Interview // Film maker and Former Leeds student Spike Morris talks to Lippy

Lippy recently had the opportunity to sit down with Spike Morris, a former Leeds student, who is now making a name for himself in the film industry. Recently the recipient of a Guardian Media Award, and with a television debut on Channel 4’s Random Acts, it is certainly appropriate to say ‘watch this space’. We discuss his inspirations and motivations, and he gives us some tips on breaking into the visual arts.

As a former University of Leeds student, what kind of platform did studying in Leeds give you as a director/editor?

I wouldn’t say it gave me a platform so to speak. I was never able to work with the University or publicize videos in that way, but it definitely helped in making me want to do it more. I found that lots of people were really excited about what they wanted to do when they finished University, and conversations like that seemed fairly menial at the time, but it was actually really inspiring being surrounded by all these people in the launchpad phase of their lives, setting out to do whatever they want.

You have lived in Leeds, and are currently in the process of moving to London. Where is the best place, in your opinion, to be a film maker at the moment?

For me, it is in London. There are a lot of production companies established in London. It depends on where you start however, as it can take a few years to get the ball rolling. I was a runner for a lot of companies in London when I was sixteen or so and I was able to make contacts there. Having said that there are a lot of people who have now chosen to work in Manchester, particularly because the BBC has moved up there. A lot of my Northern based course mates prefer to work in Manchester.

Making films is an art. What is the most inspirational thing you have ever been told that has influenced the way you approach your work?

Inspiration is more of a steady stream of ideas. There is one book that is particularly poignant for me, which my friend’s Dad left lying around the house. I left University prematurely and was trying to make the transition into working life and in the process of sending e-mails and trying to get as involved as possible. I wasn’t really sure what to do, and was doubting myself. I found the book called ‘It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be’ by Paul Arden, which is a little catchphrase book full of motivational writing. It sounds really cheesy but things like that are really useful.

[He pauses in thought]

Inspiration is a subjective thing. Sometimes it is just a big billboard on the side of the road that makes you smile, that someone else wouldn’t like. Inspiration is difficult to define.

If somebody were to criticise your work, what is the worst thing someone could say about it? And furthermore, how do you react to somebody criticizing something you have put so much energy into?

You have to accept criticism, because you learn so much more because of it. I actually prefer it to positive feedback. A project that goes wrong is a mistake you will never make again. You have to be open to that in order to improve.

The worst type of criticism is personal, for example, if somebody says that you didn’t try hard enough. It may be true, but it is still hard to take. I welcome negative feedback. It is painful and I find it becomes fixed in my head, but that means I go further to make sure I don’t get the same criticism twice.

People often talk about artists who have strayed from their original goals as ‘selling out’. What, in terms of your own personal philosophy, would make you a ‘sell out’?

I would say that working for companies that don’t do much good is selling out. Everyone has a responsibility not to get caught up in the money or prestige of something, which may seem really alluring at the time. You might just be making an advert for something but that advert is serving a purpose, and so ethics are important to me. Everyone, no matter the industry, should be responsible for that kind of thing.

You recently won a Guardian Student Media Award for being the Broadcast Journalist of the year, congratulations! Tell us briefly about the documentary, VETO, and what the aims of the project were?

VETO is a project undertaken by my friend Joe Jones and myself. Joe is a politics graduate who wants to be a foreign correspondent, with a lot of interest in the Middle East in particular. He called me a year prior and asked me to help him make a film. He noticed that the Arab Spring was really changing the Middle East, but Israel and Palestine really weren’t progressing. The Palestinian people were creating a movement to get themselves recognized, not through direct negotiations with Israel, but through a global platform such as the United Nations. We flew over for it and documented what was happening whilst trying not to analyse it or give too much personal opinion. We’re not experts. We just did our best at pointing our cameras in the faces of people who wanted to talk to us and showing what we saw.

What does the award mean to you?

I don’t know. It is fun? It was a good night. I don’t know what it means. It is the first thing I have had of that sort.

Maybe you will understand what it means when you are older and looking back?

Yeah, maybe I’ll find out.

Finally, what advice would you give current students seeking a career in the visual arts?

Unlike other industries, you don’t need a degree. If you want to be a lawyer then you obviously need a degree, but if you want to be an artist of some type, experience is the most useful thing. It’s not a bad thing to go to university but try and take as much from it as you can, and improve your confidence. Try and immerse yourself in everything, the creative and fun people around you, not just the course. Don’t attach too much to the degree but use it as a springboard for your future career, you know? Every experience is important.

To see the award winning VETO, click here.

Camilla James

Image: Courtesy Spike Morris


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