Spotlight: An interview with Julian Poulter ("A Call to Arms")
Welcome to an exclusive interview with LAFA winner Julian Poulter, the creative force behind the gripping screenplay, "A Call to Arms." Transporting audiences to the heart of the Middle Ages, Poulter's latest work unveils the intense narrative of William, a valiant defender facing an existential threat to England from a merciless horde of Viking warriors. Rooted in historical truth, the story unfolds as William confronts not only the brutality of the invaders but also the profound personal stakes tied to his land and love.
In this interview, we delve into the mind of Julian Poulter, a writer residing in the picturesque North Devon, England. With a rich history in storytelling, including the co-authorship of "A Peerless Gentleman" with his father David, Poulter brings a unique perspective to the cinematic landscape. Join us as we explore his deep-seated passion for film, nurtured since childhood by an amateur film director father, and how his love for history, coupled with hands-on experiences as an archer and fencer, manifests in the captivating realm of historical cinema.
Let's begin with a simple question: What drives your passion for writing and storytelling?
It's hard to say what drives my passion. It's just something i had to do, through the love of film and storytelling, and the hope that my stories are a little different to the norm. No point in doing the same thing over and over. If i have a story which is great and hasn't been done, then it makes sense to do it.
Growing up in North Devon, England, how do you think your childhood environment and experiences have influenced the themes or settings in your storytelling? Are there specific aspects of your upbringing that you find recurring in your short stories or have inspired certain narratives?
Yes it's all about experiences and upbringing. My father was a film director and taught me the old fashioned way to direct. (just one example, he hated handheld camera work, 99 times out of 100. Said it looks like an amataur wedding or something, and had the expression 'A camera belongs on three legs, not two). And for experience, 100%. For example, in one of my scripts i have to describe a victorian gentlemans swordstick. Well, i have one, so it's easy to write about what you know.
You mentioned that you've been writing short stories for many years. Can you share a memory from your childhood when you first discovered your passion for storytelling? Were there any particular events or individuals that encouraged you to explore writing, and how has that initial spark evolved over the years into your current career as a screenwriter?
I guess it was when i thought I was good at it (not wanting to blow my own trumpet). But even verberly, telling stories from a night time ghost one, or an epic historical battle to a funny story, like a long joke, it was always pleasing for people to listen and to be hooked on your words. Your exposure to a diverse range of film genres, from the 1950s Ealing comedies to modern classics, must have shaped your perspective as a screenwriter. Can you share a specific film or filmmaker that has had a profound impact on your approach to storytelling, and how has that influence manifested in your own work? Ah, there are so many great writers, directors and actors. I guess, if you believe they are the best, it's natural to copy them and learn from them. Anthony Hopkins is one of my favourates, the way he underplays everything is great, and he makes it look easy (which we all know it isn't). David Lean would have to be up there, along with Kenneth moore and John Mills. There is a film from the 50's called it's great to be young' A very charming film. Not much action at all, but done so well. All these years later people still talk about it. On IMDB younger people are saying 'wow what a great film etc etc'. I can't see many modern films having that same response 70 years later. I'm lucky to come from the same land as Shakespeare and Charles Dickens. And other favorites are Alec Guiness, Alistar Sim, Ridley Scott and James Cameron.
Having a parent who was an amateur film director must have provided a unique insight into the world of filmmaking. Can you share a specific memory or experience from your early years that deeply influenced your passion for storytelling and ultimately led you to pursue a career as a screenwriter? How has your father's influence shaped your creative journey?
Well i don't know if it helped my want to get into film making, but i do have a funny, happy memory. Mt father started off as a photographer for a newspaper. One day him and his friend were looking for a story and couldn't get one, so he jumped in front of a bus. All was well and fine and nobody was hurt in anyway. But the headline in the paper the following day was 'Journalist almost hit by bus'. In 2018, you collaborated with your father David on a project called "A Peerless Gentleman." Could you provide us with additional details about this project, such as the inspiration behind it, and the writing process? We’re curious to learn more about your experience working on this project with your father. It sounds like an exciting collaboration! A Peerless Gentleman was a book he wrote about one of his best friends who passed away. It was a local interest book and we did it in homage to him. He was a school teacher back in the 50's and 60's, so it was mainly his old pupils that bought it. I am currently working on a book now which will hopefully be published in 4 months. That one is called 'The Locksmith' and set in Victorian London. In a nutshell it's Oliver Twist meets Jack the Ripper. It's a novel form of my second script, which will hopefully be doing the rounds at film festivals over the next year.
Let's discuss your debut feature screenplay, "A Call to Arms!" Based on a true story, this is a tale of William defending his land and love from violent Viking warriors. Despite being outnumbered, he stands with his people, fighting to restore peace to the land. What inspired you to tell this story? Simply for the love of History. I love Viking things but I found that most films and series are from the viking viewpoint. My story is from the English viewpoint. 80% of the film is our side and 20% is from the invading side. A simple story of good against bad. We have so much history in England, it would be a shame to skip it and just focus on the vikings.
I understand that you are a history enthusiast as well as an avid archer and fencer. It must have been really thrilling for you to incorporate these interests into your screenplay. Can you share a specific instance where your passion for history or your skills in archery and fencing significantly influenced a particular scene or character in your screenplay? How do you approach integrating these personal interests into your storytelling, and what impact do you feel it adds to the overall narrative?
Like I say, to me it's 'write what you know'. I would guess the same goes for a director. For example if you had a knowledge of firearms a director wouldn't film a scene where the pistol would fire 25 rounds. You have to get it right (or at least 99% right) If i were to film a scene of someone with a sword or bow, i'd like to think it would be right because i have the knowledge.. Artistic licence is fine, but there are limits. Especially when telling history. The story of A Call to Arms takes place in the Middle Ages when England faces a new threat from across the sea. Could you please share how you went about researching historical facts and information for the script? Furthermore, were there any difficulties that you encountered during the research phase?
