Meet Edward Smyth

Friday, 3 July 2015

On a bright and windy Tuesday at the end of June, I met up with Edward (Ed) Smyth, a nineteen year old student and filmmaker. He now "pretty much lives at the BFI" but originally hails from Kent, so had come into London for a busy day of auditions, meetings and securing props for an upcoming project. Armed with a couple of obnoxiously green smoothies, we headed to the park and sat atop a grassy mound with a view onto Kensington Palace. 

Ed explains, to my surprise, that he has absolutely no background in film, coming from a family of lawyers and solicitors: "My parents have almost zero interest in film. We have, like, 3 DVDs at home", he laughs. Nevertheless, he spent his childhood glued to the TV, 'not being very sociable at all', choosing the company of fiction over friends. "I was a bit of a weird kid", he decides in hindsight. Weird? Well, who's to say. But Ed spent his childhood honing his craft, absorbing stories by osmosis and inspiration by the by; and this, surely, has paid off.

"We're at an interesting time, at a point where filmmaking is practically democratised. Not quite yet, but we're extremely close", he says.

"The kit isn't that expensive, really, so it's far more about the actual ideas. You get a lot more shit, but it's worth it for those extra gems". Five years ago, navigating the waters of indie filmmaking was no smooth sail. Now, in 2015, the cost of a DSLR has dropped dramatically and any project more ambitious can be crowdsourced at the click of a button. Film, we hope, is no longer reserved for the wealthy and the well-connected, but a medium masterminded by kids; kids more familiar with YouTube and Vimeo than the school playground. But give a kid a camera and that won't make him an artist. Ed has embraced technology as much as the next man, but he knows that he won't make it with 'pretty pictures' alone. If you want to stand out in the industry, you need contacts. Like it or not. So Ed invests much of his time in a thing our generation of filmmakers has mostly forgotten: networking. Now, I find Twitter really empowering; it enables you to reach out to virtually anyone, no matter their fame or follower count, but it's still no substitute for meeting someone in the flesh. You need to show your face and have them remember your face. But Ed is charming and bohemian and never without a hat, so forget him, they won't. And it also doesn't hurt that he looks like Ed Sheeran. 

Minutes after meeting Ed (Smyth that is, not Sheeran), we were stopped in the street by a woman who had remembered once meeting him at a screening. Beaming, she asked for his Twitter handle, then went on her way. Something similar happened in South Kensington, where he was approached by a man who simply shouted 'BFI!' in his general direction. He had seen Ed round the BFI. So networking pays off, I ask? "Absolutely", he says, "it's key. It's not essential, but it really helps. I like to see how people work. Oh and I met a guy last year... six months later, he'd won an Oscar!". Ed jokes that all of his friends are 'film friends' and his idea of socialising involves more mingling in creative circles than downing shots in sleazy student clubs. By choice or by need, I don't know - the line is blurred. To get anywhere in the industry, you need contacts: "If you're not in London, you're basically just kidding yourself", he says.

There's little more heartening than seeing a friend rewarded for a talent you long knew they had. Ed was recently focus of a Digital Filmmaker magazine six-page article, and his short, 'Lost Pleasures', was selected for the London Short Film Festival 2015. He's in Liverpool as we speak, shooting something exciting but still under wraps: a coming of age project. 'And then?', I have the cheek to ask. "A lot depends on whether or not I get kicked out of uni!" he laughs. "The next thing really is to make more films, to use these friends and see what we can do together. I think it's fun to know your competition. I think we are in competition; the point is it's friendly competition. But I don't like aggression. I find aggressive people absolutely abhorrent." Same, Ed, same. But keep your elbows sharp and you'll soon have floored this competition.

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