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Joseph Millson actor turned filmmaker

One of the silver linings of the pandemic, says actor Joseph Millson – who hails from Bucklebury – was that he was “forced off the hamster wheel of auditioning and performing” and he discovered the joys of filmmaking. His script for Signs of Life has received high praise from industry professionals and he’s now crowdfunding to make the film, he tells N2’s JON LEWIS

ACTOR and former Kennet School and Newbury College student Joseph Millson – best known for his award-winning theatre roles and many film and television roles including Casino Royale, The Last Kingdom, Holby City etc – was recently revisiting the parish cemetery in Bucklebury which is home to generations of Millsons, when the realisation hit him that ‘the oxygen in that corner of Berkshire is something very special’.

Joseph Millson
Joseph Millson

Joseph is now making the brave move to the other side of the camera as he prepares for the shooting of his first feature film as writer/director, Signs Of Life. The film will be the completion of a trilogy of films about kindness and connection.

He says one of the silver linings of the pandemic, was that he was “forced off the hamster wheel of auditioning and performing”, that he and his actor wife Sarah-Jane Potts realised they no longer had to wait for permission to be creative

“Acting is perhaps a uniquely cruel art form to be drawn to because you cannot practice it alone, you need someone to do it with, either an audience or a fellow creative. Whereas writing and directing stories, you don’t need anyone’s permission to create something of your own.’

The Magician
The Magician

They began with The Magician, a short silent film written and directed by Sarah-Jane and shot in only two days which, Joe says, ‘were probably the happiest two days we’ve had as adults’.

Self-funded and free to create art the way they wanted, The Magician, which stars Potts and Bob Barrett (who Newbury audiences might remember as part of Propeller’s ensemble for all-male Shakespeare plays at The Watermill) is about a desperate woman who is saved by an unexpected encounter with kindness.

The film went on to be selected and screened at festivals all over the world winning many awards and can now be seen by all for free on YouTube by searching ‘The Magician (4K)’.

2014 , Los Angeles, California, Sarah-Jane Potts Gracepoint series premiere held at the iconic LACMA Museum Pic: Theresa Bouche/AdMedia
2014 , Los Angeles, California, Sarah-Jane Potts Gracepoint series premiere held at the iconic LACMA Museum Pic: Theresa Bouche/AdMedia

The second film in the trilogy, partly funded via Kickstarter was Care. Written and directed by Joseph, it stars well-known actors Michael Maloney and Michael Begley.

The film drew on Joseph’s own experiences working as an at home carer for the elderly, a job he retrained for when acting work was thin on the ground. He wanted to explore the unexpected benefits one can experience from acts of service and kindness to others.

“It’s also very funny,” he said. He is keen to point out how “life has a sense of humour even when we don’t”.

Joseph Millson on the set of short film Care
Joseph Millson on the set of short film Care

A carer (Michael Begley), is making his first home visit to an ageing, disabled housebound man (Michael Maloney).

Care is currently finishing its very successful festival run and can also be seen on YouTube (Care 4K).

The screenplay for Signs Of Life was inspired by both short films and sees a continuation and meeting between the lead characters from The Magician and Care.

It was written quickly, the result of a flash of inspiration, described as “a heart-stopping drama with a side order of romantic comedy”.

The script has received high praise from experienced industry professionals and received a distinction when submitted by Joseph as his final project for a Masters Degree in screenwriting at Falmouth University, a course he began on during the pandemic.

Signs of Life
Signs of Life

The story follows Anne who is a selective mute, struck dumb by a dangerous cycle of depression and grief. In an attempt to shift her outlook, she takes herself on a cheap holiday hoping to find peace, beauty and perspective. But on arrival, Anne is met with noise, squalor and danger.

A chance encounter with another solo traveller offers her an unexpected solution, and a chain of surprising events unfolds between two strangers, which will either heal them both or crumble their lives completely.

Intriguingly, Joseph used an action movie template to write this delicate film, he says “for example, where in an action movie the story might shift with an exploding helicopter here we have a woman finally accepting an offer of help from a stranger, after saying no to life for so long the result is equally exciting and propulsive.”

He says: “We have raised over two thirds of our very modest budget but are running a crowdfunding campaign for the final push. We are so excited to meet and collaborate with new people and have some fantastic ‘perks’ on offer.

“Supporters can read the script, get personal video messages, see their names up on screen, have personal coaching from Joseph, get a bespoke song written or even become an ‘Executive Producer.’

“And if readers can’t spare any money the support offered by retweeting, sharing and recommending to others is hugely appreciated.

“I’m no social media genius, but we’ve made it easy to find us – why not watch our films on YouTube and take a good sniff of our crowdfunder.”

And if Newbury Weekly News and Newbury Today readers like them, Joseph suggests that they share the links to the short films on their own social media outlets so even more people can enjoy them.

Joseph, who was recently starring in the national tour and West End run of Michael Frayn’s Noises Off alongside Felicity Kendal, has come a long way since he worked at the Watermill theatre while at school, never considering entering the auditorium to see one of the productions until the day he turned up at the Newbury College open day thinking about studying metalwork, and the head of performing arts, Adam Fotheringham, convinced him to become an actor instead. Now, he wonders if the pull of the Millson gravestones in Bucklebury might bring him back to the Berkshire of his youth, to breathe in the enriching oxygen of creativity of his home county.

KICKSTARTER : https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/care-film/signs-of-life-0

INSTAGRAM: @signsoflifefilm1 @thatjosephmillson

TWITTER: @SignsOfLifeFilm @josephmillson

FACEBOOK: Signs Of Life Film.

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