Golden Globe and BAFTA winning writer and director, Peter Kosminsky kicked off our Springboard Week with a thought provoking and powerful masterclass for the new first year students.
Peter is known for confronting difficult subjects in his work including war, terrorism, child abuse and political spin, seeking to ask “awkward questions” of “people in positions of power.” Making potent use of drama documentary techniques, Peter tells individual stories rooted in thorough research, combining dramatic and journalistic skills to reconstruct major events or dramatise the human impact of institutional failings.
(Behind the scenes photo from The State)
The session was hosted by BAFTA winning NFTS Head of Location Sound, Simon Clark who has worked with Peter numerous times including on The Government Inspector, The State and Wolf Hall.
Simon started the Q&A by introducing Peter’s work as always delivering a “message” and “having a lot to say.” Simon described Islamic State drama, The State as “a piece of work we are all proud of despite its harrowing nature” and No Child of Mine, which deals with child abuse, as “affecting me most deeply.” Simon asked Peter why he likes to keep the same team together on his productions. Peter replied: “I try to work with the same HODs and also those one tier below. Keeping a team together is one of the most difficult things I do. As I write and direct, I know what’s coming up so I typically send people like Simon the first draft script to get the people I want to work with excited about the project so they can try to keep their time free.”
(Still from The Government Inspector)
On casting for The State, Peter said: “This was particularly ambitious as the cast was from all around the world. I use casting as a rehearsal; you learn things about what you’ve written and the way the line should be delivered even if that person isn’t cast. Actors often see the audition process as a one-way test but it’s not that straightforward. I try to work out if I’m the right director for that actor. If I give them a note and the performance stays the same, you know that’s all you’re going to get. If the note you’ve given makes things worse, you know you’re not the right director for them. When I find an actor where I can add value I want to work with them again and again.”
(NFTS Head of Location Sound, Simon Clark with Peter Kosminsky)
Simon pointed out that Peter always runs a very calm set which he achieves through thorough preparation and planning. Peter agreed: “Throughout the preparation for the shooting of The State I would walk round with the DoP and my assistant (NFTS alumnus, Khaled Gad) and Khaled would note down the floor plan and shot list for each scene. He would then upload these notes to dropbox so that all the HODs could use them to prepare. Everything flows from that.” Peter continued: “You’ll hear a lot about auteurs in this industry, but that’s bollocks. It’s a collaborative medium. What we achieve is a result of the creative input of a whole range of very talented people.”
One of the students asked about the research process that Peter uses. Peter referred to a new series he is working on about the Grenfell Tower tragedy: “I have a researcher who is meeting people who have been through a horrendous experience. He’s been on a course to help him prepare as this kind of work is gruelling and devastating. My main job is to support and encourage him. The researcher has a big authorial involvement.”
(Still from Wolf Hall)
On the challenges of distribution, Peter pointed out: “UK TV can no longer fully finance high-end TV drama. So everything of scale needs coproduction and, increasingly, that means the SVOD giants. But the Netflix’s and Apples of this world are unlikely to be interested in making a film about a local strike in Sheffield. They’re looking for things that speak on a global scale. We need to face the challenge of how we will speak to the British or more local audiences and make films about our little world.”
A question came in from the floor on what drives Peter to come up with the ideas for his productions. Peter counselled: “There’s a big danger with our industry. You need to know what you want to say as a director otherwise you’re just playing with the kit!” Peter addressed the students: “I’m looking at the cream of the industry in this room. I know how hard you had to fight to get here. Our future is in your hands but what are you going to do with it? Are you going to make popcorn entertainment to tranquillise our society in troubled times? A free society relies on its writers, directors and authors to reflect society back. It’s a very powerful tool you’re being given. Be careful what you do with it. There’s a desperate need for people who have stories to tell. Ask yourself if you’ve had enough experience of the world to hold a mirror up to it and if not, think about how you are going to get that experience so you have something to say. We’re incredibly privileged to wield this tool and it’s our responsibility to wield it well.”
If you would like to be part of next year's Springboard week and attend masterclasses like this one, sign up to one of our many upcoming open days including our general open day on the 10th February and our dedicated Directing Documentary MA open day on the 25th April 2018 - more info at www.nfts.co.uk/opendays