Getting to Know Bristol AF with Paul Holbrook

Getting to Know Bristol AF with Paul Holbrook

Posted on: 20 Mar 2023

Last week, we chatted with Paul Holbrook - one of a trio behind Bristol AF, a new TV production company championing Bristol talent & stories - but it's a lot more than that too. Read on to hear all about it in his own words...


Tell us about yourself – what’s your background with film?


I started writing films about twelve years ago – and then about ten years ago started to move from writing into self-production and film directing. I used to have a production company called Shunk Films, which concentrated on short films. I was making short films for about nine, ten years – still am. They did well, opened up doors to features & TV.


About two years ago, I met a writer called Amy Trevaskus who came to me with an idea. In the process of developing that, we contacted a local actor named Joe Sims – who’s probably most famous for Broadchurch, but he’d also appeared in a couple of my short films.


We thought he’d be really good to play the lead in this idea, so we brought Joe in to develop the idea a little bit further with an actor’s input. Through that, we got on really well, we all fell in love with this idea – and the writing duo became a trio; Joe joined the team as a writer.


I’d been mostly writing dark psychological dramas, horror – that kind of thing – and this was a TV comedy series idea, which is very different to the stuff I’d been doing. Talking about doors opening, they were opening for me because of the other work I’d been doing – so it would’ve been totally from left field if once I got through that door I went “Ha-ha! Here’s a comedy!”.


So we decided to park all comedy ideas in one place. Any comedy ideas we had, we would tackle those as a trio. We wanted to give that a label – that was when we came up with the name “Bristol As Fuck”, which is the name of our production company.


That’s why we set up Bristol AF, mainly to park our ideas on the slate, but also to fight the good fight for Bristol-centric comedy, done right. There are a lot of production companies in Bristol making Bristol-centric TV that isn’t benefitting the ecosystem of Bristol talent as much as it should.



Bristol AF is focused on local stories – why is that? What does it mean to you?


I’m really proud of where I’m from. Every film I’ve ever made, I’ve always pushed to set in Bristol.


Through ten years of making shorts with various talented people I see how much talent is here, and it boils my piss to see big production companies coming here to make shows and crewing them up with London crew. Especially when I hear from those production companies that its because we don’t have the crew here – and it’s nonsense, because we do and there’s so much talented cast & crew in Bristol.


That’s not to say all our projects will be Bristol-centric, we’re looking to aim our ideas & projects at an international audience, always – but that’s not to say these big projects can’t be grounded by a Bristolian sensibility.


Current projects are available to see on your website – they’re all comedies, but also seem to carry potentially quite weighty themes. Caring for elderly loved ones, misogyny in the music industry – being working class. Why is that? And how do you balance the serious and the funny?


I think it just comes from us as writers. Our ethos has always been to make character-driven stories, rather than concept-driven. That’s not to say those can’t both exist. With [Whatever Happened To] Pete Biscuits, the concept of a children’s TV show presenter who can hear a god is quite high concept – but the characters drive it.


I just think having weighty themes gives a little bit more depth to these projects – rather than just broad strokes of what might make someone laugh. We want our projects to be relatable as well as funny – and grounded with a real sense of place.



Your website also says you want to champion local talent in front of and behind the camera. Do you have any cast or crew calls open at the moment?


If we’re making Bristol-centric projects, we want to make those projects with Bristol, not just about Bristol. We want to make sure every opportunity that comes off the back of us getting a leg up is visible to everybody in Bristol.


We’ve got a quite obvious class divide in Bristol. In the film industry there’s a class divide, right? In the TV industry there’s a class divide – but even smaller than that, there’s a class divide in Bristol.


People from certain areas of Bristol – I’m gonna use the words “working-class” but I think even that’s too broad a label – people from poor backgrounds don’t feel that working in this industry is possible for them. We want to change that.


Every opportunity we’ve got is open to anybody, and not just open to anybody, but visible to everybody. It’s all well and good saying “Oh yeah, it’s open to anybody – anybody can apply!” - you’ve got to go above and beyond to make sure its visible to those people.


How are you going about doing that?


We’re always open. Send us an email. We put a post out on social media recently saying ‘let us know who you are’; You can put a call like that out, and everyone who’s working in the film industry, or knows they want to – they will not be worried about sending an email over. There’s a whole other subsection of people that won’t feel empowered, won’t feel brave enough, just don’t feel like it’s for them. We have to work a little bit harder to reach those people.


