READY FOR YOUR CLOSE UP?
23rd October 2019
A Million Eyes tells the story of 13-year old Elijah, a young photographer, trying to find his place in the world with a deep loving connection to his mother (Katie Lowes ) who is, for the most part, a great parent but is in deniable about her addiction to alcohole!
Elijah sets out to capture his truth through his love of photography. With support from mentor Emmy Award-winning Joe Morton. ‘A Million Eyes” is a film about hope, growth, mentorship, and breaking social and racial sterotypes. Learning to understand, support and encourage.
The film has beem made by British Director Richard Raymond who has lived in L.A for the last several years. This was a project he felt was incredibly important and a story that had to be told. I caught up with him during the Raindance Film Festival where ‘A Million Eyes’ was shown for the first time in London. I started by asking him about his start in the game at the iconic Pinewood Studios at age 15?
“Yeah, 15 years old. It’s funny because you know when go to secondary school, I went to school in Hertfordshire and they- I don’t know if you remember this but when you were in your second to last year of your GSCEs, which I think that now they are called O-Levels, but they give you work experience at a company and I was given experience at British Gas and I was horrified. I was like I’m not working for British Gas so I wrote letters to Pinewood Film studios but they never replied. I lied to my advisor and told him that they had given me a couple of weeks of work experience but he just signed me off school and my dad dropped me at the gate and back then it was just a bit different, there was no internet, there was no mobile phones”.
And you made this whole thing up?
“Yeah well I did remember reading a story about how Steven Spielberg snuck into Universal so I thought I could do the same. I just walked up to the gate and I had this whole story planned that I was going to tell the security guard but he didnt even ask he just waved me in. I was like ..oh that was easy, I just hung around and I ended up meeting an American director, I was 15 at the time. His name was Blake Edwards and he was directing a film called ‘Son of the Pink Panther’ with Roberto Benigni and he invited me on his set and that was it. I never went back to school. I actually don’t have an education”.
You’re now living in L.A and we’ve just had Raindance Fest here in London. What shocked me is there are a lot of people in mainstream media that seem to ignore independent film and there’s Elliot Grove who’s been supporting it for over 20 years. For you, how important is a festival like Raindance?
“I have been going to Raindance since I was a teenager. I used to save up all my money and then go to the Raindance Film Festival, One of the reasons why so many young people go to Raindance, I personally couldn’t really care about the press because when you’re a young kid, it doesn’t really matter. Raindance has none of the ego it has none of the BS. As a young filmmaker, as a young actor, you’re going to meet all the other filmmakers and all the other actors. Everyone there, goes there without their ego. What you end up doing when you go to Raindance, is you meet your community and you become part of a community. And that’s why Raindance is so crucial, because it enables future collaborations, future relationships, to begin. Those type of things don’t happen at the London Film Festival or at some of the bigger film festivals because they’re all about the razzmatazz and the red carpet all the promotion. So, you know, that’s why Raindance is so crucial”.
How difficult is it not to get sucked in the Hollywood way of making films?
“I would love to just be honest with you and tell you that Kevin Feige hasn’t yet called and talked to me about the latest Marvel film, yet. So I can’t really say I’ve been tempted one way or another. At the end of the day, you know what’s really interesting, whatever you’re doing, 200 million dollars science fiction film, or a 15 thousand pound, you know, intimate, contained drama, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing. You have to have an element of your own truth in your work. And that’s what audiences will resonate and connect with and that’s the key thing so no matter. I really hope that no matter where my life and career takes me, that I will retain that sense, that whatever project that I’m blessed enough to do, that will have some element of truth and something to talk about. When you do that, then I feel that, you know, other human beings will connect and see part of themselves too.”
This is your second short, at Raindance Festival, tell me where the idea came about for ‘A Million Eyes’?
