New British Cinema: Lessons for filmmakers

New British Cinema here at Storyhouse is part of our mission to showcase the best of new independent homegrown films, giving debut British directors a platform for their films. This summer Storyhouse has hosted a series of Q&A screenings with some of these directors including Old Boys director Toby MacDonald (which you can read about here), Bill Buckhurst director of Pond Life (read more here) and director of Last Summer, Jon Jones. One of our Young Content Creators and filmmakers, Matt, was at hand to compile some of the most inspiring advice for filmmakers from these new British directors.


New British Cinema: Lessons for filmmakers

Over the past few months Storyhouse has had the privilege of screening a series of films by first time British directors. Coming from an array of backgrounds, these directors have all found themselves making waves in independent cinema, but how? The prospect of making a film for the first time can be just as daunting as it can be exciting. Thankfully throughout this season Storyhouse has played host to three fantastic debut directors in a series of Q&A’s; Bill Buckhurst (Pond Life), Toby MacDonald (Old Boys) and Jon Jones (Last Summer), sharing their stories of getting their first films onto the big screen. Here are some of the top tips for aspiring filmmakers I have gathered throughout this season:


Start Small

This may sound like a common-sense suggestion; however, it is amazing how easy it is for even the best creatives to get carried away within their own ideas. One of the best advocates for this theory is Toby MacDonald, who it took 18 years from his first noteworthy short film Je t’aime John Wayne to get to his first feature in Old Boys. During this time MacDonald honed his craft working on various short films and entering them into film festivals to great acclaim, building his reputation within the industry. As your reputation grows, as does your contacts, you become a wiser investment in the eyes of those who may finance your films. So while you may have your feature length magnum opus of a script ready and raring to go, perhaps consider putting that on hold until you have the clout to pull it off. Film festivals are always seeking good quality short films, as a first-time filmmaker you are going to find it easier to get your film in front of an audience if it’s under 10 minutes than you are with a full-length feature. This is a patient approach, but Toby MacDonald and many other directors have shown this to be a great way to begin your career.

For a list of recommended film festivals to enter short films, particularly for young filmmakers, check out this guide by the BFI.


Look for funding

Films can be expensive. This comes as no secret, even films considered low budget independent films can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to produce. However, funding does exist. Jon Jones, director of Last Summer approached Film Cymru with his Welsh-based script, getting them on-board provided a platform to then seek additional funding from Great Point Media, a company that specialises in funding entertainment. Similarly, Bill Buckhurst, Pond Life director applied for funding from Open Palm Productions, a company devoted to bringing new stories to the big screen and providing a platform for storytelling. It’s impossible to rely solely on the idea of securing funding, as the majority of projects fail in their bid, however it is most certainly worth doing your homework as to what financial support is out there.

For a non-exhaustive list of funding available in the UK, click here.


Make the film you want to see

There are two trains of thought on how to decide just what to write a script about. Toby MacDonald made a point that you can benefit from researching what film festivals are screening and either, what is popular or what is missing. This is what he did, by making a comedy short that stood out at a time when gritty social realism was dominating British film festivals. However, this shouldn’t dictate your approach entirely. With each director comes an undeniable passion and attachment to the subject matter of their films. Bill Buckhurst displaying his affection for how life functioned in a time before mobile phones and the internet in Pond Life, Jon Jones wanting to bring his childhood wonder to the screen in Last Summer and Toby MacDonald, exploring why British men are so bad at talking to women. There is a personal connection to each of these films which comes across when you view the finished piece. There is a real emphasis on simply having something to say. Being clear on what kind of story you want to tell or what message you want the audience to take away from your film. All these filmmakers throughout the New British Cinema season are very conscious of why they want to tell these stories, this feels a very important step to consider early on when creating a film.


Just do it

This is perhaps the most crucial lesson of all to take away from this season. No matter what experience you have at your disposal, there comes a point where you must stop thinking and start doing. Toby MacDonald is a keen advocate of the “Film School for Self” approach, where the best way to learn is by doing. The advances in technology at our disposal now mean that in his own admission, a good film “can be made using a mobile phone”. What you have in terms of technology or skills may force you to have to be creative in your approach, but it does not mean you can’t begin making films of your own. There are things you can do in order to better prepare you, applying for roles as a runner on sets may give you an understanding of how film sets work. Going to university or on filmmaking courses may help develop your technical skills. However, all roads lead to Rome. There is no better experience than you can gain from picking up a camera and giving it a go. Be brave and put yourself out there, learn from your mistakes and start building a body of work. Most importantly; enjoy yourself doing it, if there’s anything I’ve gained from hearing these directors speak, it’s that filmmaking is a labour of love.

For more director Q&A’s join us for Are You Proud? where Ashley Joiner will be with us discussing her documentary on LGBTQ+ activism. 

To continue championing New British Cinema, tickets for Gwenthe debut feature by William McGregor staring Maxine Peak are on sale now.

This article was written by one of our Young Content Creators, an initiative ran in conjunction with Young Storyhouse to provide budding content creators paid opportunities to showcase their unique voices within Storyhouse’s digital channels.

Young Content Creators are supported by Film Hub North, awarding funds from The National Lottery.