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Mind the Gap: Second Time Directors – movieScope

Mind the Gap: Second Time Directors

Many first time filmmakers fail to make a second film, let alone go on to build a successful career. But why are so many falling through the cracks, and could the UK industry be doing more to help? Here, five British directors, who have all made or are currently making their second features, and representatives from major industry bodies discuss what they think needs to change.

This is an excerpt from an article published in movieScope 35: July/August 2013

Andrew Douglas Director: The Amityville Horror (2005) & uwantme2killhim? (2013)
Gareth Edwards Director, Monsters (2012) & Godzilla (2014)
Tom Harper Director, The Scouting Book For Boys (2009), War Book (2014) & The Woman in Black: Angels of Death (2014)
Marc Price Director, Colin (2008) & Magpie (2012)
Rob Savage Director: Strings (2012) & Untitled Second Feature (in development)

Why do you think so many filmmakers struggle to make it past their debuts, and what more should the industry be doing to support them?

ANDREW DOUGLAS I’d love it if there was more money available from sources such as the BFI, Film4 and the BBC, but in the current economic climate it’s difficult to see that happening. What’s exciting is that I think we have some good, entrepreneurial producers in the UK who are finding creative ways of accessing money and structuring film-funding. I love films and the cinema and everything about the experience and, personally, I want more than a slightly different superhero saving the world every week. I believe other people do too. In these turbulent times where traditional finance seems particularly risk averse, filmmakers need to be creative, open and innovative in finding ways to tell the stories we want to tell.

GARETH EDWARDS I guess ultimately it’s all about money. For some reason it’s easier to make your first movie than it is your second. When you are getting your first off the ground, people don’t know what to expect; maybe it’s going to be brilliant, maybe you’re the next big thing, maybe it’s going to make a fortune. With your second film, for better or for worse, all those unknowns are more defined.
I guess when I look back on how I got a second film (or even the first one), the main thing that stands out is having a great agent. I think that’s the biggest misconception I had before all of this happened; I thought I would have to learn so much about the industry, about producing, about the whole game of it all. But the reality is that if you find the right agent, then all you have to really worry about is making the best film possible, and they will take care of the rest. 

TOM HARPER After Scouting Book I had a couple of big disappointments on films that were all set to go and then took a tumble right at the very last minute, but I think that as a director you have to accept that films falling apart is part of the job. And, touch wood, I have two features that are about to go back-to-back, so it’s swings and roundabouts.
My producers and my team are all incredibly supportive but I don’t think I’m getting any official ‘industry support’ on either War Book or The Woman in Black: Angels of Death in terms of development funding, personal support or subsidised finance. Having said that, as we are making War Book for a very low budget, people are being generous with the terms they are offering us for their time and equipment. Without this kind of support it wouldn’t be possible to make the film.

MARC PRICE From what I’ve seen in other filmmakers, I think part of it may be down to expectations and ego. That attitude of ‘I’ve proven myself! Now people should come to me!’ But it doesn’t really work that way. What happens with directors like Gareth Edwards and Godzilla is rare and exciting, but it’s certainly not the norm.
If film organisations designed to support and nurture new filmmakers put just £100k into 10 feature-film productions, and split it so that £10k went to 10 young filmmakers, we’d end up with 10 feature-length films. Nine of them could turn out to be terrible, but if just one film was another Monsters or Down Terrace we’d have found the next Gareth Edwards or Ben Wheatley. This approach makes more sense to me. It’s certainly more up-to-date with the way people are making movies. £10k will go very far in the right hands!

ROB SAVAGE As a filmmaker who is only just beginning work on their second feature, I can only offer a (possibly ill-informed) opinion on this. As my first feature was made for almost nothing, I am much more comfortable working on a low budget for my second feature. Even making an ambitious piece on a budget under the half-million mark, I am working with markedly more money than I have been used to and see a great opportunity to demonstrate that I can stretch a £300,000 budget in the same way that the £3,000 on Strings was stretched to give the impression of much higher production values.Many first-time directors, however, will have had first features funded within the same bracket as my second feature, and understandably want their next project to be a step up in terms of budget and scale, meaning that they may spend longer developing and financing their follow-up.

Chris Collins Senior Executive, BFI Film Fund
Dan Simmons Head of Film, Creative Skillset
Johanna Von Fischer Director, British Independent Film Awards

What more could be done by the industry to assist filmmakers in navigating that gap between a debut feature and a successful career?

CHRIS COLLINS The biggest thing we can do is keep supporting those filmmakers who have demonstrated some ability to develop projects that might help them to get another film made. We attempt to spread our development funds wide enough to give the maximum number of people opportunities, and a lot of these funds go into working with writers and directors to help them get projects into a strong enough shape to be able to raise their finance. Sometimes this isn’t quick. We have just completed an ambitious period film, Belle, directed by Amma Asante which is a striking second feature film and which promises to have a wide international reach. Her first film was a low budget film made in 1994 and, even though she won a BAFTA for that project, it has taken nine years and significant support from us to get her second film made. It can be a long game.

DAN SIMMONS The continued support of emerging creative talent through schemes such as those mentioned earlier is vital. Creative Skillset’s Film Skills Fund has released £750,000 of UK-wide funds in the last month, within identified priority areas including camera, art department, hair and make-up, international scholarships and health and safety. You can find out more about the funds open at www.creativeskillset.org/film/funding. Applications which encourage diversity and regional growth are encouraged

JOHANNA VON FISCHER Mentoring schemes seem like a great idea to us. We were approached last year by Louis Tisne about getting involved in some way in a mentoring scheme he wants to establish here, called So What Next? It is particularly focused on second and third time directors and helping them navigate their careers into a more commercial mindset.

Having said all that, it would be a real shame if we focused too much on the commercial. As we all know, some of the most disappointing films have been made to be commercially successful and some of the most commercially successful were passion projects that hit a collective nerve at the right time. And in the end, I do believe that the most important issue is the strength of the story at the heart of any film.

The interviewees were speaking with Nikki Baughan

Read the full article in movieScope magazine, Issue 35 (July/August 2013)