MEMBER PROFILE WITH TRISTAN SHEPHERD:
We caught up with Lift-Off Network member Tristan Shepherd who screened his first short film - 'The Outside In' - with Lift-Off in 2014. The Outside In went on to win Best Short @ Las Vegas Lift-Off.
Tristan's next film 'Among Sweet Flowers and Shades' went on to win Best Short Live-Action Narrative at the Lift-Off Season Awards in 2016.
Tristan's latest film '#Haters' was the recipient of the Lift-Off Production Support and went on to screen out-of-competition at the London Lift-Off Film Festival 2019.
He is currently working on several projects, and has a feature script doing the rounds at Cannes and EFM represented by the Lift-Off Network Market Representation initiative.
Tristan currently lives in and works professionally as a director/editor in London.
1 - Network Interview
2 - The Outside In (2014)
3 - Among Sweet Flowers and Shades (2016)
WANT TO JOIN THE NETWORK?
Ben Pohlman: So on today's call we have Tristan Shepherd. Tristan is an independent director and writer, uh, actually, i'm interested. How do you define yourself? This is probably an interesting question to begin with.
Tristan: Yeah, that is very good. I think, I think that's probably pretty fair. I think director, I think I define myself as a director writing as something that I have moved into recently in order to try and sort of essentially to create projects that I have that I have creative control over essentially a hundred percent. But I would, yeah, I define myself as a director and then on the broader sense, I just find myself as a, as a film maker and as in, you know, I, I do a little bit of everything. Uh, editing is probably that my other chief skill.
Ben Pohlman: Uh, yeah, of course. Of course. And do you, uh, your company's take cover films, is that right?
Tristan: Correct, yeah. Yeah.
Ben Pohlman: And, uh, you've had many successes with the network as a member. Um, let's, I mean, how do it, so this will be a free flowing conversation and I'm sure like we will jump into many different bits, but, um, let's take it from, let's take it from the top. How did you become, how did you move into filmmaking?
Tristan: I trained as an actor at Lambda. Uh, I graduated from the BA course that in 2009 I always loved film as part of the reason I became an actor. Um, and uh, as I came out of drama school, a friend of mine, uh, who's also part of take cover films. Um, we began making online improvise shorts and then sort of just slowly out of kind of being a frustrated actor, essentially making, uh, films to cast myself as the lead. And then just, just so slowly fell in love with things on the other side of the camera. And then in terms of making a living, it's just like I started to develop these technical skills. I was able to just actually pay my way by a filmmaking, which was never really able to do with acting.
Ben Pohlman: Oh wow. So that's really, that's really interesting. So the, let's take it back to the frustrations as an actor. What, um, what was the, what was that, how did that, how did that come, uh, come about?
Tristan: Well, I mean, you know, first of all, it's just, I mean, anything in the arts, this is, you don't, like, I, I would be naive to say like directing is somehow simpler and easier and there are more, but, but, um, yeah, it's just, it's acting in particular is an extremely competitive, I had a good agent for a while anyway. Um, I went up for, got auditions, I did get some good jobs and stuff, but ultimately I was just finding myself working, you know, in call centers or, or hardened for many years, you know, while I was sort of waiting for these auditions to in. Um, and you know, all the times I'm chipping away at my own kind of personal projects and stuff and, and yeah, also I think as well, like acting means it means like too much to me. It was very like torturous. Like, uh, you know, I just want, I wanted to be the best, I wanted to be the fastest actor ever and I'm a good actor. I am. I'm the kind of person that like, like, like especially on stage, like it would need to, I wanted to get perfect performances and so if anything went wrong in it, I'm not that kind of actor as like, Oh this is great. I'm just gonna roll with lucky would play on my mind. Then for like the rest
Ben Pohlman: I can hundred hundred percent sympathize with that. Um, for those that don't know, I also trained as an actor and it's exactly the same, like very torturous process of it. It has to be perfect and that's not, I don't think that's a good way to approach art in general because it just,
Tristan: just because you're setting yourself up for failure essentially you do that. And I think that that sort of initial, like it's Siteman, I used to get when I'd like go on stage and there's sort of buzzing mixture of nerves and excitement was the reason that I got into it. And eventually that just became like, just fair and say, and so yeah, maybe you've got to, you've got to step away for a second. Maybe I'll get back to her one day, you know, with some people. So I became incredibly nervous. So, so acting
Ben Pohlman: took a backseat and you found yourself, uh, scratching the creative itch with making films and those kind of, those kinds of things. So when was the first time that you, that you realized, Oh, actually this is, this is the path, this is, I'm good at this. Like what, what was the first successes that you had?
