He spent a year at the Los Angeles Film School, "basically to get equipment in my hands" before directing his first feature, Greek Pete (2009).
He was rejected by the National Film and Television School (NFTS) in Beaconsfield, UK. In 2003 he went to the private Los Angeles Film School.
His first job in the film industry was as Ismail Merchant's assistant for Merchant Ivory Productions: "I sent a CV and badgered them and said please give me a job and they paid me - it is illegal now, thank God - £50 a week." But he admired their "personal, passionate way of working". .
Shot his first feature Greek Pete (2009) himself on an inexpensive HD camera for a micro budget of about £ 5000. His second feature Weekend (2011) had a low budget of £ 100000 to £ 120000 and was shot primarily using a Canon 5D Mark II, with outdoor scenes shot on a Sony PMW-EX3, because of its zoom lens. Both films were completed in a fully digital workflow.
Personal Quotes (31)
[on Weekend (2011)] The root of the film for me is two characters trying to work out who they are and what they want from life, how they're going to fit that into the world around them and show the world that they are these people. These issues aren't just about being gay. They're about how you define yourself in public and in private.
A lot of gay films are just about being gay - nightclubs, coming out when you were a kid. I wanted to focus on the everyday aspects of being gay.
[on setting films in a specific time frame] I can't deal with stories unless there's some time constraint on it. That constraint allows you to understand something bigger and deeper. It just makes sense for me to drop into someone's life, look at it for a time, understand their life, and leave again. 
[on 45 Years (2015), acting and first assembly cuts] We cast the female character, Kate, first because she's so central to the story. It's all from her point of view, and luckily Charlotte [Charlotte Rampling] said yes very quickly. That casting decision was so difficult, because if our leads didn't work together, we were done. For me, acting is the most important thing that makes a film work - if that doesn't work, the film doesn't. So that, and also watching the first assembly, are the most stressful things on a film. (...) You just want to cry and hide. I wish more directors would talk about how hideous the assemblies are. I've talked to other directors and it's all the same; they're in tears by the end of it. It's not a fault of the editors or anything; it's just that the film's in the rawest form, it's always so, so long, and all it takes is for a few scenes that don't work for the whole thing to fall apart. You're just like, "I've ruined it. No one's going to see this film." 
[on first working as an assistant editor and editing in general] Well, as an assistant editor you're not doing any actual "editing;" you're just syncing up dailies and such. But you still see the process, and especially on the smaller films, you learn an enormous amount. I worked on Harmony Korine's Mister Lonely (2007), and that was actually an incredible experience, because you're sitting in the editing room with the editor and Harmony watching the decisions they make. That's when you really get to seeing the heart of making a decision. (...) He [Korine] just works from a very gut level that's really interesting. He doesn't think about too much about the audience. He just thinks, "What am I interested in? What makes sense to me?" And that's why his films always feel incredibly fascinating. But then, working on those bigger films, I saw that the emotion is all created within the edit, and I just felt like there's a lack of truthfulness in that. When I started trying to make my own things, I really thought, "Okay, how do I try and make a moment feel genuinely truthful?" With deciding not to edit as much, that was because, one, you have to do it in the moment within the take and on the day; and two, it means the actors have a lot more freedom to help that moment. (...) Even when I watch a film now, Weekend (2011) or 45 Years (2015), they're still clips on an editing timeline. I can feel them, and I notice when I should've cut or let it go for longer. I think it's the hardest things for a lot of directors, and it's certainly hard for editors to take the clips away from that Avid and make it feel like an actual film. Judging the approach, though, I want to see the relationship unfold in front of my eyes. I want the weird, subtle emotional changes to happen within the same frame and shot, rather than the emotion being created by a reaction cutaway. When you cut too much, everything loses its importance; it's a real fine line to tread. Although if you concentrate too much on having it all in one shot, the audience can become very aware of the camera. I don't want that to happen either, so it's trying to keep it feeling natural and organic without forcing the issue. 
[on his film project about the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen] More interesting to me is the person, him as an artist trying to get his work done and express how he sees the world. That is what is fascinating to me. Less about the fashion and more about how he tried to be the person he wanted to be and what that meant to him, rather than just about clothes. 
There is still this weird feeling that gay people are fundamentally different from straight people when, actually, we have similar fears and doubts and hopes - although we might have slightly more emotional baggage to drag along for being a minority. 
Relationships are relationships. There is still a struggle to understand each other. Weekend could have been about a man and woman and 45 could have been about two men. (...) Weekend (2009) is about love's first excitement and 45 Years (2015) about what that love can become. What interests me is the way in which loving relationships define us - we come to understand our identity through them. 
[on why he doesn't rehearse] Rehearsals steal spontaneity from the process. I have tried them but don't know what to do with them. 
