Interview with Film Director: Nicola Mills

I’m a Writer-Director, and co-founder of Cinesisters, a collective of female directors.   Brought up on the Isle of Wight, in a working class family, stories of any world – other than mine – grabbed me as soon as I could read. My nose was almost permanently in a book; my parents worried about this much like parents now worry about their kids spending too much time playing computer games…

What drew you into the world of filmmaking? Specifically directing?

I studied graphic design but quickly tired of the static nature of print design and started messing about with basic animation, Super 8 film and video. I worked as a moving image graphic designer for many years which led to directing, firstly animation and then combining design with life action. I got the bug, made a couple of live action shorts and in my mid thirties applied to the National Film School as a director, wanting to concentrate on drama and working with actors; I won a place.


For women in our collective who can’t attend film school what are some tips do you suggest to develop as a director?

Watch films, a wide variety, not just stuff you like – it’s useful to see films you don’t like and work out why – what’s wrong with them, what would you do differently? Make shorts, don’t be too precious, use your phone if necessary. Mess around, try different ways of working and make lots of mistakes. You learn so much through making mistakes – some of my worst shorts were the most valuable in terms of learning how to make films. Find other filmmakers, connect, create your own networks and ask questions – your filmmaking peers are a wealth of information and can offer practical help.


How have you found your “crew” to work with and what is your process for working with the DP?

When I started directing I didn’t know any crew, I didn’t even know what a gaffer did. I had experienced producers who recommended crew they’d worked with. As I moved into fiction I worked with some of these same crew, and at the NFTS part of the beauty of the place is that you have filmmakers around you – cinematographers, editors, production designers – and get to work with them over a couple of shorts at least. Plus watch work by people you don’t know and meet them, see if you get on, whether you can work together. In terms of how I work with a DP, everything starts at story and character level. We discuss the story, the motivations of the characters, the themes and leap from there – gather images, share them, and find a relevant aesthetic. It’s a collaboration – which is one of the most exciting things about filmmaking.

We aren’t accurately represented on screen as women how can we as indie filmmakers change this stat?

It’s a statistical fact the representation of women on screen has not changed much since the 40’s – which is a shocker. Make sure your scripts reflect the world around you and check your own unconscious bias.

What does this statement mean to you? “To all of us filmmakers: All movies are political movies.”

Films can be and, right now, they should be. Even films that are purely entertainment, and maybe especially those films, can do a lot to help shift perceptions – as simply as casting actors in roles that might not fit the perceived norm.


Most creatives are referred to “starving artist” how have you or have you learned to monetize your craft and tips for those striving to achieve this?

That’s a tough one, there’s no easy answer. I was well paid as a moving image designer and director, but like everyone I started at the bottom. Currently I’m being paid develop a feature script and many filmmakers have other jobs – teaching, script editing, commercials, corporate videos, I know filmmakers who are yoga teachers and work in call centres. The aim is of course to make money from directing, but until then do what you can.


What’s next for you?

I’m pushing forward on a feature called UP YOURS! About a bi-racial female punk singer, from the 70’s. It has a great energy to it, story and character wise, has political relevance and will be a fun ride fro an audience – so it’s exciting times.


What are you reading/watching that’s inspiring you as a filmmaker?

 Two screen works leap to mind, one very current and TV, The Handmaids Tale(2017), directed by Reed Morano and then the feature film Moonlight(2016) directed by Barry Jenkins – the directing is incredibly confident, the imagery is all about story and character, both are emotionally complex and provocative pieces.

How can we keep in touch with you?

Twitter @cinemasister


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