What are you hoping to see BFI NETWORK achieve in 2019?
I’m incredibly excited about the future and potential of BFI NETWORK. In a really short space of time it’s established itself as a dynamic, responsive and unique talent development programme, whether supporting someone making their very first short film, or taking steps towards their debut feature. I’m looking forward to seeing NETWORK build on this solid foundation over the next year, extending its reach, championing under-represented voices, connecting with and supporting new and emerging filmmakers wherever they are based in the UK.
What were you most proud of during your time as a Film Hub North Executive?
During my time at Film Hub North we ran our inaugural Short Film Script Lab where we supported 10 new screenwriters to develop a story idea from treatment into a dynamic screenplay through a collaborative peer-to-peer process. It was exciting to see the writers grow in confidence as they refined their ideas and found the essence of their stories. We held an exciting rehearsed reading of the scripts in Sheffield and a Meet Market at Aesthetica Short Film Festival in York to help the writers find producers for their projects. It’s always incredibly fun and rewarding to go on a journey with projects and teams in this way and we look forward to seeing the script lab projects brought to full cinematic life over the next year. Film Hub North will be running another script lab soon, hopefully launching in Spring 2019.
If you could recommend one film to an aspiring filmmaker, what would it be?
For sheer audacity and vision, I would have to pick Shane Carruth’s debut feature Primer which I believe he made for a mere $7,000. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend his particular approach of writing, directing, producing, editing, composing and starring in your own film but it certainly paid off for Carruth who made one of the most thought-provoking, challenging and original time travel films. (Full disclosure – I’m still not entirely sure I completely understand all the science-y, physics stuff but trying to figure that out with your friends after watching it and checking out fan theories on the internet is all part of the fun!)
What advice would you give to a filmmaker whose project has been rejected?
Don’t give up! Rejection is all part of the creative process and it’s not personal. Always ask for feedback when you can to identify what the strengths and weaknesses of the project are, and use this to inform your work in future. It could be that the project was possibly too ambitious for the level of funding on offer, or that there is a similar project already in development. Our team of execs across the UK regularly run outreach sessions to talk to people one on one about their work, career and experience – find out who your local exec is and book in for a chat to get some targeted advice.
What’s your favourite film festival?
I have so many favourite festivals but there are two here in the UK that always challenge and inspire me: Flatpack in Birmingham and Aesthetica Short Film Festival in York. Many years ago, I volunteered at Flatpack and saw the power that creative and challenging programming can have on audiences. The whole festival is a wonderful voyage of discovery and I always come away with a new obsession for a filmmaker I was unaware of beforehand.
I enjoy Aesthetica for its extensive international programme of shorts (and, as of 2018, features!) and its ever-expanding industry programme, but what I love especially is the warm embrace it draws filmmakers into in the dark depths of November. It’s a very open, approachable festival and a perfect opportunity for new and emerging filmmakers to watch films, network and make useful connections in a relaxed and fun environment. Plus, it’s in beautiful York, my hometown, what more can you ask for?!
If you could make one change to the film industry what would it be?
I would like to see greater democratisation of access to the industry. We are missing out on so many interesting stories and the unique perspectives of many talented individuals. This is something NETWORK is firmly committed to addressing through all our activities and initiatives.
Name your best film watching experience
One of the great pleasures of working in talent development is getting the opportunity to watch the work of the amazing filmmakers we support screen at festivals and experiencing how audiences respond in the room. I’m usually as excited and nervous as the filmmaking teams as we wait for the lights to go down for the first time! A close-run second is watching Dirty Dancing with my sister for the millionth time.
Who is a filmmaker that has really inspired you?
Lynne Ramsay – from her early shorts to her features her work is pure cinema. I found the sound design in You Were Never Really Here completely overwhelming, the whole film was an incredible sensory experience. She has such a bold, original vision and I eagerly await the release of every new film.
What would you say is the biggest challenge that emerging filmmakers face today?
Making the hard-fought transition from shorts to features. In recent years budgets for debut features have been squeezed so emerging filmmakers really need to think smartly about their first feature and embrace the creative freedom that working within limitations can bring. If you succeed in getting your feature made then the next big challenge is securing distribution. I’d say the challenges never really go away; they just change – resilience and clarity of vision are key.
What is the key to a great collaboration?
I would say surround yourself with people who are as passionate about the project as you are and who share your vision. Making a film is a long process; you have to be friends, you have to listen to and respect each other’s ideas (even if ultimately you don’t always agree!), and most of all you have to be kind to one another because the road is always bumpy in places.
What makes a perfect pitch?
Make sure you know your story inside out; people connect to human stories so bring the characters to life for your audience and tell the story through the frame of its human centre. Don’t get too bogged down in detail and sub-plots. Find the intriguing hook that will pull in your audience quickly. Make it personal: always communicate why this story matters to you, what initially inspired you to develop it, and why you are the best-placed person to tell it? Think of a few useful comparison films as a shorthand to help your audience grasp how you see this particular project and maybe develop a visual mood board to share your vision. Do your research and consider where you think the film will fit within the current market place - how have similar films performed recently? And most of all practise pitching your film to anyone who will listen!