Nathan Hughes-Berry describes how his MA at Central Saint Martins put him in a unique position to launch a career as a writer/director.
He and fellow student Madeleine Sims-Fewer founded independent production company, Booruffle Films, while Nathan has made several short films, all of which have been selected for film festivals across the world.
These include 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, London, while his comedy Rip-Off was nominated for the Jury Prize at Leuven.
What are you working on at the moment?
I have been working as a film editor, cutting Red Reflections, a short for BAFTA-nominated producer Eva Sigurdardottir, and I am also working as an editor for Three Stones Media, who produce Rastamouse for CBeebies.
I recently directed a one-minute film, which was awarded a Jury Prize at this year’s Toronto Urban Film Festival. Called Inked, it reflects on the pressures of living in a crowded city and the effects of trying to store all the information we think we need.
I also have a short film The Substitute in pre-production, which will be shooting in April 2014. It’s a dark thriller about a woman who takes a teaching job at a private school, only to discover that the boys have a sinister power over the girls in the class. The script recently won an award at The Slamdance Screenplay Competition.
When did you realise you wanted to work in film?
I knew I wanted to do something creative and did a BA in graphic design at the University of Leeds. I realised very early on though that I was spending most of my time making videos, and not enough time thinking about Pantones and fonts. Despite realising graphic design wasn’t for me, it has definitely helped when I need to create poster art for my films.
Why did you choose Central Saint Martins for your MA?
After getting my BA, I became a comedy performer. I was pitching for one of Channel 4’s 3 Minute Wonder slots when I realised I knew nothing about structure, and not enough about character relationships and motives. A lot of the courses out there lean heavily toward theatre, while I was interested in screen. Also, as a writer, you might only get to meet actors or directors a couple of times a year. On the Central Saint Martins course however you are able to develop work alongside both (the course is split into two ‘pathways’ – writing and directing, and there is also an MA Screen: Acting course at the college). It feeds more creativity and allows the piece to grow. I found it inspiring and it has improved my writing quality and understanding of character wants and goals.
What are the strong points of the course?
The balance between independent work and tutorials is excellent. There is a lot of contact time with tutors and you learn a hell of a lot from them. We were immersed in learning every aspect of filmmaking and then we had free time to process that and to develop our own work.
The course 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 that the more I work in the industry, the more surprised people are that I have that knowledge.
The MA is very practical. We would often work out relationships physically using the actors and getting their feedback. It is easy to sit in your office and write and think but to see it in front of you really impacts on your work. We would also workshop our scripts and improvise with the actors to broaden the material.
The support from the college after I left was fantastic. My course director would check in to find out what I was working on or offer facilities for screening films. My writing tutor was also an enormous help, recommending me for several projects and giving me the information I needed to pitch for television shows.
How did you fund your postgraduate study?
I was pretty determined to do the course, despite finding there was a lack of postgraduate funding opportunities open to me. In the end it came down to a combination of borrowing from generous relatives, and working in the evenings and at weekends. I had casual jobs in coffee bars but also took on some small acting roles in commercials and theatre. This didn’t give me much time for socialising as the course is very intense, but it was definitely worth it.
What would you say to someone thinking of applying for this MA?
To study on this course you have to be open to trying out different ways of working. You learn and experience several methods and then you are free to choose which one to use when making your own film at the end of the year. You must also enjoy collaborating. You will get the most from the course if you immerse yourself in the experience and allow yourself to share work and ideas.
There is one place still available on MA Screen: Directing, Writing, which starts in January 2014. There are three places available on MA Screen: Acting, which also starts at the same time. You can find out more about the course structures, application process and fees on the Central Saint Martins website.
For course descriptions by college, level and subject, and for the application process, videos and online galleries across the university, visit the UAL website. Scholarship information is also available online.