A Banquet :               
A conversation with Ruth Paxton

31st October 2022
I caught up with Ruth Paxton in March this year to discuss her debut feature a week before it’s UK Premiere. Ruth is an exciting voice in the new generation of Scottish film-making talent and a friend of the label - also there are two unreleased S-Type songs in the film. Then I caught Covid and the article was shelved for months as I caught up on my inbox. With a special limited edition Bluray release occurring for Halloween I thought it was time to share.

Hi Ruth - Where are you just now and what are you doing ?

Well, I'm In Miami at the moment, my boyfriend lives here. So I spend more and more time here which is nice. I'm working on a new script so that's the main focus but I'm also doing a lot of press for A Banquet, because it's out in the US on the 18th of February and then it's out in the UK on the 11th of March. We've also got a screening at Glasgow Film Festival just prior to that. It's bizarre - I'm used to making short films, and I'm used to people not really watching them so now that people are watching this and have an opinion it's completely different. Doing interviews is a whole new world. So yeah - it's both really exciting and also quite daunting to have it out there.

Do you sort of feel like that- because it's a bigger film production theres a levelling up in all these areas - the amount of press you have to do and all the obligations “can you do this for a distributor?” etc

Exactly - it's the whole post side of it, like post, I guess, tech post, the distribution, the exhibition, all of that isnot something that I've ever experienced before. So having people distribute the film in different territories,being looked after by IFC in America, and then we went to France at the end of last year, and that's Alba films there. It feels lovely. But I also feel it's….

It sounds a bit like working.

I know. I mean, everybody's lovely.

No, that's good. We work around a lot of film stuff and have done short films and music videos and things like that ourselves.  Everything takes ages and I'm just fascinated by how it develops from that initial spark of inspiration to how it looks when you get to the end of something like this.

I think that really is the nature of filmmaking in general because it's such a collaborative effort. There's this kind of cliche that the film, or film is written three times: in script form, then it's made again in production and then your edit completely changes it and I think that's true but I think it takes different shapes even more regularly than that because of who comes on board. So the minute you cast it, the minute you get your heads of department in place and pick locations you have to constantly be flexing and looking to change the shape of the project to fit what your budget is offering as well. A Banquet is slightly different for me because I didn't write it and its the first thing Ive worked on that I didn’t write apart from some TV stuff. It's very different from the original script I read because that was set in Boston, Massachusetts and halfway through the development process after I came on board with the writer Justin Bull we relocated it to the UK. So it changed shape, but what I would say is the heart of it and the message and the themes are definitely intact.

I guess if it's working with someone else's script there’s a lot of how you react to it as well.

I think, you know, on the whole when I see images from it I think, “yeah, that looks like my pitch.” Things are totally different but in general the kind of atmosphere and I suppose the tones and stuff to me I can see. The other thing that's been quite unusual with this film is that in the edit we didn't actually drop any scenes, it was quite true to the script, except that we reordered stuff a bit and I think the story kind of slightly changed shape there. I think what people underestimate is the impact that sound and music do play at the end.I knew who my composer would be from the outset - it's a huge revolution what sound can do so, and it's one of my favourite parts of the process. 

Yes CJ Mirra - I've met him before and he released a Mike Slott project a few years ago.

I knew that he knew you because obviously, when we were talking about LuckyMe music so that was really exciting. But yeah John's brilliant - I worked with him on my last short film and I love his work. And we're really lucky, because at the end of the film, as well, so we've got the score and then at the end we've got a track from an unreleased EP of his.

And theres two songs from S-Type in there

They're across both party scenes. A really big moment in the film is when the elder sister has this epiphany moment where she goes in the woods and thinks she has some kind of spiritual experience. But Sugar is what starts the scene at her slightly older teen party and then later, there's younger teens kind of hanging about in a front room playing computer games where the track Lazer Quest is playing. The game they're playing is just sound design,you don't see it, but the track fits really, nicely with it. Cool. Theres other tracks across the scenes but S-Type kicks off both parties.

Awesome - Im going to bring him to the Glasgow Film Festival Premiere.

That would be so cool.

What made you want to make films originally? And what's exciting and inspiring you just now? 

