In 2017, aged sixteen years old my debut feature, ‘WWII: The Long Road Home’, premiered at the Brighton and Edinburgh festivals after some three years of quite literal blood toil and sweat spent during production of the zero-budget feature (I was fourteen years old at the start). Little did I know that three years later the film would pick up a major distribution deal, making me not only the youngest feature film director in the country, but also the youngest worldwide to land a feature on Amazon, Sky and iTunes, as well as across most major UK supermarkets.
‘WWII: The Long Road Home’ tells the true story of my own great-grandfather’s experiences as an escaped prisoner of war in Italy during the Second World War and his quest for survival in hope of being reunited with his wife and young son back in England. Over the course of the three years spent making the film I learned more than I could ever have imagined about the process of filmmaking and innate difficulties in turning your brainchild into a fully fledged feature. The experience I had overseeing every aspect of the production; scripting, working with actors, shot composition, through to production design and editing. By immersing myself totally within the filmmaking process I developed a strong understanding and appreciation of each aspect of the process and was thus able to refine where I excelled and delegate elsewhere. This I think is the beauty of independent filmmaking. There is no better way to learn about the process of constructing a movie and gaining an accurate appreciation for the medium than to just make one.
I myself am totally self-taught, having never set foot inside a film school of any kind. My cinematic education came from studying films that I admired and listening to the directors talk about their experiences through the likes of DVD commentaries. Equally when I set out upon my endeavour at fourteen I had no in-road into the industry and no connections (I was forced to take on the lead role as finding credible actors at such a young age proved near impossible, and as such I’m indebted to those who did agree to help). Thus it became more than a ‘simple’ task of constructing a watchable film; I had also to prove myself as a credible filmmaking voice, able to inspire emotion through my visual storytelling and conjure a sense of disbelief within the audience that such a film could be created by so young a director. Judging from the response upon the film’s release, with Culture Trip’s Graham Fuller calling it “a miracle” and citing myself as “the next Spielberg” as well as the new distribution deal secured for the picture, I think it’s fair to say I succeeded.
As of writing this I am deep within the shooting of my second feature, ‘Vindication Swim’, the true story of swimmer Mercedes Gleitze who in 1927 became the first British woman to swim the English Channel. On this I have a team of actors from across such films as ‘Darkest Hour’, ‘The Favourite’ and ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, with the amazing Kirsten Callaghan as Mercedes (who does all her own swimming in the film!). As well as the on screen talent, we have crew who among them have Emmy wins and a Grammy nomination. Still the production has by no means by a doddle, filming out at sea on the English Channel has been the biggest challenge myself and all those involved have ever faced in our careers. But it is through such monumentous challenges that greatness is achieved; it is the hard work, the blood toil and sweat, the overbearing pain of assuring your vision is captured on celluloid that makes films which are worth watching. The great epics of which I am most inspired by; the ‘Lawrence of Arabias’, the ‘Apocalypse Nows’, they were all the products of backbreaking hard work which paid off tenfold in the end. That for me is my biggest lesson for those seeking to make a name for themselves in the movies; dream big and just do it.