“We owe it to ourselves to go out and do it!” – NFTS graduate Shady El-Hamus talks film directing


Do you want to know a lot about directing films? Then chat with Shady El-Hamus, a recent graduate in directing fiction from the National Film & Television School (NFTS), or modestly read on and decrypt the messages below.

Shady’s short films focus primarily on relationships within the family and how pressures from one’s background, social status, and psychology all impact one another. After watching Over Zonen (About Sons), winner of the Dioraphte Award at the 2012 Netherlands Film Festival, I felt compelled to contact Shady and discover more about where he came from and how he manages to create such a compelling drama in the space of 15 minutes. The film secured Shady a place at the NFTS in the UK to study his craft in safekeeping for two more glorious years.

There was no one anecdote that secured Shady’s interest in filmmaking, rather both his parents have been writers and actors for years, so an impressive feat for accomplishing artistry must come as second nature. More specifically, Shady always loved storytelling and film fell into this love quite naturally. But, at eighteen, he admits not entirely understanding much about the process other than that a director essentially tells the story. However, the film school in Amsterdam (a 4 year BA) divides writers and directors – a long time to commit to one discipline! Despite enrolling in writing, Shady’s desire to direct his own scripts surpassed the schools regulations and he was able to convince the school to make Over Zonen. Without this go-getting attitude, film directing (and NFTS) would never have happened – I believe this is the case for anyone getting into the business – you have to have an element of single-mindedness that allows you to do what it is you actually want to do.

In a dream world, Shady does want to find a co-writer, another mind that can gel with his own to explore the many themes that he is curious about. Two minds can be greater than one. If you find someone with qualities you lack, for example, then it is likely to be most prosperous working with another writer. Let us not be misinformed, Shady is adamant about his love for collaborating, it is clear from his thoughts that it would not otherwise be possible to become a director. A director works with many people, something that Shady believes should be an enjoyable experience and come effortlessly, collaboration as a kind of disclosure. Shady targets another interesting thought that you have to be positive in order to be and stay creative. He then goes on to say that communication should go beyond language. It is a matter of getting other people inside your head. Whether right or wrong, this director understands how to work and evidently knows how to achieve what he wants – a bridge more fundamental in the craft than arguably anything else – essentially understanding yourself, “your mind”.

Shady has been fortunate (and wise) enough to focus solely on directing his films without wearing the producers hat too. The producer is not just the person to hold onto all the logistical and budgetary baloney and to force him or herself away from screaming in public, but actually to aid the director in vision, according to Shady’s welcoming experiences. He believes a producer should guide you in the right direction, “to keep you on the right path” throughout rehearsal, production, or whenever. But, the producer needs to understand first what the director is trying to achieve, and then help him to reach that specific goal. Shady is incredibly humble and talks about a habit of getting carried away with actors, or being overcome with excitement in the moment, and, therefore, finding someone who can remind him of a scene’s essence, or the core of the film, broadly a sustainability, is the most valuable asset that a producer can have.

When talking with Shady about actors, he underscored some central characteristics that are essential to a director. He explained his method, but then concluded with the philosophical truism that “everything will always be different.” And, therefore, the director “must have a very progressive state of mind.” It sounds quite simple really – just don’t be a conservative! But, we all know it is never that easy to give up that little piece, or a core idealism, that you wrote on that one long stormy night at 3 in the morning. Another interesting point is raised when thinking about the language used to engage with actors. It should never be from an audience’s point of view, but rather always that of the character. For example, “This guy is an asshole,” shouts a young lad at the screen – a very judgmental comment, but the director should not shout at the actor, “play an asshole!” There is no one way an actor can know how to play an asshole. The character just needs to know the why of what he is doing and the audience can judge in any which way they feel is appropriate. A director would be at a complete loss if he or she started making direct judgments about a character. Give Shady a message if you need this bit explained better!

After a chat about our favourite filmmakers, Shady talks crucially about coming at autership and cinephilia, as it were, from a place of theme. Watching a director for whom you recognise a certain theme within. “To me, that means that they have something to talk about.” Theme is not like style; style resides on the surface, whereas theme runs deeper, and ever deeper. It is enthusing to hear Shady talk about theme with such profundity. “The story is the vehicle, the ride… the theme is the core… not present, but existing in there somewhere.” Shady also believes that it is theme that essentially allows a film to be “timeless and universal”, look no further than Yasujirō Ozu for a few examples. It seems there are no bounds to the philosophy of film and its makers!


The reality is that the director is on a suicide mission. They have to clench the confidence to carry a bag of elephants up a mountain and not be told otherwise. No matter what it is that they are carrying, it has to SAY SOMETHING. “What is it that you want to tell me?” Shady realises that a film had better be good and say something if you are asking people to pay a tenner and relentlessly sit in front of a big screen for two hours. This is the responsibility of the director. A director needs to be truthful if they are taking on this task. If not, then “why the hell are you saying it?” There needs to be a REASON, “you need to know what you are saying, and you need to know how to say it.” There really is now nothing more to say! That is directing folks!

