The Lynch Brothers (David T. Lynch & Keith Lynch) are a writer-director duo from the UK who were selected as Screen International Stars of Tomorrow and were listed on the Tracking Board’s Young and Hungry List, noted as amongst the top 100 new writers in Hollywood.
Their short films have been selected at reputable festivals around the world including Tribeca, BFI London Film Festival, LA Shorts Fest, Edinburgh International Film Festival and many more. Their most recent sci-fi short, Zero (starring Bella Ramsey of Game of Thrones), was produced as a Dust Original and following a successful festival run was released online racking up over a million views across all platforms.
Their International Space Station set-thriller feature, Orbital, is in development with Lorton Entertainment in the UK and Rideback in the US. The brothers are attached to write and direct. In 2016 they wrote the action thriller feature film, Final Score, directed by Scott Mann (Heist), starring Dave Bautista and Pierce Brosnan. Final Score was released in cinemas and on VOD in September 2018 in the UK and US, then Blu-Ray and DVD in December 2018.
Their thriller TV series, Mother, has been set up with Lorton Entertainment in the UK and Endgame Entertainment and Warparty in the US. Joe Carnahan is attached to direct the pilot. Mother is currently casting.
Their UK set thriller TV series, Under, is in development with Origin Pictures and Lorton Entertainment in the UK.
When did you know you wanted to be a director?
DAVID: We were born in South Shields in the North East of England, but we had to move around a lot as kids and eventually settled in Essex. When we’d move, it would always be in the Summer holidays and that meant we’d come to a new place not knowing anyone. The sorely missed video stores would become our friends. Our dad used to let us watch whatever we wanted, as long as he enjoyed it too, so we ended up watching war movies and Westerns, whilst other kids were watching Disney. Admittedly this was not the best parenting method, but I would say this was the origin of our love of movies. It was pure escapism. Conversations about the films we were watching became us wanting to make our own films. Mucking around with our uncle’s camcorder then became us saving up to get a camera of our own.
Since we were both in school anyone who knew us, knew what we wanted to do as a career – they were sick and tired of hearing about it I imagine.
But the film industry itself felt incredibly far away from us. We had no contacts whatsoever, but we’re pretty determined (and stubborn) so there started the long and arduous (but incredibly rewarding) journey to getting to where we are now.
Once you knew you wanted to pursue a career as a director, what were your first steps in achieving this goal?
DAVID: We both took slightly different routes to training, that ended up in the same place ultimately. This is as a good and important a lesson as any; Everyone’s journey is different – there’s no one way to make this happen.
Keith, being three years older, went to university to study film whilst I was still in school. By the time I was ready to go, Keith had finished his course and was about to start making music videos. I think that probably was a large part in my decision to not go to university and instead get a job that meant I could pay to go to a film school in London. This would get me all the practical training I needed without taking three years. So whilst working in the city, I started at the SAE Institute on the Digital Filmmaking Course. This was actually the first of its kind in the world and was a pretty important time in digital filmmaking, as HD cameras were just starting to become available. This was the time of HDV tapes rather than cards and hard drives that are used now.
After a year and a half, I was finished and we started working together as a directing duo. This was primarily on music videos. Low budget. A few thousand quid. It was a good way to cut our teeth but certainly not a way of earning any money, particularly as a duo.
Making music videos was a lot of fun and I guess it made us “feel” like filmmakers, more than actually doing anything for our overall career. And I think that was a lot what were about at that stage in our lives. We wanted so much to feel like we were a part of it but we didn’t have a solid strategy on how to actually to break in. We were both in our early twenties and working jobs outside of the industry to fund our aspirations. Ultimately we wanted to write and direct feature films, but this still felt a long way off at this point.
I think if we could go back to that point and change something, we would have focused on reading more scripts (both films we loved and unproduced screenplays) and honing our writing, as that would ultimately be the thing broke the dam for us a few years later.
What obstacles or setbacks did you face in becoming a director?
DAVID: The biggest obstacle for us personally, and is still now if I’m totally honest, is the financial aspect of it. We’re not from any kind of money and have always had to work alongside writing and directing. When we were younger it was anything and everything – stamping parcels, packing boxes in a factory, putting glitter on Christmas cards (yeah, this is a real job). But even now we both freelance – editing (David) and motion graphics (Keith).
