Hamish Downie’s Five Questions with Neill R Bell-Shaw

Editor Note: Hamish has another in his series of Five Questions With…

Hamish came up with this idea because he was accumulating too much material for his Famous News Sushi column and asked if he could do these mini-interviews. Why would we say no?

Thank you Hamish for being such a trooper for us. We really appreciate all for your hard work.

Let us know what you think of these interviews in the comments below.


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Looking around #Harajuku. After going to @papersofficial.

A post shared by Neill R Bell-Shaw (@scuwiffy) on

TGG: Can you introduce yourself to our readers? (Are there any past projects that we can check out?)

NRBS: Hi, my name is Neill R Bell-Shaw I am a lecturer at a university in Tokyo as well as a writer and director. I did my MA in Professional Writing around 6 years ago at Falmouth University and somehow finished top of the class. I’d been writing before that, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing, but doing that course helped a lot. After that, I did a photobook with Kodansha here in Japan – it’s on Amazon.jp if you check.

I published my first short-story, Absence, in Dissections: The Journal of Contemporary Horror and then things kind of stopped. I get a lot of time off during the university breaks and like to do something productive and it was then that I saw an advert, on Craigslist of all place, looking for “storytellers” to make a short movie with. That’s where I met David Woo and pitched him my idea for a feature film called, Poster of a Girl. Although I did Film Studies for my BA, I learned more about the production side of filmmaking through that process. We shot it in only three days and although post-production has been a slow process, it should be out this year.

TGG: I can certainly relate to learning by doing! Can you tell us about your latest project?

NRBS: So during Poster of a Girl someone told me about the Rode Reel competition and I liked the challenge of doing a story in 3 minutes. That became An Honest Witness Does Not Deceive which was about a Dr.Boulanger try to persuade a v-logger to take a vaccine on a live stream which she had told her viewers was dangerous. The idea was that memes, the viruses of the mind, are just as damaging as real ones. The three-minute cut never felt right and I kept trying to fix it especially as the two leads, Christiane Brew and Ilana Labourene, had performed so well. And then, in early December 2019, I got the idea of feature film prequal focussed on Christiane’s character Dr.Boulanger. When I get ideas, I write quickly, and the first draft took around 6 weeks and that is what became We Which Remain. During that time, I also reedited An Honest Witness and entered it into 8 film festivals it picked up a few nominations and awards including Best Writing which was special for me. So, we are now in pre-production on We Which Remain. It is a horror movie, I always want to write suspense as in Japan horror means ghosts and there are no ghosts, but anyway, it is horror with elements of classic disaster movies. During an epidemic, Dr Boulanger goes to a nursing college in Tokyo having received tests showing a patient who may be immune. But while the hospital contains a potential cure, it also houses infected – people far enough along in the disease to become violent, irrational and homicidal. When the infected escape their ward, Dr.Boulanger must overcome her inability to manage people in order to keep everyone alive and get the immune patient out of the hospital. There are a lot of horror influences in there like Rabid (1977), 28 Days Later (2002) and Children of Men (2006) but we are putting our own slant on things: an important aspect is that there is a group working together, we have a majority female cast, none of who have guns and a crop top, also the people who are infected by our mutated form of rabies are not zombies – they are just very sick people who have lost control.

TGG: Sounds great! So, there’s no way to transition nicely to this question…. How did your dyslexia influence you as a filmmaker?

NRBS: I think that is a difficult question to answer as I am unsure what not having dyslexia is like but I will say I think filmmaking saved me as a writer. I came off my MA confident that I could start getting short stories published and I had a novel close to completion but the publishing industry is still very much stuck with the idea that one spelling mistake in a manuscript means you aren’t taking it seriously and so I just found door after door closed. Filmmakers are way more forgiving and as writing dialogue has always been a strength, it gives me a chance to focus on that as well. “Poster of a Girl” was very much built on the spoken word as art while “We Which Remain” is more about my trying to build character without needing to say too much.

TGG: The $64,000 question: what brought you to Japan?

NRBS: Like many I came as an English teacher which is crazy thinking back: I went to university as a mature student, when I was 23, because I never attended high-school. I arrived in Japan not knowing the difference between a noun and a verb but that was essentially the plan – that to become a better writer, I needed to improve my understanding of grammar and would do that by teaching it. In many ways, Japan was a self-imposed exile for me. I had a great group of friends in my university city of Sheffield and was happy to go out every night with them, but I would never have gotten anything written. So what brought me to Japan? The same thing that has influenced every decision I make – the need to tell stories.

TGG: So, finally… How can we best support you?

NRBS: Right now, we are running a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo for We Which Remain. Any perk people get from that would be a huge help as does sharing the project or even just following it on the Indiegogo page. Finally, this is not for me but for anyone with dyslexia, if you are an editor for a magazine, a journal, a website, try to see beyond spelling mistakes and check if someone who is submitting has dyslexia. Agatha Christie is one of the most successful modern writers and she had awful spelling. I worry that publishing might miss out on the next great writer due to an inability to see beyond a red line in Microsoft Word.

We Which Remain Links

twitter – @RemainWhich

Neill R Bell-Shaw

twitter – @scuwiffy

TGG: Thanks Neill for talking so candidly! We’ll all be looking forward to the feature film!

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