Tristan: Well, the first film that takeover films made was called a thousand empty glasses. Um, and that I produced and acted in a I my friend, uh, who was always partake in films direct to death. And through the process of producing it, um, I was like, I am watching my friend director, I really felt, and the film did extremely well at festivals at once. Uh, it went to like Palm Springs, rain dance, received some nominations and stuff for, for, uh, best British on this, this kind of things. And sort of through that process, uh, I really felt that I wanted to direct next film. We produced as a film called outside in, uh, which was a film about, uh, Stockholm syndrome, which is where a capita either fell sympathy or is in love with, with the, the person that's keeping them hostage.
Ben Pohlman: So I, I remember, I remember this film, um, and just for the viewers, this is something we'll be able to share with them so they can, they can, they can see it. Um, but I remember this because it came to us. This must've been in 2014
Tristan: this is us. This is the last time that we cross paths. I think this film, um, it was, it probably was 2014 and last Vegas left off aspect. It was Vegas. Yes. Yeah. Why best narrative. Sure. There,
Ben Pohlman: yeah, it did. It did. Um, I remember it strongly because I was on the first round judging team back in the back in those days. I'm not doing that anymore, but, um, and it was one of those films that, uh, judging is hard because there's lots to go through and everything. Everything is, um, you, you give the amount of time that you have to give everything to, to really kind of try to engage in the work. And sometimes that's hard because, uh, your costing judgment on other people's work, which doesn't often sit right with me, but the point of this story is that, um, there's a couple of films every now and then that just jump out of all the others and they just, they just hit you in the face, um, into whatever it is in terms of its quality, in terms of storytelling, the narrative, the, the, um, the direction that the themes, whatever it is. Something about something about, um, this film outside in, outside in, no, not outside. In what's called outside in. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Something about the outside in, I remember jumping out at me, um, and I still remember it strongly to this day. So how did, let's, let's, let's talk about the outside in. So how did you, how did it become a, become a thing?
Tristan: Okay, so the outside in, sorry, off the back of our, our initial success with a thousand empty glasses take ever. Firms as a collective of four filmmakers, uh, at the time, who, who rotated the roles of acting, directing and producing. Oh wow. Okay. And so there was four of us and we'd already done one for them. Suddenly everybody had the edge to direct. So we decided to fundraise for three shorts at once and filmed them over the course of the year. And so the first one we did was the outside in, uh, which was a collaboration with a writer called Benjamin Noble, who is also a Lambda grant. And it really just came about. We've just, we just kind of put the feelers out for scripts. And his was one of the first scripts that I read. And, uh, I was, there was a little, you know, there's was a little bit of a tussle amongst the, uh, amongst the guys that take our films of who is going to direct their advice was pretty insistent cause I, it was going to be me.
Tristan: Um, yeah. And then, I mean, it was a massive challenge as well as a massive undertaking for our second film because it as, as you know, had a huge kind of design element and, and except set built in the woods. Right, exactly. And to kind of represent these, this house with no walls in the middle of the woods to represent the young girls, um, you know, this, this is essentially to represent the sort of boundaries that in her head, so the actors interact, like their walls are there, but really they're all just in her mind. And the film is her slowly breaking down these barriers and realizing that actually she, she can, she can go. Uh, and so, yeah, so it was a massive, it was a massive challenge to build this, this thing in the words and, you know, get all the, get, get the power to, uh, to stop lights and cameras. And the main actor was also the head carpenter and early true, true indie style. We spend the whole day setting up that set. And then, and then the main actor got out of his workloads into his costume and we filmed all night. Oh, that's beautiful.
Tristan: So that did, that did really well. So you, uh,
Ben Pohlman: I won some awards with that. Then what, what happened next?