Here is an overview of talking points and insights from our chat:

  • Preparation is key for the director – Know what you are saying and how to say it!
  • The task of the director is to get other people inside your mind. This is the art of collaboration. Enjoy collaboration – You have to be positive in order to be creative!
  • Becoming a director is a gradual process of discovery. Shady discovered directing by screenwriting and views this story component as essential to directing. In other words, learn to write too!
  • The importance of theme – the story is the vehicle for the theme that runs far deeper than any style. Theme is often what resonates most with an audience’s understanding. Remember: understanding and enjoyment are two separate things, for example, one might connect with Tokyo Story thematically, and yet be more entertained by Mad Max: Fury Road.
  • For young Tarantino’s – the story will determine your style, not the other way around!
  • The director’s responsibility – the material needs to be personal in order to be truthful. Although, personal does not need to mean autobiographical!
  • Actors are collaborators too. Shady uses the analogy of giving road directions when speaking to actors – be clear and know where you are taking them. Also ensure that the actor understands what you as the director want to achieve.
  • The producer is not an enemy, they are there to guide you in the right direction and keep a tab on that core driving the film.
  • Last advice: Stick to it and make sure you are prepared; rarely does one get a second chance in film directing!

Be sure to watch Over Zonen online, for free, right here:





Film school or no film school? Well, according to Paul Thomas Anderson: “You can learn more from John Sturges’ audio track on the ‘Bad Day at Black Rock’ laserdisc than you can in 20 years of film school. Film school is a complete con, because the information is there if you want it.”

This is very true – we live in an age of information overload – but is this a good or bad thing? Can film schools not condense such information and provide a way through all the slosh? Information to one side, the practice is probably the best thing you are likely to get out of film school, so let us look in more depth at the practice film school can offer.

I caught up with Dan Montanarini, a recent graduate in directing fiction from the prestigious National Film & Television School (NFTS) in the UK, to pick his brains on the subject. He promises no bias.


Dan’s first short film The Guest, starring Olivia Williams, premiered at the Krakow International Film Festival and his graduate film Seahorse will be making the rounds later this year.

From 14 Dan knew that he wanted to direct films, but what was the next step to be? There are two things to take into consideration when approaching such a mammoth task as film directing: how to crack the industry open and secondly, perhaps most importantly, how to ground yourself in the craft and the magnificent history that precedes you. Film is an “art form” – study the history and theory of storytelling and aesthetics. Dan expresses a hungry appetite for the world that film occupies, which means watching a lot of films and exploring film culture. You can’t get away without watching lots of films folks. This should be a task to relish in. Of course, a director should enjoy the physical elements of life on a film set, but equally essential as to finding your feet as a film director is being able to talk of your place in the surrounding culture.

Like anything in life that requires making something happen, it won’t transpire at the flick of a switch. Dan graduated in English literature and film from Warwick University and went on to find a full-time job. While earning his living, Dan produced and directed his aforementioned film The Guest on the side. And here is where film school comes in, as a time to focus solely on making films without the burnout that one encounters trying to do everything at once (and putting food on the table). However, Dan had never planned on the film school route because he had the sense that if one needs £10,000 to spend on film school then why not make a film yourself? Similar thinking to Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. Despite all this, Dan explains that film school offers far more opportunity to enrich your craft than the piggy bank; he had two full-scale set builds to work with!


Getting into NFTS is almost entirely based on your short film. It needs to be good. If it is good enough then you get an interview. Dan says that the interview was actually a very pleasant experience; NFTS looks for honesty in their applicants and play to a focused, yet relaxed environment. Once at the school, you are free to explore your craft with great freedom. While the contact hours are very decent, Dan is sure to note that the tutors do not impose regulations. They do, however, provide detailed feedback and hold an intense reviewing process. From rushes to sound lock, every step of the phase is thought-out and given attention to detail. It looks like film school must do one thing very well: harden a director to feedback! When was the last time you received a fleshed out piece of feedback on your own film? Go to film school and you will never have to force someone to watch your film again!

But, how does one keep their own direction with all these opinions? Well, as Dan clarifies, don’t feel pressured to have all the answers, be honest and you will learn quickly. By staying flexible you will eventually be led towards your goal – “Know that it is going to come, it is going to happen.” A director does not need to always provide the answers, they just need to be confident in what they do and don’t know. This sounds well, but what happens when a director says, “I don’t know?” Quite simply, remain open to an idea and take it on board sensibly. Directors are not super-humans, but super-talent does often surround them. In other words, feed off the talent around you.