“We shot it in June in Georgia, Atlanta, and we finished filming it only a month ago so it’s brand new. Basically last year at Raindance was an incredibly profoundly positive experience so we want the best of all, but it just dawned on me that I can’t stop there. I have to keep creating. I was talking to a friend of mine, a producer called Josh Reinhold and I was kind of lamenting how I haven’t read anything that inspired me to just say “We need to make this now”. And he said funny you should say that and he gave me this script and at the time it was called ’35mm’ and it was a feature film and it just really spoke to me. The journey of where you see a story of a young boy who has that first spark inside of them, they can’t understand it, they can’t comprehend it. Then the importance that a mentor plays in a young person’s life. I think that’s so crucial with young artists and because it is such a fragile journey, it can end up as everything or it can end up as nothing. In my life I have the feeling that in the lives of any painter, poet, actor, photographer, they had that person in their life that helped them and mentored them and I just felt that I haven’t seen that story portrayed before. Both the journey of a young person and a mentor but one specifically from an under celebrated community”.
Sometimes the older generation get forgotten and it’s really nice to see you actually showing the bond between somebody so young and somebody so much older, the power it can bring.
“It’s fascinating that you see it like that because I think that it’s never the intention I want to make this because it shows A or B. It just felt the right way of doing it. I have to say there are so many other short films that were brilliant showcases of major problems in the world, and I felt the call to action to just show something that is the change in the world that you want to see. Rather than showing something that is so gritty and a downer. I just felt that this was the story that was poetic and soulful and left the audience with a lot of contemplation rather than conflict and showing things that are really negative. I just feel that change is coming into representing that positive kind of artistic hope that we have for our young generations, especially those voices that are so overlooked. Leroy is, as a character, the creation of the writer Zachariah who’s a brilliant writer.
When I did the film festival circuit for my last film, there were so many young filmmakers and actors from communities that do not look at a job in or a career in the arts as a serious thing.
They want their kids to be doctors, or engineers and they don’t feel like a career in the arts is something worthy of support. So a lot of voices have been silenced before they’ve even had a chance to speak. And I just felt that Leroy, without ever being intentional or too on the nose with it, but showing someone, from those under celebrated communities, find their voice. He comes to the realisation that those voices are the most important , that those are the voices that we need to hear from. And I just wanted to kind of honour that and honour all the Leroys out there”.
It’s a really interesting diverse cast that you put together, without it feeling forced. Also important in the time we are living in right now.
“I think there are major problems in the world, especially in America as well. Change is going to happen when people like me talk to other people like me. It is our problem to solve. And there are so many important issues and white privilege is one of them. I just feel that unless we become part of the solution, then these things will persist in our future and that can’t be allowed to happen”.
Being a filmmaker, do you feel that this is an area that you will continue to make stories in and support now?
“I don’t know what I’m going to do, what I mean to say is that I can’t help but be influenced by the temperature of our society. I can’t help but feel so empathetic to issues that need to be spoken about and stories of people that need to be told. And I think there is no greater cause than the star of your film to be the story and the cause of your film. I don’t know where I’m going to go next, but I do know it’s those type of stories that I have a natural calling to. One of the feature films I’ve been trying to make for such a long time, is a film called One ‘Thousand Paper Cranes’ which is a story of a two-year-old Japanese child, that survived the bombing in Hiroshima but 10 years later developed leukemia from the radiation poisoning. She found that she only had 10 months left to live and she heard a myth that if she folds one thousand origami paper cranes then the gods will grant her one wish. Her wish was to get better so she can go to highschool with her friends. This is incredibly poignant and a sacred story of how this young child inspired hope and peace in many generations to come. So these are the stories that resonate with me. It’s never about me but if you can shine a light on them, then it’s great.”
The title ‘A Million Eyes’ talk to me a little about that?
“There is a line in the film that Leroy says ‘I wish I had a million eyes so I can send them out all over the world, they’d see all these different things and then the eyes would all come back to me and tell me what they’d seen, a million eyes, a million sights.’ A Million Eyes speaks to a sense of yearning for photographic expression which is the basis and foundation of the character Leroy but it also just speaks in that sense that he is kind of trapped and he hasn’t seen any other world and yet he is stealing books finding images where he can and cutting them out and putting them on his wall. It’s a representation of how he wishes he could see the world outside of where he lives. That is where the title comes from.”
The cinematography, the way it was shot, nothing was being rushed. It was put together in such a beautiful way. How important was that part of telling this story?
“The cinematographer is by a poet and he is an incredible collaborator. His name is Jarin Blaschke. He did my last short film, ‘Souls of Totality,’ so we continued the collaboration. He has a feature film shot on black and white 35mm coming out next month called ‘The Lighthouse’ with Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe. It’s incredible, but Jarin is a poet. When he read the script, it was his idea to shoot the film in the same aspect ratio 5:1 as a still camera. We both love trying to cover a scene in a single take whether the shot itself has an arc or has a beginning a middle and an end. If what you’re watching is interesting enough, then it should hold. That’s what we try and attempt.”