Tristan: Quickly after that? I, uh, um, my wife and my wife was working at this central school of speech and drama or who have a very interesting am a film course with lots of very talented actors and they make short films and she kind of made a connection between me and the head of that course there. And, uh, they asked me to put together, um, a film for five or six graduate, um, and we came up with a film called among sweet flowers and shades, but which went on to screen at London liftoff. And then when the wind their best narrative short at a season awards in 2015, 16, I think it's 2006. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And that was much more, uh, sort of, I don't know how to describe it. It's much more, it's not quite as narratively driven. It's sort of much more sort of a sort of mood and expression and mood about, about a kind of a sort of, you know,
Ben Pohlman: okay
Tristan: generation Y really and kind of our expectations of the future and sort of what are, what inflicts them kind of now that hard to get right. Those
Ben Pohlman: those films. Um, specially early on in a career I feel because they often, I think often filmmakers are drawn to that kind of style, but it takes a real, um, as you said, like there's no, if it's not narrative driven then it's, it's hard to kind of really, it's hard to not get lost in generality and secret and keep it really like every moment is there for a reason kind of thing. Which I think that's, I think that's why at once he's in the wards because it gets it, um, it moved towards that for sure. Yeah. What was w what was your challenge or what's been the challenges of those, of those films that we've talked about?
Tristan: Okay. That's the particular, the particular challenge amongst weight flowers is that because it was a graduate film for the central scores, speech and drama, I had to make sure that each of the actors was given a kind of a minute and a half of the diet of dialogue for their showreel take away with them at the end. So actually what screened at the showcase was three minutes longer than what screened and left off. And the first cut was like over 20 minutes and I think it's like 13 minutes now. So we filmed an awful lot of staff. Uh, and I think like, like you said, when it's not narrative driven, just like really distilling it into, into the essential parts of the films of the film and, and making the essential points that we were trying to make was, was the biggest challenge, particularly in post and I, I mean I spent, I spent a year probably tinkering with that. There were so many different versions of it before the one that eventually arrived at. Yeah. Perfection. Perfection isn't coming out again. Yeah, it definitely is. Definitely. I have problems letting, letting things go. I usually end up editing. Well, in fact, I always end up editing the films that I make, so, so yeah, I definitely have a problem with Lenny, Lenny, Lenny. Okay.
Ben Pohlman: So I didn't realize that you add it, you add everything.
Tristan: I edit EV re the only film I didn't edit, never made out into the world cause I had had such a massive fallout with the actually with the producers and particularly with that, the editing team and I wasn't allowed to go near it. And, and I just, I eventually with true my involvement from it, so yeah. Yeah. So that goes, that goes to, um, so yeah, so I mean, I think there's one editor I can think of in the world who I really, really trust and we'd really, really trust him to come. He's also a member of take films. Um, uh, but otherwise, yeah, yeah. At the moment, haven't found that, that guy that, that past the relationship and just show me something that like, you know, you know, take my roll with it and you know, me something that I didn't expect and that's even better, you know?
Tristan: Yeah. So amongst me, flowers happens. Then what was next? Most flowers. Then, uh, then recently, uh, I have done a film, which was a sort of in a way as like a commission from a charity in Hackney called [inaudible] theater, do a lot of work with, um, sort of, of people at risk of offending in Hackney. And they did a play about a real life incident, happened a few years ago where a young black boy was stabbed and he stumbled into the opening night party of a hipster bar. Uh, and, uh, the owner took a picture of the blood on the floor and posted on social media saying hashtag welcome to Hackney. And of course this giant social media shitstorm. And so, so the writer of that, Amelia, she kind of took that incident and uh, fictionalized the lives of the two of the, of, of the boy and of the owner and sort of places them on the same same estate and essentially kind of creates their worlds and their lives and then brings them together for this moment.
