Amit Gupta is director and writer for theatre, film and television. His recent directing work includes Sky One’s top rated drama comedy Delicious, starring Dawn French, Emilia Fox, Iain Glen and Sheila Hancock. His two-part adaptation of Cecilia Ahearne’s bestselling novel Thanks For The Memories, which he wrote and directed for ZDF, premiered in 2019.
Amit’s first feature Resistance, starred Andrea Riseborough, Tom Wlaschiha and Michael Sheen and was nominated for three BAFTAs, the WGGB Best First Feature and the CineVision Award at Munich. His second film, Jadoo, a drama comedy adapted from his own Radio 4 play, was the only UK narrative feature to premiere in Official Selection at the Berlin Film Festival in 2013 and has played at over 50 international festivals around the world. His latest feature, One Crazy Thing, was the Opening Gala at the East End Film Festival and was released theatrically in 2018 in the UK and US.
Amit’s stage plays include Touch (winner of the Royal Court Theatre Young Writers’ Competition), Option which premiered at London’s Tricycle Theatre and Campaign, which was nominated for an Olivier Award and won a Liberty Human Rights Award, as part of The Great Game.
When did you know you wanted to be a director?
I grew up in Belgrave, Leicester – a predominantly working class, British Asian part of the city. Our local cinema, the Natraj, played Indian movies, which my family would occasionally go and see on a Saturday night. That experience I think was pretty formative, as from that time I really fell in love with cinemas and movie going experience. I remember seeing Star Wars at the Odeon, and then later, I was probably in my teens, I started branching out and going to an indie called the Phoenix. What I loved about films was being able to be lost in another world for a couple of hours, and to be emotionally connected to characters I had nothing in common with.
It wasn’t really until I was at university reading History that I started to became aware that many of the films I loved had the same director. It was at that point that I started to try and understand what that role meant in film.
Once you knew you wanted to pursue a career as a director, what were your first steps in achieving this goal?
In my final year at university I’d decided I wanted to be a director but at that point I hadn’t actually made anything, so I didn’t have a short or reel of any kind. That meant applying to film school wasn’t really viable. However, a number of directors I admired at that time – Mike Nichols, Elia Kazan, Arthur Penn, Mike Leigh – had a background in theatre, so I decided to apply to drama schools and fortunately got a place at Central to do an MA in Advanced Theatre Practice. It was there that I also got a chance to try writing drama – something I’d never considered doing before. It was also around that time that I started taking more photographs, which informed my work later.
What obstacles or setbacks did you face in becoming a director?
The main obstacles were that I didn’t know anyone in the industry or have any idea of how to get any kind of first step on an industry ladder. I applied for some directing schemes without any luck. But I was in London and got a chance to watch loads of films and plays, which was really important. I was also reading a lot and taking a lot of pictures.
Later the obstacles changed, and became more about how I am defined as a director as a person of colour. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been referred to as an Indian director, as opposed to someone from the Midlands!
How did you develop your voice and hone your craft?
I think I started to develop a ‘voice’ through writing. A lot of directors I was inspired by had written their own films, so I thought I’d try the same method. But I started off writing plays – the grammar of films seemed harder to learn at that time. I don’t actually believe a play is any easier to write, just on the page they look more straightforward. And then I got really lucky, as the first full play I wrote was one of the winners of the Royal Court Young Writers’ Competition. It was performed with a professional cast, and I was subsequently invited to be part of their Writers’ Group, where I learnt a huge amount about constructing drama – which I think is so important for directors.
How did you get your first break?
After gaining some confidence writing a couple of plays, I decided to try my hand at a spec screenplay. I had an idea for something which was very much influenced by my early experiences of going to the cinema where I grew up. My break came when I was trying to put the film together with a couple of young producers, and the great director of photography, Brian Tufano, read my script and said he thought it had potential and he would shoot it. At that point I got a lot more interest in me because one of the things Brian was known for was picking the first movies of directors who went on to have amazing careers. I actually never managed to get the film made for various reasons! But I did get an agent, and I had a spec script which got me my first screenplay commission. That commission was from Richard Holmes – who ended up producing my first (and only) short film, and my first two features.
Now I should say that I may have made this sound straightforward. It was anything but straightforward and there have been any number of times when I’ve thought about doing something else. The thing is I love what I do and I’m not sure I’d be good anything else., so this is what I do.
Some things I think are important in navigating this business before or after that first break: Persistence – don’t take a ‘No’ too personally. Belief – you only produce your best work from a place of confidence. Kindness – you really, really don’t need to be a dick to be a director despite the occasional stereotype. A lot of the jobs I’ve had from people have come down to the fact that I may have said please or thank you.
TV Credits: Coming Up (2003), Love Story (2007), Resistance (2011), Jadoo (2013), One Crazy Thing (2016).
Film Credits: Delicious (2019), Thanks for the Memories (2019).
Photograph: John Pardue