Shell is a poignant and heartfelt production of a 10 year-old boy dealing with dyslexia during the 1990’s. Joe Sampson, creator of the 10-minute short film, is familiar with growing up with the learning disability; “I still struggle with dyslexia today but back then it was really bad, I really struggled. I struggled with reading and writing and that affects everything, your social life and your academic life.”
Joe decided to write about something he knew, and he knew of the daily struggles with dyslexia. He attempts to portray to the audience what it is like living with dyslexia at such a young age, especially during a time when it was not as well known or diagnosable: “The stigma with dyslexia is not too bad nowadays because there is lots of support out there but during the mid-90's it was not as well known, and there wasn’t a lot of support for it; the teachers just wouldn’t have time for you. I felt as though I have this invisible problem; when it’s physical you can see it but when it’s a mental disability – internal – it’s a lot harder to show.” That is why Joe decided to reveal the struggles with dyslexia; it was a way for him to show the internal problems of his disability.
The production of the film took only a week to produce once the script was written, with much help from family and friends. “I’ve got a professional background and two of my friends do but everyone else was very much being helpful. I’m very grateful to everyone who did that, no one was paid; it’s the case of being resourceful with what I could do,” and he was extremely resourceful. The class of children in the film were from his mum’s dance school, and they were already wearing the uniform for a dance routine!
Anyone with an interest for cinematography will love Shell. The use of camera angles to display how Billy, the lead character, is feeling tells us more than if there was dialogue. Joe knows the importance of camera angles and he had a very specific view of how he wanted the characters and story to be portrayed; “I’m more of a camera person than a director and I approached it in the way of show rather than to say it. That’s why it has very little dialogue, I didn’t want to explain it to the audience.” Joe’s attention to detail when it came to filming Shell was one that he had thought out from his past experiences of being at school and living and learning with dyslexia; “it was little things like having the camera slightly above the eyeline for the children, for people to look down on them, and for the teachers it would be a wide lens to show that they are intimidating.”
In 2015, Joe won the Rising Star Award at the Winchester Film Festival for his beautiful exploration on dyslexia. However, he was certainly not expecting it. “I had no idea when I won, I hadn’t heard my name announced and it wasn’t until people started patting me on the back. It was a great night, everyone was super supportive, there’s a great community of people there.” It was exactly what Joe needed to raise awareness for his film and for the sensitive issue of dyslexia. “I had a lot of people, particularly mums, who would come up to me and speak of how their children are dyslexic and how the film has given them a whole different outlook of what they might be going through,” he remembers.
Joe decided to create a production with the theme of dealing with dyslexia because of the lack of films dealing with this issue. “It’s a case of it being something I haven’t seen before. When you see dyslexia being portrayed, films or short films, all the letters would go all over the place but that’s very much not how it’s like; it’s a case of looking at a complicated maths question and trying to decode it.” The lack of accurate representation of people with dyslexia was why he decided to create one himself; it was also why he decided to keep it as a short film and not as a feature.
After the success of Shell, Joe has another short production already released online. “I work at a film production company in Brighton called The Progress Film Company, and we’re doing a series of films at the moment called Lost but Not Forgotten. It’s about places that have been lost over time but their memories still live on.”
Joe’s is about the Spaghetti Junction in Birmingham and the stories of the people around it. His cinematography background has helped him with this project as well; “I have used a steadycam on rollerblades, so I’ve been skating up and down to get these shots and I’m looking forward to sharing it.” You can check out more here.