Filmmaker Series: Lee Charlish
I’m Lee Charlish, a Coventry Based writer, principally. I’m also a filmmaker, animator, artist, actor and sometimes musician.
What initially got you into filmmaking?
A love of movies and the way I felt while watching them. I miss video stores a bit. When we first got a VCR, I would watch so many movies; all the classics and I then I began to diversify and watch all kinds of trash and nonsense. I got immersed in all the associated magazines, books and merchandise etc. I think those B-movie, underground movies are the ones that usually had the most lasting impression on me. I just knew that watching movies was exciting and fun, so I felt compelled to try and create those kinds of worlds.
My dad got me a Sony camcorder around 2001 and I was on my way. I made short films, all rubbish but great fun to make! Then I made a 90 second short called Snail in 2004 which won the Orange (remember them?) sponsored Audience Award at the prestigious Encounters Film Festival, Depict! competition. I had a break for years, as I kind of lost my way and became a bit disillusioned with meetings, knockbacks and bureaucracy. I picked up again in 2014 and made movies for myself, without any outside interference, and it’s been better but tougher.
Who are your biggest influences and why?
I get influenced mainly by music, which is probably, despite all of this, one of the things which brings me the most joy and inspiration. Music contains and evokes both emotion and feelings; a vibe, I guess, which I draw upon to distil in my writing and subsequent filmmaking. A line from a song, or a feeling evoked can throw up ideas and images for me to draw upon. So, the answer is music, generally, rather than specific filmmakers per se.
I tend to follow emotions and how things effect and make me feel, rather than people or personalities. However, there are, of course, certain filmmaker’s work I like and admire.
How important is film as a medium and art form in the world, today?
It’s always been a form of escape, for me and I’m sure it’s not too much different for most people. The world, as beautiful as it can be, is also often dark and upsetting. Anything entertaining, any form of escapism, is always going to be sought out by people. It helps. It’s medicine for the mind, sometimes. I can’t see that diminishing.
The recent pandemic, for example, has really highlighted that people need and want entertaining and light relief. All creation is good. What’s important is access and how easy and how much can be viewed.
Do you have a set process when making film?
I’m highly organised. I like to get the script written and let it breathe for a while, so I can inhabit the world a little. I’ll then start imagining the movie in my mind; painting scenes and establishing moods. I’ll usually be listening to music and working on a few notes and details at this stage. Although nothing is fixed. There’s always some magic which springs up when filming and I’m open to it, as well as other people’s ideas and contributions when collaborating.
Apart from that, general preparation and admin I’m very hot on. I like a roadmap and an awareness of how, when and why, so I can have free will to stray and let things organically flow without losing the heart and soul of the project.
What has been your favourite film to work on and why?
My next one. I constantly refine my working methods and try to make it pleasurable for me. This is because I struggle with the process (most often ‘live-action’) as being an enjoyable thing, most of the time, which is sad. Often the process is fraught with issues and whilst I’m lucky that I work with a great bunch of people and we have a great laugh, I do find it frustrating when trying to get things right. Maybe that’s simply down to skill and application, I don’t know.
I have the humility to examine it all; my own competencies and skill level and try to improve. There are aspects I like more than others. Writing is one. I guess it’s a control thing, ultimately. I like design. I like the solitude of animating, art and sound design. As an example, a script can be worked on at leisure and reworked over and over in a non-destructive way. However, once you’re actually filming, you’re at the abeyance of so many inconsistent variables, certainly at the no budget level, which makes things harder to wrangle and refine.
Which genre do you enjoy working in?
I think I’m most known for dark and surreal animations with a comedic bent. It certainly does appear to be my default setting. I get the most pleasure from creating oneiric and unsettling worlds which have some kind of underlying metaphor or message. There’s always honesty in my work though, that I insist on. I’m drawing from real emotion and feelings, even if the end product appears abstract.
Is filmmaking your primary source of income?
No. I ‘m a writer by profession. Filmmaking is something I do for fun, or that’s what I convince myself at least! A combination of the two as a living would be ideal.
What is your definition of success?
Being happy. No more, no less.
What advice can you give our readers, should they wish to pursue filmmaking?
Do it on your own terms, whatever your level. Find your voice. Just because something exists as a recognised standard, doesn’t mean that’s the template for you. Filmmaking, and indeed creativity, isn’t ‘paint by numbers’ and shouldn’t be hampered by formula. Experiment. Fail. Everybody’s different and we all have different reasons for doing something and different agendas, but I’ve had ‘experts’ constantly try and change things which diminishes all fun and creativity for me. I’ve learned to disavow it. It’s not arrogance, but just a refusal to yield to other people’s whims and preference. I’ve noticed this particularly when going through the process of funding. I’m not doing this for fame and fortune, but to please myself which makes decision making decidedly easier. Still, if you want to ‘get on’ then I appreciate there’s a level of servitude and compliance involved, but I just get bored by convention.
Also, it’s fine to be influenced and enjoy other filmmaker’s work but always be true to your own vision and ideas. You’re not them and you shouldn’t aspire to be. There’s a lot of good filmmakers out there. Being good isn’t that rare, but true originality is.
Do you ever suffer from creative burnout? How do you combat it?
Constantly, but there’s a masochistic enjoyment with it. I have no problem thinking of new ideas and stories. I have more ideas than I will ever be able to make. That’s not to say they’re all good! The best ones tend to hang around and keep you awake. However, I do push myself a little too hard and I need to concentrate on enjoying the actual journey a bit more, rather than just the destination, so to speak. Rest is good. So is actual sleep!
I think a way to combat it is to try and live in the ‘now’. The past can’t be changed, the future isn’t here yet. Enjoy the moment and take it all in, without pressure. I have to remind myself that not working on something and having a break is totally fine.
What projects are you currently working on?
Lots. I’m always working on concurrent projects. I was set to film three live action projects at the start of 2020 but ended up writing 'A Wasted Life' as an animation project because of lockdown. That’s now finished and I’ve kind of written off any hope of live action filming until the new year. We needed spring and summer weather for those scripts. So, I have developed a new animation which is in pre-production now. 'Death Quiz' – a dark, comedic horror.
I have a few other ideas knocking on the door as well. They should look visually appealing. I’m also hoping to provide the music under the moniker – (NSOB) Narcoleptic Snails on Benzos.
What are your hopes for the future?
I’m compelled to create, so there’s lots to go at. Quite simply, I enjoy it and I struggle without something to make or work on. I may well have to rethink where I put my movies. As most festivals are moving online, which I hope is temporary due to the pandemic, I might just put my movies straight online.
I had really hoped to attend a lot more festivals this year with my movies, but without the interactive element I will have to reconsider whether I continue to submit. It’s good to see new movies from people. There really are some strong ideas being explored and some great talent out there.
Lastly where can people find you?
Twitter Korky Films: https://twitter.com/korkyfilms
Twitter Lee Charlish: https://twitter.com/leecharlish
Twitter NSOB: https://twitter.com/NSOB_Musician
Instagram Korky Films: https://www.instagram.com/korkyfilms
Instagram NSOB: https://www.instagram.com/narcoleptic_snails_on_benzos
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