As an actor, presenter and documentary maker, Reggie Yates has been a regular fixture on our TV screens since he was a young child.
Now 38, the Londoner is making his debut as a filmmaker, having written and directed his latest project, Pirates – a coming of age tale about three friends trying to have a night to remember, set against the backdrop of Millennium Eve.
The story is relatively new for Yates, but he told Sky News he has always wanted to make a film, “from the minute I found myself on set as an eight-year-old”.
“I, as an actor, loved the idea of actually creating and running my own set but never really had the confidence to believe I could do it,” he said. “It wasn’t until I started writing quite quietly and privately that my confidence began to build.
“But this idea specifically is a new idea, it’s a recent idea, it wasn’t something that I’ve been sat on forever, but the elements in it – the version of London that we see on screen is something that I’ve always wanted to see on the big screen.”
As an actor, Yates has appeared in shows including The Bill, Grange Hill and Doctor Who, but rose to fame as a radio presenter and host of TV shows including Top Of The Pops and The Voice.
While he recognises the benefits of already having a presence in the industry, he said it took more than his reputation to get Pirates made.
“I’d be incredibly naive to say it didn’t have an influence on me being involved in this project and getting it over the line, but the truth is, if the script was rubbish, they wouldn’t have let it happen, and I work very hard, which is why I’ve had a three-decade career,” he said.
“I’ve pivoted in my career several times because I follow what I’m passionate about and I’m incredibly passionate about film and finding the right team to collaborate with and finding the budget to make this thing happen because of that passion.
“It happened because of the hard work and it happened because of ultimately the story that I wanted to tell.”
While all first-time filmmakers can expect to contend with a whole host of challenges, those working when the pandemic hit faced unprecedented issues.
“We had 10 days left to shoot and then COVID hit and we went from a 25-day shoot to having a 220-something day break and then finally getting back on set,” he said.
“So COVID – Auntie Rona, as we affectionately know her – definitely got in the way of Pirates being a slick process, but I’m really glad that it happened in a lot of ways because I found myself in a unique position that no first time writer-director gets. That is having a break to actually look at what I’ve done and edit everything that I’d shot up until that point and rewrite some stuff, throw some new bits in. And because of that I think the film was better.”
Pirates may have only just hit cinemas, but Yates says his next film is already written and he hopes to make it next year. He also hopes to work with his three young leading actors – Elliot Edusah, Jordan Peters and Reda Elazouar – again.
“I think I’ve learnt a hell of a lot about collaboration and also the importance of investing in your cast,” he said. “I spent a lot of time with these boys, they’re my little brothers now, we talk pretty much every day.
“I learnt the hard way that you can’t really do that in documentaries because I would take everybody that I would make a documentary about with me. After, like, 40 documentaries, that’s a lot of people to carry, especially people that were carrying quite difficult stuff because at the heart of all of those documentaries was an issue.”
Subscribe to the Backstage podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker
While it’s too early to look at box office success, Pirates has already proved a hit within the industry, earning three nominations at this year’s British Independent Film Awards, including the best debut screenwriter prize for Yates.
But he’s not keen to talk about his own achievements – instead saying the nods validate the team effort behind the film.
“It’s a massive thing to get those three nominations for the movie and I just feel really proud because it’s a company effort, you know. I started out in theatre and the company is something that I love, this idea of people coming together to make things work, this idea of a team, this idea of people really pulling together and that is certainly what happened on this film.
“It means so much, and even if we don’t win on the night, I think for all of us, we’re going to be celebrating anyway because this movie is tiny, we have no money – they paid me in custard creams! For us to get nominations is huge.”
Pirates is out in cinemas now