My name is Matt Ford and I run a social enterprise called Viewfinder that creatively develops young people. We explore relevant social and personal issues through creative mediums like film, theatre and drama and have worked with various councils, youth offending services, youth organisations, charities and third party organisations. Our most recent work has been a film highlighting Child Sexual Exploitation that is being used in Secondary Schools nationwide and a series of short video clips exploring the notion of Restorative Justice with young people in Luton.
I am also a professional Writer with a Masters in Creative Writing from Birmingham City University, and I have written and directed two of my own short films. ‘Losing Innocence’ was screened at the L.A. Indie Film Festival 2013 and the Southern California Creative & Innovative Film Festival 2014, and ‘Redundant’ has just been entered on to the 2016/2017 festival circuit.
Is there much enthusiasm for the arts from young people in the region (Midlands)?
The young people that we work with all seem to love the opportunity to do anything creative. The arts offer such a great release, and they can be so positive and engaging, that young people tend to respond really well to any activity or project that stimulates them creatively or that lets them explore their own talents and passions. It is such a departure from a traditional classroom environment and it comes with such a sense of freedom, that I think it really speaks to young people more than most, and that enthusiasm, that exuberance that you simply can’t fake, is what enables them to be some of the most creative people that I know.
What do you find is the biggest problem for those young people that aspire to pursue a career in film/drama?
I think it can boil down to two main things, money and experience. The fact is, they don’t know where to get it and how much of it they need. Acting and drama has always, unfortunately, come with a stigma attached to it, one that it is a waste of time, that it won’t earn them a living and that they’d be better off learning to be an electrician or whatever. Now, there’s nothing wrong with learning trades or being academic, in fact we encourage it as much as possible, but many young people feel that it’s one or the other. They don’t know where to go to get involved, they don’t know where to go to learn and gain the confidence to audition, and they don’t realise how many options they actually have to be creative without hindering their futures. Things are definitely better now than they were when I was younger for example, but I still feel that creativity and a persons wish to purse it is sometimes under-nourished. Particularly under a Tory Government, but that’s a whole other interview.
What advice would you give to a young person wanting to explore film/drama?
Nowadays, things are so much more accessible than they used to be. Films are being made on iphones, and online platforms like YouTube and Vimeo can launch careers and sustain ideas. In a few years, TV will be as retro as Vinyl! My advice to any young person wanting to explore it is just that, explore it. Write a script, make a film on your phone, borrow a camera, share your creativity online, be proud of the mistakes you make and learn from them. The more you do something, the better you’ll become at it. My first film was littered with mistakes and the things I make now still are…but that’s the beauty of the process. The opportunities you have to create and share something are amazing. It’s really a beautiful thing and I’d say just dive right in. Embrace it and fall in love with it.
What advice would you give to the parents of that young person?
Encourage and support them. I was lucky to have really supportive parents who indulged me as I explored all sorts of things, music, writing, drama, film…they were great by just being there and showing an interest, even when I was a typical moody teenager pretending I didn’t want them to. It really helps, just knowing that your ideas are of some sort of value to somebody, it allows you to push ahead and develop. Support, in any form, is the most vital of things for anybody, not just a creative.
How do you nurture talent?
Talent is as individual as the person who possesses it, so ways of nurturing it need to be individual too. One person may need to be constantly motivated whilst another may need more patience. It all depends who they are and what they need. It’s one of the things that makes what I do so interesting, the need to be so adaptable and empathetic to so many different people. It teaches you a lot about yourself, as well as the craft of directing. Across the board though, one of the most important things is to let them know that they have your support and your time. It’s important to make them feel comfortable and safe in expressing themselves and stepping out of their comfort zone to realise their potential, and you can only do that by trying to understand them as an individual.
How do you measure success with those showing aspirations/interests in the creative field?
I have always felt that the only true measure of success is happiness. None of us can ask for anything else and so if somebody is happy striving to find the ending to a story, or struggling to get noticed with their short films, or trying to find somebody to take a chance on them…then they are already a success. It is so difficult to break into the arts and takes luck as well as talent, so there is no point judging your success by what an industry determines, it will always change, but happiness is the one constant. Having a dream to aspire to should make you happy.
Are there many opportunities for young people to gain on-set experience in the region (Midlands)?
I work extensively with Daniel Alexander, a multi-award winning film maker who also happens to be one of the nicest and most humble people I know. His company (www.danielalexanderfilms.com) is always providing opportunities on numerous productions and as a matter of fact, they have just released an open call for creative people in all fields to get involved with an upcoming project called “Film Ward”.
I am always looking to work with different young people on all sorts of creative projects and there are numerous drama organisations and film makers looking for help, it is just a case of searching (Facebook is always a good bet) and putting yourself out there. Obviously, for young people I would always say do your homework on the individuals you are hoping to work with, and that’s why it’s so important to have the support, and protection, of parents/guardians, but everybody I have worked with is so accommodating and enthusiastic about getting young people involved.
Do you receive much support from local colleges/universities?
It depends what we try and do. We have a great relationship with Birmingham City University, in particular their head of Psychology Professor Craig Jackson, and he has been amazingly supportive in everything that we do but it is more hit and miss with mainstream schools. Our main source of support comes from youth clubs, youth offending services, councils and young people themselves. Sometimes, their word of mouth is by far the most effective form of support and bringing people on board. We also work with 3rd party organisations like Recre8- a drama based psychology company (www.recre8now.co.uk) whom we work with all the time. They are great as they have so much experience and so many networks and are really passionate about creative work with young people.
How influential is lure of celebrity to young people?
I can’t say it isn’t influential, but I’m not sure how much of a lure it is and how much of a part it plays in getting young people involved in things like acting and film. I once heard it said that art is not art unless it’s shared, so I guess it could be argued that celebrity exposure is the pinnacle for any artist, but I don’t think it’s important at the most fundamental level. I think that young people get involved for fun and they keep on with it because they enjoy it. That’s the main thing, for anybody doing anything, the enjoyment. When that stops, then there’s something wrong. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think young people saw the adulation, attention and lifestyles that celebrities have and maybe on some level were motivated by it, or even desired it for themselves, it’s only natural. I genuinely think though that the overriding reason for them expressing themselves creatively and for continuing to do so, is for the love of it.
Are there any young filmmakers/actors that you think we should keep an eye on?
Every time I work on something I find myself blown away by the talent, commitment and sheer energy of the young people I am lucky enough to work alongside. There is so much potential out there, so much desire to work and create and share that it is criminal how underexplored the region is. Recently, I wrote and directed a film about Child Sexual Exploitation that was developed alongside Recre8 and Birmingham City Council, and the three leads in that were quite simply outstanding. Nakiece Brade, has recently graduated from Birmingham City University with her degree in performing arts, Curtis Wright is a multi-talented young man who is currently working on his own social enterprise as well as acting and Georgia Neath, is a stunning young actor who is now represented by Actors Own Management. They are all beautiful people with genuine talent and the work they did would make any actor proud. I know that they are all actively working to get more exposure and they deserve it, so I would recommend all three of them to anybody.
Viewfinder Twitter account. twitter.com/Viewfinder
You can view the trailer for the film, ‘Bait’, here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKKN_7ksOiY
You can view the trailer for ‘losing Innocence” here: https://vimeo.com/153009716