As part of our series of articles to mark the 25th anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act Raising Films spoke to David Proud about his experience of moving from actor to filmmaking, the challenges along that journey and the power of building a team of allies.
What obstacles have you overcome and how did you manage to do that?
I came into filmmaking in 2010 as I left BBC EastEnders, I had worked as an actor since 2007 and felt like I had some much to say, I had spent time performing other people’s depictions of disability and wanted to create my own. I knew I wanted to concentrate on the writing side of my work but when you are just starting out you have to produce your own content to really get anything made. I have to admit I really dislike producing, I don’t mind pitching and selling but schedules and budgets are not my thing. For many years the writing and acting have co-existed and the directing has happened organically having been offered the chance to helm some projects. I’m always trying to find the best way to be creative within the boundaries of my disability, some job roles are better for me than others and all filmmakers are meant to push themselves, but if I go too far too quick my body certainly lets me know. I’m still trying to find that balance between ambition, energy and health.
Your critically acclaimed short film, VERISIMILITUDE, was released earlier this year. How did this come about and is there anything else in the pipeline from the team? Had you worked with Ruth before?
I’m still amazed by the impact of it. I’d worked with Justin Edgar for many years and we have a similar sense of humour, we wanted to create something that was a little cheeky but made the audience think. Justin developed the script while we were working on other projects, he kept telling me about it and we laughed about how close to real life it was. It was great to finally get it shot thanks to the BFI and Uncertain Kingdom, and I think it comes at a time the industry is ready to have the conversation about the questions it raises. The response has been overwhelming. I had met Ruth a few years before and we had a few projects that we were in line to work on together but VERISIMILITUDE just beat all the others to it. It was such a joy to work on this with her and we just clicked. I’m sure it is going to be the first of many and once we get this pandemic out the way there will be lots of future projects together.
What were the things that have made the biggest difference to you in your development as a filmmaker?
The thing that has made the biggest difference is people giving me support and guidance. I have been very lucky to have many mentors along the way, people that have given so much time to helping me reach the next level. Paul Viragh has been one of the greatest, a true friend and mentor. It really has taught me the value of finding people you love working with, people who get what you are aiming for and want to be with you on that journey. I hope I can now do the same for others. It’s not about who you want to share champagne with, it’s about who you would drink tea with in the trenches.
And finally, What are your three ‘Must Watch’ films about or made by filmmakers with disabilities?
Luckily this year we have two great films to shout about. CRIP CAMP is an American documentary about the disabled civil rights movement in America, it is disabled led and just awesome. I also really liked Riz Ahmed’s film SOUND OF METAL, it’s such a great example of how mainstream films can be authentic in portrayal, it just takes the film to a totally different level. I’d also recommend watching Justin Edgars 2007 film SPECIAL PEOPLE, and not just because I am in it, lol. It now feels way ahead of its time and almost slipped under the radar, I dare say a re-release of it would gain a lot of praise.
David Proud is an actor, writer and producer. He became the first lead regular disabled cast member of Eastenders and is currently co-writing a drama series for Unstoppable and All3Media with Noel Clarke and co-writing MAVERICKS with writer Paul Viragh for BBC Films.
In 2020 David finished an ITV Original Voices secondment to the CORONATION STREET story team, as well as becoming a regular writer for BBC Continuing Drama DOCTORS. David continues to shoot his co-directed feature documentary produced by the Emmy-Winning Lindsey Dryden.
David was listed in the Shaw Trust Disability Power List as one of the Top 100 Most Influential Disabled People in the UK of 2015, 2018 and 2019. He sits on the OFCOM diversity board and currently works as a disability consultant for the British Film Institute, founding and sitting on their disability advisory board. He is also a Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellow. David has provided project-based consultancy for Company Pictures, Scott Free UK and the BBC. He has published The Art of Disability, about disability representation in the media, and works as a consultant for improving diversity across the industry. David is a member of the BAFTA Film Committee.
Visit David’s website
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