BAFTA Breakthrough Brits, in partnership with Burberry, is a BAFTA initiative now in it’s second year, developed with the ambition of celebrating and supporting the UK’s emerging talent. The 2014 group was carefully selected by a panel of expert jury members who included Richard Ayoade, Barbara Broccoli OBE, Mike Newell and Olivia Colman.
The talented 18 new-comers were revealed on 27 October 2014 at an evening reception held at Burberry’s flagship Regent Street store. The event was hosted by BBC Radio 1 presenter Greg James and each of the Brits were presented to a room full of influential industry figures.
Meet the 2014 Breakthrough Brits
Life for Andrew James Riach, aka ‘AJ’, could have been very different if he hadn’t made a clear decision in his youth. An avid fan of the theatre, Riach came to the conclusion that actually treading the boards wasn’t the path he was destined for.
“I realised I was better at making stuff,” he explains. “I was good at getting things together and making things happen.”
With those kind of attributes, a career as a film producer was almost inevitable. He’s certainly shown he has the right drive: in just four years he has gone from a runner on a critically-acclaimed documentary (One Night in Turin) for New Black Films to a producer of his first feature film via his own company, Mad As Birds Films. Said movie, Set Fire to the Stars, a biopic about poet Dylan Thomas’s later life, came about through Riach’s dogged determination. It was a chance encounter with Welsh actor Celyn Jones, in which he revealed he’d always wanted to play the poet, which set Riach on his path. Not only did he fight to keep Jones (who co-wrote the film) as the star with its investors, he also managed to convince some major talent to join the cast, including Elijah Wood and Kelly Reilly. The film made its debut at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and was nominated for both the Micheal Powell Award for Best British Feature Film and the Audience Award.
“I just want to make great films,” he says. “I’d like to create a legacy of films that people can watch and enjoy.”
Presenter Ashley Kendall found himself drawn to performing while attending the Royal School for the Deaf in Derby. His natural charm and charisma and an expressive talent for British Sign Language (BSL) landed him a job at Remark!, the UK’s largest Deaf run media production company.
Kendall was soon appearing on the Community Channel’s Punk Chef and Let’s Go Wild, CBBC’s My Life: Signing Off and the BBC’s See Hear. However, his crowning achievement must be fronting CBeebies’ groundbreaking Magic Hands. This wonderful children’s series provides a joyful mix of sign language, spoken word, music and animation to bring poems by the likes of Robert Louis Stevenson and Christina Rossetti to life. It’s the first time poetry has ever been translated into BSL – not easy given that not all English words have a BSL equivalent – and Kendall has been at the heart of the work. It’s his hope that Magic Hands not only entertains and informs but also helps normalise disability with hearing children.
“Being named a Breakthrough Brit really means a lot to me,” he says. “I’ve been through a lot of barriers in my life because of my disability, so having something like this just shows that a deaf person can break through to the mainstream. My main aim is to progress my career and grow my involvement with the hearing community.”
When someone of the calibre of John Boorman describes a young actor as “a natural”, it’s time to sit up and take notice. The director picked fresh-faced Callum Turner from 40 other young hopefuls to star as the lead in his 2014 war drama Queen and Country, opposite the likes of David Thewlis, Richard E Grant and David Hayman.
Turner’s propensity for acting is matched only by his model good looks, and it is perhaps no surprise that his first performances in front of the camera were as a fashion model. But acting is his first love and despite no formal training, he has been lighting up the small screen since bursting onto the scene in ITV’s Leaving, opposite Helen McCrory. He followed that up with equally strong performances in ITV’s The Town, The Borgias for Sky Atlantic and the BBC’s Ripper Street, and he will soon be seen in Paul McGuigan’s new adaptation of the Frankenstein story with James McAvoy, Daniel Radcliffe and Mark Gatiss. He also has a leading role in a new E4 series called Glue, from BAFTA-winning writer Jack Thorne.
“It’s quite a horrible feeling once you finish a job,” says Turner. “It goes out into the world, you have no control over it anymore and then people judge you. So it’s brilliant to have people say they like what you’re doing. It gives you confidence. You need that as an actor. Confidence is key in all things. It gives you that extra push and you take more risks.”
