Tell us a bit about yourself.
I'm Connor, a thirty-year-old writer, director and filmmaker based in Hertfordshire. I'm impassioned by compelling story-telling and diverse experiences, working across genres and mediums. Significant past projects include a televised feature doc about extreme human endurance, Race Across Europe, and my debut short film, When All The Bees Flew Away, a coming-of-age sci-fi film. My collaboration with GAY TIMES and ALL OUT, Gok's Global Pride Makeover, won the Jury Prize at The Drum Social Purpose Awards. I can never focus on one project at a time, so I've always got multiple on the go at once, which may be a result of my neurodivergence. Current projects include writing narrative for the upcoming video game title Pangea: Beyond Extinction, and directing a play for VAULT Festival 2023 called Just Be Normal that advocates for women with Autism. I'm also the creative director for the creative development and production studio, Akimbo. I particularly enjoy making space and facilitating platforms for marginalised voices. Having worked professionally in creative spaces for the past seven or so years, I can say with confidence that those who are systemically sidelined in society will be the ones to lead us into an ethical, inclusive and prosperous future. That's not a virtue signal, just fact. There is a selfish element to this mantra though; I know that I do my best work, and am most uplifted, when I surround myself with unique and diverse voices, giving me the opportunity to learn and develop beyond what I'm capable of on my own. As creatives, we're a part of a very influential industry. I try my best to break down patriarchal systems in everything I do; I believe those with privilege are duty-bound to do so. I'm acutely aware of the prejudiced systems my very existence as a white cis-male can uphold, so I think it's vital to do the work that helps reverse the effects. When I'm not directing, I'm writing and constantly fighting writer's block to expand my writing portfolio. I hope that one day I can exclusively bring to life the things that I've written and have helped to develop, whilst handing over any written work that would benefit from another perspective to those who are more equipped to take the project forward.
What made you choose this career?
I began acting as a child and was lucky enough to be on a few film sets from an early age. At one point, I had a bit part in Ben Elton's Maybe Baby (a hilariously British romp that got panned by critics); my day on set had a profoundly formative effect on little me. Ben Elton sat me with him behind the camera as he worked - I was mesmerised. I vividly remember realising that people could have this much fun as adults and get paid for it. Little did I know that, from that moment, my immense romanticising of the industry had signed my future self up to years of self-doubt and selling my soul to advertising. I jest, mostly. I don't think I identified early on what it was that made me want to get into it beyond, as wanky as it may sound, an overwhelming 'feeling'. It wasn't until my career started to move properly that I realised my love for it is twofold; a passion for collaboration and an instinct to create things. I honestly believe that there's no other industry in the world that cultivates collaboration like the film industry does, and I love it.
Did you go through formal education? If so, what did you study and where? If not please explain your journey.
I studied English and Drama at Loughborough University. Although, I want to caveat this answer immediately: you absolutely do not need to go to university if it's not for you. The vast majority of university courses are academically orientated, and not everyone who would thrive in a career in the film industry is necessarily academic. Similarly, there is real merit in studying a vocational film course, but many acclaimed courses accept you if you can pay to be there. No two people have an identical pathway into it, but the one way of getting noticed is to carve a path that best suits you. I studied English and Drama because I wasn't sure if I wanted to pursue acting at that stage, but I didn't have the confidence to audition for acting school. I went to Loughborough because, in all honesty, I had (and still do deal with) enormous choice anxiety and Loughborough had a good atmosphere - a valid criterion, but not one I'd encourage you to prioritise.
Did this have a positive or negative impact on your chosen career?
Honestly, my time at university leaves me pretty ambivalent about the whole process. On the one hand, you get unrivalled life experience, you get to meet different interesting people from all walks of life, and you get time to really explore who you are and what you want to do. On the other, you do not always find yourself in an environment that cultivates personal growth but, aged nineteen, I certainly was not in a mature enough headspace to avoid those environments. That's the paradox of university; there's no better time to experience it, but you're not necessarily mature enough to get the most from it. I loved my course - it definitely contributed to my personal growth. However, there are finite opportunities for practical application with an English and Drama degree. The most valuable thing about my university experience was that I met like-minded friends who wanted to pursue creative careers, so we all lifted each other; in fact, we continue to do so to this day. Loughborough also had an incredible student television organisation funded by the union, where I learnt how to shoot and create shows in my spare time. If your degree is in humanities, and you want to pursue a career in a creative industry, I think you receive greater merit based on how you use your spare time, rather than the result of your studies. For example, I received my first internship opportunity from an alumnus of the student television station. I also created my first short film thanks to the involvement of friends I met at university. I'd argue that these experiences bore greater weight on my pathway into the industry than my degree did.
