new generation of Scottish filmmakers

/Interview by Natalia Dukhovnikova/

Euan Foulis is a screenwriter and director based in Edinburgh, Scotland. He has created “First Time” as an experiment in telling a story on a solely visual level. And apparently, the experiment was a success. We talked to Euan and found out what cinema means to him, what future is waiting for the Scottish filmmaking, and why filmmakers shouldn’t rely on easy ways of telling their stories.

Euan Foulis

Tell us more about the idea of creating this film. How did it come to your mind and what was your inspiration?

It came to my mind during the second lockdown here in the UK. I started to get crazy a little bit because we were stuck in that. I was watching a lot of dark movies and suddenly got the idea of making something stylistically similar. That was not really a genre I’ve experimented with before. I started thinking about what if for a character committing a murder is not only a crime but something good for him, as a positive choice. I decided to try and do it without dialogue. That was an experiment for me and my first personal serious project. And in terms of color and tone, it was definitely inspired by David Fincher’s films. 

Captions from “First Time”

What emotion did you want to evoke in the audience with your film?

I wanted the audience to feel a sense of uncomfortable empathy for the main character. This story is about a personal journey that’s good for the character but it happens through committing a very violent act. And it’s obvious that she committed something that everyone knows to be wrong. But at the same time, you feel sorry for her, you start unconsciously understand her and empathize. And this situation makes you feel quite uncomfortable actually.

Where did you find actors for your film?

The main actress – Nicola Docherty – is phenomenal. Actually, she got in touch with me on Facebook. I saw this necessary passion and fire in her and understood she could be perfect for this character so I reached out to her. We talked and I found out that we were both thinking in similar directions. And about the actor who plays her boyfriend, Gareth Alexander, he also got in touch with me. Although I didn’t have a big budget for my film, he was very gracious and very kind and agreed to take part in this project. And they worked really well together.

And how long did the film production last?

It took us around two months from pre-production to filming and then three months of editing. Most of the crew worked freelance, had their schedules and I had to find time for all of them. We were all so passionate about this project and wanted to make it right so there wasn’t any hurry. We had tried so many variants to make sure it was the best possible way it could be. 

In 2020 you founded Munro Productions which just completed its first short film – First Time. It is very interesting. Can you tell more details of the story of your production company?

Munro Productions is a bit of a personal thing. My family in Scotland is part of the Munro clan and I’m proud of my heritage. So I set this up as Munro Productions just as a tribute to my family and history. I set the company up right after my university graduation because I wanted a label to release my own projects under. Every film I make is a very personal endeavor for me so I felt the need to release them by myself. I wanted to make a very identifiable to me label. My plans for this company are so: I want to continue releasing my shorts. I’m leading it by myself but consequently, I’m making a pretty fairly consistent team of collaborators.

The onset photos of shooting “First Time”

Would you like to join any Scottish film production companies for work?

I actually checked some production companies but I think that, unfortunately, you need to have the level of professional connections from established names to have success as a creator in the film industry. So time will show. Besides, I want to keep making these short independent films under my own production company and see where it goes from there. 

Do you have any other experience of being a director except making this short film?

I used to be an actor and tried directing at a youth theater. Yes, I used to be an actor before I realized how terrible I am at it. Anyway, there under the guidance of professionals, we put on shows that were on the main theater stage. It was always very enjoyable and collaborative. We worked together and did lots of playing exercises. It was a very creative environment that gave me opportunities to collaborate some ideas with my fellows. Spending time there was a big inspiration for me and I still try to keep that collaborative atmosphere everywhere I work. 

Why and how did you decide to become a film director? 

Once I got a chance to direct one scene of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. With one of my fellows in a group, we did it and people quite liked it. It was amazing to see it being performed. It was sort of the light bulb moment, I realized I love doing this. So I started to think about going into directing more. Later on that year I was in the cinema and saw Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash. I liked it so much. It’s such a visceral exciting gripping work of cinema that utterly captivated me from the first frame to the last. He took a story and did it with such passion, such flair, and such intelligence that you can enjoy it and it stays with you. And then I thought that these are the stories I want to tell, those different viewpoints I want to show. I understood that I really want to make films. The following year I signed up for a film course at the independent cinema. Two years later I got accepted to do a film production degree. And that’s the story of how I’ve been stuck in this.

In 2020 you graduated First Class from The University for the Creative Arts. Can you tell more about this course and how has studying influenced your vision?

