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Articles to Inspire Your Personal Growth and Success

Hi I'm Emily Maguire

I'm a UK career coach and business coach for individuals in the creative and entertainment industries and passionate about helping people achieve their career goals. I'm also a top voice on LinkedIn for the Film Industry and a podcast producer and host.

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Emily Maguire UK Career Coach and Business Coach for the arts, creative and entertainment industry

Super 8 Movies to Mission Impossible: Film Director Chris Jones

In episode 8 of the Inside Entertainment Industry Careers podcast, I spoke with director, producer and writer Chris Jones. Chris, a multi-talented creative professional, shares his eclectic journey in the entertainment industry and offers valuable advice for aspiring creatives.

Embracing the Creative Journey: Film Director Chris Jones

Chris Jones, a multi-talented creative professional, shares his journey in the entertainment industry and offers valuable advice for aspiring creatives. He discusses his early passion for filmmaking and his decision to attend Bournemouth Film School. He emphasizes the importance of being open to different opportunities and exploring various creative avenues.


Chris discusses the transition from directing to screenwriting and the challenges and rewards of both roles. He also highlights the significance of networking, building relationships, and being audacious in pursuing creative endeavours. He encourages creatives to celebrate their achievements and enjoy the journey while also being prepared for setbacks and learning from them. Chris concludes by emphasizing the importance of being discoverable and contactable in the industry.

 

 

Early Passion for Filmmaking and Bournemouth Film School

 

Emily:

Hi Chris, thank you so much for joining me today on today's podcast. Over the years, you've won many hats in the creative industry, from directing to teaching to being a published author. Did you always know from a young age that you would enter the entertainment industry, or did somebody inspire that move?

 

Chris Jones:

I think I discovered quite early on that I had that gene in me that, you know, in others that might have been expressed by leaning into acting or being in a band. In some contexts, I was quite comfortable being on front and centre stage, but I never really wanted to act or be in a band. So those were, I think, the two common things that my peers leaned into, and I went into film and filmmaking.

 

But I'd always loved magazines, publishing, and writing; like most creative people, it's a tyranny of too many shiny things, and I keep getting pulled in many different directions. I suppose it also alleviates the monotony of doing one thing for your entire life. Even if you love it, eventually, it becomes monotonous. So it's great to take a holiday from that and go and do something else, then swing back. So I tend to swing between effectively making the film and teaching film, and the books are really an extension of teaching film. So those are the two broad areas that I really enjoy more than anything.

 

Emily:

You studied at Bournemouth Film School. How did you decide to go there?

 

Chris Jones:

Quite simply because it was the furthest film school in the country from where I grew up. I was so ready to leave, and they had some cool photos in their prospectus, and that was it. They seemed to want to make movies instead of films, and many other film schools were very serious. They had a science fiction picture in their book, and I was like, OK, I'm in because I didn't want to make films. I wanted to make movies.

 

Emily:

And that's where you became a first-time film director, wasn't it, at 21 years old?

 

Chris Jones:

I like James Cameron's analogy that the moment you've shot something and shown it to an audience, congratulations—you're a filmmaker. It began three or four years earlier when I was making Super 8 Zombie movies with my friends and learning how to make movies, then how to sell the movies to the kids at lunchtime and turn a profit to make another movie. That was tremendous fun, and I really fell in love with that entrepreneurial spirit simultaneously, creating some magic for people. I love how you can film something, and on set, you go; it just looks terrible. Then, when you see it on screen, you're like, is that the same thing? It didn't feel like that when we filmed it.

 

So that kind of magic, whatever that is, I can't express it, but it's brilliant. I fell in love with that process. Then I went to film school and had a bit of a rough time, to be honest, because even though it was movie learning, it wasn't movie learning enough for me. I just wanted to blow things up and film people and zombies and all that stuff, so I left the film school halfway through with Genevieve. We set up a company together, and within six months, we were on set directing our first action movie, an action thriller with Harrison Ford's kid brother called The Runner. If you ever get the opportunity to watch it, don't; just watch the trailer. You'll see every good shot in the trailer, 90 seconds; that's how to watch that film. It is not a great piece of cinema. It's for the curious, that's all.

