MAKING THE WAR BELOW WITH JP WATTS

This week, Giles Alderson and Tobias Vees were joined by writer-director JP Watts, who has just released his debut feature film, The War Below.

Inspiration from Books

“Most of the books I have are either scripts or writing books. I love reading film scripts. I love watching films, but I think scripts are amazing. Especially if you haven’t seen the film, because you can imagine what you would do with it.”

JP went on to say that obviously as a writer, reading other people’s scripts can help you to develop your own script and ideas. And that for The War Below, they “bought nearly every World War I picture reference book we could find.” Together with his DOP, Nick Cooke, they’d look at whether they’d be able to create similar images, or use other films as references – for framing, etc.

Taking Inspiration from Other Filmmakers

For him, it is vital that you create a script that people can visualise in their heads. “Every time you make a film, the first step is to get someone to read your film and finance it.” So if you can learn from established filmmakers, that will help you to create something that is visually understood by producers and financiers.

As a filmmaker “I can see how they go from scene to scene without just a horrible cut. How they’ve linked their scenes through either audio or a visual cue. 

And then I can then bring that into my own work. I’m not saying copy it, but take inspiration from how they’ve done things. Pick your favourite films, favourite writers or favourite directors and see how they progress from an early draft to a later draft or a production draft and see what changes they’ve made and maybe why they’ve made it.”

Another thing that helps with taking inspiration from other people’s work is being able to go back to your own work, and being able to adapt it accordingly. 

Co-Writing

JP and Thomas Woods have worked together for almost 20 years, but not in the same room.

“We came up with the idea together. I’d found the idea when it was the centenary. I’d seen this article and thought it was great.” JP sent it over to Tom and they started working on it.

So, how do they write together, in different rooms?

“We plan it all out. And then we send it to each other. We call it ‘the red pen’ and we just scrub things. And we change it and send it backward and forwards a lot. 

So between us, we work really well together. I think if we worked individually, it wouldn’t be as good” because when you’re writing something that you think is ready good, it’s great to have someone else’s opinion of whether it came across well or not.

“So for me, working with a writing partner is pretty essential. It cuts down a lot of the rewrites because you’ve got a second person always looking over your stuff. So we work separate, but we work together.”

What He Learned from Making his First Film

“You always want more time. I’d love to have had a bit of extra time – another few days to do this, but I’d still probably do the same amount that I’ve already done.”

JP also said that he would have liked to have had a bit more of a budget, to have had a B cam. “It would have been useful to get some extra shots here or there but there’s nothing that I think we completely messed up. I think moving forward, it’s reaffirmed that you have to have the right team. That’s one of the most important things.”

And possibly his most important lesson when directing? “Trust your instincts, don’t feel that you’re going to get it wrong. There’s no right or wrong. Just trust your decision and stick with it.”

You can listen to more from JP, here.

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