While making a feature film may be the peak of many people’s creative aspirations, very few seem willing to walk the long path towards it, writes Creative England’s Chris Moll
It may go without saying, but the first thing you need when making a film is a decent script. Problem is, among first time film makers there’s a cult of the writer/director. It’s a nice idea and no doubt some people do have the ability to write and direct, but if you look at some of the most successful people in UK film - Ken Loach, Danny Boyle, Stephen Frears - they seek out other writers to work with.
My advice to any young talent is to find collaborators and then work hard at building solid working relationships with them. Writers, directors and producers all have very different skill sets and the chances of one person so early in their career being able to handle all three roles to a professional standard are pretty slim. Of course, this is all much easier said than done. Not every first time film maker has the finance to bring on board top quality collaborators, let alone the network to find them.
Then there’s the issue of actually working together harmoniously. During Creative England’s iFeatures scheme we regularly have to help young writers, directors and producers to talk in the same language. Each of them often have different measurements of success whether it’s money, awards or peer recognition and how they order those can affect how they approach a project. So I’d advise any new team to sit down and really get on the same page from the start. If you don’t, you may find yourselves all pulling in different directions and your film ultimately falling apart.
All of these issues really come down to how you decide to build your career. While the film industry is a very creative place, it’s also a conservative industry that puts a lot of stock on experience and track record. If you’re a writer or director who’s not working on anything, and has no credits whatsoever, it is always going to be harder to get an agent or financier to take a chance on you.
There seems to be a myth among creative types that you should only be chasing your passion project or else you’re selling out. In my experience, the exact opposite is true. You will learn something and become better with every project you’re attached to; so go and work on any commercial, short film or pop video that comes your way as these will give you a much needed foothold in the industry. Hopefully on somebody else’s dime too.
It may break a few hearts to hear this, but the overnight success story of the young film maker bursting on to the scene is rarely a reality these days. There aren’t any short cuts and it’s a long journey before you break out. Just look at Ben Wheatley, the ‘exciting new talent’ behind Kill List and Sightseers, he’s well into his thirties and has a commercial CV running to several pages.
So how do you get to that first feature film? The answer is slowly. In the film industry there isn’t so much a ladder for you to shimmy up, but a climbing wall for you to navigate; moving sideways between commercials, films or whatever’s available next. So long as you’re keeping busy, building a network and adding to your CV along the way then you’re on the right path to becoming a film maker and once you are then a first feature is only one opportunity away.
Chris Moll is Head of Film at Creative England, responsible for the overall strategic development and delivery of the agency’s investment programmes.