 

So, it was an extraordinary learning experience. For seven weeks in North Wales, I learned how to be a filmmaker at the coalface. There's a quote from Michael Winner that really accurately describes it. The hardest thing about directing is not sleeping for three months. It was exhausting but the most brilliant, unforgettable experience of my entire life.

 

Transition from Directing to Screenwriting


Emily:

It sounds like you went through a steep learning curve that inspired and motivated you. How did you transition from directing to screenwriting?

 

Chris Jones:

Well, I mean, fundamentally, we always needed a script. So, very regrettably, I needed to write. I'm dyslexic and a frustrated writer, as I'm slow and continually don't think I'm very good. Then other people tell me, actually, I'm really good. But I'm convinced they're all wrong. And it's a weird thing. I don't think I'm a particularly good writer. But apparently, I can do it.

 

We needed scripts, and back then, there was no internet. So we needed to write it ourselves because we didn't know anybody in the industry at all. Since then, I mean, many more people are out there. It's much more accessible to find people. But I still find it easier to write my own script or collaborate with somebody and write that way.

 

Emily:

Do you feel like you've learnt more on the job, so to speak?

 

Chris Jones:

I think it's an important distinction for people at various stages in their training, careers, and lives. Film school was brilliant for me for about a year and a half, and then I was done. It couldn't offer me any more, and that chapter of my life was over. I needed to move to the next chapter, which was learning on the job, so I was learning a different thing.

 

Film school gave me an amazing peer group, an incredible work ethic, and a depth of understanding of cinema. I was forced to watch movies that I would never have watched previously. So, I was exposed to ideas, concepts, filmmakers, and storytelling styles to which I would never have exposed myself. So it was brilliant for all of that, but mostly for the peer group, and then the onset of blagging your way through everything was the learning at the coalface. If you can't hear the dialogue, then what's the point of having dialogue if it's not recorded properly? You know, if it's out of focus, the shots not usable, all that stuff, which, you know, it's obvious, but you have to make all of that stuff inside the crucible of, you know, your film to learn at the coalface that actually there's a bunch of fundamentals you have to get. You don't have a film if you don't get those fundamentals. You have a bit of a film.

 

Starting the Screenwriters Festival


Emily:

Were those experiences what inspired you to start the Screenwriters Festival?

 

Chris Jones:

I was the keynote speaker at the 2009, I think, Cheltenham Screenwriters Festival, which then went bankrupt because of the credit crunch in 2008. I had such a great time there, and I spoke with an agent who asked why you don't start it up in London. So I very naively thought, well, how hard can that be? Like all creative endeavours, how hard can that be? It turns out that it's probably very hard.

 

Suddenly, I was helming this giant international screenwriters festival almost by accident, but, you know, a lot of, a lot of what we do creatively is like happenstance mixed with ideas mixed with being in the right peer group at the right time, I think it's that entrepreneurial kind of DNA where you go. There's all this noise, but in that noise, there's a little kind of crack in it there and a bit of light shining through. I will go through that crack there and see what's on the other side. The festival was very much like that. I would love to say that, you know, I had a business plan at 22, but it's all much more random and chaotic.


But, you know, I suppose the fundamental through line is what's the worst that can happen or should we do this and get ourselves in a bit of trouble, so obviously it's driven all of that's driven by the individual at the heart of it so I suppose you know the advice coming out of that is be audacious you know be audacious get yourself in trouble with whatever you do because on the other side of that is success. It might not be the success you think it will be or want, but success is on the other side. But you do have to be a rule breaker, a troublemaker, audacious, and cause some mischief.


The Importance of Networking and Authenticity

 

Emily:

I also love happenstance; it's just been open to any and all opportunities that may appear before you.

 

Chris Jones:

I think it's really important again for people who are struggling in all creative industries to remember, like we, you know, when we hear successful people, they'll, they'll do this spiel about, you know, I did this and, and it's all, and I'm like, no, you were really lucky. Does this mean you can look at your entire career, and there's this one moment where you just happened to be in this place and meet this person? If you'd been five minutes earlier or five minutes later, you would not be where you're at.


