Last year, Directors UK member Ana Pio decided to take the next step in her filmmaking career, and — through the Directors UK Inspire scheme — was partnered with Saint Maud director Rose Glass for the journey.
We spoke to Ana about her mentoring journey, how she kicked off the partnership, and the ways it took shape under COVID conditions. Read our interview with Ana below!
Tell us a bit about yourself, and your directing credits!
I started my film love affair back in Portugal at University, which offered an all-encompassing filmmaking course where I first directed a short film in the third year. I Welcome You to This House is a short film closer to a Portuguese framework, influenced by the French and Russian classics, focusing on highly aesthetic and slow-pace narratives. I wanted to combine these influences with more traditional story arcs, so I decided to specialize in Directing in London at Met Film School in pursuit of achieving this.
I experimented with a lot of genres and stories that I wasn’t comfortable with, and really pushed myself hard, which was both enlightening and emotionally painful - because you question yourself as an artist trying to find your voice. Ode, my first documentary, portrays the artistic struggle I felt during the first year in London. I graduated with Eden, a period drama short film about a 10-year-old boy speaking up about injustice during the 70s in Portugal, during a time of censorship in a catholic seminary context. Eden screened at very exciting second-tier film festivals, was broadcast on national television and is currently being distributed by Shorts International.
There was a long gap between that and my new short film, which I shot just before lockdown last year, because I was working as a freelance Script Supervisor, getting to know the British industry, learning as much as I could from directors and building relationships. PMS is a comedy short film about a real estate agent attempting to sell a house whilst PMS-ing pretty badly. It’s my first comedy, which I’m very excited about - I strongly believe that dark humour is the most enjoyable humour you can watch on screen.
What made you decide to apply for Directors UK Inspire?
I had my eye on the scheme for a while because I thought it was a great idea to have a supportive mentor at some point in my career. 2020 was the right time for me to apply, because I was taking new turns that were unknown to me when going into development with my debut feature film, so I realised that having professional guidance would be very helpful for me at this moment in time.
How did you first approach Rose?
I got in touch with Rose through a mutual friend of ours, Jacob Thomas, who I had worked with, and who had also attended NFTS with Rose. I asked Jacob to get in touch with her for me and he very kindly did. Rose responded and the negotiations began. She took a bit of convincing, because she has a crazy busy schedule, but I’m really happy that she accepted embarking in this adventure with me in the end. In hindsight, I probably owe my experience on the scheme to Jacob!
What were your specific aims for the scheme – what areas did you want to know more about?
I was looking for guidance specifically about the development stage of a debut feature film. With short films this is not an area that you get much experience with, which means that some elements of development are very new to me. I wanted to have as much insight as possible about working with Film 4 at treatment and script stages, because that would give me the tools to learn how to approach Film 4 and BBC Films whose slates I really admire, and believe would be a good fit for my debut feature. I wanted to make sure that when I approach these development teams I’m being clear about what I have to offer and what I can do. Rose had successfully gone through this process with Film 4 very recently, which meant that she could understand the position I currently find myself in better than anyone else.
What kind of mentoring did you end up undertaking, and how was it useful?
Our mentorship started during the pandemic so it’s been mostly an exchange of emails and some Zoom meetings. Rose knows my project well now, and she offers suggestions on film references, feedback on pitch decks, director’s statements and treatments - and shares some of her work too so I can have a sense of what works and not. I’m hoping it’s a mentorship that last a lifetime, as I do consider her a friend at this point! I have found the scheme very useful but mostly very kind and supportive.
What were the highlights from your time on the scheme?
The highlight was realising that Rose and I creatively agree on quite a lot of aspects of narrative and storytelling, which made me realise that my instincts can’t be all that wrong. It has given me an extra boost of confidence that is always most welcome in this industry of perseverance.
Did you learn anything new, or gain a new appreciation for any part of directing?
Yes, I definitely gained a new appreciation for directing; in fact, it has made me love it even more. I absolutely love the development and prep aspects of a film. I know it can be long, tedious and frustrating, but it’s all about planning to make what you want with what you’ve got — which excites me. Now I know the practicality of the development process, and if I want to prepare myself for longer-length projects, it is vital that I learn as much as possible about all the steps that a director must navigate.
Would you recommend Directors UK Inspire to other members? What advice would you have for applicants?
Yes, I would 100% recommend the Directors UK Inspire programme to other members.
I would probably advise something similar to what I had in mind, but I’m sure the programme can take a lot of other shapes that work too. Choose a mentor who you would want to hang out with, that has achieved more than you, and whose work excites you - that way you can learn from them and potentially share some wisdom yourself, and maybe even start a friendship.
What do you think makes a great Directors UK inspire mentor?
That’s hard to say. I think a mentor, like any other adviser, coach or teacher should be someone available, kind and proactive towards their mentee. Someone who understands that the Film and TV industry is as much about dreams as it is about reality and business. You need someone to tell you hard truths, and to not only have answers but also raise questions, so you can improve yourself as an artist.
What projects are you working on next?
I’m in prep for my next short film, Do As I Say, with producers Andrea Land and Gerry Maguire, currently casting with Mandy Steele. Do As I Say will be a one-location, two main characters and one-story-day narrative where I get to explore performance and the subtextual nuances of dialogue. It’s about a piano teacher being pushed to the end of her tether by the rebellious student she once perceived as her younger self.
Together with PMS, these two short films should leave any investor with a very clear idea of what I want to do with my feature film, currently in development with producer Andrew St Maur, titled Mother Nature. The feature will be both a drama and dark comedy about a mother and her daughter at polar ends of their natural cycles: menopause and puberty. Their increasingly distant and conflicting relationship escalates to farcical levels at the mercy of their hormones. Hannah is entering the dark woods of womanhood and antagonises her mother for not guiding her through the forest. Catherine stands on the shore of her maternal identity, not knowing where to set sail, constantly being dragged back to her past by her rebellious teenage daughter.
Photos: Ana Pio
Directors UK Inspire is a year-round mentoring programme facilitated by Directors UK. Please check the Directors UK website and newsletter for updates.