Brek Taylor on courage and self belief

Brek Taylor is an Executive Producer at Film London. She also runs her own production house called Tailormade Productions, which she founded in 2005. Brek’s career began in the theatre after originally training as a ballet dancer and soon evolved into television and feature film production. Her work includes countless documentaries for National Geographic’s “Explorer’s Journal” as well as a 24 hour international Shakespeare theatre event involving 35 countries. In 2011 her first feature film “Island” premiered at the Glasgow International Film Festival. Brek is tireless in her quest for producing the most compelling storytelling, sighting persistence and drive as crucial characteristics for a successful career in filmmaking.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was little I absolutely relished storytelling. My parents tell this hilarious story of coming to pick me up from my first day at school and there I was standing on one of the tables telling all my new friends a story. It became my thing. I always wanted to do something like that, but didn't know there was a job that allowed for it. I really enjoyed the fantastical, in taking people on a journey. 

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
I have my Grandma’s small rickety dining table so I couldn't have many people but here goes.

Joan of Arc: She was so courageous and as a woman I'm still in awe of how she managed to rouse an army and take them into battle. Sometimes I feel like I have to do that in my work so I'd love to know how she managed it, especially given the attitude towards women back then.

Sergei Diaghilev: He was the entrepreneur who produced the Ballet Russes and brought together Picasso, Debussy and the best of creative talent in the early 20th century. His vision and choice in bringing personalities and talent together was impeccable. I'd love to ask him what his selection process was.

Richard Branson:  In the arts you always have to be creative but you need to be able to partner that with business. I find his discerning choice in business and how he's managed to build and motivate people to work for him quite inspirational. I find it fascinating that he wasn't the high flyer at the start but still went for it.

Jane Campion: She's a very feminine film director, which I realize is a weird comment. There are a lot of brilliant female film directors but often to get by they have to behave like men. From what I hear of working with her, she celebrates womanhood as well as filmmaking simultaneously. It's quite an achievement.

Will Ferrell: He's just brilliant fun. Everything he says and the way he looks, makes me laugh. It's very important at the dinner table that everyone let's rip and has a good time.

And I would definitely need my husband there. I’m not a great cook and he always makes everything easy and lovely. He's definitely the secret ingredient.

What single book had the greatest impact on you?
A little known book called The Cleft by the great writer, Doris Lessing. It's a completely and utterly imagined world of how human beings started on this planet. She suggests that it was women first and men came along later. None of the characters actually talk. She describes the story through movement and landscape. It was so powerful and I never imagined I would ever read a piece of writing that would take me to such a place.

When do you go to bed and when do you get up?
I go to bed at about 11:30pm and get up at about 6:30am. I love the start of the day. Where I live is very quiet. It allows me to collect my thoughts, think about what I'm doing and why I'm doing it.

What is your favorite time of the working week?
Unlike a lot of people, I love Monday mornings. I love that feeling of everything being possible.

Can you briefly explain your career path to date?
It's quite an eclectic career path. I've been given a lot of opportunities and I've seized many of them which means that I've gone on some incredible journeys which I think have all led in a particular direction.

I started as a dancer but was very frustrated by not being the storyteller and instead being somebody else's storytelling tool, so I decided to write my own stories. I wrote a play and took it to the Edinburgh Festival when I was 19. I directed and produced the show. 

From there I went into television. I really enjoyed bringing people together and collaborating with different skill sets. I worked my way through different production roles to eventually end up as a development producer working with Channel 4 and the BBC. 

I was made redundant and decided to take the money and go to Australia where I helped a friend set up a theatre company. In the process I started producing theatre and drama over there. Until that point I'd been working in documentaries and it made me realize I had a passion for drama. I discovered that I really enjoyed stretching and taking ideas beyond reality.

I came back to the UK and started working for film and theatre companies, including an organization called the Shakespeare Schools Festival, which introduced Shakespeare to young people in schools and gave them the opportunity to work on professional stages. I ended up setting up an international Shakespeare event for the Capital of Culture which included introducing Shakespeare to Malawi and Cape Verde.

During this time my producer at the Shakespeare Schools Festival encouraged me to make my first feature film. With his support, I took time off and worked with some wonderful collaborators including Elizabeth Mitchell. We wrote and directed our first feature film together and set up a production company. We made some more shorts, made two features and we’re currently about to go on and make another.

There's been a lot of meandering, but It’s all lead in a particular direction and been very healthy and helpful because I believe in film you need to work with many different types of people and many different skill sets. If I’d gone into this business earlier I wouldn't be so equipped to tackle the variety of demands laid out to me as a director and a producer. So actually, my path all makes sense.

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome, as it relates to your industry?
With our first feature film in 2008 we spent a lot of time raising the money but then lost a large amount when the financial crash happened. We persevered and took the money we had and shot the film anyway. We travelled to a remote little island on the Outer Hebrides in Scotland, were about 3 weeks into shooting, and a week away from finishing, when our producer told us we couldn't afford to shoot anymore with what we had. It was gut wrenching.

