Do you have to move to London to become a successful filmmaker?

Is relocating to London essential if you want to become a successful film-maker? There seems to be a consensus that if a British film-maker wishes to succeed in the industry, they must at some point migrate to the Capital, almost painting London as a utopia for creative people in the UK.

But does this make any sense?



The Creative Hub Of The UK

When you initially think of what London has to offer, it is very easy to arrive at this type of conclusion. Culturally alone London offers so much, even if you are a more artistically minded film-maker, you are most likely going to find a more vibrant audience there.

I sometimes find myself travelling to London solely to see films that were not screened at my local cinemas. In 2010 I sat on several two hour train journeys just to attend the BFI’s Yasujiro Ozu season and in 2011 for the Hong Sang Soo retrospective. However, all of the films I saw at those screenings were ones I had seen before (most often from my own DVD collection), so why spend so much time and money seeing them in London?

Bfi Southbank

Well obviously the main reason is to see them in an auditorium, where I feel the cinematic experience is heightened, but another reason is the community. There is nothing quite as gratifying as talking to other film enthusiasts about the film you have just seen. This can only really be accomplished in an environment that has a passionate community.

Mike Leigh once said that he never saw a Japanese film until he went to London. Of course when Leigh was young accessibility to the many variations of cinema was difficult, but this is not the case any-more. The internet and DVD/Blu-Ray distribution has made a cinephile’s life much easier as you no longer have to attend an international film festival to see a film that will not be screened at your local cinema. Nevertheless, London has held on to this image as Britain’s “Creative utopia”.


Are Successful British Film-Makers Actually Based in London?

Okay, even if we can conclude that London almost innately supports cultural concerns more effectively than anywhere else in the UK, does this mean film-makers should move there?

The best way to answer this is to ask “Are successful British film-makers actually based in London?” and the answer is, not necessarily.  The Likes of Shane Meadows alone is an example of a film-maker based outside of London, reaching substantial levels of success.

British film-makers based outside of London

Shane Meadows

But does this only apply to film-makers that are already successful? An up and coming film-maker may not have the reputation or contacts to work outside of London. Surely the main reason aspiring film-makers move to London is for the opportunities?

But are there really film-making opportunities in the capital?  Of course it is a great place to network, but do you really have to move to London to exploit the occasional contact opportunity?


The Fine Line Between a “Technician” and a “Film-Maker”

I believe we sometimes blur the line between a “Film-maker” and a film “technician”. Of course where there is more industry there is more opportunities for technical hands, but this does not necessarily mean film-makers.

The greatest movements within cinema were made outside of industries; from the French New wave, Italian Neo-Realism, Taiwanese new wave etc. were all independent of the main industries of the time. Apart from the Japanese new wave of the 1960s (which was ironically almost manufactured by the major studios) the key movements tend to be a product of independent fervour.

Key figures of the Taiwanese new wave


Is It Possible To Make A Steady Living As A Film-Maker?

Admittedly referring to influential film movements may seem a little over ambitious for the average film-maker, but the point is clear. Only technicians really need to move to London to make a living, not film-makers.

This is because a film-maker’s craft cannot be streamlined into a conventional 9 to 5 job, a technician’s however can be and this is what needs to be taken into account before making any hasty location changes.

It is rare that you would find a company that would offer you a steady job as a film-maker, at least not in the way they would if you were something like a camera operator. A film-maker relies primarily on funding and this is something that cannot be guaranteed simply by living in London, even if that is where the industry is most vibrant.


Where Are All The Jobs?

If you want a steady living in film, then move to London and become a camera operator, editor, A.D or lighting tech. A film-maker is a much more complicated and incoherent job, which is accompanied with great uncertainty.

It may involve networking in the capital or attending certain events there, but to suggest actually moving to London will help solidify your success, is for me complete fallacy.


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Matthew E. Carter


Film-maker and writer for the Black Country Cinema collective. My films often revolve around the changing cultural identity of the UK. An avid cinephile with a love for Eastern Cinema.

  2 comments for “Do you have to move to London to become a successful filmmaker?

  1. 04/03/2013 at 01:56

    I was in London throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, the atmosphere is why you go there, the buzz, not to solidify success. Nothing can do that unless Steven Spielberg is your daddy.

    • Black Country Cinema
      05/03/2013 at 21:10

      I possibly believe the same thing, the only problem is the consensus doesn’t. People have confused London’s cultural richness with it being an industrial necessity (You have to go there to “make it”).

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