In conversation with Remi Moses

Remi Moses is a British-born filmmaker, currently studying MA Filmmaking at London Film School. He’d been filmmaking for six years before enrolling, telling stories of invisible illnesses, working-class struggles, championing the voiceless: “I’d like to be a beacon of hope for people who don’t have faith in any kind of industry due to their disability or socio-economic class.”

Interviewed by Dan Kelly, Remi discusses his experience of dealing with Crohn’s Disease on set, being offered the LFS Bursary, and what it’s like to study at a film school during a global pandemic.

DK: To start, can you map out your filmmaking career to date for me, before London Film School?

RM: Sure. Signs of Silence (which I made in 2015) was my first ‘real’ film. It received over 12 festival selections, four awards, and took me to America for its first festival screening in New York; a week later, Los Angeles. I won awards for Best Short Film and Best Screenplay, which felt insane to me.

I didn’t think my little film could reach around the world like that, let alone win awards. I met some remarkable actors, and the networking opportunities were incredible — it’s also where I was introduced to an executive producer at Lionsgate, who seemed interested in producing my debut feature.

Watch Signs of Silence

Over the next 18 months, I developed my script, tried to get financing sorted with this exec, but it fell through. I was told I didn’t have enough experience or credibility as a filmmaker.

I was deflated but continued creating and collaborating. By 2018, I’d shot more than 30 short films (mainly micro, up to eight minutes), which gathered a tonne of social media support.

We’ll pick back up here again in a bit, but let’s flashback: Who were you at school, at home, as young Remi growing up before the filmmaking?

At 28, I look back and cut my life in half. I’ve been two very different people.

I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at 18 but had the illness from 15. I had been a footballer, swimmer, and I guess destined for a future in either sport. I was super athletic and creative, not so academic: Art and Resistant Materials were the only two A-grade subjects I ever studied in my schooling experience.

My health started to deteriorate. In the space of a year, despite treatment, my Crohn’s became so debilitating that I struggled to walk, sometimes restricted to a wheelchair or my bed all day because of the painIt changed me. I can’t emphasise how much. I wasn’t able to socialise, I couldn’t exercise. So, I did the only thing I could do at the time and began looking at different career options within art and media.

Crohn’s, for the most part, is invisible. Much like when we struggle with our mental health, it can feel doubly difficult when there’s nothing to ‘show’ for our struggle; nothing to prove it really is there. Did anyone direct you with how to manage this kind of thing, illness, disability, in a professional setting, or on set? Have you learnt on the go?

I’ve never had mentorship with my illness. I’ve learnt through trial and error.

When I was first diagnosed with Crohn’s, it affected less than 1% of the UK population, and that’s now up to something like 5%. There’s more networking on social media nowadays for chat and support if I want to access it. For me, it’s more about self-management and keeping a sense of control.

When you’re creating by yourself, off your own back with a couple of others on your crew, your control over the day is naturally greater; you can dictate how much time to give the work, deciding when you need a rest, for example.

On a professional, larger set, what with accessibility being a bigger thing nowadays… I’m not sure about the laws around it, but if you have an illness or disability that requires some maintenance time, then you really have to be the champion of that disability: you’re in charge, what you need to happen has to happen, and on Day 1 you talk to the people running that set, confidently and clearly, to clarify beforehand that you might need to take a sudden five-minute break, and that you’ll keep them in the loop.

Even recently, I had this opportunity for set experience with a big director. I was on the fence about whether to mention: look, I might need to run to the bathroom. It’s rare, but who knows?! But it was fine.

Overcome the fear or embarrassment, and know who to talk to.

Where did your passion for filmmaking over other forms of media originate, then, and what kept it stoked?

I was a part of a Tower Hamlets Summer University course in 2008 for filmmaking; we spent six weeks learning about crew roles and how to make a film. The role of on-set photographer really got my gears going and I fell madly in love with the complicated features of a DSLR camera. I spent a year pestering mum for my own. Eventually, she caved and got me a second-hand SLR, and I started experimenting.

I’d go out all the time with friends: silly photoshoots by the canal, the park, any cool little alley we could find.

Then, I got lucky. The DSLR revolution was in full effect. My next camera was a Canon with movie function. I started a YouTube channel, shot music videos for friends, and built a small community. It only lasted my three college years, but, again, trial and error were unconscious foundations of my filmmaking practice; where I learned what came naturally and what needed work. It was mostly about the practice and wearing different hats: cinematography, producing, researching, getting better each time.

Production, I found it really easy, but storytelling was difficult. My first film was absolute garbage (a horror film, obviously) but it taught me that genre might not be my thing.

I’d watched as many shorts as possible for research. To me, it seemed clear that personal stories made the most powerful, resonating films, and when my second film Signs of Silence went to America and won awards, it was the reassurance I needed to confirm I was on the right path.