If we were to say Charu Desodt created a unique sound analysis prototype to compare pitch and timing data sung into a microphone with a pre-processed file, crafting all aspects of the game from USB driver through to the user interface, you would probably look at us blankly. However, if we were to say Charu Desodt engineered the technology behind the hugely successful SingStar franchise for Sony PlayStation, we bet you would know exactly what we’re talking about and are itching to pick up the mic and challenge your friends to a round of ‘Livin’ la Vida Loca’.
The first female engineer hired by Sony’s London Studio, Desodt moved up to become a producer on its Wonderbook: Book of Spells. This augmented reality game was developed in conjunction with bestselling author JK Rowling and set in the Harry Potter universe. It was nominated for a BAFTA in Game Innovation in 2013.
A senior producer at Microsoft’s Lift London studio since 2012, she helps to create character-centric tablet and mobile games, Desodt’s credit list already totals almost 80 games, including recent puzzler Secrets and Treasure: The Lost Cities.
“You never feel like you’ve reached your potential,” says Desodt, assessing her career to date. “I always feel like there’s more to do. I am always inspired by other people and what they’re doing… Being named a Breakthrough Brit has made me reassess what I might be able to achieve and how I could help the industry evolve.”
“The problem with being a writer is you do spend a lot of time working on your own in complete isolation,” Chris Lunt smiles. “You often wonder whether you are going in the right direction or doing the right thing, so it’s wonderful to be recognised by such a prestigious organisation as BAFTA. It lets you know you’re doing something right.”
The success of his hit ITV miniseries Prey is demonstrative proof that the writer is not only doing something right, but doing it very well. April saw an average of 5.5 million Brits nervously tuning in to this three-part cop-on-the-run thriller, starring John Simm and Rosie Cavaliero. It’s a firm pat on the back for the 43-year-old Lunt, who admits he came to his chosen profession rather late. Prey may represent Lunt’s first broadcast credit, but he admits he must have pitched more than 80 projects before he got his big break.
“I was still making a living at writing, a treatment here, a script commission there,” explains Lunt, who set up his company, Dodge The Draft, in 2010. “But my struggle has been quite long. I was 39 before I turned professional. I’d like to inspire people who are in that battle themselves, to let them know that it does happen and it doesn’t matter how old you are. You just have to work at it and keep going.”
Lunt is currently working on a reboot of classic British icon The Saint, among other projects.
Enigmatic, intricate and delightful are just some of the adjectives that have been used to describe the innovative mobile game Monument Valley, produced by Daniel Gray and his small team at Ustwo. It is as much an experience as it is a game, melding hypnotic music and stunning visuals (influenced by MC Escher) with a user-friendly game mechanic to tell a subtle story. Described by the Guardian as a beautiful game that “begged to be framed and hung”, it went on to win an Apple Design Award. Gamers voted with their thumbs, downloading more than 1.3 million copies.
“We took a lot of risks making Monument Valley,” Gray notes. “Everything we were told you should do when you make mobile games – like make it free, put adverts in it, add in leaderboards – we went the complete opposite direction. We focused on the artistry of it, the visuals and the music.”
Gray is no stranger to mixing eye-candy visuals with original narratives having previously worked on the acclaimed Fable II and III for Lionhead Studios. Then, as a producer at Hello Games, he helped bring fun racing platformer Joe Danger to the market, before finding his current place at Ustwo.
“There are still a lot of things we want to achieve as a team,” he adds. “We want to redefine how people think about mobile entertainment. We want mobile games to be seen as something that people can go to for an enriching and moving experience.”
October 2014 will be a month to remember for director Destiny Ekaragha: not only is her first feature film, Gone Too Far!, hitting UK cinemas, following its premiere at the BFI London Film Festival (LFF) in 2013, but she’s also been named as one of BAFTA’s Breakthrough Brits. That they should both come along at once seems almost like fate.
“October is a crazy month for me,” she laughs. “It’s a little overwhelming. Getting my film made was a milestone, so to get distribution is incredible. It’s on 20 screens, so I’m really happy. Making your first film isn’t the hardest part, it’s getting that second one done. So knowing BAFTA will be there to support me this year is a huge sigh of relief. It’s an incredible initiative. I’m humbled to be a part of it.”
