A lot is said about nurturing up-and-coming talent, but what that means in practice varies a great deal, as can be seen by looking at the backstories of the BAFTA winners of the award for a debut by a British writer, director or producer.
Film4, the feature film arm of U.K. TV network Channel 4, has backed all the victors in this category from the past three years — Chris Morris’ “Four Lions,” Paddy Considine’s “Tyrannosaur” and Bart Layton’s “The Imposter” — as well as some of the other notable nominees, such as Richard Ayoade’s “Submarine.” Katherine Butler, deputy head of film at Film4, says the experience with each was different.
“Every filmmaker, no matter what their background, brings a different set of strengths and challenges to work with,” she says. “The challenge for us is to be as responsive to the needs of each individual as we can be, and to try and understand how we can build structures that get the most out of them.”
This could be a longer editing process or bringing on extra experience in one of the departments. Layton, for example, asked for a director of photography who had “a real sense of cinema,” so Film4 signed up Erik Wilson, who had worked on “Tyrannosaur” and “Submarine.”
“Their collaboration was a wonderful thing that Bart got so much from,” Butler says.
It is important to help the directors build a team around them, not just for the first film, but for the movies that will follow. This process can start with the making of a short, and Butler encourages filmmakers to shoot a short for Film4 before they move onto their first feature.
“It has been a really great way to get to know particular filmmakers and how they work, where their strengths are, and how you can help them in the areas where they have less experience,” she says.
Warp Films CEO Mark Herbert, who has produced many films by first-timers (including “Four Lions,” “Tyrannosaur” and “Submarine”) says as a producer, it is important to vet candidates carefully. “A lot of the debut directors have shown incredible skill in something else before,” he says. “We have never plucked anyone from obscurity.”
Both Ayoade and Considine, for example, had proved themselves as actors, and Ayoade had written and directed TV shows and shorts, while Considine had co-written Shane Meadows’ feature “Dead Man’s Shoes” and had written and directed the short “Dog Altogether,” which won a BAFTA, before he developed it into his feature debut, “Tyrannosaur.”
Herbert says debut helmers also have to demonstrate they are willing to let go of those things that are not crucial, while holding on to the essence of the film.
“Every first-time filmmaker is going to have to make a series of compromises, because there is never enough money or time to do what everyone wants to do, and so what we try and do is identify what is important for that project,” he says. “We do that early on, so all the time you can go back to that and protect the director’s initial vision.”
That could mean prioritizing money for the art department, special effects or music, securing particular actors or nabbing extra shooting days, he says.
For a producer, handling a rookie filmmaker is likely to be far more time-consuming than dealing with more experienced helmers. “We don’t just give them the money and leave them to it,” Herbert says. “We are really hands on.”
However some debut filmmakers can be surprisingly proficient, as was the case with Considine.
“Paddy came with an absolute clarity about what he was doing, so he really didn’t shoot much more than ended up in the film,” Butler says. He had “one of the most disciplined processes of any filmmaker I’ve worked with.”
And when tyro filmmakers win an award like the BAFTA, they will have a whole new set of challenges to confront.
“The international film industry is so hungry for talent all the time, that the challenge for filmmakers, once they’ve made their first film, is working their way through the process of when the industry takes notice and starts barraging them with material, and to make the right decision as to what the second film should be,” Butler says.
“It can be a time of real reflection on and understanding of who the filmmaker is that you want to be as you move forward. And I am always really supportive of those filmmakers who want to start building a slate early on, because I feel that somehow you can take the curse of that second film if you have got something that you are already passionate about in development or you are ruminating about already. … And the longer the gap you leave between first and second film, the more pressure there is to see what you are going to do next.”