25th Apr2018

Interview: Writer/Director James Atkins

by Philip Rogers

Bragging Rights is the latest super-hero comedy short from writer-director James Atkins which has proven popular around the festival circuit. I got a chance to talk to ask James Atkins a few questions about, which inspired him to get into filmmaking, what they can expect from the film and the difficulties of shooting on a limited budget.

James-Atkins.

What inspired you to get into filmmaking originally?

When I was a child I used to act in films my older brother made with his friends, and then when I was a teenager I would also make films with my friends.  My education and career went into finance however I was always going to the cinema and continued being creative playing role playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons.  My finance career was going nowhere fast, so at about 30, I decided that as I had no wife, kids etc I would spend all my savings and take a huge loan and go live and study film in New York.

Your short super hero film Bragging Rights has proven to be extremely popular at the film festivals including the recent Starburst MediaCity Festival. But for anyone who has not yet seen the film, what can they expect?

Bragging Rights is a comedy about three superhero housemates who try to ‘one-up’ each other with their achievements in the day.  This becomes ever more ridiculous as the argument continues.

What was your inspiration for writing and directing Bragging Rights?

The Monty Python sketch ‘Four Yorkshiremen’ was my inspiration, and Bragging Rights is similar to that but in reverse.  I was conscious that I didn’t want it to be too similar, so I added additional story elements and a news broadcast scene at the start and end.

With the popularity of the film at the festivals, I know you have an idea for a possible sequel to Bragging Rights. Would you be looking to use the same characters for the film, or would you look to create a whole new story in the same universe?

At the end of the year I will put Bragging Rights online and see whether it proves popular with that audience.  If it does then I have a few ideas for making it a web series where we re-visit the dysfunctional superheroes doing their jobs.  I also have some ideas of how to introduce a side-kick, a super villain (and his/her henchmen/henchwomen) and continue the thread of fighting for Diane the news reporter’s affections.  Fingers crossed it is popular online.

You also had similar success with your horror film Puppy Dog Tails? What was the inspiration behind this horror short?

When I lived in London as a freelance filmmaker, I rented a house that had a very creepy and disgusting basement.  I lived with classmates from The New York Film Academy, so we used that basement a few times for films, and Puppy Dog Tails is one such film.  The idea for the antagonist and story came from seeing someone’s acting show reel online and immediately knowing we had to put him in a horror film.

The two short films were completed in a day with a very limited budget. What were the biggest difficulties you have faced when trying to get your shorts completed so quickly?

When I was in London I was broke, so had no budget for sound, camera, lighting etc.  If I could have fed and given travel money for more than one day then I would have shot the films over two or more days, however I’ve never had a successful crowdfund, so either I never make films or a beg and borrow to get them made. Thankfully people are very generous with their time and were able to help me out to get the films made.

What were you favourite moments whilst filming the two films?

Whilst it doesn’t help the film get made, the bloopers always brought a smile to my face.  For instance, I’m always open to suggestions from my cast and crew, and in Puppy Dog Tails the very final word was suggested by Lois Jones, our sound person, and it was hilarious.  We all kept cracking up when it was delivered or was about to be delivered, and you can see the actor trying not to laugh as he turns from camera. Remembering this now brings a smile to my face.

You have directed several shorts and contributed segments of several feature films. Looking back at the shorts which you have done, are there any which you would like to remake into a feature film?

The first short film I directed after finishing film school is called The Ghoul Lord and it is a 13-minute comedy/tragedy about Dungeons & Dragons.  Over the last 8 years I have written a feature film version of the short-called Crypts & Creatures, and I would be overjoyed if I could one day direct this film.  Despite it being about Dungeons & Dragons, the majority of it is set in reality and there are relatable characters in it, which is why the short did well at festivals, and I think the feature could be awesome if it ever gets made.

Do you have any other projects which you are working on at the moment?

I am currently in pre-production for a comedy called The Promise Goblin.  It is a cautionary tale of the consequences of Santa Claus giving presents to children on the naughty list.  I have cast our principal actors and I hope to shoot it in the early summer, and hopefully will be ready in time for Christmas festivals.

What advice would you give to someone who is looking to direct their first film?

Be open minded to criticism, as chances are you will get a lot, but it is probably good.  You must also be thick skinned as for every festival you are accepted into, there are probably ten that will reject you, unless your film is amazing.  Don’t cast your friends and family, unless you know an A Lister, and if you make a short, try not to make a film over 15 minutes as you will be ineligible for a lot of festivals.  Festivals would rather screen three good seven-minute films than one good twenty-one-minute film.
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Bragging Rights will be continuing to play at the following film festivals in 2018:

  • The California Underground Film Festival (Los Angeles June 14, 2018)
  • San Francisco Comic Con (June 8-10, 2018)
  • The Super Geek Film Festival (July 12-15, 2018 at the Greater Fort Lauderdale)
  • Atlanta Comic Con (July 13-15, 2018)
  • Tampa Bay Comic Con (August 3-5, 2018)
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