As I sit at my desk and write this, a low winter sun is streaming through the window. I've just got back from a morning walk around my local nature reserve, where I saw a couple of birds that I don't usually see, including quite a rare one. After a busy and tiring few months, I've just had a much-needed rest week, spending time with lots of people that I love. Right now, everything feels peaceful, and the new year brings with it a sense of gratitude and hope.
It is so hard, then, to sit back and remember that there isn't peace in the world. 2023 is a year that brought war, not just the continuing war in Ukraine but now also the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, flooding our news feeds with some of the most horrific sights in living memory. There's unrest and intolerance in the UK as well, but I won't get too political here. How can we be thankful for the year just gone when there is so much hate out there?
Maybe our industry feels inconsequential by comparison, but it has been a tricky year for filmmakers as well - perhaps the hardest since the Pandemic began in 2020. The WGA & SAG-AFTRA strikes (which I fully supported) led to a lull in narrative work, whereas the continued rising cost of living impacted the corporate and branded content filmmaking scene, as businesses had to cut back on their marketing spend. As a result, some of my fellow creatives had a few months this year where they barely worked.
There's also the issue of a lack of funding for UK films, particularly independent ones. First came the shocking news that Netflix weren't going to greenlight any of the films selected for their Breakout scheme; and then the swarming number of applicants to the BFI & FILM4 Future Filmmakers fund, despite it being a positive addition to the list of UK funding options, highlighted how great a need there is for this kind of finance (specifically funding higher-budget short films) - with 391 filmmaking teams rejected and unable to bring their dreams into reality. It's a subject I covered in more detail in September, back on my old blog.
For me personally, I knew that 2023 couldn't live up to the excitement of 2022, when I directed a BFI NETWORK-funded short, worked on my first 'big' broadcast set, pitched my dream feature film to my dream distribution company, and met or was in the same room as three of my directing heroes! I'm trying not to be disappointed by how little I felt I achieved in 2023 in comparison. But in such a turbulent year, I know that I am one of the lucky ones; the production company I run, Triskelle Pictures Ltd., stayed afloat - thanks to our brilliant clients - and apart from one slightly scary month, I've been able to pay my bills and keep some food in the fridge.
Let's celebrate the client work first, then. I am so grateful to have continued to create videos with so many returning clients, such as Towersey Festival (who will celebrate their 60th year in 2024!), Foundations Revealed, Sabrina Ward Harrison, Beat SCAD, and Knit Collage. There were also a few new clients this year, including Charming Rogue Games, DRFC Women's Rugby, and Déda & Derby Festé - the latter of whom I've wanted to work with for years, and who commissioned numerous brilliant films, including the Derby Festé event itself, which was a creative & operational challenge, but so very rewarding to bring together (you can see the result of that here, with more videos to come soon). I also need to give a shout-out to the crewmembers who worked with me on these productions, including sound recordists Matthew Jones and Johann Chipol, stills photographer Ian Cudmore, and DOPs/camera operators Jonathan Beckett, Theo Vann-Leeds, and Luke J. Collins (with a special mention for Luke, as he shot the majority of the branded content I produced this year, but they all did fantastic work).
You can see more of the recent branded content Triskelle produced in our end-of-year film, but we also released a new company showreel in 2023, which I'm rather proud of, so I've included it below:
As for the narrative side of my work, that has been a little quieter, due to the general difficulties in my industry I mentioned earlier in this blog post. Despite giving up most of my weekends to fill in funding application forms, I haven't been able to get any new projects off the ground, as demand & competition is too high right now. It is disheartening when I have so many stories left to tell, and I do feel a stab of shame whenever people ask me "what are you working on next?", but I haven't given up hope, and I'm determined to create something new soon (more on that later on).
