Thursday, 27 October 2016

How many first time directors go on to make another film?

In the last 30 odd years I have released over 120 films in the cinema, on VHS/ DVD, online and to all forms of TV. 

From 1998 until the end of 2016 I only released British & Irish in Britain and Ireland. No other UK distribution company has, since Louis Le Prince made the first film in Leeds in 1888, made such a whole hearted commitment to British films, and possibly Irish films for that matter as 100% of our output has come from one or other country, and sometimes both. I did this purposely because at the time I started so few films from both countries were getting released in the cinema and would go straight to video. (This record was only broken when in 2017 I release Alex Gibney's brilliant ZERO DAYS in the cinema and DVD). This makes me an expert of sorts on British films, and possibly Irish ones too. 

56 of the films I have distributed or produced have been from first-time directors. Most of them also had first time producers, screenwriters, cast, and crew. I say when doing talks that I have helped over 1,000 first timers see their films onto British cinema screens. I have plucked this out of the air but it might even be more. On one film alone almost 60 people had not been involved in a cinema film before. 

Of those 56 new directors, these are the statistics -  

1 director has now made 5 (and a segment) films (one of those was nominated for an Oscar in 2016). 

2 directors have made 4 films

4 directors have made 3 films.

2 directors have made 2 films.

A few of those above also do TV and commercials. At least one does this to subsidise his films which he part funds himself. 

47 first time British & Irish directors that I have worked with since 1990 have not made another film for cinema release. 

9 of the 56 were women. 

(This was the case in October 2016 when this was written. It is possible that a few more filmmakers have directed another film). 

5 of those 47 have gone into television directing. One claims to have made two "films" since making that feature. They have fooled IMDb into thinking they were released in the cinema. They were not. This person obviously thinks that being seen as only a TV director is not a good thing. Odd. 

I have over the years suggested to so many of these directors that they should consider their film as a calling card to securing TV work. Of all of them, only Piotr Szkopiak and Nicholas Cohen heeded this advice. Surely it's better to director something than nothing at all?

Piotr is at the time of writing this his second film is about to debut at the AFM, 18 years after he made his first film. 

Around ten first time of these first-time directors, or so are working in corporate productions and TV commercials. It’s hard to be precise because many of those I have spoken to over the last few years are vague about what they are doing now.

2 of those first-time directors have moved into screen and theatre writing and both are doing very well, with one earning an average £100,000 + per annum over the last 12 years (very rare in my experience for writers to be this well paid). Both the films they directed lost almost their entire budget. 

Therefore 31 first time directors ( over 50%) I have worked with have no connection, that I can find to date, to any part of the entertainment or filmed production industry. Some of them have totally disappeared. I owed one money to one team and it was almost two years before I found them, bruised and battered.  

Several of these were/ are even really talented and I would have thought would have had great careers before them. However, almost all of them had one thing in common; most of their films came nowhere near to recouping their budgets. One of the directors, a woman, did make a feature-length film which went into a profit, against all odds. She was offered other work but wanted a different life. 

A few of these films were made for £50,000 or less. Some had budgets of £1-2 million and 1 was made for $12 million. The majority were between £100-500,000. 

Only three of all of these films has, to my knowledge, made a profit. However, I am only the UK & Irish distributor for most of them so I am not privy to such information. Over time, and with global sales others will have gone into, or very near to profit. One of the profitable was a film I produced and distributed. 

There are numerous reasons that many first time directors go no further in the world of cinema productions. Some just don't think the industry is for them, others want to make a living and leave film, others are still trying but are only just realizing that the hardest film to make, is so often your second film.

So very many first timers make the same mistakes over and over again. If only they would learn from the mistakes of those who went before. 

I will highlight two films, which I will not name, both made for around the £1 million mark and both directors made almost the same mistakes. 

As they had decent budgets they could have easily avoided some of the errors.

In both cases, the directors and not the producers raised the money from private sources. 

And in both cases, the directors surrounded themselves with producers who had also not been involved in making a film before, other than student films. This turned out to be a MAJOR mistake with both films. All the producers on both films were effectively under the thumb of the directors. 