It was a three-year course and lasted from 2017 to 2020. It’s very interesting because, honestly, it’s very different from how I expected it to be. My main expectation was that it would be very collaborative like my theater experience. But in reality, it was far more streamlined, far more organized for everyone in their departments. When I came there, I hadn’t decided what kind of a filmmaker I wanted to be. And the university gave me an idea of what films I want to create and where I want to work. And on top of that, the thing that it gave me was actual working knowledge of cinema although the studying was a very rough learning experience. And that was something I didn’t have beforehand. This basic film education is something I definitely wouldn’t have been able to make this film without.

The onset photos of shooting “First Time”

What difficulties do you meet during the filming process?

I think that you have got to be a good communicator if you are going to create something and that’s what I’m still learning. By communication I mean not only writing messages to your colleagues and checking up on them but the need to find a method of clearly communicating what your ideas are and how other people understand them. That’s not as easy as it may seem to be and not all directors are really good at communicating. 

Why does telling a story on a solely visual level interest you so much? 

It’s very easy to rely on dialogue when telling a story. When I was starting out with this, I wanted to push myself to treat the film as a visual medium. I try to tell a story through a selection of shots and details in the actual performance without relying on dialogue. This was really a challenge for me. The more I work on my creative stuff, the more I become sure that as a filmmaker I need to become less reliant on dialogue.

Would you like to work in Scottish filmmaking as a native or to move to Hollywood, for example?

The Scottish film industry is a bit complicated. I think in many ways Scotland, at least on the international side of things, is still recovering from Braveheart and Trainspotting. There have always been two versions of films made about Scotland, not necessarily by Scotland but about it: the proud patriotic Scottish warrior fighting for independence or its depictions of Scotland as a horrible drug-infested place, quite dark and gritty. I don’t think that Scotland has that strong a homegrown film industry like the British one, for example. A lot of people in the Scottish film industry are financing their own independent feature and short films and trying to work things out of there.

However, I do think that’s going to change in the next few years because now creators here can work outside of the mainstream British system. I reckon as the political situation here in Scotland changes and there is more of an effort to make Scotland self-sufficient, there will be a greater increase in cinema. We’ve actually seen a good example of this recently in the film Schemers that was shot in my home city. It was filmed independently and it’s been distributed for streaming services. And that’s a good model to use and I’m sure that this is the chance for Scotland to get a bit of renaissance in the future. There’s so much talent up in Scotland that only needs to get a necessary infrastructure to allow them to tell these stories. 

Whether I want to do that? Well, it’s a bit tricky. I’m still deciding because the thing is that all my hopes are just my theory but I recognize that it might not happen. I mean there are lots of people in this industry who have spent years and they still have not had any success. Now I’m only at the start of my career so I don’t know whether I want to try and stick around and see if the Scottish independent film industry booms or if I want to move abroad.  

In your opinion, are there enough opportunities today for young creators to put their ideas in life?

The big starting issue is budget. That’s the thing that’s holding a lot of young people back especially now when we are in the middle of the goddamn global pandemic. But there are a lot of funds here. Some are specifically dedicated to LGBT groups, to people from poor economic backgrounds. And I think that’s helping quite a lot to equalize things. As a young filmmaker, I understand that I first need to make a successful festival portfolio of work and then see if I can get myself an agent. Looking at a lot of production companies, they don’t take unsolicited scripts or ideas. So now I’m working on getting a successful portfolio together. I think the general rule is persistence: keep making your work and then try to make sure that people who are already established and successful in the industry can notice it. 

In your opinion, does a film always need to be filled with serious problems and ideas?

I think it can be just fun and beautiful. Films don’t need to be serious or dark and gritty. The main thing about cinema is that there’s no concrete way to tell a story and what story should be told. I love films that are “a mood” which just let you spend time enjoying someone’s life.

Euan Foulis

Are there any film festivals organized in Edinburg or other towns in Scotland where you can take part?

The biggest ones are Edinburgh and Glasgow film festivals and they accept shorts and independent films. They get quite a high attendance every year and that’s where big names of the Scottish film industry also attend. Besides, there are some lower-budget festivals that can be a very good ground for networking and interacting with other people. In addition, it’s important to say that there are various film networking events for people who can meet up and collaborate.

What attracts you in the film industry?

For me, it just comes down to wanting to tell stories. I don’t really like the attention that comes from it and I’m not one of those who would like to be in front of the camera. Just telling stories that people will enjoy – that’s what attracts me in cinematography. 

What are your plans for the near future?

I do think about going and doing a master’s at maybe one more famous UK film school or maybe even USA one. But for me, the best experience is just going out and making films, that’s how you really learn. And that’s what I’m going to do.

FAVOURITE DIRECTOR

ken loach, Andrei tarkovsky, Lynne Ramsay

FAVOURITE MUSIC

modern orchestral stuff

DREAM MOVIE YOU WOULD LIKE TO FILM

Roman swords and sandals drama with the aesthetic of a Vietnam war