“The skills you learn at college will always be useful. Working on a commercial can improve those skills and make you better when you come to make your own films. There is a discipline in commercial films that you do not get with your own films. You may find you avoid difficult scenes in your own films, whereas if you have been given a scene you have to do it. You may not want to draw a shrimp with a baseball cap on its head but you find you have gained something from it. There is a lot to be said for the traditional skills.
Think of your audience.
“When you are making a film you have always got to think of your audience. I have always taken that as the very basis of film making. You decide who your audience is and make your film for that audience. To some extent you make it for yourself and people like you but you can’t just make it for you. A film is something that is shown to people and you have to decide who those people are and how it is going to come across to them.
“You may be making the film for other people who are like you but they are not you,” noted Derek. “You have to say to yourself, ‘They may like the things I like but they are not me and therefore they do not make the assumptions I make.’ I may show them a kipper on the screen and it might relate to a breakfast with Auntie Mabel in 1983, I have many memories about it but they don’t. We both like kippers but we don’t get the same thing from it. You have to make sure that what you think you are saying is what you are actually saying.”
Painting and sculpture.
When Derek started college he was studying painting and sculpture but he changed because he did not want to limit his work to the audience who bought the paintings then. “I felt it was a very rich but small audience, I wanted to talk to a lot more people. What ever you are making, the person paying the piper calls the tune.”
Simon Pummell spoke of the time when he left college: “I was incredibly naive. As a student you are given facilities to make a film even before you have finalised your ideas and you feel obligated to make a film. Once you leave you are in a world where nobody is ever going to bother you if you never made another film. You have actually got to persuade people they want the film you wish to make.
“I think it is a good idea to work in commercials simply to improve your technical skills. That does not inhibit you from putting together your own project, the two can run parallel. You have to be clear about what you are selling to the different people you are dealing with, If you are making commercials you are selling either your hands or your brain. It is very specific and is not involving you in any emotional or psychic development in terms of expressing yourself. You are selling set skills, you are learning skills and you are given money. They are skills you can use to make films from conviction. You may decide that working on other people’s films is enough for you.”
Putting forward a proposal.
Simon knew he wanted to be a film maker and while he was working in commercials he put forward a proposal to Channel 4. “It took about eighteen months to be approved and if you exclude yourself from film making for that period then you are static,” said Simon. “The film I made for Channel 4 was very different from the film I was going to make when I left college. This was partly because I had worked in commercials, partly because I had become much more skilled at dealing with other people’s demands, and partly because I had a producer who informed me about the harsh realities of life. The film I made for Channel 4 is the best thing I have done so far and is an enormous step on from those I made while at college.”