Interview with director Sidney Fenton


Having spent the last 10 years working in mental health and as a documentary film editor, Sidney recently began channeling his understanding of the human psyche into creating horror films. He made his directorial debut with the short horror film Drip.

  • Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking is your way of telling stories?

I think the moment I knew filmmaking was the particular medium for me was when the Star Wars prequels came out. I’m such a big fan of the series and had strong ideas on how they could’ve been made differently, so I taught myself Final Cut and locked myself away for a month to re-edit them.  

  • Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?

I didn’t go to film school but I’ve always felt a little envious of others who did as they had that support network of collaborators to help them refine their craft. Having a cohort of creative individuals who help support you is so important in an industry where a lot of it is about who you know. Never having gone myself though does mean that I’ve learnt the craft on-set, which is crucial to developing your craft. But if I had my time again, I would’ve gone to school early on.

  • Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?

Finding the energy to constantly keep learning can be tricky. COVID lockdowns initially shut down a lot of film work in Australia and I would’ve found it easy to use that as an excuse to not make anything. Instead I pushed myself to try a new role. I was locked down in a sharehouse of actors and artists, so I wrote Drip as something that I could make in the house, which ended up being the first short I’d directed.

  • What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?

Just being open to ideas, and willing to try them out when you can. I was lucky enough to work with some established filmmakers early in my career and I remember being surprised by how much they would change on the day in response to the fresh ideas they’d get from the cast and crew. Since then I’ve tried to nurture the willingness to try ideas, no matter how strange, whenever possible.

  • What were the production realities from casting through editing that you had to accommodate? How did you navigate those compromises or surprises and still end up with a cohesive film?

The reality of filming in lockdown was much tougher than I’d expected. I’ve worked as a producer, cinematographer, writer, and editor but I still couldn’t anticipate all the challenges the production faced because of it. Limited gear, minimal crew and filming in a single location, there were so many compromises. Some of the stunts and set pieces originally written into Drip just weren’t possible without professional equipment, so we were constantly rewriting during filming. In the end, however, those constraints forced us to make creative decisions that ultimately made the film better than we’d hoped.

  • What was the hardest artistic choice you made in the making of a film, at any stage in production?

Choosing the bath taps. Far too many options.

  • You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?

Most of my regular collaborators are people with similar styles that I’ve met on set, and fortunately we’re all happy to work on each other’s ideas when we get the chance. I think those relationships stay strong because they’re genuinely collaborative. Everyone has great ideas – and encouraging those contributions means that everyone finds the relationship creatively rewarding. It makes the on-set environment cheerier and probably makes the project better too.

  • What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?

I guess what audiences want really depends on genre – with horror there’s always that joke that, if people want to look away from your film, then it’s a success! I believe in the social contract that if the audience gives you their attention, the filmmaker should reward that trust with an experience. Be it joyous, cheesy, funny, or scary, depending on the genre. The experience might not be delivered in the way they imagined (hopefully it’s something more surprising or intense), but I think filmmakers have an obligation to fulfill that contract.

  • What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

This season of film festivals is my first as a director, so we’ll have to wait and see! Ask me again next year.

  • Do you believe that a filmmaker should be original and fresh or he/she should stick to classic but safe cinema style?

In terms of filmmaking style, I don’t think there is a ’should’. Make the films you want to see, and in time your style will define itself.