We love a good story. And film director Darren Statman has plenty to tell.
It isn't every day that we get the chance to open a window into a creative professional's life, but with our Member Spotlights it does happen fairly often. What we love about Darren's story is that it is not just a simple 4x4 window – it is an ultra-wide, multi-floor and enlightening sensation. A unique chance to take a look into the successes, failures and personal fights of a driven professional, with an uplifting tone to lighten it all up.
For this Member Spotlight we were lucky enough to exchange views with a talented movie director, someone whose love for the industry will certainly never falter. Enjoy his full, uncut story below; you won't find many like it.
How did you get into the industry?
I’ll try and give you the short version of the story. I wanted to direct since I was 15 years of age. I didn’t really know how to get into it and came from a family background where it wasn’t something I could talk to them about. I knew that if I went into Advertising it might be a route to take.
I went to go on to study Advertising at Newcastle College of Art, and realised it wasn’t for me, and was encouraged to stay as I wanted to leave and pursue photography.
After college, I ended up as a junior Art Director at an advertising agency in Leeds, where I was often told by the Sgt Major head of Media and Creative Director, when presenting my creative, that ‘Darren, this is not London.'
During this time, I would read interviews with Director Tony Kaye. His work clicked with me, I saw how his commercials were like movies and his casting blew me away, so I spent a year campaigning to contact and get in front of him. In the meantime I was made redundant from the agency. I was really young, broke and knew living in Leeds was not the answer to my dreams.
One day, totally frustrated, I took off my LEVIS 501’s with holes in both knees I was wearing and in marker pen wrote on the leg to Tony, begging to meet him. He called me! We met, and I asked him if he’d teach me to direct. I came down to London, I made tea, I collected dry cleaning and two weeks later Tony asked me to become his assistant. For the next few years I was Mickey Mouse, in the Sorcerers Apprentice. I oversaw his art installations, organised castings and was privy to films scripts he was reading and travelled the world on multi million pound shoots, I didn’t sleep much, I was often in the office at 2am having to deal with calls through the night but who cared, I loved it.
Working with Tony was the most amazing, surreal experience where a kid from Leeds was plunged into a world he only dreamed about, with a teacher who took chance on me, he lived up to his word, through him I started to direct, I was young and it was scary, but I loved it, his lessons and and taught me was a film school so much and still use to this today.
Where are you based now and who do you work for?
I’m based in London, I’m a freelance Director in London but repped by Mint, by Julie Verhoeven-Lahaye in Paris, and Match Films in Berlin, with Kristina Schreitel. I also work direct with clients, having consulted with brands such as LEVIS, Redwing, Sarah Baker Perfumes on potential creative, writing a long side working with Advertising Agencies on scripts I pitch for and bringing freelance producers in to help me with production on them.
Can you explain your creative process?
My creative process is to have an emotional connection to the project, brand or script, building out from there until there is a total blend with the brand's desire and my own for the project that fuse together, and being focused on that as a foundation at the beginning really does build a great relationship with everyone and create a trust to suggest ideas that are respectful to the project.
I tend to create a huge reference library of imagery for myself from my files, looking at things that are not at times related to the project, pulling in from art, music and cinema until i find the door that allows me to step into the world and blending until there are no seams from the overt influences and the project feels its own thing.
I’m often amazed at how music is a large part of my process. I always create a playlist for the project just to have on in the background as I build my reference files and draw my storyboards which take me to another part of my process, an empty sketch pad, I have always done my initial concept work and storyboards, it’s such a great thing to do, especially doing your own storyboarding, you can make the film without the external pressure of time, actor and budget and I guarantee you will come up with ideas that were not on the script page, agency love it and I have won many a job from sitting at my desk with a pot of coffee, a new sketch pad and my magic markers out, defiantly one of my favourite parts of the project.
How has technology affected the way you work (if at all)?
I feel technology has made my life easier and quicker. The fact I can research and explore topics via the internet is amazing and the deep rabbit holes of reference i have explored has led my work to be more educated and richer. It’s great to be able to sit down with a Cinematographer and at the the touch of a button pull up photographs and film reference to talk through.
I have always collected photographic books, it’s an expensive passion and even in the world of Pinterest, I still search out monographs and love spending time in a bookshop where I find a new frame of reference to explore that I know I’ll dip into when the right project comes along. I see this as the difference between an all you can eat buffet and having a meal prepared by a great Chef.
What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?
Constantly being curious, always wanting my work to be better and staying fit mentally and physically. I have learnt surrounding myself with inspirational influences in my life, situations and people and learning to walk away from the negative elements I have encountered on occasion. Also my passion for Yoga which I discovered 6 years ago and which I do daily has been a great source of motivation. After a class I find myself often motivated and focused and over the past two and half years it has helped me write 3 feature films and 3 short films. The tortured writer with his bottle of whiskey and pack of smokes sounds so much better though.
What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?
All my work to some degree. But about 10 years ago I left a production company that I shouldn’t have joined. My confidence undermined, I left, I was broke and ended up working as a labourer on a building site in the midst of Winter.
During that period, I was also dealing with the my Dad and my oldest friend both terminally ill with aggressive terminal Cancer. Life was bleak and I was angry for a Production Company who my gut told me didn't deserve me and ashamed my career had flatlined as I watched my Dad and my friend disintegrate. And I couldn’t do anything to help them.
I remember having one of those moments, I was literally in a hole on the site, a freezing wind howled and I was covered in mud. I decided it couldn't be it, I had worked too hard, I had put up and was putting up with stuff that made me feel like I was being ripped apart. I was starting to believe the people telling me my career was over. I realised I had nothing to lose, literally.