Three years in the making, Gone Too Far! is only the fourth British film directed by a black woman to be released in cinemas. Adapted from Bola Agbaje’s stageplay, Ekaragha’s comedy focuses on the nature of identity and ethnicity in modern multicultural London. She was nominated for Best British Newcomer at the LFF, and won the Emerging Talent award at the Screen Nation Awards (both in 2013). The film picked up further awards at the London Comedy Film Festival and Screen Nation Awards in 2014.
Not a bad haul for a debut film and its director, but then if the name fits…
“I enjoy the healing aspect of writing,” says Jonathan Asser, whose first ever script became 2013’s powerful and visceral prison drama, Starred Up. This articulate, bold and authentic script touched a nerve with critics and cinemagoers alike, and led to the film receiving eight nominations at the British Independent Film Awards in 2013, winning Ben Mendelsohn the Best Supporting Actor honour. Asser himself was nominated in the Best Screenplay category, having already collected the Best British Newcomer award at the 2013 BFI London Film Festival.
The film drew on Asser’s own experience of working within the prison system, where he developed a new therapeutic way to help violent criminals called Shame/Violence Intervention. With the script taking around six years to write, it’s clear that penning this original take on the prison system was something of a cathartic experience for the first-time writer.
“Writing is a great way of expressing and exploring things in a way that feels safe. It’s a great healing gift to be able to write,” he states. “Empathy is a key human resource I feel, and drama possibly has a role in enabling us to step into other people’s shoes and connect with how life may be for them. Making a connection with people who we may not normally connect with, and in so doing broadening the sphere of empathy that can enfold us all as human beings, is probably what my writing is about.”
Katie Leung will be instantly recognisable to any fan of the Harry Potter films, having broken many a teenage girls’ hearts by playing the young wizard’s first love interest, Cho Chang.
Many young actresses would have wilted under the intense spotlight, but Leung is clearly made of sterner stuff (must be her Scottish upbringing – she was born in Motherwell). She has taken on leading roles in television and theatre, including Poirot and Father Brown. In 2011, she was one of the leads in Channel 4’s acclaimed drama Run, and she has earned rave reviews for her recent stage performance in the National Theatre’s The World of Extreme Happiness. Next up is a new two-part BBC drama One Child, written by the BAFTA-winning Guy Hibbert.
Having been plucked out of obscurity for Harry Potter, Leung decided to take on some formal training: she is now two-thirds of the way through a BA in Acting at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
“I can’t really believe it,” she says of her Breakthrough Brits selection. “As an Asian actor it’s very difficult to get work… I came really close to giving it all up. I don’t come from a family of actors, which makes it difficult to get feedback. But to know that BAFTA is backing me and that my work is being appreciated just means the world.”
Marc Williamson has the documentary film bug. Just a few minutes into a conversation with Williamson, a recent graduate from the National Film and Television School (NFTS), and it becomes clear he has a deep passion for this artform.
Williamson developed a show-and- not-tell style, eschewing talking head footage to allow the onscreen action to tell the story, which he used on his graduation film, Boys. Shot at Muntham House School, a boarding school for boys with behavioural difficulties, the film was nominated for a Grierson Trust British Documentary Award and won the Student Doc award at Sheffield Doc/Fest in 2013.
The film so impressed Channel 4, it commissioned Boys as part of its key First Cut documentary strand, which showcases films by new and exciting directors. However, Williamson wanted to reshoot the film – essentially making it from scratch – and convinced the broadcaster to let him and his student crew return to Muntham House to make The Last Chance School. This 60-minute film was watched by 1.2 million viewers on broadcast and earned Williamson another Grierson nomination.
Since then, he has directed episodes of Royal Marines Commando School, Posh Pawn and Our War. He is currently one of two directors working on a new Channel 4 series called NHS: The Cost of Living.
“I’ve only been able to make the films I’ve made so far by people taking a chance on me,” Williamson says, “so I’m really grateful to BAFTA. I’m hoping it will open more doors for me, so I can keep making the kind of films I like to make.”
