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What do you tell a 17 year old who wants to direct? 2002

These are my notes. I gave this talk to a group of 15 teenagers who fancy their chances in TV or Film.

I’ll come back to this in time and make it more coherent prose.

1) Do it

2) Be Obsessive

3) Think like a producer/director/presenter

4) Get Trained

5) Gain Experience

6) Be Popular

7) Be Professional

8) Go there/be there

9) Be Inspired/Enthusiastic

10) Early Success

I then showed a short film ‘Listening In’ that I produced, directed and wrote that was bought by Channel 4 (shot on 16mm film).

I then spent 30 minutes offering the following detail:

1) Do it

If you want to be a Producer

Producer – Business End, raises the money – or has control over large sums of money. Or has major influence on the money being made available.

Primarily spend it, make a profit. Depending on the scale of the project will have a team of assistant producers, production assistants. Line producers and accountants …

Budget, Schedule, Script

Make a film, get a script (own, short story) … work out how much it’ll cost, organise it, shoot, edit, and show it.

Make a short ‘How to …. ‘ video

Put on a play, one act … manage a stand up comedian and take them to the Brighton Festival and Edinburgh Fringe

Manager a band.


Mother Teresa, on her death bed, asked if she would have liked to have done something else with her life, said she wanted to direct …

Put on a short play, make a short film or news story or documentary.

Do a photo story.

Read scripts.

Read fiction, visualise stories, work out how you’d edit it for TV or film.

Analyse the kind of work that interests you.

How was it shown. Where did they put the camera.


Journalist. Investigate. Write to local press. Get letters published, get articles published. Get an education. Specialise. Give a talk.

Jenny and James Wilby.


Be brilliant at your favourite sport. It helps! Olympic swimmers, international footballers, cricket and tennis players end up presenting. Get on the inside track. Write from your perspective.

However, guy desperate t present, trained as a journalist, did a bit of breakfast TV … but despite his obsessive determination he had neither the voice, nor the face …

2) Be obsessive

Do it

Watch TV selectively (time sequences, scenes and shots)

Build a video collection

Read the media pages of the national press

Get Broadcast and Screen International

Bookmark web pages

Study every book on the subject.

Become confident without being cocky.

3) Think like:

A producer

Camera crews, sound vehicles, parking, insurance, day or half day, over nights. getting in back. £

A director

Where will you put the camera. Live, then at least three camera angles and shot sizes. Single camera, fiction, what variety of shots to give it pace and interest.

A journalist

Who will you interview What is your paper’s stance? What do you know already? Can you get a picture.

A presenter

Similar questions, background, time (3 words per second hair, make-up … tone. Link from … hand over.

Any others?

4) Get trained


National Film and Television School

Short course editing




Leading universities: drama, film & TV

Aim for UCLA …

Little things: typing, computer skills, basic editing on a digital suite … (log) energy (carrying kit, endurance in bad weather) making coffee/supplying sandwiches.

5) Gain experience:

Do it …

Holiday job

Film extra … wanted to be behind the camera, not in front of it


‘Best Boy’

Help on a film school film

Shadow a journalist, producer or director

Production Assistant

The knack of getting in:

Do your research, ring ‘Broadcast’ for UK TV, read ‘Screen International’ for film.

Ring them, go round

Ask for advice/help

Visit BBC, Pinewood and Shepperton.

Visit studios and edit suites

6) Be popular

Teams assemble, disassemble, then reassemble. Hire a lighting cameraman, they find an operator and assistant.

Get yourself known ‘who you know’ … ear to the ground.

Have a database of contacts.

7) Be professional

On time. Do your utmost. Build a reputation for excellence.

Register as freelance

Claim expenses

Save to pay Tax

Be realistic …. not a hobby, but a business

Money matters

On contract or freelance.

how make money …

Never claim you can do something that you cannot …

‘Career progression is incremental’

Runner to junior editor to senior editor to own business

Production Assistant to production manager to producer to senior producer

Director of short film, to more shorts, TV drama (or radio, or theatre) to series

Director of documentaries, to mini series

Director of low budget movie, to medium budget movie to ‘real’ movie.

Presenter on hospital radio, on local radio, on local TV …

Wildlife photographer is the director …

8) Go there/be there





Hong Kong

Also Poland

… even Germany or France

Film makers are like a travelling circus …

Producers go to Cannes

9) Be inspired/enthusiastic

Originality, but also find inspiration in the things around you. Have a point of view.

Join NPA

Go to National Theatre and BAFTA

Hear the greats

Win awards:

Kodak Short Film, Cannes Short Film … even an Oscar for short film

Grants: Lewis, Southern, various …

10) Early success

Need it on your C.V.

Builds recognition.

Early success will give you confidence, something you will need lots of if you are going to survive, let alone succeed.

And Finally

Youth is on your side

Like Pop Idol, everyone loves to see young people succeed, you will get the breaks …

‘Put all your eggs in one basket, then look after the basket’ Carnagie.

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