An Academy Award winning director, Chris began his career as an actor and worked on various television and film projects with directors including Joel Schumacher and Roman Polanski. He also played a lead role in the BAFTA Award-winning film Pride, directed by Matthew Warchus.
Chris made his directorial debut with The Silent Child, for which he received the Academy Award® for Best Live Action Short Film in 2018. He won Best Director at The River Bend Film Festival and has won over 30 international awards with The Silent Child. It continues to play in film festivals and television channels around the world.
Chris has just directed his first commercial through FCB Inferno in the UK for the hugely successful Huawei Story Sign Christmas campaign, bringing his thoughtful, heart-warming style to his work. The campaign won seven Lions at Cannes in 2019 (four of which were Gold), eight One Show awards, three D&ADs and a Grand Prix at Eurobest.
When did you know you wanted to be a director?
I think it was filmmaking, as opposed to specifically directing that I was interested in and I do remember there was a moment where something special happened that ignited my interest. It was a school project. when I was about 13-years-old. We were filming something and it wasn’t even the process of production that I was excited by at that moment. It was the editing and seeing that footage put together. I just couldn’t believe it. It blew my mind. We were editing on software called Pinnacle.
That was the first moment that I fell in love with filmmaking. After that I told my mum that I had to get a camera for school for another media project. So I kind of bribed her into getting me a camera for my birthday and from that moment, I never looked back really. I’ve always had a camera with me from the age of about 13.
I started to make films and it was a way of entertaining my friends and myself. There wasn’t a lot to do in my area. I grew up in the West Midlands and it was either cause trouble or make films. So I used to wrangle all my friends and people from the neighbourhood – I’d do a shot list and write a brief outline. Film it, edit it and even hold little screenings and try and flog DVDs for a few quid. We would just make films every weekend and I guess that was my starting point before I went away to college and put down the camera for a bit.
I’ve always wanted to be an actor from a young age. Making films kind of facilitated the acting. I’d always be in the films. Acting was always the priority, and what I was most passionate about. After I had a semi-successful slice of the industry as an actor, I started to become more interested in the filmmaking side of things. I’m sure the crew would get sick of me on set asking so many questions.
When I worked with Roman Polanski on Oliver Twist I took a notebook on set and used to write scribbles and ideas in my trailer. Seeing him direct inspired me to make my biggest childhood film (which will never see the light of day). I had a camera with me and because I was flying back and forth to Prague and Paris I’d use those locations to make my movie. It was obviously terrible, but I guess you could see a few ideas somewhere.
After college I took it more seriously and looking back at it now I suppose I created my own… film school. I created a showreel company called Slick Showreels, to help support my acting career and help actors with no screen experience break into the industry. I wanted to find a way that I could run my own business and make a bit of money, but also do something that I was passionate about. So I started to produce showreels for actors. I started that when I was 19 or 20. So that company has been going for about 10 years.
To be honest, I’d always shy away from directing, I’d always want to do it with someone else, I’d always want to co-direct or I’d prefer to be the DoP, because I was quite scared of it.
And then this project came along, I met my now wife Rachel Shenton and she had this idea for a script about a deaf child born to a hearing family and I said it was a fantastic idea and she had to write it. A few weeks later she presented me with The Silent Child.
I think it was reading that script. Something quite literally changed in me. It was like someone lit a fire in my belly. I just knew that I had to tell this story and I could picture it all in my head. So, before then I had directed bits and pieces, but I hadn’t really grabbed the bull by the horns.
Once you knew you wanted to pursue a career as a director, what were your first steps in achieving this goal?
It’s kind of a strange unorthodox approach to the industry that I’ve had. I think I’ve done it backwards. I’ve always had an interest in filmmaking from a young age but it wasn’t until I started my first short film project that I knew I wanted to direct. Then as I was making the film and it gained momentum and became successful, it was more about how I moved forward after that. I try and aim for “One for the money. Two for the Showreel”.
What obstacles or setbacks did you face in becoming a director?
I think the obstacles that I faced were to do with myself and my lack of experience and understanding of the film industry. I started acting professionally when I was 8, so I feel like I’ve been in the industry for a while. I always looked up to feature films and television shows so at the beginning I didn’t really understand that there is a process. Sure, everyone has their own individual process and I bet there are directors that have made TV and Features without doing shorts first. But without doing those smaller projects and finding my voice and what I like and what I don’t like, I could never be confident enough to execute something on a larger scale with more money and more pressure.
How did you develop your voice and hone your craft?
I’ve definitely found what I like through just doing it and doing it and doing it. Starting Slick Showreels meant I could film literally thousands of small scenes. It gave me the opportunity over nearly a decade to form a team and to be able to make mistakes, at a level that isn’t high-pressured. I have so much to thank that time and experience of doing showreels for when it came to making a short film with a really important message. Also, that combined with being an actor from such a young age really helped me understand and empathise with actors. I love working with them. I guess that’s my forte (If I have one). Because I’ve done it, I’ve experienced it and I’ve actually been through the process. I’ve been an actor for over 20 years, so that experience is invaluable for me as a director. But to answer the question, the way I’ve developed my voice and honed my craft is just by doing it over and over again and I never stop learning. Maybe it’s a given, I wasn’t always, but I’ve become obsessed with reading and watching films. It helps me to decide what I like and what I don’t like. When you have a collection of those likes and dislikes I suppose they come together to form our voice.
How did you get your first break?
Well, I’m still early on in my career. Obviously I think my first break came from The Silent Child, of course. But after that, I would look at my first break into the industry as a paid professional, which was a big commercial that I did for Huawei. It was just after winning the Oscar®, and it so happened that the commercial had something to do with the subject of the short film. So it was timing – right place, right time. I think commercials can be quite difficult to break into, and I don’t think I would have broken into them had it not been for the right time and having a brand that needed to promote something that I knew quite a lot about. So, I always believe that one thing leads to another. I don’t think I’ve ever done a job in this industry where it hasn’t benefitted me for the next project in some way, even if that’s meeting a new actor, finding a new location or creating a new set of contacts or even, discovering a new lens. Every single project I’ve ever done has benefitted me for the next one so if that’s true for everyone else we just have to keep making things because we will constantly be learning and growing if we do that.
Film Credits: The Silent Child (2017).
Photograph: Libby Burke Wild