It's a thrill and an honor to feature Clare Kilner here on the Stage 32 Blog. Clare's credits speak for her, but it's her endless drive and desire that make her such an asset to this community.
Clare's passion for movies inspired her to write and direct her own short films, earning her a much sought after place at the prestigious Royal College of Art. It was here she earned a Masters in film directing.
After film school, Clare wrote and directed her first feature, the heart-warming, Janice Beard, starring Rhys Ifans. It won critical praise and numerous awards at festivals including Toronto, Tokyo, Edinburgh and Aspen. The movie was released theatrically in the Europe, the US and Japan.
Janice Beard's universal appeal propelled Clare stateside. New Line asked her to direct How To Deal with Mandy Moore, Alison Janney and Peter Gallagher. This movie's success brought her to the attention of Universal, for whom she directed The Wedding Date starring Debra Messing, Dermot Mulroney and Amy Adams. Clare subsequently directed American Virgin starring Rob Schneider, Jenna Dewan-Tatum and Brianne Davis.
Clare is currently developing a number of features with producers in the USA and Europe which she will direct. She is writing her screenplay Mr. Meeks and recently sold her TV comedy series Natural Born Worrier to NBC Universal.
I thank her for her contributions and for being a constant source of inspiration within the Stage 32 community.
I was the clumsy joker in my family, if a plate broke it was my fault, if the milk spilled it was me who spilled it. When I was 13, I got my first job delivering papers and saved up to buy an ink fountain pen for school. I was so excited to show my friends. On my way back from school, I went up to my room to do my homework and noticed a trail of turquoise ink on the cream carpet following me into my room. I heard a shout from downstairs: CLARE what is all this ink on the carpet? My mother shouted at me, my step-father shouted at me, my sister shouted at me. Why could I never do anything RIGHT? I felt terrible. I would never amount to anything. I was stupid and clumsy. I was a dreamer and I had all this stuff, this emotion, that I wanted to communicate to the world, but I had no idea how to do it. I felt I lacked the words, the intelligence to express all the magic that was hidden inside me. I felt alone.
I was expected to go to college, get a degree and a good job, but my step-father and mother hated each other, family life disintegrated and I realized I had to get out. I ran away from home at 16. I stayed at school for another year and supported myself doing babysitting and cleaning jobs. I took my A levels (UK exams that get you into college) and failed them all. I had no clue what I was going to do with my life. The one thing I left college with was a typing certificate (it was a while ago) which led me to secretarial work.
I started temping when I was 17, working for an array of different companies and corporations from Japanese banks to government mailrooms, from making sandwiches to extremely boring jobs like stuffing envelopes or data input (typing thousands of names and addresses into a computer system), but while I completed these tasks, my mind was free to wander, free to dream. I knew that one day, I would do something interesting. I wanted to make my life count. This slowly awakening ambition was fuelled by my wanting to prove my worth but it was also born from a desire to express myself, to communicate with others, to feel connected, less alone. After two or three years temping I came to the conclusion I wanted to do something more creative and decided to try and get a job in theatre - I think part of me wanted to act but I was incredibly shy and didn't have the nerve to put myself out there. So, I joined a local theatre summer school and asked them what I could do. They suggested I stage manage the production i.e. find the props, cue the sound and lighting. So that's what I did and apart from playing the wrong cue at the wrong time (a dog bark instead of crashing glass) I did okay. Someone told me you could study stage management so I applied to every stage management course in existence and got into The Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. Luckily, the government gave me a bursary and I attended for two years.
