TV DRAMA DIRECTOR - STEVE HUGHES
Steve wrote, directed and edited his first film at sixteen - a spoof action movie based on HG Wells’ ‘The Invisible man’. Steve studied TV production in Northumberland, where he wrote and directed ‘Cry Wolf’, a 30min drama which won numerous awards including the Royal Television Society Award for Best Student Production.
After moving to London, Steve worked as an editor and cameraman for the BBC whilst continuing to make short films in his spare time until he made the leap into directing TV drama in 2005.
Steve is a director known for his work on ‘Dr. Who’, ‘BBC’s Casualty’, ‘Land Girls’, ‘Evermoor’, and ‘Waterloo Road’.
HOW DID YOU GET IN TO THE INDUSTRY?
I did a BTEC HND in Design (Communications) up in Northumberland and won an RTS Award for the Best Student Production for a 24min drama called Cry Wolf which I wrote and directed. I knew I wouldn’t be able to walk into a directing job straight away, so I became a news editor for the BBC and continued to make short films with my friends using equipment we could borrow from work. Eventually, Mal Young, then head of BBC drama, was a guest on a show I was working on and I gave him a DVD of the last short I’d made. He liked it and got me a gig directing Doctors.
WHAT ONE SKILL OR PERSONAL ATTRIBUTE WOULD YOU CONSIDER TO BE THE BIGGEST FACTOR AS TO WHY YOU GOT TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY?
As I mentioned, I did a TV production course rather than going to a film school. Even though I was confident of my abilities, I didn’t apply for the bigger film schools. I think the biggest factor that contributed to where I am today is persistence. Unless you are very lucky, getting to where you want takes time. Most people give up too soon. I think it also helped having a separate career as an editor, so I could also pay the bills.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN A CV/EMAIL FROM STUDENTS TRYING TO BREAK IN TO THE BUSINESS?
Whenever someone wanting advice contacts you, it always helps to personalise the email/letter etc. I’ve had plenty of people who have written to me who have obviously written a generic email and pasted your name on the top. I don’t need my ego massaging, but it’s nice when someone says “I enjoyed your episode of Casualty, or Doctor Who, or whatever”. We all like a tiny bit of flattery!
WHAT TURNS YOU OFF OR ACTS AS A RED FLAG FROM YOUNGER FILM-MAKERS EITHER ON-SET OR IN EMAILS?
I like enthusiasm, but when someone is too pushy, it’s a real turn off. Take all the help and advice you can, and be persistent as I said, but also know when to quit. I was once talking to someone over email and giving advice and he asked if he could be my assistant on my next job. I told him it doesn’t work like that, especially on BBC productions, because they hire all the crew and there isn’t a specific assistant director position anyway, only 1st AD/2nd AD/3rd AD positions, and they need lots of experience, but the guy started emailing the BBC telling them I wanted him to be my assistant. It caused a lot of headaches.
WHAT IS YOUR ATTITUDE AND OUTLOOK ON THE CURRENT STATE OF THE INDUSTRY? ALSO, HOW HAVE THINGS CHANGED FROM WHEN YOU BEGAN AND HOW HAS THIS IMPACTED ON YOUR WORK?
I have a pretty positive outlook most of the time, and I really enjoy the work, but it can also be pretty frustrating at times. As a freelance director you get paid reasonably well, but you’ll be lucky to work 7 months a year, so it can be tough financially. Rates haven’t gone up in a long time. This needs to change. I have a family, so I need to work as much as possible and have to take whatever job comes along. It would also be nice to have more input on the scripts for the dramas I work on - by the time directors start, the script is pretty much locked and you can’t make many changes if you can see problems.
ON SET/IN YOUR WORKING ENVIRONMENT:
CAN YOU OFFER ANY ON SET/PRACTICAL HINTS AND TIPS?
If you are lucky to get some on-set experience, soak it up. Ask questions, but know when to just sit back and watch. Sometimes directors are happy to talk between shots, some aren’t - I am, but if my hands are full, wait until they’re not. If you think the day has gone well and you’ve bonded, swap numbers and email addresses or Twitter accounts or Facebook and keep in touch. The director you shadow can give you advice but it’s very unlikely they can get you a job. It helps if you know the show you’re shadowing too.
WHEN YOU ARE FIRST BROUGHT ON TO A PROJECT, WHAT ARE YOUR IMMEDIATE THOUGHTS AND PROCESSES?
It’s all about the script. Hopefully it gets your creative juices flowing. I always read it three times and ask practical questions. How the hell are we going to do this??
ADVICE AND MISTAKES:
WHAT WAS THE BEST ADVICE YOU’VE EVER BEEN GIVEN?
I honestly can’t remember any!
WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU COULD GIVE?
“Don’t stop believin’” - Journey
WHAT WAS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE BLUNDER?
It wasn’t me, but I worked on a huge stunt where we had a massive crane to get the “money shot” and the focus puller, who is responsible for pressing the record button on the camera, erm… didn’t. I was mortified, but we managed to salvage the sequence by using other shots.