Successful people don't like that concept because they think I'd be successful independently of that one bit of happenstance. But I don't think that's entirely true. I mean, I'm sure they may be successful, but super successful people, there's often when you dig really deep, there is that moment where something happened, and that changed everything for them and to some degree, we can't make that happen. We can only increase the odds of that happening by putting ourselves in harm's way as much as possible, and when trouble comes, we grab it with both hands and go, come on then, let's have a dance. Let's see what happens. Nine times out of ten, it goes nowhere. But one time out of ten, it goes somewhere.


Even that can circle back decades later because the people you're working with today, some of those people will be successful in two decades, and if you had helped somebody 20 years ago, that favour will be remembered. That kind of thing does get back to you. Another great strategy is to help as many people as possible in any way so that you can work on as much stuff and create as many relationships as possible.


Emily:

It's about networking. It's about respecting everybody, no matter if they're a runner, up to the director. Everyone has a part to play.

 

Chris Jones:

Absolutely. And it really is a social industry of who you know, and I think, if I'm honest, I speak a lot with screenwriters and filmmakers, particularly screenwriters. The last thing they want to hear is that it's a social industry because, you know, if you think of making a film or a TV show as a rock band, everybody gravitates to their relevant roles. So the actors and the director would be the lead singer and lead guitar. Then, in the background, you'd have the producer and the writer on drums and bass while secretly wanting to be lead guitar or lead singer. You have to go out, and you have to meet people and remember, they're just as scared as you.

 

You know, a great tactic is to go and talk about whatever you love. If it's Star Trek, talk to some people about Star Trek. Eventually, you'll find people who want to talk about Star Trek, and then you'll have a relationship that you didn't have, and it'll be authentic. But just be brave and open yourself up to, you know, any conversation that you feel resonates with you. Have that conversation with people, and don't worry about talking about film and telly and job opportunities. All of that will follow after you create a relationship.


The Joy of Teaching and Helping Others

 

Emily:

I think that's been reflected in several of our earlier podcasts regarding those relationships you build. It's the authenticity of being yourself and connecting with people. So, do you think that explains why you started being an educator, writing books, and helping others? That growth mindset?

 

Chris Jones:

If you take me down to the fundamentals as a human being, I'm fascinated by personal development if you want to use a modern term. I'm not particularly a fan of that phrase, but the idea of helping yourself get more out of life fascinates me. I'm naturally very good at training people, and I'm quite good at taking complex concepts and turning them into simple descriptions.


I really enjoy training. I really enjoy helping people, and when I do training, students often come to me afterwards and say, that's not like my usual teacher. That's because I'm not a teacher. I'm a performer who's imparting information, knowledge, or wisdom. You know, hard-won lessons. So, I approach it like a show rather than a class, and people seem to respond to that.


When they're excited, when they're smiling when they're up on their feet jumping about because I'll get them to do all of that stuff, then it goes in, and it stays in because their brain is operating in a different way when they're in that excited state.


The Challenges and Rewards of a Creative Career

 

Emily:

When you're working on a project, could you paint a picture of a typical day?

 

Chris Jones:

Goodness. Well, I mean, one of the blessings of, you know, creative industries is that almost every day, there's a certain pattern and a certain rhythm to what you do. Still, you're very often working on many different things with many different skills, and that's really cool. I love that about what I do in this world.


But today's been a really good example of what you're alluding to. I began working on one project this morning. After that, I moved on to a different project, which was a community writing project called Twisted 50, which involved writing horror books. Then, I've been building a website for something else. Then, in the afternoon, we'll launch another workshop, so there are many different things.

 

I think one of the challenges is the discipline of focus, and I think that's very difficult for creative people because, you know, these things stimulate us in almost deliciously irresistible ways. The way I've dealt with it personally is that I work really fast. So, even if I'm distracted by something amazing, I can get through that very quickly and move on to the next thing, which I probably should have been doing before I was distracted by that shiny, shiny thing.

 

The Skills and Responsibilities of a Film Director


Emily:

So, when you think about working as a movie director, what would a typical day start like? How early would that be?

 

Chris Jones:

When you're working a proper job, you're usually up at 5 a.m., out of the door by 6 a.m., out by 7 a.m., 7.15 a.m., you know, shooting by 8 a.m., and then rapping at 6 pm. You know, back home at 7 pm, eat and attempt to be human for a little while before crashing.

