Artist of the Week: Max Morgan

by | January 16, 2023

Max Morgan is a writer and director.

Tell us a bit about yourself. 

I’m a second year at Christ Church where I study English. Since arriving at Oxford I’ve ADed two plays and directed Jez Butterworth’s Mojo and Fêtid, both produced through Nocturne Productions which I co-founded with the inimitable Jemima Chen last Hilary. I’m currently associate directing the JCSP 2022-23 and, alongside Fêtid, have written several shoddy short plays, films and monologues – one of which has featured in The Isis! I’m also the writer and director of Breakwater which Jemima and I have been working on since last May with our brilliant cast and crew of over thirty students, alumni and industry professionals.

What’s your artistic process like?

I don’t feel particularly qualified to talk about having an artistic process – or at least a consistent one – because I’m still finding out what works for me, and each project is unique. I take inspiration from a variety of sources, but a lot of the time I’m stealing from other plays or films that I’ve seen. Some ideas take some kneading before they’re coherent, whilst others arrive fully formed and loiter around my head. One thing I’m consistent about is the amount of planning that goes into writing. I like to plot and re-plot every aspect of the story until I’m happy with it. I tell myself this process means I can write the thing very quickly, but I’m also very consistent about underestimating how long writing takes. That being said, I’ve recently cowritten a play with a writer I adore relatively rapidly with minimal planning, which has been a lot of fun and very freeing. I’d like to strike a balance between these extremes, perhaps. As a director, I’m a big fan of Katy Mitchell’s scrutinous textual analysis and inhabiting the world of the play/film, but I also love the collaborative nature of rehearsing and toying around with ideas. A rehearsal room is definitely my favourite place to be.

What are you working on at the moment?


I’m currently working on Breakwater, Oxford’s first feature film since Privileged forty years ago, as the writer and director. The film is about the intense relationship between a university student and an angler who lives on the coast, and how that relationship develops from hostile first encounter, to romance, to something much darker. I would describe it as a psychological drama about grief, guilt, the need for forgiveness, and the chaos that ensues when that need dissipates. Writing the film has been the most invaluable learning experience I could ask for. Jemima and I have had the support of Mike Hoffman and Andy Paterson (the Privileged writer/director and producer) who, along with our amazing script assistants, have helped us change the film drastically for the better. We’re still tweaking the script alongside other aspects of production, but the biggest challenge to come is when we film in Suffolk in April and Oxford in March. The next eight weeks are dedicated to planning our three week shoot down to the finest detail, so that when we arrive on set everyone knows exactly what we’re doing!

Who are your biggest influences, and why?


I’m a massive fan of so many playwrights, but I’m particularly obsessed with Robert Holman, Jez Butterworth, Tom Stoppard, Jeremy O’Harris and Lucy Prebble (all equally impressive screenwriters); it manifests with each writer uniquely but I’m fascinated by the sheer power, poetry and craft in their work, coupled with the unceasing and incisive interrogations they make of their subjects. I love the films of Joanna Hogg, Sorrentino and Yorgos Lanthimos, but also greatly admire the independent filmmaking style of Mike Hoffman and Mark Jenkin, whose Bait (along with Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country) has massively inspired Breakwater. However I’d say that my biggest influence is Simon Stephens; his enthusiasm, kindness and reverence for writing as a craft has taught me a great deal. His work is playwrighting at its best – probing, touching and perfect examples of theatrical form. I’m lucky enough to have interviewed him for half an hour, which was by far the most galvanising conversation I’ve ever had. I’d highly recommend his Royal Court Podcasts, recent Plaines Plough interviews and his Working Diary to anyone with an interest in writing. Seeing other students working at such a high level on their own exciting projects is also wonderfully inspiring. I feel very lucky to be surrounded by such a rich variety of work and talented people I admire in Oxford.

Where can you see yourself going in the future?

In the immediate future, I’m going to switch tabs to the Breakwater script and get on with some more edits: writing this has been a great way of procrastinating! The film is going to take over a year to complete, but I’m also looking forward to starting the next project. I want to take full advantage of the remarkable opportunities Oxford provides before the end of my degree, and I already have a few ideas about the next few things I want to write. I’m very interested in climate-theatre and its themes of displacement and community; I also want to experiment more with the ideas of form and adaptation. Before coming to Oxford I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but now I think I’d like to try and pursue writing and directing after university. I find it hard sometimes to justify wanting a career in the arts, as there’s so much that seems more urgent in the world at the moment, but I do believe that film and theatre are important and can be socially useful. It’s a very unstable and difficult path to go down but it’s what I love doing the most, and I’d much rather try and succeed at living a creative life than be discontent doing something else. ∎