Filmmakers Making A Social Impact: Why & How Filmmaker Mike Doxford Is Helping To Change Our World
Be a clear communicator. Your cast and crew want to know they’re in safe hands. Make sure you clearly explain your vision for the project and your approach to achieving it. It’s not a one-way street, you also need to be open to hearing the opinions of others.
As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Doxford.
Mike Doxford is an accomplished filmmaker, best known for his debut feature, Pleasure Island, which earned a nomination for Best Film at the East End Film Festival. Growing up in rural Somerset, Mike’s love for film and creativity led him to study 35mm cinematography at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. His versatile directing skills are evident through his work with brands like Land Rover and the Territorial Army, as well as his viral videos for Women’s Aid during the lockdown. Currently, Mike’s first TV show, THE BOX, is in development with a major production company. Outside of filmmaking, he enjoys scuba diving, running, and making lighthearted cat videos.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?
I grew up in a small village in Somerset, England. I was a happy-go-lucky kid and enjoyed being social. Being creative was my primary form of expression, from drawing my own comic (that I sold at school) to reenacting my favourite movie scenes (usually Indiana Jones). I started a roller hockey team, but it only lasted one session as the majority of the kids couldn’t stay on their feet. My obsession with films began as early as I can remember. I was swept up in the magic of cinema and aimed to watch a movie a day. I built an extensive VHS collection (many films recorded from the TV) and I started my own video rental business at school, but like the roller hockey, it didn’t last long as the stock declined as tapes were never returned. I became obsessed with my sister’s VHS copy of ‘Kuffs’ with Christian Slater and Milla Jovovich, and I watched it so many times it was finally chewed to pieces by our VCR — my sister wasn’t best pleased. I had a pet rat for a while that ate my bedroom curtains — my mother wasn’t best pleased. In my late teens, I moved to London to study filmmaking, and afterwards, I took a 35mm cinematography course at Tisch in New York. After that, it was time for the hard graft of building contacts and getting all the experience I could.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I need to look at my childhood again. When I was 5 my heart was set on becoming a Ghostbuster, but when that didn’t materialise I settled on becoming a filmmaker. In my early teens, I made my first film about an unloved Teddy bear that runs away from home. I filmed it all around my local town, carefully framing out my hand as I held the bear’s head as I created walking movements down the street. It’s a happy ending as the bear is found and returns home.
Jumping ahead to my early days working in the industry, I knew I needed a film that would showcase me as a filmmaker. So while working in the camera department I saved as much money as I could with the intention of making a short film, which later became ‘Apulu’. It’s a film without dialogue that leans on visual storytelling to deliver the narrative. After some international festival recognition, it led to new opportunities, including writing and directing my debut feature, ‘Pleasure Island’.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?
A funny anecdote springs to mind. I remember working as a camera assistant at the UK premiere of Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Death Proof’. With Quentin on stage preparing for an interview, they introduced the star of the film (and renowned stunt performer), Zoe Bell. As the audience clapped for her arrival, she suddenly slipped and in an instant was heading for the floor. I was within reach and managed to catch her before she hit the ground, and I lifted her back to her feet. As I took in the unexpected applause of the room, Quentin made a comment about how I should be a stunt performer in his next movie. To this day, I’m still waiting for his call.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
One of the joys of being a filmmaker is the variety of people you meet from different walks of life. In documentaries, I particularly enjoy building open and honest relationships with people as you explore the best way to tell their stories. It’s important to be mindful of how you tell people’s stories, making sure it’s a true reflection and wouldn’t make them feel uncomfortable. I find everyone has an interesting story to tell. From those that climb skyscrapers for a thrill to those that have lost loved ones in genocide, I have been fortunate enough to speak to some remarkable people. In truth, it’s all very moving.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Without a doubt my wife Jill. I’m lucky to have a supportive partner who cares deeply about me and my work. We’re both obsessed with cats (we have two) and constantly share silly cat videos.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Growing up I always liked the quote “life might be expensive but it does include a free trip around the sun each year.” It’s not a life lesson but it’s humorous while remaining truthful — a mini-story about looking on the bright side. Another quote I’m fond of is “you might be one person in this world but you can be the whole world to one person.” Focusing on what’s important in life — love. That couldn’t be more true in filmmaking as all the best stories have love at their core.