 

Everybody on a film set works hard, but the director constantly does something. Even when you're eating lunch, people are saying, excuse me, even when you're eating lunch, people are saying, should we paint it blue or green? Do we want to move left or right? And you have to answer the question. Somebody always has a question for you, at the very least, or something you need to deal with.

 

You know, while the crew is there, while the lights are on, you're burning money at a frightening rate, and you want to make sure that you squeeze every opportunity out of those very, very, very limited resources.

 

Emily:

It's very much about leadership skills as well.

 

Chris Jones:

Yeah, very much so. I think it's fair to say that I've seen enough celebrities say you can never tell by the experience on set whether it's a good experience or a bad experience, whether the film will be any good or not, and that is definitely one aspect of it. But for me personally, the whole thing is so hard that why wouldn't you decide to have a great time on set? Why make it difficult? Why make life for other people difficult? Why? why carry your own ego around to make everybody's lives difficult?


I had an epiphany 20 years ago that when things go wrong, whether it's on set or whether it's in life or any other aspect of my existence, there was always this one constant, this one thing that was there every single time, and that was me. I was like, OK, so I'm the centre of everything. Maybe I should think about that. I addressed it, and since then, it's not that you try not to take it seriously. It's that you recognise that reality is occurring, and if somebody messes up, you let them know that they've messed up, and you encourage them not to do it again.


But, you know, at the same time, that might be you, that might be me messing up. What am I going to fire myself? So it's that commitment to not repeating mistakes. We all make mistakes, and we must make mistakes to learn.

 

Making a Film and Favourite Projects


Emily:

You're currently working on Mission Impossible and Poltergeist, for which you were the executive producer. What have been your favourite projects so far in your career?

 

Chris Jones:

The truth is, it was my Super 8 zombie movie when I was 17. I mean, it was just amazing. But I think you speak to somebody who recorded that breakout album when they were 19, and they have no idea where the album came from. It just came out of them, and they didn't know what they were doing, which is really exciting, too. I don't understand what is happening, but it's all happening, and I'm completely immersed in it.

 

I don't have to worry about the mortgage or the rent payments. I'm not worrying about what we will eat for dinner tonight. There's a kind of bliss in that. So, I think most creative people will refer back to their earlier, not even successes, but experiences. But if that experience is married with success, then it's even more delicious. So I think the other thing as well, like the process of making anything, is that I've got an idea all the way through, and I'll put that into a document.


Let's try and raise some money. That all falls through. Let's raise money elsewhere. Okay, we've got some money. Let's get it to set that the act has fallen through. This agent's being difficult. Pushing it through all of that, getting it into post, knowing that you didn't get the needed shots. But we'll still have to make it. Look, we've got to do a reshoot of this. Okay. We'll do that. Find some more money for that, and then suddenly, you're on stage in front of a red curtain, going, well, that happened, and there's a kind of magical transformation at that moment.

 

Again, when I train creative people, I kind of really encourage them to acknowledge that particular moment. It may not be that specific moment, but in that realm, in that period where you go, I did this thing. I learned all this stuff. I've grown this much as a human being. I'm ready for the next adventure, and we can we can genuinely experience a transformation in those moments. Whether it's a short film, a micro-budget feature film, or even a big movie. Have the premiere, have everybody there, and bring your whole family in. It's a bit like a wedding, a funeral, or a bar mitzvah. It's a moment to celebrate the journey you've been on to create the project.

 

As I get older, I know this, and I'm sure you'll know this, too, and many of your listeners will. It's not the destination; it's the journey. It's a cliche, but it's so true. You get to the destination. It's fantastic for 15 minutes. And then you're like, okay, what's next? Like the hero's journey as a story, a model reflects how human beings get through difficult challenges. It's not the only story model, but it's the one I think resonates most with how human beings operate in the world. That's why I think it's so archetypal when it comes to stories that resonate with huge audiences. I've passed this milestone, and this is what it means to me. Let's celebrate it, and then let's choose the next adventure consciously.


Reflecting on Life Experiences and Advice

 

Emily:

I think that's important for some of our younger listeners as well in terms of when they're at school, they're supposed to make this decision about their entire future, and it's impossible to make that decision because, as you say, the career is just one long journey.