Even when I was at film school I was working four days a week in an office to pay for the course. Everyone else in my intake was just studying full time. There were a lot of all-nighters to hit the deadlines, and then going straight into the office the next day.
Working for free or very little on film sets wasn’t really an option for us, so we knew we were going to have to focus on our own work to break in. And ultimately it slows you down. It still does now. That can be very frustrating at times and something a lot of people have to face in this industry.
But I’m saying all this and I don’t ever regret taking this path in life. Not for a single moment. Keith and I love what we do. Being a filmmaker is the best job in the world as far as we’re concerned, and if we have to suffer some sleepless nights to keep doing it then that so be it.
Then there’s the dreaded “rejection” emails. Whether that’s a festival, a competition, a production company or cast. There’s no way other way to slice it, they hurt. The good news is, everyone goes through this. And I mean everyone. Top to bottom. Recently the writers of A Quiet Place (Beck and Woods) have been sharing their rejection war stories on Twitter and others have been joining in. It’s weirdly encouraging to know even the most successful people go through these things because then you don’t take the knocks as hard. These will be hard to deal with at first and you’ll second guess yourself, but you’ll get better at dealing with them. Understand that so much of it is a taste thing. They may not get something. They may have got out of the wrong side of the bed that morning. If you don’t get clear feedback on it that you can use, then put the rejection to the side and move on. I allow myself 24 hours to feel it, a bit of healthy wallowing, then the next morning I put it behind me and think of something positive I can do.
This also leads onto a trick we’ve always used that we call having “some hope in the pocket”. When I was in my 20s sometimes I’d buy a lottery ticket and not check it for ages. I’d just leave it in my wallet, and just the idea that sitting in my pocket could be the thing that would allow me to go into filmmaking full time was this little bit of hope that would keep me going through the harder times. I stopped doing that but what we would do instead with our own work, is to never just be waiting on one thing. If we’d applied to one competition, we’d also apply to another one before the announcement date was up for the first one. If we’d submitted a script to one production company we were writing the next one whilst we were waiting. This meant that if and when rejection came, we had something else to focus on. It’s a small trick but a useful one.
How did you develop your voice and hone your craft?
I think these two questions are best answered as one for us, because it was all part of the same thing.
So we’re in our mid 20s. We still haven’t made a short film beyond our student efforts. But we’re determined to move away from music videos and make some headway in feature filmmaking.
The smart decision would have been to start making shorts, but we made the big mistake of trying to make a feature film straight away. But this big mistake was actually the thing that kickstarted our entire career. I can draw a direct line from this decision to every success we’ve had since.
Throughout making music videos we’d managed to pull together some basic kit: a tripod, some lights, a basic steadicam and a cheap dolly and track. Also a good friend of ours had an HDV camera. We managed to save up £2000 between us and cast it off Facebook, shot the whole thing in two weeks, mostly at a friend’s house, beg, borrowing, but not stealing, anything else we needed. We phoned up brands to get wardrobe. We even managed to get Carling to supply free beers for the party scene. It was a really amazing experience. The skeleton crew and the cast all lived together throughout it and everyone really bonded over it.
But… we never finished it.
Ultimately, after spending months in the edit we couldn’t get it to work. We had tried to do too much. We were trying to run before we could crawl. It’s a rookie mistake. But that’s not to say it was a total failure. There were a few scenes that were actually far better than the budget we had; they looked nice, sound was good. Performances were good. And our writing wasn’t entirely shit (important note: we couldn’t write then. We thought we could, but we couldn’t. That would come later).
Then my old film school shared a film competition with its former pupils called The Big Pitch. This was back in 2008. The idea was essentially the X Factor of film, type thing. It’s a year-long script development scheme, that would be filmed (and hopefully sold to a TV channel). You get to work with industry professionals and go to talks, and workshop your idea, all culminating in a live pitch at the Northern Lights Film Festival in front of an audience and a judging panel. The prize was a script option, a £250K budget, a UK distribution deal and a Sales Agent for worldwide.
All you needed to submit was a synopsis of a feature script you had already written and a showreel. Well we now had the showreel thanks to our failed feature film. Our team (which was made up of ourselves, our friend as a producer and another director) eventually went on to win.
