An Interview with Sam Firth

DepicT! is the 90 second online film competition strand of Encounters, the UK’s most prestigious short film festival. We partnered with DepicT! for our short film competition, WHERE THE HEART IS, which was won by Isazaly Mohamed Isa’s CORRIDOR and which can be seen here.

Sam Firth won the British Special Mention Award for her film I.D. in DepicT! ‘09 and received a special package of support from BAFTA, the British Council and the National Film and Television School as part of her prize. Sam speaks below in an interview from the DepicT! site about the huge amount of activity about she’s been up to since her DepicT! win.

How did you get into filmmaking?
I decided to try my hand at filmmaking while still at University so between my second and third years I got some work experience at a television company. Through my connections there I managed to organise some work for the London Film Festival before I graduated, and straight after University I worked for LFF. After that I worked freelance in production, then as a script reader. I knew then I was more interested in the storytelling and development side of filmmaking.

Where did you find the inspiration for (DepicT! ’09 winning film) I.D. and can you talk more about your experience making it?

Celtic Media Festival were challenging filmmakers to make 60 second shorts on the theme of identity. While on a particularly long train journey thinking about ideas for my film I thought the easiest thing to do would be to talk about my own identity – so when I got home I started looking through pictures and had a real light bulb moment – I had 60-odd passport photographs and thought I would base my film around them.

I did the whole film in my front room, it was really ad hoc. I didn’t have a tripod that would film the angle I wanted at the time (facing horizontally down), so I had to weigh down my existing one with heavy pillows and books. The lighting came courtesy of an Ikea desk lamp with kitchen roll taped to it! With the voiceover, I didn’t have anything rehearsed, I just sat and spent 2 or 3 hours talking to my camera, and the camera clicks are from an old 1980s stills camera I had kicking about. I was really keen on the film being as real and authentic as possible.

What was your experience of Encounters like?
I had a great time! I watched loads of films, met so many talented filmmakers and, of course, it was the first public screening of I.D. My Mum was there as well so it was just brilliant to be able to watch the film with a paying audience! By the end of the Festival I think I was losing my voice – there was so much activity!

Tell us about your Bridging the Gap ( the only documentary new talent initiative for cinema in the UK offering training linked to production) film.
Having the DepicT! prize definitely helped getting the Bridging the Gap commission. I heard that Peter Liechti was told by David Sproxton (co-founder and managing director of Aardman Animations and one of the DepicT! ’09 judges) that he must see I.D., which was great. I’m now editing my film (which is called The Worm Inside) and hoping to get it broadcast on television very soon. You can see a trailer below if you want.

Tell us about your course at the NFTS.
As part of my DepicT! prize I had a choice of three courses at the NFTS to go to. I picked their Directing Actors course and went in February to take part. I want to do more drama work (I have a 10-minute drama script I’m working on at the moment) and the course allowed me to use the NFTS film studio and work with a professional crew and actors. It’s given me so much more confidence.

Tell us about your mentorship with (director) Antonia Bird.
BAFTA assigned Antonia as my mentor which was really exciting. Although it was initially meant to be for 6 months we’re going to extend the mentor-mentee relationship so I’m thrilled about that. She is a real support – we speak on the phone regularly and she gives opinions and advice, reads my scripts, provides contacts and acts as a referee on applications. When she starts her next film she’s invited me to come along and shadow her. She’s brilliant – a strong cheerleader who urges me on. It’s been a dream come true working with her and the support she has given has been priceless.

Tell us more about your British Council support.
As part of my DepicT! prize I get support from the British Council and I’ve had an incredible year as a result of it. I.D. got accepted into the Toronto World Wide Short Film Festival and they paid for me to attend. I had a fantastic time, did my first Q&A in front of a public audience, met some great filmmakers and saw some great films. I also met the programming team from the Saguenay Film Festival who showed I.D. as part of the Encounters British Showcase – they’re a lovely bunch. Fingers crossed I get to go to more festivals – it’s a fantastic experience.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about the impact of your DepicT! prize?
From a very practical viewpoint when applying for festivals it helps so much to be able to write down an award – there’s no doubt about it, it helps your application. From a personal viewpoint, I would say that the most important thing I was pleased with was getting recognised and acknowledged – that what I think works on film is good! It’s been an incredible year and I’ve got great hopes for the future.

What’s the most important lesson or word of advice you would give to people who might enter a film to DepicT!?
My advice is to keep it simple. The most effective films are simple ideas well told. Go and play!

Watch Sam’s I.D. here:

Check out ten years of snappy cinematic shorts in the DepicT! archive that may just inspire you to make your own.

Read Sam’s blog of her year as a DepicT! winner here.

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