Interview with Filmmaker Shaun Leong-Williams (UNBREAKABLE)

UNBREAKABLE, 7min., UK, Documentary
Directed by Shaun Leong-Williams
In an instant bones tear through flesh and clothing alike. Jack D’arcy lies on the hot tarmac unable to move. At only 19 a devastating motorcycle accident has left Jack sedated in intensive care, his legs held together by titanium rods and his Olympic sprint dreams fading by the second. After having his sprint career written off by doctors and surgeons alike, Jack has one task; to simply “get better, one day at a time”. Starting with moving just one foot one inch, will Jack be able to will his body back onto the track and compete again? Unbreakable is a universal story of human endeavour; It is a story of resilience and hope.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

I’ve always been captivated by the human spirit. Our desire to do more or be better. It just really excites me. And I think that there are very few places where this is more vividly expressed, than through sport.

Then I met Jack who seemed to embody this attitude of athletic determination and absolute dedication. And this was before I knew his story.

I met Jack randomly whilst joining a new gym. I had no idea what Jack had been through, as when I met him, although rehabbing, he was definitely the strongest person in the room. A physical strength that I would find out later, was underpinned by a much deeper and fundamental mental strength.

It was this strength, this fortitude of mind that spoke to me and inspired me.

Whether through injury or otherwise, most of us have faced setbacks in life. Adversities that have stopped us in our tracks one way or another. This felt like a universal story of human endeavour. Of resilience. Of not giving up.

Jack inspired me so deeply and personally, there was no way I couldn’t tell his story.

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

An absolute age! I can’t remember entirely but it spanned across 3 cities, 2 continents and one pandemic. The initial pre-production and shoot was superquick.

After the initial idea to make the film, I started off by interviewing Jack. Having made similar styled profile films before, this has always been the way I’ve approached things.

Have the subject tell their story and allow this to guide everything else. Jack’s interview was incredible. I think it was about 2 hours long! You can imagine how many drafts it took to whittle it down to 7 mins.

The longest part of the film was finalising the audio. This was mainly due to availability.

We stuck with it though and finally locked in something that really completed the film.

3. How would you describe your film in two words!?

Human Potential.

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

Momentum. I think having the perseverance to complete the film was the hardest thing for me. Given how production for one reason or another would stop for extended periods, I felt immense guilt for allowing things to stall even when it was beyond my control. It was difficult.

Lockdown was a tough time to stay focussed and motivated, especially when you’ve been “gifted” all this free time which for some nagging reason you can’t seem to capitalize on.

I don’t know if this was unique to the time or if it is something that all filmmakers feel along their journey, but it really took a lot for me to dive back in after extended time away. Weirdly enough, I often reflected on Jack and his philosophical approach to perseverance in order to keep going. Sounds cheesy, but in a way I was lucky; Jack inspired to to start and finish this project.

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

Honestly, it was super weird. I felt a huge surge of anxiety and panic, like “What are these people going to say? What if they don’t like it? What if they realize I don’t know what I’m doing.” It was like my imposter syndrome had been turned up to 11; I couldn’t sit still in my seat.

But then I listened to the kind, constructive words each viewer gave and it made me feel grateful, proud and fortunate. It made me feel extremely happy that Jack’s story had left some sort of mark on its viewers. At first I would have been happy enough to know some people had watched it, but the thoughtful responses that were given really moved me and reminded me of the power of this medium and what we as storytellers and filmmakers are capable of doing.

Our film didn’t change the world, but it may have inspired someone, or given someone else hope along the way. And if I’m honest, that’s all I can really ask for. Perhaps that was the goal all along.

Watch the Audience Feedback Video:

6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?

I love telling stories through pictures. I’ve been a big fan of comics since before they ruled the world, I even considered becoming an artist at some point – then realized I had neither the patience nor the skill.

It was whilst working as a motion designer that a close friend of mine asked me to help animate some scenes for a music video of his. Shortly after that experience I muscled my way in to make us official collaborators.

It was weird, up until that experience, it was almost like I was waiting for permission from someone to say “you can make films” or “you can do this too, you know?”. I’d never thought that I could “just do it”.

After that, the logical conclusion was to try this stuff on my own. And yeah, this is my first effort!

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

The one film that was on constant repeat when I was growing up was the 1986 animated feature, The Transformers: The Movie. I’d watch that at least twice a week every week until the fateful night our family home was burgled, and with it went the VHS player, inside of which was the battered Transformers VHS. I never forgave those crooks for what they took from me!

8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?

I mean this is my first festival run, so I’m just grateful people got to see the film really.

Thanks so much for facilitating that. I think you’re doing a great job!

9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?

Yeah I feel it was pretty positive! Although, I did sign up to the gold membership to start making film submissions, then forgot and left it for a good few months. That was annoying. I feel like they should send out an email to let you know your account has been idle, or a monthly reminder letting you know you’re about to get charged, haha!

But yeah, other than that, it’s been pretty smooth.

10. What is your favorite meal?

Any home cooked meal when I visit mum. Failing that, sushi, ramen or a roast.

11. What is next for you? A new film?

Yeah all things willing I’d like to set up a new project. I’ve got a few ideas on the burner at the moment, sports related again, but nothing concrete. I was actually lucky enough to be hired by a production company somewhat off the back of this film, so I’m actually looking to hone my skills through this avenue. My aim is to allow both pursuits feed into each other. Personal and professional.


By matthewtoffolo

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

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