When we first piloted the Ladders programme in Newcastle, we were amazed to see so much talent take interest in exploring the Music, Software Development and Film sectors. One of our success stories was Peter & Sisley. They took part in the Film & TV course and from there, founded their very own business, Fandangle Films. I met up with them both at Heaton Perk for a cup of coffee and a catch-up, to find out more about how their Ladders experience had impacted their careers.
Let’s start at the very beginning. Did you always have an interest in Film & TV?
Sisley: Well we both studied at Northumbria University. I did performance as I was always into acting and watching films. Then in the second or third year of my degree, you could choose what module you wanted to do so I chose the Film & TV module. So, I guess that’s where my interest started, and it was just a mutual interest we both had.
Peter: I did drama and scriptwriting at Uni. I wanted to be an actor as well, but I decided to do scriptwriting because I thought that if I write the stuff then I can just cast myself in it. Then I thought I’ll have to make the stuff too, so I did a masters in Media Production at Sunderland University. It was all just to become an actor at first, but I was in a short film in my second year of Uni and I just loved the production side of it. Now it’s not really my goal to become an actor, I’m just very interested in making [films].
How do you feel now that your dreams have changed? It’s quite scary to face that a dream you’ve had for so many years has actually changed years later.
Sisley: Yeah absolutely. But I think I still want to be a jack of all trades.
Peter: Same here, I think I don’t want to give up the idea that it will happen but it’s scary to think that I’m not going to do that anymore. I think the thing is that being a filmmaker is easier than being an actor so it seems like the easier choice, so it’s less scary in that way. But there are so many people who want to be actors and have moved to London or LA, but don’t make it. I think filmmaking allows you to do more. Making a film takes so much effort but there’s so many different skills being used and so many skills which are transferable to everything else. I think if we don’t become filmmakers in the future, we have learned so much.
Sisley: You don’t even realise the different skills you’re using – organising, acting, editing, filming. There’s just so much that you can bring to the table. It’s amazing to see just how quickly you learn things.
You just mentioned there Peter about if you’re wanting to pursue a career in something like acting, it tends to be the case that you go to the big places. What do you think Newcastle brings in terms of creative industries? Do you think there’s potential for Newcastle to be a place for success?
Peter: When I first came to Newcastle, it didn’t seem like there was a lot going on in terms of filmmaking. I think there’s been a rise in that sort of creative industry – for example, there’s the Newcastle Film Festival and Sunderland Short Film Festival coming up. There are big production companies and a lot of work is being moved to the North because it’s cheaper.
Sisley: It is hard though. It’s a small community which is sometimes really good because a lot of people are supportive, but it does make it very competitive in terms of getting clients. Everyone’s essentially going for the same stuff. Corporate work would sustain everyone but in terms of creating your own work, I think there’s a lot of that going on and people are currently focusing on that.
Peter: I think there’s not enough support in the North though in terms of creative work. But I think it will change because the Media Production masters in Sunderland is quite a big deal and David Puttnam who is a very big producer, put a lot of money into that Uni.
Ah, so that’s why one of the buildings is called the David Puttnam Centre!
Peter: That’s it! I think he’s from the area, so he’s very keen on bringing out more filmmakers from this area. But yeah, I think it’s getting better and we don’t really want to leave Newcastle.
Yeah, and be more like a big fish in a small pond?
Peter: Absolutely, but also be a part of making the pond bigger and building the community.
How did you two end up working together as Fandangle Films?
Peter: After leaving Uni, I just got a few part-time jobs, quit and went onto job seekers allowance. I was in a job centre and I saw the leaflet for Ladders. I didn’t think it was going to be that good. Sisley wasn’t into filmmaking as much as I was at the time, but I just thought, let’s do this no matter what it is. We then started to work on the projects together through Ladders.
Sisley: We had already worked on projects together though. Peter quit his job after a few months and used his experience to write a sitcom pilot. So, we started to write and develop a mini-series as a group. Then when we came across Ladders, we had always contemplated the idea of starting a business and production company and we just thought it was the right time, with us having so much support surrounding us.
Peter: Yeah, I had never really thought about starting my own business. I just wanted to get a job as a filmmaker, but Ladders was very encouraging.
Sisley: It was kind of the perfect match because you got the business side of stuff and then the creative stuff, so we were learning skills and being given that step-by-step guide how to do it.
You two particularly took advantage of all the opportunities that were there on the Ladders course which is great.
Amazing. In terms of the course itself, were there any highlights of your experience?
Peter: I think the actual final project we had to put together was helpful. Just in terms of stuff like renting our own equipment – learning how to go and rent equipment, set up the lighting and stuff was really important and something we had never really done before. But mostly it was the support and sort of having that creativity around us. That was the best thing about it.
