I was recently fortunate enough to be accepted by the National Youth Film Academy onto the ten-day Set Ready course, aimed at helping young filmmakers find their way into the industry.
INT. THE WORDOLOGY CAVE – NIGHT
A vast and cluttered space, filled with dictionaries, pens, paper and tea. Lots and lots of tea. At its heart is a LAPTOP, the screen softly GLOWING in the half-light. Sitting in front of it is THE READER.
The door swings open. Stumbling into the room is THE WORDOLOGIST – dishevelled, looking and feeling older than his twenty-three years, but somehow still strikingly handsome.
The Reader leaps up, startled.
What’s happened? Where have you been?
The Wordologist looks disgruntled at that perfectly centred text and his blog’s inability to accurately replicate screenplay formatting.
All will be revealed. Now move. I need to write.
Beckoning the Reader aside, the Wordologist takes a seat in front of the laptop. He stretches his fingers and begins to write.
It’s been a while since I last wrote on this blog (no change there, then), but I can happily report I have been busy in my absence. A lot has happened that I could (and hopefully eventually will) write about, but right now I want to focus on the big one: my time on the National Youth Film Academy’s Set Ready course.
For two weeks at the end of August, I tried to readjust to living in university halls, met some amazing aspiring filmmakers, received some wonderful insight into the film industry, and made some incredible friends. Oh, and wrote a short film that premiered on an IMAX-sized screen.
For those unfamiliar with the National Youth Film Academy (NYFA – and if you want to start a career in film, I highly recommend becoming familiar with them), it was founded by Rob Earnshaw – who thankfully did not follow his childhood dream of becoming the best binman he could be – to foster young film talent in the UK. NYFA sets about this through two courses delivered by industry professionals, connecting its members with job opportunities and by serving as a platform from which young actors and filmmakers can network with one another. Personally, I have found the opportunity to meet and network with other new filmmakers the most rewarding part of the NYFA experience. As I write these words, I am on my way to discuss plans for future filmmaking endeavours with some of my fellow NYFA members.
So, what happened during my time on the course? After arriving at the accommodation (University of Greenwich’s student halls) and reliving the half-forgotten experience of moving into student halls – a weird mix of homely familiarity and feeling slightly out of place – I got to know a few of my course-mates over dinner and talked about what might be lying in store for us when we got started the next day. The morning brought a bus trip to Ravensbourne University, an impressive venue directly opposite the O2, where the course was to be hosted. We collected our NYFA uniforms, sorted ourselves into our assigned groups and had a welcome talk with Rob and Jonny Hall (NYFA’s General Manager). During the talk, we were told that our final films would be shown on an IMAX screen – more than a little daunting, considering: a) most of us had never had our work on any kind of cinema screen before and b) we had ten days to develop, write, shoot, edit and finish our films.
We then met with our group mentors. My group had the pleasure of working with writer/director/actor Francesco Gabriele (Blue Hollywood, Italian Miracle). I cannot stress enough how much we all appreciated Francesco’s mentorship or how much we benefited from his input. Having this direct support from someone with real experience of the film industry was one of the most incredible opportunities the course had to offer and helped us push our filmmaking to a more professional standard.
Introductions out of the way, the filmmaking began. Day one was a lot of brainstorming to settle on a final story idea. Then my co-writer, Joe Allan, and I spent the whole night – until about 2 in the morning – working on a first draft, to be presented to the group the following day. One read-through and a bunch of feedback later and we were writing up our second draft the following night – this time up until about 4 in the morning, desperately trying to keep ourselves awake and get that ending right! Cue another read-through, a few minor tweaks and our script work was done and ready to be handed over to our director, cast and crew to be brought to life.
While our group was hard at work on the filming (we writers occasionally giving our input when needed), we attended a series of workshops and lectures, all designed to give us an understanding of what it is like starting out and breaking into the film industry. We found out about how and when to seek out a producer or an agent, the varying roles of writers along the long path to a final film, different routes into the industry and how to pitch and sell your ideas. I won’t start repeating everything our wonderful speakers and tutors talked about, but if you feel these are the gaps in your knowledge that need to be overcome before you can make the leap into writing/filmmaking professionally, the NYFA may be the place for you to look.
Outside of our focused talks on writing, we also had a masterclass with the amazing Phil Meheux, cinematographer of Casino Royale, a talk on distribution with Matt Smith of Lionsgate (not the Doctor Who actor!) and a behind-the-scenes look of the stunning VFX on Ready Player One with VFX editor Daniele Bigi, among other talks from other impressive names.
The end of the course. A lot of tears and emotion after two weeks of incredible bonding, creativity and all-out fun (I’ve not even touched on what went on back at the accommodation and in the bars, outside of course hours – but maybe some stories are best left untold!). But somewhere in the midst of our nerves and goodbyes and excitement was the premiere of twelve short films. Watching ours, finished, in all its glory on a massive IMAX screen was spectacular. Nail-bitingly nerve-racking, but ultimately spectacular. I’ve made short films with friends in the past and I’ve been there from start to finish, involved in the writing, directing, acting and editing. This time I had worked on a script and then hovered on the outskirts of filming and seen very little from the edit. It wasn’t until the screening that I got to see the final product; mine and Joe’s words from a couple of sleepless nights just ten days ago brought to life, the fruits of our group’s labours. And I could not be prouder of our film, Blame.
One bustling wrap party and a lot of tears later and it was all over. Two weeks’ worth of exhaustion set in all at once, as I sat in a restaurant with my girlfriend and a couple of my best friends, whom I had invited along to the screening, and I felt myself drifting back to wherever it was I had been before these two mind-blowing weeks. Except, not quite.
Fast forward to now, after the meeting with my fellow group members I mentioned earlier. Our time at NYFA really was just the beginning. We have our new production company set up and ready to go. I have just spent the last two weeks casting and recruiting for my next short film. We’re seeking funding for the project through the NYFA’s £1K Challenge opportunity for members and should find out if we were successful before the end of the month (fingers crossed!). And if we’re not, the first thing we do will be to look at other funding options to keep this film going. Like I said, being introduced to a network of other budding young filmmakers was undoubtedly the best thing to come out of my time with NYFA and already new projects are on the horizon. I cannot wait to get started.
As anyone who was on the course will know, this wouldn’t be a proper NYFA blog post if I didn’t mention Rob’s infamous words of wisdom: “It’s not what you know or who you know – it’s who knows you.” Well, with the projects I’m working on right now, it would be great if I could put myself on a few more professionals’ radars. But what’s of real value to me, as a member of a new generation of creatives perched atop an untapped well of fresh perspectives and stories to tell, is that some of the country’s most promising and sure-to-be magnificent future filmmakers now know me. And I could not be happier to know all of them.