Thank goodness, then, for Ren: The Girl With The Mark, an independent fantasy series and a passion-project led by filmmakers who made something incredible without studio finance, giving amazing opportunities to both experienced and early-stage creatives who might've otherwise been ignored by the industry. I directed my episode of series 2 - The Heretics Market - back in May 2023, after prepping heavily for the first few months of the year. It was a huge challenge, as it was the first time I'd directed a TV episode, the first time I'd directed a fight scene, and the first time I'd worked mostly within a custom-built interior set, plus my episode featured two key emotional scenes, magical VFX, and the introduction of various new and important characters (plus LOTS of background actors) - and we had to cover all that within a tight 5-day filming schedule! I absolutely relished the experience, though; waking up every day and walking onto set, I felt as though I were truly living the life I wanted to live, and I've missed that shoot ever since it ended. Plus it gave me the opportunity to conduct my first in-person auditions since before the pandemic, meeting some wonderful new actors in the process - as well as bringing back some of my old favourites, Halo Haynes and Therese Collins! - and I was able to work with the brilliant Neil Oseman again (one of my favourite collaborators). All in all, it was my highlight of 2023.
Series 2 of Ren is in the last stages of post-production now, and you can expect to see my episode online in late February or early March. In the meantime, you can support the project on Patreon, where you can also see a small clip from the first episode of series 2, which was directed by Kate Madison. Another series I'm excited to see this year is Sanctuary: A Witch's Tale, which I was lucky enough to be director's shadow on (working with the fantastic Justin Molotnikov), and which will be released on AMC+ this Thursday. The trailer for that series is on YouTube now, and it looks amazing!
(Ren also got a mention in the latest edition of British Cinematographer Magazine, which was rather lovely, as it's a long time since my name has been in print. I have of course tracked down a copy and will be framing it in my office soon!)
And although I didn't make any new short films in 2023, my previous shorts had a wonderful year and made me incredibly proud. Good Grief (which I co-produced) premiered at the OSCAR-qualifying Slamdance in January, before going on to screen at many more festivals, including the BIFA-qualifying Beeston Film Festival and Unrestricted View Film Festival. And A Different Place (which I directed) continued the strong festival run it started in 2021 by screening at the BAFTA-qualifying BFI Flare, as well as KASHISH Mumbai and This Is England, among others. Some of these festivals are once-in-a-lifetime selections, and my team and I tried to be present for as many of them as we could, soaking up the experiences (even if it meant me going straight from a festival screening to fight choreography rehearsals for Ren at one point!).
Attending This Is England film festival (which I've wanted to screen a film at for years) in November also gave me the opportunity to see Paris for the first time, en route to the gothic and beautiful Rouen; at one point on my journey, I took a wrong turning and ended up coming face-to-face with the real Moulin Rouge (having been a huge fan of the Baz Luhrmann film since my teens!) - so the whole trip enabled me to tick numerous items off my bucket list.
Both Good Grief and A Different Place had numerous nominations - and one win apiece - at the Midlands Movies Awards this year, which gave my teams a lovely excuse to come together and celebrate these films, as well as toasting the Midlands filmmaking scene as a whole. Oh, and even Lepidopterist, my previous directorial short film, managed one last big screen outing this year, on the same day as the Midlands Movies Awards, when it screened 'The Exploding Cinema' short film night in London.
One of the greatest things to come out of 2023 was the fact that I was accepted for a BAFTA Connect membership, which was a huge honour! Although I haven't been able to attend any of the events they've hosted yet (partly due to the ongoing train strikes, which also sadly kept me from Directors UK member events this year), I'm so excited to spend the next two years as part of this prestigious programme, and I can't wait to see what opportunities it brings.
2023 was also a year of fresh starts and clean slates. I archived my old blog and created a standalone director website - the one you're on now - along with a new mini showreel, and I've got another maxi showreel in the works too. I'm in the process of closing down and replacing all my old email addresses, I inadvertently left Facebook, and I deleted Twitter off my phone too (I'm still on Instagram and Threads, but may step away from the latter if the current trend for hate speech continues). It feels like I've done a big 'Spring clean' of my correspondence, which is very cathartic.