I wish I could pinpoint a moment where I knew why I wanted to make films or whatever but I think a lot of it's just in retrospect I can see that our family watched so many films. 

In one of your other interviews you were talking about an Edinburgh video store where you had the highest ever number of rentals - where was that ?

It was Fast Forward on Marchmont Road. So we went to school at James Gillespie's and grew up around Sciennes. Fast Forward was this video store that was run by this absolute film devotee and my brother, my dad and me would be in there for about 40 minutes arguing about what we're gonna rent before before we pick something. I remember as well you used to be able to get a film for 50p if you took it back before 5pm. So I would leave school at lunchtime and I would rent a movie, watch it and bring it back for 50p and at some point the guy said you know you've got the highest rental by far and we were so proud !

I moved to Edinburgh in 1998 at some point I lived on Warrender Park right next to Alphabet Video and Vogue Video on South Clerk St as well.

Oh my god! We got a lot from Alphabet. I would say that was more like when we were a wee bit older and Alphabet was where I basically just watched every horror film on their shelf. I wasn't really into horror it was because it has like soft porn in it. Me and my mate used to get them because you could see shagging. I mean we like the horror too but that wasn't why we got them. The guy there would rent us 18s when we clearly weren't.

Five movies for a week for a Fiver.

I kind of miss that 

What I think is missing a lot now with streaming stuff  is the sort of random factor of all these things. I liked when there was three films on TV tonight after midnight. That's it pick one.

I watched so much more -particularly independent film from Alphabet because my Mum would be like, “well, we'll just try this” and when you think about it, that's such a commitment as well because I suppose if you try something on Netflix, you can switch it off if you're not enjoying it and your not stuck with it.

I like that idea of like, well, we've committed to this, you know?

When box sets were first about and we were spending the weekend with Dad we would get like Season Five of Friends or whatever and just tank it. Louis would always have the Simpsons, so we would maybe get a couple and switch it up. But it was the source of a lot of tension- who got to pick the last time? 

Yeah- your not trusted to go the video shop ever again! What's the first movie you remember buying? Owning ex-rental videos was a huge thing as well.

Louie and I would go to Blockbuster after Christmas and get lots of reduced stuff there. We always owned movies and we taped a lot of movies and my Granddad keeps everything so we had lots of things on tape. But I think it might have been The Little Mermaid which isnt that exciting but I remember how expensive it was and my Mum and Dad saying I could have it but I think it was like £28 or something and I understood how big a gift it was. But the first experience of videos were at my Granny's house because they had a VHS player and Granddad used to just get stuff from charity shops. We had some very weird European cartoons and we had a lot of stuff he taped off the telly. One of those was Willow and we used to watch Willow religiously and I think we could probably perform it needed to. But we only discovered 15-20 years later that Granddad hadn't recorded it from the beginning. So there was 20 minutes that we'd never ever seen. 

Deleting scenes in real time. Pausing for breaks and forgetting to restart.

We would go to my Grans before school with my cousin and every morning we would rotate whose choice it was. It was generally Willow or Little Mermaid or Mary Poppins and often Louis would pick ones that he knew I didn't like just because it was his day to pick.

I think there's a Willow TV show now

Yes- my friend Kim did some extra work for it and it's great it’s Warwick Davis of course. Willow stands up except for the bit where there's a monster that starts as what looks like a jobbie and then turns into all the  heads.

It’s a bit rubbery.

Like it looks like a jobbie- it's disgusting. But the rest of it really still kind of has cachet I think.

It’s a classic I saw it in the cinema on holiday when I was a kid

That's so cool. I definitely didn't see it at the flicks

Another thing I wanted to speak to you was about how painting influences your films. The baroque stuff, which obviously you did a whole film around that but also you have previously cited Ken Currie. That's an interesting one because I feel like that comes up a lot as obviously he's very prominent in the Portrait Gallery here and it seems they are always the work that people remember the most when they come out of there. There's so much in his paintings.