Remi (centre) at Signs of Silence premiere


So, we’re back to the original timeline.

After your success with Signs of Silence and subsequent disappointment with the exec, you kept going. You were clearly enamoured with the filmmaking practice.

I wanted to grow as an artist. That was what mattered to me, and practice makes perfect.

I was trying my hardest to learn what was needed for studios to want to create my feature film. I started applying for every development programme and talent lab available but, for three years, all of my applications were rejected.

I couldn’t make sense of it. I was incredibly frustrated. But it made me more determined to prove these institutions wrong.

In 2018, I made two short films: Pack of Wolves and Pride of Lions, both with all-Black casts, both telling the poignant story of fatherhood / parenthood in a coming-of-age framework. I organised premieres for the films during Black History Month and sold out the 600-seater cinema in Genesis Cinema. It has to be the highlight of my life to date because I’ve never felt so overwhelmed. Having 600 people laugh, cry, all while applauding your art has to be one of the most gratifying things in life. I released the films on YouTube; they currently sit at around half a million views.

Watch Pack of Wolves

Watch Pride of Lions

Those films changed a lot for me. A lot of attention from The Academy [of Motion Picture Arts and Science], and studios like Film4 and the BFI, came my way. I was developing my feature, but COVID-19 struck and the film got put on the shelf. (My plan is to get back to it once I’ve graduated from LFS.)

From what you’ve talked about above, is there an auteur lens you’ve identified in yourself to offer to your audience and the industry, or have your experiences acted more like ‘tools’ to be used?

A mix of both, heavier on the latter, though I see it more as a matter of survival rather than a tool I’d use to engineer some sort of attention.

I tell stories that I connect to; I have a unique experience with which to inform them, being disabled and coming from a working-class background. Also, Black people are not only crying out for positive representations in film and TV but also diversity in their stories — we don’t just want films and shows about the pain and hardships of the Black experience.

My experience with my illness has made me patient, but it’s also been the driving force of my art, as I’ve had to rely on this medium to articulate how I’ve felt. Being lonely, depressed, anxious, suicidal, unwanted, lost — there’s fallout from having an invisible illness, especially when transitioning from teenager to your twenties. I had it tattooed on my forearm, but resilience was the first attribute I learned to look for with Crohn’s.

Are there filmmakers you look up to, perhaps with a similar approach, or style of writing and directing?

A bit obvious, maybe cliché, but Ken Loach is the most obvious.

Of course. I’ve been working through his filmography recently, starting with I, Daniel Blake.

That’s my point of entry, too. And a film in my top ten of all time would be The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Brutal and beautiful and heart-breaking. I can’t even watch it anymore. When you give it that second or third viewing, you just think: I know what he’s going through. I can’t take it. I can see how he tries to mask his trauma and hide himself.

I think what I get from them both is: when you have something powerful to say, don’t let other people say it for you. I think that’s why I like to write and direct my own work, maybe a sense of perfectionism, but the relief of pouring pure and undiluted feelings and experiences into a story.

How did you hear about LFS? What helped you decide it was the right place for you?

A friend of mine, Koby Adom, recently graduated from LFS and I was lucky enough to see his grad film House Girl at the London Short Film Festival. His second short film Haircut is probably the best short film I’ve ever seen. Seeing his progress after graduating has been truly inspiring. Not only is he someone I look up to for advice and guidance, but I’m lucky enough to call him a friend

I remember telling him that I was thinking about applying but had doubts. I couldn’t afford the tuition fees. His instant response was: “You want to be a filmmaker, so go and train. This is what you want.” At the time, COVID-19 had just struck, and I was stranded in my house doing nothing. I started watching LFS grad films, researched their reputation, their history, the names on their alumni list. I decided to apply, and my letter of acceptance came within a couple months.

How did you plan to fund your studies at LFS?

The moment I was accepted, I looked at loans and all sorts of incredibly scary adult options that would eventually leave me in crazy amounts of debt. One of my friends suggested a GoFundMe page because there was a huge boom of working-class people unable to afford their tuition fees using it. It took me a few days to wrap my head around the idea of what felt like begging for money… but I eventually gave it a go.

They conjure some odd feelings, fundraising pages — particularly for anything personal.

It was hard, but then I saw friends of mine posting on social media, tagging it with a line I’ll never forget: For years, Remi’s helped actors and crews get on set, and now it’s time to get online and support him. I’d never thought about the ripple effects of getting people with no experience on set, and seeing those people level-up to big films and BBC programmes, then help you out, they’re rising up with you over five or six years, and they all give back at once.

