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Embrace: An Interview with Thomas Webster

Tell us about yourself. How did you become an artist?

My name is Thomas Webster, I'm 31 years of age and I’m an independent writer and director. I was born and raised in Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland), Aotearoa (New Zealand). I began my life in the arts at an early age singing, dancing and acting on the stage. My parents instilled in me a passion for cinema and over course of my 20's I performed on the stage and screen. Until two years ago I decided to try my hand at writing and directing my own work. I was inspired by my partner Laura Matakeu Mackey to write, produce & direct my debut short film “ Embrace.”

What was your first job in the art field?

My first job in the arts was that of an actor. I performed in the national opera company’s rendition of Motzart’s “The Magic Flute.” I was 14 at the time and it was the largest production I had been a part of to date.

Director Thomas Webster

What makes you want to tell stories? In other words, what are the themes/issues you want to incorporate into your work?

Story telling is one of the oldest crafts in civilization. Stories have a way of showcasing what the human experience is, in a way that helps us to understand ourselves and each other in a deeper sense. I want to tell kiwi (NZ) stories with universal themes to showcase our talent, our deeply diverse culture and to show that no matter who we are or where we come from, we can all empathize and connect with one another.

Please tell us about your vision and your method of approaching a new project?

In starting any new project, first and foremost to me is always the script. If it’s not on the page it won’t be on the screen. So I spend a long time writing and re-writing my script, working with advisors and fellow writers to find ways of delving deeper into the story. My scripts have always been character driven dramas, so I like to spend a long time working with my actors to develop the characters and rehearse the scenes. I like to meticulously plan my shotlist with the DOP, so that things run smoothly on set. And I like to work with the Composer as early as the script writing stage to start developing the sounds and themes of the piece from a musical perspective. So that when we start shooting I already have an idea of what the score is and allow that to set the pace in how we shoot the film.

Who are your filmmaking influencers? What are the films that were influential for you?

Some of the filmmakers I most admire are Francis Ford Coppola, Akira Kurosawa, Ridley Scott and Stanley Kubrick. Their sheer will and determination through the face of adversity has always been something on an inspiration to me.

The Italian film Life is Beautiful, is a film that showed me the vast scope of emotions one could feel in a film. From the hilarious beautiful comedic moments to its deeply tragic ending. Pieces of a Woman is such a deeply intimate, truthful insight into a harrowing experience of a young mother. Million dollar baby makes me cry every time I watch it, even though I’ve seen it 50 times. These films have deep influence on my work as I aspire to write tragic Arthouse dramas, with a character based narrative.

How do you think the industry is changing? How has COVID affected independent filmmaking/creation?

The industry has gone through a dramatic change in my country just in the last few years, with a strong focus on representation for women and cultural minorities. Personally for me, it's been a great joy to work with different people with vastly different backgrounds, all coming together to bring a story to life. Covid at times has been a nightmare to deal with. At times causing a huge disruption, creating massive delays and putting a huge strain on the budget for projects. Thankfully we’re coming out the other side of it and it’s no longer such a hindrance.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists? What are some of the things they must follow/avoid?

Trust your gut. If something feels right or wrong then go with that initial feeling. Be open, kind and considerate with your counter parts. Everyone just wants the best outcome possible. Don’t be lazy with planning and try writing something that can actually be made with all your limitations with budget and timeframe in mind.

Do you think films/stories can bring about a change in the world?

I think some stories have the potential to bring about change. We’ve seen that throughout history, films changing the way in which we view things as a society. How directly those films are responsible for change is debatable, but I do believe they are a contributing factor to change.

What do you think people like to watch these days? Has the pandemic changed people's taste?

I think nothing has really changed in terms of what people like to watch these days. People seek out entertainment to be temporarily distracted from their own lives and to enjoy a spectacle after a hard day of work. I think the pandemic, with the lockdowns gave people a lot more time on their hands and loads of boredom to combat. So we started delving deeper into the mines as it were, to discover some of the more obscure stuff like Tiger King or Squid Games. There are more platforms and more content being created than there ever has been in history of story telling, so I think there’s more stuff out there to cater to everyone’s tastes in what they consume.

Please tell us about your upcoming projects.

I’m currently working on some music videos for some local artists and writing my next script for another short film. This story is about forgiveness. It’s an examination of a young man working a trade here in New Zealand, touching on mental health and suicide. NZ has some of the highest rates of suicide in the world, particularly with young men. So this story is an intimate portrayal of that struggle and how as a society we have failed to care and help these men.


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