Mark Leese has decades of experience in the film and TV industries, including work as a production designer for Shane Meadows (This Is England) and Peter Mullan (Neds, The Magdalene Sisters). He also works closely with BAFTA Scotland, giving talks and helping young Scottish talent find their way in this competitive industry. We caught up with him to get his advice for students looking to follow in his footsteps…
How did you get into your line of work?
I’d originally gone to art college, where I studied fine art, and from there I did a postgraduate which was at Dundee, called electronic imaging, which was kind of special effects and animation. That was my first contact with film and TV. But then I worked for ten years in theatre and opera. So most of my initial experience was designing for theatre productions. From there I sort of made the move across to short films, which I still really support. I did lots and lots of short films and gained lots of experience, and slowly moved up and into movies and TV!
I think it’s really important. One of things I always say to students is that you can’t sit at home waiting for the phone to ring. It just won’t ring. You have to get out there, you have to do things. Whether it’s a piece for a workshop, or community based or for fellow students or just lots of schools etc. do work with animation, do work with their own indie movies and ten minute films. They’re always looking for advice and someone to lend them a camera or switch it on.
Often these aren’t fashionable things to do, but they start to give you knowledge. And at the end of the day you need people. The people that you’re around are going to move and move up and they’ll recommend you and you’ll recommend them, so it’s about being part of a small community.
How important is BAFTA Scotland and their student memberships as a resource for young people?
We want to create an environment where new, young filmmakers and producers are encouraged and they feel like, first of all, that they don’t have to move away. That’s one of the exciting things about it, you can continue to work here in Scotland and be encouraged by your peers and see and end result in things like BAFTA Scotland’s new talent award. It’s not that winning an award is the be all and end all of your career, it’s not the end at all, it’s the start. It’s a way to keep you moving forward.
Do you think it’s essential to have local festivals like the Glasgow Film Festival to support local scenes and emerging talent?
The benefit of Scottish, or any localised, events or ceremonies is that they focus the mind, they draw people in and invite them to look at the long talent we have here. I mean, why not highlight that talent, what have we got to lose?
Are there any common concerns or worries people ask you about at the Q&As and school visits?
I always get questions from students that say, ‘somebody from such and such is doing a short film and they asked me if I wanted to take part and I want to know how much I should charge them’ and I say ‘charge them?! Just do it!’
There’s plenty of time to charge people later, these people haven’t got any money, and who are you anyway? People can be too quick to look for a fiscal reward, and that can stop them meeting and being around useful people. I’m not trying to say, by the way, that people should all work for nothing. You just have to find that balance.
And what do you think the top skills somebody looking to start out in a production need?
The first thing that young filmmakers and students and so on should be aware of is just how competitive this environment is, and to stand out is about dedication. Really being prepared to go the extra mile. It’s not about being fabulous right from the beginning, it’s about bedding in with a community of people. Trust, commitment and reliability are really what you’re looking for. So, in a way, that will override any fabulousness.
Students interested in a career in the moving image industries could benefit from a BAFTA student membership. It gives access to exclusive screenings, workshops and networking events for a £35 annual membership fee.