 

Chris Jones:

Yeah, you're pointing at a mountain, but really, you're pointing at a range of mountains. Like, I want to be creative. Okay, well, creativity is over in that direction. Just start walking in that direction. Don't worry about which particular mountain. You might turn out that you want to be, you know, a drummer in a rock band or a makeup artist.

 

When you do that, you discover all these things about yourself that you like or love, which really begins to inform your choices. I had no idea that I would love and enjoy training until maybe 29 or 30 years old, when I hit a moment where I was like, I need to earn some money, and a friend just said, why don't you run a class about how you've made those three films? I went, okay, and then I made some notes, and I stood in front of an audience, and I discovered that I could talk for two days without taking a breath and without even looking at my notes and, you know, to be pithy and entertaining and insightful. I had no idea I had that ability. It was a complete revelation. But I had to go on that journey to discover it.

 

Emily:

You just faced that opportunity head-on, leading to something even better than you thought. When you look back over your career, did any people give you any advice that stuck with you and that you reflect upon now?

 

Chris Jones:

Yes, I mean, so many people at so many junctures, and so much of it, you forget because it's a piece of advice that's pertinent to the next 45 minutes of your life. Then you pass through that gateway and forget that all these people are offering you good and bad advice throughout your life. But there was one particular conversation I had when I was at film school, and it wasn't with any of the film school tutors; it was the business development manager. I'd got frustrated because I'd been making Super Eight movies and turning a profit, we're talking, a hundred pounds kind of money, but still it was like, it was a concept, which made a film, turn a profit, make another film, turn a profit.


Film school really didn't really cater to that at all conceptually. I was really struggling with that because I'm like, how can we make films if we can't make a profit? So, I accidentally ended up conversing with the business development man. They had a business arm in the school, and for an hour, he just talked to me, and it was like I was kind of like mainlining this knowledge, and it was more kind of like permission like nobody had given me permission.


There was one moment when he said; you can get a thousand pounds instant credit. Like I can get you a thousand pounds in the next hour if you need a thousand pounds. You open a store card at B &Q, buy a thousand pounds worth of stuff, and then sell it. It was ridiculous, and I knew it was ridiculous, but I suddenly went, yeah, I could do that, couldn't I? That was when it was like the synapses in my brain connected between this entrepreneurial idea; I can sell something connected with it, and I can make something, but in a big and audacious way.


That was the moment everything changed for me, and, you know, it was an offhand conversation for an hour that wasn't even part of my course. There have been so many others like that where somebody has said something to me, and it's really resonated, and that's informed. Like I said, it's usually informing the next 10 minutes or the next hour, the specific challenge in my life, which again is why it's so important to meet people, talk to people, because they'll give you advice that's just not relevant for another 15 years. You won't hear it because it's irrelevant and makes no sense because you're not in that particular challenge. So you need to keep having those conversations and be open to the right information at the right time from the right person for the right reasons.

 

Challenges of a Film Director


Emily:

What would you say is the most challenging aspect of working as a film director?

 

Chris Jones:

I think you can categorize creative people into three groups. So there are people who, for whatever reason, whether that's like an abundance of natural talent, find success. So you could maybe say Quentin Tarantino. I mean, clearly, the man has the ability to make Quentin Tarantino films that people seem to like. So there's that creative who's got something.


Then, some people stay on the marathon, climb the ladder, and keep going. Then there are other people who, for whatever reason, fall away. They may stay in creative industries, but not in an audacious way; they can't tolerate the marathon. So what you really need is a strategy for the marathon: how am I going to survive? In fact, when I again train; I don't even ask how I will survive the next decade. I'm like, how can you survive all the way to the day that you die without success? Because you can't make success happen. You can just put yourself in the game to find success.


Yes, the odds do increase dramatically with more experience and the longer you're in the game. But even then, you can't manufacture success. So then it becomes what's going to stop your success. Well, the only reason that your success will be stopped is because you'll run out of resources. Simply put, rent, food, life, and life pressures, like getting married and having kids, are all of those things. Some people are blessed by coming from wealthy families, and some people are blessed by, you know, having success in a different industry early on that allows them to pivot into creativity. They can live like church mice on a tiny amount of money, but they can do that and sustain that for decades.


