Thomas Lawes started making no-budget movies on his camcorder at age nineteen. Three years later he was hired by the BBC to compose the soundtrack their dramedy, "All Quiet on the Preston Front." In 2004, the film lover decided to buy the derelict Electric Cinema, an old theater in Birmingham, that he would refurbish and restore to its prime. He is also the musical director of the theater’s in-house film orchestra.

Not surprisingly, Thomas Lawes made a mark as a filmmaker with a film about independent cinema and theaters, the movie, "The Last Projectionists," won numerous awards.

Later, he went on to work on short films, short documentaries, and video games. His latest release is a movie called “Monochrome” about a female serial killer. The thriller is scheduled to be released in June. In it, a brilliant detective must use his wits to outsmart and catch a killer who is murdering wealthy land-owners.

This week, Thomas took some time out of his day to discuss this movie, his career, and more.

Making films, movies, and documentaries

Meagan Meehan (MM): What inspired you to become a filmmaker, Thomas?

Thomas Lawes (TL): When I was nineteen, video cameras were expensive and as a teen living on social security, way out of my reach. However, one summer vacation, I visited some friends of mine that I knew from a local bar.

One of them had a VHS camera his teacher Mom had brought home from a nearby college. When I arrived they were literally filming each other’s bottoms, and I was like, “You have a camera? Let’s make a movie!”

I then spent the next week bossing everyone about and probably getting on their nerves, but at the end of it, we had a twenty-minute no-budget horror film, all edited in camera because, you know, VHS.

The movie was predictably terrible, but it was also a lot of fun. Eventually, a cult movie magazine picked up and gave it a glowing review. Sam Rami’s “Evil Dead” was our biggest inspiration at the time. My elder sister made me watch it when I was thirteen, and I didn’t sleep for a week. Filmmaking back then was clearly cathartic!

MM: How did you achieve your big break and how did “Monochrome” come about?

TL: My first break was actually writing music for the BBC at just twenty-one. I had written the music for the aforementioned no-budget horror, and that gave a real interest in scoring for a picture. Many years later I made a feature-length documentary called “The Last Projectionist” about the historic cinema I own in Birmingham, UK. I had hoped the film might play in half-a-dozen theatres or so but, in the end, it won awards and played internationally!

As for “Monochrome,” we had made a short film about a female serial killer called “Three Sides of the Coin,” and I had an idea of extending it into a feature by creating a detective character who was similarly isolated by society.

MM: Does it help to be a fan of this type of film if you’re going to make one?

TL: Oh definitely. I just can’t imagine making a film about anything I’m not passionate about. Well, unless I was offered a lot of money. Actually, do you have any? I’m very versatile behind the camera and free next week!

Cast, advice, and script inspirations

MM: Did anyone or anything inspire the script…like real life incidents, maybe?

TL: I generally take news stories or things I read about online and mash them up until I have something that inspires a story. The detective Gabriel has synesthesia that I’d read about in an interview with British artist David Hockney. He also provided inspiration for James Cosmo’s character who’s a cross between Fagin, Hockney and my Dad who’s also a painter.

MM: Can you tell us about the cast and the level of say that you got in casting?

TL: I had 100 percent say in the cast as I was also the primary executive producer. However, I’m wise enough to realize that it’s all too easy to believe your own BS and I know best so the first person we brought on board was the casting director. We’d already cast Jo Woodcock as the serial killer, so I asked her to come in and sit in the auditions with us. Although I had final say, I sat, listened and watched the reactions of everyone in the room during the auditions. Often you know within a few seconds whether someone is right for the role. When Cosmo Jarvis auditioned for Gabriel, we all knew it was completely different right from the first sentence.

Unfortunately, it’s been a thing it British acting for the last few years, where all the young actors are mini carbon copy-Cumberbatches. Not knocking him personally, he’s a great actor, but when every youngster you’re auditioning has boarded at Harrow or Eaton, it can become a little repetitive.

MM: In ten years, how do you hope your career will have panned out and what advice can you offer to today’s up-and-comers?

TL: I’m actually working on two TV projects at the moment. Up until the last few years, there’s always been the perception that film is the superior cousin to TV, however with the budgets where they are now and big-name actors willing to crossover, the long form stories that TV drama can cater for are very appealing.

I’m also really interested in event cinema. Our new film is silent with a live electronic score and the significant interest shown by festivals and exhibitors in advance of completion has been really encouraging.

My advice is as follows: On one hand, it’s never been easier to make a professional film, but on the other, it’s never been harder to make anyone take notice. There’s a great deal of focus online about the technology and the technique. Which camera to use, what color grading software, how to composite a giant duck onto a moon base, etc., but actually by far the hardest thing to get right is the cheapest; the script. Spend your time making it the best you can and don’t be afraid to cast aside the first few you write.

Scriptwriting, like most things in life, takes practice, so it’s unlikely the early ones will be any good. If you have talent, you’ll have a million good story ideas so don’t make the mistake of getting hung up on just one. I now have a strict workflow that makes taking an idea from a bar chat or newspaper article to a completed script a relatively painless process.