From TV Actor to Movie Director with a little help from Bill Gates along the way.
In this episode on the Midlife Entrepreneurs podcast, we meet writer & director James Newton whose early life as an actor on TV took an unexpected twist when he was approached to help Micorosft’s Bill Gates better communicate his vision for a better world.
James talks about what he learned when he directed his first feature film, the children’s sci-fi adventure, 2 Hours and how he has taken those hard-won lessons and developed them into a new way of working that brings him a deep sense of satisfaction every day.
Watch the full-length interview with film director James Newton - 45 mins
Watch 2:Hrs on these Video on Demand platforms
Support the show
Kevin H. Boyd:
Midlife Entrepreneurs Podcast Number 15.
James Newton: (00:04)
It’s really important to enjoy that part of the process that is going to get you to your end goal. I’m not saying that you don’t have an end goal. You should always know the reasons why you’re doing something and what you want to achieve, but actually that’s not where your joy should lie. Your joy needs to lie in the day to day.
Kevin Boyd: (00:23)
Today’s show is brought to you by audible. Audible is offering you dear listener, a free audiobook with a 30 day trial membership. Just go to audible trial.com forward slash mid life. The link is in the show notes so you can get started listening today to an audio book that will help you turn your entrepreneurial ideas into reality.
Kevin Boyd: (00:52)
Hello, fellow midlife entrepreneurs. This is Kevin Boyd, business coach, entrepreneur, and all round psychology nerd bringing you interviews with people on the same entrepreneurial journey as yourself, hoping to inspire you to change your thinking, take action, and bring your vision to the world. In this episode of the midlife entrepreneurs podcast, meet writer and director James Newton. His early life as an actor on TV took an unexpected twist when he was approached to help Microsoft’s Bill Gates better communicate his vision for a better world. James talks about what he learned when he directed his first feature film, the children’s Sci-Fi adventure two hours, and how he has taken those hard won lessons and develop them into a new way of working that brings him a deep sense of satisfaction every day.
Kevin Boyd: (01:46)
Welcome to this episode of the midlife entrepreneur. Today I’m with James Newton, a writer and director of the children’s Sci-Fi movie. Two hours. Welcome. Thank you. So James, um, we met about 10 years ago. Was it, 12 years ago?
James Newton: (02:03)
More than that. Much more now. I’m sure.
Kevin Boyd: (02:05)
it was in a small little local theater in Brighton. Yeah. And uh, you were directing a play. That’s right. And I think I bounced up to volunteer like, you know, make use of me. What can I do?
James Newton: (02:15)
Kevin Boyd: (02:16)
And the minute they learned, I was interested in video, I said, ah, you must meet James. We met, what was the play?
James Newton: (02:23)
So the first play I directed there was American Buffalo by David Mamet. That was it, American Buffalo. And um, I had this idea because it’s set in a basement. So I had this idea that the basement window that you would see the street, cause obviously everybody’s below street level and there were these windows in this set. And what I wanted to show was people walking past. So I thought that was a great opportunity of having some projection and projected a bit of film in there. And then obviously once we had, um, once we started filming it was like, well maybe I can make use of this creatively. And we filmed a pre play sequence.
Kevin Boyd: (03:05)
That’s right. I remember.
James Newton: (03:06)
between our two main characters. So we saw them, we got introduced to them before they walked in on set. And during obviously what was going on throughout the play. Um, there were various people walking past and we just saw their legs as they one pass. And that was all kind of front projection. So we filmed that sequence and at the end we had titles and um, you know, credits. And yeah, I think that goes with it. So it was quite an interesting, um, it’s quite an interesting way of, of, of molding those two things together, those two disciplines together.
Kevin Boyd: (03:37)
So was that your first experience of working with film or had you or work before?
James Newton: (03:42)
No, not really. Um, I, I think it was the first time I had a deliberate idea about trying to integrate film into a theater piece, um, and have that kind of projection experience around the actors rather than having something separate.
James Newton: (04:00)
And then I remember our next, uh, outing was about a year later we made a short film called the Americano, right? Yes. Yeah.
Opera Singer: (04:13)
You don’t drink enough. I’m not thirsty. Dry throat. Just you’ve been smoking. I’ll stop that. Oh yeah. Spath you in it. Tell me something like that. Not these jobs bad for you then. So you stop in that it’s different because you can’t stop that. There’s no stopping that. It’s one job you can’t walk away from.
Kevin Boyd: (04:58)
What did you learn from making that first short film?
