Get to know: Amy O'Hara, Film Hub North Talent Exec

Amy talks Cannes, cheese sandwiches, and the key to a great collaboration with BFI NETWORK

11 February 2019

What are you hoping to achieve through Film Hub North in 2019?

The team have accomplished an incredible amount in the short space of time they’ve been operating, and for me it’s all about building on that work and ensuring the door to the film industry feels wide open for filmmakers based in the north. There are new voices to be heard and new stories to be told. Continuing the work Film Hub North and the other regional hubs have started, both in the discovery and support of new talent, makes the future of the UK film industry feel a whole lot brighter.

What’s been the proudest moment of your career to date?

I attended Cannes when I worked at Film4 which sounds glamourous, but I was behind the scenes making coffee and cheese baguettes 99% of the time. With that precious extra 1%, though, I attended Andrea Arnold’s American Honey, and watching that relatively unknown young cast dance their way down the red carpet to blaring hip-hop, having the time of their life in what can be a very stuffy, rigid environment felt like such a positive, air-punch moment. This is what it’s all about! Having been a small part of the organisation that made that film happen, and being able to support filmmakers like Andrea, was really special.

If you could recommend one film to an aspiring filmmaker, what would it be?

Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night had such conviction for a debut feature – in both style and voice. They also crowdfunded the project, and I think that process and the outcome of that (being one of the coolest films ever) makes for a really inspiring journey for filmmakers to take stock of.

What advice would you give to a filmmaker whose project has been rejected?

It’s hard to say something new here because the tropes are all true. Brush yourself off and try again! There are so many reasons things get rejected and there is a chance you’ll never know what most of those are. Seek feedback where possible and listen to it; it’s hard, but it’s not personal. It’s also scary to let go of the project you think is ‘the one’, but being open to new versions of that or turning your talents to new ideas if it’s not working in its current form is a helpful mindset to have.

Where is your favourite film hangout?

I love going to Soho Screening Rooms. It’s one of the more basic screening venues in London but there is something about the place – the years of history and all the films that have gone through first, second, third…tenth cuts there, and then become something magnificent! You can almost taste it in the lukewarm coffee. But I find myself in the incredibly lucky position of now being based between The Showroom in Sheffield and the Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle, and they are both amazing venues. The programmers and teams in both places have amazing taste, knowledge and are so passionate about the medium of cinema - getting to experience films here on a regular basis is a bit of a dream come true!

If you could make one change to the film industry what would it be?

I echo what my fellow execs have said here – film should be open to all no matter what your socio-economic background, race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, location…no matter what, basically! The barriers to entry in film are deep-rooted, but BFI Network are really committed to democratising the industry, so it’s great to be involved in making those changes happen.

Name your best film watching experience

Going to the cinema still feels like such a huge treat, even now. An uninterrupted two hours of escapism in a dark room is hard to beat. But a definite shout out goes to the Moulin Rouge sing-a-long at the Prince Charles Cinema in London; I’ve been twice already and want to go back again! It’s probably not a very classy choice, but it is a lot of fun.

Who is a filmmaker that has really inspired you?

I was completely floored by Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace. It has scale but also tells such a powerful human story in a really simple, paired back way and she gets such raw, devastating performances from her actors. I loved Winter’s Bone too, so am really excited to see what she does next.

What would you say is the biggest challenge that emerging filmmakers are facing today?

It’s like the difficult second album; once you’ve made that crucial first step into the industry you feel like you have some momentum, but maintaining that and planning your next, bigger move can feel really daunting. Continue to hone your craft and refine your voice so that when those opportunities arise you’re in the best possible position to take them.

What is the key to a great collaboration?

Open, upfront communication and transparency is crucial; you don’t want to waste time second guessing things. Be gentle with each other and keep checking in on the end goal so everyone stays on the right/same track.

What makes a perfect pitch?

Knowing your story inside and out is obviously key, but pitching a comprehensive vision without getting lost in the miniature is ideal! Also be aware of your audience and their entry point into the story – who are they and why do they care? I think Jess Loveland made a really good point here about knowing the marketplace. Using comp films is a really quick and easy way to give context and can also give a good idea of your overall ambition for the project.