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SxSW 2015 Interview: BORN TO BE MILD director Andy Oxley

by Jason Whyte

"The modern world is constantly speeding up. But not for the Dull Men's Club, a group of men quite content with life's more sedate pleasures. This film unearths some of England's most obscure hobbyists including a roundabout enthusiast and milk bottle collector. In other words, it's a documentary about boring men." Director Andy Oxley on BORN TO BE MILD which screens at the 2015 South By Southwest Film Festival.

Is this your first SxSW/Austin experience and are you going to attend your screenings?

Yes, this is my first SxSW experience, so I will be like a kid in a sweet shop. In fact, it's my first trip to the US; I have been wanting to visit for years, so being a part of SxSW is something of a dream opportunity. Unfortunately though, due to work commitments in England, I can only stay for four days, so will be at Born To Be Mild's first screening on the 14th, but not the second on the 16th.

Tell me a bit about your background and how you became a filmmaker.

I was really into street photography as a teenager, and wanted to be Henri Cartier-Bresson. Then I saved up for a Hi-8 video camera when I was 17 and decided there was more creative scope for me with video than still photography because I could use music and voice. I then set about capturing real life, all those moments in every day life that are missed and will never happen again. Ever since then I've been making my own little films, trying to celebrate ordinary lives and giving them a platform. I always felt it seemed unfair that in our celebrity-obsessed culture, particularly before reality television kicked off, the only views that seem to matter or get heard are those of famous people. And some of the most interesting, funny, and insightful views I hear are from every day conversations, so I wanted to make films that championed that.

My first 'proper' film was called White English Men, and was my graduation film. This was playing on the English stereotype, asking different English men with very English pastimes about English subjects, such as how they make a cup of tea. A lot of people thought it was a spoof, and others thought it was made years before it was, because these men were so "English" it didn't seem real. But it was all real. This film screened at many festivals around the world, including the Ivy Film Festival in the US. I was so encouraged by how well it got received that I decided to carry on making films with a quintessentially English feel. I think I'm stuck on that now, it's my thing, and I can't stop.

How did your project come together?

I had been making mental notes for a while about people I'd heard of with unusual hobbies, and then I stumbled across the Dull Mens' Club website and that was the epiphany, the point of no return, where I knew I was going to have to make a film immediately. I noticed it was based in America, so was very suprised and impressed when I got a phone call from the assistant vice-president in Nebraska about two minutes after I e-mailed. It was a very long phone call. His name was Leland Carlson, and co-incidentally he was visiting London the week after and knew the cafe near where I lived, so we met for a coffee.

What was your process in getting the film together?

Leland from the Dull Mens' Club lives both in the US and England, and was very helpful in sharing his encyclopedic knowledge of "dulldom" and helping me to find the chosen subjects. This was actually quite difficult as a lot of dull men exist beneath the radar. They tend not to have websites, some don't even have e-mail addresses. They are hidden away in garden sheds all over the country.

Strangely enough, once we had tracked them down they all said yes. So then it was just a case of finding the time to go and interview them. This involved a fair bit of driving. I am very lucky to have a friend called Josh Gaunt, who was the director of photography and also had a car. This film had no funding, it was all off our own backs, so it was very tricky finding time around our freelance work. Not only is Josh a great DP, he also helped a lot in the edit and did the colour grade, so he was a crucial collaborator and I couldn't have done it without him. All the people who worked on the film were friends doing it as girlfriend came along on weekend shoots to help out and was a first class reflector holder! Also, we had a freelance musician called Chris Reed who composed the soundtrack and did an amazing job, and Josh's housemate Andrew Clanfield did the sound mix. Leland was also very supportive and chipped in with petrol costs as he could tell we didn't have much money! So we've been lucky and managed to make it on about 500 pounds.

What was your greatest challenge with this project, and how did you over-come it?