James Newton: (05:02)
Well, that was film school for me. Yeah. So rather than go and spend one year, two years, three years, learning the whole process of, of that onion that is called filmmaking. Um, I thought I should make something that’s quite ambitious. Um, so I think, what was it? It was a 12, 13 minute film, I think in the end, um, about my passion of, um, making sure that an Americano is just a black coffee and you don’t add milk to it.
Kevin Boyd: (05:32)
And ever since then, whenever I meet anybody inand they order an Americarno with milk in it, I go, sorry guys, that’s not an Americano,
James Newton: (05:38)
not an Americano. Americano is an espresso with a shot of hot water. There’s no milk. You can’t have a white Americana. No. So that was, that was the whole, you know, that.
Kevin Boyd: (05:48)
I don’t even drink coffee and I know that now.
James Newton: (05:49)
it was a vehicle for my biggest bugbear at the time. Um, but actually what it was, it was film school cause they got to, I got to write the script, I got to cast it, direct, produce it. Um, you edited it and I got to be part of that whole process of what it takes to pull a film together. We even did a bit of green screen.
Kevin Boyd: (06:10)
James Newton: (06:11)
You know, so we were quite ambitious at the time. We were very ambitious. This was just on the verge of digital and cause we shot everything on tape.
Kevin Boyd: (06:19)
What was it, a, a Sony Zed one. Was that the right thing? Yeah. On HD tape. Yeah. But it wasn’t full HD it was a slightly compressed 1440. That’s right. I’ve lost the audience now though. They don’t care.
James Newton: (06:31)
That to me set the, um, set my stall out really and saying, okay, so this is, this is what it takes to be a filmmaker. These are all of the disciplines you need to go through. Um, and because I kind of, I produced it, I funded it, I directed it. I was able to be a part of every single element of that. So whether it was the sound mix, whether it was the color grade, whether it was, um, you know, finding locations and casting and doing all of that. Um, I was involved every step of the way and it gave me a great grounding for all the various disciplines that need to come together to actually make a film.
Kevin Boyd: (07:09)
So what is it that took you from making those short films right up to making your first feature film two hours?
James Newton: (07:15)
While it was a progression really, cause I think once, once I’d finished the Americano I realized that it was something that I could do. It was something that was within me to, to kind of produce direct and maybe even right. Um, these kinds of stories for, um, for the screen. So it was a natural progression to then try and find something that I could make that would be longer than a short film. Having gone through the experience of the Americano, which took us, I mean, we spent weeks editing that film, you know, from, from beginning to end. It was probably a six or seven month process from writing the script to finding the locations and then the casting and then, um, the editing, all of that was maybe six, seven months. And, and also the amount of money that was spent on that was considerable when, when you look back at it and, and think of what people make short films for today. Um, so I thought that amount of time and money that was invested in actually making a short film, I could spend the same amount of time and probably make a feature film. Yeah. And it’s got a much wider audience that there’s, there’s not really a market for short films. There’s lots of festivals and places where you can, um, you can show your film and have it seen, but actually it’s not playing to that bigger audience that you get when you get something that is a cinema release,
Kevin Boyd: (08:43)
I think I remember a conversation between you and I maybe five years ago. It might’ve been in a cafe usually is ah about that very thing of like, like for the same amount of effort making a short film. Yeah. We can make a feature film. Yeah. So five years on from that. Would you still agree with that?
James Newton: (08:58)
I would, yes. I would. I mean I, you know, obviously with the digitalization of filmmaking and everybody carries around in there pocket now, uh, a camera that’s capable of recording, you know, whatever it is that they want. And so the, the barrier to entry to making a feature film is it’s a lot smaller these days. Um, but actually the amount of effort that’s required to, to, to create a piece of storytelling, if you want to reach a bigger audience than you, you should really aim for a kind of a longer form film.
Kevin Boyd: (09:31)
You know, a lot of the audience for this podcast are sort of just starting out as entrepreneurs. And I think it’s that often the initial idea is there. But I’m really curious in your process about your process of how you went from like I want to make a feature film and went through all those steps to finally making one. I mean it’s quite, that’s quite a journey you’ve been on. It is, well,
James Newton: (09:57)
I guess I got an advantage. I trained as an actor. Um, so I went to drama school. I worked as an actor for a number of years before kind of moving, you know, behind camera and starting to direct things. So it was already [inaudible] within that world. It wasn’t a brand new world that was suddenly opening up. To me. It was, it was an extension of what I already started when I was 12 years old when I decided I’m going to be an actor. This is what I want to do. I want to be [inaudible] involved in storytelling. And these are the skills that I have to kind of bring to that. I’m going through the whole process of, um, being a working actor and, um, all of the, I guess the downside that comes with that. You know, you the, the recognition in the street and a little bit of fame came my way and made it very clear that actually that’s not what I wanted to do.
