‘Woodhouse’ dir. Fred Rowson

What is Living in our Nature Reserve?

Writer-Director: Fred Rowson
Producers: Christine Cheung
Cinematographer: Jake Scott

C8: Where did the idea for Woodhouse come from and how long did it take you to write the script?

FR: Woodhouse came from quite a literal place; when I was younger, my best friend had a nature reserve at the bottom of his garden in South London. We used to climb over his back fence to explore, so the thought that there could be a strange creature living in there must have occurred at some point. I turned the story into a 40 minute film shot on Mini-DV when I was 16, then revisited it for Woodhouse.

C8: What obstacles did you face during the shoot and how did you overcome them?

FR: The shoot was tough just because of the sheer number of locations and characters to juggle. And filming the script was like assembling a jigsaw puzzle – if we missed a bit, then the whole picture wouldn’t appear. I was lucky to have a team – my DoP, my Producer, Art Director, 2nd AD and all my actors – who were really passionate about the idea of making a multi-character short film, so they came on board with the knowledge that it’d be a tight shoot.

C8: The film was funded by Film London with support from the Kevin Spacey Foundation and a variety of other industry companies. Was it difficult juggling all of these organisations?

FR: No, not at all. This sounds like I’m being deliberately diplomatic, but I encountered nothing but constructive feedback from all of them, and in the case of Film London, it was so useful to have a deadline for completion from them – otherwise we could have edited it forever.

C8: You studied English Literature at Cambridge. Did this prepare you at all for the challenges of the film industry?

FR: It certainly prepared me for the challenges of directing. Both experiences involve having your own interpretations of what things mean or how they should be done, and then having to justify those interpretations to people that are way more talented or smarter than you are. Reading English also, I guess, gave me a great sense of story and atmosphere that I’ve definitely tried to carry into my work.

C8: You also direct music videos. What are some of the major differences between promos and narrative shorts?

FR: If Woodhouse was a jigsaw puzzle, generally music videos are not. That’s not to say that they don’t benefit from careful planning, but often the result is less disastrous if you can’t shoot a certain bit that you intended to – the music will pick up the slack in the edit, usually. Also, in order to get the tone and rhythm of a scene or an edit, I find it very helpful to shoot with the music in my head, which isn’t an option on shorts usually. On Woodhouse, though I had our composer write the music first, so that I could shoot to it.

C8: What do you think is the biggest misconception about narrative shorts?

FR: I don’t really know what people think generally about narrative shorts – as with all of filmmaking there are a lot of arbitrary rules which you don’t really have to follow. A lot of the most general conceptions about shorts – that they are only watched by other filmmakers and don’t make you any money from them – are largely true. But if people think that writing or making a good short is easier because it’s shorter, I guess that’s a big misconception because the shortness is what makes them so difficult to get right.

C8: How did you initially get into filmmaking and what advice would you give to those looking for their start in the industry?

FR: I just started doing it. I think that’s my best advice, though it’s easier said than done. But if you want to get into film, the best thing is if you just start making films and see where that takes you. Find people to collaborate with. Be true to your taste and inspirations – make what you would want to see, not what you think other people want to see.

C8: What makes for a good collaboration?

FR: Good taste and the willingness to listen. You should always be learning from the people who you collaborate with.

C8: What’s on the horizon for Fred Rowson?

FR: A few things! I am about to shoot a new short film, about a woman with a haunted oven, and I am writing my first feature.