Gary Thomas is a writer and film-maker from Epsom in Surrey. His film “The Dog and the Palace”, funded by Arts Council England, won the Inspire Mark award from the London 2012 Inspire Programme for innovative and exceptional projects directly inspired by the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. He’s currently working on his autobiography.
Can you briefly describe your career to date? How did it start? What are the projects you’re most proud of leading or being a part of?
Sure. I really started properly in 2003, I saw an exhibition at The Tate Modern Gallery by Finnish Film & Video artist Eija Liisa Ahtila. They were split screen films about different aspects of mental health, and she had interviewed people about their own experiences and made very abstract dramas about them, but with actors, so not too abstract. I remember leaving thinking ‘if that’s art, then I want to do that.’ So that’s where I started looking at arts council funding and being an artist rather than ‘just’ a filmmaker. It’s taken 10 years and 10 films to figure out I’m passionate about writing and working with actors, and that’s what it boils down to for me. I’m proud of all of my projects for different reasons, but the biggest project to date has been The Dog & The Palace, which had the biggest budget (funded by Arts Council) and looks amazing and has had really good feedback. It was about the Paralympics so had quite a specific theme and time frame but it was great to be a part of the whole Olympics / Paralympics and it was awarded an Inspire Mark from London 2012.
Does your work tend to have a general theme? Why is this theme close to you? Does that theme seem to permeate your work so pervasively?
The Dog & The Palace was an interesting one because it was a specific dream I had about the Olympics, I dreamt it in split screen! Nearly all my other work focus’ on sexuality or mental health, and is quite often from personal experience, as the best writing should be. When I saw Eija Liisa Ahtila’s work and that she interviewed people with experiences of mental illness, I was like ‘woah, I can do that kind of work… and I don’t even have to interview anyone else!’ I think its important to tell stories about mental health as well as sexuality, because not everyone gets how important they are. Recently, I was reading a few comments on Ellen Page speech where she came out as gay, and people were still saying ‘why is this a big deal’. It’s still a big deal because there aren’t enough role models out there for people growing up. I left high school in 1988, and had no decent role models who were openly gay, and no one really spoke about teenage mental health issues either.
Its changing, but change has been slow.
Along with that there’s the comedy stuff which I love, (so its not all doom and gloom!) and that’s just about finding a good story that can sustain interest in a feature or short film. The short films are nearly always a way to practice an idea, sometimes they’re linked to a feature film or other idea, sometimes they’re not.