What’s the best method for working with actors? Give them the script, understand their interpretation, let them rehearse it and then work with them towards your vision. There is no right way to do this, the environment, the story, and personality of the actor will inform this. This is Dan’s view and he goes on to talk about other directors, including a screening he attended of 12 Years a Slave with Steve McQueen who gave some miraculous advice: “I am a director and not an illustrator”. I.e. you cannot be too rigid on a film set; rather you should work with what you have, in the moment, so to speak. A film director needs to direct on the day, not everything can be done before (“unless you are Hitchcock”). Every director has his or her own way of working. Each director is unique in their approach. Film is the medium of an artist.


Here’s an interesting method of directing that Dan picks upon, but, let’s be clear, does not salute to himself: letting the actor working it out for themselves until they inevitably reach a point were they become desperate for direction. It is rumoured that Lars Von Trier plays these psychological games on set. And have you ever seen a bad performance in one of his films? An ethical question is raised. But film directing is arguably an form of manipulation, and working with actors is no different. It is up to each director to eventually find their own way.

Dan continues to talk about his love of movies and directors, moving on to the one and only Martin Scorsese – an obvious choice, but a choice that makes sense for a first-love. Hearing Scorsese talk about the movies is like spreading jam on toast or taking a close shave with a sharpened razor. It gives cinephiles an ecstatic level of insight and comprehension. If you ever run out of steam in this business, or feel lonely, spend an hour on YouTube (or preferably a criterion Blu-ray) with Scorsese talking about the cinema. And don’ forget about John Sturges too.


Perhaps the next step to reignite your imagination with dreams, memories, and alternate realities would be to stop in with Fellini. Dan talks about his first experience as akin to being “stabbed.” Not quite spreadable, but an experience far closer to reality, as Dan explains the mixture of memories and textures of reality on display are far more adjacent to the thought-patterns that occur in our own everyday existence – a truism of lateral proportions. Finally, if you are really looking to challenge your taste, a desire for Luis Buñuel’s spectacle of curiosity will serve delightfully.

Can you think of ten minutes that changed your life? This question was asked to Dan during his time at NFTS and is a great way to connect with your beliefs and potentially re-write your past. Film directors must find something personal in the material that they work with. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that they must understand the nuts and bolts of their own lives and the various transformations occurring within. You might be thinking why ten minutes and not, more likely, a split-second (a tragedy) or a few months (a romance), but ten minutes of change and we have a movie scene. Give this technique some thought!

What happens when you finish film school? Other than being highly versed in your craft, full of debt and geared to rev any film production to as an accomplished virtuoso, you must just keep going. You may find yourself in the position of Lars Von Trier’s actors: you have no idea what is going on, but you eventually find yourself acclimatising and succeeding. A director can only keep developing their ideas, stories and writing. A director must be ready to present their greatness. Think beyond your present moment, be aware of the past, present and future. Where are you from? Write about this. Where do you want to be? Write about that journey. Who was your first love? Write about that. These are all ideas that Dan wants to inspire and he reminds me that we are all living and, therefore, we all have telling stories to tell. All of us.


To sum up with some key ideas and NFTS salutations:

  • Film school may be a fantasy factory, but it also requires serious hard work:
  • Rigorous review processes include showcasing each step of a films maternity to the entire school of students and professors for merciless feedback:
  • Confidence building. Tougher skin. Objectively shrewd.
  • You can find your own voice: teachers will adapt to each individual while keeping the student open to new experiences and ideas.
  • On set: “you have all these talented people around you, why would you not want them to contribute?” Enough said.
  • Actors – discover first what you are working with. Points highlighted from Steve McQueen and Lars Von Trier.
  • Scorsese will make you fall in love with cinema. His conviction is infectious.
  • Be confident even if you don’t know the answer – it is okay not to know everything! Enjoy directing!

Watch this curious and unruly short film from Dan below.


Visit Dan’s website here.

You can also join him on Twitter.




Elstree Film Design and Rob Finlay


After hours, days and weeks of emailing production companies with a keen interest for work experience, it is often that you don’t end up hearing back. You might send them a second email, if you could still remember the details. Elstree Film Design  (EFD) have no such hospitality, they replied within minutes and, after the initial shock, things progressed: a phone call. Here is something that was made very clear to me at EFD, don’t waste your time with fancy emails because calling is ten times more effective. If I’d called the company first, an instant interest would have ben expressed on my part and no doubt a clear resolution to the matter by the end of the call, no treading on mailbox eggshells. However, it is never easy to confront a cold and icy line out of blue water, yet such is the task of life, so lets make it easier for ourselves by picking up the phone.

I met up with Rob Finlay, the company director and a great musician as well as a filmmaker, who inspired me to talk passionately about film. I quickly developed a keen understanding of the work Rob does at EFD and his productive, forward-thinking and tactile approach. For a company who started on the corporate scene only two years ago they are making clear waves in the sector and have exciting prospects for the near feature. With a prolific output, a prime and crisp location, and a small dedicated team with big minds, I hope to visit EFD again very soon. All I can say, is the work experience was thoroughly enjoyable, flexible in the productive sense of the word, and.. get your placements in!  There are only a few companies in this industry who have such warm open doors; they care for the future, remember their pasts and are highly intelligible workers of the present.