I am such a big fan that I actually did an interview the other day based on one of his paintings because I was asked to pick something that has cultural relevance to me. So I picked the Three Oncologists. I love how horrible this stuff is as well, like, I love how kind of gross it is. For A Banquet, definitely his portrait of Three Oncologists was an influence, because it's, it's kind of a cinematic graphic reference for me and David Lidell (cinematographer) who I work with on pretty much everything.  There's a series of work that he did that's just slabs of meat and flesh and then he does a lot of stuff like that series with faces that appear to have sickness, diseased and or tumorous kind of flesh. All of that was really influential in discussions with my makeup designer and production designer for this.I would say that I don't remember the first time I saw the Three Oncologists, that would have been going with my Dad at some point when I was a kid I think and I wouldn't have known they were doctors dealing with cancer, I wouldn't have known what that meant. I just saw it and was really struck by it and what I can't get over actually is how every time I go and see it and when I'm in Edinburgh it's something I deliberately go and do because I like to take people that haven't seen it. Every time I see it I have a similarly big response to it it's an incredible piece.

Does it every time.

And then the new one as well. I think it was last year, they acquired the portrait of Sue Black - the forensic anthropologist - and I had actually just read her books so when I went to see it I was really awestruck by it. But I think there’s something immediately dark about his work, because it's quite literally dark and how he uses shadow but there's also real sadness and melancholy about it that somehow speaks to me. When I talked to the distributors, IFC, and we were talking about the campaign for the poster and advertising materials, and I said Ken Currie was probably the greatest reference on the film so that would be the same reference for this and one of the guys in the meeting was immediately like  “I love Ken Currie !” 

That's great. Another thing I want to ask specifically about was you saying your next project you want to do is a classic 70s type love story. What are we talking about? The Way We Were?

Well when I started writing it  a long time ago I spent some time doing a residency in Wilmington, North Carolina and it was a really strange place. A lot of East Coast production for TV and movies happens there so it’s quite film forward but at the same time it's the headquarters on the East Coast for the US Marine Corps. So you've got this weird smash of people where you've got artists and filmmakers and actors and theatrical types and then you've got like these men like machines. I was there for the festival one year, and then I went back to the residency and I was really affected by the imagery of this and I met a guy who had been a Marine, who was 23 and kind of thought his life was over and that got me really interested in that - the idea of a sense of purpose and that kind of thing. So this thing I'm writing is about a woman who's coming from Orkney who ends up running away and ends up there and getting into a relationship with somebody who's the polar opposite. But it's very much a film about people falling in love in their 30s. So not the romantic, hedonistic, thrilling love that you have when you're a teenager when you don't have responsibilities or past relationships. More gnarly. But you know, there's lots of blood in it. I want it to be sexy. It's not like Blue Valentine. But for me that, you know, the big influences are like Love Story, The Way We Were, An Officer and a Gentlemen and Brokeback Mountain, which is a more contemporary example, you know, just like big, slow intense films.

I only watched The Way We Were recently. My mum had on video when we were kids and it was always a sort of running joke that she would cry whenever she watched it so I'd never had the inclination to watch it. I saw it on TV over Christmas and everything about that film was amazing!

Oh isn't it? It's so good I feel like particularly when you are watching 70s movies, they're so fucking forward thinking. Naively you think God, they were really talking about big things back then, you know, like it's so patronizing in a way but I love the actors in those movies as well. Just the fact that the love it's just so all or nothing. I suppose the most recent example of that would be like, A Star Is Born and we knew that was coming outaround about the time I started writing it and it was really interesting to see the response to that, and that there is still an audience for that kind of movie. I started writing that a while ago and that was going to be my first feature. But there was concern like that it was too big a project. Because it's transatlantic and I would have hoped to aim high with the casting for it at the time and I knew I had people in mind for it. Then when it came down to it was kind of decided that it might be just that bit too ambitious for a first feature. So that's why I went off and did other things and now I'm picking it up again. It's really good, because Creative Scotland are supporting the development of that. But it's been weird, because I would have thought that going into something that I'd already developed to a fair extent, would have been quite easy compared to starting something new. But actually, it's been really difficult because I don't really recognize the characters anymore. When I wrote it aspects of it were personal and now when I read it, I'm like,” Oh ! she's really immature. I have to get her in a different place.” So I’m reshaping the characters and bringing it into bringing it a bit more up to date, because actually it's dated quite a lot in five years.

Ruth Paxton is a writer and director from Edinburgh.  Her debut feature A Banquet  is now available on demand and limited edition Bluray.

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