I was 21 when I left and managed to get a job at the Royal Court Theatre, one of the most interesting theatres for new writing in London. My job was to find props, help the director in rehearsals, draw diagrams of the actors' blocking and list all cues. When the show was up and running I made sure the props were in the right place and cued the sound and lighting. Obviously this is a fantastic job compared to most but, after a couple of years I started feeling frustrated and to be honest, a bit bored. I was helping the director and actors express themselves but I was doing nothing creative myself. I picked up jobs at different theatres and became involved in opera but I was still frustrated. Work was patchy, I'd work for a few months and when the production closed I'd do a bit of temping to make ends meet. I didn't know how to get myself into a more creative position... I wanted to be creative but didn't have the abilities. Then, one day, a friend told me her boyfriend was making a short film and I had this moment of revelation when I just knew that this was exactly what I was going to do! It's so weird the thought came from nowhere. I remember exactly where I was sitting that day. I remember the exact feeling I had. It was literally one of those light bulb moments where a thought emerges from your subconscious and tells you what you need to do.
So, I set about making a short film. I knew nothing and learned everything as a I went along. My first film was a short documentary called 'As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning' which followed the writer Laurie Lee's journey through Spain in 1935. I had no budget so I borrowed an old Canon Scoopic 16mm camera from someone who worked in medical TV and saved up enough money from my temp secretarial jobs to fund the film. Myself and a sound guy spent 3 months travelling through Spain in my beat up VW Beetle shooting interviews and gathering footage. On my return I found a cheap edit suite run by a local film-making co-op. I temped during the day and at night I locked myself in and started cutting the film together.
It was here that I truly fell in love with the process. Putting the film together, writing and recording the voiceover and sourcing the right music felt magical, exciting and creative. It was fulfilling and I became determined to pursue directing. I had found my passion and I was never going to let it go. I finished my film and sent it off to every film school in the UK. I filled out hundreds of forms and practiced my interview technique, I knew it was an extremely competitive arena. A handful of schools ultimately chose to interview me. I did my best. I waited with baited breath for the letter of acceptance to arrive. I didn't care which one I went to. One by one, the letters arrived... thank you but, no. No. No. No. I got rejected from every single school I'd applied to.
But, the rejections fired me up. I knew I had something to offer I just hadn't proved it in that film so I set about making another. I temped during the day and made my film during nights and weekends. Every penny I saved went into my film, a drama called Saplings. Saplings was based on a story a friend told me about her father's funeral. I lost my father at a young age and it resonated so I wrote the script, cast actor friends and advertised for a Cinematographer. We shot the film, I edited it and sent it off, once again, to every film school in the UK. This time I got a YES!! I went to the Royal College of Art and did a Masters in Film and Television Directing. I didn't have a Bachelors but no one asked, and who says you have to do everything by the book? I was 29. At the Royal College I made three short films and at the graduation screenings met a UK agent who asked to represent me. So, now I was a bona fide film director! Not so fast. As soon as I finished my course I had to go back to temping, to earn a living. I applied to all the short film funds in the UK and started writing. I was never a confident writer, but decided to write about what I knew... the world of temping! When I was a temp, I was left to my own devices, I was a fly on the wall, invisible, people didn't care if I knew their secrets because I was leaving at the end of the week. There were characters galore, it was a microcosm. To pass the time, I made up fantastical stories about their lives and I created a character, much like myself (but exaggerated of course) and started writing the screenplay Janice Beard at 45 WPM. I found it very hard going, I had the characters but couldn't work out the plot, I was grasping at thin air and eventually I approached a fellow director from film school and asked him if he would help me write it. He agreed. We wrote a treatment and pitched it to three producers, they all wanted to option it... for $1.00. We picked the producer we liked most and began to write the screenplay. Within a year I was shooting the movie. As you know, the path to making a movie is fraught with set-backs and failure, it never happens this fast. But it did.
I completed Janice Beard and the next year we premiered it at the Cannes Film Festival. I was nervous, I had no idea what the response would be, but it went down a storm. It turned out to be one of the most exciting nights of my life. The audience laughed and cheered, it was a huge success. At the end of the movie I got up to leave the auditorium and all these American agents swarmed towards me shoving their cards in my face. It was a crazy, weird wonderful dream. The film got a lot of attention because Patsy Kensit (a well-known UK actress) was in the movie and she was dating Liam Gallagher from Oasis (at the height of their fame). The paparazzi followed us everywhere we went. Doors magically opened for Patsy and Liam while the lead actress (Eileen Walsh) and myself followed suite, grinning with glee at the fun of it all!