Who inspires you?
I take inspiration from so many different people and things every day. To keep ahead in this industry, you must keep your finger on the pulse of new work produced by your peers, contemporaries and those you aspire to be. As cliché as it may sound, my parents inspire me greatly. They both come from working-class backgrounds and have carved out every success they've ever had. My dad left school at fifteen without so much as an O-level and now runs a construction firm, gifting me the head start I needed to get to where I am. I'd be remiss not to mention them because I'm acutely aware of the privilege their hard work has afforded me. My partner inspires me massively. She put herself through further education without even half the support I grew up with, and last year left a very stable job to pursue a freelance career in Art Department - which she is smashing. On a creative level, I am inspired by people who create film so specifically 'them', despite all of the external pressure - Barry Jenkins, Lulu Wang, Ari Aster, and Jordan Peele, to name a few. On a personal level I am inspired by friends who take a leap of faith to back themselves and their ideas, building something from the ground up - RubinoWilson, Nata, and Dessert Ballers, to name a few.
What’s the scariest thing about your job and how have you overcome it?
Imposter Syndrome. Convincing yourself that the next job isn't going to come. I read somewhere that 'comparison is the thief of joy', and this couldn't be more accurate. It's almost impossible not to compare with what we do. Your work gets judged on its orientation to other successful work. You forget your opinion gets tainted by what you went through to make it and all the lost potential you failed to realise. Trust that your peers view their work through the same lens. Your best work is genetically individual to you. Find your process, trust it, be kind to yourself.
What do you want to change about your industry?
This answer may seem a little obvious, but for an industry that purports to be the most progressive, inclusive and culture-defining, it is still unbelievably inaccessible and elitist. As a white cis-male, I have even felt an element of gate-keeping during my career progression, so I can't imagine how someone who isn't so typically accepted by the industry experiences this. As a creative industry, we should set the mould for the perfect work environment and write the gospel for the most benevolent output. Yet, year after year, the same conversations are had with minimal action. It's time to uplift those that can lead our industry into a future we can look on with pride. It amazes me that in our industry people are still hesitant to be open with their sexuality, women must fight to be paid as much as their male counterparts, widely seen representation is still a surprise, and artists still don't always feel safe in the places they're creating. It's not enough for us to claim to hold a mirror up to society anymore. We must work towards setting the benchmark for society.
What advice would you give someone who is starting out in your field?
I need to preface this answer with the fact that, generally speaking, any advice I have to offer comes from a place of privilege and, inevitably, is not universally applicable. Moreover, what works for me might not work for you for myriad reasons. There are two pieces of advice that, owing to experience, I believe are as universal as possible. The first is: as a creative, your work is only as good as your personal development. You're never creating work in a vacuum - it will always be reflective of or reflecting specific life experiences. So, the more you can nourish and cultivate your experiences, the better your work. Expand your network, meet new people, listen and learn from those who don't share your perspectives or life experiences. The second is: you'll find progress in the most unlikely places. More often than not, if you're banging your head against a brick wall, willing with all your might to progress in an area that just isn't working for you, no amount of force or willpower can help. If you can spread your efforts in other areas, pursue opportunities that may be less obviously prosperous, and nurture parts of your practice that seem to bear less weight on your progression, new ways forward will illuminate themselves. One way this rings true is practising 'productive procrastination', a method I try to employ that helps with writer's block. If I can't progress with the writing in front of me, I'll turn my efforts to some (even tenuously linked) research that pique my interest. Nine times out of ten, I'll discover a titbit that unlocks something in my work that I hadn't considered before. Some advice specific to writers - write the first draft with full knowledge that it will be the most overwhelming pile of shit that has ever disgraced the page. Remove any pressure on yourself to write something 'good'. I call this 'hate-writing'. Literally speed through the first draft, from start to finish, with the only aim being to finish it. Give yourself a full licence to hate every line of it. Trust me - it's liberating to remove any need for quality. You can't conjure good writing out of thin air; you have to have something on the page in order to mould it into something you like. To use a rather clunky metaphor - you don't see sculptors trying to piece together various, ready-made, detailed appendages to create a fully realised end product. They have to start with a big ugly piece of rock and chisel away at it. Hopefully some practical advice - research every little element of the entry-level job you're about to embark on and do the basics really well. A lot of people starting out in the film industry begin in runner or production assistant jobs. Doing these jobs rely on a good helping of common sense, knowing your basics, and doing them really well. Trust me, this kind of execution won't go unnoticed.