Meet the Beacons Filmmakers: Joseph Ollman

To celebrate the BBC broadcast of short films made through our Beacons scheme, Ffilm Cymru are sharing a series of interviews introducing the new and emerging Welsh filmmakers that made them

9 September 2020

Joseph Ollman’s short film Bitter Sky is a coming-of-age drama set in the wild terrain of 90s mid-Wales starring Darci Shaw as the troubled, tough and incredibly bright Nia, who’s living estranged from her mother with her adopted father Roy (Richard Harrington).

Before the first broadcast of Bitter Sky, we talked to Joseph about his career so far, how he made the film, and what he’ll be doing next.

Hi Joseph, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m a Writer/Director from mid-Wales now living in London, but I’m also an actor too. I love cinema and always have, which is why I decided to go to film school. Bitter Sky is now my third short film, which I’ve both written and directed.

How was your experience of making Bitter Sky?

It was a very cathartic experience, actually. Especially returning to the isolated but beautiful Elan Valley in Mid-Wales, which is where I grew up as a child. I haven’t lived there in so long, but it still feels like a part of me. Bringing a cast and crew from all over the world to this tiny remote village was particularly special. The city folk found it challenging filming in such a remote environment, which I found quite entertaining. Directing a film can be very stressful, but I had such a wonderful team around me that it was generally a stress-free experience. I adored working with the actors, especially the very talented Darci Shaw, who has a bright future ahead of her. I feel privileged to have worked with her at the beginning of her career. Hopefully, she’ll want to work with me again!

Why was it so important to you to set the film in 90s mid-Wales?

I was very keen to shoot a film in mid-Wales, mainly because it’s where I grew up and I wanted to represent that part of the world. I’ve also always felt that it would be a fantastic place to shoot - it’s so eerie and cinematic. I love the 90s, because it was the era that I was brought up in and I’ve always felt it had a very appealing aesthetic. It was helpful for the story too because it’s a time before any mobile phones or anything like that - so there’s more of a sense of isolation for the characters.

What kind of support did Ffilm Cymru & BFI NETWORK give you?

They supported us financially of course, but they were also great during the script development stage - making sure that the script and intentions behind the film were aligned. They offered group feedback sessions where we discussed each other’s scripts, which was incredibly helpful. During the edit, they provided some very useful feedback, but were also incredibly supportive for my personal vision of the film.

What kinds of stories are you drawn to telling?

I’m often drawn towards stories set very much in reality - about normal people and their struggles. I love working with young people especially, as there’s often a rawness to their performances - so stories based around youth and innocence, which is often challenged or destroyed through the course of the film. I want to tell stories about Welsh people especially, and to represent the country where I’m from is incredibly important to me. Besides from this, I’m often drawn to telling stories with many twists and turns, keeping the audience constantly on edge and in anticipation for something bad to happen.

What have you been watching during lockdown?

Good question. I didn’t watch an awful lot to be honest. I wrote and read a lot. But I did binge the entire series of Normal People, which I absolutely adored. Those two young actors are outstanding.

What will you be working on next?

I’m currently in Rome acting in a Sky Atlantic series called Domina, which is due for release early next year. I’ve also written a feature film over lockdown, which I’m hoping to get off the ground in 2021. Apart from that, I’m in early development and discussions with Ffilm Cymru and BFI NETWORK regarding writing a film with my sister Ruth Ollman, which is also set in mid-Wales.


Watch the trailer for Bitter Sky here.

Bitter Sky was produced by Peter Lee Scott and Jennifer Gelin through Ffilm Cymru and BFI NETWORK’s Beacons scheme in association with BBC Cymru Wales. Watch it on BBC 2 Wales on Tuesday 15th September at 10.30pm (the film will also be available on iPlayer following its broadcast).