Aspiring movie-makers given masterclass from Stephen Woolley
Bristol's up and coming film-makers were given a few pointers from industry experts at Filmworks. David Clensy reports
THERE are few industries quite as competitive, or as difficult to find a footing in, as the world of cinema. Even in this degenerately democratising age of digital media, where everyone gets the chance to be an amateur at any craft, the glamour and creative allure of directing or producing a feature for the silver screen remains as exquisitely illusive as ever.
But for the 48 would-be Alfred Hitchcocks and aspiring Richard Attenboroughs gathering at The Watershed yesterday afternoon, the first foot in the door of film seemed almost tangible.
The event, Filmworks, was designed to help professional filmmakers – both directors and producers – learn more about the industry as well as providing an important opportunity to network with some of the cinema world's bigwigs.
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The workshop brought together would-be filmmakers from Nottingham and Sheffield, as well as 15 individuals from Bristol – the culmination of three months of networking sessions, held in collaboration with other arthouse cinemas from the South Yorkshire and East Midlands cities.For aspiring behind-the-camera stars, like Matt Freeth, it was far more than a social gathering.
"It's a great opportunity to meet industry professionals, to be able to talk to them and learn about the way the cinema world works, and plenty of people here are even taking this opportunity to quickly pitch ideas for films they already have in mind.
"But for me, more than anything, it's a chance to network, to get my name known a little better in the industry," he says.
The 32-year-old from Bedminster clearly remembers the moment he decided he wanted to be a film director.
"I had a real epiphany," he says. "I was 13 years old, and I walked into the cinema to see Jurassic Park, not having a clue what I wanted to do when I grew up. I wasn't even that keen on seeing the movie, but my brother assured me that I'd love it.
"By the time I walked out of the cinema, not only had I enjoyed every moment of the film, it had completely changed my future aspirations – it blew me away; really captured my imagination."By the time I walked out of the cinema I knew I wanted to direct movies when I grew up."
Ever since Matt's encounters with dinosaurs at an impressionable age, he has focused all his attentions on achieving his ambition."All through school, I spent much of my time writing scripts, and asking my mates to act them out while I filmed them with a camcorder," he says.
He then went on to study film-making at Aberystwyth University, and afterwards, after moving back to Bristol, began to carve out a career making cinema shorts and music videos.
"For me music videos were a great opportunity to tell short cinematic stories, and I was lucky enough to be offered work by a local production company – which gave me the chance to direct music videos for bands like The Editors and Mystery Jets, as well as working as an editor on a video for The Killers."
But now Matt is ready to make the next move in his career – and his sights are set on that most illusive of targets – a feature film.
"I need to take the next step in my career, and that's why I'm here today," he says.
It's a similar story for Sophie Mair, 29, and her partner Dan Gitshan, 31.
The couple, who live in Clifton, are also trying to carve out a career together – with Sophie as a film producer, and Dan as a film director.
They recently successfully produced a film short, Ella, starring Anthony Head, and they are now pitching the idea of using the short as the basis for a feature.
"Coming to an event like this is not only a great opportunity for us to meet and pitch to the industry professionals," Sophie says. "It's also a chance for us to meet other aspiring producers and directors.
"We're all at a similar stage in our careers, and the people we're meeting at Filmworks could go on to be people we are able to collaborate with on projects in the future.
"Working as a film producer can be quite a solitary life for the most part – until you actually get the project to the filming stage," she adds. "So its just nice to be able to meet other people in the industry."
Dan adds: "You learn so much from hearing about each others' experiences. That's incredibly valuable, quite apart from what you're able to learn at an event like this from the industry experts."
The highlight of the proceedings at yesterday's event was a question and answer session with veteran film producer Stephen Woolley, whose credits include the likes of The Crying Game, Backbeat, Scandal and Interview With A Vampire.
"It's a great event," he says. "But actually I'm a very bad example of the best way to get into the profession. I got into films because I grew up near an arthouse cinema in London, and for my parents, sending my to a cinema double bill was a cheap way of keeping me off the streets for the afternoon.
"I fell in love with cinema; it became my escapism. But I never imagined I would go on to become a producer.
"I had run my own cinema for years, and later a video production company, before I finally listened to other people telling me I should think about being a film producer myself."
By that point Stephen had the contacts and the financial clout to be a worthy proposition as a producer – his first movie, collaborating with director Neil Jordan on The Company of Wolves was a hit.
More commonly, aspiring producers and directors have to work their way up from the bottom. But there are opportunities available.
Angus Finney, whose role as the head of Europe's only production finance market for the film industry makes him worthy of the title of "the money man", tells me that the film industry has not been too badly affected by the recession.
"There are certainly opportunities for the rising stars in the profession to make micro and low-budget films, and there are still lots of opportunities on the big-money movies. It's the mid-market films, the ones that would have cost £2-3million, that have faded away.
"That means that not only is it possible to get the first foot on the ladder, it's also now possible for the second step on the ladder to be a huge leap up to the cinema big time. So everyone is looking for the emerging talent."