McCullin co-director/producer Jacqui Morris on how entering into the film industry can be a slow-burning process and why she's reassured by Clint Eastwood's crew.
Published on 7 February 2013.
What first inspired you to get into your craft?
I left school at 16 and went to work in the local hairdresser's. I hated every minute of it and within a month was back at school studying hard to make up for a misspent youth. Through my English teacher I found a love for theatre and I set up an amateur drama group. He also tried to get me interested in film, and he gave me Lasse Hallstrom's My Life As a Dog and Volker Schlondorff's The Tin Drum and I remember thinking that not in a million years could I ever make anything anywhere near as clever as that, so I'd stick to theatre! I went to work in repertory theatre, then West End theatres, prop-making and set building. Without a doubt, it was theatre that inspired me most.
How did you first break into the industry?
I'd started working with photographers and directors as an assistant, and discovered I was good at street casting. I'd scour clubs and fringe theatres for new talent, and with my brother David, I opened an agency to house them all called Mugshots. We wanted to move on from casting into directing and producing , so we started to make our own short films. David wrote them and I directed. We won a few awards, then made the decision to sell our company and try to make a TV series for America. It was a huge gamble, but we sold the pilot as a TV film to the States and it made its money back.
Which professional figure in your field do you find the most inspiring?
Steve Milne at the British Film Company. He works instinctively, has integrity and supports British talent passionately.
If you hadn’t managed to break into your field, what was your plan B?
I bet not many of your interviewees had a plan B... If you want to work in film, work in film. The great thing about the film industry is there are lots of options. I've been around the film industry all my working life - I've been a runner, actress, art director, casting agent etc - now I'm fortunate enough to be a director/producer. If I hadn't had the right skills for these new roles, I'd still be on set doing something, feeling incredibly lucky to be in an industry that you can keep going in some shape or form until you turn your toes up. A friend of mine has recently worked on set with Clint Eastwood who was about the youngest of his crew..
“Try and accept that for some people it's a slow, organic process.”
Which film do you wish you could have worked on?
Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America. The film spans four decades and it's seamless, complex and utterly compelling. Masterly film making. And Looper. All the elements of this film were so well done: a very clever and intelligent script, and the art direction was beautiful - familiar, yet different. And very powerful, believable characters.
What single piece of advice would you give to a young person trying to break into your discipline and get noticed?
Really try and accept that for some people it's a slow, organic process, but it's a career for life so that isn't a bad thing. We live in an age where we're told we can achieve anything we want to if we work hard enough at it. Well, it's not always the case, but the chances are if you're dedicated enough, you'll find something in the industry you're good at. It may not, however, be what you set out to do. And 'getting noticed' is easy if you're efficient, reliable and hard working.
How important is networking? Is raw talent enough?
The rewards for networking can be shortlived and not very rewarding.
How do you think the UK film industry will change in the next few years?
I think we'll see a dramatic rise in arthouse cinema attendances because they're now showing mainstream films as well. And as arthouse cinema's programming is less constrained than in multiplexes, and considering they're generally nicer, more sociable cinemas to visit, I can see a significant rise in attendance for UK independent films. It'll bring less commercial films to the attention of people who may not have given them a chance otherwise.
Jacqui Morris is nominated in the Outstanding Debut category alongside brother David Morris for their documentary, McCullin.