Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your career in film so far?
I've been acting for nearly 20 years. I started off at the Everyman Youth Theatre which was such an inspiring melting pot of creative young people from Liverpool. From there, I went on to a performance college called Bretton Hall and did a degree; it was classed as a drama school so you trained as an actor but got to direct and devise. That's where I got the directing bug. I directed fringe theatre on and off in between acting work. It took me a long time to make the leap into film, and like lots of people I talked about doing it for a long time before taking the step.
The last ten years - and the last six years especially, since the birth of DSLR camera movies, have seen an explosion of micro film making. It's easier and more accessible now than ever before, and there’s no excuse not to go and make a film with decent production value. The only down side is that it could be too easy and the really hard bit - the screenplay - gets rushed.
Oh, I've digressed - me, er yeah: a steady jobbing actor who never had the illusive “big break” which is really a bit of a myth; you just keep doing slightly better jobs and carry on, or maybe don't. Acting is a ruthless world with no logical career path. When it's good, it's amazing. I’ve worked on some wonderful jobs and travelled a lot too.
Currently, I've just signed up for Mike Leigh’s next feature film based on the Peterloo Massacre. As a filmmaker, I have a little momentum right now with a successful long narrative short called Break, but essentially it's back to work. I’m working on a feature which I hope to make next year as the project I’m working on only has a certain window of time that I can do it in really, which will make sense if you see it, so once again I have to just really go for it. Make it happen.
You've worked with some pretty big names including John Hurt - this is really inspiring for filmmakers from Liverpool! What are the barriers filmmakers from the North West often face?
I don't know really, the same barriers every filmmaker faces I think. The biggest barrier might be yourself - it requires so much energy, confidence, skill and openness to make a film. You have to be open to the possibility that your script may be shite but you don’t realise it, and be open to the possibility of working much harder to understand the mechanics of script writing and filmmaking. And you have to be confident with your project too. Listen to all advice and let go of the stuff that doesn’t chime with you, but don’t be too precious about your precious idea. Be prepared to let go of stuff. I was lucky to meet John Hurt of course, but you know, you have to reach out and be intelligent with it. You have to be dynamic in trying to forge relationships with people as well as persistent. Persistence with charm and good intentions is underrated. This is the hardest thing in the world, but let go of disappointment and don't take it personally - unless your work is shite - then take it personally, then let it go and be a much better filmmaker with your next project!
You're an actor and director - which of these roles do you enjoy most on set?
Directing, if it's my work, my baby. I love every aspect of filmmaking so much, so as a director/filmmaker you are being so stimulated and creative in all those areas, from working with actors to get incredible truthful performances, to composing beautiful images, to editing.
Why is it important for aspiring filmmakers to show their work on a big screen, like on Liverpool Film Night?
It’s an opportunity to share your work and get it seen, that's important. You can see your work as part of an audience on a big screen; see it as a piece of cinema, not a Youtube video. Liverpool Film Night provides an incentive to draw a line in the sand and make a work of cinema. There's also a chance you will meet someone who can help you with your next project - or even better, you can help someone else.
What do you look for in a short film?
A bit of quality. Originality is wonderful but not at the expense of story. I was recently in Edinburgh having just attended Edinburgh Short Film Festival and the standard was incredible with some very original films, such as a German film about two brothers who want to replicate a childhood photo of them in the bath in with their dad as a gift for their mum. The dad reluctantly goes along - it's a great idea but the key to the film working was the exploration of their family dynamics, and the story arc of such a simple idea that was propelled by character and dramatic conflict, until they got the picture. The humour came out of the reality of the situation. It wasn't a one trick pony.
What you don't want is to be derivative - but somewhere someone has probably done something similar to what you're doing. Create something that is from you; something that you want to share with the world that is well crafted. If it's really from within you then it will have originality because there’s only one of you. Even if someone has a similar story somewhere - the way you tell your story is what matters.
I want to be moved, but being moved comes from craft as much as talent and inspiration. If we show a “moving” sequence; a death or two people falling in love, unless we really care about those people we won't be moved, so we have to make our audience care with our story craft. Learn to write well, as well as shoot well; that’s really really important. With narrative fiction I really want to see story - and a story isn’t a situation with an end beat. If you don't really understand the story, then go back and learn what that is. Have something to say and whisper it from deep within your story, from the images and the subtext, don’t shout about it in the dialogue so that it’s on the nose.
With docs and experimental film I want to be engaged, stimulated and moved by the beauty of the film, and compelled by the subject matter. Beauty can be raw of course.
Alongside the competition, you're also involved in planning a programme of workshops FACT is hosting, teaching a variety of filmmaking skills from funding to shooting. Can you tell us more?
This is a really amazing opportunity for filmmakers, with some real expertise on offer. I'm so excited about it - more from the point of view of a filmmaker learning than a teacher, but with that said I’ll be very keen to pass on what I've learnt so far in this early part of my filmmaking journey.
Join us for Liverpool Film Night 2016 on Wednesday 23 November, where you can ask Nick and the other panel members more about filmmaking.