“I’d been writing scripts for 30 years, and I graduated from Film School 101 in 1998,” says Storm Ashwood, writer/director of The School.
“I never lost hope. I wound up being a single dad with four kids, so I had to find a way to make a living, which I did in the film industry. I became a gaffer. You stand right next to a DOP and a director, so I was secretly gathering my education on what works and what doesn’t. It was certainly a great way to learn how to be the best at what you can be just by watching people for 20 years. I would have liked to have gotten a script up much sooner, but it just took that long.”
The first draft of The School was written 12 years ago, and a decade ago before it went into any form of production.
The script was inspired by a personal drama, which suited Ashwood’s teenage obsession with J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. “I got right into understanding the symbology of that story,” he says. “About 12 years ago I actually went through trauma myself, along with a personal friend of mine, to do with a child. The School touches on a parent learning to move on and finding a way to survive such a tragedy.”
Storm Ashwood then looked at Guillermo Del Toro films The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth and The Others to inspire the style of The School.
But what films inspired him to become a filmmaker?
“I’m an old fella, I’m 49, so I grew up in the Star Wars era of the late ‘70s, early ‘80s. I got to go to cinema, but I never had a TV growing up. We were a very poor family, and I did 20 primary schools and 9 high schools, from one place to the other. It was just me, and my little brother, and my mum…
“I remember looking at Star Wars and thinking… ‘Darth Vader’s kind of like a dark version of Jesus Christ.’ This was a 12-year-old’s mind trying to make correlations between what I’ve watched and read.
“So, a combination of amazing books my mum had – which was all various legends and books on mythology, and stuff from all around the world – which I read because I had nothing better to do when it was cold and raining outside. And then, always being able to go to the cinema because that was the one treat that we were always offered.
“I always wanted to tell stories. I had such a colourful life, I was always the kid at the new school that had all sorts of cool stories to tell. I watched classic entertainment like Ridley Scott films Legend, Alien and Blade Runner. All very Hollywood style, but that was the stuff I had access to.
“It was only when I got older, in my early twenties, and I started researching wanting to be a filmmaker. I started accessing other great filmmakers like Andrei Tarkovsky and Stalker, which is a sci-fi film that’s so different but so brilliantly told. You start learning how to tell stories differently, without lots of big bangs and loud music. You can actually convey a story, pull an audience along a journey through subtleties.
“I like that because it’s all full of metaphors. You can entertain people, but you can also help people learn something.”
Even though it took Storm Ashwood until his late forties to make his feature debut with The School, he is already in the finishing stages of his follow-up, Escape and Evasion.
“One thing I’d advise anybody, is that if you want to be a filmmaker, get out and make films,” he finishes up. “Even if they’re short films or snippets you’re putting up on YouTube. Just never give up, no matter how many knockbacks you get. I got two decades of knockbacks before I finally got my first film on. Then, within ten months of making that film, I wound up in production with my second feature.”