Department of Theatre and Film
Interview with a Filmmaker: Christopher Nicholson
by Colleen Mleziva
Christopher Nicholson, Filmmaker
BIOGRAPHY: Christopher Nicholson is a writer/director who has been involved in the film industry since 1983. Since 2000, he has been a fully freelance writer/director. Nicholson is primarily an actor’s director. His particular strengths are his ability to write and direct material that is built on narrative and character – in both comedy and drama – his ability to work with actors, and his ability to create stylish and effective visuals. Nicholson has shot professionally on nearly every format available in both film and videotape, and has made numerous commercials for both cinema and television as well as short films, music videos, corporate videos, programs, live TV, interstitial programming, program trailers, title sequences and infomercials. Nicholson was the first in the UK to direct a live action Cinema and Television Commercial created in a virtual studio, as well as the first to use digital cinematography to create a Cinema Commercial. Nicholson's most prestigious role as Commercials Director thus far was a nationwide Cinema commercial campaign for British Airways. This was screened across the United Kingdom for two years running.
FILM SYNOPSIS: Nicholson's time is currently devoted to developing Manfred, a 35 mm feature film he will direct from a script he has also written. Manfred tells the story of Manfred Von Richthofen, a young Cavalry officer in the First World War who turns his back on the family tradition of life in the Cavalry to embrace the emergent technology of powered flight.
What inspired you to become a filmmaker? How did you get your start in the industry?
I built my first camera out of an old shoebox and a broken telescope when I was 7 and sold my first photograph when I was 10 (NOT taken with that box camera, I hasten to add). I guess you could say cameras were always in my blood. I paid for my way through University with my camera and as luck would have it, the more involved I got with the industry, the more I discovered that my personality ideally suited the role of Director.
The first serious industry based training I was lucky enough to receive was from the BBC, said to be the best training in the world. Then, each and every career move I have made has been a result of my kicking and screaming (ok, begging and deal-making, but you get the idea). There is no formal career path to being a Director, one just carves out a path as you go.
What factors attract you to a certain project?
These days, I tend to write what I also direct and so I could say that this is a factor. But, in reality, this isn’t true. Really, what attracts me most is the desire to say something new, something original, something worthwhile.
The central premise of any artistic endeavor is a clear understanding of:
“What are you trying to say and who are you trying to say it to?”
If the project has a voice, an original voice, then I’ll probably be interested…
What kind of project(s) are you currently working on?
I’m working on three different things right now:
This is really my main focus and is a feature film that I have written, will direct and am also Producing. The budget is $16 million and it is an Action/Adventure/Romance. It tells the story of Manfred Von Richthofen, a young Cavalry officer in the First World War who turns his back on the family tradition of life in the Cavalry to embrace the emergent technology of powered flight. By taking to the air, he hopes to turn his back on the life fate had in store for him, carve out a destiny he can call his own and make an impression on the world – and what an impression he makes.
Where did you get your inspiration?
Well, Manfred’s story is metaphorical as the film isn’t really a “War” film. I guess I identify with the central theme that we are all free to take the path less traveled, if we are brave and strong enough…
What kind of audience are you targeting?
Two demographics simultaneously, 15-24 year olds and AB12 Adults.
What themes are played out throughout the project?
That we are all born into a life not of our own choosing and that it is only the very brave, very bold and very courageous who turn their back on this fate and try to carve out a destiny that they can call their own.
What kind of problems (if any) did you have?
That EVERYONE in the British Film Industry wants to say “no” to something original. Nobody ever got fired for saying “no”.
That, and the fact that the film involves period planes in flight for over 40% of the script – something bloody tricky to achieve safely without spending a fortune.
What kind of choices did you make during production in terms of sound, photography, editing, funding, etc?
I could write a book on the choices I have to make.First comes the money and then everything else follows… I’ve set this project up three times already in the last 8 years I’ve been working on it only to see the finances fall away for political reasons each time. This time, I’m trying a different financial route, that of Equity Funding. I can prove on paper that the film will be nice and profitable and so am going direct to Equity Funding Sources (banks etc) rather than via the more classic way of Studios etc… Let’s see what happens.
2) MARIA’S GAME
This is a short 30 minute drama I’ve written and would direct that I’ve submitted to a terrestrial television network here in the UK. It may or may not happen.
It’s a chance to do something completely new, a MUSIC FILM, evolving the tired clichéd device of a music video into something new… Again, let’s see what happens.
This is a series of 12 DVDs that are designed to be given away free with an aviation magazine and would also get transmitted on the Discovery Channel. Each DVD details the specifics of a certain iconic aircraft.
This is under commission and may or may not happen…
What are you working on next?
I though I’d have a go at solving the Arab/Israeli Peace Issue, that should take me a morning.
OK, seriously, I do have a project “on the back burner” but won’t focus on it until MANFRED is complete and on screen.
Do you have any general tips for young filmmakers?
1) DON’T GIVE UP
2) DON’T GIVE UP
3) DON’T GIVE UP
Also, for the love of God, FIND YOUR OWN VOICE!!!