Sisley: The people we met as well. The small businesses that would come in and talk to us. They’d all be just so willing to help, and they’d always say, “drop me a message” and you did genuinely feel like you could do that.
Peter: Yeah, I wouldn’t say it was one event that was a highlight, but it was the support from all the people. Chloe, in particular, was just so encouraging.
In terms of the Enterprise Support sessions that you took part in, how do you think Lee helped the process?
Sisley: Loads of stuff! The way she organised it was just great because she was tackling everything that you need to know like finance, business plan, design – Holly Ellis came in and looked at our logo, talked us through that. It just looked at every little aspect.
Peter: For me, it was all about confidence. I didn’t have the confidence to start a business before that, I didn’t ever think it would be something I would do. I think the big part of Ladders was teaching us that we had the talent to do it and that whatever level you’re at, you can make a career out it. There’s going to be people who think you’re great and you might be thinking, “I’m not Steven Spielberg so I can’t do this”, but there are going to be people will think that your content is great and would happily for you to do it.
Sisley: And there’s going to people who are going to help you as well. You’re not alone, there are so many resources out there as well.
Yeah, there’s almost like a fear that there’s a division between being an amateur or a learner and a successor, but these people actually go through those initial steps to get to where they are.
Peter: Exactly, that’s it. It is that gap of going from Uni or education in general to business to career. I might not have been fully engaged in Uni but I didn’t feel like there was that support to be like “okay now here’s how you start a career”. It was more like “here are some skills and go and do it” so I think that extra bit of encouragement from Lee was what we needed. Starting a business, for me, was a big thing and I didn’t realise you could just start it in your house with one piece of equipment. If you’ve got an idea, you just do it.
You guys obviously went from University to Ladders, which is interesting because you already had that foundation of knowledge in the film industry at that point. But the thing about Ladders is that diverse range of ability in the film industry. How was that experience, of working with different levels of ability?
Peter: I think that’s why I can’t pinpoint a certain highlight of Ladders. For me, doing my masters at Sunderland, I was overqualified for what we were learning such as the editing and camera work. But I was never bored, I was always learning something. So, the biggest thing I got out of it was the people, not necessarily what I was learning in terms of skills.
Sisley: You knew the people who turned up were serious and were really dedicated to learning more, even if their ability were less. The fact that they were there just showed that they were willing and because there was a small group of us, we got that equal amount of support.
Peter: Yeah, I think Ladders is beneficial to people at any stage.
Sisley: You could have done a course and come in as way advanced in a project that you wanted to develop – you don’t have to be a beginner. Literally, you can use the course and tailor it to however you need it to be.
Peter: I guess the issue with that, although the structure of the programme has changed now, was because of the sessions being so short and with us all being at different levels, Chloe couldn’t get around everyone in enough time and we couldn’t finish a lot of the stuff we started.
What are you guys doing now – Fandangle Films, for example? How did it all come about and what projects are you working on at the moment?
Peter: Well it all started with Lee when we did the Our Whitley Bay campaign project and following that, we did the video to promote Ladders. We’re both working part-time jobs whilst running Fandangle Films so on average we have a project to work on every couple of months.
Sisley: We learn something different from everything we do. Each one requires different skills and organisation.
Peter: But the eventual goal is to create bits, entertainment, drama and stuff like that rather than promotional work, even though we do enjoy it. At the moment it’s very quiet and we haven’t had much work in a while.
Sisley: We’re moving into a new space and I might be doing an editing internship to develop more skills. But yeah, it’s hard to balance being creative but finding work and trying to pay bills!
Peter: We’re just trying to find some work and expand our client base. We’ve been talking to Craig Hawkes from Kaleidoscope CFA who has become like a mentor for us. We’re in a business but we’re not necessarily business people and he’s quite similar – he’s more creative and very down to earth so we’re looking to work on some stuff with him in the future.
Finally, would you recommend Ladders to any aspiring filmmakers and why?
Peter and Sicily: Yes!
Peter: I mean, it was the reason we are working as filmmakers today. It’s so strange if it wasn’t for that leaflet! And I never pay attention to leaflets normally and I didn’t even know what it was going to be like. I’m quite a shy person so normally I wouldn’t be interested. But if I didn’t do it, we wouldn’t have Fandangle Films and I wouldn’t be a full-time filmmaker. Definitely, you should get involved.
Sisley: Even if you think you’re not qualified enough or too qualified – I think even if you’ve just got a mild curiosity and you’ve got the time to do it, why not!?
Check out Fandangle Films here: https://www.fandanglefilms.co.uk/
Interested in taking part in Ladders Film & TV 2018/2019?
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