We ask the Scottish writer/director of TV drama We’ll Take Manhattan how he got started in the industry and to pass on some top tips for aspiring filmmakers.
What attracted you to filmmaking?
I always liked telling stories, and making things, and the clothes and haircuts looked cool. I think I was wrong about that last part.
How did you learn?
Five years as a comedy writer getting mainly mis-directed. Then three years at the national film school, which changed my life. All these years later, I'm still appalled by how little I know, and how much I have to learn.
How did you break into the industry?
I started as a writer in theatre and became a director because I felt I could do as well, if not better, than the directors who were making my stuff. Having both skills - both perspectives – has always been useful to me. It also doubles your chance of getting a job!
What skills do aspiring writers or directors need?
Persistence, bravery – and good coffee chat.
What are your tricks of the trade?
With actors: don't tell them what to do; watch what they do naturally, and nudge it in fruitful directions.
Which scene – in anything you’ve done – are you most proud of?
You get strangely fond of odd things, usually just happenstance that is not of your own making. I once made a great scene with Andie MacDowell and Bill Paterson [in Crush (2001)], and it was raining, and it's the rain that makes it really good, softens the depth of field, makes the conversation real somehow.
Which aspects of filmmaking do you find the hardest?
Sometimes you need to do it, fail, do it again, fail better. I used to resent pickups, but now I look forward to them. There were several scenes on the first episode of Lip Service that we made again at the very end of the whole series, and they're much better second time around – somehow the actors bring so much more experience to it.
We re-shot a scene on We'll Take Manhattan because we felt we hadn't got a dress quite right – and it's a million times better the second time. Now I think, ‘Thank god, here come the pickups!’
Top tips for aspiring writers/directors?
Write and make what you really really love; you have all your life to make someone else's crap, so you might as well make something wild and crazy and beautiful right here and now. Also, be positive: if you know where you're going and what you want to do next, other people will climb on board your energy and momentum. Finally, learn from everyone you meet, and don't take ‘No’ for an answer.
We'll Take Manhattan begins tonight at 9 pm on BBC4