For our March masterclass, award-winning documentary filmmaker – and Creative Access alumnus – Matt Kay (Little Miss Sumo, Over the Wall) interviewed independent producer Damian Jones (The History Boys, Kidulthood, Blue Story) about what he’s learnt from over 30 years working in the film industry. Read on for both Matt and Damian’s top tips on how to navigate the industry, network and some great stories from projects they’ve worked on over the years.
Damian – who has been in the industry for 30 years – revealed that he didn’t study film at university, but knew that he loved movies and “there was nothing else” he wanted to do. His first job in film was as a driver, and after working as a runner and location scout, he realised there was only 3 jobs that interested him: actor, director and producer. He said: “I couldn’t do the first two but I thought producing I could do”. Since that epiphany moment, he has worked on 50 films spanning different genres, explaining that he’s “worked on such a diverse slate of films because the projects and stories have interested me.”
Part of being a good producer is trusting the talent that you work with, be that the director, the scriptwriter, or the actors. He said, “I do have an overview of everything. I regard myself as being able to do all aspects – as long as I’ve hired the right people to execute“. However, he emphasised that there is also a lot of opportunity for creativity too; being a producer is not only about organisation.
Matt has been in the industry for 10 years, starting his career with a paid Creative Access internship at Sky. When asked by an audience member why he was drawn to documentary-making, Matt said he had studied fiction film at university, but documentary simply felt like the easiest way into filmmaking as “life is happening all the time around you.” On his first documentary shoot, Matt went to Egypt and happened to be there during the Revolution creating an amazing story for his film. He quickly fell in love with the form and has stuck with it ever since. He focuses on socially-conscious stories and was shortlisted for an Oscar for his documentary, Little Miss Sumo.
Ever-changing technology and the use of social media has shaped the industry since Damian began working in the 1990s, and even over the past 10 years of Matt’s career. Damian said he advises writers and directors to “just do it” and start creating films – even if it’s just on their phones. Rapman started out creating short films on YouTube with his friends, but eventually there was a bidding war between independent distributors for his film Blue Story. Matt also referenced Munya Chawawa, who has been creating comedy videos on his Instagram page for years, and has just won an RTS award and is nominated for a BAFTA. Matt said this is also how he gained experience in the industry, by creating his own projects. He recommended not doing this in isolation and ensuring you keep building your network and collaborate with other people at the same time.
“You never know who you’ll meet”Damian Jones
Social media can also help you to establish connections in the industry, but Damian also recommended joining film clubs, such as the BFI, where you can meet people as passionate about film as you are. He also encouraged anyone starting out to go to as many events as possible connected to the creative industries – even if not specifically film events – as you never know who you will meet. Damian and Matt both acknowledged that it’s not always easy to progress in the film industry, but that it can happen through a combination of hard work, building a network and collaboration.
Damian feels that the industry has opened up a lot and become more inclusive over the course of his career. Unfortunately, as Matt stated there is still not enough diversity in film. However, if you’re from an under-represented background trying to get into film, Matt told the audience to see it as “your advantage not disadvantage. Your unique experience and story will benefit you in the industry”. He called on the audience to:
“Keep having conviction in yourself and keep the faith”Matt Kay
At times, it can be difficult to balance the financial side of filmmaking with the creativity. Damian explains that when he started out, he did not know a lot about financing a film and budgeting, and urged the audience to not worry about the specifics before they start their career, as they will learn on the job. He recommended filmmakers seek funding from the BFI, British Pathé and Film Four, but warned: “Make sure you’re pitching to someone who makes your kind of films! Like you would with any job, you need to know what the company is.” He also added the importance of taking criticism on board when you are putting projects out there, but don’t let the no’s get you down – you have to keep trying.
“I had to go through those 100 no’s to get that yes… It’s about perseverance”Damian Jones
Ultimately, though, filmmaking can be fun. Matt said the thing he loves the most about his job is being able to travel the world and meet interesting people; he was flying to Australia after the masterclass! Both Matt and Damian emphasised that filmmaking is hard work – with long hours, high pressure and responsibility – so it needs to be enjoyable: “You have to love what you do.”
Make sure you keep an eye out for Matt’s upcoming documentary on Lewis Hamilton for Apple TV and Damian’s upcoming “very silly comedy” with Sex Education’s Aimee Lou Wood and Nick Frost!
If our film masterclass has you feeling inspired to step into the industry, check out our film roles here, or watch Matt and Damian’s conversation in full below.