Age is a Matter of Mind: A Young U.K. Filmmaker Shares His Views
© 2001 Christina Hamlett
Considering that young people are a primary economic force driving ticket sales for today's films, it's not surprising that many of them are also gravitating toward penning original scripts and stepping behind the cameras. Thomas Veness is one such entrepreneur who believed in getting an early start on his dream of becoming a filmmaker.
Thomas was born in 1981 in London and has lived ever since in a small part of North London called Crouch End. His first foray into film was at 17 when he directed a music video which won a local competition supported by a neighbouring production company. With the first prize of £500, he invested in his film and video training at the London College Of Printing where he made three short films: "Life", "Make Up" and "Room 13". He was then commissioned by Retina Productions to make "Weekend" which was an adaptation of Jean Luc Godard's film. Thomas has worked as a continuity editor, cinematographer, first AD and editor. In November 2000, he met Aidan Williams (Producer) and began writing the screenplay for their first feature film. The two also made their first short film together, "Shades Of Time", in addition to running a production company targeted to assisting young writers/directors/producers.
Q:What was the defining moment when you first knew that you wanted a career in film?
A:I became interested in cinema when I was four years old. My grandparents used to show me classic films every Sunday afternoon. The first film I remember seeing and liking was Laurence Olivier's "Hamlet". My grandfather was a projectionist for many years and he always discusses the aesthetics of film and cinema with me. My mother also has a huge passion for cinema and she always takes me to see a whole range of films. I remember her taking me to see Robert Bresson films when I was very young. This showed me that cinema existed in places apart from America! My mother became my advisor and educated me in cinema. I knew I wanted to make films when I was 15 and started studying Media at school. I became interested in writing and writers like David Mamet and Woody Allen. I started writing short films. Most importantly, I felt I had a voice, something new to say like Godard or Kiarostami. I knew I wanted to be fresh and diverse.
Q:What resources were available in your community for learning about your chosen career?
A:Near where I live there is a cinema called the Phoenix which has helped me see films from all over the world. Local independent cinemas are important as they show a diverse range of cinema. When I was 16, school enabled me to use cameras and make my first films and learn what it's like working within a team.
Q:What about books?
A:Reference books are important but also tricky because invariably they can be someone else's opinion. I always try to buy books containing works or writing from a certain director or writer.
Q:What did you have to teach yourself because there was no one available to ask?
A:I had to learn how to get into the industry and use every possible contact I had to get my first bit of experience. It's very easy to find someone who works in film/TV. By going to film school for a year when I was 18, I was introduced to other young people wanting to make films. It also enabled me to use more advanced equipment.
Q:What's your favorite film and why?
A:It is very difficult to say what is my favorite film, but my favorite director is Leos Carax and my favourite film of his is "Les Amants Du Pont Neuf". I love it because of its beauty and silence. It is also the most realistic film I have seen about people and their lives. Carax is not very well known but he should be! He is one of the most interesting and diverse filmmakers there is. His work is always exciting and uncertain and he is a major influence on my work.
French cinema is often discussed in a very complex manner and people are made to feel that they have to be an intellectual to understand it. This is wrong and why commercial cinema dominates and restricts young filmmakers, of all backgrounds, breaking through. It's important to watch as many different types of cinema as you can. You will see more and learn more.
Q:Tell us about your current production.
A:I have just finished my fifth short film: "Shades Of Time", which I wrote, directed and did the cinematography for. The film is in aid of a feature film that I have written and will direct in the near future. I met my producer, who is the same age as me, and we instantly knew we wanted to make films together. The film contains very difficult issues like homelessness and the effects of rape on a young woman. This is surrounded by a thriller plotline to catch the man who committed the attack. The film is in development and we have received the first part of development funds as well as securing copyrights on the film. We are currently looking for the rest of the funding and I am finishing the fourth draft after it has been read by the lead actors. We have received interest from Jeremy Theobald, who starred in Christopher Nolan's "Following". The other actors in the film will all be fresh new faces.
Q:Is it hard to get a film made in the U.K.?
A:British cinema is struggling because they are making products to sell to the states. Instead, the industry should help new talent of all backgrounds to make films that are fresh and diverse.
Q:What was the best advice anyone gave you about breaking into the film business?
A:The advice that I have been given is probably the same as lots of people:
· It's important to accept rejection and learn from your mistakes. Scripts I read now from when I was 15 are awful, but they all help me learn. I'm sure that will be the case when I am 50 and I read things I have done now! It's all a stage of progression.
· When your scripts get rejected, it is difficult but it is important to know the market that you are trying to sell your films to. I wrote a short film last year which was about young homeless people living in London. I got a very good response to it and many people liked it but felt it was too challenging. This made no sense to me but showed how my work was seen in the marketplace.
· It's important to keep your integrity in what you are trying to create and eventually you will be lucky and someone will pick up on it. Two main things I have learned as a director is to respect and understand your cast and crew. Make everyone feel they are important to the artistic process! Create a good atmosphere on the set. If the environment is enjoyable then working hard is made easier. The business is very hard especially for young people like myself and you will get disappointments.
· Take in the advice that you feel is important to know. Some people will be very negative as they simply do not want you to succeed.
Q:Let's say that you're 16 years old and have just written what you think is a pretty good short. What should you do next?
A:My suggestion would be to try and raise enough money to pay for stock and food, etc. Borrow a camera or rent one. Find a group of people (either friends or fellow students) and make the film. It's great to start early as you get a head start. It is very difficult to be taken seriously at such a young age, but there are schemes designed to help young people make films. When you are young, make films that are simple and striking. I tried to make films that were way to complex for me and I didn't have the experience or the equipment to make them work. Don't worry about mistakes that you make. Enjoy the experience and learn from it! If you are passionate, you put a huge amount of expectation on your shoulders; don't worry if the film isn't what you expected. You can't be seen as a genius of filmmaking at 16 or 20. It takes years to learn how to make films. You will pick up the technical and creative knowledge as you go along.
Have a question or comment for Mr. Veness? He can be reached at: email@example.com
Interview excerpted from Christina's upcoming book for young people: "screenTEENwriters." Available in Spring 2002 from Meriwether Publishing, Colorado Springs, Colorado.