How are you managing to get big names like Joe and Katie involved in your films?
“Well, I just love actors. If you put me in a room with a hundred people and one of them is an actor I would just gravitate to the actor and just not let go. I just love actors, ‘Souls of Totality’ Tom Cullen is a dear friend and we had already worked together, his real life girlfriend is Tatiana Maslany so that’s how that came together and I knew Tat as well for years because of their relationship. This film came together because my wife is friends with Katie Lowes. Katie saw ‘Souls of Totality; and wanted to meet, I hadn’t really seen ‘Scandal’ so I didn’t really know much about it and the moment I met her I was absolutely blown away. She was incredible and I just loved her energy and I discovered so much about her from that first meeting with her. She has a theatre company is downtown Los Angeles that she is the artistic director and the co-founder of. I left that meeting just going ‘wow, I have to work with her’. That’s where that came from. In terms of Joe Morton, that was Katie’s suggestion. Katie said who would you dream of casting and I said well, Joe Morton then she was like well, just give him a text. And I literally texted him there and then and because she is so loved and respected, he was like yeah sure send me the script and he came down for one day.”
It’s refreshing to see that in the case of your film, and The Peanut Butter Falcon, there are people in Hollywood that generally still look at a really good story rather than the budget right?
“Yeah, and at the end of the day, all these people that you’re talking about, these are artists and they want to work on interesting and diverse projects. For Joe, he really felt that he hadn’t seen a mentor to a young black boy, be a black man. So he felt that those roles have always gone to white people. He wanted to kind of be part of a film that was about hope, growth and mentorship and the legacy of artists. He was a huge fan of Gordon Parks. Gordon paved the way for America’s artists of colour. So he just wanted to be part of the film in that regard. When he was on set, I had to pinch myself. I was 12 years old in the cinema watching Terminator 2. I know he’s done so many other things but I still just see him as Miles Dyson. I had to pinch myself so did Josh, the producer. That was amazing but that’s down to Katie. But I think the heartbeat of the film, outside of those two name actors, is this discovery of this 13 year-old first time actor in his first film, Elijah M. Cooper.”
Was he daunted when he was there on set with these established names? Did you have to support him a lot?
“No! I mean, to be honest with you, great actors are like race horses. You just put them in the gate and let them do their thing. All the work that a director should do is in the casting and we did a thorough casting with our casting director, Chad Darnell who is based in Atlanta, and he was a big advocate for Elijah. He was the only actor that interpreted Leroy in his own unique way, that was much more introverted and different than anything I ever expected. I just trusted and believed in him. Not only is Elijah one of these wonderful young actors that, I think, just goes on his intuition, which is the key for me, especially at a young age, before you’ve gone to a drama school. He’s got incredible family support, people that are supportive and behind us all the way. When you’ve got that bedrock of support, mixed in with this talented intuition, and a point of view that was his own, it was just a joy and honestly there’s nothing daunting to work with me. I demystify everything in a heartbeat, Katie Lowes, everyone was just so down to earth. We’re just a family making a film together and having a great experience”.
Katie’s character is an alcoholic, somebody who is trying to keep things together. You didn’t do the stereotypical way of showing someone who is going through an addiction, almost presenting a monster. Instead you made her very human, was that intentional?
“Yes, that was very intentional. Not just Josh, the producer, Curt, the writer and myself but it was something that Katie was really adamant about doing because we wanted to have a character that was a functioning heavy drinker, that wasn’t obvious. If she came out of the bath, stumbling over, a hot mess, being violent or mean to Leroy, this becomes Moonlight’. I just felt like we have seen that character portrayed brilliantly before. I’ve never met that character in real life, but I’ve met a lot of Ambers. The one thing about people like Amber, you care about them, you root for them.I love this introverted relationship where the son is looking after the mum, but she is trying her best and she’s just masking a deep pain. Her muse is the alcohol and his muse is the images and they’re both using this to not feel and the journey of the film is a journey towards feeling again.”
Does it get easier when it comes to raising money to fund your films?
