Finding festival success
Third-year BA (Hons) Film student Nathan Cox talks about film-making, script-writing and festival successes with his two indie horrors, I Hear Things and XIII
I studied at Aylesbury College for a year, but took a year out and eventually ended up at Solent studying the foundation degree in media, before progressing to the film degree.
I’d always heard from people that Southampton is such a diverse and lovely area with lots to do, so it was definitely up there as the one of the places I wanted to study. The fact they offered the media foundation year was the clincher for me as I wasn’t too keen on going back to college!
Film at Solent is for you if you are passionate about filmmaking in any of its forms. Obviously there are so many aspects to film, and Solent incorporates many of these with a wide variety of units that focus on the different stages of filmmaking.
What was the best thing about your course lecturers?
The lecturers I had were really friendly and supportive. If I ever needed help with some work, I knew that I could go and speak to them or email them at any time, and receive a quick response with useful information regarding my query.
What about the facilities?
The facilities surprised me due to the wide range of studios and equipment that were available and accessible on campus. It’s obvious that creative courses are a priority at Solent.
How have your studies helped you prepare for a career in the industry?
The lecturers were all very honest about the industry we are going into, and told us what potential employers are looking for based on what role you want. The uni also regularly sends us opportunities and events taking place: networking events, talks with people in the industry etc.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned here?
I remember learning about foley effects in first year. We saw a video that showed how film effects were made for a short film, and the amount of resources the foley artists used and how they created each specific sound was really interesting to me. I hadn’t realised quite how much depth went into something that you take for granted when watching a film.
What did you make or work on at Solent that you’re most proud of? Why?
I would say my Final Major Project, which was a screenplay. I spend a long time working on it, and feel as though It’s possibly one of the most refined pieces of writing I’ve ever personally written.
I have been writing regularly for the last two years, but with this story, there were so many elements I knew I had to get right for the story to work. I went through a long learning process over the course of completion, researching character development, story structure, beat planning and many more elements to make the screenplay the best I could.
What’s your favourite Solent memory?
Probably being on set for the Signature Filmmaking unit. It was my first practical unit since Covid started, so it was great to see everyone in person again and felt great to be in that type of environment once more.
It’s great to be a student at Solent. The learning environment is very relaxed and comfortable. The lecturers are always engaging with us in class.
What did you like best about living and studying in Southampton?
I would probably say (for the first two years before Covid) It was going out to clubs and seeing the different sights of Southampton. Just living the classic student social life really. Being in an environment as large as this city is really exciting when you’ve been living in a village most of your life like me.
I got to meet so many new people when I moved here and have built relationships with so many people that I know I’m going to be friends for a long time. Every week I’d be out doing something with someone. I was never bored!
Studying at Solent gave me a lot of things to take with me. New friends, forcing me to be independent, knowledge on various aspects of film, and the belief that I can succeed in what I want to do.
Tell us a bit about your films.
Archie Meyer was the guy I worked on both films with. Me and Archie met in our first years of uni. We were both staying in the same halls, and just got on really well as mates. We ended up being housemates with a few other of our friends for the next couple years until he graduated first. We still keep in touch now.
I Hear Things is about a young man who is left alone in his house during the first Covid lockdown. He starts to experience strange goings on around the house, and starts to question whether he’s imagining it, or if it's really happening.
The idea came to me when Covid struck for the first time. With a lot of people not being able to see family or friends, a lot of loneliness was taking place around the world, and I wanted to explore what would happen if someone was being haunted while alone, and it was the perfect time to release a film that centred on this theme so we started filming immediately.
Our other film, XIII, is a found footage film that follows two students who have the task of making a film based on a book of their choice for an assignment. The book they find in a library has a disturbing message inside, which leads them down a disturbing path.
XIII was something that me and Archie wanted to work on for a while. We both love found footage films, and feel as though they are one of the most underappreciated genres in film. I came up with an initial premise one night, which just came to me on a whim, and then we both made it into something we could use.
Archie and I worked great together because we have a lot of similar interests and tastes in movies. We were both still at uni at the time so we were learning new things as we each film.
Tell us a bit about production. How did it go?
I Hear Things was shot in two weeks over lockdown and XIII was shot in under a week. I Hear Things had a treatment written out for it with specific shots and beats, but along the way we realised that we’d have to cut out scenes due to pacing or limitations.
One scene in particular, we were going to have a one-take shot which lasted two minutes, but we couldn’t stop messing it up. I think I tripped on the stairs a few times and Archie banged his head on something, so we ended up scrapping it and swapping it out for something else.
And because a lot of the film takes place in the dark, we had a lot of issues lighting our scenes properly. Normally we’d have been able to borrow loads from the uni – professional lights, better cameras – but that wasn’t possible due to the Covid lockdown, so we were just filming on one DSLR with whatever we had.
XII was originally going to be shot in a house owned by Archie’s grandad, but unfortunately we found out late that we couldn’t use it so had to find more locations. Archie’s grandad also owned an abandoned mill that was centuries old, however – and when we went to scout it, we instantly knew this was the place to film. Its whole vibe was just creepy. The place was a huge death trap, though! There was rotten wood on each floor, and nails and planks sticking out. We had to be really careful while filming, and try to avoid injuring ourselves. Luckily both of us were fine.
When the films were done, what did you do with them?
We uploaded both films onto YouTube as soon as they were finished and shared them around on various Facebook pages too. So far XIII has around 85k views on YouTube. But it was incredible to place at festivals and be selected for various awards, too. It really made me and Archie feel recognised for the work we’ve put in. It still feels like a huge achievement even now.
Have you noticed any extra interest in your work as a result?
We were lucky enough to receive an offer to distribute XIII on a website POVhorror.com. We signed a contract recently and are just waiting for the film to be up on the platform. Receiving royalties for a film we made is an incredible achievement for us. I’ve also been in contact with a couple of people in the industry who have been impressed with our film.
Nothing major planned at the moment, but I’m keeping busy writing scripts. I’ve also been given a conditional offer to study a master’s in screenwriting at Cardiff University, so I’ll be moving there to study.
I’ve had an incredible time at Solent over the past four years. I’d like to thank the uni for being so supportive, and the lecturers too. It’s time for a change now, but I’ve had the best few years of my life while studying here.
What tips would you give to someone wanting a career in film?
Work hard and listen to the advice of those who know what it takes to succeed. Also be respectful to people, because they will want to work with you based on your skill but also your personality. Don’t be scared to make mistakes, it means you’re getting closer to the answer!
To find out more about film at Solent, visit our film, TV and media production page.