There wasn't loads of research to do because it was all in my head anyway. Of course there was the odd brush up from books, but 90% was inside me. I did like how the Spartacus series was written and took ideas from that. It was almost Latin in some parts, and still making full sense. At the beginning of the story, King Ella's son, William, pleads with him to avoid another war. In response, King Ella states, "Every sane man desires peace William, it is how you obtain that peace is of importance. Some do so through words and others need so through bloodshed."
It's fascinating to observe that the mindset of contemporary leaders has not evolved much from that of their predecessors. Without delving too much into politics, we would love to hear your thoughts as a writer and a history enthusiast.
Yes I agree, in some ways we haven't evolved. I suppose it all comes down to 'who started it' (rather childish approach I agree). But some wars are just and some are unjust. War is always cruel and terrible but it can be good too (in a sense). For example, World War two was horrific in every way. But it was right that we fought back. It all depends on the enemy and why they are the enemy. A rifle is a good thing in Churchills hands, but a bad thing in Hitlers hands. Same rifle but with totally differant meanings. To defend ones self is surely a good reason for war. Let's talk about William, a courageous young man who seems to have it all: high status, respect, a loyal friend named Eldric who names his swords, and Lady Rowena, the woman he loves. He is reluctantly drawn into a war that endangers him and those around him despite having much to lose. What aspects of the character did you connect with as a writer and how much did you rely on the true story? I connected with all aspects of him. He is the hero but also kind and decent. The William part wasn't necessarily a true story, but one which I think most young men would be happy to follow. Brave and tough, without being a cocky thug and fighting for his love and homeland.
After you finished writing the script, you worked closely with your editor, Mark Brindle, to make some adjustments and ensure that it meets the criteria for script submission. Can you describe the process and explain the value that Mark added to the project?
Mark Brindle of Maniac Films was a godsend. I know nothing about the computer technical side of it. I hand wrote it and then typed it on the computer, and then handed it over and said 'make this look like a script' which he excelled himself doing so. I wanted the script to be picked up by a producer or a studio but thought that was going to be almost impossible (with me not being in the business), so that's why I had the idea of all the film festivals. If I can get some wins under my belt, it would hold much more weight to the project. It's won 7 so far all over the world. Fingers crossed I find someone to buy it or even myself working on the film. My second film is much more of a simple, smaller story though, so hopefully that will one day get made. I guess the cheaper the film, the easier it is to make, but alas as i say, i'm not in the business and have no idea.
You recently returned from Milan after winning an award for your screenplay. How was the experience? Did you meet anyone interested in the industry? Milan was amazing, and was great to be a winner of 'Best Unproduced Script'. My category was the hardest because i was up against 11 others. One amazing thing that happened was their presenters let the organisers down at the last minute, so my partner ended up presented the whole thing. She was very pleased and understandably nervous, but she did the job excellently, with the organisers very happy with her and her one-liners going down very well. Unfortunately were wasn't a vast amount of producers etc present, but with other festival coming up and an invite to The Nice Filmfest International maybe something will happen there. Fingers crossed I get a selection at Cannes too, but we shall see.
What's your biggest takeaway from working on this screenplay?
Biggest takeaway is the great feeling that my work must be alright. I still can't believe it's doing well and people love my work. I still say I'm not a writer, I just do projects. If you had the opportunity to pitch your screenplay to Hollywood's top producers, what would you say in a few moments to convince them to read your script?
Oh good question. My instinct would be to suck up to them and treat them as if they were gods. But i would hope i wouldn't come across too desperate. I would simply say 'it's a great script and it will be a great film. It's got the simpleness of good against evil, with simultaneously having depth. It's won awards in Hollywood, Rome, London, New York, Milan etc. And it really is a little different. Thousands of people want to hear the English side of the viking wars. It has a decent beginning, middle and end and holds everything a movie should be, high stakes, drama, love and action. Without sounding too cocky, I truly believe, infact know that it is better than some others out there that have been made. Without looking down on other peoples work and efforts, I'm 100% confident that this will be a great film and will be talked about for many years. Case in point, Braveheart and Gladiator. It's been compared to them in a sense, and historical lovers adore those films. I know because I am one myself. What's next for you, and what's next for A CALL TO ARMS?
Next for 'A Call To Arms' is another few months of film festivals and just see what happens. When the year of festivals is over and i have all the awards attached to it, then i guess try and sell it. My second script is in the process of being formatting as we speak and will be going to Nice next year. I shall send that into film festivals too in the hope I have other wins.. Also the book i'm writing now is the same story of the second script, so it may work as a package. That's the Victorian Jack The Ripper one. It will be called 'The Locksmith'. Set in 1888. Is there anything you'd like to add, or anyone you wish to thank? Yes there is. A huge thanks to my partner Lizzie, through falling in love with her she gave me extra energy to work. My Parents for making me the man I am, and to Mark Brindle for doing all the computer work for me. I have no interest in such and would be lost without his knowledge. And not forgetting LAFA, for giving me my win and even doing this interview. It all helps and I am most grateful.
Where can our readers follow more of your work?
The Script 'A Call To Arms' is in the domain with Mark Brindle at Maniac Films. The second script will be with him in the next week or so. My book will be published in about 4 months. I will try to sell it to independent bookstores and then try for the bigger boys at Waterstones. I shall try and have them up for sale and signed on ebay and amazon. I'm learning myself with this journey. Thank you again. And hope to chat again soon.