It was also a good year for cinema trips. 'Barbenheimer' was the biggest cinematic event we've had for a long time, and it was wonderful to see so many packed screens again. In addition, many of the films I saw in cinemas in 2023 were directed by women, creating a sense of equality I haven't witnessed before, so I hope this means the industry is moving in a positive direction. I also visited one of the two oldest cinemas in the UK. More about all of that in last month's blog post.
And finally, in my personal life, there were things to be thankful for as well. I mostly had good health, and even started exercising again, rejoining a gym for the first time since Covid hit. I made an effort to read more, as it's something I used to love doing, and that's going well so far. In spite of a very rainy and windy year causing damage (and numerous local floods), I managed to make some progress with little my fixer-upper cottage. And I didn't lose anybody I love in 2023 (I don't think I'll be able to say the same in 2024, but I have a strong family around me so we'll face whatever comes together). But the biggest personal highlight of the year was celebrating 10 years with my wonderful Edward Harvey. We marked the occasion by visiting a couple of cinemas, and the gorgeous Ritz Cinema in Belper, Derbyshire even put a little 'happy anniversary' sign on our reserved seat, which was a gorgeous touch!
So, what do I want from 2024? Above all, I refuse to let this be another year where I don't direct a short film; I'm determined to finally get my ambitious one-take short film Tokos off the ground one way or another, and I'm also in the process of writing my first virtual-reality screenplay, currently entitled Treehouse, which covers the subject of seasonal depression. Part of me is tempted to make another Poison Ivy fan film again as well, just for the fun of it, and I have an idea for a short aesthetic piece on the theme of Hades and Persephone, but I don't think I'll manage to tackle all of those projects in one year, particularly as my personal creative time is so limited. I'm also developing two animated projects as a producer, representing Triskelle Pictures and working alongside Hipster Films: a short film, Contamination, and a feature, Branwen, both of which are genre pieces to be directed by Martyn Pick.
Of course, I don't want to make short films forever, and I don't have many items left on the list of short-form stories I want to tell. Every part of me aches to make my feature film Night Owls & Early Birds (the short pilot, Night Owls, will turn 10 this year), and I'm itching to write another draft of The Barn as well - but I know that features are such a long game, and all I can aim to do this year is to get both of those projects closer to production. I'll do what I can, whenever I can, and then hopefully one day soon my patience will be rewarded.
I want 2024 to be the year I get an agent, someone who will be a creative partner - particularly as I make more contacts around my feature projects, and look for more television work too - and I also want to meet more producers, even if this means travelling to more networking events and higher-end film festivals, whenever my finances allow me to do so. (I've already got butterflies about some of the potential connections, meetings and opportunities I have coming up soon.)
Looking at all of the above, I can see that it's a lot to ask from a year - so this time next January, let's see how I've got on! I've definitely got a fire in me to make something happen. But at the very least, I hope for happiness this year - not just for myself, but for those I love, and everyone who is struggling further afield. Peace may feel impossible right now, but it starts with hope. So let's wish for that, too. I wish for you all to have happiness and hope in 2024. May there be better days ahead for all of us.
2023: The Year In Stats
Countries visited: Two, England and France, thanks to the wonderful This Is England Film Festival which gave me the opportunity to visit Rouen, in Normandy, via Paris.
House moves: None, although I feel like I've rebuilt my cottage a few times by this point!
Weddings attended: None
Film Festivals attended: Five (BFI Flare in London, Beeston Film Festival, Mansfield Town Film Festival, This Is England, and Birmingham Film Festival. A Different Place and Good Grief screened at a few others, which looked amazing, but I unfortunately wasn't able to attend, due to workload and/or distance). I must make an effort to go to more festivals this year. But I did attend the cast and crew screenings of Unspoken Love and Lord of The Free Range, made by my local filmmaking peers, both of which took place on the same day in early April 2023!
Gigs attended: Only one full concert - the fantastic Florence and The Machine in January, and seeing them was yet another bucket list moment for me. I did also see some fantastic acts while I was working on the videos for Towersey Festival, including Hannah Sanders and Ben Savage, Thea Gilmore, Gwenifer Raymond, and Joshua Burnell.