Meet the next gen of Britain’s behind-the-camera TV and film stars
BAFTA Breakthrough has handpicked the industry’s brightest up-and-comers to nurture via their new-talent initiative. Remember these names. You’ll be hearing them a lot more.
Oh, awards season! The glitz, the glamour, the parties, the predictions, the beaming acceptance speeches as the best talent in film, TV and music accept their gongs in a custom designer look. When it rolls round every February, it’s always the perfect anecdote to those early new year blues, the perfect celeb‑y knees-up to distract from gloomy mornings and your derailed resolutions.
But if you think awards season is the only time the movie industry celebrates its wins, you’re sorely mistaken. At BAFTA, for example, they’re at it all year long, uplifting actors, directors, screenwriters and even game developers to help nurture the next gen of movie makers and as-seen-on-TV shakers.
Case in point: BAFTA Breakthrough. It’s the British Academy of Film and Television Arts initiative that handpicks and celebrates emerging talent in games, TV and film. And it does more than your average accolade. Spanning the UK, the US and India, the talent that makes it onto the roster will receive special coaching and career development advice, ensuring that their trajectory skyrockets to household name territory. Florence Pugh, Tom Holland and Letitia Wright are just a few of the people who have been selected in the past.
Worked pretty well for them, eh?
Announced today, this year’s cohort are just as promising, having already worked on mega hit TV shows and films, both in front of and behind the camera. We caught up with some of the brightest and best to find out what got them there and how it feels to be so bloody talented.
Jack Rooke, creator and writer of Channel 4’s Big Boys
“I begged, borrowed and stole to get my first show at the Edinburgh Fringe. Throughout my whole career I’ve been the product of successfully applying for scholarships, arts grants, funding, outreach projects, et cetera. I did some creative writing projects at The Roundhouse [in London] at 18, which gave me the time and space to experiment and be rubbish for a while. Then I started gigging above pubs, reading stories and silly poems to people. It just grew from there.
“Looking back, I think all of my work has been about how people counter loneliness with friendship or finding a community. I’m only really interested in writing stuff that appeals to as wide an audience as possible, without compromising my own comedic tastes or niche pop culture references. I also wanted to flip the TV ‘gay best mate’ trope on its head and write a straight, laddy best mate to a gay character, who defies stereotypes while still feeling like a genuine person.”
Runyararo Mapfumo, director on Sex Education
“I was inspired to get into the industry when I saw David Yates directing on the set of Harry Potter as a teenager. I didn’t really know much about filmmaking at that time but I observed him and thought: ‘I want to do what he’s doing.’ I kept pushing and I was very fortunate to find collaborators who cared as much and worked as hard.
“My aim has always been to find a way to tell the next story that excites, interests or moves me… Any writer or director will tell you that the challenges aren’t just daily but minute-to-minute. For me, starting out was very difficult. You always hear people saying ‘there’s no roadmap’, and there genuinely isn’t. I was able to overcome that by setting myself small, manageable goals and allowing errors and growth.”
Theo Williams, director of Terms & Conditions: Deeper than Drill
“I dropped out of college when I was 17 after my dad passed away. I started working odd jobs and, after a year or so, by chance, my brother’s girlfriend had a mate who ran an independent TV production company and needed a runner for a shoot. The work was irregular and the pay was terrible, but I loved it.
“As fate would have it, I got offered an unpaid internship the day M&M’s World rejected my job application. I decided this was my chance to actually get to know people at the company by working in-house. While there, I realised they needed someone on the staff who could do small edits to videos, so I went to night school to learn FinalCut while doing part-time work elsewhere, which got me a full-time job at the company.
“I went freelance a few years later as a director and editor – there’s much more demand for editors than for up-and-coming filmmakers. I’d save up my money and fund small documentary projects in my spare time, with the help of friends I made on set. Then I’d show these to executive producers I would meet through edit sessions.
“Eventually, Jamal Edwards and SBTV gave me my first paid documentary opportunity with a film called Living Viral that was supported by YouTube. Off the back of that, I got more factual and documentary-based work.
“This is, of course, all a massive simplification! It took a huge amount of support from the people around me, a fair amount of blind luck and a lot of time learning on the job.”
Diana Olifirova, cinematographer on Heartstopper, We Are Lady Parts and The Baby
“I was always interested in creating images, analysing what it all means and, in putting images together and running them one after another, hoping that the audience will catch the mood and the story through that movement. The magic of filmmaking is right there in the pure action of capturing light and cutting it into the shape of the film.