James Newton: (10:50)
I still wanted to tell stories, but I didn’t want to be the person prodded in the street and strangers coming up to you. So I know you from, from such and such. I, I didn’t want any of that and that made me feel really uncomfortable, I guess really in some, in some way I’m an introvert. Um, so being an actor was probably the wrong choice for me to make when I decided that I wanted to be involved in storytelling. So being a director is, it’s a much more comfortable fit now. So that was a, a kind of a progression of me discovering something about myself and learning where I fit within the whole scheme of it. Um, and because the barrier to entry was, was getting smaller and smaller all of the time with the emergence of, um, of digital over film, it allowed people like me working class with no access to the vast sums that you need to make film.
James Newton: (11:47)
Um, it allowed me a way into the industry and, um, I started working in corporate film and telling stories, um, for corporates.
Kevin Boyd: (11:56)
So what sort of films did you make for corporations?
James Newton: (11:59)
Um, I was very interested in storytelling but at that, at the time that I got involved in corporate film, um, there was this emergence of this whole new world called windows 95. And I remember I was doing a play in London, which I directed and I was actually acting in as well. And um, I was stopped afterwards and um, taken to one side and I thought great. They’ve obviously loved, loved it and they want to transfer it to a bigger theater and, and West end here I come. Um, but actually they had a different proposition than they said that they worked for Microsoft and they were about to launch a product called Windows 95.
James Newton: (12:38)
They wanted something theatrical going on with it and would I be interested in joining in and helping them produce this product launch, which was effectively what it was. So I kind of slid into Microsoft through a, through a back door and ended up making a number of films for them. Um, I found what I was very good at within a corporate environment was taking an idea that was kind of quite complex and simplifying it and that fit at that time with Microsoft cause they were, they were doing very, very complex things with their, their software and their programs. They had a product called NT, which was, um, which was used in the airline ticketing system for instance. But that was a, that was a huge concept for them to try and get over to their customers. And me coming in not knowing anything about programming and software and the complexities of that was able to succinctly say, well, this is what we need to show.
James Newton: (13:40)
We need to show how the software works without showing the software. And we made a whole bunch of videos, which were, um, which were reasonably successful for them, um, which just simplified what the software was doing without talking about the software. Um, and I stayed at Microsoft for quite some time doing that. And, um, I was lucky enough to, to work with Bill Gates and, um, he had this tour, um, where he launched his foundation and his book the road ahead foundation. And I went on that tour with him and, um, I, I spent a lot of time as well helping Microsoft speakers and programmers. Every year they did this big conference where they’d go around the world and, um, I will work with them on their presentations. I would help them manage their presentations and I would look after them. So I kind of became a, um, a role which didn’t exist at the time within the organization, which was a, um, uh, kind of presentations manager for these people. Some of them were delivering their, their very technical conferences to 10,000 people. And standing up in front of that amount of people with a PowerPoint presentation behind them was, was not the easiest thing in the world for them to be doing. So I was able to work with them and, and help them with some presenting skills. So it was a good experience of directing non-actors, and I learned a lot from that.
Kevin Boyd: (15:10)
Wow. It sounds like a very tough gig to train a bunch of nerds to then communicate to an even bigger bunch of nerds. Yeah. Wow. Yeah, that was great for training. Yeah, that was great fun. Yeah.
Maybe we should go back. What do you think we could actually be trespassing on the London underground property now, ladies and gentlemen in life? What is the one question that every person wants answered? How long do I have left?
Kevin Boyd: (15:41)
So James, how did you come up with the idea for two hours?
James Newton: (15:46)
Well, I was, I was looking for a project to do, um, and I was still in the mindset that maybe I should find another short film. And, um, I asked the question on Twitter. Um, anybody got any ideas for a short film? And it was aimed at writers. I follow a lot of writers, a lot of writers were following me. So it was a, it was a, um, it wasn’t, uh, a kind of a question out into the open world as such. It was to a, to a kind of group of people. And Roland Moore got in touch and he sent me this idea he had for a short film, um, which was a fantastic short film and it was, it was only four or five minutes long. And, um, I could see it and I could see how we could do it quite easily and quite simply.
