Despite now being much more of a film director, I definitely came up through the the theatre side of the drama world; I feel like my first experiences of directing were through devising theatre in youth groups, such as Devon Youth Theatre, where we, the young performers, took the pivotal role in creating a piece of theatre. I was always keen to take a leading role in this, enjoying both the creative output that is allowed as well as steering a group and taking ownership of something.
My first professional directing job came at Exeter’s Northcott Theatre, where I was assistant director to Polly Agg-Manning in the Northcott’s youth theatre summer course; this came after many years of working with children, at summer camps and Cub Scouts. It was such a rewarding experience, to shape and to steer a production, and then be able to sit back and watch the talent of these incredible young people. There really is nothing like it. This was when, despite it always having been a suggestion in the back of my mind, I decided I definitely wanted to direct.
The assistant director job came in the summer before I took my gap year. Over my last two years at sixth form, I’d been developing a script, loosely inspired by having read about Amanda Todd, the Canadian teenager, hoping to at some point stage it. This is what went on to become one of the biggest pillars of my life; eventually the film entitled ‘Kids’. I went through thousands of ideas, concepts and plans for it; I’d considered proposing it to my A level drama group, to stage for our final production, but it never felt like the right time. When I took a gap year, it felt like the right time.
I started off my gap year with the idea firmly in mind, but I certainly wasn’t ready to make a film yet so I went about getting properly involved in the local film community. I liked films, I watched films, and I’d made shitty short films with my mates at school for school projects, but aside from an ill-fated plasticine animation film a few years before, I’d never made a film that was truly my own. I had friends who had studied/were studying film at college, which gave me the perfect opportunity to collaborate with them, taking advantage of Exeter Phoenix’s vast pool of opportunities, including film nights, talks with their digital department, and of course, the 48 Hour Film Challenge. This is where a small group of us, just mates, were given a brief on Friday evening, and had 48 hours to come up with a completely original idea based on said brief, script it, film it, edit it and submit it. Despite it being rushed, terrible quality, and essentially just a laugh over the weekend, this really felt like the first step to me becoming a film director. By the way, if anyone’s wondering, the film’s called Shade of the Law and can be found on YouTube. Don’t judge.
After this, I felt ready. I set about getting constructive feedback for ‘Kids’, looking at ways to produce it, reading film books, watching film videos, taking online film courses. I also shortened it from about two hours, to half an hour, to eventually 15 minutes. I constructed a team, started auditions, started a storyboard, a shooting script, all that pre-production nonsense. After several months, many applications, gruelling auditions, one major postponement (oh, and did I mention Pastles Productions? I set up a limited film company in the meantime), we were shooting the film. One of the most stressful experiences of my life. I felt dehydrated, I wasn’t eating well, I lost lots of weight, and I developed mouth ulcers. But fuck me, it was rewarding. Several years of work, finally actually being produced. It was great.