GET TO KNOW: IRIA PIZANIA AND MIRIAM NEWMAN, SHORT CIRCUIT TALENT EXECS

Newly appointed Talent executives Iria Pizania and Miriam Newman reveal their filmmaking inspirations, industry concerns and hopes for the future as they begin their roles at Short Circuit.

17 November 2021
By Ambika Sidhu
BFI NETWORK Coordinator

 

What made you want to work in film?

M: For me, cinema is the meeting of all the great artforms – literature, visual art, music, performance. It’s a universal medium able to share knowledge and experience, greater than the sum of its parts, relying on everyone doing their role to the best of their ability. Even at its most challenging, working in film doesn’t feel like work.

I: It wasn’t a spur of the moment decision but rather the outcome of smaller decisions and a realisation of what I enjoyed most. I studied fine art for my BA in Greece and then pursued Art Gallery and Museum Studies in the UK before completing a Masters in Filmmaking. As a kid I loved watching films and I loved the theatre – I was very lucky to have parents that although work in more traditional fields appreciated these art forms and growing up I was surrounded by stories on stage and on screen. Film does two things for me: lets me escape while also showing me different worlds, different people and cultures. I love it when I can learn new ways of thinking and I can be challenged because of a film. I was always very artistic but I never felt there was an art form that could travel as well as film, that can be personal and universal while reaching hundreds of people at the same time and that engages all your senses at the same time.

 

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

M: After running out of new Succession episodes last weekend, I re-watched Thomas Vinterberg’s Festen (1998). The first Dogme 95 film, made for $1.3 million and coming in at 101 minutes, it embraces its limitations and exploits them to deliver a visually distinctive film, full of bizarre comic tension – as a family grapples with the fallout of disturbing abuse allegations.

I: If I were to think of a short film, I think it would have to be Fauve (2018). A very simple idea – two young boys essentially playing a game of chicken with some terrible consequences. The premise is simple, there are no complicated relationships and subtexts, but the film becomes so powerful through its simplicity. Wren Boys (2017) also comes to mind – a BFI NETWORK film which surprises and subverts audience expectations so beautifully. Contrary to Fauve, Wren Boys has a lot of subtext, but it is nuanced and plays with the audience’s dominant preconceptions and uses them to flip the story on its head. Although what you actually see seems very simple, it keeps playing with audience’s expectations to deliver something truly beautiful. Thinking of feature films, I change my mind all the time but a film I watched very recently that had me hooked immediately and I was at the edge of my seat despite its incredibly simple premise was Boiling Point (2021) by Philip Barantini, based on his short of the same name made two years prior. Stephen Graham, Ray Panthaki and Vinette Robinson give incredible performances and its single take camerawork pins you on your seat!

 

 

What are you most excited about for your new role?

M: It is a genuine privilege to be in a role supporting the next generation of Scottish talent. I have an enduring love of the country and its cinema and see true potential in how the industry can be positioned on the international stage.

I: Working with the filmmakers. There is so much talent in Scotland and Short Circuit is already working on such a very wide range of projects and fascinating stories that I can’t wait to see them come to life.

 

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

M: “Fail again. Fail better.” Rejection is part of life and a huge part of the industry. You are the sum of your experiences, and any knockback will feed your next move. The reality of having a film in the can won’t make you a great filmmaker – the rounds of notes, revisions and the endless conversations that happen en route will. Samuel Beckett’s quote reminds us not to view our so-called mistakes and rejections as failures but rather a necessity to progress.

I: This is not the end for your journey, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that your project is not good or that you are not a good writer/director. There are many factors that contribute to such decisions including competition.