Mike Brett & Steve Jamison
Football fans (and lovers of pub quizzes) can probably tell you what the worst defeat ever recorded is: Australia 31-0 American Samoa in 2001. What they may not be able to tell you – unless they have seen co-director-producer duo Mike Brett and Steve Jamison’s excellent debut documentary feature, Next Goal Wins – is what happened next. To say the pair captured lightning in a bottle, on their first attempt, is an understatement.
Brett and Jamison have taken a circuitous route into filmmaking, working between them as teachers, a film journalist, an ad agency scriptwriter and an artist, before making the decision to go into business together and setting up their production company, Archer’s Mark, in 2008. As well as directing their own films, both factual and fictional, they are also keen to support other new filmmakers with the production and release of their features.
“We’ve forged our identity without external pressure,” says Brett, “but now is the time to connect with the rest of the industry… It’s slightly unusual to finance, produce and direct your first movie and it’s very easy to live in a bubble if you do that. BAFTA is the nexus where talented people meet, and we’d love to take advantage of that.”
“We’d like to be more ambitious in the stories we’re able to tell as filmmakers,” adds Jamison. “As producers, we’d like to think we’re able to help other young filmmakers tread the same path we’re on now. We want to help them execute what they want to make. We want to be more ambitious and we want to help other people be more ambitious, too.”
If Ray Panthaki has a face you think you’ve seen before, that’s because he has and you did. Like many British actors, Panthaki cut his teeth on television, and starred in a variety of one-shot dramas and long- running serials over the last decade or so. But a turning point came in 2006 with Kidulthood, which Panthaki not only acted in but also co-produced.
Since then, Panthaki has been carving out a career on the other side of the camera. The most recent addition is 2014’s Convenience, a smart and riotous comedy in which he starred alongside Adeel Akhtar and Vicky McClure. He has also produced and acted in Amit Gupta’s One Crazy Thing, and is due to start shooting Fortunate Sons, about honour killings, later this year.
Panthaki is particularly proud of a short film he wrote, directed and produced last year called Life Sentence. A fictional story about inner city knife crime, it won several awards and is being used for educational purposes in schools and young offender institutions across the UK.
“Knife crime is very personal to me,” explains Panthaki. “I’m so proud of what we achieved with Life Sentence and it has given me the desire to direct more. It’s having an impact on people and that’s very fulfilling.
“But it’s been a long hard graft getting to this point. I took a decision to earn my stripes and I’ve made many sacrifices in my life over the past 10 years to get here. I feel that all the artistic sacrifices I’ve made have been worth it.”
There’s something a little bit wonderful about Reece Millidge, from the name of his own micro-studio, Damp Gnat, to the charm of his two award-winning browser and mobile games, Wonderputt and Icycle: On Thin Ice. That both games are solely the fruit of Millidge’s own hard work, and were self-funded, makes them all the more impressive.
Millidge’s background in art – he’s a Royal College of Art graduate – and animation – he was head of animation and compositing on more than 70 projects for Nexus Productions – gave him the tools with which to create his stunning visions. While the gameplay is different in each game, both are inventive, whimsical and engaging, and all delivered with a very British sensibility that appeals across the generations.
“The best email I ever received was from a grandparent who had been playing it with his grandchild,” the Brighton-based developer says. “That meant more than any award. Kids pick up games really quickly, but when you hear grandparents like it as well, that’s fantastic. That’s what I was aiming for.
“BAFTA’s support has come at a really good time,” he adds. “I’ve been working alone for the last four years or so and it’s got to the point where the games are bigger than me. I need to know the best practices of expansion and I need help in business, writing and games strategies.”
Sarah Walker was born to direct. A childhood of making home movies starring the family dog soon led to a career in direction. Her credits now include numerous high profile television shows, from Hollyoaks and Dates (for Channel 4) to Waterloo Road, The Cut and The Crash (for the BBC). The latter really thrust Walker in the limelight and saw her nominated for a BAFTA Scotland award in 2013. She has also set up her own company, Underdog Productions.
Despite all of this, she was still surprised to hear she’d been named a Breakthrough Brit. “When they told me I actually said, ‘Are you serious?’” Walker laughs. “Girls don’t tend to win these things very much, particularly girl directors, so I was very surprised and honoured.”
