Open City Documentary Festival

Insights: Ellen Evans on Lilith and Life In Miniature

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Ellen Evans graduated from the UCL Open City Docs Ethnographic & Documentary Film in 2016. Since then, she’s been involved with several traineeships and made several great films. Here she retails her experiences for the benefit of those making their start in non-fiction filmmaking. 

When I graduated from the Open City Docs MA in Ethnographic and Documentary Filmmaking in 2016, I knew I wanted to continue making documentaries but I had no idea how. I screened my graduation film at a couple of film festivals, took on some freelance videography jobs, and, after a long summer working in a cocktail bar, I was offered a role as an assistant editor on an Amazon documentary series. I was glad to take the opportunity–having felt previously a little adrift–but I soon found that working in post-production on a major project was hard work. Spending my days wrestling with Avid, I found it difficult to make my own films around the demands of a full-time job.

My luck changed when I was offered the chance to make a film with Film Roundhouse, who were commissioning new filmmakers to make short documentaries for BBC iPlayer on the subject of ‘Love’. The Film Roundhouse scheme enabled me to leave my job at the production company and focus entirely on making my own work for the first time since the MA. Of course, there were limitations on what I could do – the subject, tone, and structure of Lilith, the finished film, had to be formally agreed by my executive producer – and perhaps I would have done things a little differently if I’d been left to my own devices. Nevertheless, directing my first properly financed film felt like a game changer.

Buoyed by the experience, I applied for, and was accepted onto, a second scheme with the Indie Training Fund. The ITF’s ‘Rising Directors Scheme’ was a  completely different proposition to the Film Roundhouse project. Seven of us were accepted onto the programme and we spent time together as a cohort, attending masterclasses, and working collaboratively on our pitches and treatments. As with the MA at UCL, we were each allocated mentors to see us through the process. I was paired with Brian Hill at Century Films, who provided some much needed rationale and perspective through the project. Life in Miniature screened at Sheffield DocFest earlier this month and a number of commissioners, execs and producers were invited by ITF to the screening. As someone who spent time unsuccessfully sending my CV out to various people in the industry, it felt strange, but gratifying, to be approached instead.

I’m still navigating the post-MA landscape, still finding my way. But participating on the schemes has made me more confident, not only about myself but also the kind of films I want to make. In fact, I’d say one of the best things about doing these schemes is the confidence it can give you. Leaving film school can be daunting when you suddenly find yourself adrift without an institutional framework to legitimate your projects, and so being given the funding and purpose to produce a film relieves some of the insecurities that can make independent creative work so difficult.

Ellen Evans makes character driven documentary across film, television and radio. Lillith was for BBC iPlayer supported by the Emerging Talent Scheme at Film Roundhouse, and Life in Miniature premiered at Sheffield DocFest, made as a Rising Director on the Indie Training Fund.