Past Foreman winners advise sticking to one's guns

Hitting a home run on your first trip to the plate can prove a mixed blessing — it raises sky-high expectations that cannot necessarily be sustained. The same has proved to be true for past winners of the Carl Foreman Award, handed out to British directors, writers or producers in their first feature.

Of the eight previous winners, maverick helmer Pawel Pawlikowski has come closest to delivering on his promise. He won in 2000 for his gritty debut, “The Last Resort,” then four years later his soph movie, “My Summer of Love,” took the Alexander Korda Award for best British film of the year.

Yet, to Pawlikowski, the higher profile can prove a creative nuisance. “You register as a name with producers; they come to you with offers, but after all the flattery, they just want you to do what they want,” he says. “Whether you have a BAFTA to your name or not, each film is a struggle. Money tends to be tied up with big names, bestselling books, obviousness. Cinema here seems to be run by producers, financiers and number-crunchers. Not filmmakers. A Foreman Award doesn’t change anything there, I am afraid.

“And then there’s still the problem with one’s own lack of talent, inspiration, ideas,” he adds. “No BAFTA can help there.”

Writer-director Amma Asante, who won last year’s Foreman for “A Way of Life,” also was inundated by offers after her triumph. “You win the award on the Sunday night and the phone is ringing on Monday afternoon from producers saying they’ve been meaning to call for ages,” she says.

But nothing felt quite right. Asante rejected the slew of approaches and is currently penning a coming-of-age story set in 1940s London that she will direct.

Asante’s views winning the Foreman as a challenge: “It acted as a wake-up call,” she says. “To feel that the British film industry has acknowledged your work and given you a vote of confidence really focused me. The message sent was, ‘We are taking you seriously, so you damn well better be taking yourself seriously.’ “

She credits the Foreman with changing perceptions. “I was no longer the writer for TV but now a director of features.” That, she says, gave her “a confidence lift money can’t buy.” Foreman winners also receive a £10,000 ($17,842) check.

A Foreman win is by no means a ticket to the big time — as Joel Hopkins, Nicola Usborne, Lynne Ramsay, Emily Young, Asif Kapadia and Richard Kwietniowski could all testify. None has yet topped their debut success, although there’s plenty of time for all of them.

In fact, it is sometimes the beaten Foreman nominees who go more rapidly onto greater things. Past nominees include Steve Coogan, Julian Fellowes, Matthew Vaughn, Stephen Daldry and Kirk Jones.

Pawlikowski has a word of advice for this year’s winner: “Don’t worry about the fuss, don’t waste your time on reading the scripts you’ll get sent,” he says. “There’s a lot of dross out there. If you’ve been doing your own thing, keep at it.”

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