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Filmmaker Focus | Paul Holbrook

In this week’s edition of Filmmaker Focus, we explore the career of multi-award-winning writer, director and filmmaker, Paul Holbrook. As a self-taught director, Paul has also had his work selected for BAFTA and Oscar-qualifying film festivals around the world, including Palm Springs, BFI London and Aesthetica. He has also had many awards thrown his way. 


Known for his short films Hungry Joe, Hollow and Old Windows, we will be delving into Paul’s captivating journey into filmmaking, discussing what it is about his short films that make such an impact, and exploring what might be next for this influential filmmaker.


So, first, let’s go back in time…


Journey Into Filmmaking 


Paul was born and into a working-class family and grew up on a Bristol council estate. His formative years encompassed a limited level of formal education and a wide variety of jobs from building sites to debt recovery. Despite this, he always had a love for storytelling. And so, after advancing through various industry competitions and programmes, including Page, Shore and Screencraft, Paul’s career as a screenwriter took its first steps. 


Between 2014 and 2016 Paul and writing and directing partner Sam Dawe, produced and often starred together in a series of comedy short vignettes. Hinging on simple, yet imaginative comedic concepts, they cranked out shorts like Riddles in the Park, Allen vs Predator and Lie Hard.





Even with straightforward concepts, Paul and Sam were building crucial experience and connections, not to mention becoming more and more ambitious. This culminated in their first major short film A Girl and Her Gun, released in 2015. A Girl and Her Gun also marked the first of many collaborations between Paul and actress Laura Bayston (known for playing Babs in Killing Eve and her brilliant turn in The Wife and Her House Husband).


Paul and Sam would go on to co-write and direct several increasingly ambitious and highly successful short films including throwback horror/sci-fi Cell, social drama Sunday Worship and the outstanding horror short film Hungry Joe


During this time, Paul’s career really began to take flight as he made the final 1% of the Academy Nicholl Fellowship and was also selected for career development through Creative England, BAFTA and the BFI. 


In 2020, Paul was nominated for London Critics Circle award for Hungry Joe, which was described by Short of the Week as “One of the UK’s greatest modern horror shorts”. 


These successes would be followed by a run of short films with Paul taking the reigns as sole-director, starting with the BFI supported youth comedy Shiney, the Pitch Film Fund supported dark thriller Hollow and tense drama Old Windows. The latter two would see Paul re-team with Laura Bayston, with Hollow lining her up alongside veteran actor Karl Collins and Old Windows setting Laura opposite legendary actor Larry Lamb.



So, aside from being an insanely talented screenwriter and director, what is it that sets Paul Holbrook’s short films apart from everything else out there? 


The Impact of Holbrook’s Films 


In an episode of our podcast in which he appeared with co-writer/producer Laura Bayston, Paul discusses the indie filmmaking industry and how he has navigated his way through it by ‘forming a tribe’ and getting better with every film. Filmmaking, like many other artforms, is all about making mistakes, learning from them, and then making something even better. It’s that easy and that hard. He also advocates for the importance of short film as it allows people who are just starting out to build a portfolio and network with other like minded creatives, who may well form part of your ‘tribe’. 


Though, Paul reminds us that regardless of where you are at in your career, your budget or even what camera you are shooting on, the fundamentals of storytelling always remain the same. 


So, what is it about Paul’s films and his storytelling techniques that really set his films apart? 


Well, in the same podcast episode, Paul draws on the importance of character and an actor’s ability to empathise and understand the character they are playing. Using Hollow as an example, which explores themes of revenge. Paul draws on an experience where he sat down with Karl who plays a Vicar, Father Hill, and asked him exactly what revenge meant to him. He then asked him to sit down with a producer who was working on the film, who was also a Vicar, and asked them to discuss the issue. With this conflicting voice of God in his ear and the drawing on of past experiences, the Karl Collins was able to create a truly authentic character who believes God punishes the guilty using his own vengeance. Thus, we see the character of Father Hill really struggle to watch Laura sink deeper into the depths of her grief and even considers taking on the burden of carrying out ‘God’s will’. 



It is this exploration of raw emotion that Paul admits he likes to draw on both during development and before certain scenes are shot – more often than not, leading to powerful and authentic performances. 


Paul explores how short films and the indie filmmaking market are a great way to get better at your craft and make the mistakes you need to make, he also states that it is important to look back and reflect on your work (however cringey it may be!), so you know exactly what did and didn’t work. This method of continuous review and improvement also has the benefit of building a body of work and with it, your audience. With this growth, standards get higher as do, not only your audience expectations, but your own. As a result, Paul has arguably become one of Britain’s standout writer/directors, with each subsequent film in some way topping the last. Merging his background and life experience with the classic genre films he grew up on, Paul has created some of the most incredible short films to hit the UK movie landscape in the last decade. Many of his films reference his working class background in a number of ways, but unlike the poverty porn so common in these types of settings, Paul is able to blend these experiences with the otherworldly as well as reminding audiences how much friendship and fun encompassed his childhood, not just the difficulties. 


What’s Next for Paul? 


At the time of writing, Paul is entering post production on a brand new short film entitled Boys Like You, which follows a depressed housewife struggling with a sense of detachment, despite the polished lifestyle she has built for herself. She seeks out a troubled young man from a darker past with disastrous consequences.


The film stars Lindsay Bennett-Thompson, Liam Collins and Louis Emerick and is written by Lindsay Bennett-Thompson and Paul Holbrook. The film is produced by Matt French and Bruce Gill for Ey Up Films and Liam Collins for Manchouse Productions.


Paul is also attached to direct Belfast-set feature film thriller Wolves written by Toby Ellmers and produced by Victoria Falls Entertainment. Stay tuned for more news about these projects as it emerges.

 

If you would like to watch Paul’s films or check out his appearances on our podcast, visit his dedicated filmmaker page, where you can learn everything, you need to know about filmmaking from this talented and insanely knowledgeable writer, producer and director. 


Find out more about Paul and stay up to date with his work by following the links below.








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