By the end of the week I had chosen my agent, our mutual passion for the Preston Sturges movie SULLIVANS TRAVELS, is what clinched it. Wahay!! I'd made it. Little did I know...
When I returned from Cannes everyone started asking what I would do next. I had no idea. I'd just spent two years putting every ounce of myself into Janice Beard. As a first time director my fee for Janice Beard wasn't huge so I needed to think fast. My agent started sending me the odd script from America. I'd read it and if I liked it, he'd set up conference calls with producers and I would pitch my vision across the Atlantic. I'm not a natural at pitching and get very nervous so I would spend about a week reading the script and working out my take on it, then I would pitch it... sometimes I would get to the next round, sometimes I wouldn't. The studios were nervous about taking a punt on someone who had only made one film. I came on board a number of indie movies that never got made. Time passed. I came to LA to do rounds of meetings - had a great time - but, no job. Eventually my savings ran dry and I had to start temping again. It was hard. When I told people about my movie they didn't believe me. Why was I working in the mailroom if I was a 'movie director'?
This carried on for two years and believe you me, there were many times I wanted to give up. I questioned whether I had any ability at all. Was I a fake? Was it all a fluke? But, somewhere deep down I believed in myself and knew I needed to dig deep, be tenacious, hang on in there - when you reach the point you want to give up it's time to push the hardest.
I applied to the BBC directors course (multicamera) did a number of meetings and called my agent to see if I'd been chosen. She said it had come down to a choice between myself and another director - I wrote an impassioned plea to the guy who ran the course, it worked, he chose me. After the course I was offered the chance to direct Eastenders, a British soap. Multicamera didn't come naturally to me but I got through it and a few weeks later my US agent called to say a producer had seen Janice Beard and wanted to meet with me about a project called How to Deal. It was a greenlit studio movie with Mandy Moore attached. After numerous conference calls and a number of meetings I landed up in Toby Emmerich's office at New Line, pitching him my vision of the movie. I was clutching a scrawny bit of paper with the points I wanted to make in my sweaty hand and all I remember is Toby's huge dog pacing around the room.
I flew back to the UK and waited. Would Toby trust me with a $15million budget? It was hard for me to believe he would - as far as I was concerned, movie directors where big guys in their forties with baseball caps and beards - they didn't usually come in the shape of small English girls with no A levels and a certificate in typing. One night, a few weeks later, I got the call from my agent: 'Jump on a plane. You're in pre-production for How to Deal.'
Cut to: Ten years later, I've been through many ups and downs in my career. I've lived through successes and failures, I've chased after projects that were unattainable and I've worked for months sometimes years on projects that have never seen the light of day. I've honed my pitching skills and learned how to sell an idea. The one thing I've needed to draw on time and time again is tenacity. Just at the moment you think all is lost, push harder and ask for more...
Over the past year I've started writing my own projects again, I felt the need to go back to what drew me to filmmaking in the first place, a curiosity about the human condition. I wrote a TV series with my husband called Natural Born Worrier, I pitched it and for the first time ever... sold it in the room to NBCUniversal. I'm also writing my passion project Mr. Meeks - based on a very timid guy I met when I was working as a temp in the mailroom.
I love making movies. It makes me feel less alone.
Ever thought about directing? Want to know if your script could attract a Hollywood director and major talent? Shooting a short film, trailer, teaser or webisode? Clare (The Wedding Date) and Script Consultant Danny Manus are hosting The Filmmaker Initiative Teleseminar Sunday, May 5th at 12pm PST. Even if you can't make it live, you'll get a download to enjoy on your schedule. And it's only $39! Check out all the details here and register today! filmmakerseminar.eventbrite.com
Clare is available for questions and remarks in the comments section below.