Tom Ingwersen doesn't like to linger on the past. As a Director of Photography, as a Writer, and as a Director, he's always focused on making his current project as effective and impactful as possible.
Even so, during our interview with Ingwersen, we asked him to take a look back at the trajectory of his career so far, from his student days to his globetrotting work with Bauer Media, to becoming a highly skilled filmmaking professional with an endless supply of creativity.
His most recent short film, titled "Attribution Error," is currently being considered for multiple film festivals, and it's also one of Ingwersen's most ambitious projects to date.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Ingwersen's filmmaking work. He's handled documentaries and short films, and he has his sights set on directing feature films in the near future.
But we don't want to speak on his behalf, so let's get straight to our interview with Ingwersen.
When you were still in school, did you have a clear idea of where you wanted to end up within filmmaking?
Ingwersen: When I went to film school, I knew my skill set and exactly what I wanted to do. I was super into cameras and all the technical aspects going into forming a striking image, so I was going to become a cinematographer. Except that when I started taking some mandatory performance classes, I learned about the actor’s process and fell in love with the feeling of getting lost in a character to the point where, when the director yells cut, you have to reorient yourself. Then came the writing classes, and so on and so on.
I think I have a healthy obsession with filmmaking in general. I love it because there are so many different tools you can use to tell the story. Sure, I do get bogged down in thinking I know exactly what I want to do, but often enough I fight my way out of the current box I put around myself and find a new challenge. At the moment, I know I want to be a director of narrative feature films.
So how did you first get involved with Bauer Media?
Ingwersen: My first time working with Bauer Media was on two projects near Brisbane, Australia. I got the opportunity to photograph and document some incredible stories. That experience was instrumental in showing me how gripping this work can actually be even on a “smaller” scale, in comparison to feature films.
I always have these big dreams, and especially when I was in school, they felt like they were the be-all and end-all. Actually getting to make a living working as a director or a writer offers an injection of motivation.
Has your work as a DP been foundational to your overall filmmaking perspective?
Ingwersen: For me, film as a medium is so important because it allows us to transcend our day-to-day mode of communication, the written or spoken language, to convey our ideas, and feelings and try to show who we are.
Most of the time I feel bound by words rather than liberated. We know that an image can say more than a thousand words, but I think more importantly it communicates on a level that any number of words can’t reach. We get to express ourselves by creating a feeling, a lived experience in another human being. There is no more complex and nuanced form of expression.
Having visuals be my only tool to tell a story as a DP challenged me to dig deep and use every tool in the arsenal to do that. Now, as a director, this not only allows me to trust in the visuals to do a big part of the heavy lifting and lets me rely less on dialogue, but it also opens up experimentation on a multitude of levels, due to the expansion of my toolset, including performances, sound design, score, etc.
Would you say your filmmaking work has changed the way you watch movies and shows?
Ingwersen: In short: yes, for sure. If you watch a movie with me you would probably notice me looking at my phone or watching every couple of scenes. It’s not because I’m bored, but rather due to me looking at how much time has gone by between story beats and how the writers are using story structure to their advantage.
That seems like an arduous process that takes the fun out of watching films, yet I think this has made me even more appreciative of well-told stories.
Have you always found it easy to collaborate with crews?
Ingwersen: I don’t think I was ever scared or intimidated by leading other people on film sets. It’s something I am compelled to do even when I work in positions lower in the hierarchy. I believe that is due to having a clear focus on what needs to be achieved, an intention that leads all of my actions.
Obviously, that doesn’t mean that I was flawless at it straight away. I am continuously having to learn to become a better leader by improving my communication, being present, and especially by trying to eliminate choices driven by ego. Ego is the death of creativity. It takes away your ability to make decisions for the betterment of the story, for the emotional experience of the audience.
This might be tough to answer, but which of your films has felt like the most significant accomplishment of your career so far?
Ingwersen: In general, I would hope that the answer to that question would always be my most recent film or project, which in this case is my short film, "Attribution Error." My intention was to create something that was a challenge in terms of its creative and production-related aspects. In this case, it’s a story about a soldier being pressured to help torture an alleged terrorist for critical information.
This meant that on top of dealing with questions of story structure, acting, and how to shoot it, I was dealing with very specific costumes, production design, stunt work, and figuring out how to cover all that. It was really difficult at times, and I came close to giving up, but I managed to get myself through it, which is why I am so proud of it even though I can’t help but see all of its flaws.
Do you have any recommendations or advice for aspiring filmmakers who want to start making films or shorts but don't know where to start?
Ingwersen: The best and I believe at the same time worst advice is to start making films or telling stories, in whatever form or quality. For the longest time, I had all these ideas in my head, which sometimes were able to creep from my mind onto paper, but they were never realized. It was fear of rejection, needing the ideas to be perfect, thinking I needed the right equipment.
So I realize how difficult a piece of advice this can be to act on. However, I am now part of an environment where we support each other, in which we push ourselves through those doubts and find ways to tell stories together. Dealing with my own dissatisfaction and feelings of unworthiness is still a day-to-day process, but I am grateful to have found a group of people that has enabled me to make the first step.
I have become a better filmmaker, leader, and person through every project I have started and most importantly finished. Nobody's first draft is great. It always feels like it sucks, but you know what sucks less? The second draft. The third might actually feel good. You start to get it. It’s a process that has to be started for anything to happen.