An Interview with Academy-Award Director Chris Overton, founder of Slick Films

  • Chris, you are best known for directing and winning an Academy-Award for The Silent Child, amongst all the excitement and attention, what did you walk away learning the most about the whole experience as a filmmaker?

Making The Silent Child was my film school. It was such a valuable experience of taking what little I knew about Film and putting it into a focused project with a strong message. The one thing that I walked away with was the affirmation of how incredibly important the story and the script are. Everything else supports the story. It sounds like such a cliche thing to say but it’s true. You can have the best camera and lighting, the best equipment, you can have the best crew, and the best actors. Everything can be perfect but if the story isn’t there, then you don’t have a film. You’ve just got a collection of nice shots. 

That being said, if the story isn’t supported by the other elements in a cinematic way then it’s more of a video and less of a film. I believe there is a huge difference and I believe cinema is alive and well even in this current climate of on-demand content. I’d like to think people are getting wise to ‘content’ and are hungry for real artistic films. I think that is quite difficult to come by.

  • When filming The Silent Child how did you as a director prepare to work with Maisie Sly, the young deaf actress on set and what challenges did you face?

Working with Maisie Sly is still to this day one of the best experiences of my career so far. She is an incredibly gifted actor and even at five years old she was but it didn’t come without its challenges. She kind of ruled the set. We had to work around her, not the other way around. We had some incredible moments with her and she took direction so well.

I made sure I treated her like I would any actor just with a little bit more fun involved. I’m a big kid myself so I found it a really pleasurable experience working with her. There was a communication barrier but I learned as much sign language as I possibly could. Rachel Shenton and Maisie’s dad Gilson Sly were incredibly helpful, taking me through that journey of learning basic sign language as quickly as possible. I had been involved in the Deaf community for a couple of years prior to that which helped. Maisie’s vocabulary was the same as any other five-year-old child, just in BSL, so that made it comfortable on set.

Watching Maisie Sly flourish in front of the lens was a rare thing to witness, not just for me but for the entire team and then we got to share that with the world, really. 

  • Slick Films took a chance with Hear Art’s vision to make three deaf-led short films directed by deaf filmmakers with a 50% deaf and 50% hearing cast/crew. What made you believe in the idea and how did Slick Films decide on the suitability of producers for each film?

We were so grateful to Hear Art for bringing us on board and to put their trust in us. We knew how exciting that kind of collaboration is and I guess from experience we understood the language barrier but art is one language and so is film. It’s just a set of communication barriers that you have to manoeuvre around.

We decided on a mixture of experienced and first-time producers. We made sure that there was a little bit of experience in each project whether that be the producer or the director. Although we are big advocates for first-time filmmakers, we thought that with the extra layer of communication, it would be good to have some form of experience within each team. Each producer brought different skills to each project and it was just about matchmaking. It was about which stories resonated with each producer, and I think it was quite easy to match people up because each producer was drawn to a certain script or idea so it was quite an organic process in the end.

  • Working with deaf film crews on all three short films, what did you learn about their ability and skills on set? How you found the whole production experience across the three films?

I guess I was expecting it to be a slightly slower process and in some cases, it was but in other parts it was actually faster. There was a great example from Hair Uncovered, which was a documentary by Cathy Heffernan and produced by Abi Borsberry. They filmed in Birmingham and they were filming on top of a very tall tower. Abi decided to not have the use of Walkie Talkies on set to be fully inclusive, so when they were on the ground level and some crew were on top of a very tall building and they needed to communicate quickly, they used sign language. That broke time and distance. Just in a different way and they were able to visually explain something which you can’t do over a radio.

  • What were your main takeaways from working with deaf talent?

I think that Deaf talent is just talent. There is no difference other than a slightly unique way of communicating. Sign language is such a beautiful language and it’s so visual and it fits right into the film world. There is no difference between deaf, talent, and talent at the end of the day.

  • Slick Films is considered a deaf and disability-friendly company, through your experience with The Silent Child and partnering with Hear Art. What would be your advice to other production companies who want to become more inclusive and accessible?

My advice would be to embrace difference and as I just said in my previous answer, there really isn’t any difference other than a slight communication change which is new, exciting, and educational. I would encourage other companies to be open. Sometimes working with deaf talent can be daunting especially on a Short Film because there could be added costs but there are ways around that and it’s all a discussion.

Overall working with Hear Art was a very exciting opportunity and another chance to prove that when you put deaf and hearing people together you can make some really important and beautiful films. We’re very proud of them and are excited to work with Hear Art on another collaboration called By Any Other Name, with some very exciting casting news to be revealed soon.