Filmmaker Rocco Winks joins us on Close-up Culture for an in-depth talk about his upcoming projects, challenging audiences, working with reality TV stars, and much more.
Q: 2019 looks to be a big year for you. How is your debut directorial feature ‘O31’ coming along?
A: O31 is still in the very early stages, it is a project that is extremely important to me and I hope it will also be important to audience once they see it.
I began writing O31 over two years ago, the script is ready, and we have begun pre-production. For me, it’s just about taking our time with it, making sure we explore every small detail and relay that the correct way on screen.
I imagine we will begin shooting towards the later stages of the year.
Q: The film is a thriller about a young woman dealing with grief and going through therapy. You’ve said previously that you want to hold up a ‘mirror up to society’ with this story. Can you elaborate on that and what you explore in this film?
A: Of course. I remember watching the news a few years back and hearing a very general discussion about the world, or rather how we live within it. The whole discussion alluded to how far we have come as a society and it was something I strongly disagreed with.
I mean in some factors, such as technology, we have obviously come on leaps and bounds. But as a society, I don’t believe we have bettered ourselves as much as we should have. There are still hundreds of thousands of individuals that are homeless, dying of starvation, experiencing prejudice or discrimination due to their gender, the colour of skin, which religion they choose to follow.
I feel that society is far less accepting than what it is portrayed within the western world. Statistics show that almost one in three people are affected by some form of mental illness, that should show anyone that the stresses and struggles of daily life have increased. Unfortunately for all the amazing work the NHS does, there are so many cases of people losing their lives due to mental illnesses or addiction every single year.
Also, the amount of war that goes on day-to-day, even on our streets and the streets we live on. Young men and women involved in gang culture and crime that leads to a huge amount of deaths each year.
I want to make clear that by no means do I believe O31 or any fictional narrative can alter or change the outlook of so many or change the way we treat each other. But if this film – or any other film for that matter – can effect just one audience member in a positive way, if it can better the life of one person or even go as far to save the life of one individual, then I feel as though I have done what I have set out to do as a filmmaker.
Film is escapism for so many, but it is also sometimes a reality check. That is what I have always tried to achieve when doing anything creative.
Q: Miriam Ahmed, Adi Alfa, Andrew Curd, Caroline Southwell and yourself are all credited as writers on the project. Can you tell us about your creative team and the type of people you like to surround yourself with?
A: Less of a team, more of a family. When I started working in this industry it was abundantly clear that it was ‘dog-eat-dog’ and you would not be successful if you did not approach it in the correct manner.
Now, in a lot of ways, that can be very much true. However, I wanted to try a different route; I wanted to create a unit, a family, a team. Something that individuals could come together from all different backgrounds and walks of life to embrace each other and each other’s work.
It was then that it become clear to me that there is a huge amount of unsung or unseen talent right here in the UK. I then began doing everything in my power to create paid working opportunities for filmmakers, to come together and create projects that we could all be incredibly proud of.
As a production company – Rocco Winks Productions – it has always been very important to me to create opportunities and connections not just for myself, but for others. That has always been the blueprint and I hope that comes across in our work.
Q: You recently released a fascinating and atmospheric teaser for your short film ‘Alone With I’. What can you tell us about the story and what we can expect?
A: Alone With I is an extremely abstract and metaphorical piece. It is also very ambiguous. I want audiences to make up their own minds on the narrative and how it progresses.
The group of individuals we had on board for this project was just mind blowing to me, there was a point on set where I stood and watched in awe of the amount of talent we had – from the runners and director of photography, to the assistant director and make-up artist. It was just such a satisfying experience to see everything I had envisioned coming to life. I spoke to all the crew and cast members individually before we began shooting and made them aware that we all have a very important role on set. No one is more important than anyone else.
I wanted to get across this message of togetherness and comradery, so I used a metaphor likening the film to a puzzle in which everyone on set was an important piece. Without every single person there, the puzzle would be incomplete. We work together and for each other. I felt that if we did this effectively it would come across in the result.
If I was going to sum up what audiences can expect, I would say this a journey or a descendance into the mental state of our lead character. The rest is very much open for interpretation.
Q: A lot of heads will be turned by the fact you are working with Dani Dyer and Tyne-Lexy Clarson on these projects. Do you feel you are going against expectations with these casting decisions?
A: To a degree, yes.
However, both these actresses were trained actresses before they rose to fame. Both Dani and Tyne are incredibly talented individuals and I would recommend them to any other filmmaker that was casting a project.
There is a certain stigma that surrounds reality stars, but I believe that is unjust. I can not speak for everyone, but my experiences with both Dani and Tyne have been nothing short of professional, enlightening and quite frankly rewarding.
Q: Can you tell us about working with Dani and Tyne-Lexy? What have they brought to their respective projects?
A: I cannot give to much insight to Miss Dyer as we have not begun shooting O31 yet and we are still in talks regarding Dani’s role. What I can say, however, is that she is very talented. I approached Dani before the announcement of her inclusion in Love Island, I was very impressed with her work on such projects as Vendetta, Age of Kill and especially We Still Kill the Old Way. Her range as an actress, in my opinion, is fantastic and I hope that O31 will be yet another opportunity to show her wide range of talents.
As for Tyne-Lexy, I approached her agent to discuss a possible small role for O31. After meeting her and discussing what we wanted to achieve in more detail, something said to me that I had to work with Tyne. So when Alone With I was about to go into production, I spoke with her about the lead role.
I think a lot of people are going to be extremely surprised by Tyne once they see this project. Her performance was nothing short of outstanding, everything that I had discussed with her came across in her depiction of that character. I have worked with a lot of actors and actresses, being from an acting background myself, and I have to say I believe that Tyne-Lexy has a very prosperous acting career ahead of her.
Q: You direct and act in both ‘Alone With I’ and ‘O31’. How do you find the balance between the two?
A: Like everything, it has its ups and downs. It means that every step of production must be carefully adjusted and thought out before shooting. I believe my acting background allows me to understand the process, decisions and methods of an actor. It allows me to create a sense of awareness for their process and craft.
I believe sometimes I can over analyse my own performance, whether it be behind or in front of the camera. But the likes of Ben Affleck and Clint Eastwood have always been inspirations of mine and they have proved time and time again that directing a project while starring in it does not hinder the piece in anyway. In some ways it can even benefit the project.
I write a lot of my own work, especially the first drafts, so I always have actors or actresses in mind when creating a specific character. I trust myself to know when I suit a character and when I don’t. As I stated before, the project is the most important thing – that puzzle, that piece of work. My main objective is that we put the film first, always, without fail.
Q: Can you tell us more about your background and what has shaped you as a filmmaker?
A: Well, it is difficult to pinpoint one exact thing that helped guide me towards this profession or what moulded me into who I am today as a filmmaker.
I have always been very driven and ambitious. I have put myself out there a lot. I always knew that I could improve and had things to learn. I’ve had to adapt and with every experience, good or bad, treat it as a learning curve.
I have picked up some fantastic mentors a long the way – Valerie Coleman, Eddie Webber (The Business), Ricky Grover (EastEnders) – that have always been extremely welcoming and have always done everything in their power to guide me in the right direction.
My peers in the industry have also helped me. I have made lifetime friends with strangers I sat across from while waiting to be called in for an audition. That is what is so amazing about this line of work, you all have this intense love in common for cinema or creativity.
I think if I could pinpoint one element, it would be getting experience and how you let that experience effect you. For example, how do you evolve if something doesn’t go right? How do you respond to negativity? Do you let it knock you down or do you take the positives and move forward? Everyone’s journey and path is different, it just about finding your way and doing it for the correct reasons.
Q: You also posted the title page of a script titled ‘Death For Loose Change’ on Instagram. It sounds like another project that might have interesting social commentary. What can you reveal about it?
A: Death for Loose Change is a drama, set in a small town that is home to a group of vigilantes. The narrative unravels relationships, friendships and how far someone will go to protect what they love. It is full of pop culture references and is a very ‘cool’ film. It is unlike anything I have done before, but I am looking forward to the challenge.
We plan to film in June/July of this year. I am very much looking forward to bringing it to life.
I also have another short currently in pre-production, Sacrifice. It is the story of a family in the 1600s. I can not reveal as much as I would like at this time, but audiences can expect this film to be released before the start of 2020.
Q: What are your hopes and ambitions for 2019?
A: To achieve inner peace. I believe happiness is an emotion, it comes and goes in the same way sadness or anger does.
I would just like to continue creating projects audiences can enjoy, to continue to expand, to grow, to challenge myself and help those around me to achieve greatness. I believe that with support comes success, the more we help each other the more we can achieve together. I just hope to continue that not just through 2019 but throughout my whole career.