I understand why they did this, because they did not want others more established to find out what they did not know. This is a mistake. I have been a professional in the industry since 1970 and whilst there is so much I do know, there is an awful lot I don't. 

There are some basic steps that can be taken to avoid falling into this trap, for a trap it is. 

The solution: 


They should have paid to have a well-established Executive Producer(s) work with them. Someone who has worked on successful films or been in sales & distribution. 

They should not just use them for their name, as many have done in the past. They should have made them work for their money. 

They should then have listened to their suggestions and thoughts and considered them carefully.


In both cases, they made the film from very early draft screenplays. They were in such a rush to make these films that they overlooked what was wrong with each script. Maybe they did not know they were not good enough. 

Thus highlighting the need for an Executive Producer.

The best film I distribute is ADAM & PAUL.  Director Lenny Abrahamson told me that he had the writer Mark O'Halloran write and write and write over and over again the script. I think they had 27 drafts in 18 months. It is the most brilliant of screenplays. Every line means something. No filler. I would go as far to say it is like Beckett, but better than some Beckett. 

In the year that I released the film in the UK, it won the London Evening Standard award for Best Screenplay. All 683 films released that year were eligible. 

Both of the films I am highlighting films were, as one UK broadcaster who bought them as part of a larger package said, "alright" but that is all they were. As he said one was as good as a poor episode a successful episodic TV series (he named a series). 

Neither film is a bad film. I like both and there is much enjoyment to be had watching them. Each director showed great promise. 

Alright in the highly competitive world of independent film is not good enough. It is a failure. 


They should have either secured or had a strong interest from a UK distributor and/or an international sales agent. Then they should have taken on board suggestions and ideas they came up with.

I came onboard long after they had finished, as did the sales agents. 

We were just doing the best we could with what we were given. 


The two films I am referring to; each of these films had a number of very well-known actors in them. However, none of them were really up and coming international stars. They were either once big but no more, or else only well known in the UK.

Both had budgets of around £1 million.  I would have suggested taking £100,000 and used that to pay one really up and coming actor in the lead. Someone like Tom Hardy after he was in LAYER CAKE or Gemma Arterton after the Bond film. The rest of the actors I would have cast total unknowns and given them a break.

This would have ensured global sales and if they had picked a star who really took off like Hardy or Arterton and it would sell for decades to come to the likes of Netflix or Amazon, even if it was not that great a film. 

Also, had they done this, they would not have needed me or my company Guerilla Films, as the film would have been snapped up by a much bigger UK distributor and for a decent advance at that. 

None of these suggestions guarantee success but they really do lessen the chances of failure.

The directors/ producers/writers of these films were/ are talented but they blew the most wonderful opportunity, and sadly I don't think either of them will get a second chance.

Both films failed because each director insisted on controlling everything.

Why ?

This was either because they were supremely arrogant know it all's (Knowing them both I doubt it) or because they were insecure they did not want the rest of the crew to find out what they did not know. Possibly they did think they were 100% right on everything. 

No one is 100% right on everything all the time. Just look at those who lead our countries for proof of that statement. 

The cast and crew of any film, want that film to be the best it can be, as it helps them move forward with their own careers. In 99 out of 100 cases they will help first timers to make a better film. Listen to what they say. Encourage them to give an opinion. 

Never, ever, ever be afraid of asking anything.

I found myself directing, quite by accident for the first time at the age of 57. I asked some pretty dumb arsed questions to David Hughes, Don McVey, Christopher Barnett, Tudor Davies and the various soundmen I had. They did not laugh when I asked. Maybe they made fun of me behind my back, but even if they did, it does not matter

With theirs’s and other people's help, I made a film that got an 89% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and who knows, I might actually get to make another film for the cinema?


I would love to know the figures in the USA as to how many first time directors go on to direct and fight another day. 

Anyone know?

None of the images here are from any of the films I specifically mention in this article. Five are from first-time directors. Three are not. 

© David Nicholas Wilkinson. 2016. All Rights Reserved. 
Updated. August 2017.