Vicki Psarias: "As a director, you're a mum, you're a dad, you're everything."
27-year-old director, writer and magazine editor Vicki Psarias has been making films since she was 11 years old. With her TV-experienced dad, George Psarias , on hand as cameraman, she directed a film about litter on the streets of Leeds, where she grew up. As she says, "I was actually directing, which is quite freaky, because I was 10, 11, and I was saying to my dad, get a shot of that over there, quick! Look at this!"
Vicki studied film at Goldsmiths, University of London, and her graduation film, 'Rifts', about two warring kebab shop owners, won a number of awards at film festivals, including Best Screenplay at the Portobello Film Festival. Her second short, Broken, was based on the story of her mother and grandmother, who are of Greek Cypriot background, and their experiences of moving to the UK in the 1960s. Vicki is also the editor of Film & Festivals Magazine .
Fresh from winning a 4Talent award for Best Filmmaker in late 2007, Vicki directed and shot trailer footage for the English National Opera . She is currently working on two scripts and a project for the Sci-Fi London 48-Hour Film Challenge. She found some time in her packed schedule to grab some caffeine at the ICA bar with Suchandrika Chakrabarti.
Wow. How do you manage to fit all the work in?!
Mainly I’m writing at the moment, and editing the magazine of course. That’s really full-on. People say, oh you work about 20 hours a day, but to me that’s quite normal, you know. If you want to be a filmmaker, you have to like pressure
I need pressure, I need deadlines. If you want to be a filmmaker, youhave to like pressure. You have to work well under pressure. But you also need that time where you don’t think about work and you live your life. Otherwise, you don’t have anything to write about. You need some quiet time, almost like punctuation in between all the madness. You do always worry, am I doing enough?
I was the second camera on the opera film, and it was the first time that I had shot film. The editor didn’t know what I had shot, but he chose my cutaways.That really gave me confidence, and made me think that maybe I should shoot some more.
Quite a few of my best mates are directors. We can support each other. That's really important; it's quite crucial.
How did you get involved with the magazine?
Rose Chamberlain set the magazine up. I was interviewed by them, and she asked, "do you know anyone who might beinterested in editing the magazine?" I said, "I will!"
I have always used my tools from journalism to inspire and inform my fictional stuff, the way that I went around finding my stories I studied journalism as part of my first degree, media and communications. I did documentary journalism. I had worked as a researcher at The Guardian, and I was always a keen writer, andI have always used my tools from journalism to inspire and inform my fictional stuff, the way that I went around finding my stories. I was really grateful to be given this huge responsibility. I knew as a filmmaker what I wanted to read,and I hope the magazine is interesting for other filmmakers.
I recently commissioned a huge feature in the magazine on new talent. I think it’s wonderful to be able to do that, because I know what it feels like not be heard. We all have to push to be heard because there’s so many of us. I get very excited about putting people together. I’m in the very early stages myself.
What's happening with the scripts you're working on at the moment?
I’m writing two feature films at the moments. One has grown out of my short film ‘Rifts’. It’s a comedy, quite a controversial comedy I suppose, for my community. It’s very much the second-generation, the son and daughter of the kebab shop owners in the first film. It’s about rivalry, it’s about love, it’sabout cultural identity.
I'm writing another script with a really old friend, who I've written with since the age of 11 - we made the litter film together! The one I'm writing with a friend is set in Leeds among the Greek community there.
How did you know so much about filming at such a young age?
My dad used to do TV work, and I grew up with that. He was on TV-AM, he cooked Greek food on Food & Drink. Both my mum and dad did a lot of TV work, and a few of their friends were involved in this world too. I became comfortable with TV sets and studios. So I went on one of Dad's sets when I was 11 and they asked me to present something. I was in front of the cameras at that early age, learning how things worked. My dad still does bits and pieces for Sky, and I recently made a documentary about him called The Dancing Chef . We made it in a day - well, only 15 hours actually - and it was shown at the Cypriot Film Festival. So it began with my parents, really.
I’ve always been drawing and writing, and I think that film brings those two things together. I still feel silly when people ask me what I do though, and I say "director." They go, "oh what have you made?" thinking that you’re famous, and I’m just like, "I made a short film, I don’t think you’ll have seen it." It could be a good comedy sketch… I say it, and I feel a bit embarrassed. I’m not some big film director, I’m just trying my best to forge a career.
So where did you go from food shows and litter films?
I worked at RedBus distribution for a year, it’s now Lionsgate UK. I started as a runner there when I was 22. I was doing everything: getting my boss’ cappuccinos every day, developing a feature, doing press. It was stressful but it was a great education.
Running, writing, doing press, I was working all hours! The CEO, Simon Franks, said to me, "I’m toughening you up for the industry."They taught me so much about marketing. At the end of the day, we are selling our product, this film. It’s not just about the ideas and the talents. My dad has an MBA and runs this business, his restaurant, so I grew up within this environment of selling and promoting. I worked on publicity for a film, I was also a script reader – I worked my arse off! It was a year’s film school, basically.
On my third day there, my boss called me in and said, "I heardyou made a short film. Can I see it?" He watched it, and, within a month, I wasrunning four days a week, and, on the other day, I was given an office to write in. By the end of the year, I was developing a documentary. Running, writing, doing press, I was working all hours! The CEO, Simon Franks, said to me, "I’m toughening you up for the industry."
It was a good education, looking back. It was a distribution company, so I learnt about development from all the different angles. I don’t know where else I could have got that education really, and it helped a lot with 'Broken'. It’s great to now just be the filmmaker, rather than the filmmaker, and the runner, and the coffeegirl…!
How was your time at the Berlinale Talent Campus in 2006?
The Berlinale was great. It was an eye-opener to go to a city that really knows its films, the cinema culture is wonderful there. I had been to Cannes before, and some other smaller festivals. However, as a "Talent," as they call you, the exposure to the lectures is great, you get to know the UK Film Council, and it’s all free! I made some wonderful friends. I remember going to lots of parties, but also enlightening lectures. It was great to meet other filmmakers, to get out of your own little bubble.
Do you have any advice for upcoming directors?
You're looking after people. It's all about givingAs a director, you're a mum in a a way, you're a dad, you're a producer, you're a director, you're a writer, you're a caterer, you're everything. You're looking after people. It's all about giving.
It’s like cooking a meal; you all bring your own ingredients and putthem together. That’s when you’ll create your wonderful main course. Alone, you can’t do it. You need that cook who’s the head stirrer. Without production and make up and everyone involved, it couldn’t be done. I think I’ve overstretched this food analogy a bit...! I do feel that it’s my voice and my work, but it’s also about real collaboration, with people you trust. You’re handing over your visuals to someone who you know will get it.
So what's coming up for you?
I’m very open to directing other people’s scripts, and I’m actually looking for writers at the moment. I’m working with another writer on this sci-fi film challenge. It’s wonderful to have someone else write, and then you can chat to them and make it work. I don’t just want to do one thing all the time, so I would still like to write too. I love being on my own when writing, but I also love love love co-writing. Especially with comedy, you need to bounce jokes off each other. You don't know if it'll work if you have no one to try it out on.
For more info on Vicki, please see her myspace