I’ve been working in stage and screen for 13 years now and, during that time, I have informally mentored a lot of young people as they enter the industry, but I had never been mentored myself. So many fantastic mentoring opportunities are offered now for people in their early careers such as Arts Emergency and Open Door.
There are also many great schemes which offer free training for artists up to the age of 25 or, if you’re lucky, 30, but generally once you’re out of your twenties or have been working for a decade or more, it can feel like you don’t qualify for that kind of support as it’s assumed you’re ‘established.’
This month, I was one of 15 people selected for Vertical Lab, a six month mentoring programme by the Independent Film Trust for performers, producers, writers, directors and editors who are underrepresented in the film industry.
The Vertical Lab’s ethos is ‘a more diverse film industry makes better cinema’ and was set up because only 14% of feature films are directed by women, only 5% by people of colour in the UK and people with disabilities rarely find opportunities in film (source – Workforce Diversity in the Film Industry Review, BFI and University of Leicester).
A fortnight into the programme, this is what I’ve benefited from so far:
The six-month programme started with a free full festival pass to the amazing Raindance Film Festival. Being able to watch as many screenings as possible during the week and a half-long festival of documentaries, feature films and short films from all over the world has been nothing short of inspirational. One evening, all 15 of us on the Vertical Lab were invited to screen our own work at Raindance and it was incredible to see fellow mentees work and get feedback from others on the lab.
The Importance of Making a Game Plan
Charlotte Knowles, Chief of Operations at Independent Film Trust, ran an event for us mentees two days before Raindance started to prepare us for the festival. She helped us make a game plan for what we wanted to achieve during the week and a half and also suggested which events to go to achieve our aims. She encouraged us to think big with this. I wrote down seven aims and met all of them.
During Raindance, I attended panels on Film Making after Times Up, Web Series and Can they Change the World, and an event called Live Ammo where we had two minutes to pitch our idea for a film, TV series or documentary to a guest panel of five. We received feedback and I learnt so much from watching other people’s pitches. It was one of the most nerve-racking things I have done as there were over 100 people watching us pitch, but it paid off as I came second with my pitch which was a huge confidence boost that total strangers believed in our film.
Networking and Contacts
As we are all from different disciplines on the Vertical Lab, there’s every chance we will collaborate together on each other’s projects which is really exciting.
As well as the industry panels, Charlotte Knowles has set up free events with various directors and producers so that we can benefit from their knowledge and ask questions about various things, from funding to distribution. Following my first individual mentoring session, Charlotte has picked a very exciting industry mentor for me because of our similar interests in storytelling. This person is someone I would never imagine I would be in the same room as.
“One of the first things I did when I took over the IFT was set up a mentoring programme. Mentoring is phenomenally important to the professional and creative development of any artist. And there is no age limit on who benefits from it – there are always new ways to grow and new challenges to face. But mentoring often happens very informally – if you don’t know someone who knows someone in the industry, the chances of you finding a mentor are slim. The Vertical Lab is about offering that opportunity to people typically underrepresented in the industry who might not have the contacts to find help organically.”
In my first mentoring session, I brought my screenwriter along to discuss our feature film, which we have been trying to get funding for the last two years. Charlotte’s expertise was invaluable and we now have clear next steps for what funds to apply for (many of which I had never heard of) and how to make the project financially sustainable so we can still pay our rents!
Charlotte comments, “At the IFT, we focus our mentoring in the business side of film, helping artists navigate funding routes and potential distribution options to help make their careers more financially sustainable. Starting in London, we hope to expand out to other parts of the country as soon as possible. There is so much talent in the UK but a lot of it is not being recognised.”
Sometimes, applying for funding and constantly auditioning between projects can feel a bit isolating. I now know I have 14 other people (as well as our mentor Charlotte, of course) I can talk to about this who are in the same boat. As well as discussing the steps to get our feature film made, it has been a great support to be able to talk freely about imposter syndrome and the challenges of being told by certain gate-keepers that audiences aren’t ready for diverse stories on screen.