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Mark Stirton explains the problem with initiatives supporting first time directors.


This article was originally written by Mark Stirton for Raindance. Visit raindance.org for more insightful coverage of the film industry. 

I have directed several short films and three feature-length films. I am not a first time director. I find the mystique of the first time director very odd. How keen would you be to be in a car with a first time driver? Or go under the knife of a first time surgeon? Sound tempting? So why is the first time director so often seen as a badge of honour, particularly in the UK? Why do the BFI and Sky TV have a type of funding for first time directors only? Why does BBC Three have a funding programme for first time directors?

In short, what’s the big deal with first time directors?

Well firstly, lets look at a recent BBC report that stated quite categorically that statistics prove a deeply elitist UK media community is locking out potential talent. The report finds that opportunities within TV and film are, to a massive degree, given to the top 2-5 percent of the population.  That’s the very well off, very well educated, largely white, largely male part of society.

If you want a good example of how this manifests itself within the TV community, take, for example, Doctor Who: running for 52 years now, never had a black director. Not one. One Indian director in the 60’s, then four decades of exclusively white, largely male, largely well-educated, middle class directors. Now I’m not saying being black is synonymous with being working class, I’m just saying, the numbers speak for themselves. And if it’s not the working class thing, well then the BBC might just come across as looking deeply racist as well as rather elitist.

Either that or black guys just can’t direct, and I’m pretty sure Noel Clarke has proven that’s not true.

So, it’s very difficult for anyone working class to penetrate the clearly elitist parts of the media world. Well that’s hardly news. I’ve seen that same report on the BBC about 5 times now. They report it, but the situation doesn’t seem to change.

Which brings us back to these first time directors that we’re supposed to be in awe of. Sky TV makes that perfectly clear with their various come see the amazing first time directors we’ve been throwing gobs of money at trailers and promos. The words even come flying out of the screen: First… Time… Directors… Zoom!

Impressive, huh?

So do first time directors make noticeably better films than experienced directors? Better is perhaps the wrong word. Too subjective. Do they make more successful films? Hell no. Certainly not statistically! Statistically, all that funding being thrown at first time directors has led to exactly what? Let’s have a look at today’s UK cinema listings…Let’s see now…American sci-fi, American comedy, American drama, American historical, another American sci-fi…

Yup, that top percentile of British media elite really is doing well. Unless cinemas stuffed with foreign movies and bugger all UK content was what they were aiming for? In which case, job well done media elite!

So, those first time directors? Is the picture getting any clearer? OK, how about this; whenever you see the words, first time director, understand that many, many experienced directors were passed over, in favour of the person with no experience whatsoever. You might have directed 50 short films; you might know everything there is to know about the art of directing…tough! The gig goes to a first time director. A director with, by definition, no experience.

So, if I’m right, and the BBC is right, a system would have to be in place to elevate the otherwise dubious distinction of being completely inexperienced at something and at the same time to be allowed more funding, opportunity and help than everyone else available despite being surrounded by people with considerably more knowledge of the art form than you have.


Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the first time director. The biggest con in the UK film industry.

Those various funding options I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, the BFI, the BBC, Sky TV, those programmes don’t unlock UK talent. They lock out talent. If you’re a working class director with enough get up and go to make a film, you’ll be excluded from those initiatives in favour of someone with better connections and no idea which end of a camera points towards the actors.

Does that sound like a recipe for success? And can we please stop moaning about the lack of success within the UK film industry, when our selection process is ludicrously biased and actively looks down at experience if it comes with the wrong accent?

You want funding? Pick up a damn camera and make something. The way digital equipment and software had developed over the last two decades, there is no excuse for being a first time director! Certainly not if that’s the path you want to take. So lets stop taking that aspect on faith alone, please.

You want to unlock the talent in the UK? Stop all first time director initiatives. Every. Single. One. In fact, abandon all initiatives that put any kind of restraint on age, social background, height, weight, you name it. Open the field, no restrictions. Because the very second restrictions are put on these things, it always seems to be the same people who are restricted. To hell with first time directors, lets start helping tenth time directors.

Posted on Jan 4, 2016

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