To finish this blog post, I have an exciting recording of a Skype interview I did with Rob. I also have an innovative music video embedded, a fantastic project that I was fortunate enough to help develop alongside EFD. Find the interviews on my YouTube channel here, or the full interview embedded below:

Music video: Rob Finlay – Call Back the Day

Visit Rob’s personal website here for more cool videos.

Or, and finally, Visit EFD for a leading service in corporate video!


Film Producers – “What Don’t They Do?”


(The title quote is from a book called Shooting to Kill: How an Independent Producer Blasts Through the Barriers to Make Movies That Matter written by Christine Vachon – above).

Christine Vachon, a film producer who gave life to such stimulating independent films as Happiness and I Shot Andy Warhol (plus many more), gives a fine insight into her working life and the countless scuffles of the filmmaking process. Ultimately, the book is a reflection of her practice as a film producer and a rousing discussion for aspiring filmmakers to get ahead of the game, which moves ever so fast.

Christine’s grounded and somewhat taxing approach is actually refreshing to hear and she offers predominant insights into personal experience of film havoc, despite her wonderful success. It is essentially real; diary interludes offer a further taste of Christine’s approach and the inevitable tasks of filmmaking. Though, the discourse can at times be overtly self-conscious, it doesn’t set out to be a clear and concise guide of A to B, it is a meditative medium after all.

Whilst running through the filmmaking process in chronological order, Christine is generous in her offering. She provides full-budget feature film write-ups, cost reports and production reports etc. Whenever something is clearly daunting for the reader, she lightens the mood with her witty thought on the subject – “Stay sane and embrace the madness.” Descriptions like, “No cut is painless; the trick is to avoid slicing a major artery” (on budgeting whilst Shooting to Kill) are memorable and entertaining for the reader. Frankly, there are a number of quotations one could pull from this book and use as stimulus or however else you like to use intuitive information.

I wish to note a few points in the book that struck me as areas for deeper thought (not relative to practical tuition, however). Christine briefly mentions (to paraphrase) that she is intrigued by how disparate the continuity between a movie itself and moviemaking process is. The parts that make up the constituents of a film have obsessed film theorists as far back as Eisenstein (such as the process of montage editing), so yes, technical aspects of filmmaking have been studied in regard to continuity. But, the aesthetic of actually being on set (actually making a movie) – the chaos – is absurd in its discontinuity. How can cinema appear so pure on the screen? This is, of course, the magic of filmmaking (and all the hard-work that goes into it!).

Furthermore, Christine notions a lot towards the personality a film producer should have towards their work. It varies, but she gives some valuable thought. Of course, respect and equality reigns on set, yet balancing this with authority and sixty egos is no easy feat. Of the finished film, it is understandable that the producer and their team will expect everyone to think it amazing, how couldn’t they after their concentrated long-hours? Christine says, “Not everyone is going to like it, nor should they be expected to.” If you want to produce controversial work, or work that is going to be seen for its difference (often the only way in a saturated independent market, like today) then you have to keep a level head and respect peoples opinions. Okay, if it’s your last chance at a distributor and they read it completely backwards, feel free to go out into the backyard and scream a little.

Find Christine on Twitter.

Her book can be bought on Amazon by clicking here.


A New Generation of Filmmakers


The 1990’s gave us a new wave of independent cinema icons. Richard Linklater burst onto the scene in 1993 with his socially irresponsible and irresistible Dazed and Confused, Quentin Tarantino with his simply “bad-ass movie” Reservoir Dogs (1992), Kevin Smith with his weird and wondrous Clerks (1994) and, perhaps most significantly (at least in terms of working around a micro budget), Robert Rodriguez with his entertaining and striking El Mariachi. There are plenty more innovating directors I could list (Steven Soderbergh, M. Night Shyamalan, Danny Boyle, Larry Clark, Edward Burns etc.), but I’m sure you follow my bearing.

There has since been the likes of Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore), Paul Thomas Anderson (Hard Eight, Boogie Nights), Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream), Christopher Nolan (Following, Memento) and Alexander Payne (Citizen Ruth, Election) all emerging as significantly powerful and vital figures in independent cinema from the late 1990s. All these directors indeed still continue to make great films, even if the forte of their later work (Nolan and Aronofsky in particular) has been pilfered by Hollywood into blockbuster fair.

Here, I am arguing that there is a gap, a space for a new generation of filmmakers to make micro-budget films. It has been twenty years since Tarantino made Pulp Fiction and studios began taking independent cinema seriously and creating separate branches for distribution (Miramax Films, Fox Searchlight, Focus Features etc.) This gap for new talent is filling up fast (just look at what Steve McQueen and Martin McDonagh have managed to achieve in the last 10 years) and it is time to step on that bandwagon.

