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Director to Watch: Sam Taylor-Wood

Made transition from artist to filmmaker

It took Sam Taylor-Wood awhile to work out that she wanted to direct films. She first earned fame as an artist, specializing in multiscreen video and photography, one of a stellar generation dubbed the YBAs, or Young British Artists.

It was only when Ray Winstone, who had appeared in one of her early works, suggested making a movie about the poet William Blake that she began to consider features.

I think the idea has been slowly percolating over a good few years,” says Taylor-Wood. “I was always interested in film, but I never knew how to go about becoming a filmmaker. I feel like I became an artist by default. I went to art college, but my interest was always more towards film than painting or sculpture.”

The Blake idea came to nothing, but Taylor-Wood met Anthony Minghella on the jury for the British Independent Film Awards, and he offered to act as her mentor. She directed the short film “Love You More” for him “as a steppingstone, to see if I was up to it,” she says. Selection for Cannes, Sundance and a BAFTA nomination proved that she was.

When she read Matt Greenhalgh’s script for the John Lennon biopic “Nowhere Boy,” she immediately knew it was the film for her, and she pursued the producers relentlessly until they agreed. “It was something I could see visually,” she says.

Yet her direction is surprisingly restrained, with a classical focus on character and story rather than stylistic flourishes. “I felt like I really had to drive a story. I couldn’t be too indulgent, too self-conscious,” she says. “There was a lot we shot that was more along the lines of my conceptual work, but it quickly fell on the cutting-room floor.”

She says film directing feels natural to her in a way that creating her conceptual art never quite did. Collaborating with Greenhalgh, cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (with whom she previously shot all her artworks) and editor Lisa Gunning was “gratifying on so many levels.” She hasn’t found her next project yet but says, “I’d like to make something about someone who hasn’t existed, so that I don’t have to tread so carefully and can feel a little bit more creative freedom. I’d love to make a thriller.”

VITAL STATS

AGE: 42

HOMEBASE: London

INSPIRED BY: “Seeing a Cassavetes film, ‘Woman Under the Influence,’ when I was about 19. I was thunderstruck by it. It was the first time I’d seen a film that wasn’t ‘Batman’ or ‘The Thing.’ It completely shifted my ground, made me start thinking about filmmaking. It fed a lot into my artwork.”

REPS: Agents: Jeremy Barber and Jeremy Zimmer (UTA); Michael McCoy (Independent in London)

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