“One of the issues I’ve had as a filmmaker is that not many people know about my work, so I’m putting on a screening for my new short music film, ‘What Happens’. The evening will be about getting people to support my vision and share in my work. Hopefully, the screening will help build up my profile so when people see ‘Kyle Xay’, they will know what I do and value my work.”
Back in May these were Kyle Xay’s hopes. Judging from the attendee’s reactions, the budding filmmaker achieved exactly what he set out to do. One person said it was “the best bit of work I’ve seen for ages” another said “Kyle you’re an incredible creator, it’s so wonderful to see your progression”.
Progression is definitely something Kyle is all about. He speaks to me about conquering education, his creative journey, the high and lows of filmmaking and shares some valuable advice.
Tell me about yourself
I’m Kyle Xay and I’m a film creative. I’m currently trying to make my way through the industry and get to the point where I’m making feature films. Right now I’m trying to build a profile and progress through the film industry.
Have you always wanted to make films?
I liked film as a child and was always observant. I always paid attention to how people talk and interact. But when you’re growing up, you learn to doubt what’s possible, so you conform to that mindset and think that there’s only so much you can do. When I finished school I thought: ‘I’m definitely not ready to go into a job. So I’m going to pick the most interesting subject and see if that works for me”. That was media studies at Sutton Coldfield College. It seemed like something I could enjoy. When we touched on film, it really grabbed my attention. Using cameras and the editing to get a message across really interested me. I knew then that film was my thing.
I finished the BTEC Media course and took a year out to work. Then I went on to do a HND in Media Studies. On the course, I did more video production and also did a film studies module; I knew then that film was my thing.
How did you progress from there?
The HND was linked to a university course at BCU, it allowed students to go onto the second year of the degree. But the university felt my grades at the time were not quite good enough. They only wanted to take on students they could see achieving a 2.1. This knocked my confidence a little, but I still didn’t like the and proceeded with the second year.
The film aspect was a bit more challenging and a large part of the course. It was about the theory and different forms of film. Video production was about putting that all into action through advanced camera work, lighting and editing. At the end of the course I did end up achieving a 2.1. It was a good feeling.
Did you like studying? I know academia can sometimes be hard for creatives.
I took a lot from it. Education helped my confidence to build in stages. At every stage I just said: “I’m going to enjoy what I’m doing now, and not think about the next 10 years.” After uni, I signed on to jobseekers for a while, and then got put onto a scheme that catered 6 month paid apprenticeships. Birmingham Royal ballet was a part of that and had a need for someone with editing skills. My role was to assist the media officer in accumulating video footage and content for the website. I filmed dancers rehearsing for specific shows, edited the footage and put it on the website as promotional content. After 6 months were up, my employers were really happy with all I’d done. I became a paid employee and stayed with the company further 6 months. During that time, I learnt a lot of practical techniques such as camera operation and editing.
What did you do next?
I spent a lot of time with my friend, CS Visuals, who is also a filmmaker. He made music videos, an area I loved, but hadn’t touched on in college or uni. I was in awe of CS’s work and wondered if I could do the same. So, I shadowed him and learnt all the technicalities of shooting a video. In 2011 I shot my first video and have since shot eight. That seems like a lot, but within the grime and hip-hop scene things can happen at a faster rate. Coming from a film background, I was only interested in creating full-length music videos that told a story. I have to like the song and connect with artists who have a narrative approach to their songwriting.
How long does it take you to film and edit a video?
My earlier projects took a couple months. That’s a long time to get a project done, particularly for a music video. I’m a perfectionist. Looking at different locations, considering the story, and working without a crew all contribute to the time span. It also depends on the weather. In winter, you’re working against daylight which means having to reshoot sometimes. Thankfully, the artists I was working with were sympathetic to that process. With each video, I became more comfortable with myself. I knew the type of camera angles I wanted and how I wanted the piece to feel. That sped up the process of making each video.
Did you get paid for the videos?
I got paid for two or three videos but it wasn’t about the money. Making the videos was about me perfecting my craft and becoming the best director possible. I’ve struggled with my confidence in the past and these projects were about me learning to execute things to the highest level and push the boundaries.
Do you call yourself a producer too?
Yes, but the term I like to use is film creative. The landscape of filmmaking has changed a lot. When I was at college, shooting a film required big camera equipment, tripods, lights and sound and assistance. Now, there are such things as handheld DSLR cameras and a smaller set up. Filmmakers can find their own locations and shoot by themselves. I would like to get to the point where I’m just a director because once I get into feature films, there’s no way I can do everything by myself. It takes 100’s of people to take such a process from A to B.
You have to do the things that are in your heart otherwise, it won’t work. Be prepared to sacrifice.
Tell me about your new short music film “What Happens”.
It features the song “Happens” by Sampha. I’ve been a fan of his music for a while. This time, instead of working directly with an artist I made it more about the story I want to tell. When you’re working with an artist the viewer doesn’t tend to see things from the point of the director unless they’re that way inclined. I’ve created “What Happens” to build my profile as a director and hopefully reach out to some of the artists I like and show them how their work has influenced mine.
Watch What Happens here.
How do you see collaboration with other filmmakers? Do you think it’s a way of elevation?
I think it’s a double-edged sword. I collaborated with my friend CS Visuals on a piece for Birmingham grime artist, Dapz On The Map. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the best piece of work we’ve done individually. It was significant because it opened my eyes to how I should best go about making music videos. Collaborations provoke a mentality of sharing and honesty. Whatever field you’re in, you’ll get to a stumbling block if you’re not prepared or humble enough to take advice on where you could improve. But I do think that there’s an element of truth to the fact that people can get overshadowed while collaborating. There’s always going to be one person who is more striking and appealing to people, but one project doesn’t necessarily define a person.
What makes you different to other filmmakers?
The stories I tell and the approach I take. My number one goal is to bring back a resurgence of meaningful content from a black perspective. I want to make positive films that have the ability to affect the mindset of a generation. We’ve had a lot of negativity in the past and I aim to change that.
Is film your main source of income?
I have some work through my connections from the Birmingham Royal Ballet. But there’s also other work I do to keep myself a float and give myself space and time to think about what I’m trying to do with my film.
That’s what some people struggle with, trying to pursue their passions while still paying their bills.
It’s about sacrifice. You have to be prepared to struggle and survive off the bare minimum so you can focus on what you want. When I started making music videos, I had to sign on at the Job Centre again. Working at the Birmingham Royal Ballet paid pretty well. After I left there, I could’ve done something similar that would’ve kept me afloat. I would’ve been comfortable, but comfortable wasn’t what I was looking for. As a visual artist I have to challenge myself and do things that push my creativity. Now I have a part-time job and have found a balance. If you’re really serious about what you want to do then you have to sacrifice. You can’t go out to eat, you can’t go on holiday and you can’t buy all those clothes you like. You have to think about what make’s sense for you.
What advice do you have for Out The Box readers who really want to pursue what’s in their heart?
Know what it is you want to do. Feel it in your bones and do it for the right reasons. Some people pursue things with the wrong intentions such as money or status. If you do that, you’re going to lose straightaway. You have to do the things that are in your heart otherwise, it won’t work. Be prepared to sacrifice. Whether it’s financially or socially, put time aside and make sure you’re single-minded. If you’re going to master something, you have to put your all into it.