Nathan is a writer/director who studied on the MA Screen writing pathway. He collaborated with fellow student Madeleine Sims-Fewer and they established their our own independent production company, Booruffle Films.
Since graduating he has made several short films, all of which have been selected for film festivals across the world including the Leuven International Short Film Festival, London Short Film Festival and Oaxaca Film Festival. His short film Blood In was nominated for best drama at Portobello Film Festival and comedy Rip-Off has been nominated for the Jury prize at Leuven.
Please tell us about your work
My latest project was shot in Canada, using an all Canadian cast and crew and tells the
story of a brother and sister who are forced into drastic action when their abusive father returns, threatening to sell their farm. It will be the longest film I have attempted at around 25 minutes and is scheduled for completion in January 2013.
I have also been able to secure work on the Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks. I learnt from established directors how they work with actors and schedule a shoot. This made me realise the time constraints of television and the amount of planning that goes into every day of shooting. I have also been fortunate enough to get the chance to pitch scripts for television shows The Accused and Moving On.
How did you hear about CSM?
Whilst performing comedy routines, I was
given the opportunity to write a 3 minute wonder. Whilst pitching, I realised I knew nothing about structure and not enough about character relationships and motives. I looked online and saw the CSM course specialising in screenwriting online. There are a lot of courses that focus on writing and whitewash writing and directing as a subject in itself. The difficult thing is that they tend to lean heavily toward theatre and I am only interested in screen work. You also had the chance to work alongside actors and other writers and directors. In other courses, if you are writing you are kept separate and maybe you meet with the actors and directors a couple of times a year. Here you are able to develop work alongside them. It feeds more creativity and allows the piece to grow. I found it completely inspiring and not only did I learn how to work with actors but it has improved my writing quality and understanding of character wants and goals.
How would you describe a typical day?
A typical day would involve morning classes, usually the most physical class, either movement or acting/directing for camera. Then after lunch there would be either classes or workshops, practical based and in the evening there may be a writing class, which involves a one to one with the writing tutor or some time to work on scripts/projects.
How would you describe the course?
Working alongside actors is something I have taken into my work now and I always focus on performances and the actors when I am shooting a film. In addition to that you also get the other side of writing where you are given the chance to do the work and get the writing done on your own. Then you can take what you have worked on and develop it with the actors and other directors.
I found the balance of independent work and tutorials to be excellent. There was a lot of contact time with tutors and we learned a hell of a lot. Usually MA courses are focused on independent work but at CSM we were immersed completely into learning every aspect of filmmaking and then we had our free time to process that and to develop our own work.
The course is fantastic because it is like being at film school with access to actors. When it comes to a finished film it is the actors you see on the screen so to learn how to get a believable, moving performance from your actors is essential. I have found the more I work in the industry, the more surprised people are that I know how to work with actors. It is a skill that you get from the course that a lot of directors at film school miss out on.
The course is very practical and I loved that. Even when it comes to writing and developing scripts, we would often work out relationships physically using the actors and getting their feedback. This was fantastic as I often think visually. Also it is something that you cannot do on your own and it opens a whole new avenue of creative thinking. It is easy to sit in your office and write and think but to see it in front of you really impacts positively on your work. We would also workshop our scripts and improvise with the actors to broaden the material. This was invaluable and something that I use now every time I am working on a new project. What’s great is that you have the tutors there but you are free to direct your own workshops as you see best.
How have you been supported at CSM?
When you leave the support is fantastic. My course director often checks in to find out what I am working on and offers facilities for screening films, etc. My writing tutor has helped enormously, recommending me for several projects and giving me the information necessary to pitch for several television shows. It’s great to know that you have people there to give some initial support in the difficult early stages after graduation.
What sort of person do you need to excel on this course?
I think you have to be open to trying out different ways of working. The great thing is that you learn and experience several methods and then you are free to choose your preference when making your own film at the end of the year. You must also enjoy collaborating and want to learn from others. The atmosphere is very open and you will get the most from the course if you immerse yourself in the experience and allow yourself to share work and ideas.
How would you describe the atmosphere at CSM?
CSM is creative, fanatic and inspiring. I would recommend the course to anyone that wants to work in film or television and has a desire to create their own work. The course is extraordinarily inspiring, I wrote three screenplays in the two years of studying, just because you feel motivated to write and work. It is fanatic in the sense that you are immersed in every aspect of film and you can soak up knowledge from several tutors all specialising in different areas of film and all of whom are willing to help you with your own ideas and work. If you want a practical course where you are making films whilst learning and constantly working with actors and tutors then this is the ideal course for you.
What have been your highlights?
The course was more involving and more illuminating than I ever thought possible. I gained an insight into the creative process as well as making contacts within the industry and I reached a level in my own productivity and quality that surprised me.
The greatest moment on the course was finding out I had been selected to write three of the four final year films. That was such a fantastic personal achievement as I had worked incredibly hard to ensure that all three of my scripts were developed enough and well rounded enough for each director. The second highlight was working alongside the actors in the workshops for those scripts. It was sometimes difficult with many differing opinions but the work always benefited and I enjoyed pushing the script to breaking point and seeing them come through the other side.
What are you doing now?
Currently I am working on my first feature film, Snowdrifts, which tells the story of a woman who flees her life in the city to work as a nurse in a deserted region of Northern Canada. I am also finishing post production on Yellow Creek Farm, which will start the festival circuit in January 2013. The plan for our production company is to promote Yellow Creek at the larger festivals (Cannes, TIFF, Sundance,Tribeca) and then secure funding for Snowdrifts. I also plan to attend the Berlinale Talent Campus in February 2013, which hosts a two week course of workshops for independent filmmakers across the world.
You can find out more about Nathan's work at Booruffle Films.