YFN Stories: J Taylor-Jones

From YFP to independent filmmaker, East Sussex

Headshot of J Taylor-Jones
J is a 19 year-old from Lewes. They joined Kino Collective YFP in 2020, worked at the Depot Cinema box office and Chalk Production Company before becoming a freelance documentary filmmaker.

Way back in sunny 2020 (sunny only because it was summer…) I was approached by my film studies teacher who told me about a young film programmer’s group she facilitated at my local cinema, Depot in Lewes. I didn’t know much about what it entailed, only that it was a film-related opportunity – and that she thought I’d enjoy it. What I didn’t know then―something I would stress in big, bold letters now―is that becoming a YFP would be the strongest foundation I would build for my career in film. It may seem an extreme overstatement and, yes, I think there have been other important factors in getting me to where I am today, but I don’t believe I would have had access to any of that if I hadn’t gathered so many skills and contacts through my short tenure as a young film programmer. I gave it my everything and got everything I could have ever wanted back – not just seeing Mulholland Drive on the big screen either!

Becoming a YFP

I was lucky with the people I found myself working with as a member of Kino Collective YFP, not just because everyone was happy to let me ramble on about David Lynch but because we were all so keen to put ourselves and our thoughts and feelings out there. From the beginning (and I mean the first meeting) it was clear that those of us who stayed until the end of the year all wanted to get something out of the project. Soon enough we were building an audience with a team of us making weekly podcasts, YouTube videos, blog posts, social media posts and online (thanks 2020…) events that gave us endless enjoyment, a close-knit group of friends and so many skills that I have used to progress my career. Your time as a young programmer is your opportunity to show that off: record podcasts, host events, design posters, make trailers, write, edit, perform – and enjoy doing it. The special thing about being a young film programmer is that you’re not only making friends, but you’re making bonds through your shared love and your shared interests.

Kino Collective YFP

At Kino Collective I ran a weekly podcast, taught myself event hosting and scheduling and developed my interviewing techniques and editing skills while making YouTube videos. Also, whilst making social media posts, I developed my design skills and visual communication abilities whilst I blogged, helping my critical analysis and communication. Finally, our cinema ‘takeover day’ (Kino Collective’s Weird & Wonderful Film Festival) gave me the opportunity to step behind the scenes and get to understand programming, advertising, event management and it also allowed me to make my first professional connections that helped me land my first paid job: working on the box office at Depot itself!

Progression opportunities

Towards the end of 2021, I started working independently on a documentary of my own. I chose to work on it by myself not only because it was a very personal project, but I also wanted to prove to myself that I had got what it takes to make a very basic shoestring documentary on my own accord. In February of 2022 I had completed the film, entitled One Summer on Earth, and I was ready to show it to everyone who had even the smallest interest in it. I knew about distribution, exhibition and festival submission and started organising ways that my audience could see the film. I worked with Depot to put on a packed premiere screening in their biggest screen, and from there I made numerous festival submissions with the funds I raised from ticket sales.

The process has been long, intense and rather strenuous, but it’s been absolutely amazing and has fully reinforced my yearning to make films for the rest of my life. It has also set me up with the knowledge that all I really need to make a film is (drumroll, please…) people… When my dream of directing films started, I felt very much alone, I was looking for community but never finding any and, in retrospect, that was only because I wasn’t looking in the right places.

Getting a job in the industry

With the rich skillset that young film programming gave me, I got a job at Depot which gave me a couple of shifts each week. I then started looking to get my foot in the proverbial door of the film industry. With a bit of luck, a good showreel and a very intentional mention of obscure (and wonderful) documentarian Kim Longinotto in an interview, I managed to get myself a part-time job as a researcher and cameraperson working with a local documentary production company, Chalk Productions. I was ‘in’. Shortly after my first day, filming scenes for a documentary at the wedding of a rather famous artist, my boss shared how impressed she was by my CV, which, at that point, only had a month’s work at Depot on it – as well as a lot (and I mean a lot) about my time as a young film programmer. She was so impressed by what she saw there, not only because it was a clear sign that whoever the CV belonged to was clearly passionate about film, but because it stripped me of a measly utility belt and gave me a whole toolbox full of skills that could be taken into the industry. I worked in that job until my contract ended but, every now and again, I return to the company on a freelance basis to get the camera back on my shoulder and get trigger-happy with the ‘record’ button.

My role today

I am now working as a freelance filmmaker, having made my latest short film Baggage and entering it into film festivals. I’ve met some super cool people making this film, many of whom I’d love to work with again, but I also know that I’ve got a huge bank of people behind me to support anything I do in the future and, really, always did.

If I need an extra hand on set, the first people I ask are those who I was a young film programmer with. That year of programming was the seed that grew into a creative tree that I sit on, looking at the ground with many others who I met along the way, each pointing to new branches as they grow, helping us get closer and closer to the brightly burning stars in the sky.

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