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All in Good Time

Talkback Session Transcript

Question 1

What advice would you give to someone wanting to become a director?


The good news is that it is a lot easier now and I tell you why. The weird thing is that you are only a director when you make a film., There are no qualifications for being a director and there is no set way up. There are people called assistant directors but they are quite different. They don’t really do any directing, they do the organising. There is no route so the only way that you are going to be a director is to direct something and then show it to people and say pretty good huh? And for them to say, yeah ok lets try something else. When I came out of university, when I was in my 20s, you’d have to have 10s of thousands of pounds to make any sort of film, even a short one because you needed cameras and film stock and it need to processed in a labrotory, professional equipment. These days one of these cameras and an iMac or any kind of home computer and you’re in the film business. That just wasn’t available to me. I know that I sound terribly old, oh in my day there weren’t even computers… But there wasn’t. What I’m incredibly jealous of for people you’re age and I genuinely am incredibly jealous is that there is absolutely no reason now why you can’t go out and make a little film. All you need is a story. And you can get your friends to be it and you can shoot it on, even a pocket stills camera now shoots great quality video now. You know, anything. Even your phone, there are professional films being shot now on iPhones and I have a little app on my iPhone that came with Mission Impossible that allows you to do special effects. You can create planes crashing in your own bedroom and it costs 1.99. I’m so jealous of that and it is all quite different. When people used to ask me how to become a film director I’d have a long long answer but now I just say ‘go out and make a film’. And there is no reason why you should spend any money on it at all. Just go and shoot some stuff on your phone, edit it on your computer, put some music on and if you are any good at it, it will immediately show. If anyone ever sees it and thinks that it is good then you are in. It’s as simple as that so I am incredibly jealous of that.

Question 2

Is it hard is it to get the balance between humor and drama in your films?


Yes and all my films have lots of comedy and jokes and laughter and then it gets a bit serious and people feel emotions and sometimes it goes back to being funny and trying to balance those two things out is really hard. Quite often when you are making a film and you are trying to make it funny an actor will come up with an idea and you see it and it is really funny. Even the crew and laughing and it takes a lot to make a crew laugh because they are incredibly jaded and tired. But sometimes you have to say, yes that’s incredibly funny and its making us all laugh but it’s wrong and its wrong because that character in that place wouldn’t do that. It may be funny now and it may even be funny in the editing room when we look at the scene on its own but if we put it into this story it won’t be funny or it may be funny but it will destabilise this scene down here because people will go people will go, I thought I knew this person but now they have done that and its wrong. So you’ve got to constantly think when you are mixing comedy and drama – who are these people, what would they do and what is real and truthful about them and only if it’s true to that and also funny can you put it in the film. Other directors or other kinds of films that are just pure comedy, you can do anything you like. Who cares if it is out of character, a long as its funny you can put it in. But the kind of films that I make the whole thing has to right otherwise it isn’t going to work. The most painful thing about it is that I often have to say I know that I’m laughing but we are not going to do that.

Question 3

What skills or qualities draw you to an actor when you are casting?


There are so many things, obviously the first thing is is this person the right kind of person for the part. So obviously Amara’s part and some middle aged fat block walks in I am going to say that you are not right because I was looking for an attractive Indian girl. So clearly you have to be right person for that kind of part. Then you have to be talented enough to do the things that I want you to do and have some natural ability. Most people have that, amateur actors are often as good as professionals. Acting is something we all know how to do, we are born knowing how to do it and we learn how to do it all our lives. Everyone acts in their real life all day long, you pretend to say something, you pretend to this, you try to look cheerful when you’re not. Everyone is acting – everyone knows how to do that. But the thing that I care most about when I am auditioning is can I relate to this person? Can they hear me? Can we communicate with each other? Am I going to get on with them? Because I am going to spend 6 weeks, 12 hours a day with these people. We are going to talk a lot about what’s wrong and how to get it right and if I find that I’m with someone who just can’t hear me then that is going to be a disaster. So very often when I am auditioning I will ask them to do something, I will say ‘try and read it again and do it like this this time’. I may not care whether they can do it that way or not and I may not even want them to do it like that but what I am looking for is have they heard from me and have they understood me and are they prepared to have to go. And it’s actually surprising how many people you meet don’t listen, don’t try and work out what it is I am saying. They just come in with an idea and stick with it and anything I say goes over their head. I think whatever you want to do in life, whether you want to be an actor or if you want to work in McDonalds it doesn’t matter. If you can learn the art of listening to what people are saying and letting them know that you have heard them it is really helpful, people love it. If I think that someone has heard me and they somehow communicate they have heard me and know what I am talking about then I am going, ok I like you. I’m engaged with you, you’re with me. It is such an important life skill. It’s amazing to me how people don’t know how to listen.

Question 4

I would like to become a director as well but people say that it is hard for black women like me to do this. What do you think can be done to change this?

I’ll tell you, it is so simple. You’ve got to write. If you can write, please please write because anything – a play, a film, a TV series, only gets made if someone writes it. The reason that there is not enough parts for Black and Asian actors in Britain is that because there are not enough Black and Asian writers. There are plenty of talented Black and Asian actors, I met hundreds of them for this. Many of them of them were brilliant and the reason that you don’t see them is because there are not enough writing stories and parts for them. I don’t write, I just direct so I am beholden to someone writing a script and then when I look at that I go, well I need these kind of actors for that story. And the brilliant thing about writing is that you can do it at home. You don’t need someone to employ you or give you money or give you equipment or help you do it. Anyone can do it at home as long as you have a pen and a bit of paper or computer you can write. So what I would is find a way to help and encourage the sort of people who think that they can’t write and shouldn’t write but they’re wrong because they should be. I think there are lots of great storytellers out there and I wish that they’d write more and if they did I would make their films. So try writing. It’s not that hard – you should see the idiots who do it!