That is why, my friend Chee Keong Cheung, who has written, directed and produced three successful feature films in the climate of the 21st century, wants to help support a new generation of filmmaking talent. He has teamed up with Carlos Gallardo, the producer behind the El Mariachi trilogy and long time friend and collaborator of Rodriguez to bring you a masterclass in filmmaking. Better still, Mark Strange, who has worked alongside action legends Donnie Yen, Jackie Chan and Cary Tagawa as a stunt performer, fight choreographer, actor and producer will also be attending. These three stimulating individuals are offering an intense full day of discussion and teaching for only £99. This is the masterclass.


These guys know the independent film business. From signing distribution deals to negotiating releases they have been through it all and come out on top. This masterclass is for people who are serious about the film business and furthering their career in film. Yet, it is also ideal for writers, directors, producers, film students, and even casting directors or line producers who are just starting out in their careers. Carlos, Chee and Mark have played their cards in all areas of the film production process from special effects and stunt performing to executive producing and financing. Learn about the films that re-defined cinema and learn how to put your stamp in todays market. Cinema is forever changing.

Find out more and book tickets for the masterclass here.

Watch this El Mariachi tribute below:


The Limelight Index: Maria Reinup – Writer/Director


Maria is a bountiful and passionate young female filmmaker from Estonia. I had the pleasure of seeing her powerful short film Mai last year at Leeds Film Festival. The film is an incredibly impressive debut and completely blew me away. Fortunately, I have been able to catch up with Maria and ask her a few questions about her passions for film and the future of the industry.

She is currently wrapping her second short film, stills from which are shown below. (Stills by Andre Visnapuu).

When did you first become interested in filmmaking?

I am not the kind, who can recall wanting to make films since their childhood. I had TV at home until I was 6, then it broke down, my hippie-father sang “hallelujah!” threw it out and I never had one again. It took me a while before I got used to the audiovisual medium. Over the course of growing up – there was three influential films and the course itself that led me into the point I realized – filmmaking is for me. The Matrix was the first film I saw on big screen, then some years later 2046, which absolutely blew me and then in a few more years I got to see Bicycle Thieves. In some odd way, seeing these three films – the possibility to bend reality (not to say the future), the vision to make paintings alive and the fact how movies can touch you – was my early film school. Meanwhile, I did every job there was – from selling diapers via phone to being a chef in Barcelona. And it was when I was living in Spain after graduating high school, that I started noticing my diary I kept at the time was filling up with ideas for clips, videos or films. Then, on the set of my first music video, I felt it, I felt the magic.


How did the idea for your short film Mai come about?

The story of Mai is a story that happened to me. I took the last bus from the suburbs of the city and there was just a friend with me on it that left after one stop. Two drug addicts entered, one of them in a really bad condition. And it was just the drug addicts and I. The bus driver did not care, nor did the people who slowly started to fill up the bus, as we were driving towards the center. I remember being there, when I had already called the ambulance, waiting for the right stop and thinking, “Really, is ignorance a bliss?” The fact how little we care… I don’t have words for this.

How did you attain distribution for your film?

In Estonia there is a quite unique deal for the short films – the professional shorts are compiled into one screening under a suitable name and then they hit the cinemas, marketing done accordingly. So for example, Mai was in the cinema together with 5 other shorts from the past 2 years. As a big production company, Allfilm, produced my short, I had not much to do with the distribution, the producer and the company took care of that. Also, they do most of the festival circulation.


What are your plans for the future as a filmmaker?

I am currently in post-production with my second short, called Mann Tanzt. This is a very different film from the themes I am usually interested in. It’s about a man who finds a glowing cube in the middle of nowhere, and when he enters it, he realizes it’s a phone booth. Also, I am writing the script for my third short, which we will hopefully shoot this autumn. It is a story about two young women meeting through couch surfing at the verge of different difficult events in their lives and those getting mixed up. Slowly, but firmly, I am developing my first feature with a wonderful co-director Anna Hints, which is a very personal film under the working title I am, if everybody likes me and a script for another feature – a revenge picture. So, that’s easy. I have no other plans than to make the films I want to do. What bliss it would be if I could make films until I die and make a living in doing so.

Do you have high prospects for the Estonian film industry?

Estonia gained its independency after the Soviet Union collapsed in the beginning of the 1990’s. Along the old system falling into pieces, we lost the handicraft and big studios that we were used to being connected with (film stock tickling the 35mm cameras, films were made year around, big productions).  Not only did we have to build up our economy again, we also had to redefine our cinema – its funding systems and in a way, our cinematic language. Its about 15 years from the day our Film Foundation was established and gave out its first production grant. The system is developing and getting better, a change is thus happening, along with the fact that the generation of the Soviet titans (filmmakers who worked with Tarkovsky, or on the productions during Soviet times) is about to fade and the gap will be filled with the new generation. So the new era is almost here, but a reality check is always helpful – Estonia is a country of 1.4 million people (audience numbers equals money) and with no proper distribution system, meaning digitalized cinemas (which until today is just a few screens), distribution is not really working hand in hand with the productions.


