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Creative Spotlight: Tom Paton


British director, Tom Paton, is a self-taught creative on the precipice of releasing his fourth feature film, but it’s been a long and challenging journey that’s brought Tom here.

At 20 years old living in Cyprus, Tom had a dream of pursuing filmmaking. With no formal education in scriptwriting or editing, Tom entered the world of videography his own way. “I came up with this great scheme to film bar crawls and booze cruises for Thomas Cook,” Tom recalls. “So, I taught myself how to operate a camera, edit footage and even did my own lighting to begin with – a real one-man band.”


But as his success grew, Tom built a team to support him including his now Director of Photography, George Burt, with whom he’s been working with for around ten years. Since then, Tom and his have team shot events and commercials for the likes of Clarks and Huawei, as well as music videos for artists such as The Prodigy and Disclosure.


But even as he made a name for himself in the world of commercial videography, the desire to produce his own feature film remained. “I was 29 and making great money with my commercial work, but movies is where I felt I belonged,” Tom says. “I knew I’d take a pay cut and that life would get harder for a while, but in 2015 I decided I was ready.”


Tom directing on the set of his most recent film, Stairs.


In 2016, Tom’s dream was realised with the release of Pandorica; a sci-fi film which he both wrote and directed. “I made no money from my first movie, but it broke all the rules,” he reminisces. “I took a £50,000 loan from the bank with an extra £25,000 in my savings and shot the whole thing at night with a Sony A7S and two Rotolights. It should have been a disaster, but we ended up getting a theatrical release!”


Tom’s subsequent movies, Redwood and Black Site, and followed in Pandorica’s footsteps; Tom never straying far from his sci-fi roots with horror and Lovecraftian influences. Both films were hits, receiving numerous awards praising both Tom and George’s work, including two European Cinematography Awards and a UK National Film Award.


In 2018, Tom began filming his fourth feature film, Stairs. Starring X-Factor winner and actor, Shayne Ward, Stairs explores why people fight and follows the moral dilemma of eight mercenaries. After their experience using Rotolight in the creation of Pandorica, Tom and George once again utilised an assortment of Rotolight LEDs on board to assist them.


Behind the scenes of Stairs, lit using a number of Rotolights and coloured gels


“Being a director for me is about being a problem solver,” Tom says. “Every day on set is a continuous list of problems.” One problem that Tom and his crew needed to approach was the beast of the record-breaking 2018 British summertime. Filming in the height of July in a concrete staircase, the immense heat and humidity posed a big problem. “We were going to use HMIs to illuminate the staircase,” Tom explains. “But not only were they too large and bulky to fit inside, but the heat they produce would have made it impossible for the cast and crew to remain inside all day.” One of the benefits of LED lighting is that they run entirely cool no matter how long or how many of them you have running.


Each of Rotolight’s LEDs offer a variety of perks to streamline the workflows of photographers on set. The compact NEO 2 and the lightweight AEOS were perfect for positioning in those hard to reach places whilst the powerhouse Anova PRO 2 was ideal as a key light with its 10,700 lux output. Colour tuneable from 3150-6300K and with smooth dimming from 100-0%, Rotolight provided versatile and flexible LEDs that were perfect for any location.


Another industry-first feature that Rotolight offers creatives is a suite of customisable lighting effects: CineSFXTM. “I use my VFX knowledge when things go wrong on set, but I’d rather get it in camera,” says Tom. “In Stairs there’s a gunshot scene and in every other movie I’ve done, I’ve needed to add this sort of thing in post. This involves 12 different masks and rotoscoping them all into each other. With this scene, we still added the muzzle flash in post, but used a NEO 2 to create the hot point and the light fall off. We also used the strobe and lightning effects with a red gel to create suspense and add drama to some scenes in the staircase. It’s much more cost efficient, and any money you’re saving in post you can spend on the set instead!”  


Now three years, four films and six awards later, Tom has made a name for himself in the indie film industry and recently finished filming his fifth film, G-Loc. “Before Pandorica, I’d never even made a short film; only music videos,” he says. “But if you can make a music video or a commercial then you can make a feature film. It’s all about stamina.”


Stairs is going to be screening at Frightfest on Monday 26th August 2019 – you can grab your tickets here! Watch the Stairs trailer below: