Make your own work. The moment my friend suggested I create my own film it changed everything. Creating unique IP is an experience I now relish for so many reasons — meeting new crew; actors; producers — learning new ways to tell a story. Keep creating and you will find a way.
As a part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jo Southwell.
Jo was born in Northampton and holds a PGCE in Secondary Education, BA Hons in Theology & Media and a Post Graduate Diploma in Screen Acting. Jo runs her own production company — Aston Productions — selected for growth development with Creative England.
As an award-winning female director of Irish descent, Jo has been noted for her ability to cast, create drama, evoke emotion and pace a script to screen. Jo’s directing career began with short films including HOLDING ON, COVER ME and DEIRDRE. All of which were screened internationally on the festival circuit.
BEST DIRECTOR : NYC Indie Film Awards (2017)
BEST DIRECTOR : LA Shorts Awards (2017)
BEST DRAMA : NYC Indie Film Awards (2017)
BEST DRAMA : LA Shorts Awards (2017)
BEST SHORT : FINGAL FILM FESTIVAL (2016)
DRAMA SHORT : HIMPFF (2016)
BEST DIRECTOR: Mumbai Women’s International Film Festival
BEST DIRECTOR : Out of the Can Film Festival
BEST SHORT : Independent Shorts Awards
FIONALIST Best Director : That Film Festival — Berlin Screening
Having worked as a shadow director on KILLING EVE and TRIGGER POINT she has moved into episodic TV, most recently with the BBC whilst continuing to develop a slate of TV, Film and interactive projects.
Jo’s passion for human led, emotionally driven stories lay the foundations of her work. Determined to create original content that supports her vision of bringing unseen female protagonists to our screens; Jo is driven by characters that are flawed, broken yet ultimately brilliant, relatable and compelling.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?
I grew up in West London — my Dad had a fantastic singing voice, loved books, theatre and film. I still clearly remember going to the cinema with him for the first time. The smell of popcorn and being taken to another world changed my life forever.
Saturday mornings consisted of Elvis movies, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Gene Kelly! I knew I wanted to be part of that would — I just never knew how.
My youth was spent dressing up — writing short sketches and generally living in any world my imagination would take me to. John Booreman was filming close to my home — a film called Hope and Glory. I managed to get cast as a school kid and that was it….no looking back.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I didn’t realize that DIRECTING was my future — having spent many years on stage, I was always trying to find a way into film — in front of camera. At a moment of utter desperation — a friend gave me some advice — “make your own film — write”… The idea seemed laughable to me — “I can’t write!” But I went back to my ideas folder and pulled out a script called Holding On. Until that moment I had been attempting to write for theatre or so I thought. When I re-read it — it was a lightbulb moment…this is a film…it changed everything for me.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?
As a young actress, I was on set in Ireland. Having been cast in a tiny role in a Pierce Brosnan film. When the director called cut, Julianne Moore turned around to me and apologized for blocking me — I just smiled and remembered thinking what a lovely human being — no matter how famous you are — you can always be nice.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
That is a really tough question — there are so many wonderful people on both sides of the camera. Everyone has a story — how they “got into film or TV.” That is always the interesting bit for me as there is not any set way.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I feel very blessed to have been given opportunity and support throughout my career. When I began making films, a friend and wonderful director, Catherine Morshead was always there to advise — she even popped along to a few editing sessions on my short films Cover Me and Deirdre…she didn’t need to but she did.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote at the moment is “You never know who you meet on the way down.”
A wonderful DOP — who has shot probably every film I have ever watched said this to me recently when he agreed to come on board my short film ECHO.
I think it is so true — the industry is made up of wonderful people — trying to create visual stories — let’s make them together in a happy place. There is always something new to learn and who knows where it will go…
I am very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Humanity is diverse and full of the richness of people — this should be reflected on both sides of the camera.
How dull would life be if we only ever watched films that were our own story — our own world?
Film and TV as a form for storytelling can cross borders, unite and also challenge its audiences — the more voices — the more stories we can tell!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Yesterday I was on set at Pinewood Studios. Working in the U Stage (underwater) on a pretest day for my next film Echo. I feel totally humbled by the experience. Even now, I get goosebumps when I see the Pinewood Studios Logo…to see my story coming to life, with the most talented crew, cast and producer (Sara Gibbings) makes me immensely proud and thankful. ECHO is quite literally a whole new world of filmmaking for me combining underwater cinematography with VFX, story and a unique soundscape. I can’t wait to shoot it at the end of the month…
Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?
My first short film, Holding On will always hold a special place for me — without it my directing career would never have begun. In my determination to work in film, I wrote, directed, acted and produced the film along with a team of equally passionate film makers. Gordon Kennedy was cast as our lead and I am lucky to have had the opportunity to cast him several times since. This film had global distribution and my first screening at Cannes Film Festival…special times.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- This industry is for life — you never know where it will take you — be open to that possibility. I thought I would make it as an actress and now I am a director working under my own company and CEO of an agency — who knew!!
- Always own a great pair of trainers and waterproofs!
- The one question you will always be asked — so what are you doing next? ALWAYS have an answer.
- Never give up on your dream. Despite what people may think — nothing really just happens overnight…it takes years of hard work, creativity and determination to get there…
- Make your own work. The moment my friend suggested I create my own film it changed everything. Creating unique IP is an experience I now relish for so many reasons — meeting new crew; actors; producers — learning new ways to tell a story. Keep creating and you will find a way.
When you create a film, which stakeholders have the greatest impact on the artistic and cinematic choices you make? Is it the viewers, the critics, the financiers, or your own personal artistic vision? Can you share a story with us or give an example about what you mean?
Every project is very different — there is no firm rule that serves all. Ultimately, I try to serve the story and my vision as a storyteller — to create the most compelling on-screen version of the screen play for audiences to get lost in…Getting to that point can be tricky! I do remember sitting in an edit room once with a producer and we couldn’t see eye to eye on the final version — at that point, as a Director I need to honor my vision and fight for that cause and sometimes we have to walk away.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Wow — another tough question! There are so many areas of life that I am passionate about and areas of society that need support and help…I still think there is a huge % of children — globally that are utterly vulnerable and in need of a genuine lifeline — if film could reach them and make a difference to their world…give them hope and a way out…
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I would love to have breakfast with Oprah — I think she would find Echo a fascinating film and might just want to be involved.
How can our readers further follow you online?
Please go to: www.josouthwell.com — all the links are there!
Thank you for the interview. This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
Jo Southwell of Aston Productions: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.