Probably the weather. I really wanted it to feel quite idyllic and warm to give it a strong, picturesque look. We shot it over one Summer, but of course, being England, we had to re-schedule a few times due to rain. On the whole, we were very lucky, we got the sun, although there were a lot of pauses during interviews while we waited for the clouds to pass. There was only one interview where the weather was a bit grey, but it seemed to fit because we were in Yorkshire talking about bricks. In England we have a phrase, "It's grim up north", so it was actually quite fitting.

If you had to pick a single favourite moment out of the entire production, what would it be? The moment where you thought "I had something"?

While we interviewing Kevin, the roundabout enthusiast, the sun went in so we stopped for a few minutes but kept rolling. Then his phone rang, and it was his roundabout-spotting friend. Whilst on the phone Kevin turned to us and told us that this guy had once bragged of having sex on a roundabout. I thought this was a great little moment, especially because if the sun hadn't gone in he wouldn't have answered the phone.

Also, Peter the post box photographer told us that he often gets cars beeping or shouting at him whilst he's taking his photos. Then during the interview, low and behold, along came a car of yobs who saw us filming and duly obliged. Although it was quite annoying at the time, I was very pleased about it afterwards.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you? How much coffee?

What drives me is the hunt for a golden moment. Like in INDIANA JONES & THE LAST CRUSADE, only my Holy Grail is somewhere on a roundabout in Redditch. The exiting thing is, it may never arrive, or even exist. It's that unknowing that excites me. Josh and I are big coffee fans, and always set off on a car journey with a huge thermos of filtered coffee each, and perhaps even a croissant. We know how to live.

Now how about the look and cinematography of that film? What did you film with?

The film was shot on Josh's Panasonic GH3 D-SLR. This was the best camera we had available to us at the time, and we are a big fan of it. Originally I wanted to shoot with two cameras so we could cut between the two in the edit, but as we only had one GH3 and wanted consistency between the shots, we did each interview twice. This actually worked really well because quite often the interviewee will answer the same question differently, sometimes better, second time around, giving us more options in the edit.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie at SxSW and in Austin?

I've always been fascinated by American culture, and having only really seen it in films before, I just want to sit in cafes and bars and soak up the atmosphere. That's it, really...I'm easily pleased.

After the film screens at South By Southwest, where is the film going to show next? Anywhere you would like it to screen?

I've waited a long time for its North American premiere, and strangely enough, two have come along at once. After SxSW, the film is showing in Canada a few days later at Regard Sur Le Court, and then again at Hot Docs in Toronto a month later. I would really like to get it into AIF Docs as well!

What would you say or do to someone who is talking, texting or being generally disruptive during a screening of your film?

Probably nothing as I'm English. But inside I would be livid, I am very much a fan of cinema etiquette and I think cinemas should have ushers to help uphold standards. It's a sad state of affairs when people can't sit still in a cinema for a couple of hours.

There are a lot of up and coming filmmakers both at SxSW and reading our site. What would you want to tell them if they are aspiring to become a filmmaker?

If you have the urge, and you think you can do it, then do whatever it takes. Start with a simple idea, and know your limits. It's much better to do a simple idea really well than to try something bigger that you can't quite pull off.

And finally, what is the single, greatest movie that you have ever seen, be it a regular release film or film fest movie?

I am a big fan of THE GRADUATE. And EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. And the best thing I have seen at a film festival is a Scottish short documentary called POUTERS which I think is brilliant. It's about pigeon racers in a rather 'grim' part of Scotland.

Be sure to follow Andy's work online via his official website at or on Twitter at @screen3film!

We hope you enjoyed this SxSW filmmaker interview in our 35+ filmmaker interview series. We will have interviews posted all throughout the festival so be sure to visit us often for more coverage!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2015 SXSW in Austin, Texas between March 13-21. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to or use the SxSW GO App for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

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originally posted: 03/11/15 13:50:07
last updated: 03/11/15 13:52:42
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