James Newton: (16:33)
And um, I spent quite a few days kind of going over it and working it out and doing a budget for it. And I realized that if I wanted to shoot this to the kind of level that would take me forward and kind of allow me to kind of, I guess express myself in, in bigger terms, shoot it with a proper camera and maybe shoot it on film, do something really nice. have a great location, have some, some known cast. Um, actually it was going to cost quite a lot of money. And by the time I started doing that budget, I just thought, again, I’m going back to something that I kind of decided I wasn’t going to do, which was spend a lot of money making a short film. Um, and I said this to Roland, I said, listen, I really love this idea.
James Newton: (17:17)
It’s great. Um, but it’s gonna cost quite a lot of money to do, um, for the same amount of money. We could make a feature film, you know, it could be smaller, but we could actually make a feature film. And I was aware that there was a real thirst for kids content. Um, and you know, there always has been, if you think about the films that we grew up watching, the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s of the world, every generation rediscovers those kinds of films. Yeah. So there’s a longevity to kids content if you can get it right. Um, and I kind of mentioned this to Roland and Roland said, well, I, I’ve, I do have an idea that I’d been working on for a while and the log line, I think it won him a competition, and he gave me the log line of, of two hours, which was brilliant.
James Newton: (18:05)
It was incredible and kind of set my mind racing. And I said, I want to read the script. He said, well, I haven’t written it yet. So sum up, what’s the, the two hour story about? So two hours is about a 15 year old boy called Tim who bunks off from a school trip to the natural history museum. And on that school trip, they disappear from the natural history museum and the encounter, this mad crazy female scientist who has developed this new machine and this machine is called the Vitalatron and the Vitalatron can predict the time of death of any living creature. Wow. Now when everybody goes for lunch, Tim gets in the machine and sets it off and finds out that he’s actually only got two hours left to live. Wow. So he leaves the machine and goes across London trying to cram in a lifetime, a bucket list within two hours.
James Newton: (19:00)
That’s the premise of the whole piece. So it’s got everything really for or a kid’s adventure film. Um, and I thought it was a great concept and um, I thought at the time that we could probably do it quite cheaply. Um, it wouldn’t cost a lot of money and it would be something that we’d tap into that notion of kids content. Having this longer life than, than other genre films.
Kevin Boyd: (19:28)
So, James, I imagined making a fiche film is very expensive. I mean, when I think about making films, isn’t it millions and millions of pounds. I mean, how did you manage to make this first film.
James Newton: (19:38)
Well it was a micro budget film? Um, so it was less than half a million, um, that we had, um, which at the time we kind of thought we could, we could do something with that. Um, the realities though of shooting in London and having, um, yeah, a large cast travel through various different spaces and just the logistics of actually shooting in London.
James Newton: (20:01)
Um, we were very, very ambitious and overly ambitious with that. Um, I think, and you know, hindsight’s a wonderful thing and I, I think I learned quite a lot from, uh, from that whole experience. I mean, we, we set out to do something that was ridiculous in many ways and the fact that we, we actually achieved it, um, is, is really good. And, you know, it’s something to be proud of. Um, but I don’t think I’d make that same decision again.
Kevin Boyd: (20:31)
Yes. Yeah. So I think you said that mean you’re in the top 1% of filmmakers managed to complete a film and managed to sell it.
James Newton: (20:39)
I had the, the percentage of a of filmmakers that, that finish their first feature film and managed as you get distribution and to sell it to, to territories around the world is very small. The percentage that go on and make a second feature film is even smaller.
Kevin Boyd: (20:55)
And you know, that’s the process that I’m in at the moment. So yes. You want to tell us about your, your new project?
James Newton: (21:00)
Well, a new project is set in my hometown of Newcastle and um, it’s inspired by something that happened to me when I was eight years old. And when I met Mohammed Ali, um, now given the, I grew up in a small pit village just north of Newcastle. The idea that in 1977 I met Muhammad Ali without leaving my home town is quite ridiculous. And then when Ali died in 2016, I started thinking about that whole experience and how on earth did I get to meet Muhammad Ali? And, um, it was a story that I dug up and looked into. And what I found that was me meeting Muhammad Ali was a very, very small, thin edge of, of a huge, um, complex, um, and almost ridiculous, um, state of, uh, of sequences that happened, which was all generated by one man called, uh, Johnny Walker.
