Before the first edition of the HB Film Festival opens this week, we managed to sit down for a chat with its director – our very own Gary J Hewitt. We talked about his first steps into the Scottish film industry, how he became part of the GMAC family and his experience of bringing independent film to Paisley.
You are currently an Operations Assistant at GMAC Film, but you have quite a history with the organisation. When did you start working here on a regular basis?
I started working full-time for GMAC Film around the beginning of May this year. Prior to that, I’ve been coming and going from GMAC as a filmmaker since I was about 18 years old. At the end of last year, I started working full-time as a casting assistant and our office was based at GMAC; through that I got to know the staff a bit closer. I was also doing freelance and voluntary work at the time, so the staff got to know my work ethic. Then, I heard a position opened up and I applied…
Can you tell me what your day-to-day job entails?
I help run the operations of GMAC; that can include setting up rehearsal and workshop space, helping out with the tenants, such as BAFTA Scotland, Brennan Artists, etc. We have quite a lot of events as well, so I work closely with the clients, making sure they get everything that they need. For instance, if they need a few tables for a workshop, I will provide that. If they need projectors, cameras, I will make sure these are on hand.
I also help run Café Flicker, which is an uncurated showcase of short films by mostly Scottish filmmakers. In the summer I help out with our Summer School – I was one of the tutors this year.
You are also a filmmaker yourself and you have worked in multiple areas of film, as you mentioned. Can you tell me how you started in film and what drew you to this particular field?
In one of my last years at school, a media course opened up. I did not know too much about media, so I applied. The study of film and TV really intrigued me, so from that I went to study a full-time course of media at Cardonald College (now Glasgow Clyde College). After a year, I realised I could actually make films myself. I eventually did an honours degree in filmmaking as well.
After I graduated, I got some running jobs on Big Brother, The X- Factor. Then, I got into ‘event crew’ jobs for a while, which included rigging lights and microphones for the BBC Good Food Show, Robot Wars and different reality programmes.
After that, I worked full-time as a casting assistant before joining GMAC. Throughout that I wrote and directed a few of my own films. I had a feature film called Cleek, distributed on DVD last year. I’ve done various short films, as well.
What is your view on the current state of the Scottish screen industry? Is it a good place to be for emerging filmmakers?
When I started out there wasn’t a lot of work in the industry, so everyone was fighting for the same jobs. But a lecturer once told me that, in a way, there’s no point moving elsewhere; yes, there are more jobs in London, but there are more people fighting for the same job.
Now, with bigger production companies and projects coming to Scotland, like The Fast and the Furious, The Avengers, new jobs have opened up here. You’ve also got the new BBC Scotland channel, which has commissioned its first drama. I think more people are taking the Scottish film industry seriously.
Now you’re branching out into festival management as well, as you’re preparing to launch the HB Film Festival in Paisley. Can you tell me how that came into being?
The HB Film Festival came about as I was touring various film festivals with my own film. I realised that a lot of the time, there are lots of independent films shown, but usually the film that walks away with an award has some support from a funding body. We decided to try and create a film festival whose main aim is to promote indie film and give a platform to indie filmmakers.
We had over 250 submissions, which is quite incredible for a festival in its first year.
How did you manage to draw so many filmmakers to this particular festival?
One of the things we try to do differently is giving independent filmmakers online support. So, for example, if we come across filmmakers starting a new project or crowdfunding, we share that and give them a boost. What happened was people were thanking us and sharing our content in return.
We had a lot of international submissions, from places like America, Greece, Spain. I think the only way they’d heard about us was through our social media campaign.
What drew you to organising the festival in Paisley?
I went to primary and secondary school in Paisley. I also stayed in a few different flats in Paisley while being at college and university, I know it quite well. Some of short films were filmed in Paisley, so Paisley has been quite good to me. In my filmmaking career it’s been a good backdrop where to show a lot of stuff. The town has had over 12 cinemas and it currently has none. It also doesn’t have a film festival.
It’s close enough to my hometown that I can keep control over it, and it gives me a chance to see if it’s worth having a new cinema in Paisley. If people will come to see films that they haven’t heard of, there’s a good chance that they’ll go to see films they have heard of.
Organising it in Paisley also means not stepping on anybody’s toes – in Glasgow, for instance, there are six other film festivals; in Paisley we’re not a competition to anybody else at the moment.
What can the audience expect from this first edition of the festival? Any particular films or events not to be missed?
I can’t say there are any particular films not to be missed because that would be unfair to the other films in there. Each of the programmes are split into genres – on Saturday, for example, we have ‘Animation & Best of USA’, ‘Best of UK’, followed by ‘Comedy’. We also have some stand-up comedy, so it’s not just staring at screens for the whole time… Then, the ‘Horror/Sci-Fi’ programme is probably the longest, so it’s worth checking out.
On Sunday we have live music and awards plus ‘Best of Scotland’ and ‘International’.
I recommend seeing the American, International and Sci-Fi programmes, because there are not a lot of chances of seeing them again, whereas local films will probably be kicking about in other towns or other events.
After the festival ends, what is next for you professionally? Any particular projects?
Right now, I would quite like to film some stuff and work on another project moving into 2020. I’ll also be focusing on my screenwriting. It’s good that I can focus on my own stuff again, but it’s also good to know that the festival will be on for a second year as well. Other than that, I’m actually enjoying my job at GMAC just now. It’s nice to be showing up for work and enjoying it as well.