We caught up with director Richard Raymond to talk about his latest film A Million Eyes.
A Million Eyes shares the story of a young photographer, grappling with his mother’s alcoholism, who sets out to capture his own truth. The film introduces 13-year-old Elijah M. Cooper in his debut film role. Having only wrapped production this summer the film is already receiving rave reviews and won an Honorable Mention Award at Hollyshorts in the US and is selected for Raindance Film Festival in the UK.
Richard Raymond is a British film director, whose 2018 live-action short film, Souls of Totality was selected at 16 Oscar-qualifying Film Festivals, winning the Best Grand Jury Award at Hollyshorts, the Best Short Film of the Festival at Raindance, the Best Film of the Festival at St. Louis and the Most Popular Film at Rhode Island. Richard is currently preparing to shoot the feature film One Thousand Paper Cranes, starring Evan Rachel Wood.
Hi Richard, how are you doing?
I’m doing great, thank you!
Congratulations on the beautiful “A Million Eyes”. Where did the idea for this story come from?
I owe it all to producer Josh Reinhold who initially read the script by Curt Zacharias Jr on the Black List Lab and thought it was beautiful. He slipped it to me after I had lamented how uninspired I was by some of the scripts coming my way and we actually started to develop it together as a feature film. When I read Curt’s script I felt a deep and personal connection to the story of a child discovering their artistic voice — and the importance that mentors play in young people’s lives, especially during the fragility of their artistic journeys. I understand what it was like to have a yearning for creative expression and how that can sometimes be alienating. I think all artists do, and I felt that a story like A Million Eyes — the maturation of an artist — had never really been told before. I had wanted to do something totally different and explore different ways of telling stories. To make a film that was more patient, poetic and soulful. Something more intimate that focused on character over plot and left the audience with a little more contemplation. A Million Eyes opened a few of those doors for me and I saw it really clearly early on. It has become clear to me that successful short films actually receive a greater theatrical release over the course of their festival run than low budget indie feature films. I love that collective experience an audience shares when they watch a film on the big screen, and suggested to Josh that we ask Curt to rework the screenplay into a short, which we could put into production relatively quickly. I think the key element for me personally is that urge to just keep collaborating and creating, to tell important stories and engage an audience in a way they’re not expecting.
The young Elijah M. Cooper, who’s playing the lead in this movie, is making his film debut. How did you come across him?
I thank the universe for our amazing casting director, Chad Darnell. His discovery of Elijah, just 13 years old in his first film role, was the miracle we needed for the film to work. Elijah’s got natural charisma and presence, which isn’t something that can be taught. He brought his own perspective and introverted interpretation to the part. He was a delight to work with, as was his incredibly supportive family who were all with us each day. One of the things I loved about Elijah was how he stayed in character on set. To do that takes a lot of maturity and focus, which for his age is rare. I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of him in the future.
How did Katie [Lowes, playing Amber] and Joe [Morton, playing Fern] join this movie?
I was blessed that my wife, Nousha, who is a producer on the film, was friends with Katie Lowes. We met over lunch and I thought the world of her. She was the first to be cast and gave such an understated and subtle performance. She’s a gift to any director, who seems to make everything she does look effortless. Most people recognise Katie from ABC’s “Scandal”, but there’s so much more to discover. She trained at schools like RADA and Tisch,. Katie’s also the co-artistic director and co-founder of a brilliant theatre company in Los Angeles called IAMA, which she spearheads with huge amount of passion and vigour. Casting Joe Morton was also thanks to Katie Lowes. His name came up in the spirit of “dream casting”, and Katie reminded me that she’d done 8 seasons of the ABC series "Scandal" with him. She quickly called him up and asked him to read the script! It’s testament to how much Katie is respected and loved across the film industry that Joe took such a leap of faith! I had to pinch myself a few times on set. He’s a living legend and to work with an actor of his calibre was not just an incredible experience, but also a deeply collaborative one. For Joe, the film is about hope, growth, mentorship, and the legacy of artists, like Gordon Parks, who paved the way for today’s American artists of color.
How would you describe this movie in one sentence?
A Million Eyes is about a gifted child who sees the world in a unique way – and his mother, who is broken after the loss of her husband. The film charts the young boy’s journey as he struggles to find his voice as an artist, realise his value, and how through his art his family begins to heal.
What do you hope that people will take away with them after seeing this film?
I hope A Million Eyes reminds audiences of the importance of mentors in young children’s lives, especially this discovering their artistic voices. And helps to recognise the significance that arts education has on kids, specifically those in underfunded communities who feel they don’t have any value. They do and in fact they have the most
“A Million Eyes” was already screened in America and is now coming to London during the Raindance Film Festival. How does it feel for you to know that on both sides of the pond this film is being loved?
A Million Eyes is an American set story, but I’m a British filmmaker, so to be recognised again at home is very gratifying. I’ve found the audience at Raindance to be comprised of so many types of artists. Painters, musicians, poets, actors, writers… everyone under one roof having a collective experience. A Million Eyes is a movie that showcases the maturation of an artist, so I think they’ll be a few who’ll understand what that’s like, and recall to that time in their lives when they first discovered that spark which lead to their own artistic voice.
It’s your return to the Raindance Film Festival after last year. Excited to go back to that festival?
It’s without a doubt the most terrifying film festival for me personally to attend as it’s in London, which means my entire family will be in the audience!
Are there any festivals the film is already selected for?
After Hollyshorts and Raindance, we have Hiroshima, St. Louis, Coronado, Pittsburgh upcoming in November with more to be announced soon!
Do you already have more upcoming projects?
I’m currently developing a feature film entitled, “One Thousand Paper Cranes”, with actress Evan Rachel Wood. One Thousand Paper Crane. The film will tell the true story of Sadako Sasaki, a 2-year-old girl living in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped on the city in 1945. She was later diagnosed with leukemia caused by exposure to radiation from the blast. She drew strength from a Japanese legend that, if she folded 1,000 paper cranes, she would be granted a wish, which in her case was to live.