Paul Blinkhorn is a writer and director and graduated with an MA Theatre Directing from East 15 Acting School in 2010. When we heard about Paul’s most recent project, The Man at the Bottom of the Garden, a short lockdown film initially written for a BBC competition, we couldn’t wait to find out more.
You studied Theatre Directing at East 15, what impact did your training have on your career?
Moving to London to study Theatre Directing at East 15 was a major point in my career as a director. The wealth of industry guests and access over the duration of the course has really gone on to inform my own practice. I also learnt a great deal from my peers on the course - many of whom were international students. It was a real mix of people with different life and industry experiences and that was a real strength of the programme.
Prior to East 15 I’d spent some time on a creative exchange in Romania which planted a seed for my interest in international collaboration, but the course truly ignited my desire to pursue it. This saw me invited to participate in the Lincoln Center Theater’s Directors Lab in New York with 70 other directors from across the globe and collaborate with fellow writer-director Amy Jephta on a British Council funded project in South Africa called REFUGE.
You graduated 11 years ago, tell us about your journey since then?
My career so far has been something of an eclectic mix. I work across theatre, audio drama and film as well as in education. Having multiple strings to your bow is somewhat of a necessity in this industry but it’s also great to be able to flex different muscles. It keeps things interesting. In recent years I’ve found myself enjoying writing as much as directing.
During lockdown you wrote and subsequently directed The Man at the Bottom of the Garden – how did this come about?
The Man at the Bottom of the Garden was a comedy short which I originally wrote for a competition ran by the BBC Writersroom which called for short films that could be filmed in lockdown. The script made the final 50 out of almost 7,000 submissions, but unfortunately only 8 were selected to go into production. Filmed remotely, The Man at the Bottom of the Garden sees daughter, Jess, calling to check in on her parents. She is greeted by her mum who informs her that her dad is in isolation at the bottom of the garden - but not everything is at is seems.
I wanted to write something that would make people laugh and says something about the unique ways in which families are contending with lockdown. I think we’ve all come to realise how challenging being locked indoors with our loved ones can be. Despite Jess’s parent’s being a couple of decades older than myself and my wife, there are certainly a few autobiographical elements that slipped in. Although it didn’t reach the final stage of the competition, I was determined to find a way to produce it.
Filming and directing remotely must have been a different experience – how did you find it?
My previous short films have been made on a shoestring, but with this one I was lucky enough to be able to get Karen Newman of Hidden Door Productions to produce it which made the whole process easier. Film funding and the support of a strong producer is incredibly hard to come by. Karen and I first met at Bolton Film Festival and we really hit it off, hopefully the relationship is something that we can take on to future projects. One of the key things for me was the casting, it’s 90% of what makes or breaks a project in my mind. Bringing on casting director Ben Cogan was one of the best decisions we could have made. It saw us casting Denise Black, from Emmerdale and Coronation Street, Paul Bradley, best known from BBC’s Casualty and Eastenders, and Clare Calbraith, who recently starred in Unforgotten – all fantastic and brilliantly talented actors. They took the whole thing to a different level. I also just had a lot of fun working with them.
Recording remotely had its challenges as well as its limitations, but I like to think that we took them in our stride. It certainly took a bit of playing around with the technology. We’ve all become accustomed to quirks of video calls and, as much possible, we tried to embrace that. There was also some footage I recorded at home on my own (with my phone) with the assistance of my 10-year-old.
Behind the scenes of The Man at the Bottom of the Garden. Denise Black (top left), Paul Blinkhorn (top right), Clare Calbraith (bottom left) and Karen Newman (bottom right).
How can people watch the film?
The film can be streamed for free on YouTube. If they enjoy it, we’d be grateful if they could share it on social media. I’m @pwblinkhorn on Twitter.
What’s next for you?
The past year has been an incredibly testing time for freelancers and those working the in the creative industries but being able to show our work to the world will go some way to helping us create more work in the future. I’m working on a couple of other short film scripts that I’m looking to make in the coming year and I’m also co-writing a feature-film with a writer I met on the Creative England Ideate programme last year. Aside from that, I’m hoping to be able to take on more freelance writing and directing work.
Further information about Paul and his work can be found on his website.