Michael Gamarano Singleton: Finding inspiration for your story

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Filmmaking tip: You learn by doing. You don't learn properly until you actually make films. Listen to "Two Sides" director Michael Gamarano Singleton talk about his filmmaking process.

00:32 – The challenges of a short film
02:07 – How to find inspiration for writing a story
04:23 – The steps to making a film as a director
07:09 – How to get started as a beginner filmmaker
09:14 – Making short films more accessible

The Interview

Hi everyone, I am here with Michael Gamarano Singleton. He is the wonderful director of the short film Two Sides, which you can now watch on Klipist. We’re here together to talk about what is it like to be a director and particularly what is it like to direct short films. How are you doing, Michael?

Yeah, I’m very well, thank you. Thanks for having me!

Thank you for agreeing to talk to us. I want to begin our conversation by asking you, what about the art form of a short film do you like most?

When you make feature films, you have two, three hours to really connect with the characters. But you don’t have that luxury with a short film. As a filmmaker, I like the challenge of it.

There’s a couple things I like. One is the fact that it is short. People are busy these days, attention span… it seems like every feature film is four hours long these days, so I love that I could just watch and connect to a story and be told in 10 minutes, and then move on for the rest of my day. As a filmmaker, I like the challenge of it, because when you make feature films, you get to invest in the characters. Then you have two, three hours to really connect, but you don’t have that luxury with a short film. So it’s the challenge of getting the audience hooked onto a character and finding a way to move them or inspire them or make them think about something within 10, 15 minutes.

So would you say that is the biggest challenge of a short film, as a director / screenwriter?

Yeah, a hundred percent. Because if you watch a film, feature film, you don’t really care about the characters straight away. It takes a good half hour, 45 minutes, hour for you to really connect. Or even TV series, a couple episodes before you really invest. So to be able to get an audience member to invest in your character within 10 minutes, is definitely a huge, huge challenge.

Well, do you have any tricks that you can share with us about how to achieve that?

Don’t overcomplicate it. People connect to the simplest of things: love, adversity, relationships.

Good writing is one. Don’t overcomplicate it, don’t throw too much information at the audience. Keep it simple. People connect to the simplest of things: love, adversity, relationships. If you’re going into back stories of this person, you don’t have enough time. Just keep it super, super simple.  

Can you tell me, how do you find inspiration? And maybe if you remember a story of something in particular that inspired you?

Yeah, inspiration isn’t something that you can just create out of nowhere. It has to come from a TV show, real life things.

My phone is full of little notes and ideas and jots, and those things form together eventually to make into a script.

I made a film called “Denzel”, it’s a short film and it’s about a guy with disability who is trying to find love. And there’s a TV series called “The Undateables”, it’s a TV show about people with disabilities trying to find love. And I loved it. I thought it was endearing, I thought it was wonderful. And there’s a couple of things on that show that helped inspire me to write “Denzel”. One of them, there was a moment where there was a guy with autism and he got so nervous on dates that his mum created these cue cards for him to help him ask questions. So he would be on the date and he would look under the table and look at these cue cards, and then look up and asked the questions, and I thought, oh my God, that is so cute. And there was another moment with a guy with Down syndrome and he went on a date, and the date didn’t want him anymore, and he went to his dad and he said, “Dad, what’s wrong with me?” and his dad was like, “There’s nothing wrong with you.” So between those two seeds of lines and motions, that was the inspiration for “Denzel”. And again, it was just something I saw on TV and loved and wrote down and that’s it. Sometimes I can be on a bus and see something and be “Okay, let me write that down”. It’s always little notes and ideas and jots, and those things form together eventually to make into a script.

So then, you keep notes. You keep track of your ideas…

Always. My phone is full of random, sometimes comedy things that I’m just like, I remember this is for such a random thing. This is, that goes on in my head sometimes, as I was walking with this girl who was a friend and it was quite windy and we went onto the bridge. And it was like, we gotta spit off the bridge and I spat off and then she spat and the wind blew it right back into her face. But it made me laugh so much. I was like, I’ve gotta put that down somewhere. So that’s like banked somewhere as well. One day, one of my films, you’ll see someone spit into the wind into a bridge and see it fly into their face, because just, again, those things always… like, moments that inspire me to write something.

We will be expecting it, in the next film that you make.


All right, we spoke about inspiration. What about the process itself? Which one is your favourite part of the process? Is it the creating of the script, is it pre-production, choosing locations, casting? Is it the actual on-set work where you direct, or post, or is it when you finally watch it on screen?

As a director, your job is to get all the ideas out of your head, into the head of the camera person, the sound person, the costume person, etc.

Yeah, there isn’t just one answer to that. I can tell you some of my favourites. I like when I’m doing the storyboards for the shot list. When I really start to put all the visual images, because everything is in my head. And as a director, your job is to get all the ideas out of your head, into the head of the camera person, the sound person, the costume person and stuff. So you do that in pre-production with… it’s usually like, storyboards or shot lists and you go through it.

So that’s when I really find inspiration, and sometimes the most random things. There was a song by Regina Spektor called “Heroes” or “Hero”, I think it was… And for some reason when I was on the train and that song came on, that helped trigger the sequence in “Denzel”, when we see the reveal later on. And I had to keep replaying that song to keep the inspiration going, and I must have played it about 30 times in a row, while…

While you were on the train?

While I was on the train. 

For some reason, that song just triggered my visual inspiration of how I wanted to shoot this film.

