Writer and director Aneil Karia didn’t start his film career until later on. “I think in that kind of subconscious osmosis it was happening when I was a teenager, but it was happening through TV.”
Aneil didn’t grow up with an artistic background or in a family that loved film. “My parents were a doctor and a nurse. It wasn’t part of my life, but TV was.”
“I got quite hooked and I remember being quite intrigued and wowed by Jimmy McGovern and Paul Abbott’s Clocking Off. I was totally transported when I was watching anything like that.”
He also became obsessed with music videos, after watching MTV. He used to watch the director’s work DVDs with “music videos, and ads, and stuff. I think it was a fusion of British TV drama and music videos that were subconsciously inspiring me.”
Getting into Filmmaking
“I was in this theatre club and that was actually really inspiring. It was just a local drama thing that put on increasingly big Christmas productions. But at the weekends, me and those friends would borrow one of their dad’s camcorders to start making films.
I remember one of my friends, Jack, had this ancient piece of editing software, which you plugged into the TV and cut things together, and you can put 8-bit titles on and stuff. That was how we spent a lot of our weekends but even then, I wasn’t thinking I want to do this on a bigger scale, or I’m going to grow up and do this for a career.”
Aneil studied journalism. He was interested in the news and figured that journalism was a bit like filmmaking. He even managed to secure himself a night shift at Sky News.
“I was getting paid. I’d moved to London as well. And I was beginning to understand cinema and that itch was growing a bit larger and getting a bit more defined.”
It was at this point that he started considering a career in filmmaking. He managed to secure a scholarship to study at National Film and Television School (NFTS). He initially started a “course called producing and directing for television studio entertainment or something” and ended up focussing on directing and script.
“I ended up doing a single camera kind of graduation piece, rather than a studio-based one, which was scripted. I worked with a DOP from the cinematography department, who I still work with today, and the editing department and production design and everything.
So I was able to take it into a more traditional filmmaking direction, even though I wasn’t on that course.”
After Finishing at NFTS
After NFTS “I was presented with the opportunity to make a music video, and that was always the world I’d loved and I really relished the idea of making one.”
He was approached by a band manager to direct a choreographed music video. “It was probably the first filmic thing I’d made.”
“It was choreographed, so I had this vision in my head. And I worked with a choreographer, who I grew up with, and we did plan it quite meticulously. And it was entered and it won the best choreography in a music video award.”
After that he was signed by a production company that did music videos and ads.
“When I look back and start telling this rambling tale of how I came to now – it is rambling and it’s quite long-winded, but even though it sounds a bit naff, every project I’m making now is a product of that journey.”
Moving From Music Videos to Shorts
Aneil wasn’t directing as many music videos as he would have liked. He was pitching on things and not getting them. And because he was younger, he started to battle with the constant rejection.
“It was a good crash course in being fine in the end, but it’s exhausting when you’re young and don’t understand. You sort of put it all on yourself, rather than thinking there’s a great big machine at work here. I was mainly doing these fairly pedestrian commercials, and I was really grateful to be doing them but that creative nourishment wasn’t being fulfilled.”
He had filmed a Christmas advert campaign and earned a bit more money than usual, which he had decided to put aside to make his first short. After trying, unsuccessfully to apply for short film funding, he spoke to his friend and producer Scott O’Donnell about making Beat.
“It wasn’t a traditional script because I guess it’s not a super traditional film. It was more of a treatment.” They managed to contact Ben Whishaw to ask him to be involved.
“To our surprise, he said: ‘I love this. I’m up for it. Two things, I can’t dance. And I haven’t got much time, but I’ve got two days in two weeks from now.’
We weren’t really expecting that. We were expecting spring next year or something, and Scott said to me, ‘we’ve just got to make it happen.’ And looking back something about that massive momentum just fueled what it became. It was a good thing in the end and we made it happen and that was probably a big moment in my career. I don’t mean in terms of success, in terms of realising I’m doing what I dreamt of doing.”
From Beat to Surge
“It happened quite soon after. It wasn’t a case of making the short with a feature in mind. It definitely wasn’t a proof of concept short.” It was just a short, with very interesting themes. Ben and Aneil became friends, and together they wanted to develop and explore the themes in Beat more.
“It had a really strong reaction and people seemed to be tapping into something. And this was what I hoped would happen with Surge – even though it’s an unusual film, it seemed to be tapping into something quite universal.”
Aneil says that Beat was a long-lensed short, an observational film about a man living on the periphery, operating outside the normal parameters. “A little snapshot of this character you see from afar, and not too much is explained; whereas if you do a feature, you have to be with them and kind of breathing every moment. As you can see in the film, I didn’t want to go to the other extreme of motivating and explaining everything to death, but I wanted to have that to be some kind of context.”
His Advice to Filmmakers
“I can’t pretend I’m some great Oracle, but it’s really easy to get wrapped up in thinking too intellectually or scientifically about what film you should be making. Thinking: what are the hot right now themes? Or what stories are successful and not successful?
I just don’t think it works like that. I think if you can really tap into what stories you want to tell, or what intrigues you about the world, and go with that; then even if it goes tits up, it’s gonna be true to you, it’s gonna be interesting for that and I think people will respect that.”
Listen to the whole podcast with Aneil here.