Why is it you love films and making them?

Besides being a filmmaker, I am also a festival programmer – my job is to watch movies. With both of these positions I find myself falling in love with movies over and over again. I love everything about it – from the making of films, upon seeing one on the big screen, but why? To me there are three simple reasons for that: as a young filmmaker I sincerely and really believe that you are able to deliver a message that matters and thus might be able to change something. I see the art of escapism and the need of it. Last but not least, to either make people think or entertained, or both, is simply wonderful and above all other mediums to me.

If I ever had a super power, I’d like to time travel. Damn, dreaming of that makes me itch. In a way watching films is like scratching that itch – suddenly I can not only time travel, but I can be anything! A taxi driver or a small happy pig, see places all over the world, get introduced to different cultures, to the fears and dreams of the humankind. How is that something you don’t love?

Finally, any advice on the industry?

I will say one thing: success means hard work. And a personal touch to this – it starts to make sense when you realize that you have to really love your work first.

Below is a short teaser for Mai (unfortunately it isn’t subtitled but you will sense the urgency!)


Asleep at the Bottom of the Pack – The Movie Extra


Film extras need to have a certain agenda i.e. not a lot of pride. If you begin the day with pride in your stride, you will walk away gasping in despair. Ricky Gervais really did hit the nail on the head with his comical representation of extras in his TV hit of the same name. The reason I say this is because last week I had the pleasure of being an extra. I received a call to work on BBC’s period drama Johnathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

There are a few reasons why it was a worthwhile opportunity. To be a good film director, you need to gather a degree of experience in every role on set. There is surely no better way to project a feeling of unity as a director if you know exactly what everyone is going through. So it was nice to sit back and watch everyone work – the tension of the 1st AD as he kept looking down at his watch, the sparks as they all ran around close to tripping up over the obstacle course in front of them and the costume dailies as they darted back and forth between takes pulling up collars and sleeves etc. There was also the fact that BBC pays their extras rather well!

However, the behind-the-scenes experience wasn’t quite as fruitful, at least for the extra, as I had expected. Mingling with anyone other than extras is like staring at the horns of a dragon. Instead, when not needed, we would be locked up in what they called “the green room” – a room where extras sat falling asleep, playing cards or talking about past experiences of similar anguish. I decided to be slightly more pro-active, at lunchtime I headed over to the 3rd AD for a chat about the production and his work… he gaped at me, gave a hesitant non-existent answer and turned around to chat to someone else. Fair enough.

Lunch was surprisingly plentiful and tasty. Roast dinners were followed by sponge cake and custard. The only problem was actually getting to the food. The queue seemed to move backwards as grips and electricians continued to flood in. Though you can’t blame crew for pushing in, they are actually doing a job and working hard rather than walking aimlessly backwards and forwards, and out of focus I might add.


(Unfortunately, the snapchat bogus above is the only image I managed to capture, but it seems to sum up the few days pretty well. Left: myself – Right: a good fellow stranger called Lee).

“The green room” did host some ingenious fun and games. A fellow extra started a round tournament for throwing plastic cups (previously containing hot tea) into a distant paper bin. Accuracy was greatly impeded by the fact that arm and shoulder movement was vastly limited in tight 19th century waistcoats and jackets. If you tried to loosen your jacket (and breathe), costume would be through the door screaming at your back. They are like a team of hawks and you do not want to get on the wrong side of their leader, the costume designer! Make-up and hair provide a similar shot of sharp-sighted glares.

Other games included movie trivia with a an extra who rather fancied himself as a Marty Scorsese, a movie buff who I could pass the next five hours with. This was turning out to be a fun day and a great way to bring in the cash. We played another game – I don’t know how better to describe it: name the film, name an actor from that film, name another film with that actor, name another actor from that film etc. until you get stuck. However, some extras were incredibly tame individuals and others remarkably self-possessed. To be frank, the whole clout could make rather a good theatrical component itself!

The show is airing in 2015 next January. See you then!


The Limelight Index: Robin Schmidt – Writer/Director

Robin Schmidt headshot

Robin Schmidt is a highly prolific London based filmmaker. He’s directed plenty of things from extreme sports to music videos. However, the director talks to me about his step into directing drama and recently wrapping on his first feature film. Robin was also recently named ‘One to Watch’ by MovieScope Magazine.

Robin has some very interesting and explosive ideas and opinions to give about the film industry, so be sure to read on and comment below.

When did you first get into filmmaking?

I fell into filmmaking; it was never my original intention to become a filmmaker. When I grew up I used to play piano and sing a lot, this was what my parents invested a lot of time in. Film was what other people did. After leaving university, I got into the idea of become a TV presenter which I pursued for a while, but this never quite pulled off. I ended up getting a job with my brother in a marketing consultancy and happened across doing some market research. They put me in charge of their camera and let me have a go editing the thing on the first version of Final cut pro – when iMacs had just come about. As it turned out, I ended up getting interest in this and eventually wanted to do my own TV commercial projects, still with the idea of becoming a presenter.

