Interview with Director James Bowsher (WITHHELD)

The short film WITHHELD (directed by James Bowsher) was the overwhelming winner of BEST FILM at the THRILLER FEEDBACK Film Festival in September 2017. It arguably could be the best short film of 2017! It’s that great of a film.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Matthew Steggles: The primary motivation was that I felt like the idea was interesting and that no one would make it if I didn’t. What kept me motivated was the fact that I had an overwhelming amount of support from friends, family and the crew.

From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

The idea to the shoot only took a few months, but the edit took us about a year, as there were various complicating factors. It can be summarised by us wanted to ensure we got it right and whilst there were frequent instances of it almost being ready I never felt happy putting it out into the world.

 How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Cruel communication.

 What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

The biggest obstacle was probably staying faithful to the original concept. The film is meant to be claustrophobic, but when watching the edits you can often think that you have gone too far. In the end it was about reminding myself what my objectives were with the film and making it the most distilled version of that.

 What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

It’s encouraging to hear the reactions from the audience particularly in regards to how we used Stephanie’s character. Part of what I wanted to do in the film was look at the danger of male gaze and the difficult treatment of female characters in film. However, keeping his attacks on her and his treatment of her separate to the film and its perspective was tricky – especially in the limited time that we had. I think this will probably engender different reactions from different viewers, but this is why the ‘turn’ was so important to me.

 WATCH the Audience FEEDBACK Video: 

How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

An exhibit about phone sex workers by Philip Toledo demonstrated the unexpected breadth of characters in this industry. From there it meshed with ideas I had about performance as the phone was a clear locus for suspending disbelief. I wrote a first draft and from there my friends’ positive reactions to the concept drove me to shoot it.

 What film have you seen the most in your life?

That’s an almost impossible question as I have gone through many love affairs with many films. On balance Magnolia by Paul Thomas Anderson is one that I keep coming back to.

 You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the new(ish) submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

My producer Matthew Steggles did most of the real legwork in regards to festival submissions. He says “The menu navigation and friendly user face is leagues beyond other online submission platforms that I have previously used. With thousands of festivals at your disposal, they’ve made it incredibly easy to organise and keep track of each submission – something that could have taken many countless hours in the past is now a pleasure to undertake. I’ve also found it to be cheaper than most of the other submission platforms.”

What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

Feeling Good by Nina Simone is a song that I love and was playing in my house all the time because of my mother.

What is next for you? A new film?

I am starting an MA in producing at the National Film and Television School in the UK this January. In regards to new projects, my collaborator Matthew and I have numerous projects we want to do next and are deciding which one would be best.



By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival


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