James Newton: (22:04)
And Johnny was a painter and decorator from South Shields. And in order to raise money for the local boxing club where he was kind of caretaker manager, he was somewhere, he spent a lot of time, he was a former boxer. He made an outrageous claim that he was going to bring Muhammad Ali to. South Shields in order to raise the money to save the boxing club. And he did it and he went off and he did this thing in spite of everybody telling him how ridiculous he was. Um, and that was a, it is a, it’s an amazing story and it’s only one that people have. South Shields and the surrounding areas kind of know about and remember. Um, but there’s a, there’s a kind of, uh, a wider reach there that I want to get with that audience. Uh, and tell the story of this man who came from very, very humble beginnings, um, and acheived so much on behalf of the community.
Kevin Boyd: (23:03)
What I love about that is that often we think of entrepreneurship as a very modern thing, but here was this guy in 1977 what sort of age you would have been maybe middle age. Yeah, he was 45 at the time. So it goes to show that, you know, middle aged people can achieve great things, which is the whole idea of the midlife entrepreneur. Absolutely, yes. The most famous man in the world to,
James Newton: (23:26)
I hadn’t made that connection, but of course Johnny was, um, he was an ex boxer, so it was a world he understood. Um, but he had to give up, uh, boxing when he was in his twenties. And, um, he had health complications. He was type one diabetic, which they didn’t discover to really late in his life. And he, he was a painter and decorator, just a one man band. And he had this dream that he was going to do this and he, this dream pursued him for a number of years until finally he decided this was the year he was going to make it happen.
James Newton: (23:58)
And he did. I mean, he was helped and he, he found other people to help champion him. And you know, it was, uh, in the end it was a team of people that brought Ali to Tyneside. Um, but the impact that that had on the whole area, it changed my life. You know, meeting Muhammad Ali. I remember at the time, I was eight years old, I had long, curly blonde hair and, um, I was bullied a lot at school for, for looking like a girl. You know, I didn’t have the short cropped Fontana and even the school teachers threatened to put my hair in plats and, and you know, um, they would have a, like a hair band that they would threatened me with if I didn’t get my hair cut. And I remember one school teacher, Mrs. Bates, I won’t forget her. And she said to me that people couldn’t tell whether I was a boy or a girl.
James Newton: (24:54)
She get your hair cut cause no one can distinguish whether you’re a boy or a girl. And then Muhammad Ali came out one day and I was standing with the whole bunch of other people and you just ruffled my hand and said hello young fella and walked off. So I was able to go back to school on Monday and say, well Mohammed Ali knows I’m a boy. And that for me was a, was a little bit of a barrier that I kind of had and I was able to create with, um, with that experience. And it did come, it changed my life and very, very, very small way.
James Newton: (25:26)
And I think, I think that’s one of the things about creating businesses that you believe in and have a value to you because they’re going to have value to other people and you just don’t know the impact and how it ripples out through people’s lives. I think that’s one of the exciting things about going off and doing a kind of, creating businesses that you really believe in is that value will spread out. So I’m sure I’m a hammer. Dally never thought about I’ve ruffled a boy’s hair. He will one day make a movie about me. Absolutely it’s, but he, he was very aware of the impact
James Newton: (25:56)
that he had on people and he chose to, um, to use that as much as he could. And he used it for goods. You know, the, there are countless stories of what he did, um, for the wider good. Um, he would, there are people that he talked down from a ledge, you know, who were going to commit suicide. And he found out about it, drove there, wangled his way through the security cordon and went and spoke to someone and literally talked them down. Um, he knew we had this power and he, he used it for the good of mankind, you know, and I think at the time a black man, um, particularly in that era and in that kind of country, this was phenomenal that he was able do this.
James Newton: (26:44)
Well, I don’t know if the Kardashians have ever done anything like that. Well maybe they have. Yeah, let’s give him the benefit. It’ll be a movie in 30 years time about all the charities. Maybe we just don’t know about it. Yeah. Can you tell me about one, any funny incidents that happens while shooting? Uh, two hours. Cause I know you had two comedians on a Sean Walsh and a miracle. I would Howard, I can’t think of anything funny off the top of my head that happened. It was, um, it was a constant and
James Newton: (27:14)
firefight. Um, and it wasn’t necessarily an experience that I can look back and say I enjoyed it. It was an experience I came out of and thought I got through it. I survived and I got through it. And, um, and even after finishing shooting that the work wasn’t, um, work for me, kind of, you know, normally as a director then you go into the edit and you know, you oversee the, the post production process. But because of the lack of money that we had, I was very hands on throughout the entire process, um, of visual effects and um, the ADR and, um, just making sure that the story was going to hang together, um, with what we shot. We shot for very few days. Um, so there was, there was a scarcity of material to start with and I had to make sure that we could still tell the story of with, with kind of what we had.