I ended up making a ski film with a couple of guys who became the trio of our production company in 2002. From here, I just taught myself and knuckled down in London making videos for clients.

It’s a lot easier now to deliver good results of the back of little money. However, back when we were doing it to get a product that looked good and maintain the appearance of being professional was very difficult. So, we learnt a lot, made a lot of mistakes, but built ourselves a decent business around producing videos for extreme sports and more recently, music videos.

You’ve done a lot of commercial work, but when did fiction and storytelling really draw you?

It’s always been there. I look back at our early stuff and we were always informed by the desire to make our stuff feel like film. I think everyone has this desire when they start out; cinema inspires them.

The harsh reality of filmmaking is that you either do the LA thing and you struggle through networking out there from the bottom up, or you go your own route and make a day-to-day business. Unfortunately, you have to make something that you can sell, which means keeping professional. But, in my mind, creativity is boundless; there should be no bounds. So basically, the course of working as a professional, is working out what projects deserve your utmost attention and only giving your time were it is necessary. However, at the top level of filmmaking, this attitude shouldn’t be a consideration. To me, this spirit has been muted by the needs of running a company and being a professional.

In 2009, I left my company to become a freelance professional and started successfully blogging (visit Robin’s blog here). This coincided with the craze of DSLR filmmaking, which really got me excited and enthusiastic again. The result of this was getting excited about work everyday and moving into creating narrative fiction in such a way that I could build a career of it.

Do you still shoot on DSLRs?

I don’t shoot anything on a DSLR now. I used to for about a year and a half, but they’re a bit of a pain in the ass for anything that isn’t a weekend passion job. I wanted a proper movie camera and got an FS100. But, I hate DSLR’s now.

I came across your interesting article on ‘nofilmschool’ about proposing a new distribution model for short films. Could you expand on that idea a bit here?

Basically there are a few things going on. I think that filmmaking is at a crossroads right now because you here debates about whether studios are investing their money in the right kind of projects, whether the business side of film is suffering the creativity. For example, even filmmakers like Martin Scorsese are struggling to get their projects of the ground, which is a great shame. We know these guys at the top of their game aren’t going to mess around. Who’s going to say no to wanting to see Scorsese’s new film? The problem is that this filters down to the likes of us younger ones trying to build our careers, where do I sit amongst all this?


I’m currently in the weird transitional stage where I’ve made my first feature film, so I’m there, but really I’m not there at all. Ultimately we want bigger budgets to get our projects of the ground, which is becoming harder and harder to happen. Where I was heading with the article, was basically to approach the health of the ladder for emerging filmmakers to promising filmmaker to establishing filmmaker. I also approach why short filmmaking content is no longer of any interest to people. We all know that there are more short films getting made than ever before, but there’s so much stuff out there that it seems very difficult for people to get seen. I want to re-spin the idea so that it benefits everyone. There’s also a notion of a selfish audience that no one really talks about. You here things like, know your audience and speak to your audience all the time, but frankly, no one knows what it really means.

There’s a lot of chat surrounding filmmaking in general, most of it is rubbish and there to sell workshops. People don’t know their audience or understand what they really want.

It’s surely hard to predict exactly what someone wants to see; you can’t really know what goes on in the mind of who watches your film?

I don’t think that’s true at all; I believe it is absolutely possible. When you watch your own film you are the audience. I have my own theories on this, but in terms of screenwriting, you won’t hear any screenwriting books talk about the viewer. They’ll talk about character arcs and everything else, but to me all of this subsides to your viewer’s journey, their arc. I find it baffling; the person who views your end product is most important.

So, at the moment, my overriding obsession is about the journey of the viewer through my story. How can I manage that process? In doing so, I can get to know my audience. I come from a marketing background where we do an incredible amount of work understanding what our consumer needs and their experiences, yet as filmmakers we never seem to talk about that.

My argument for the narrative short film distribution was basically to try and see if you could revalue short film as an extension of the artist; the filmmaker as the artist. It needs to be raised above the morass of other short film content that’s out there.

There would an interesting dynamic at play if the guys with the money could invest in statistics of a filmmaker’s trend, which would be made more accessible by respecting short films. It’s a complex and difficult subject, but the overall idea was to try and map the structure from the art world onto the film world.

Everyone keeps talking about the same model or mode of transaction, I create, you buy, done. This is so out molded and inappropriate for short film content, I thought maybe there was another way to look at it. Read the article here.

Would you say that a lot of people are now jumping straight into making features because of this dilemma?

I can’t dictate what someone should do, I mean if they want to make a feature, then let them. Having been through this process, there are quite a few harsh realities that need to be taken on board. You can make a feature film for £1.50. It’s possible, but whether it’s any good or not is another thing.