So it would stop and I’d replay it and then I’d start writing stuff down. And for some reason that song just triggered my visual inspiration of how I wanted to shoot it. And I could see everything clearly. But as soon as the song stopped…

It goes.

It goes! I was like, no, I’ve gotta keep replaying it. So it was like… because in my head, the song helped with it and I wanted that song. We didn’t get it in the end, but that’s fine. Jasper, who was the music person, did a wonderful job anyway.

I love being on set. I used to be an actor myself. I understand actors. I teach actors. I work a lot with actors. So I love that feeling of being on set and getting the best possible performance with the actor.

And then post production. The favourite part is obviously the finished product, when you’ve spent months and months, and then you send it off to festivals, and you get into this festival, and you get into that, and you go and meet them and people tell you that they enjoyed your film. And I went to a festival, literally last weekend, near my hometown. It’s a small festival, but it’s one that’s connected to a college for young filmmakers, 16 to 18, and it’s a free college for them, which is a great job that they’re doing. And I showcased my film there and they gave me like, best director and best film, which was great, I got the award…

Amazing, congratulations!

But it was afterwards where the young students were coming up and telling me how they were inspired because I was like them and I grew up with not a lot of opportunities in the North of England, and made something of myself without knowing anyone in the industry. So they were just like, you know, it’s great to know that we can do it too, to see you do it. And I was like, yeah, you know, you just gotta work hard and hustle.

I have a ton of questions, but since we are talking about young people, young filmmakers, what would be the advice that you would give somebody that’s just about to start creating and directing their first short film?

You learn by doing. You don’t learn properly until you actually make films.

Just do it. Most filmmakers will say it. You learn by doing. You can watch stuff, you can read about stuff… You don’t learn properly until you actually make films. And you’ll make terrible films, I have terrible, terrible films that will never see the light of day, locked away somewhere, when I was a student, but I learned what not to do by doing it.

And the beauty about these days is you don’t even need a lot. You can shoot on your iPhone. Your camera on your iPhone is better than the camera that people paid hundreds of thousands of pounds for 10 years ago. It’s really good quality. You can upgrade it, you can buy little lenses, you can get tripods for your camera. And just get a bunch of friends together and just make stuff. Just make stuff as cheap and as free as possible, you don’t have to have lots of money. And you will learn so much by making stuff. So don’t talk about it. Don’t bitch about it. Don’t be like, oh, I can’t do this, cause I don’t… Just do it. Just do it.

And speaking of just doing it and making mistakes: tell me one of the biggest mistakes that you’ve done and that you’ve then learned from.

All my mistakes have taught me a lesson.

Trying to think of answers where I don’t incriminate people… You do make mistakes as filmmakers. Hiring people that maybe you shouldn’t have hired and you have to go back and rehire staff. I guess, there isn’t anything in particular that really, really stands out, because all my mistakes have taught me a lesson. So it’s not like I did something I thought, oh, I really wish I didn’t do that, because if I didn’t do that, I probably wouldn’t be the filmmaker I am today.

So each sort of mistake you make, again, not huge, huge, huge mistakes, maybe like I scheduled the day wrong and I put too much shots in, and then I was like, okay, well I know not to do it next time. Or, yeah, everything that I made, in terms of mistakes, has taken me to here. So there isn’t anything that really stands out that is like, this was a huge, huge mistake. Because again, you will make the mistakes. Everyone does. That’s how you learn.

We started the conversation by speaking about the short attention span of people. However, it’s not a secret that short films are still watched predominantly by filmmakers and people in the industry. Why is that, do you reckon, why does the general audience not show interest in short films as much as we would like them to? And also, what can we do to change that?

We need to promote more platforms like Klipist, get it into the mainstream, put short films on TV a lot more.

For me, there just isn’t a platform for it, like a broad platform. Because most short films are on platforms like Klipist, but most general population don’t know about these things. They generally just don’t even know they exist. Whereas, you know, movies and TVs or Netflix and Amazon. So, I guess it’s to promote more platforms like Klipist, get it into the mainstream, put them on TV a lot more. Put them on the big platforms as well. And just, again, a lot of short films just aren’t known to people that they exist. Generally, they’re just like, oh, a short film, I didn’t know anything about that! Because it seems to be just hidden away, just for film festivals and very specialized platforms, which again, they’re great platforms, but they need to be out on national TV, on Sky, on Netflix, on Amazon. Promoted. Throw them out to the public, so people can get into them a lot more.

Well, what about you? What’s next for you? Is there a project on horizon?

Yeah, I’ve just been hired to do another short film. Most of my films tackle social issues, so homelessness, disability, my latest one was homophobia. Now, the next one, which is a tough subject, is religion. I don’t wanna say too much yet, because I don’t wanna give it too much away, but it’s gonna be a tricky subject that has to be done delicately.

And then feature films. I think I want to make one more short. That’ll be my complete selection, and then enough into a feature film. Nothing on the horizon yet, but it’s sort of in the back of my mind, I want to do it next year.

I hope I see the “spitting off the bridge” scene in the feature.

Yeah, you will. I’ll fit it in somewhere. Because I must have laughed about 15 minutes at this girl cleaning her spit off her face. It was so disgusting, it was hilarious.

Well, thank you Michael so much for having this chat with me today! I wish you all the best and I can’t wait to see what’s coming next for you.

Thanks for having me!

Watch Two Sides streaming now on Klipist

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