot for the price of a watch, Iíd
probably still do it.
Do you restrict yourself to writing for the
screen, or are you also doing prose, poetry, theatre, or whatever else?
thought about novels in the past, but maybe later. Film is my first love.
Aside from screenwriting I still enjoy writing film-based
articles and do so regularly at Flickering Myth. I think, all bias aside,
itís one of the best film sites around and the sheer range of subjects
covered (by passionate and talented writers) is amazing. I love being able
to write about Andrei Tarkovsky films one week, and Don ĎThe Dragoní
Wilson the next. Weíre kind of given carte blanche, but thatís what
film should be about and great film sites should cover a base for
there any genres you prefer to work in, and why?
love writing comedy but itís the one genre that Iíve done the least
ironically. I love all genres though, as a viewer and as a writer. I think
the beauty of horror for example, is that you can have a little more
surrealism. You can toy with the psychology of your character. You can
also make the film prescient through metaphor, and on a visual standpoint
you can have something like Suspiria. Thereís all these deep primary and
secondary colours bleeding out the screen. In real world terms itís
illogical, but itís a horror film and within that movie, it has its own
would you describe yourself as a writer?
crazy probably (laughs). At the moment, because I just donít stop.
Itís insane. Part of me fears that whilst momentum is high, if you take
your foot off the gas for a moment, then you lose whatís ahead of you.
Itís taken 10 years to reach a point where I can go and find my work on
DVD shelves in the shops. I think Iíve become dedicated in a way I was
never about much in my 20ís. If you do only get one shot, this is mine.
So a 6 month holiday isnít an option.
filmmakers, whoever else who inspire you?
daughter inspires me, because one day when sheís old enough to
understand, I want her to think itís pretty cool that her silly old
father has made films people have seen. If weíre at show and tell, I
might not be making the money that the banker dad is, but I might have
more interesting stories to tell.
Tarkovsky, Bergman, Scorsese, Hitchcock, Kurosawa, Coppola inspire me.
Great auteurs inspire me. Not so loved auteurs also inspire me, like
Albert Pyun (actually Cyber Bride I like to think of as my ĎPyuní
film) or Uwe Boll. Guys who did their thing and had a vision. Boll as an
example, for better or worse, makes films the way he wants to and has a
clear vision of what he wants. Are they good? Well... but youíll remember
him over directors who are functional but not memorable at all.
lot of the action stars inspire me because they came out from
unconventional situations. They werenít part of drama school cliques or
in-circles. Arnie, Sly, Van Damme etc, almost lost everything before
gaining that big break. They went right to the edge
and then they never gave up. Itís incredible, and in the action genre
thatís a fairly common story.
Blade Runner, Taxi
Driver, Withnail & I, Stalker, The
Shining, Naked, Labyrinth,
Hard, Heat, Rocky, Chinatown. Just off the top
of my head.
... and of course, films you really deplore?
wouldnít say I deplore any but I have a bug bear about overly expensive
films that donít have the demand (and then turn out badly). Terminator
Genysis as an example. They spent huge amounts on that. For all that money
too, the film looks cheap, and I always wonder just how so many films can
spend well over 200 million and still have crap CGI. On
the subject of CGI, over-reliance is also a bug bear of mine. I hate
seeing CGI muzzle flashes, squibs, explosions which is almost the norm in
action films now. I get put off on lengthy action sequences that were shot
in a green studio.
look at something like the last Star Wars too. Itís enormous, itís
bloated and it cost a grotesque amount, but itís an absolute shambles in
terms of structure. A total mess, but films like this are quite common. It
gets away with being an appalling mess (Justice League was similar)
because itís Star
Wars. To be honest a lot of the Marvel films,
particularly some of the big eventsm are also structurally all over the
place, or they occasionally grind to a halt for an indulgent moment of fan
service. But at least Kev Feige, still knows to make them enjoyable (and
theyíre well cast with plenty of charisma). I would just love to see a
more pulled back focus on making engaging films and being more cost
effective. It would also be nice to see money filtering down to more indie
film-makers or smaller productions. Skydance keep shitting out Terminator
films for well over 150 mill. Let Blumhouse or
A24 do a great revamp for
10 million tops. I wasnít hugely keen on Joker (itís good but I
didnít think it was game-changing), but it cost peanuts by Ďcomic
bookí standards and made a fortune. That, is the formula to follow and
thatís more interesting than the majority of the greenlit blockbusters.
website, social media, whatever else?
for the interview!
for having me on.