Tristan: Um, and she did, she did a play. She wrote the play of that, which toward, and then she wanted to turn it into a film, which is where I came in. And uh, yeah. And essentially we reduced it down to a short sort of 20 minute short film. Uh, and that's, that's going to be screening at London, lift off, uh, on elf. And also of course you guys gave production and support to that, which was hugely, we did. Yeah. Yeah. In particular the manpower is great to have Claire Claire Richardson on as production manager and um, yeah, it was please, you'll be pleased to hear. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I remember visiting the set and she was like doing something with sandwiches. Yeah. Yeah. She didn't, production managing on a shore essentially means like had, doesn't it? So you do stuff, but yeah. So, so what, what drives you creatively? Like what's, what's the roots? What's your voice as a, as an artist? God need a day to prepare this question. It doesn't have to be right. Yeah. Well, I don't know. I don't know. Um,
Tristan: I think just, I guess like, it sounds cliche, but I just, I just enjoy telling stories. You know, and that's, and I think like, like in terms of my sort of body of work for my shorts, it's interesting cause I feel like essentially the outside in was probably the strongest narrative shortly idea, which was my first one. And then I've kind of gone into a much more sort of experimental phase where I've been playing a lot around playing with styles and, um, nonlinear stories. And now I think like, like having been through that now I just really want to get back to telling like clear, concise stories. Um, and so I guess that's what drives me and the world around me. My own personal experiences. Um, you know, I be mentioned as well, is that rock, is that what you hope to achieve with rush of blood, your, your feature that you scraped?
Tristan: My feature script is exactly is exactly a sort of manifestation of, of, of what I was just saying. It's like it's uh, as clearer, concise. A story is as, as I as I can tell is extremely, so that came to, uh, it's a can with us. So yeah. So this is, yes, exactly. Yeah. As a feature from script that I wrote, which you guys are hosted, um, uh, reading off a as part of the screenwriter's showcase, which was extremely useful, um, to hear out loud and then you guys took it to cam, um, to represent it there, uh, or received some interest. And I'm kind of just pushing that and shopping that this is, um, how's that going? You've been talks with, I've spoken to some, I've spoken to a few people. I need to be honest, I need to, I need to jump on it and kind of, uh, really get on that, that, that train and pusher to come. [inaudible]
Tristan: a million things going on, isn't it? Exactly. It's actually a, you know, there's work, I have a child, there's, we're renovating this house, this whole like a juggling act. But, but yeah, I mean just kind of getting back to what that is and also probably as well, it's quite, it's quite what makes it challenging for me is it's quite high. It's pro, I set out with the intention to write this low budget road trip movie, right? Just in a car, you know, a few actors and you just film it, um, shoot it, whatever happens. Yeah, exactly. My imagination definitely got away with this stuff and this, it's not that easy. It probably needs, it needs a bit of budget to do it. But yeah, I guess like that as well. But that, that film is extremely personal to me even though essentially it's this sort of pump, pulpy action, adventure, thriller, stroke, horror sort of movie.
Tristan: But you know, essentially it's based on my own relationship. My wife, it's about having, you know, they've just recently had a young child and it's also about kind of my own sort of creative journey. And, and um, yeah, like I mean essentially that the film is, they travel, so you're married from makers, you get into Sundance film festival and they travel from there. They live in the Yukon and they, and they go on a road trip all the way to park city, Utah. And it's kind of about that. They're in this creative wilderness and then they get presented this golden opportunity and they're really having a problem grasping it with both hands. And I think that that's my own creativity that feels really relevant, you know?
Ben Pohlman: So if, um, if there was something [inaudible] that, I mean, that's a whole conversation in itself, isn't it? Like fake failing to failing to take the opportunities that like appear in front of you, but sometimes it's not failing because sometimes it's like I end up just talking about myself, but like sometimes in the moment I'm like, ah, fuck sakes. I should have, I've monopolized on that opportunity. But then in the, in retrospect I'm like, Oh, actually there was a good reason for that happening. And like other things, we first, Oh, you're back. Yeah, you're back. You're back. No, wait. Yeah. It was where you were. Yup. Uh, there's good reason for it happening because in the moment it seems like it's, it's a problem, but then you're looking back on it and you see that actually good things came from that decision that you weren't able to see in the moment. Um, I'm just talking about myself there.
Tristan: No, but I think you're right. I think you're right. And, and under Jessica, again, that's sort of a theme of the film is like the journey isn't the destination. It's everything that way and say say, you know, we're always constantly like running to achieve this, this thing. Then the ultimate, the ultimate goal. But it's not, it's not bad. It's not really a straight line to to that goal is and that too focused on that then, then you miss everything else that's happening around you on the way. So,
Ben Pohlman: and it's hard and it's hard if a in the mix you are striving also striving for perfection as well. Like um, so like what would you, uh, you're old and gray, you're on your deathbed. If, what would you like to have accomplished with your career?
