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“Make the art that you yourself want to read and see” – an Oscar worthy Q&A

From Spike Lee, to Martin Scorsese… we were thrilled to host a Q&A between Times journalist and author Sathnam Sanghera and award-winning writer, producer and director Asif Kapadia on all things film…

Hosted on the 17th floor of News UK, yesterday’s masterclass boasted beautiful views of the city and a night of illuminating advice. Sathnam’s insightful questions for Asif led an incredible discussion on how to thrive in the film industry.

The evening kicked off with a viewing of the trailers for award-winning films, Amy and Senna. Sathnam acknowledged that it was the first time we had an Oscar winner at a Creative Access masterclass.

He started the discussion asking Asif about his roots and where his journey into film started. The filmmaker recalled “I came from the most unmedia background ever. I grew up in Hackney, I was working class, Muslim – the youngest of five children – I didn’t know anyone in the media.” But he didn’t let this deter him: “I was lucky because I worked hard and I fell into something that I loved; it didn’t feel like work.” Asif’s passion for what he does was a real staple of last night’s discussion.

Asif discussed his route into cinema, citing the number of rejections he received from arts schools and universities. Despite not taking any A-levels, Asif went on to study for several degrees and is a big believer in the value of education. After a multitude of awards and recognition for his creative talent, Asif is now able to ask, “What was it about my application form that never got me in?”

Asif’s love of film didn’t initially come from studying, like many other great filmmakers, but rather from being involved in the process and creating film itself: “My love of cinema and filmmaking has come from working on film, making them, a being part of a gang, a crew, making it happen.” 

Sathnam then asked Asif how he felt about diversity in film. The question touched on the recent controversy, following allegations that award ceremonies don’t favour people of colour. However, Asif doesn’t hold these awarding bodies to blame. Instead, he asked, “tell me which films get made, who is financing them, who are the people who run Film 4, the BBC… who do they hire? It starts really far back. We can’t just blame awards.” 

“Growing up in Stoke Newington and going to school in Hackney, I had no idea I was a minority. To me it was normal to speak another language and have a different culture – until I started working in film. I wanted to tell stories and cast someone like me in them’”

The discussion then led to advice for aspiring film directors. Sathnam enquired whether you need to be fundamentally a self-starter? Asif responded that “if you want to direct, you’ve got to teach yourself to write, you need to have an opinion, watch movies and be interested in characters and stories, travel and culture.”

Asif also stressed the importance of discipline; “it’s all about deadlines – set yourself a target to make one film every year.”

The masterclasses then ended in an engaging Q&A; from Asif encouraging creatives to create work they themselves would enjoy, to making sure they can also take on work to pay the bills: “If you are working on something you don’t even like there’s something wrong.” 

He urged the audience to question, “what draws you to a story? I think generally it’s like a question.” He recalled the making of Senna, a film that prompted him to explore how to make “some bloke driving round and round a track, wearing a helmet, emotionally engaging.”I like that challenge“.

Other advice involved pursuing education and its value for creating content and being patient in cultivating relationships that will drive a story and its characters. Asif finished by asking our interns, “What is interesting you to you? What is personal to you?” to find out what works.

Massive thanks to News UK for hosting us in their fabulous space and of course to our speakers Sathnam Sanghera and Asif Kapadia