Up until now she’s predominantly directed television, but Walker’s ambition is to work across both this medium and film, where her professional career started as third assistant director on Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. She currently has a television show (Summer Blues) and film (New Year’s Kiss) both in development.
“I’ve always seen myself as a storyteller and I’m inspired by people like Joss Whedon and Kathryn Bigelow,” Walker notes. “In a perfect world I’d like to make New Year’s Kiss next year, but Summer Blues has also had some interest… I’d love to meet an amazing producer and exec who really understand and click with my work. I know they’re out there, but I haven’t met many yet.”
If you are going to announce yourself onto the world stage, then a lead role in a Lars von Trier film is a good way to do it. Stacy Martin’s provocative yet sensitive performance in the auteur’s Nymphomaniac, in which she plays the younger version of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s titular character, made for a remarkable debut.
Like her fellow Breakthrough Brit Callum Turner, the young actress turned to modelling before her acting career started to blossom. This past year has seen her shoot three films: The Tale of Tales for Gomorrah director, Matteo Garrone, alongside Vincent Cassel and John C Reilly; Ben Wheatley’s new film, High Rise, based on the JG Ballard novel; and Winter, co-starring Tommy Flanagan and Jessica Hynes. She is also due to shoot her first French film Taj Mahal with writer-director Nicolas Saada soon, which shouldn’t phase her one bit having spent much of her youth growing up in France.
“To be recognised by BAFTA is a massive deal for someone who enters this world in an unconventional way like me,” Martin says. “I didn’t do the ‘three years at drama school’ path. I’ve had to find my own way of working, my own way of breaking into the industry. It can be very competitive and you can feel lonely at times, because you’re always compared with other people.
“I hope to find a sense of community among creatives and artists, where we can all respect our work and have insightful conversations about what we love and the films we love. I know it exists.”
Like many of this year’s Breakthrough Brits, composer Tandis Jenhudson entered the industry through a rather non-traditional route. Born in Clapham to an Iranian bank clerk and Thai carpenter, he showed an interest in music at a young age, studying piano throughout his childhood, but ultimately opted to study medicine at University College London.
However, his interest in music never waned and he composed his first soundtrack for a short film in the same year he graduated to become a hospital doctor in 2004. With soundtracks created for 19 short films to date, including one which was nominated for a BAFTA Cymru Award in 2005, it became clear that Jenhudson would have to sacrifice one of his interests and, fortunately for the industry, music won out. His faith in his musical career bore fruit in 2013 when he received his first television broadcast credit for the BBC’s documentary Martin Luther King and the March on Washington, which received a BAFTA nomination at this year’s Television Awards.
“Breakthrough Brits provides a source of publicity within the industry that you just can’t generate yourself,” says the composer, who has also taught himself percussion, guitar, bass and synthesisers. “Self- promotion and self-marketing are all well and good, but to get the backing of BAFTA is amazing. I’d like to work with a wider range of people… but even if I get only one new collaborator from this, it will be wonderful.”
At the age of just 20, William Pugh already has a remarkable three BAFTA nominations to his name. His game, The Stanley Parable, co-developed with Australian Davey Wreden, used the Half-Life 2 engine to create a world that explores the nature of ‘choice’ in gaming. That’s a very dry description of something that is thoroughly original, with an interactive narrative that beguiles, delights, surprises and shocks in equal measure. If The Stanley Parable doesn’t make you laugh out loud at least once then you are missing a funny bone.
The title was BAFTA-nominated for Debut Game, Game Innovation and Story, with a fourth nomination going to Kevin Brighting for Performer as the game’s narrator.
“It’s like being thrown into some weird alternate world that you can only dream about,” says Pugh about his Breakthrough Brits selection, although it could just as easily describe The Stanley Parable. “It’s hard to vocalise what it means, because it’s so grand. I don’t have the life experience to put it into context. It’s already a massive honour, and to have it now, when I’m still developing and finding my feet, is amazing.”
He adds: “I want to diversify as a creative person. I’ve had the privilege and scariness of not going to university – The Stanley Parable was my university – so I’m still finding my path. I feel the momentum from The Stanley Parable is all very conceptual, whereas this next year will be a great opportunity for me to turn that into something tangible.”