Time interests me. Our lives are like a wave that keeps going gently forward while nothing seems to be happening and yet, the older you get, the more you realise time is running out. I like compressing time. My films don't have a great deal of plot, they are relatively slow paced, but the condensed time framework gives energy and a certain forward momentum. 
[on Greek Pete (2009)] It only just qualified as a feature film. I had to extend the credits to get it to 70 minutes! But it made me feel: 'I can do this.' 
[on the struggle to work in the film industry] It is very, very hard, you have to keep at it. Everybody thinks you should give up - my family did. My dad was saying: 'Look, maybe just go into a nice graduate scheme and get a normal job.' They worry - of course they do - that you're not going to have any money. (...)...rejection after rejection after rejection and it is scary. It can take a year to write something and some people will think it is rubbish and it can be hideously embarrassing to show it to anybody but you have to deal with all these things. You have to have some kind of insane self-belief to go on. 
[on casting Weekend (2011) and improvisation] We had a traditional casting process. I saw loads and loads of people, both individually and with someone else improvising a scene. I was kind of looking for just a spark - not a sexual one, but almost an antagonism in the way they sparred with each other. When I saw Chris [Chris New] and Tom [Tom Cullen] together, they really sparked with each other during improvisation. For that was really interesting and what I was looking for. (...) I always wanted them to have the freedom to improvise if they wanted to, and go off the page if they wanted to, or change things around. I was never, "you have to say it as it is written." I wanted the dialogue to feel fresh, so for me that is the best way to do that. Also it's better for them as performers. That way they could spark off each other and keep things fresh since they wouldn't be the same in every take. 
[on Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)] I saw that film a long, long time ago and I revisited it right before I made my film [Weekend (2011)]. Both films are set in Nottingham, and a lot of actual locations we used are in that film as well. There is such a truthfulness to that film. It is the quintessential film about the angry young man, and I almost see Glen as some weird update of that character from "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning". I remember reading about that film, that when they made it, Karel Reisz was a little bit frustrated that they couldn't be more honest about abortion and other social issues. So for me, when I was making this film, I wanted to be sure that everything was as realistic and honest as possible. I think that is the similarity between this and those old kitchen sink dramas. 
[on writing Weekend (2011)] I started about three years ago, and I wrote a version of the script that I tried to get funded but no one was interested in doing it. So I put it away, and I then started rewriting it. I spent probably another year getting it down to the shape it is now. I think I felt that in the early drafts it was a bit too like an argument between the two, rather than two real characters developing together. (...) I spent a long time just sitting down alone in my bedroom writing it. I wanted it to feel completely real, so that all the dialogue would feel like how people actually spoke, and not as movie talk. That kind of faltering conversation you have in real life, where you don't always make sense, or complete sentences. 
[on shooting Weekend (2011)] I knew that I didn't want to shoot in London. I wanted to shoot in a city that was kind of a provincial nowhere town, so it wasn't like a liberal Mecca, like Soho in London. And the money that we got came from a regional funding body that was based in Nottingham. (...) Really, when we got our money, we knew how much we had. So we shot for about 16 days. Also we shot in order, which kind of helped because I wanted everything to feel very authentic. I wanted to shoot in real nightclubs with real people, and not extras. So it meant we had to do things on a low budget to make it feel real. And we had a really small crew, like 15 people. But that worked, because I wanted to strip the mechanics of filmmaking away to get this kind of intimacy. So it was quite good that we had no money in many ways. 
[on Weekend (2011)] There were certain films that I watched to prepare. I watched things like Kelly Reichardt's Old Joy (2006) and Ramin Bahrani's Goodbye Solo (2008). Joe Swanberg's Nights and Weekends (2008). All those films, which I really quite like, have a sort of poetry to them. Those modern American films were all very inspiring to me when I was coming up with a visual idea. Not really many British films. (...) I watched Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004) again. I also watched a lot of very talky films, even films like Éric Rohmer's My Night at Maud's (1969)'s, to kind of see how people handle so much talking. (...) You know, I watched Manhattan (1979) as well. [Woody Allen] does [it] too. He doesn't always focus on the person talking, which is such an interesting way to approach those talky scenes, allowing the audience to find their own rhythm and what they find interesting in a scene. 
[shooting Weekend (2011)] We had the lovely Urszula Pontikos as Director of Photography. She has a really natural unforced style that was perfect for the film. We shot on the Canon 5D Mark II which essentially a stills camera that shoots HD video. We shot for three very hectic weeks with an amazing crew of only about 10. It went remarkably smoothly mainly due to good organisation that had nothing to do with me! The budget was under £100,000 which seems like a lot of money but it doesn't go that far. 
