Kate Cheeseman: BAFTA Winning Director

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Kate Cheeseman is an award-winning director working in film and television drama. She started her career in film editing before moving to direct documentary and then drama. She worked first on series, then high end drama and drama serials. She was awarded a BAFTA and the Prix Danube Jury Prize for the TV film One Whole Heart and serial Pig Heart Boy. She has also won an RTS and a BMA medal for previous drama productions. She has studied script development and worked in the theatre, taking a play about the women in Matisse’s life to Edinburgh Theatre Festival.

Most recently Kate has directed an award winning short screenplay by Carol Younghusband and produced by Georgina French. It stars Hamilton star Mike Jibson, Sian Reeves and up and coming actress Bessie Coates. This is just starting its festival run and hopefully will be screening in the States. Before that she directed a 30-minute short film, Love Somehow about Dylan Thomas’ wife Caitlin. This is screening Internationally in the States, South America, Europe and India, and has been nominated for over 25 awards; winning five, including Best Director, Best Performance, a Remi at Huston Word Fest, a Silver Medal in LA and an Excellence in Film Making Award. It has also been awarded two further certificates of excellence. Kate is also working on an animated opera about “The Futurists” which is in post-production and her previous short thriller Roadkiller starring Phil Davis, screened at festivals around the world. It has recently screened at the British Horror Festival in Leicester Square and at BAFTA recognised Aesthetica Film Festival it was chosen as one of the top 5 thrillers to see and reviews on-line named it one of the highlights of the festival. Kate is in development with several feature film projects.

What do I do best?

I’m English! We were taught from a very early age never to boast about anything we are vaguely good at and pretend that everything was somehow just a terribly lucky accident! So, answering this question is really difficult!

If you want to be good at anything you have to work really hard, do your homework and then do the very best you can, which means not settling for OK and persevering until it’s right.  I’m good at persevering and I have a very visual brain and a good imagination, which helps me have a vision for the work I’m doing. I also love making films, so I think my enthusiasm rubs off and helps bring people along on a project. Then I enjoy solving practical problems and am good at thinking outside of the box. Otherwise making a film sometimes reminds me of that circus trick where you have to keep a million plates spinning without letting one drop off. So, picking great people to help you is another skill. Finally, a sense of humour is useful in most situations!

What makes me the best version of myself?

I flourish when working with creative people, like actors, writers, cinematographers and editors. Being in that sort of atmosphere and being allowed to be creative is heaven. Knowing that I love doing my job has helped me carry on when it’s hard with a clear goal and not give up when obstacles are put in my way as those obstacles generally make you stronger, fitter and more determined to get where you want to and be the best version of yourself when you arrive.

I’ve also been really inspired by other female film-makers sharing their experiences which has made me see that every problem I’ve ever faced is not personal, but common to many other people too, particularly but not limited to the women working in our industry. Sally Potter once told me, that making films was like beating your head against a wall and hoping the wall would fall down before your head broke. I still think about that when I’m working on getting something made, because it revealed to me the sort of effort that needs to be put in to succeed. So, thank you all you brave women who have inspired me.  And thank you Sally for being honest as so many people aren’t.

What are my aspirations?

I had a career break for children and have only recently returned to directing full time. I’ve directed several new shorts, have features in development and my first fantastic TV gig coming up soon. This transition back has been one of the greatest challenges I’ve ever faced. Most mothers returning to work will tell you similar. Now, I finally feel like I’m getting somewhere and making shorts to prove myself again taught me a huge amount that I didn’t learn when directing in series TV. It’s also given me a real love of film. Additionally, I’ve met some absolutely brilliant people who I want to carry on working with.

My aspirations are therefore to direct material that interests and challenges me whether television or film and make some of the film projects we are developing. I’d also like some better budgets, not huge just decent! And, I’d like to carry on working with some of the brilliant people I’ve met and some new people too. There are some amazing actors and crew, I’d love to work with. Additionally, I know a lot of actresses around my age who are really talented, but sadly at the moment there just aren’t the parts when they hit that certain age. I’d love to give them all fantastic jobs in order to work with them and to remind the world how amazing they are! Some great women in the States have been very successfully doing that recently and making some brilliant TV. I really admire them for it. Who wouldn’t want to work on Big Little Lies.  Maybe the English version?  

My Biggest Success?

I’m really proud of some of my work and the awards I’ve won but what is particularly special is when complete strangers have contacted me to say how much my work meant to them or inspired them. That really moves me.  A guy from the States emailed me the other day to say my films had made him pick up his camera again and to carry on making films. There are also a couple of documentaries I worked on that changed people’s lives and that was rewarding too.

