Why positive prejudice is a good thing

Deborah talks about why BAME filmmakers are fresh, engaging and surprising.

6 April 2016
Deborah Sathe
By Deborah Sathe
Deborah is the Head of Talent Development & Production at Film London, where she oversees the feature film fund Microwave, short film schemes and training programmes.

Debs 1.jpg

close up on a girl wearing a hijab
Balcony (2015)

I am proud to run all our talent development initiatives, but I’m particularly proud of London Calling Plus. For those that don’t know, London Calling are Film London’s flagship short film schemes for new and emerging talent. One is for all emerging talent, the other seeks to champion BAME (black, Asian, minority, ethnic) filmmakers who have a significant track record in storytelling.

I’m often asked why. Why the positive prejudice with London Calling Plus? Or am told that “quota driven schemes don’t work.” My response is always the same: look at who tells the UK stories, and look at the audience they’re trying to reach. The figures don’t match. And what’s worse, the imbalance is growing not shrinking. How can we future-proof our industry at a time when we’re being most challenged, when global storytelling takes much of our UK audience away? We must enable our talent to tell stories that in turn evolve a growing diverse audience — a talent that frequently reaches beyond UK shores.

a boy standing in the street at night looking to his right
Two Dosas (2014)

Recently Directors UK published that 1.5% of TV directors were from a minority group. It’s not good enough, but laying the earnest argument to one side, it doesn’t make business sense either. So we, Film London, with the BFI and support from Creative Skillset, created a scheme that would do something to address the neglect that BAME talent has felt in the past decades, and it’s working. Short films such as Two Dosas, Three Brothers, Daytimer and Balcony have all proved that the industry is hungry for these stories. The London Calling Plus films are going on to win awards and be developed into TV ideas — they are beginning to prove that filling this gap in the market makes business sense. (The London Calling films do pretty well too!)

London Calling and London Calling Plus run annually. They are both highly competitive, receiving hundreds and hundreds of applications. My team eye me angrily as I embark on yet another outreach strategy — they know how much work is involved as they read, watch, scrutinise and mull over everything to ensure that each year we deliver content that’s fresh, engaging and surprising. If you’re one of, potentially, 48 teams shortlisted, we deliver a story day with peer-to-peer editing before you submit your final version of the script for consideration. We hope that all our long-listed talent leave the process with a stronger proposition, so if we don’t finance it, they’re in a better position to secure finance from elsewhere.

three brothers sit on a bed
Three Brothers (2014)

Those shortlisted are then put onto a training round covering sound, kit, schedules, creative producing and casting (basically the works) — all that it takes to make a short film. Meanwhile, the in-house team will develop, develop, develop your script until it’s green lit. These conversations between us and the talent are sometimes tough but necessary; we really want the film to be as ambitious as possible. Then comes the easy part: the shoot. That’s obviously a joke. I am constantly surprised and baffled how, with so little money, our filmmaking teams pull off these incredibly ambitious films, usually on a two-day shoot. Then once again the Film London team kicks in, watching cut after cut, until we’re all happy with the final film.

After the films are delivered and exhibited at our BFI industry showcase (and a few through London Calling at the BFI London Film Festival), the Film London team watches, like proud parents, as the filmmakers take off on the wings of their shorts. It’s an incredible privilege to be able to offer this amazing opportunity and work with such exciting talent.