James Newton: (28:12)
So it wasn’t until maybe six, eight months after the film was released, was able to sit back, relax and reflect on what had happened and thought, I’ve got to learn from this experience and I can’t let this kind of experience happen again and I don’t want to be part of that kind of experience. And I started to question myself and kind of think about what lessons I learned about it. Um, what do you think the key lessons are you took away from it? Well, one of the things that suddenly struck me one day is that I hadn’t really, I hadn’t really enjoyed the process. And when you think about it, when particularly something like film, it can be two, three years. The Pope process, you know, from beginning to end to make a film can be a lengthy experience. And if you’re not enjoying the process and getting something out of that, then you’ll just end goal chasing and with film, that end goal might not come, you know, what is your end goal?
James Newton: (29:12)
Is it an Oscar? Is it to get a film released? Is it to make money? Is it to tell your story? Lots of people have different versions of what their end goal is. Um, and if that’s all you’re chasing, some of these things might not happen. That was human beings. Our end goal is we’re all going to die. That’s just it. You know, we will all die. Now. If we’re just obsessed with end goal chasing, then we should all just be, you know, walking off the, the, the cliff of beachy head. What we have to do is find the moments in between that space that we’ve got from being aware and cognitively, um, you know, involved in our daily experience to the point that we die in finding something that we enjoy doing and a job in a role like filmmaking, it should be exactly the same.
James Newton: (30:04)
So what I’ve been able to do this time around with, with my latest project is set it up in a way that I’ve enjoyed the process and extracting as much fulfillment as I can on a daily basis from being involved in it. There is a possibility the film might never get made. There’s a possibility we might never raise the money. There is a possibility that film will get made and never be released. There’s lots and lots of hurdles along the way that we have to negotiate now. There’s no point being focused on all of those. What I need to focus on is on a daily base. What am I doing when I’m involved in this project and how am I extracting the joy from that? I think that’s so key. It’s about that when I coached people, this thing of like we all have our values and they’re kind of set early in life around about eight, nine, 10 and they don’t really change that.
James Newton: (30:57)
How we express them changes as we grow older and often we’re going against them. And that’s where we get stressed and unhappy and, and I think often, you know, the entrepreneurs that Amy is like, right. I’ve, I tried that for awhile of going against my values and it was awful. Yeah. And as you say, I’ve only got so much life left and I may as well go in alignment with my values. Even if it doesn’t make me much money. I will be day to day a lot happier. And I think that’s the key to it. Yeah, absolutely. It sounds like you’ve really discovered that with making the first film, you learned a lot of like, I don’t want to do those things again. Yeah. Yeah. Uh, w w again, it was a, it was a, it wasn’t a film school because I didn’t learn how to make a film.
James Newton: (31:38)
I learned to the process of selling a film and you know, how the market behaves to a finished and completed film. That was kind of the process that I learned through my experience with two hours. Um, so it was, it was a slightly different experience from, from all my previous ones. Um, this time I’ve, I’ve kind of, I feel as if I’ve got an understanding obviously of of the onion that is filmmaking, you know, it’s made up of lots and lots of different layers. Um, and also now the marketing and the sales side of it, it’s a very murky world, how film works and how it’s sold and it’s changing and it’s changing rapidly. And the existing sales companies and the mechanisms they used to have in place for selling films no longer work and they themselves are in a state of flux net. Netflix has really disrupted things with, with Amazon.
James Newton: (32:34)
And that’s, that’s still changing as well. You know, you, you read in the news today that, and maybe is market share is, is under pressure and they are going to have to adapt and change to, to their own business model. So the whole industry is kind of moving, um, the tectonic plates that were so still for decades when it was just film, when everything was shot on film, there was a way of doing things and that didn’t change for decades. Um, and since the digitalization of the industry, everything has kinda been thrown up into the air and, and, and now everybody’s picking up the pieces where they can, and it’s in a constant state of flux. So I think you have to, you have to kind of be reactive to that and you can’t settle knowing that your end goal is in sight. So it’s, it’s really important to enjoy that part of the process that is going to get you to your end goal.
James Newton: (33:28)
I’m not saying that you don’t have an end goal. You should always know the reasons why you’re doing something and what you want to achieve. But actually that’s not where your joy should lie. Your joy needs to lie in the day to day progression towards your goal and you need to design your project or whatever it is you’re working on in a way that you can extract the most joy from that. I like that work out how to extract the most joy from day to day. I mean that’s a great philosophy to and, and if at the end of it you end up with a finished product that people want and buy, then that’s the kind of the icing on the cake, isn’t it? But it’s not really the cake. Absolutely. So how rigorously did you stick to your script when you were filming? Two hours? We didn’t various single word.