The question is: what are you going to do once you’ve made it? The thing with a feature film is that it’s a commercial property, a piece of business. If you’re going to make a feature as a learning process, then I’d suggest just making a short film. The pain and sheer buggery of making a feature film is such that you need there to be a pay off at the end. Producing a feature film is incredibly difficult. Getting all your ducks in a row with no money is a great challenge.

I commend people who jump straight into features, but you are best served doing your learning in short form.

I’ve doing something a bit silly which is made a 40-minute short film.

Not marketable?

Yeah it has no commercial value at all. It falls right in the middle. However, I have a different plan for it, for me it’s about exposure and putting a different idea down.

Can you tell us a bit more about your feature film After Death?

Basically, the film is a take on the horror genre, put a group of kids in a room ad chop them up. However, it’s done in our own way, which is basically to say that everyone is actually dead before the film even starts. You wake up in hell, what are you going to do? There’s plenty of ideas and philosophy floating around.

We assembled an entire cast of woman, we shot it in 12 days, low budget, and it was a lot of fun! It’s very much a calling card film. I’m realistic and know that I’ll need to make a second film to be successful.


Would you say it’s better to have multiple projects on the go, or just to focus on one?

I don’t know. I do a lot of different stuff: my writing partner and I write for a successful comedy channel. However, what I like to focus on mostly is narrative drama. It’s the most challenging and fun, there’s so much to learn and so many great people. It can be a fantastic job when you let it be. I love it.

Can you sum up why you love filmmaking?

There are lots of things that make it up. Firstly, it’s a great ego trip, I won’t lie. There’s always a buzz about being on set. I also enjoy it because I’m good at it, because it’s demanding, challenging and gets the best out of me. More than anything else, I enjoy it because, at the heart of it, I love film and the opportunity to give other people the great experience they get when watching a film, to me that’s everything.

What advice would you give to filmmakers starting out?

I would say a few things. One is, find a mentor. There’s so much information out there you can access, so many great people to hook up with who are at your level. But, find someone who is much better than you and use him or her as a sounding board for what you want to do, in a polite manor of course. It’s so easy to get lost and not get any feedback, so find someone who is going to be honest with you when it sucks. Too many people, say “oh yeah it’s great.” I have a few people that I mentor right now, and care passionately about giving them good feedback on what they do.

When I was growing up and doing lots of stuff, I would’ve loved someone to say why don’t you just try this? This is knowledge that you won’t get from blogs; you get it from experience by going and doing it.

My second piece of advice is taking your time. Filmmaking is something that takes time. There are no shortcuts, and if you do try and take one, you will most likely get chewed up and spat out. It’s so rare for people to come in early, young and succeed.

My third piece of advice is probably to draw on influences that aren’t necessarily film. Go and see contemporary dance, go to art shows, whatever. There’s so much exposure to TV and film, but you want to be open to other art forms and you can draw influence from these areas. I particularly find stage and theatre work fascinating. So, take a step back and look at other stuff from time to time.

Thanks for your time Robin. 

Watch the trailer for After Death below:

Or, check out this hilarious short film directed by Robin:


16 Invaluable Online Resources for Filmmakers

In this new age there is endless content online for research, teaching, streaming, shopping, literally anything. I wonder, who needs school?

I always refer back to similar websites for training resources, various articles and film industry gossip. Below is a list I’ve compiled of all my favourite (top 16) resources for the independent filmmaker. These range from sites to help you get your movie made to those that fill your mind with futile trivia.



John August – Learn everything you need to know about screenwriting with John August and his team – it’s that simple!

Writer’s Room – BBC writer’s room offers lots of useful tips on the craft of writing and opportunities for aspiring writers.

Craft and Technique:


Phillip Bloom – A productive site on cinematography and filmmaking run by Phillip Bloom.

Vincent Laforet – Legendary photographer and DP Vincent Laforet shares workshops, tutorials and reviews on his highly resourceful blog.



Video Copilot – Andrew Kramer is a stunning visual effects artist who shares all his knowledge via insightful and entertaining online tutorials.

Red Giant Software – The most innovative software for filmmakers and a great community of visual artists.



Short Film Depot – A great shortcut for submitting your short film to festivals.

Festhome – Another great submission centre for shorts and features.

Film Buzz:


Indiewire – Essential for film fans. I could spend a week on this website.

Raindance – It may be a film festival, but the website is full of interesting articles and news for independent filmmakers.

Social Networks:


Stage 32 – A great networking site for film and theatre professionals. Share projects, find work and get paid!

Vimeo – The platform for good quality videos, which is largely a network of filmmakers and videographers looking to share work, get feedback and collaborate.



Shooting People – Enter monthly film competitions, find out about events and read great blogs!

My First Job in Film – A vast database for all the latest graduate jobs in the film industry and a nice place to share your work!



MUBI – Bringing you a fresh independent film each day and expert critique, MUBI is simply brilliant!

IndieRiegn – Distribute your own films and discover a world of others.

It’s official: I love the internet.