Year 11 student Kate Debling, Bromley High School, reports...
Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing the director Susanna White, who is a former Bromley High School pupil, and we discussed the world of film directing, how her memories of her time at Bromley High influenced her outstanding career and her views on the importance of women in the film industry and indeed the importance of cinema in our everyday lives.
To begin with Susanna and I discussed her tremendous and lengthy career and whether she had always wanted to become a director. It stemmed back to an early memory of Susanna's when she, as a Brownie, went on an outing to a television centre to see a programme called 'Crackerjack'. She described the experience saying: "All the Brownies were trying to get up on stage and I just remembered being fascinated by watching the different camera angles. I remember seeing the red light come on a particular camera and then being excited to see the programme on a monitor nearby, then see the camera switch and a different image appear. I thought it was amazing learning how programmes were made, and excited to see how the programme was physically put together. And from that moment I was interested in television". She continued to describe how she herself really drove her aspirations to become a director, visiting the local Petts Wood library and taking out books to learn the basics of film making. One of the key parts to her becoming interested in directing was when she got a camera, aged 9, which enabled her to create her own films and her own little stories.
When discussing her time at Bromley High, Susanna spoke of the encouraging environment she was immersed in and the help she received from her teachers which lead to her going to Oxford, to study English. However, it is clear that film was always in the back of Susanna's mind, and even at university she continued to make films. When I asked whether her experience at Bromley High inspired her to become a director, years later, she said:" There were many inspiring teachers that made me confident and showed me that I had potential. I think definitely there are advantages of being in a single sex school. They told me that if I worked hard, I could achieve a lot. I think an important part of my time there was the quality of teaching which was really outstanding. I think there was such a special generation of teachers at that point, and I think it really expanded my cultural horizons, in that I was introduced to not only English but theatre and film".
From an early age Susanna had a very strong connection with cinema and she was very pleased when I told her about the new cinema in Orpington, which opened just recently. When discussing how important cinema and film is for an area, Susanna talked of early films she had seen and how they really inspired her. She said:" I knew no one in the industry and there were very few women directors at the time so I had no real role models. I remember very strongly the cinema at Marble Arch and when I first saw the original Dr Doolitle as well as the James Bond film, 'Goldfinger' at Orpington cinema. At the time going to the cinema was a major event and so it was a very special place". She continued to say: "Going into the world of films, like the James Bond films, expanded my mind and opened it up to characters, locations and soundtracks. Physical cinemas are very important because it's an experience that can be shared, unlike a DVD at home".
When I asked Susanna about how difficult it was for her to break into the world of film and the struggles women wanting a career in film face she said: "It was hard breaking into directing. It is 6 times harder to become a film director as a woman than a man. In general for big budget feature films, only three percent of that type of film is directed by women. In the UK in general, 11 percent of women are in film so really it is a tiny proportion. However, I have been very lucky because I have had the opportunity to direct some amazing TV and film."
Susanna has won a BAFTA and has been nominated for 3 Emmys and her latest film 'Our Kind Of Traitor' has been highly anticipated. Susanna has also done many projects with the BBC, notably 'Jane Eyre' and 'Parades End' and when discussing the future of the BBC, she said: I think the BBC needs to be safeguarded. It is one of the best cultural institutions in Britain and recently has been under attack. To lose it, would be a terrible cultural loss. The quality of the BBC is respected globally. We need to safeguard broadcasting power."
To conclude the interview I asked Susanna what her advice would be for a young woman hoping to pursue a career in film. She said: "I would say make sure you don't give up, learn what your voice is and have a go - it's a wonderful and enriching career."
Listen out for Susanna’s podcast which has just been released on@StsofSomewhere about the influences that shaped her life and career. Follow Susanna on twitter @_susannawhite.
Read on Bromley High School Facebook https://business.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1167054740007134.10737419...
Photo courtesy of Studio Canal