Tristan: If I could just get, even if I just made one, I mean that, that probably wouldn't satisfy me ultimately, but I just, for me right now, you know, without, without thinking too, too, without making the old and gray, I think for me right now, I would just love to, to, to make a feature, just to take all the kind of work that I've done in shorts and everything that I've learned in shorts and, and just, and just distill it into, into a bigger story, you know? Um, and something that is, you know, something that's personal or something that I direct, I'd love it to be something that I, I've written and directed. Um, so on my, on my death bed, as long as I, as long as, as long as I can get that feature done right now, right now I'll be happy with that on my death bed. But after that, then who knows? Then maybe I'll have a different deathbed though.
Ben Pohlman: Fair enough. Yeah. I mean they're perhaps death bed is a stream and again, that's, it's nice to, it's nice to take one thing at a time, right? Rather than think, Oh God, what the hell have I? By the end of it, what the hell am I going to achieve? Like what is the next, just the next step.
Tristan: Yeah. It's like game by game football manager. It's like just spikes on the next game.
Ben Pohlman: Yeah. Yeah. Um, so what would you say to people just starting out, what's like, if you could give yourself a piece, one piece of advice, um, when you were beginning this journey, like what would you say to yourself?
Tristan: I guess I think my advice to myself would be to, to not, not, not, not detract from the creative process or anything like that. Put all your focus on that, but to, to put more attention into, into the afterlife of your film. And that's not just about submitting to festivals, it's about how in a marketer, how are you going to market it online? Like everything to do. Just, just, just do everything you can to get as many people to see your film as possible, I think. And so, so, you know, putting some money aside for that because that costs money. It's not just about application. You know? Um, so that would be, that would be my vice and also the two things actually I think I'd say put some money aside for reshoots. You always want one every single time. If you can do that, it's really, really hard when you're doing such shoestring. Put some money aside for reshoots and person's money aside for marketing and publicity because they get, they get disregarded so often. And I, and and even me saying this and giving this advice, I ignore this advice all the time.
Tristan: So, but like if you just no
Ben Pohlman: hymn sheets, sorry to jump in your singing art singing a hymn sheet there because that's exactly what we, we, that is the core one of one of the core messages of the, of the network and what we've come up against is that if you make a film and you just, it needs a needs as many eyeballs as possible and it needs, you need to think about how that's going to happen cause on a shoestring budget, as you said, you don't have, you don't have distributors working for you. You don't have sales agents working for you. You don't have, you have to learn the marketing skills yourself. And if you don't do it then or have somebody there that can help you with it.
Tristan: Yeah. I think like, cause cause I think like there were a number, I think there were, I think there were so many filmmakers, including myself, were extremely daunted by that. By that part of the process. You don't necessarily have the natural and instinctive skills to do it. Um, and I think like as early as possible in your filmmaking career, if you can make, you know, find some like Goldsmith student, you know, who, who's going, who's going into publicity and marketing and wants to work in, in film and the arts and make it early collaboration with them so that, so that in that way you can both help each other grow. Right. I think that, that, that's, that's a person that I really need in my life is that kind of person. And you know, I'm inspired my own advice. I think I only going to look for that person.
Tristan: So what's next? Uh, actually I did just, uh, I did another short film with, uh, um, which is just, which has kind of just come out with, uh, the core there. They're sort of a drama group and acting group for people who are coming to acting untrained to are coming to it sort of later in life and sort of thinking, okay, maybe acting as the thing for me. I recently did the short film with them. They're called the real scene for a short short film with them, uh, called nobody sees, which is going to be the gold movie awards in January and Regent's park theater. Uh, and so kind of what I did on that phone was I devised and wrote, um, I sort of created this, this film with the actors, um, in the group and that's kind of inspired, uh, some ideas for a new feature scripts as well.
