Get to know: Ben Taylor, Film Hub North Talent Exec

Ben's advice on how to keep moving with your work, the importance of meritocracy in filmmaking and much more

7 December 2021

 

What made you want to work in film?

I grew up on a farm and didn’t exactly take to the agricultural lifestyle. Film watching became an escape, and I’d stay up to watch films on Channel 4 and got my hands on DVDs of world cinema that I’d read about on forums. That made me want to explore potentially working in film.

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

Wendy and Lucy. Kelly Reichardt is one of the best filmmakers around and has an incredibly keen understanding of stakes. Wendy and Lucy shows what can be done with a ‘small’ story and small budget when your character has big stakes. The film is basically a girl looking for a dog but it fully understands and communicates that when your character has very little what they do have takes on far greater importance. It was also a deserved winner of the Palm Dog.

 

What are you most excited about for your new role?

It’s incredibly fulfilling to see filmmakers take steps, deliver on their potential and progress their careers. I hope that Film Hub North can contribute to filmmakers in the north progressing from grass roots to funded shorts and hopefully on to features.

 

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

The simple fact is that we get a lot of applications and can only support a small amount – not getting selected certainly doesn’t mean the project doesn’t have merit. I’d recommend once the initial frustration of rejection has passed take a fresh look at the script, along with feedback, and analyse what could have been stronger. Writing is a skill that you absolutely improve at with practice and we’ve had many teams be rejected at first and come back with a stronger second application.

 

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

My biggest annoyance with the industry is that it isn’t a meritocracy. You could be a fantastic writer but not have the connections or be in the right place to do anything with your talent. For me one of the main goals of Film Hubs is that wherever anyone is, whatever their background, if they have the drive and talent to succeed, we’ll give them opportunities to do that. Be that through funding, advice, or connecting them with people who they can progress with and make their way in the industry. Hopefully in the long term we’ll create an environment that is more meritocratic and open.

 

Who is a filmmaker that has really inspired you?

The filmmaker that whenever I watch their movies I just want to go and make one is Krzysztof Kieślowski. You can see in his work there’s his grounding in documentary, but then he brings in magic and otherworldliness to create something unique. There’s a passage in the book Kieślowski on Kieślowski where he explains that he stopped making documentaries because he didn’t feel like he could tell the complete truth via that medium. He felt that to get to the deeper essence of truth he needed to work in fiction, and you can absolutely see that in his work.

 

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

With writing, directing or producing it’s a long road to getting to do it as your job. Most people aren’t breaking through to their first feature until into their thirties or forties. The big challenge is in keeping going when you’re getting set backs and staying motivated with your passion while juggling a day job, personal responsibilities and finances. The extra external pressure today comes from an expectation that you have to be succeeding young, that you have to be nailing your first feature ASAP, that you need an agent out of university. Yes there’s wunderkinds like Xavier Dolan, but for most filmmaking is a long game.

 

What is the key to a great collaboration?

Being really open to collaboration is key. Actively wanting to hear thoughts and ideas from the rest of the crew will make the project significantly stronger. As a director or producer you’re thinking about the whole picture, but your collaborators will be focusing on one craft or character and could well pick up on something you’ve missed. Creating an environment where your collaborators feel they can bring those ideas to you is essential.

 

What makes a perfect pitch?

I find the word ‘pitch’ confusing. I’ve been in funding for a little bit and never get ‘pitched’ in a traditional sense. David Macpherson did an excellent Twitter thread about it here.

Where I do think the pitch is important is the pitch before the pitch – the hello email. We regularly tell writers and directors they need producers to apply for our funding, and they’re sometimes stumped as to how they approach one. A polite, succinct email of short paragraphs saying who you are, why you’re reaching out to them specifically and a small amount on the project with the outline/script attached makes a solid first impression. Even better if you’re following up having met them at a Film Hub North mixer!

 

What’s your favourite line from a film?

I honestly can’t think of a single line from any film now you’ve asked me. All I can say is that I regularly use the Serbian word for bicycle after Leonardo DiCaprio is taught the phrase "Sutra cu putovati mnogo milja biciklom" ("Tomorrow I will travel many miles on a bicycle") in The Beach.