What was really tricky about that was having raised the money in such an uncertain climate, taking our cast and crew up to this remote island where the conditions were difficult - there was very little phone signal, we couldn't leave the island at the end of the day, it was December and there were about 6 hours of daylight everyday - we had enough obstacles as it was. Then to suddenly be told we had to leave the island because we'd run out of money. We hadn't even got all of our film so we knew that we were leaving having to return at some point.

We came back to London and it got worse from there because it was Christmas time and we had people's salaries to pay. It was a massive wake up call to the fact that we weren't just making this beautiful cinematic masterpiece, it was the fact that we were affecting people's lives. It was their day-to-day living that was on our shoulders and entangled in the film production. We had to take on quite a large amount of debt and a large amount of local opposition in terms of returning back to Scotland, working with camera houses again and keeping peoples trust.

We set up communication on a weekly basis to everyone that we worked with and a year later we returned and finished the film. The film was released at the Glasgow Film Festival to critical acclaim. We went to a number of international film festivals and in the end we were invited by the British Film Institute (BFI) to talk about what film we wanted to make next off the back of making this brilliant, poetic thriller. It was a long journey to get there.

It was a huge obstacle in terms of overcoming financial issues, trust issues and self-belief but it set me up with incredible experience and lessons that have put me in good stead. I am now better educated and like to think better equipped to go for a longer career as a result. It was a testing time but a lot of good came out of it.

What motivates you?
I'm a creatively motivated person and am driven by sparking up the public imagination. I feel very passionately that we need stories that create conversation and cause people to think about the world they live in, the people they talk to and the choices that they make. I think film is magical for providing an emotional journey for the audience that can provide new perspectives and create social shifts.

What advice would you give to someone at the start of his or her career?
Something that a producer said to me which is, take time out regularly to think about the choices you're making and why you're making them. It's really important to have that goal and battle for it to make it happen. It's equally important to take time out on the way and make sure that you're making the most of the opportunities that are coming your way. 

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My marriage. It enables me to prioritize my personal life. I got carried away in my 20s, got very into my career and since I've been married I have enjoyed my work so much more because there is a balance now. I also believe I've made more interesting choices as a result of being married because there is that person to talk things over with.

Most recently in my professional life I’m incredibly proud of a project I worked on for Britvic, a drinks company in the UK. We were asked to work with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and a spoken-word artist called James Messiah. I had to bring them together and create 20 pieces of new work using these two different art forms. We filmed the 20 pieces in 6 hours which made it absolutely ridiculous in terms of the organization required involving 60+ crew and insane logistics. We weren't sure if it was going to work but it did and each of these films went out on each working day in February. That's something I really enjoy - taking on new ideas and figuring out, creatively and logistically, whether it's possible.

Brek working with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra  Photo Credit: Vicky Dawe

Brek working with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Photo Credit: Vicky Dawe

What do you believe has been the key to your success?
Having amazing friends and family has been incredibly helpful because I don't have a lot of financial security and I'd say the emotional security throughout my career has been a blessing. I've been able to take risks because I've got that base to work from. The importance of that springboard from which to leap can't be overestimated enough.

The other more professional aspect is drive. The need to keep going in film has been essential. There have been a lot of people I've worked with a long the way who've been doing very well but have moved on from the film industry because it’s been too much for them. The desire to make it work and figure out how to make it work, which has come from the drive and need to tell stories, has been my saving grace. The film industry is so unpredictable. Things change so often and you need that longevity to see things through. It's a long-term play.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
You get out of life what you put into it. 

Being present and immersed in your work, when it's good and when it's bad, is absolutely imperative to making your career last. Equally being able to look back and appreciate what you have achieved without being critical because you gave it your all.

What do you believe are the personality traits of great leaders?
In terms of film and television, it's full of contradictions. The ability to be collaborative, understand and listen to others whilst having the ability to be single-minded and know that your taste is up to making a fantastic final product. Along with that you need plenty of courage because people question and test you all the time as to how much you know and whether you're worth investing in.

You need vision. A vision to communicate to others and encourage them to join you on the journey and work towards the same goal, creatively and financially. 

You have to be a good storyteller but you have to know when to be honest. It's important that people can trust you.

Do you think there’s a secret to rising to the top?
No. There are many factors and a couple of key qualities.

Believing in yourself is pretty vital. You need a certain amount of talent but surprisingly not that much.

You need patience to be able to weather the storm because there are a lot of falls on the way to the top.

Having a great support network to catch you when you fall, and build you back up again.

Who do you turn to when the going gets tough?
I'm very lucky to have my husband but I also talk to my friendsa lot. They understand the industry and understand my parameters so I appreciate the honesty.

What's next?
We have another feature film that we're shooting in September that we're currently casting for. Some of the team are going to Cannes to close finance on the film. It's a very exciting six months ahead but you never know how it's going to develop. We are preparing as best we can and hoping it will all come together. Because everything is so uncertain there are two or three other film and television project going on as well. Who know, I like to think I've got it in the calendar but it may all change.

What's exciting is that as the years go on there's always more support. As people know who you are and you build out a body of work they get in touch more, so there are more surprises every year as to what's possible and who you could be working with next. 

As told to Caroline Hugall over Skype on Monday 27th April 2015. Brek lives in the Cotswolds, England.