In late October of last year BAFTA announced their 2016 Breakthrough Brits cohort. It is the fourth such contingent spotlighted by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, providing invaluable support and a host of possibilities for those on the programme.
We spoke exclusively to the ‘Class of ’16’ shortly after the announcement was made, and the sense of potential the programme offered was tangibly felt. Part of the great work done by BAFTA is in the guidance offered to the new generation of creative artists. It is an essential part of their work, as much as it is an essential part of our cultural identity.
Today we are continuing our ongoing coverage of the BAFTA Breakthrough Brits programme by finding out exactly what made the initiative so important to emerging talent.
Some of the brightest stars of this country’s film, television and games industries have been beneficiaries of the programme over the last few years, and we spoke to a member of each to find out how BAFTA and Burberry changed their lives.
We began with Ollie Clarke, director of Modern Dream and creator of Typing of the Dead: Overkill, LA COPS and the wonderfully abstract and mildly infuriating (owing to your correspondent’s utter lack of patience and ability) The Cat That Got the Milk.
Clarke spoke about the fortuitous timing of his involvement with the scheme, “We’d been making some games, and it looked like a great initiative to support innovative game making and creativity.”
Shortly after being accepted on the programme the studio he was working with went into administration, and the future of the game they were developing was uncertain. With BAFTA’s full support Clarke rallied the team and found a partner in SEGA, and their game, Typing of the Dead: Overkill, was completed on time and on budget.
“‘The very first thing [BAFTA] did was to give me the confidence to really take on a challenge like that.”
He also talked about the doors which opened following acceptance onto the Breakthrough Brits programme,
“They’re doing excellent work, I’ve been really impressed. They hold regular events, and I’ve the privilege of meeting people like Ilkka Paananen from Supercell. At the events I go to are lots interesting people in the industry who are doing really exciting stuff. [BAFTA] organise the events, they connect people up…they bring a prestige and a certain profile to it.
“It creates a dynamic energy where things happen. I daresay a lot of interesting games are happening because of the connections that they’re making.”
As his career progressed Clarke also found the wider world of BAFTA a fertile ground for inspiration.
“One of the things being a Breakthrough Brit does is that it connects you with your colleagues, and you find that you’ve got a lot in common, you’re up against the same problems. We inspire each other, and push each other on. I’d also recommend checking BAFTA Crew as a great way of getting involved.”
The confidence and the connections BAFTA gave to Ollie Clarke continue to be a source of inspiration. Currently Clarke and Co. are working on a mobile game called Dragon Golf, and the development has been enhanced by their affiliation to BAFTA.
“It’s great to have all those connections through BAFTA, so we can put it in front of industry people who really know what they’re talking about.”
What was clear from our conversation was the practicality of the assistance and prestige that is at play. All of the Breakthrough Brits we spoke to were working hard, however the extra shine BAFTA brings to the table is matched by an ability to get things done.
Next we spoke to Charlie Covell, writer and actress whose feature debut as a screenwriter, the recent Burn Burn Burn, was directed by Chanya Button to great acclaim.
That script was in development when Covell’s break came on the Russell T. Davies show Bananas. She was asked to write two episodes and appear in one, something she freely offers as a very lucky break. Burn Burn Burn was then produced, and played at the London Film Festival in 2015 before its wide release earlier this year.
On applying for the Breakthrough Brits scheme she expected to hear nothing, but said the experience of being nominated was quite something.
“It was life-changing. Having BAFTA’s name associated with yours gives you huge confidence. You meet people you would never be able to meet otherwise. BAFTA are so generous with their time and they are genuinely excited about people who are coming up and starting out. People seem to be ready to give up their time, which is extraordinary.
“Also the other Breakthrough Brits that you meet, and the potential collaborations, with past and present people on the scheme. We’ve all talked about how the scheme has really changed our lives. That all sounds a bit grandiose, but I think it’s really true with this.”
We also talked about the practical elements of the assistance, as well as the innate understanding of that help offered by those running the scheme,
“I cannot speak highly enough of them. They’d sit down with us and say ‘What do you want to do? Who do you want to meet?’ It was so well thought out in terms of people’s tastes and sensibilities and what they wanted to achieve in the future. The generosity of the people we were introduced to is really extraordinary and inspiring.
“The best way to sell yourself as a writer, and as an actor, is to work out what makes you different. I met two of my idols when I went out to L. A., BAFTA set me up with Amy Poehler and Jill Soloway which was just amazing. Those are two people who have really stuck to their guns in terms of their vision, it was inspiring meeting those people and being told ‘No, you should try and keep your voice yours.'”
We talked about the strange journey from hearing about the scheme, to the moment it became clear what was in store.
“The vast majority of [the Breakthrough Brits] have been at this for a while, with very few rewards. Your head’s always down and you’re grinding and you might have one thing that’s successful but then you’re right back down to the grind again. But this was different. It felt like that this massive establishment had given you a pat on the back, ‘You’re doing all right…’ and that was where you feel totally overwhelmed. You’re working so hard, and for someone [like BAFTA] to say ‘We can see you,’ that was the moment for me.”
“The thing about the Breakthrough Brits team is that they are supportive in a practical sense. You have people around you who are supportive, and then you have people who are supportive… When I had to screen one of my short films and I wanted to screen it somewhere nice and I asked them and everyone got to see it at BAFTA.”
We spoke about the less visible help that BAFTA were able to offer in her time on the programme, and what the overall message is inherent in being a Breakthrough Brit.
“Just starting out in the industry I wouldn’t compromise your voice. If you’re a filmmaker don’t make something that you think will get you into a festival, don’t make something that someone tells you to make. Whatever your voice is, whatever it is – do that first. You will find out what your voice is. You’ll find out who you are.”
It’s an inspiring programme, one much needed in the creative industries. You can find out more about the scheme, and more on the winners here.
Applications for Breakthrough Brits 2017 are now open – find out more and apply here
Our thanks to BAFTA, Ollie Clarke, Charlie Covell & Destiny Ekaragha for their time.