I’ve never asked for help. The furthest I ever asked was share my trailer on social, that’s it, so it’s a real opportunity to show support — if you knew

In the first 48 hours of my campaign going live, donations rose to £2,000. After a week, it was £5,000. It blew my mind how powerful social media was — I have lots of followers on social media but I never anticipated all this. I was overwhelmed, in tears, just thankful to everyone.

Then something weird started happening. Celebrities were getting involved and donating to my page. Noel Clarke, OSCAR award-winner Matthew A. Cherry, Letitia Wright, and Ella Mai shared my page and donated.

My good friend Yasmin spent a week dressed as batman to raise money for my tuition. It was insane. I couldn’t believe the love. I’d raised £11,000, enough to cover my first term, so it meant I could relax for a while before a second round of term fee fundraising.

It was also something you’d worked for; you’d earned it. It’s not like you still needed to prove talent or potential, but to have all that and still feel limited in your options…

To be honest, I felt I’d exhausted this avenue of raising money and didn’t know how I was going to get the rest for my second term fees. It was tough for a while. I was beginning to get really anxious, but that’s when I was offered the LFS bursary.

Describe the conversation: when was it offered, who did you speak with, what happened?

I remember reading an all-student email about it and instantly I was like: I prayed for this, this is a sign. The LFS Bursary is for students from underrepresented groups that miss out on training or education because of a lack of financial support, and it’s the first time it’s been available — it’s set aside from the School’s own accounts.

I applied, and two months later was being congratulated. I can’t tell you how much of a relief it was. I told my mum straight away and I know she felt that same weight slip from her shoulders. I’d been so worried about being kicked off the course, I didn’t know how I was going to get the rest of the money.

It must have allowed for a sudden rush of freedom and focus, too, for what you want to work on in your future?

I think the freedom it grants me is something I’m currently coming to terms with. Before, it was about living term-to-term, worrying about finances consistently every day. Now, all I do is dream about the possibilities of my Term 6 graduate film and my career beyond that.

It feels like I’ve been unshackled and can focus entirely on my training and creative direction.

It also sits right in line with my stance on accessibility, which hopefully inspires more people to invest in to training for underprivileged students. It’s very empowering to have the support of the School behind me.

Let’s zoom in on that part: How has studying so far, in the middle of the global pandemic, been? What’s the experience of learning online?

I’m an introvert who suffers from an anxiety disorder, so blended learning is definitely something I feel should be considered for adaptation into normal education. I enjoy waking up and having lectures in my room, knowing that there are also practical classes in editing, lighting, and filming to attend.

When I started in August, everyone kept talking about how busy and alive the main Covent Garden building used to be before COVID-19. LFS will eventually open up again, but that’s not been a deal breaker for me. My cohort is a truly beautiful, talented bunch of people, and we all get along really well — even from a distance.

Photos by Gisli Snaer, LFS Director & CEO, at Production Park Studios: The Mill in Wimbledon, London — an emergency teaching arranged by the School in response to COVID-19, with greater on-set space to allow for continued practical filmmaking teaching.

What you hear from LFS students about what makes it so unique is the freedom, encouragement even, to wear many hats, in order to better understand your crew’s roles more. When you’ve been able to visit the School in person, what has that experience been like?

So, for everyone coming with zero experience, there’s so much you can gain. For myself, it’s being able to bask in new experiences, like production design or make-up and hair, but also the experience of just doing one job.

I only ever had a crew of three or four people before, so I was constantly having to camera operate, hold a boom, and direct, all at the same time.

At LFS, not only do I now have the experience of loading 16mm film, being a second AC, the responsibility when that goes to lab, but you get the time to focus on your one role at that time. It’s made me a better writer and director.

In first term, you have to act a lot in other films, so even the experience of what it is to hit marks is so interesting.

So, you’ve acquired some acting credits now, too?

Sure, two or three — but hopefully they never come out. They were fun, more for pre-shoots. They’re not what I’d call masterpieces… 

Understood. Finally, when students graduate from LFS, we ask for two bits of writing: a basic bio, and the Graduand Statement: their creative direction, inspirations, and vision for their filmmaking future.

What would yours be right now?

I hate spotlighting myself (probably detrimental to an artist). I’ve never been good at writing about myself or parading my abilities as a storyteller. I think if I had to explain to someone my creative direction and inspirations, I would just tell them my life story — maybe send them a link to this interview.

The sentiment in my approach to life is mirrored in my art. My life and my films share common themes: invisible pain, struggle, mental injury. It sounds daunting and dark but my outlook is positive, so I never want to tell destructive and hopeless stories about these kinds of things.

If there’s one thing I want people to feel, it’s that their pain is valid.

More information on our MA Filmmaking course, the financial support available, and the latest application deadlines can be found on our website.

For more on Remi Moses, you can follow him on Twitter or visit his website.

This interview was conducted by Dan Kelly.