Interview with Phil Dunn, director of ISA award-winning “Box Office Smash”

Awarded Silver for Best Indie Short and Bronze for Best Director (Male), “Box Office Smash” is one of the big pleasant surprises of October round. A powerful metaphor in a film described by Indie Shorts Mag as “a stellar work of art meets filmmaking.”

Phil Dunn

Phil Dunn

Phil Dunn is a director, writer, poet and owner of London based production company Authentive. Phil began making films as a teenager with his cousins. Their first effort, “Mission Improbable”, later went on to win a short film competition and was included on the international DVD release of the movie “Son of Rambow” (2007). Since then, Phil set up Authentive and has been making videos for a wide range of clients for over a decade. Recently though he has begun to use his filmmaking skills to tell his own stories again, with the help of the many like-minded collaborators he has developed relationships with over the years. “Box Office Smash” thus marks a jumping off point in his filmmaking career as he dares to venture in the direction of his passions and not get caught in a commercial videography cul-de-sac.

ISA: What made you decide to make this film?

Phil Dunn: I have been writing poetry more and more over the last few years and so playing with words is something I really enjoy. One day when I was running in our local park, the phrase ‘box office’ came to mind as I thought about my filmmaking, and I imagined a man in an office that was actually a cardboard box. The idea grew from there. After sitting on it for a few years, and allowing it to develop, I finally wrote the script in 2017. I was getting frustrated with only making videos/films for other people and I wanted to tell my own stories so I finally mustered the courage and resolve to get on and make it since the idea would not leave me alone!

ISA: What budget did you have and how did it affect the production?

PD: In total, we spent just over £5K (~$6.5K) on making the film. All the people who worked on it did so for free (which really blew me away!), so we spent the money on the set, locations and on the camera hire and lenses. I think having a low budget affected the production in a good way as it forced us to be more creative in how we achieved the results we were looking for.

Box Office Smash

Box Office Smash

ISA: How long was the shoot and what were the main challenges on the set?

PD: We shot for 3 days – one on location and 2 in a studio. The main challenges on set where the set itself which took quite a bit of time to build – we had to practice building it in my back garden many times to make sure we could put it up quickly on the shoot days. The other challenge was the weather – the forecast was clear skies but it ended up snowing! We chose to just go with it though and used the snowfall in the film in the end, which I think added to it.

ISA: What impact do you expect to have with “Box Office Smash”?

PD: I wasn’t expecting it to have that much of an impact, to be honest. I wanted to try out making my own story and to put it in for festivals, etc, to follow the process through. The fact that it has received amazing reviews and won awards in multiple festivals has completely taken me by surprise! I am going to be heading to New York soon as it is being shown at a festival there, and it seems totally surreal to be going to watch it in a location that so far I have only seen in films. Likewise, to be recognized in LA by ISA is completely insane! I guess as far as audience reaction goes, I think the film is an invitation to people to reflect on how we can all find ourselves in a box in life sooner or later, and whether, maybe, it’s time to get out.

Box Office Smash

Box Office Smash

ISA: Are you happy with the final result or would you change something?

PD: Yes, I am very happy with it. There are always small things I can see that I would change or do slightly differently, but I reached a place with the edit on this where I felt I really loved the film for what it had become – it means a lot to me personally and it’s such a thrill that any other people seem to be enjoying it too.

ISA: What are your overall career goals and what’s next?

PD: Watching the film on a big screen at a cinema here in London recently has convinced me more than ever that I want to make films and tell stories through that art-form. So I am setting my sights on that and would love to get to make some feature-length stories before long. Next up are some poetry films, a short about love in a time of suicide bombers, and another that explores how people can experience one thing in very different ways. I can’t wait to make more!

ISA: Do you have any advice for other independent filmmakers, particularly for the newcomers?

PD: Get making. You will be amazed by how many people will work with you, even for no money! In fact, people can strangely be even more passionate and committed because they have to choose to go for it despite the lack of monetary reward. The ideas in your head are not stupid or silly or strange; they are unique to you and only you can make them, so give them the time of day and take them seriously – who knows where they could lead.

ISA: What did it mean for you, as a British filmmaker, to be awarded in Independent Shorts Awards, among so many films mainly from the states?

PD: It has meant a great deal indeed! I honestly only hoped to get selected at maybe a few festivals, so to win awards, both at ISA and at a couple of other festivals, has been incredible! ISA is particularly gratifying considering it has so many entrants from around the world and it’s based in the epicentre of film in LA. I now feel hugely encouraged to go after the other ideas in my head and see where they can take me!

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