[shooting Weekend (2011)] We shot on the Canon 5D Mark II but with cinema lenses and a massive rig which ended up making it about as big as a RED camera. I love the image quality you can get from something relatively cheap and small, but it does have its problems. It's not made as a video camera so it can be frustrating to use in terms of attaching monitors etc and the workflow is bit of a nightmare. I don't think my DP would really want to use it again, although I think she did an amazing job. You also have to careful with focusing and not get too caught up in the shallow depth of field the camera can achieve, otherwise it will look like a music video rather than a film. It's also not fantastic in bright light but luckily when we shot there was a lot of cloud. 
[on explicit sex scenes in movies] I like what Travis Mathews does and I think it's really interesting. The only problem with explicit sex in a film is that it tends to over shadow everything else in it. I had that problem with my last film Greek Pete (2009). Almost all the reviewers (straight men most of them) got wrapped up talking about the sex scenes. Toby Young in 'The Times' opened his review by saying 'it's basically a porn film' which the film clearly isn't. 
[shooting Weekend (2011)] We shot on the Canon 5D Mark II, and it's quite a nice image that comes from that anyway. But in the grade I think we just wanted a relatively mute palette. And I think it helps that we also used mainly natural light. It's quite a good camera, and it looks good in natural light. I didn't want it to look too video-y, too high-def-y. 
[shooting Weekend (2011)] In terms of shooting we tried to be as authentic as we could filming in a gay club, in the streets, at the fair etc. All the locations were real and nothing was a built set. 
[on shooting Weekend (2011)] We decided to shoot on the Canon 5D Mark II stills camera, kitting it out with cinema lenses. We shot handheld but with a rig to keep the camera steady. The reasons for choosing the camera was partly financial but it certainly has a beautiful look if it is used properly. With my cinematographer, Urszula Pontikos, we devised a very firm set of ideas of how to make the film. We wanted minimal coverage and to utilize long takes with no editing within a scene and when we could, we always used natural light. In fact we approached the film almost as if we were making a documentary, always wanting everything to feel as authentic as possible for the audience but also for the actors. However we never wanted this to become a gritty or depressing slice of life but wanted something gentler, more poetic and tender. 
My inspirations are very wide but in terms of modern filmmakers I would say the likes of Kelly Reichardt, Ramin Bahrani, Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Gus Van Sant. I love films with a simple and yet poetic aesthetic, unafraid to let stories slowly unfold, quietly and without resorting to over-blown technique. 
[on Weekend (2011)] The biggest challenge was finding the money unsurprisingly. We decided very early on that we would be financially responsible and make the film for an amount that we knew we could recoup but even then it was hard to get the money. I don't think it was homophobia from investors as such but more a lack of bravery; gay themed work still for some reason has the power to make many people very uncomfortable, they seem unsure of what to do with it or who the audience will be. Luckily we received help from a regional funding body, EM Media, who never had such qualms over the film and where amazingly supportive throughout. 
I'm not sure I like anything about the 'business' of making films but I certainly love the feeling when things are going well on a shoot, or an edit suddenly works, or you realize that you managed to create a moment that says something you are trying to express. That is what I love. I know my films are not perfect but I know I want to keep making them and keep making them better. 
[on funding Weekend (2011)] We were funded by a mixture of public money in the UK, tax breaks and other bits and bobs. The budget was small but even when you're trying to raise a small amount of money it is tough - especially when you are not doing something particularly mainstream. The plan for recoupment mainly comes from distribution companies buying the film although those amounts are never as much as you hope unless you are incredibly lucky. Money also can come in from festival play and the fees can quickly add up to a substantial amount. We are also hoping for a TV sale or two, probably in Europe. Hopefully all of this will pay back the budget and then you just hope the film is a big success! 
[on editing Weekend (2011)] I always knew I wanted to edit the film and for me it is simply an extension of directing. I think maybe it's partly because I'm a control freak, but also because I'm from an editing background it makes sense to do it myself. For me personally when I edit I discover what works simply by trying different things without really knowing where it is heading. I think I would drive an editor completely crazy. Of course you do loose objectivity and that is the biggest problem but I always figure you loose that anyway whether your are editing yourself or sitting in the same room as an editor. Editing is a strange part of the process when you are all alone with your film trying to make it work, discovering what you've done right and what you done wrong. I both love and hate that feeling in equal measures. 
The best advice I can give is to ignore everyone and do what feels right for you. Everyone's situation is different and you know when it's time to make that leap. For me I just didn't want to wait anymore. We gave ourselves a limited period to find a budget and then we just went ahead and got the film made. Also try and make a film that you care about and that you feel is important rather than try and make something just to impress your peers. 
[on editing Weekend (2011)] I don't like showing edits to people. I think I'm quite delicate when it comes to criticism. And you yourself know the things that work as well as the other bits. You know that. So I don't really need someone to tell me that, 'cause I know that already. And so it's like, "Okay, I'm just gonna get through it, do it, and try to make it the best I can." (...) I mean, he [producer Tristan Goligher] did see a couple of cuts, more towards the end when we were doing the fine cut he saw it. But he gave me a good 6-8 weeks before he saw anything.