‘4:00am’ writer, director and producer Robert Trott describes the journey from Bucks to his debut feature film’s TV Premier on the 11th of May. Don’t miss the trailer and behind the scenes photographs.
When did you study with us?
I studied between 2006 and 2009. A time when Myspace and MSN Messenger were savage titans at killing time and their overachieving cousin; Facebook, was just starting to get itself noticed. The important thing to remember is that everyone wore an onion on their belt (which was the style at the time…)
What did you study (course name and level)?
During my time at Buckinghamshire New University I studied Digital Video Production with Creative Writing and Film Studies at the bachelors level. “Do as many subjects as you can” They said. “It will be a doddle” They said.
In all seriousness, it was a lot of hard work, but I wouldn’t trade those experiences for the world. There’s that old adage, “You get back what you put in” and despite the ratio of corn being high with that, it’s so true. Without the hard work and challenges my course threw at me I wouldn’t have the skills or confidence now to be pursuing the job of my dreams.
Tell us about your first steps after graduating.
Pretty much the first question on my mind once I had graduated was, “What now?” and I’m sure it is for a lot of people. A whole world of possibilities await you and it can be daunting to say the least. I paraphrase the words of Neil Gaiman when I say that not knowing the difficulties and the challenges your passion can throw at you can give you a fearlessness that can make you unstoppable.
Me personally? I used the momentum that graduating gives you, to propel myself right onto the next challenge. After all, I’d been wanting to create stories since I was old enough to hold onto memories. This was my chance; so what did I do? I went right ahead and started making a feature film.
I figured, “I’ve written one for my dissertation, I’ll just write another one and get cracking”
So how did you get started?
One of the amazing things that Buckinghamshire University encouraged is to embrace the independent spirit in filmmaking. After all, go far back enough in any filmmakers’ back catalogue and you’ll see a rough and ready movie held together by hard work, quick thinking, and a whole lot of love. One of the keys to this is playing to your strengths, and not only that; to use what is readily available to you.
I knew that to do this on a shoestring budget I was going to have to keep it light and breezy. Inspired by the shorter feature works of Shane Meadows at the time (Somers Town and Le Donk & Scor-Zay-Zee) I decided that my film would be little over an hour and be set in my hometown. A love letter to not only the hometown I left behind to study; but the dramatic character pieces me and my Dad used to absorb before I left.
I worked a day job to keep myself fed, and the rest of the time I wrote; and I wrote; and I occasionally slept until it was done. I had the first of many drafts of what would become my debut feature film, “4:00am”.
“4:00am” tells the story of Doug; a socially reclusive 25 year old who makes a promise to his best friend Juniper, to stay the whole night at his first party. A “Legendary” Cooper party no less. When she abandons him there the night begins to unravel into one that could change him forever.
Now to shoot the thing…
Can you describe the process for us, and what were the main challenges?
Well I drew on my experiences from making the numerous short films I birthed into the world (for better or worse) whilst studying. I knew I had to get a cast and crew together before anything else. There are so many great sites for people starting out in the business. For this project I mainly used both Casting and Crew Call Pro. They were really simple to use and helped me whittle down the list of applicants to those I felt most suited the job posting I had made for it. From here it was time to audition and interview them.
I’ve found that once you start meeting other creative people invested in telling stories the project will begin to run off of a new energy. Before I knew it, my cast/crew were assembled and the filming date was set. No going back now. There were other people involved and I couldn’t let them down.
Once filming had started we pressed on past our 23-day target (of which I had booked holiday from work) for an additional 17 days. Those non-holiday days were the toughest; consisting of a days work in the office, followed by getting my childhood home prepped for the evening of shooting, and then wrapping in the early hours to reset the house (my Dad was living there after all) and trying to scrape in a few hours sleep before starting the process again.
I’m not exactly sure how I got through those 17 days. I had a very good support network of people who had my back and believed in me but ultimately, you’ve got to love it. The idea of doing anything else has got to be an alien concept I think.
Suffice to say that after endless months of post-production, I could sleep; and I did. Like a ruddy baby.
How has your qualification from Bucks helped your career?
It said to the world that I have the focus and the passion to spend 3 years of my life devoted to my dream. When you really break it down, that’s what it says.
It’s given me the confidence in my abilities to do so much since graduating and offered support to both myself (and others) when needed.
Upon reflection, what skills did your qualification give you that help in your job?
In looking back there are too many skills that I harnessed during my time at Bucks. I grew as both a team member and leader. I learned that my ideas and opinions had value and that keeping quiet in the background and never contributing is a lonely place.
It gave me the ability to bring other people up when they were struggling and admit when I needed the same. It can be scary out on your own; so you have to surround yourself with great people, who are honest and true. University taught me to be brave enough to do that.
What advice would you give to a student who is about to graduate into your role/industry?
Don’t lose your voice. Not literally of course, although that’s never fun either. What I mean is, don’t lose the thing that makes your work a product of you. Find a style of creating that speaks to the stories that you want to tell. Director Kevin Smith once said, “The main goal in life career-wise should always be to try and get paid to simply be yourself”.
What have been your main career achievements to date?
I feel like my biggest achievement so far has been having the stones to jump in headfirst and try. Several years on from leaving Bucks, and countless sleepless nights of hard work later, and my little feature film “4:00am” was nominated for “Best Story & Screenplay” (Open World Toronto Film Festival, 2016) and is awaiting it’s broadcast debut with London Live on the 11th of May at 1:00am.
That’s not fully sunk in yet.
MY FILM IS GOING TO BE ON TV!
With this and both the first series of my web-series, “Dole” (That I co-created with fellow alumni George O’ Connor) and my comedy short “The Insecurities of Dill” set to land this year too, I can definitely say that whatever 2017 is going to throw at me; it’s definitely going to be emotional.
What advice would you pass on to your first year self?
“Don’t Panic” – Not only is it great all-round advice but it’s also emblazoned on the cover of “The Hitch-Hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy” so it’s got to be sound. For an anxious soul like myself, this is difficult of course, but it’s definitely a fact that dwelling on both the things that may be and the things that were, will not only affect your work, but more importantly, your wellbeing.
So relax when you can, and throw yourself into your passions when you can’t, I say.
The best place to keep up with what I’m doing is via: TheTopHatFilmsWebsite.com
You can watch the trailer for “4:00am” here:
This may well be our most quotable article to date, but I guess you’d expect that from a scriptwriter.
‘I had a very good support network of people who had my back and believed in me but ultimately, you’ve got to love it. The idea of doing anything else has got to be an alien concept I think.’
‘It gave me the ability to bring other people up when they were struggling and admit when I needed the same. It can be scary out on your own; so you have to surround yourself with great people, who are honest and true. University taught me to be brave enough to do that.’
Now over to our other graduates to step up and let us know about their careers, projects and plans, and pass on the advice our current students love to read.
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