James Newton: (34:13)
Once we had our final version of the script, which was still being honed up until the days we started shooting, we had to lose pages and pages and rewrite a lot of scenes because we couldn’t afford to do what was originally planned. Um, so we had to try and do things on a much smaller scale. But once we, once we started shooting, nothing was going to get changed because it was quite complex and it was quite a complicated, um, challenging shoot in terms of the amount of locations changing anything was, was, um, was a worry that we really didn’t want to burden ourselves with. So we stuck religiously to the script. Having said that, when you got to stand up comedians in to the roles, um, often what is written down might not be the best thing that they can come up with. Yes. So once, once I got something that I knew we could use, which was by the script, I would always try and give them a kind of a free go and see what they would come up with.
James Newton: (35:18)
And a few times that kind of made it in, I think, I think it’s an important point that often we create plans and strategies of how to go forward and then we sort of lose faith halfway through and then we pivot and do something else. And then we’ll never know whether that plan could’ve worked. So we just seen it to the end. But within that you can improvise. Absolutely. Moments. Yeah. Yeah. I think, I think within filmmaking it’s always good to have your plan and get your plan done. Now if you’re unhappy with any elements of your plan, then try something different. But always make sure that you’ve got your plan and you’ve secured your plan. So in filmmaking terms, whatever my storyboards were, whatever the coverage was that I needed to get for a particular scene, I always made sure I got that. I got as much of that as I possibly could before saying, let’s try something else now. Let’s try something a bit different. So I always had that kind of spine that I knew I could fall back on. The time was tight for us as well. So I wasn’t always afforded the luxury of being able to get every single shot, um, of my own storyboard. So, you know, the, there’s, there are, there are days where we would just blasting through stuff and trying to get as much footage as we could in the can.
James Newton: (36:27)
Hmm. And I think in businesses like that, isn’t it? There are days when you’re just trying to keep your head above water, just keep going. Yeah. And that’s what that day is. And then, but tomorrow might be a different day and something new or something creative would come out of it. So if you had your time again, how would you do things differently?
James Newton: (36:46)
Well, what I’m doing differently this time, um, is making sure that each stage of the process is as distinct and unique as possible. So I’ve gone through a process the last eight months of writing the script, um, and I’ve worked with, uh, with the writer, um, in skeleton on this. And what we’ve done is we’ve broken the story down and the development of the story down in such a way that we could extract the most joy from writing the material that we actually wanted to see in the, the, the, the finished film. Now for me, sitting inside, you know, sitting inside my office and, and bashing away, uh, a final draft and writing out a script on my own is not something I particularly enjoy. I, I enjoy sharing the ideas. I enjoy the collaboration of it. Um, I enjoy bouncing things off people and I, I don’t like to write in isolation and write on my own.
James Newton: (37:49)
So together you and I worked out a way where we, we kind of involve each other in that process. And even if I’m left, I’m on my own, cause Ian’s going off to do another project or something and I’ve got something that I need to write. I’ll find myself leaving the office and going, cycling along the sea front and finding a small cafe somewhere and sitting there in and amongst the other voices that are there. Um, and I’ll sit and right there and you know, for 20 minutes and I’ll just say as long as it takes me to, to have my coffee, I need to write something and then I can come back here and I can edit it and I can look at it with fresh eyes. There’s, there’s a thing that, um, as actors we always used to do, which was when you were learning your lines, it was always to try and do that in a public space really because it stops you from taking on the, the, the kind of the Lawrence, Olivia booming voice of an athlete to the, into the back of the theater type.
James Newton: (38:49)
So if you can sit in a bus stop and mumble your lines to yourself, then you’re, you know, that you’re kind of getting them into a space in your head where there’s a, there’s a reality to them and they’re going to sit within, um, you know, within a framework. Um, and I find with writing that can be the same if I’m surrounded by voices of other people doing their own thing. I don’t necessarily pick up on that and, and let it feed into the script. But there is a, there is a semblance of reality, which then starts to creep in. And this is a personal experience. It doesn’t happen with, with other writers. I’ve got other writer friends and all they want to do is cocoon themselves away for it for three months and write. Um, but this is the way that I work in.