I can do that – I’m from Hartcliffe, so I’m plugged into the community. I’m not plugged into Southmead, or Knowle – but then it’s about working with community partners. We can work with crew from Bristol, but we can also work with schools, youth clubs, community centres. Making sure everybody knows we’re here, what we’re doing, and how they can get involved. At every level. Whether that’s shadowing, whether that’s learning on the job, whether that’s apprenticeships – whatever it may be.


Most of your stories are wholly original, but one is based on a particular urban legend. Is that something you’d do more of in future? What other legends would you explore?


I think there’s a danger in being too Bristol-centric, because it can close you off. We’re always open to Bristol stories, we’re always excited about Bristol stories, it’s easier to plug ourselves into Bristol stories. But we wouldn’t limit ourself to only Bristolian stories.


It goes back to that sense of place – and that’s more than just where it’s set. It comes down to the people that inhabit those spaces, the stories within those spaces, the feel of those spaces.


So when I say a sense of place, I don’t just mean where it’s set.


Bristol is our starting point, and that’s where we’ll grow from – and we hope to grow Bristol’s ecosystem of talent with us. There are three of us in the company, but we feel like we’re reppin’ a huge ecosystem of talent.


Bristol As Fuck is a Trojan horse. If you let us through, we’re going to be bringing 20,000 other Bristolians with us.



What are some of your favourite TV shows – anything that inspires you?


It’s a boring answer, but you can’t beat Only Fools and Horses. It’s a perfect example of comedies that aren’t made anymore. They have a very unique sense of place, they’re inhabited by different characters, with very different personalities, but you can relate to every single one of them. I don’t think we’ve done that well enough in British comedy ever since.


Only Fools and Horses, Aufwiedersehen, Pet, Bread. They had these really unique sense of places, they were set in their cities, and I don’t think we have enough of that anymore.


It’s interesting because Only Fools and Horses is set in London, but shot in Bristol. Do you find it interesting that they’ve managed to capture that sense of place despite that?


Yeah, because it’s not about where it’s set. The sense of place in Only Fools and Horses comes from the characters, and their relationship to where they live, and the other people within that place. It doesn’t matter where it’s shot, because it’s written well enough, and the writer clearly knows that world and those people well enough.


But also, it’s a working-class comedy. So a working-class estate in London isn’t much different to a working-class estate in Bristol anyway. The culture’s very similar. That’s another thing we want to get right, is working-class culture on screen. We don’t wanna resort to stereotypes, we want it to feel lived in.


Do you think that’s something that isn’t being done as well recently?

Definitely. 100%. I’m not going to slag off any names, but it’s not being done well enough. That’s because working-class creatives are not breaking through, like they used to in the 80s. So every comedy that seems to be coming out on TV these days is very broad, very middle-class comedy. It’s not mischievous enough. None of the characters feel like they have any depth, it’s all concept-driven…


It’s not all. I don’t wanna slag off TV completely, there’s some good stuff coming out. But I miss shows like Only Fools and Horses. That, and The Office. The Office is just the best written comedy of all time – and it was brave. That’s the other thing – we want to be brave.


Best cinema in Bristol?


You know I should say some cool, independent cinema but I just love X-Plus in Showcase Deluxe. It’s the only X-Plus screen in Bristol. The sound’s amazing, the screen’s massive. I’m a cinephile, so I want the best.


Have you been to the IMAX since they’ve been screening again?


I haven’t, no. I was booked in - they did a Michael Mann double bill, I really wanted to go but didn’t get round to it. It’s been such a waste of a space before. It’s mad: city the size of Bristol, and we can’t get our IMAX showing all the big films.


They should give that cinema to Watershed. Actually, change my answer: that’s the best cinema in Bristol.

It’s different things, isn’t it? I’ll go and watch the blockbusters at Showcase Deluxe, because I want the big screen and the good sound – but Watershed is the only cinema showing interesting international cinema that you can’t see anywhere else.


If you were Mayor of Bristol for a day – what would you do?


I would put so much more money into youth clubs, and youth work. All my family work in youth work, and to see the cuts they’ve had to deal with – and the results of those cuts, of kids wandering round on the streets aimless, or causing trouble…so yeah, a lot more money into youth work.


What a wholesome answer! Thanks, Paul.

You can check out Bristol AF's website here, or check them out on Twitter here.

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Patrick Bate

Patrick is a filmmaker with so much Bristol in his blood the white blood cells are graffiti'd. Educated at the Northern Film School in Leeds, he’s returned home to be a Videographer and Reviewer for 365Bristol and BARBI. When he’s not messing about with cameras, he enjoys playing guitar, spending far too much time on tabletop RPGs, and being an awful snob about cider. Have a look at his work here, or get in touch at