I am very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Diversity is vitally important in film and TV as that had a direct effect on societal influence.
- Diversity can help dispel stereotypes about different groups, and help us recognise and understand alternative ways of life that differ from our own.
- Bringing together people of various backgrounds can encourage fresh ideas or new perspectives that others may not have considered.
- Productions should create inviting environments for the crew from all walks of life. Filmmaking should be available to everyone so there are no barriers to the types of stories that can be told.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I recently made a comedy short film, called Non-Negotiable, which has been winning awards on the international film circuit. It’s about a 9-year-old girl who presents a list of non-negotiable terms to her parents after they tell her they’re having another baby. As the film progresses you start to see the underlying fears felt by both the child and parents. A huge impetus for making this film was having the chance to work with my wife, Jill Winternitz, who plays the mother. She’s an instinctual actor with brilliant comedic timing, and has such passion and drive for storytelling.
Since 2019 I have been working on a documentary project with inspirational beatboxer Kimmy Beatbox. It has been a deep dive into the UK scene and what it means to be a modern-day beatboxer. The story follows Kimmy’s journey to understand their identity, having recently chosen to identify as non-binary, all the while competing at the UK beatboxing championships against their male peers.
Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?
Telling a story is not easy. So any pride for me comes from pushing through those difficult times when the story isn’t making sense or the pieces of the puzzle aren’t quite fitting together, but you persevere until you find some clarity. A dark tunnel is an obvious but clear example — if you keep going you’ll reach the end. Filmmaking is a big conveyor belt of problem-solving. Having to troubleshoot and/or rethink your plan is part of the process, so you need to be malleable and be prepared to think outside the box in order to achieve your story.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- If you want to be a filmmaker, go and talk to people, from all walks of life. Stories are about the human condition and the more you talk the more you learn.
- Go and create. Really there is nothing more valuable to your career. I didn’t need anyone to tell me that as my natural instinct was always — grab my camera and go film.
- Build a network. Find collaborators. It’s so important to find a cast and crew that you enjoy working with. You’ll create shorthand and you’ll find the ease of working.
- Be a clear communicator. Your cast and crew want to know they’re in safe hands. Make sure you clearly explain your vision for the project and your approach to achieving it. It’s not a one-way street, you also need to be open to hearing the opinions of others.
- Learn how to get paid. When I was starting out as self-employed, no one had taught me how to create an invoice, so get up to speed as quickly as you can. Also, know your value. As you gain more experience make sure that’s reflected in your rates.
When you create a film, which stakeholders have the greatest impact on the artistic and cinematic choices you make? Is it the viewers, the critics, the financiers, or your own personal artistic vision? Can you share a story with us or give an example about what you mean?
That is a really interesting question. We make films for an audience, and you want them to feel your story was worth their time. That’s easier said than done, particularly as you cannot make a film to suit everyone’s taste, nor should you try. Ultimately, you want to take the audience on a compelling journey, and I believe the filmmaker needs to be committed to their vision. Follow your gut. The critics will then tell us afterwards whether we are right or not, ha! It should be stated we wouldn’t have films without financiers, and of course, there are times when you must fit within their framework to help the film find an audience. So in a nutshell, it’s a bit of a dance.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would say I fear the growing divide that seems to be rippling across the world. Historians would tell me that is nothing new, but it seems there is too much focus on what separates us rather than what connects us. Which side are you on? Any debate seems decided before it starts with people unwilling to listen to opposing views. I feel our news media and social media platforms perpetuate this. A knock-on effect is the loss of human decency and care for others — and that’s something we need to fight for.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
Well, I’ll give you a real-life person for breakfast, and a fictional character (from film and TV) for lunch. Breakfast would be with Quentin Tarantino so I can remind him of my impressive stunt work. For my fictional lunch, I would dine with Logan Roy (from Succession) at a cat cafe. The cute cats would soften him up, and in that moment of weakness, he would leave his empire to me instead of his children.
How can our readers further follow you online?
People can see my work on my website: www.mikedoxford.com
Please feel free to get in touch.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!