James Newton: (39:33)
So what I’ve done is I’ve designed my process to allow me to do that and that’s kind of what I’ve been doing on a daily basis for the eight months now. And I really thoroughly enjoyed it. That’s great. So you, you found your own rhythm, what works for you so often you get can read so many books on like how you should do it and it’s so true. You have to find what works for us. Like I always worked from the computer in the morning, but in the afternoon I always make sure I’m out. Yeah. Otherwise I will go crazy if I’m not already. Well, I do recognize that everybody’s approach is different and it’s, it’s finding the thing for yourself that gets you excited in the morning about, okay, I’ve got a really difficult task today and I might not be able to complete it, but here’s how I’m going to approach it.
James Newton: (40:21)
I’m going to approach it in a way that gives me some joy. So even if I don’t succeed in completing the task and the way that I want it complete, I have at least enjoyed the process of getting to that end point. And the process I’m involved in at the moment is the writing process. Um, the script writing process. And that is an iterative process. It will never be right the first time round. You know, you’ve got to keep going over and going over and reiterating, showing it to somebody, letting them laugh at it and let them point out all its flaws. Come back. We work it and you know, it is, it’s layering. Um, and I think you, you’ve got to expose yourself and, and be humble enough to allow someone to look at it with fresh eyes and to point out its flaws and for you not to be able to take it personally, you have to be reactive to that and, and open yourself up to that.
James Newton: (41:15)
It’s part of that kind of minimal viable product idea from the lean startup school of like, don’t just spend three years writing in a cave and then present it to the world. Absolutely. Every day. Share it with some, they get feedback and just tweak your way towards your North star anyway. Yeah, yeah. If you look at you, if you look at Instagram or you look at Twitter, you look at Facebook, none of these things were finished products when they entered the market. They will, and none of them today reflect what they were when they first started out. It is an iterative process. The whole thing needs feedback. It needs, um, you know, the, the eyeballs of other people, um, to, to shine their own light on it and to pick out its flaws and to pick out its benefits as well. And for you then to take that on board and to say, this is how I’m going to use that information. Yeah. It’s fairly easy to get hung up and being right. Yeah. And so, you know, that thing, would you rather be happier? Right. Cause my style, I’d rather be. Right. But that’s in storytelling terms. No one is ever right though. So, you know, it’s, it’s always a case of what works best for the story. So who were your biggest influences in, in film? Uh, on how you make films today?
James Newton: (42:31)
I don’t really have more we would call kind of heroes. There are people who I go back to and I would make a big effort to go and see their work. You know, I really admire Tony Scott. Um, and he didn’t make that many films, but I think the ones that he did, do he really, Tony thought it was top gun, is that yes. Yes. And I’m a true romance. True romance. Yeah. Okay. True. Romance is a, is a favorite. Some of mine. Um, I have to add my David Fincher. David Fincher. Yeah. Um, so he’s produced and directed, um, countless great films from the game through to, he’s done first and second series of mind Hunter, which is on Netflix, um, Zodiac, um, fight club, um, films like that. And he’s, uh, a really well crafted all around filmmaker social network or something that he did. Um, so there are people who I would kind of navigate to because the quality of their work is really exceptional.
James Newton: (43:35)
But there is, I, I do enjoy, um, you know, watching a variety of different genre type films. I’m not really a big um, Marvel comic book fan, very excited by the new joker film, which is coming out. Right. Cause that seems to be the way that I would like the comic books. [inaudible] it doesn’t it? Absolutely. And I think it’s, it’s replicating something that doesn’t actually exist in comic book form on the screen. And I like the idea of, of taking something and moving it on and changing it and making it slightly distinct, making it fit the form, um, that it’s now being delivered on. So I’m quite excited by that. Hmm. Cool. Yeah.
Kevin Boyd: (44:22)
So thank you, James for spending time with us today and sharing with us all of the great insights you’ve learned over the last few years in making films. Um, I think it’ll help a lot of who are just starting off. You’ve got an idea. And once, uh, you know, dare to take a risk of going and creating what they’ve always wanted to do. Cause you know, you’re a great example of that. So thank you for your time today.
Kevin Boyd: (44:46)
Today’s show was brought to you by Audible. Audible is offering you, dear listener, a free audio book with a 30 day trial membership. Just go to audible trial.com forward slash mid life. The link is in the show notes. So you can get started listening today to an audio book that will help you turn your entrepreneurial ideas into reality. Thank you for listening to this episode of the midlife entrepreneurs podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, then please do subscribe to my podcast and leave a review as it helps other people discover the podcast. And it helps me to keep doing this work. So until the next time, stay inspired about your vision, take action and bring your vision to the world.