What the BBC Writersroom New Directors’ Scheme did for me
Director Nimer Rashed, one of the original cohort for BBC Writersroom New Directors’ Scheme looks back on his experience and shares his aspirations for the future.
Before you undertook the directors’ scheme what experience had you had in directing for the screen?
About 10 years ago I directed my first thing ever, which was a short film for Film London, that was my first break into directing. Back then my focus was writing for theatre and television and I was given this break to do this short film which I wrote and directed. Riz Ahmed was in it – this was before he was the Emmy Award-winning superstar he is today. We got him just on the cusp of his break out which was great. So I basically wrote my way into directing with the help of Film London and I took to it very naturally and easily, especially because it was something I had written – a natural extension of imagining things is realising them. So that was it, the first bit of directing I did and quickly found I liked it and wanted to do more of it.
How did you feel when you found out you’d got on the scheme?
Since that film I’ve been wanting to break into telly and the reality is there are very few opportunities to break in – the BBC Writersroom Scheme was like a massive open gateway beckoning me saying ‘apply apply apply’ and I did, and got in. In the intervening years I’d done a lot of directing and a lot of work and obviously that had helped to bolster my application and I was ready for it. I was so happy that the scheme was running at all and then to actually get in on the first year that they were running it – there were big celebrations.
What was the process of the scheme?
It was an introduction to professional TV directing at Doctors, so started with a few days induction. We went to Selly Oak [where Doctors is filmed] and were introduced to how ‘Doctors land’ works which is this well managed, well run, fast-paced accelerated process. When I tell people about it now I say it taught me how to be a professional because it showed us the amount of preparation and diligence required to hit the ground running, there’s no time to muck around, everyone there is at the top of their game, you have to work quickly and be able to make decisions very fast. We were shown the focus required to direct successfully and introduced to the process of how to keep up with the Doctors pace which has held me in good stead I think.
How did it feel walking on to the Doctors set for the first time as a director?
It was a bit like what it must be like if you’re a footballer and you walk into Wembley stadium having been in the minor leagues for ages, walking into an arena that you’ve been preparing for for a very long time and suddenly you’re surrounded by people all looking at you saying ‘right, come on, show us what are you made of’. It felt very exciting, but also like something I’d been waiting for, preparing for for a long time. I think I did hit the ground running because of all the years of preparation that had led up to it, it was very exciting but also it just felt like something that was right. The time had come to do this, it just clicked. I enjoyed it and was exhilarated.
The scheme gave us all the insight into the specific working of what Doctors requires of you – which is full on, but it did prepare us. We could ask thousands of questions, we met the crew who gave us real insights, the Execs were all very supportive, and a hugely experienced director called James Larkin was very instructive and helpful. So to be honest I felt well prepared, the training was thorough and it wasn’t a surprise.
Thinking back there is a moment when you are finally let go and the wheel is in your hands – having been the co-pilot for the training and suddenly there you are in the driver’s seat, and there is a moment of ‘oh right this is really happening’, which is surreal at first. But then you realise: 'no it's okay, I know what I’m doing'.
What advice would you give to aspiring TV directors?
In terms of people who want to break in to the industry I think it’s about resilience: I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to do this for a really long time and could have stopped or given up many times. Any creative person knows that feeling. The best advice I’ve got is to create your own opportunities to make work, which you can do now, don’t wait for permission. The film that won the Virgin Media Shorts Grand Prize directly before getting this, was a low/ no budget film which won awards and really helped me. So make stuff, make stuff, make stuff – don’t ask for permission. And know that you are a director even before people start calling you one, I think it’s important to have that mindset.
And then when you do get an opportunity like this one rise to it and give it everything because directing, especially for continuing drama, is incredibly intensive and requires a lot of you but if you can deliver you will be asked back and it has given me a career which is great.
What’s next for you?
Thanks to Doctors I joined Directors UK and am a participant on their High End Directors Scheme for directors ready to take the next step in their career. I am currently shadowing on Mike Bartlett’s Press working with the wonderful director Tom Vaughan who did Doctor Foster among other things who is being incredibly helpful and mentoring me.
We are about to start filming that next week. I’ll be on that for the next five months shadowing, and directing second unit which is a wonderful opportunity. I’ve learned that high end dramas may have bigger budgets, but in directing terms they feature exactly the same challenges as on continuing dramas like Doctors – just on a bigger scale. I genuinely think if you can direct Doctors you can direct anything. It’s true when I tell the people I’m working with now that on Doctors we shoot 20 pages of drama a day everyone is impressed. So to have gone through a year of directing that much material and making decisions quickly has really prepared me for the big leagues, I hope. That’s what I hope is coming next.
Where would you like to be in 10 years time?
I’d like to be working at the highest end of TV drama and making films as well, but TV is the new films. Doing what I’m doing now making great TV which informs, educates and entertains. A dream is to make great drama with mass appeal but with a social conscience, resonant storytelling that is contemporary and reflects modern society in all its glory.
Nimer Rashed is a Director