That said, learning to snowboard was probably the biggest challenge and eventual success, I’ve achieved.  Where I grew up, there were no mountains and people didn’t have the money to go skiing.  So, the first time I stood up on a snowboard and looked down a steep mountain it was terrifying; heart palpatating, everything shaking, completely terrifying! My partner was working in Switzerland, so I used to stay with him between jobs and take myself off daily into the mountains generally spending a lot of time on my bottom, until I could snowboard down most things even some of the mogully black runs. I never broke anything but had a pretty sore coccyx at one point. The great thing about being older, taller and slightly heavier is that you travel much faster down the straight slopes than the average skinny youth and they all look horrified to see an older woman has just overtaken them! I’m a bit out of practice now but it was great fun at the time.

My Most Challenging Moment?

After my daughter went to school, I initially returned to work lecturing in film-making at a university. That was great at first, but I really missed actual film-making.  The decision to leave a secure job and try and get work directing again was momentous.  I was worried I would completely fail and end up with absolutely nothing and not even access to film equipment. A great organization called Raising Films gave me the courage and confidence to do that along with support from Directors UK. Since then some brilliant film makers have helped me on that road, along with some of the great young people I taught. I am now back directing and hope I can cement my career in the near future. My next challenge is to find an agent!

My Motto?

Hum, I am not sure I have one.  I do like to remind myself to enjoy “the now” as well as striving for things in the future. It’s easy to miss the lovely things around you, your friends, family, nature, even simple comforts if you are striving for other things all the time. It’s the same with work, I like to enjoy the process as well as the end results. That way if you don’t get the job or win the scheme, or your script isn’t immediately green lit, you still enjoyed creating something and that process is just an enjoyable part of your overall journey.

My Favorite People/Role Models?

There are some amazing women now directing. In Britain, I love the work of Philippa Lowthorpe, who makes really authentic and beautiful films. I’ve always really liked Margaret Atwood’s writing, and thought Reed Morano did a spectacular job of The Hand Maid’s Tale. Some of the images in that series were stunning. There are also some brilliant actresses now being part of the production process like for instance Reese Witherspoon who was determined to get material made with better parts for women. Similarly, I though Margot Robbie’s, I Tonya was great work from a woman’s perspective. Then Meryl Streep, for generally being brilliant in every way and putting her money and her name into women writers over 40 which is much needed. Another figure in the UK is Dame Pippa Harris who runs Neal Street Productions with Sam Mendes. She has been a leading light for a number of years, employing lots of women and older women too, on successful television shows like Call the Midwife.  That whole production company is amazing as many people talk about change, but they are a company in the UK that actually carries it out.

Not that long ago I watched a prime-time British drama. It was written, directed and produced by all men. Out of a cast of 27, there were only 3 female actresses in the first episode. Out of those three, one was credited as ”prostitute”. Another of the three played the mistress and first appeared in the story stark naked.  I don’t ever want to watch any more material like that! It wasn’t even very good and must have cost a lot to make. Or there’s television supposedly for women, where someone has to take their top off or have sex every 15 minutes whether or not it’s relevant to the plot! I wish these examples were unusual but sadly they are still being made.

So, a huge thank you to all the inspiring great women who are making films and television with a diversity of talent doing great and brave things that teaches our children that women have a choice to be something other than the mistress, the wife, a prostitute or the dead victim!

My Favorite Places/Destinations?

I love exploring and going to new places and I like both the countryside and the coast. There are so many places in the world I’ve yet to go to like many of the amazing national parks in the States, I’d like to see the Grand Canyon and some major sites like that. I’d also like to see some of the beautiful wildlife in Africa and visit Vietnam and parts of China. That aside I also love Europe because of the architecture, the wonderful food and relaxed atmosphere.  I quite like sailing too and at some point, would like to sail down the Croatian Coast.

My Favorite Products/Objects?

My waterproof ipod as I can swim and listen to music or podcasts which is really relaxing. I’d really like some earphones that don’t keep slipping out, but otherwise that is one of my favourite gadgets. I probably couldn’t live without my laptop and phone and I also love my coffee percolator.  It’s just one of those steel Italian espresso machines you put on the stove, but it makes the best coffee.

When filming I sadly really enjoy gadgets like techno cranes and some of the amazing new cameras that are being developed, not to mention the sorts of lights, I’ve seen used on commercials but have never had the budget for!  I also really miss film as all my first work was shot on it. It creates a certain discipline and also it just has such a lovely texture and look about it. I’d love to shoot something on 35mm!

My Current Passions?

My dad used to drive me crazy as a child because he’d get passionate about whatever he was working on. He built a new theatre once and got obsessed with bricks. For what seemed like months, he’d tell us about every single different type of brick we saw wherever we went. Then he’d drop bricks and move on to hedges, or Beethoven, or whatever he was working on at the time.  Now I’m finding myself doing similar until my daughter gets that glazed look. I’m really lucky to work in an area that is a passion in itself but also involves learning about different things. So, every aspect of directing films apart from the bits that producers do is great! You also get to dip into other people’s lives which is generally a real privilege, like watching open heart surgery, going on a lifeboat or a fire-engine or learning about a time in history. I also try to keep fit and swim most days as well as doing some Pilates. I’d love my own pool, but then again, I meet lots of different people at the gym so maybe my own pool would be a bit lonely.