“I love [French mime and filmmaker] Jacques Tati and his film Playtime. It’s a cinematic experience that is impossible to describe. When the film is indescribable, I feel like the creators have understood the aim and the true nature of filmmaking.
“To get into the industry, I followed my intuition and always chose projects that I felt aligned with my journey at the time. I always think about what else I can learn, experience or add to my craft and knowledge. How can I expand further and keep being passionate and curious every single day? I am a very curious person and like to explore life, ask a lot of questions and stay open to all the discoveries and people I meet, absorbing it and reflecting back when time comes.
“My advice? Be patient, active, curious, fun and authentic. Rest well, be kind, follow the intuition and connect with others. Be open to critique and stay open and vulnerable. Be yourself.”
Nicôle Lecky, creator, writer and star of Mood
“I was obsessed with Muriel’s Wedding from quite a young age. I thought Toni Collette was so engaging and I loved everything about that film. To get into the industry, I attended every acting class and writing class I could find. I wanted to get better and I reached out to people once I was in those rooms. I wrote a lot to hone what I really wanted to say, and that way I could show people my work. It’s definitely tricky to find your place in this industry as a working class woman of colour, especially finding people who want to genuinely champion and amplify your voice.
“I find people fascinating, watching humans is a full-on pastime. Be it the mundane or more bizarre experiences, it all feeds into my work. I like to know what makes people tick and ask big questions. Focus on the work and the rest will follow.”
Sophie Cunningham, director of documentary Look Away
“The world of TV is notoriously hard to break into. I had no contacts and worked a lot for free, as so many people do. I took any job I was offered, but eventually landed a place working on reception at a company who promoted me to runner. From there I was an assistant producer, then a producer for many years and now a director.
“An exec gave me some career advice once: ‘Men make better directors, so don’t bother. Women are better producers, stick to that.’ So I did for a long time and didn’t think directing was for someone like me. Luckily, attitudes are changing and I know so many amazing female directors who are killing it and proving said exec wrong.”
Check out the full list of BAFTA Breakthrough stars below:
Alex Thomas | Director – Yorkshire Cop: Police, Racism and Me (TV)
Alyx Jones | Dialogue Editor – Elden Ring (Games)
Ambika Mod | Performer – This is Going to Hurt (TV)
Chloë Fairweather | Director – Dying to Divorce (Film)
Diana Olifirova | Cinematographer – Heartstopper (TV)
Emily Brown | Lead Designer – Alba: a Wildlife Adventure (Games)
Jack Rooke | Writer/Executive Producer – Big Boys (TV)
Jamal Green | Composer – TOEM (Games)
Joanna Boateng | Producer – Uprising (TV)
Leon Harrop | Performer – Ralph & Katie (TV)
Marley Morrison | Writer/Director – Sweetheart (Film)
Morag Taylor | Principal Technical Artist – Total War: Warhammer 3 (Games)
Nell Barlow | Performer – Sweetheart (Film)
Nicôle Lecky | Writer/Executive Producer/Actor – MOOD (TV)
Paul Sng | Director – Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché (Film)
Rose Ayling-Ellis | Performer – EastEnders (TV)
Runyararo Mapfumo | Director – Sex Education (TV)
Sophie Cunningham | Director – Look Away (TV)
Theo Williams | Director – Terms & Conditions: Deeper than Drill (TV)
Zachary Soares & Luciana Nascimento | Co-Founders, Creative Director & Artistic Director – Moonglow Bay (Games)
Alex Pritz | Director – The Territory (Film, Documentary)
Amrit Kaur | Performer – The Sex Lives of College Girls (TV)
Brandon Perea | Performer – NOPE (Film)
Charlotte Hornsby | Cinematographer – MASTER (Film)
Clare Knight | Director – Back to the Outback (Film)
Daphne Qin Wu | Cinematographer – The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster (Film)
Ellie Foumbi | Director/Writer – Our Father, the Devil (Film)
Megan Fox | Founder/Games Programmer – SkateBIRD (Games)
Melissa Adeyemo | Producer – Eyimofe (Film)
Rebeca Huntt | Director – Beba (Film, Documentary)
Robert Ouyang Rusli | Composer – Test Pattern (Film)
So Yun Um | Director – Liquor Store Dreams (Film, Documentary)