This film never actually got made, for various reasons I won’t go into here, but a few things happened as a result of this scheme. Firstly, we got our names into the trades. We suddenly had something resembling a profile. Secondly, being the opportunists that we were, we pitched a completely different idea to one of the guest speakers and managed to get that project picked up as well. So now we had two projects optioned in the space of a year. We also met our producer, who we have pretty much worked with on everything ever since – Ed Barratt. He was working for the production company that was running the scheme and we quickly became friends throughout the process. Finding that ally and collaborator was a huge part in moving our careers forward. And lastly, we finally got to make a short film.
Feeling that we weren’t ready to go into a feature film (once bitten, twice shy), the executives raised some finance for us to write and direct a short film. This was to be our first production with a full crew. A thriller called Dual, which later premiered at the BFI London Film Festival. And it was this, along with our two script options, that helped us get an agent, both here and later on the other side of the pond.
We were told the best way to approach getting representation is by a referral from someone in the industry that you know – often a producer – who already has a relationship with that agent. Coincidentally, the execs for The Big Pitch, the producer who optioned our second project, and a development executive from another production company on that project, all recommended the same agent – Jack Thomas at Independent. Jack represented some of our favourite filmmakers so this really was a huge opportunity for us. We got very lucky here. Jack wouldn’t normally have got on board with someone at our level, at that particular stage in our careers, but having three separate referrals made him take notice.
Jack had also been approached by an agent from WME in the US about any clients he had that might be of interest and we were put forward. We started conversations with Jeff shortly after signing with Jack and continued to keep in touch for a few years before signing. We wanted to make sure that we had a few more short films and some more scripts under the belt before opening things up over in the States.
This was the true beginning of our careers, the spark that lit the match so to speak, and remember that it all came from a failed feature film. That’s a big lesson to take from it – don’t be afraid to make mistakes, especially early in your career. It’s all learning and you never know what might come of it.
From here would continue to write feature films, whether that was on the projects we had optioned or spec scripts to try and sell. There are many more failures within that time than there are successes, but it helped us to hone our craft and become better writers.
And we would continue to make shorts to hone our directing. Our next was Old Habits, again this came from a competition – Collabor8te – which was ran by Rankin. This was our first real experience of working with name actors (David Warner and Ronald Pickup). And was a slight side step in tone – a black comedy as opposed to the thrillers we were writing, but it was useful to flex other muscles. That said, there is value in the idea of putting yourself in a box, so to speak. We were reluctant earlier in our careers to restrict ourselves in the films we wanted to make, but in hindsight it probably would have helped to lock ourselves in earlier to where we are now, which is generally thrillers – whether that’s action thrillers or sci-fi thrillers. People want to know what you’re about, so that if something comes up they need a writer and/or director for, they may think of you. More on that shortly.
We had some luck with some more competitions – winning the Film4 Scene Stealers competition and getting onto the BBC Writersroom Script Room scheme. So as you can see, competitions really played a huge part in moving our careers forward.
By this point we had a fully developed sci-fi thriller feature film that was getting a certain amount of attention. Creative England had come on board to fund the development and support us to get to the next stage of our career. We’d also been accepted onto the Creative England Elevator scheme which lead to a bespoke series of one-to-one workshops such as a cinematography session with DoP Sean Bobbitt or mentorship with Mike Newell.
Creative England then accepted us onto their High-End Shorts scheme to finance a short film version of our feature project. This was to become Trial, which truly became our calling card short film. We had a great cast and crew and a proper budget to work with. The online release in particular went extremely well and got us onto Vimeo Staff Picks. This was also the short that we used to launch ourselves in the States and sign with an agent.
Dust also picked up the short for their channel, which was just about to launch and would later finance our latest short film Zero starring Bella Ramsey, which premiered at Tribeca Film Festival in 2019.
But amidst all of this something much bigger happened for us. Someone who had read our sci-fi thriller asked for us to pitch on a feature film project called Final Score. This was to a be a Die Hard-esque action thriller that was going to shoot in West Ham’s old stadium before it got knocked down. We won the pitch to write the project and it went on to star Dave Bautista and Pierce Brosnan. To finally have a feature project of ours go into production, even as writers, was a massive deal for us and a culmination of a life-long dream.
Right now we continue to develop feature films over here and in the US. We have a TV show set up over here that is in development and another that has been picked up in the States that has Joe Carnahan attached to direct the pilot.
But remember, all of this came from one failed feature film. So go make some mistakes. And have fun.
Film Credits: Dual (2011), Old Habits (2013), Trial (2016), Zero (2019).
Photograph: Mustapha Kseibati