Making The Strays with writer-director Nathaniel Martello-White

Nathaniel Martello-White is a writer, director, and actor who recently released his debut feature film, The Strays. Chatting with Giles Alderson and Dom Lenoir, Nathaniel discussed his experiences with funding bodies, writing and directing, collaborating, and the process of making a psychological horror.

Shifting from Actor to Director

Nathaniel started out as an actor but eventually realised it ‘was just such a difficult way to live and then I started taking writing more seriously – being a playwright in the room was way more interesting.’

He was also ‘a self-taught writer. I never went to film school, where somebody broke it all down. So I was always coming from instinct. And I had a real issue with finishing things in my twenties’ but after co-writing with a friend, he learned to be more rigorous on the structure and getting to the end.

When he started writing plays, he realised that he had a good ear for them, which comes from performance. ‘And then I was ready to write The Strays. I took a big breath and listened to other people talking about their process of writing and thought I should try and steal some of this.’

Dealing with Funding Bodies

Nathaniel worked with funding bodies when he was developing The Strays, but ‘people were getting nervous about the subject matter – black anti-heroes, and I was blown away because it feels like censorship, even if they don’t really realise it.’

As a ‘filmmaker of colour’, he often felt that he needed to hold the entire conversation of race because ‘they’re not getting made often enough, especially in this country.’

However, Fiona Lampe, who took over Netflix at the time, and is a woman of colour; was looking for projects to support, and after reading the script she decided to back it.

Working with Netflix was a dream come true, as they were quick to respond, and the heavy lifting development had already been done.

Making a Psychological Horror

He also discussed the process of making a psychological horror. He found it challenging to make the audience feel scared, and as a result, it was imperative to rehearse important sequences.

He watched and referenced other films to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t. And believes that the key to making a good horror film is understanding what makes people afraid and how he could effectively create tension.

Lessons Learned

From working on this project, he’s learned ‘that in the edit you really learn about screenwriting. It changed my idea of how I’m going to write the next movie.

I’m really excited about going full-blown into horror next time. I didn’t realise how much I liked it until recently.’

For more from Nathaniel Martello-White, listen here.

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