During that time I was asked to help write a film for a Cafe Racer Motorcycle build company called Untitled Motorcycles of Camden. The budget was next to nothing, but it was enough to get my passion fired up and give me something else to think about, which at that time was really needed.
I remember the writing process, me storyboarding the film like I had a Guinness Commercial budget and the nightmare of casting it right, not just people who could ride bikes. I remember tackling everything, locations, wardrobe like it was the last thing I was ever going to make. I wanted this to be, regardless of the technical limitations and lack of budget, the best film I had ever done. The script was weird, ambitious and unfiltered, I was excited and guilty at the same time with what was going on at home, but Dad kept telling me to keep working, as he was with everything.
THEN! The film a week before production fell apart due to various problems and was shut down. I remember it well, I was throwing bricks into the back of a skip when I got the call. I walked down that suburban street in Hendon where I was working and got on the phone to the Untitled Motorcycles, not giving them an option. "Get me 3 bikes at such a date at this location and don’t worry, this shoot is happening and I promise it’ll be great." It was costing them nothing regardless and they were at this point a little unsure of the script I had written, but Adam at Untitled did that and we were back in play.
I shot the film guerrilla style with no permits on the victorian streets and underpasses up near Millwall on a Sunday, trying to wrangle a very large cast, motorbikes, smoke machines, a smoke machine, traffic my laser focused ambition which superseded the micro budget, I kept repeating I’ve nothing to loose.
The shoot went fairly smoothly thanks to my producer on the film, Mark Lonsdale, and my fantastic crew. We knew there was so much technically we couldn’t do, but what we could do we went for. Our schedule to shoot the film was irresponsible for the size of script but that added to the excitement and fearless approach I was taking and have continued to adopt. What’s the worse thing that could happen? I may fail, but at least I tried.
The shoot was tough and thrilling but it was working. I look back and see how much of the mood in the finished film is attributed to what I was going through, not that anyone but me would have known. I have to admit, some of the visuals, such as the people in diner suits being unloaded out of the back of the production's camera, made me question myself. Setting up the shot I realised it had a Holocaust connotation of people in cattle carts being offloaded at the camps, but the history of that period is in my DNA and this was such a personal film that I guess it infused the script, and it was my decision and I was going to stick with it. My intentions were not consciously exploitative. Once shot, the post-production was great, to sit with an editor after months on a building site was surreal, I was lucky to be editing with Stephen Dunne, who delivered a first cut that was an emotional one for me. The film worked.
The response to the film was incredible. The press response and the Awards it received were incredible. The film brought me back. It reminded me that I wanted to be a Director and it proved that when you surround yourself with decent people anything can be achieved, regardless of a budget. I was still broke, dealing with what I was dealing with, but I took solace in the finished film, and was ready to take time out and focus on my family and what was about to happen. My future as a Director was actually not important at that time.
What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives looking for work?
Create your own work, it’s tough out there. You can’t wait around for someone to give you work. You have to seek it out yourself, reach out to potential clients and smaller brands you like with no Advertising Agency looking after them and approach them.
Persuade them you can be their Agency and the production company to create the work. They probably have no budget and you may have to live off crackers and cheese, but you’ll be working and doing something that feeds your soul and you’ll be the captain of the ship and that’s an amazing thing to explore. I did just that, I still do that, I rebuilt my reel and I have created work which has won awards and has become signature work. I have production companies phoning me up wanting to chat, and ‘collaborate.’ Be careful, they just want your contacts. A good production company, and they are out there, should want nothing but you to grow and flourish on their roster, not try and fleece you like a smiling crocodile.
Taking this approach to work has led me to the type of work that when I did sign to production companies in the past they could never get me to do, because they didn’t have the weight with the right Agency. And then they realised the great excitement of signing me soon turned me into an unwanted step-child. So going out and taking ownership of your career leaves you in a strong position, and when the right Producer does indeed come along, you know who you are and how you want to move forward in your career. The work I’ve done off my own back recently led be to being in the race for the last Dolce and Gabbana campaign and me then being signed to Mint Productions in Paris. I may not have been awarded the job, but I was in serious contention, and that’s because of the work I have done without any support but my own.
If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?
I would change the knee jerk reactions to things, and that companies commit to building on raw talent. They may not bring in the biggest budget that will pay for the second home in Tuscany immediately, but if you believe and inspire them it will pay off and you will be the reason for that success. Create LEGACY, the finances will follow. Too many people look at what others are doing and trying to emulate their success instead of having the confidence to stand up and be an individual voice themselves. You will have your detractors but you will also have people who get you and from there you will do amazing things.
What’s your one big hope for the future of the creative industries?
I guess we are in uncharted waters. People are scared, people are making rash decisions that will affect other people’s careers and in turn their lives. I hope people take a break and a deep breath and then look at the bigger picture and remember we will come out of this, and if we react with intelligence and compassion, the industry will be better for it.
Let’s face it, the industry needed a shake up. But it also needed to understand and remember how great it can be. The modern landscape can learn from the past utilising the great talents that have created groundbreaking work and filter it through the new technology platforms emerging. That excites me, I have long been a champion of 'why does this have to be in 30 seconds,' or 'why does this have to be so PC.' My first commercial for Red Bull using real porn stars was banned, but it got so much coverage - great ideas and confidence will always cause a lasting effect, and playing safe is not always the best in the long run, I hope this not to be the case. I see so many possibilities I’m personally hungry to explore, I hope others are too. This is a crazy time, but it will pass. Keep working and stay healthy.
That’s all that really counts in the end.