Tom German, 23, in his final year of the BA Film degree, has just started working on our new Gallery Shorts series of interviews with artists and curators. Check out his handy work here. We talk to Tom about the films that have influenced his style and making his mark in the industry after college.
Tom, you’re coming to the end of your degree how have you changed as a filmmaker over three years? Are the films you make now different to what you were making before?
Yes. Being here has really helped me to specify my interests. I now know what I’m into and why I’m into it. Before, I didn’t. Before, I would find a film or filmmaker I liked and try to make my films look like theirs. I was interested in making stuff that looked good, but there was no real context behind them. Now, more of the ideas and inspiration come directly from me. I’m not afraid to do things my way.
How did you come to filmmaking in the first place?
When I was younger I surfed a lot with my Dad. He introduced me to a set of films by a director called Thomas Campbell, who shot all of his films on 16mm. They were a mixture of surf films, art films and photography, but I was wowed by all of it. So I really got into film from my dad and those early Campbell films, but didn’t fully pursue it until much later.
What is it about the medium of film that appeals to you?
Film is a really intimate form of communication. It’s a way for other people to see what you see, especially with observational film.
You can really put across an emotional tie or express a feeling. If you really want to, you can connect with an audience.
What other filmmakers or films have inspired you?
I’m into observational films that allow viewers to make up their own mind about what they are about. These films are in opposition to a lot of the force-fed narratives you get in Hollywood these days. As for filmmakers, I really like these guys called Dessilusion, who make really interesting interviews for their magazine of the same title, which is all about surf, skate and snowboarding culture. I also like the Norwegian film director Kristoffer Brorgli, he makes great observational documentaries. He made a brilliant short about this guy, 'Inspector Norse', who is a Youtube techno sensation. I think it’s fictional, but it’s definitely really funny. He films this guy dancing in the streets, doing weird things and talking about his failing music career. It’s called Whateverest. In the film you see Inspector Norse has a whole collection of pictures of Mount Everest n his house, which he says represent every idea and dream he had that didn’t work out; every endeavor attempted but not achieved. Everyone should watch it.
You made a nice observational piece recently, The Sprawl, which was featured in the short film category of The Aesthetica Film Festival. Nice one! What was the concept behind the piece?
The Sprawl is indeed all about observing. The idea came about when I tried and failed to make a more conventional film. With new inspiration, I decided to make something more conceptual, looking at the urban environment, but really looking at it, not in a functional sense, in a more candid way. I wanted to look at the shapes, patterns and textures that are all around us upclose. It’s not a traditional film, or the kind of film I would normally make, but I like it.
How does it feel to be getting recognition for your work outside of these institutional walls?
It feels good. I’m glad, and if the recognition leads to something more, that will be even better.
I’m starting to get more commissions, which is positive - I’ve been working with the college on their Gallery Shorts artist interview series between studies. That has been really interesting and I’ve met some great people. It’s good to be using the skills I’ve developed over three years in a professional situation.
And what are your plans after college?
I haven’t decided yet. It could be television advertising or documentaries or anything, as long as I get to apply the same creative thinking processes to my films as I’ve been able to do here I’ll be happy. I don’t want to get stuck doing something that I don’t really engage with. I’ve done that. I came out of school and instead of going on to study film, I studied carpentry and became a qualified bench joiner instead. I did an NVQ and started working, but got laid off. That’s when I fully committed to film.
What do you think of the course now you’re coming to the end of it? Apart from the focus and clarity of thought in terms of what interests you as a filmmaker, what else have you gained?
The course is very much what you make it - what you put in, you get out. It’s all here: great staff and brilliant resources. The lecturers will give you a good grounding in everything you need to know, but if you want to build on that it’s really down to you to ask questions, approach the right people and show interest in what you’re doing. People are always more than happy to help you, but what you put in, you get back.
Course Leader Dan Paolantonio is a good person to develop ideas with - 90% of the time if I approach him with an idea he’ll give me something new to think about that I would never have originally thought about. Another lecturer, Lucy Leake, is spot on when it comes to the contextual side of things, and Stu Bailey is brilliant technically. All of the staff are great and approachable, and you can learn something from all of them if you want to.