But I think that's the most difficult thing: How do you, how do you mean, how do you keep in the game? How do you keep in the game? That's it. And whatever you choose to do, do it at 101 % because most people don't. You want to be that person when, when your name comes up ten years later, they go, what are they doing now? When I worked with them ten years ago, they were doing this, but they were incredible.


The Importance of Being Audacious and Discoverable

 

Emily:

Looking back over your life experience, is there any other wisdom you can share that would benefit our listeners?

 

Chris Jones:

If you're not enjoying it, pivot. We all have bad days, weeks, and months, but if it's persistently not really what you want to do, pivot, and sometimes, you know, make a distinction between, do you want to do this, or does your ego want you to do this? Are you making the choices you want to make or the choices that you think society, your friends, parents, and relatives would like you to make?


Enjoy the whole journey and be open to catastrophe because it will probably be a catastrophe. But there's a joy in that beautiful destruction. Just put yourself out there and aim to win, expect not to win, and you'll go to bed every night saying, thank goodness I'm going to bed; I'm exhausted. What a great day! I guess that's the goal. It's like coming out of every day and going. I learned something today. This day means this to me. It means something that I'm proud of or stimulates me.


I think we may be a little bit too obsessed with happiness, and I think we may be a bit obsessed with self-image. Be brilliantly represented on the internet. People will Google you, and they will believe what they find. I'm not necessarily saying lean into social media. You can, or you can't, that's entirely up to you, but whatever it is about you on the internet, make sure that that's really good. I would say at the very base, LinkedIn, possibly a personal web page, your Facebook, maybe you have an Instagram, and I would personally have a website; it doesn't have to be much, but just so that people can find you and make yourself discoverable.


There's been so, I can't tell you how many times I've been like, let's find this person and offer them an opportunity. Then you can't find them because they don't exist on the internet, or they've got all this stuff, and there's no phone number, email, or nothing, and you're like, wow, you've just lost this opportunity. You might've said no to it, but be discoverable, contactable, and enthusiastic when people contact you because you don't know where the opportunity will lead.


Final Thoughts and Embracing the Creative Journey

 

Emily:

We're almost at the end of the podcast. Before we go, is there anything else you want to share with our listeners?

 

Chris Jones:

Be audacious. I mean, we've been planning a new workshop. We do this thing called Talent Campus, which is like a 10-day immersion program for professional development. It's kind of like life skills for creatives, and it's extremely intense. Still, we're talking about doing an even more intense one there.

 

Whatever is inside you on a creative level is your unique good stuff, and you should really mine it, play with it, and tease it out because that's your creative soul if such a thing exists. There are a thousand and one talented people who can do things, and you're up against just competence then. Competence in relationships is what gets most people hired and experience, and you've got the CV because you did the work. But what pushes you into the upper echelons is that I've got this incredibly unique vision or uniqueness that I bring to this equation. You can see with, say, Greta Gerwig with Barbie that it could have gone a completely different way, but it didn't.

 

It wasn't because she was necessarily the most amazing filmmaker in the world. It's because she had a point of view, a perspective, and she wasn't afraid of exploring that, and I think that's your unique selling point, your Scud missile. However, you want to describe it. It's that thing you've got that nobody else has because nobody else is you. So find out what that is. Be audacious with it, put it out in the world, get creative, and have fun.

 

Emily:

Thank you. That's a really lovely note to finish. There are some amazing insights that I think our listeners will pick up on about what it means to be creative and wear so many different hats like you do. So, thank you so much for sharing all those insights today.

 

Chris Jones:

Thank you. You're so welcome.

 

Short Biography:

Passionate about all things film, Chris has spent his life watching, making, and helping others make them. He has an eclectic resume and is currently directing the Splinter Unit on Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning, parts 1 and 2 for Paramount and the Executive Producer on the Apple TV+ ‘The Enfield Poltergeist’.


Alongside directing and producing, he co-created and authored The Guerilla Film Makers Handbook series, published by Bloomsbury. Chris also runs a series of London-based festivals, kicking off with the London Screenwriters Festival, which annually attracts over 1,000 professional screenwriters from around the globe. He also runs TEDxEaling, an annual TEDx conference on storytelling and human communication.


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Want to know more about Chris Jones

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