Director of the Month - Tom Shrapnel
Tom Shrapnel is an award winning short film and commercials director from the picturesque village of Wattisfield on the border of Norfolk and Suffolk.
“My family moved to Suffolk from London in the early 1980s. Both of my brothers were born in London but I was born in Eye so I’m the only true Suffolk boy in the family.”
And what an interesting family he has. Grandson of Hollywood screen legend Deborah Kerr, son of prestigious stage and screen actor John Shrapnel, and younger brother of screenwriter Joe Shrapnel and actor Lex Shrapnel.
“Like any family trade film just happened to be ours. Our parents probably would have preferred us to embark on a more sensible career but at least now we can all keep each other busy.”
Tom’s early forays into the industry were in front of the camera. He stared in two films for director Roger Michelle - One For The Road and Downtown Lagos, as well as Tony Palmers epic period drama about the life of composer Henry Purcell England My England.
“I enjoyed the experience but I was always more interested in what was going on behind the camera – seeing these talented people with these unique skills, all collaborating to make a piece of drama. It was inspiring.”
It was after these early experiences that Tom began making his own short films with his friends on an old video camera.
“We used to make all kinds of stuff, everything from James Cameron spin offs to Cheech and Chong remakes. One film we made was going to be featured on Adam and Joe’s Take Over TV but the series was cancelled. Either that or they decided that seeing a couple of 12 year olds pretending to freak out on hallucinogenic drugs to the Easy Rider soundtrack was a bit too controversial.”
But as Tom’s passion developed so too did his talent. After finishing school he went to study photography and video production at Suffolk College.
“Suffolk College was liberating. Finally I was actually studying something I loved to do. For two years I lived and breathed film and photography.”
It was here that Tom began to focus on an actual career in Film.
“I knew I wanted to tell stories, my photography work was always sequential and I was obsessed with the language of editing. After finishing college I focused on gaining some industry experience and was lucky enough to work shadow some of the best editors in the business – Walter Murch, Masahiro Hirakubo and Jim Clark. Just seeing these masters at work was a life changing experience.”
It wasn’t until graduating from the London College Of Printing that Tom would find success of his own. His graduation film My Tumour And I, shot in an old grain barn in Finningham that doubled as a sound studio, went on to screen at film festivals internationally.“It was crazy, after spending 3 years sitting in darkened rooms with a load of film students I was suddenly sitting in crowded cinemas with audiences who’d paid to see my film. It was terrifying but exciting.”
My Tumour And I sent Tom along the path into directing commercials. He’s directed a number of award winning virals and TV adverts for clients such as Brother, Microsoft, Dunlop and Samsung.
“Commercials are a great way to hone your skills. Being able to tell a story in 30 seconds or less makes you very economical as a director. It’s also a great opportunity to experiment with different styles and techniques.”
Alongside his commercial work Tom continues to make award winning short films. His work is eclectic to say the least - he’s directed live action, documentary and even animation.
“Everyone wants to pigeon hole you as a director but for me it’s all about story telling. Whether it’s a live action, animation or documentary I’m just interested in telling stories that audiences can emote with.”
His last two shorts Simply Rob – a documentary about an HIV positive poet, and Aeolian – a live action 3D animation about the life cycle of a mysterious creature, have screened at festivals all over the world, picking up a handful of awards along the way.
“I think these are the two films I’m most proud of. Both were made with zero budget and although very different in style, both films represent what I’m all about – stories with characters that move you in unexpected ways.”
So what’s next for Tom?
“I’m desperate to bring more film production back to were I grew up. East Anglia is a beautiful and cinematic region with easy links to London, so I just don’t understand why more films aren’t made here.”
His new production company Loose Change Films – set up with his actor brother Lex Shrapnel (Hunted, Minder, Captain America) - plan to do just that.“A lot of our upcoming projects are set in East Anglia – it’s a landscape we that’s in our blood, one we are obsessed with. We don’t just want to shoot films here, we want to make films about here.”
And first in this slate is an ambitious short drama funded by the BFI and Creative England’s new iShorts scheme.
“The film is called Strange Weather and is love story about a two strangers who experience a natural phenomenon that reawakens their senses and draws their lives together.”It will be going into production in June and will star Maxine Peake (Silk, The Village) alongside Lex.
“Like the work of Terrence Malick or Jeff Nichols landscape plays a key role in the film. The story deals with themes of grief and modern loneliness and the Norfolk countryside will be our canvas for this.”
I ask Tom if the whole family are planning to collaborate at some point?
“I’d love to, my older brother Joe and his wife are very talented screenwriters and the chance to direct my Dad in something would be an incredible experience. He’s had cameos in some of my earlier shorts but I’d love for us to work on something more substantial. As for my Mum she deserves a credit on every project I do! She’s the best script editor I’ve ever worked with and usually the first person I’ll show a cut to.”
And his plan’s for the region?
“We want to help build the infrastructure for a thriving film industry in East Anglia. We already have the locations and the crews – but once we’ve got the facilities then I think people won’t be afraid to step out of the bubble of the M25. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll set up a movie facility like Skywalker Ranch and have the whole family working there – I’ll probably be making the tea.”
Whatever the future holds it’s looking bright for Tom and Loose Change Films. As the saying goes he’s a local boy done good.