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Interview with Director Writer Producer (& Rocket Scientist!) Sharon Axcell at 76th Cannes Film Festival

Interview with Producer Writer Sharon Axcell at 76th Cannes Film Festival  Interview with Producer Writer Sharon Axcell at 76th Cannes Film Festival

With an MA Screenwriting (Film and TV), Sharon Axcell's short films received attention at the London Independent Film Festival; she was awarded Quarterfinalist in the ScreenCraft Fellowship and also Emerging Screenwriters (both Sci-Fi genre); and she was secured previously as director with other producers for three feature films – she is now taking closer control of projects alongside Dean M. Drinkel as co-producer at DrAx Productions. Also with an MBA gained in 2009, Sharon Axcell has delivered numerous corporate projects and programmes over 25+ years, worth £24+ million ($30+ million). Her creative talents developed from pursuing formal filmmaking training in Los Angeles in 2007/8. From originally focusing her creative efforts on writing and directing, she has transferred her corporate skills directly into the film industry as Producer and Executive Producer, and she now makes films full-time. Sharon is also a rocket scientist.


How did you get into writing and producing films? Did you always know it's what you want to do?

SHARON: Fifteen years of corporate IT Project Management teaches you a few things, one of which is that it’s not what I wanted for the rest of my life! I’d always had a strange cross-section of interests and skills, which resulted in me studying Aerospace Engineering at Uni, but also keeping up my art. So when the time for some deep soul searching came, the coaching guru Anthony Robbins helped me realise that I was to become a writer/ director. Jumping in with both feet, I went to Hollywood to retrain, and another fifteen years and a boat-load of self-sabotage later, I’ve built up a fantastic repertoire of female-led Sci-Fi projects. And now to learn marketing…


You received an MA from Royal Holloway University of London (RHUL) in the screenwriting program. Can you tell us about that experience and how it has shaped your career?

SHARON: Being a two year part-time course, there were many people I met directly on the course and those through the producing program – plus the tutors. All, without doubt, are absolutely inspirational. I think the retreat elements were golden, allowing the luxury to really focus on honing the writing craft. Now I have a family, those times are even more cherished, and I’m still in touch with many of the contacts I made there. There have also been a number of collaborative working opportunities that came out of it, and having it on my CV has opened a number of doors and bolstered my credibility within the industry. But it doesn’t replace hands-on experience, and the need to ‘get things made’!


Being from the UK, there are many tax incentives and funds for filmmakers. Do you think it's easier to make a film in the UK or more difficult?

SHARON: We are blessed in the UK with a thriving filmmaking industry that’s currently growing for most of us, and of course, the tax credits certainly help that (as long as it can be cash-flowed). We’ve also just had word that the incentive is increasing soon! But, separately, for other grants and funds there is a lot of competition, which makes accessing those more difficult. Conversely, we have a skills shortage in some areas in the UK – it’s being addressed constructively with excellent results. There are other locations around the world that offer tax credits available earlier in the production process, and also larger tax credits. And then there are other locations (governments) struggling to support their proposed tax credits. For me, the upshot is that it can be easy to get distracted from what the project itself needs location-wise, but at the end of the day it’s down to a simple calculation and cash-flow challenge. We just want what’s best (location-wise, cost-wise and people-wise) for our projects. That actually usually follows the easiest and cheapest way to manifest the locations – including the weather…!


You've worked on a number of projects as a script supervisor. Has that background helped you in what you are trying to do now?

SHARON: Actually, yes. Being the centre of a set like that, working in close proximity to the director and being able to observe most of what was happening from all departments, and take hefty notes, I learned how things should work from all aspects very early on. Interestingly, I also kept getting asked by the directors for assistance with visual and management decisions, and those shoots in particular were where I learned from others what NOT to do as a director…! Hence I also learned early on that I wanted to be in creative control. Make the decisions. I usually had a very clear vision of a better version than what was being captured – but as a script supervisor, you keep your mouth shut when not asked! And so I learned that my career path was not meant to be as a script supervisor, but as a writer/ director/ producer.


You have started a new production company with DrAx Productions with producer Dean M. Drinkel. Can you tell us about that?

SHARON: People make the assumption that we’ve been working together for years because of how we present ourselves, but Dean M. Drinkel and I met on a film project in 2021. Immediately we recognised we have a similar approach, values and have also had similar hard-knocks and industry learnings in our careers. It also meant that we are aligned on how we DON’T want to do things. Once we joined forces and understood what we had in our arsenal as far as existing IP and aspirations were concerned, it was a no-brainer. And now we’re funding the development of our psychological horror and Sci-Fi Thriller slate – we both love the type of films designed to get you thinking and questioning existence. It’s early days, but we have clear aspirations and are being funded at this time.


How did your working relationship with Dean begin?

SHARON: As mentioned above, we met on a film project in 2021. I was attached as director, and he at the time was line producer. Over that experience, we have learned a lot and gained a lot of new contacts. The project is still in development – we’ll see where it goes.


What are you working on now that you are most excited about?

SHARON: I have written and directed a number of screenplays, but my current favourites are “Black Time” and “The Theta Project” which I’m working on with Dean. They ask questions about our current beliefs around the flow of time portraying a different approach to time travel, and also the metaphysical capabilities that humankind may be able to unlock in the near future. Science in the real world is forging so much progress so quickly, that you have to wonder whether and when it could become our undoing – which is great material for Science Fiction. These films ask us to take another view and question our assumptions, and put it all in a different perspective. Dean has also written some awesome stories for the Horror genre about Arthur Rimbaud which harkens to his love of French poetry. I’m producing those, and we have a very clear plan for the next few months as to how all of these in particular from our slate will be coming together and in cinemas within the next couple of years.


You attended Cannes this year. Can you tell us a highlight from that experience?

SHARON: It always fascinates me that I don’t actually get to see any films! The market is massively important for our business, as it allows us to connect or (more importantly, perhaps) reconnect with business partners when we haven’t had a chance to do that face-to-face. In our business, it’s very much about the chemistry of working with each other, because you’re in a project for the long-haul and inevitably issues arise, and you have to find a way to deal with them. Cannes, as an example, allows those relationships to thrive in a productive yet relatively relaxed working environment. Liking the person is a good start to doing that. And a highlight for us was the reception of our business proposals, and our first two projects! It all adds up to filming very shortly, which is definitely a good outcome.

Interview with Producer Writer Sharon Axcell at 76th Cannes Film Festival Interview with Producer Writer Sharon Axcell at 76th Cannes Film Festival


Interview by Vanessa McMahon


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