Whether you’ve been spat out of film school, degree in hand, or you’ve spent your youth shooting a hundred short films with your Hi8; most directors serious about their craft will make their way to one of the industry’s capitals. For me it was a direct path from The Northern Film School in Leeds, to the bright lights and dark alleys of London Town.
For most of us, music videos are our first stepping stone towards becoming a professional, and as any director will tell you, this proving ground is brutal and cut throat. The expectation of shoot after shoot turns into the reality of pitch after pitch. A true artist doesn’t get into filmmaking for the money, because the truth is you’re not gonna make any; not for a good while anyway. The inevitable ‘I’ll work for free’ becomes the catch phrase of the day and you realize quickly that you’re up against 20 other directors for micro-budget jobs that will take over your life until they’re delivered.
But this is the music video industry of today…gone are the big budgets and ideals of nurturing talent. The go-to directors get first pick, and the newbies shoot and shoot and shoot until that break comes. And it will come. Art is for the love and that love will translate into success if you understand that positive energy will always breed positive results. It’s so easy to give up at this early stage of a director’s career, I’ve seen it happen to many directors; but the hurdles get lower, and all of a sudden you find yourself in a position where you have the right team around you and finally your art becomes viable.
Working for a boutique production company as an intern/editor/researcher / whatever they wanted me to be, I found myself getting the opportunity to pitch and build my reel. Then came pitfall number one; they went bust. Nothing can prepare you for such a set back. Fresh out of film school, shooting promos for the likes of Atlantic and Universal; a dream come true, to being unemployed, unsigned and penniless in London.
KOVE ft. MOKO - 'Hurts' (Official Video) from WOLF CVB on Vimeo.
Luckily I had researching to fall back on, which paid the bills until I found a new home. In this time I continued to shoot. And therein lies lesson #1 - don’t give up. Filmmaking is an art form that must be nurtured no matter the circumstance.
With ambition to move beyond promos and break into commercials and narrative, I decided join UNIT9 Films. There I found like minds, who wanted what I wanted; success through innovation and pure film-making, not just the bottom line. And I joined as the underdog. Unit9 is a hugely successful, award winning commercial company. They were taking a huge chance on me. As a young promo director with a dark, fashion-driven style, it took time for me to find my way. In the meantime I still plugged away at music videos, which led to a UKMVA nomination.
I knew that to get to the next level I had to develop my reel and make myself appealing both to UNIT9 and to the agencies they worked with. The hard part was doing this without losing what I was all about as a director. So I started by going off and shooting my first professional short film, to show how my skills could be transferred to any platform. It worked. ‘Snare’ won awards and was screened world wide, to great reviews.
Seeing my ambition, Unit9 pushed me into the world of commercial filmmaking. I knew that if I could get in the room with these creatives, I could win the jobs. Sitting behind an email or treatment is all well and good, but as a director I work with crew that I like and have the same passion for the job as I do. That’s my golden rule of film-making.
ShowReel ||| theWOLF CVB - 2016 from WOLF CVB on Vimeo.
Once I had that first commercial job under my belt, it felt like the industry opened up for me. The transition had taken nearly 4 years, but once it happened I didn’t look back. Is it a different animal working with Creatives who already have an idea? Definitely. But the struggles and sleepless nights as promo director, fighting to get your ideas made, and made well, had given me all the tools I needed to succeed at a higher level.
So what advice would I give a young director who has just landed in the big smoke?
Believe in your talent. Believe in your art. Whether it happens overnight or it takes ten years, only you will get you there. Don't look for handouts or easy ups. If they happen, great. If they don’t, also great.
Remember, a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.