“No, if anything it gets harder, because now you have something to gage it on. People can say ‘so how much money did your last film make? and it’s very difficult because when you raise money for a film, unless you are raising it from companies or government funding bodies, you’re raising it from people that could essentially make more money by investing their money into a myriad of other things. No one invests in a film to make money, they invest in a film for other reasons. To be part of something is one of those reasons. To be part of a cause or a piece of art that they can be proud of for the rest of their lives. And that is the promise that I always give people that were fortunate enough to have had invested in our films: I can’t promise you are going to make your money back, but I can promise that this will be something you will be really proud of for the rest of your life, and you’ll be able to talk about and share with other friends. If you stay true to that and if you can achieve that, it’s something that is priceless. That is kind of how I go about raising money but this film was financed by a group of incredible women and they all came together to form this collective that just helped finance this film. They all believed in the power of this story to inspire people to really help. Especially in America, the current administration has cut 80% of Arts Education from public schools because they don’t believe there is any positive outcome to adolescents from it. It’s so blatantly obvious to myself and my peers that Film, Art, and Fashion mean everything to young people. Going forward to recognise the importance of Arts Education in kids, I think it’s one of the things a lot of the people that invested in this film wanted to be part of that message”.
What are your hopes for the film?
“That people see it. I don’t know, I mean that it sparks a greater conversation and that people start to remember one of their own mentors and their parents, and feel empowered to listen to their own muse and go out. I hope that people who see the film might just give a thought to any kid that they notice who has an interest in something whether that’s photography or singing or acting and just give them a helping hand because I can tell you from personal experience, from everybody I know, it is so so hard and it is bone-crushingly hard and you feel like giving up every other day and the only thing that keeps you going are the support of those around you. If the film could do anything, it’s the reminder of the importance of a mentor in community around emerging artists. And I think that’s a good thing to talk about because we need art in our world.”
For A Million Eyes, do you have a distributor here?
“We have a sales agent, H264. They represented two Oscar-nominated films last year, and we are delighted to be in-working with them. We have a myriad of other film festivals coming up in November and October and we just have qualified for Academy Awards submission this year so we’ve submitted and I think it’s a roll of a dice and it’s never in your control but it would be fantastic and if not, we have a festival run for next year, already mapped out. Then, we’ll be released online, and I think a short film won’t be the only thing seeing from the title A Million Eyes. We’re in discussions to turn it into something really special.”
Like a feature film?
A T.V Show?
What is your opinion on the whole Netflix thing now? For you, as a filmmaker, is it exciting to have all these different possibilities?
“Yeah, I think it’s really exciting. And at the same time, it’s really terrifying. Netflix, Amazon, Disney+, Apple and HBO Max, they’re not what terrifies me. What terrifies me is mobile phone apps like (???) where some of the biggest names in the industry are basically making these 7 to 10 minute short films on, you know, on their mobile phone. And because the theory is that the young audience nowadays has gotten used to watching serialised feature films in the Marvel landscape so they want the same thing. They don’t- for them an hour and a half or a two hour film feels a bit weird for them. They want to see one hour times ten or twenty episodes. So you have these mobile phone platforms, that are doing the same thing but on the mobile phone screen, and that for me this is quite terrifying. At the end of the day, I think filmmakers just want to be given the ability to tell their stories and so, look, if that’s on Amazon, if that’s on Netflix, it’s fine. One of my greatest filmmakers, one of my greatest, you know, one of the filmmakers I admire the most, he did Roma. You could never imagine a film like Roma being financed independently. So at the end of the day Netflix gives some incredible opportunities to some of the main filmmakers of our time and that’s something I’d love to be part of. At the same time, there’s nothing worse than someone saying ‘oh can you just pause it? I wanna make a cup of tea.’ …I think the generation coming up are being trained in a way and they’re getting used to watching a 10-hour film over 10 episodes, quickly. We’ll see where it lands, but we just want to tell our stories.”
Thank you, awesome to talk to you.
“Oh look, I really appreciate your support, it means the world to me.”
You’re welcome, my pleasure. I look forward to you coming here and hopefully we’ll catch up in person. Say Hi to your wife Nusha as well and congrats to her as well for all her hard work with producing everything. I know It’s a team effort.
“Yeah, I mean please take that sentence as mine”.