 

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

M: The film industry is incredibly wasteful and, very sadly, contributing to greenhouse emissions, with BAFTA estimating that every single hour of television equates to 13 metric tons of carbon dioxide. Especially at short and first feature level, where budgets and crew are all too often stressed and overstretched, greener solutions lose out to cost-effective quick fixes. While albert [the organisation aiming to encourage the TV and film production industry to reduce waste and its carbon footprint] is doing brilliant work and helping everyone to think and operate more sustainably, I’m keen for the industry to lead by example and mitigate the environmental impacts of production. We proved how well we were able to adapt to the pandemic. Now it is time to do the same for the climate crisis.

I: The film industry is a great place to work but there are several improvements that we could all work towards to combat the increased cases of mental health issues faced by many of our colleagues and to create an environment that is welcoming to people from all backgrounds and of all ages. If I had to pick one thing, that is working hours within production and post-production. We have normalised 12/13 hour days and travel which are often unmanageable for people with families, pushing experienced people away, making it impossible to strike a work/life balance that is so important to mental health and wellbeing. This creates potential hazards on and off set.

 

 

Who is a filmmaker that has really inspired you?

M: Agnès Varda’s sense of mischief is incredibly inspiring. Queen of the French New Wave, she married documentary realism and romance to create a dynamic and highly original visual style, subverting audience expectations of genre and what cinema can be while providing deep social commentary. She was a true artist with a prolific career spanning documentary and scripted film over some 70 years, who still didn’t take herself too seriously. In Faces, Places (2017), with versatility and resilience, she talks of how chance has always been her best assistant – which I consider to be an encouraging sentiment for any filmmaker.

I: I adore everything Pedro Almodóvar does! From his almost absurd comedies of the 80s to more personal and more universally appealing films like Volver (2006), Pain and Glory (2019) and The Human Voice (2021) his films always have a unique way to talk about the human condition and bring marginalised groups to the centre. Almodóvar’s films don’t follow trends and show huge empathy to their characters who often make really terrible choices!

 

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

M: Undoubtedly the biggest challenge that emerging filmmakers are facing today is financial and professional security. Developing your craft and establishing your place within the industry takes years and, for those who come from less advantaged backgrounds, a lack of financial support during this formative period is all too often enough to halt aspirations in their tracks.

I: Leaving aside the challenges in funding – which are not new – especially moving from shorts to first feature, I think finding your voice and maintaining your originality is very hard. Especially in a very saturated space, when it often feels that everything has been done before and you compete with every idea generated every other minute. I really believe that for every artist and indeed every filmmaker it is very important to keep remembering what your values are, what you believe in and who or what you want to give a voice to.

 

What is the key to a great collaboration?

M: Respectful communication. Leave your ego at the door. Film is an art form greater than the sum of its parts, so facilitate a safe environment where everyone above and below the line can work to the best of their ability. And remember: everyone is working in the best interest of the film – if you disagree, talk it over and listen with dignity.

I: Trust and compromise.

 

What makes a perfect pitch?

M: Know what the heart of your story is and what you want to say as a filmmaker. Distill this into one sentence and be able to deliver it with confidence, conviction, and a sense of commitment.

I: Deep knowledge of your film and your material; what it is that you want to say with the film. You need to know what the heart of your story is and have the ability to convey it with only a few words. And it is often true that people fund people, not projects on their own, so try to let your personality come through. Who are you and why will the person that you are pitching to will want to work with you?

 

What’s your favourite line from a film?

M: I’ve been thinking a lot about a line out of Alasdair Gray’s novel Lanark, where two characters are reflecting on why people hardly ever notice what a magnificent city Glasgow is: “Because nobody imagines living here… think of Florence, Paris, London, New York. Nobody visiting them for the first time is a stranger because he’s already visited them in paintings, novels, history books and films. But if a city hasn’t been used by an artist not even the inhabitants live there imaginatively.” There’s been a lot of lip service paid to the nations and regions in recent years, but I find this stirring food for thought. It’s not that Glasgow or Scotland hasn’t enjoyed a rich artistic history – but it does still feel that there is enormous potential for a new generation to rediscover its relationship with the varied landscapes of Scotland and what it means to be Scottish. 

I: “Flung out of space”