Tristan: Uh, so I've been sort of gently outlining a new feature, um, uh, based on the sort of work that I did with, with those guys. So that's what's, that's kind of what's next. And also I'm going to continue to push a rush of bloods. And uh, I've also got a BFI funding application for a short call. Robin there was written by two friends of mine, two actors who are very, very good actors. One, one actually was a member of takeover films and so fingers crossed we get some funding for that. Um, in the new year, you, how
Ben Pohlman: do you, how'd you pay the bills? I know you, you, you, you work for, I'm sorry to bounce the question. I'm not going to answer it for you.
Tristan: Freelance film maker. So I direct edit and produce essentially kind of online content or corporate video. Um, my niche thing, the main sort of source of my income is working on theater trailers or theater.
Ben Pohlman: No, no that, no, that you do. How'd you find that with, um, with your creative stuff? I guess it's all creative, but how do you balance,
Tristan: I think some of it is creative. I think some of the corporate stuff because you're just moving through the motions and it's just about having like a nicely let in to be with some kind of ways. And just making the client happy. Um, I think some of some of the theater staff dependent, you know, it depends. Some of it's just like, they just want a montage of, of, of sections of the show with some media quotes, you know, five stars, great show, dah, dah, dah, dah. And there's a back flip, like, and that's, you know, and that's like the kind of thing and, and that's kind of, that's fine. It's kind of fun if the show's dynamic and interesting, but often when they're looking for something conceptual, then it is quite creative. So you're going to count, you're coming up with an idea for the show and it functions a little bit more like a sort of trailer for a film. Um, and I just did actually, I just had a tray, a conceptual trailer for once the musical, which is online. Um, yeah, yeah, it's really cool. You should check it out. Uh, and so, yeah, so, so obviously at times I find it extremely enjoyable. Other times, you know, it's also time consuming as well, so it can, you know, it definitely conflicts with ative goals. Um, but yeah, but I feel extremely fortunate that I make my living working,
Ben Pohlman: you know,
Tristan: at least within the larger arena of kind of what I've kind of, you know, where my ambitions lie and you know, within the kind of film industry.
Ben Pohlman: Yeah. I know many people that can say that unfortunately in this sphere.
Tristan: Yeah. So, so I am extremely fortunate and animate and is particularly able to develop, like I'm a pretty, I'm pretty, I mean it's fortunate because I'm particularly able to develop my technical skills there in terms of post production or camera work, you know, you know, all this kind of stuff. I'm still able to engage my brain creatively. And I, you know, I come into all kinds of things. I did some video design for the, for the young grad video design that show the jungle and I got to work with Stephen Daltrey doing that. Um, so yeah. So there are all kinds of little strange things that come across my path. It's fun
Ben Pohlman: as well. Every day is different, I guess. Yeah, it's fun. It's fun. Um, it's cool. So what Eric, where can people find out more about you if they want to look you up? Okay. It take up a film, it's got a website.
Tristan: We do it. We do, but it's extremely, um, on [inaudible]. It hasn't been updated in a very long time. And essentially kind of the, we made six films together and uh, uh, that kind of, there's four individual filmmakers and they're all very much kind of doing their own thing at the moment. Hoping to kind of come back together on this from the BFI film. But in terms of finding my work and a lot of takeover films work and you can go to Tristan shepherd.net, uh, dot net and Shap heard like a, like a harder and actual herder of sheep. E. S. H. E. P. H. E. R. D.
Ben Pohlman: yeah. Yeah. And uh, we'll put links to the outside in and uh, to, um, I've gone blank on the other sweet flowers and shade monks amongst sweet flowers and shades. Um, uh, too. We'll put links to that as well so that people can find them. So check. So check it out, have a look. And, um, we will connect with you. Are you coming to London next week? Yes. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So I'll see you there at your screening on Wednesday night, election night tonight, isn't it? I've, I've totally forgotten about all of that. Do you know? Wow. I haven't, I haven't at all, but I'm trying to like, I'm trying to, cause, yeah, I mean that's a different, that's a different topic and tie. Yeah. But it's, yeah, it's not getting into that. Yeah, that's definitely not the answer that, um, I guess by the time people see this, then it will be in the past. So we'll see. I think fingers crossed a, yeah. All right buddy. It's really good. It's really good to talk to you. Um, and let's catch it. I'll see you next week, but, um, we'll catch up soon, man. Thanks for, thanks for having, for having me on here. Yeah, no worries. All right. Lots of love. Take care. Speak to live by.