Why filmmaking helped Rankin become a calmer photographer

As his new Sky series 'Rankin Presents: Collabor8te' launches we talk thrillers, the challenges of the film industry and why he makes himself go in front of the camera sometimes

Dazed co-founder and world-renowned photographer Rankin, has long been committed to championing underground talent and giving emerging creatives a platform. The last time we caught up with him he was collaborating with Samsung on a new scheme mentoring young photographers, Launching People. Now his Rankin Film Productions' scheme Collabor8te is hitting its second year hard, with 8 new short films airing on Sky Arts in a 4-part series. Aimed at giving a unique take on the filmmaking world, the show launches this week, following the genesis from drawing board to behind-the-scenes to wrap interviews with Rankin himself. Featuring innovative animation and eerie chillers, there's a mixed bag of thought-provoking lols and knife-edge thrillers, all peppered with big name, established film professionals like Bill Nighy, Marc Warren and BAFTA-winning Director Martin Smith

We caught up with Rankin to talk about why filmmaking has made him a calmer photographer, the essential art of collaboration and what keeps pulling him back to the sinister world of the thriller. 

What initially drove you to set up Collabor8te?

Rankin: When the UK Film Council closed around 2010, there were about two years with little indication of what opportunities there would be to support new filmmakers starting out in their careers. Eventually things moved over to the BFI but in 2011, before that started, we talked with loads of people and decided to launch Collabor8te in partnership with The Bureau and Dazed & Confused. We'd pool our experience, reach, and resources to champion new filmmakers. We were overwhelmed by the response – over 1,300 scripts came in.

This new series puts collaboration at the heart of the creative process. You've obviously been involved in countless collabs – which one shaped your career and vision the most?

Rankin: Making films has taught me more about how to collaborate than anything else. I think it’s all of those collaborations in film that have helped shape me the most. When it says a named film at the beginning of a film I always laugh! Films depend entirely on collaboration, more than any other creative process I’ve been through and there is no way that anything I make is just a “Rankin Film”.

What first got you into film direction? Any famous film collaborations that inspired you?

Rankin: One collaboration that always springs to mind is Martin Scorcesse and Thelma Schoonmaker – those two have been making films together forever. They seem to enhance each other’s work so much, it’s incredibly inspiring to see that loyalty in today’s business. My first directorial experience was in 1995. Since I first picked up a stills camera, I always wanted to make films. It was just a natural progression for me. I’ve spent the last twenty years trying to learn how to do it!

Would you say you're often drawn to quite dark, sinister genres?

Rankin: I'm a huge thriller fan. It's not just that they're dark, but they often make you think and surprise you, and question your own moral compass. My favourite of recent years was Ben Affleck’s film Gone Baby Gone. Very rarely do you walk out of a film and think to yourself, “What would I have done!” I’d love to be able to make films like that.

Tell us a bit about the collaborative process on Hardwire? What was it about that script that pulled you in?

Rankin: It goes back to my love of political thrillers from the '70s, and a few films later on, like Michael Clayton by Tony Gilroy. It's rare that we see scripts like that come in. Hardwire, written by Adam Dewar, is a corporate thriller but feels in some ways like a piece of theatre. It's contained, with two main characters and another watching in. All of them are jostling for power and, as an audience, we don't know from one speech to the next who has the upper hand. It’s so clever and commands attention. Straight away I could visualise a film unlike anything I've made before. How can that not pull you in?

“I’ll never feel completely comfortable being in front of the camera but I do it to remind myself how hard it is to be the subject. It’s good for me as a director and photographer to know what works and what doesn’t in terms of direction.” – Rankin

Which of these collaborators from the project are you most excited to see more from in the future?

Rankin: Some of the guys that we’ve collaborated with have been winning awards around the world, and have been commissioned to do some great work since their Collabor8te films. Robert McKillop did a series for Sky with Jon Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe, Gergely Wootsch has done more fascinating animation. Lewis Metcalfe's film Irreversible is also a thriller and really stood out – it's currently being developed into a feature so I'm looking forward to seeing how that progresses.

Is there anything that you've learned from filmmaking that's gone on to influence your photography?

Rankin: For sure. I think filmmaking has helped me become a calmer photographer in some ways. As I’ve said, filmmaking really is about collaborating, no one can do it all. There are too many components, and as a director you need to be patient in order to see all of those elements reach their potential. I think this has helped me be calmer and more patient on set as a result, whether its stills or film. I've always believed that good ideas can come from anywhere and anyone, but with film you have to give people a degree of autonomy within their department for them to be any good, and I think I try to carry some of that over to my photography now as well.

You've done a lot of self-portraits and appeared on TV a lot in recent years; has appearing in front of camera always come naturally or was there some turning point?

Rankin: No – I’ll never feel completely comfortable being in front of the camera but I do it to remind myself how hard it is to be the subject. It’s good for me as a director and photographer to know what works and what doesn’t in terms of direction. I also love photography in all its guises and making documentaries about it is like a dream come true.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the film industry right now?

Rankin: We're at a really exciting time. There's more access to HD equipment, it's cheaper than ever and the internet has obviously democratised distribution and is available to everyone. It’s never been easier to have your film seen by people that could really boost your career. Cuts to arts funding continue but in other ways there's a bit more money around than there has been in recent years; things are definitely on the up. The greatest challenge is probably making sure good stuff gets seen and a chance to stand out amongst the cacophony of bad 'content' out there. But I'm generally pretty optimistic - especially in the UK. Big blockbusters are shooting here, we've got some of the best technicians around, and the cast and crews are regularly cleaning up at award ceremonies on a global level.

If you could give budding filmmakers one piece of advice what would that be?

Rankin: Keep making films. You learn with every shoot, every edit, every screening. Listen to feedback, take from that what chimes, and go out and make another film.

Catch Rankin Presents: Collabor8te every Wednesday night on Sky Arts starting 13th August at 09:30pm.

Follow the series on twitter with the hashtage #RankinCollabor8te.