Suman Hanif is a film writer, producer and founder of Pageful Productions. A special screening of her latest feature film, Tell Me About It, is taking place at the National Science and Media Museum on Tuesday 31 January 2023, followed by a Q&A with the cast and creative team. For details and tickets, please visit our cinema pages.
Here, Suman discusses her route into the industry, and the importance of seeing authentic Northern stories on screen.
Tell Me About It was partly shot in Bradford, and some of the cast and crew are from here, was that important for the film?
Bradford is home to the highest percentage of South Asians in the country, and where over 150 different languages are spoken. The film reflects the diversity of the city by telling a story of a community that makes up around 23% of the city’s population. You can make a feature film out of anyone in Bradford—Tell Me About It, is just telling one of the stories.
We filmed across Bradford, Leeds and Wakefield. Initially, we set to film entirely in Bradford, but we were unable to lock all locations that worked for the film and production logistics. All cast and crew roles were advertised locally and on the industry job boards. The production attracted some great local talent as well as bringing talent from outside the region.
What kind of support have you received to make the film?
Raising finance for an independent feature film can feel like trying your luck with a foreign lottery!
Initially, there was very little interest, and countless rejections from grant funding and commissioning bodies. Although I became disappointed, I also felt challenged to become more creative and think outside the box. I began developing proof of concept work to raise finance for the film. For example, I produced a short play Funny Feelings as a means of crowdfunding. This not only put money in the pot for the film, but also opened another door of opportunity to produce a BFI film inspired by the play which became True Colours.
With a creative track record to my name, I made a very strong proposition to Bradford Council for some grant funding to support the production, which was successful. The film also received in-kind post-production support from Studio12 based in Leeds, which was incredibly helpful and valuable in helping put all the pieces together.
What was your route into filmmaking?
My route into filmmaking was predominantly producing my own films whilst gaining some professional work experience on high-end productions. My TV credits include Jay’s Workshop (Warner Media/BBC, 2021), Shop Smart Save Money (Channel 5, 2018), and The Big Questions (Mentorn Media/BBC, 2016).
I studied Media A Levels at Bradford College in 2011 and graduated in Film with a First Class Honours in 2016. I’ve taken part in various mentoring and training programs including Bradford Filmmaker25 Program, Screen Yorkshire’s Bootcamp, BFI Creative Producer Lab and Indie Lab. These fantastic schemes gave me a boost of expert knowledge and enhanced my confidence as a Creative Producer.
My first documentary film Plates (2016) explored the global issue of food wastage and food poverty. I produced this film whilst in my final years of university, using resources at the college campus. I was incredibly moved by the positive response I received from the audience and the local filmmaking community.
When Plates caught the attention of David Wilson (Bradford UNESCO City of Film Director) he very kindly entered my film to Busan International Festival where it was selected to be screened!
My first major industry commission was my short film True Colours which was supported by the BFI Network.
In 2021, I founded Pageful Productions and have been developing and producing my most creative work so far, such as my next film, A Happy Ending, which received joint funding from Channel 4 and Bradford Council, and is set to be launched this year.
Have your experiences in the film industry been what you expected? Has anything surprised you, or are there things you wish you’d known beforehand?
I expected that making progress in the industry would be more of a linear process. However, just because you’ve made one successful film it doesn’t guarantee another, even with award-winning titles to your name. Nevertheless, it creates further pressure as you’re competing with your own best practice—your audience will expect something bigger and better from you each time. So, have a growth mindset, never stop learning, and be strategic with your creative choices.
I also wish I realised sooner that the industry is a business with people from all walks of life. In order to succeed in the industry you need to practice people skills and emotional intelligence or you will easily disqualify yourself before showing your craft. Failures and rejections don’t usually come from not having the ability, but from not having the right people’s skills and an emotional IQ to handle the pressure, manage expectations and deal with conflicts. You can be the best storyteller in the world, but can you persuade someone to listen to your story and make them care about it as much as you do?
What advice would you have for anyone who wants to pursue a career in filmmaking?
My practical advice for aspiring creatives is to network horizontally with like-minded people for mutual growth, as well as network upwards for advanced opportunities. Networking with people of similar experience enables you to build authentic relationships and a support network. And, when you are networking with people in higher positions, be ready with experience so you have a way to enter the conversation without it feeling like a one-way transaction.
Develop interpersonal people skills and emotional intelligence to help build rapport and trust with anyone who could potentially invest in your ideas. These skills will give you a tremendous boost to your persuasive powers and put you ahead of the curve.
Seize any opportunity which you feel may be a long-term investment for your career goals. If you’re struggling to find the right experience then create your own work, this will also give you a safe starting point.
Most importantly, you need to identify WHY you want to pursue filmmaking or a creative career. A lot of aspiring creatives and filmmakers tell me it’s because they are just fans who enjoy watching films or TV. That answer worries me because it tells me they are entering the ring with a blindfold on, and they don’t know enough about the process but are just hooked on the glory. If you’ve worked on a film or TV set, you know its hard work. Your career motivation is half the battle, and it needs to have unique meaning and purpose which will drive you to your success, regardless of the hurdles you face.
How important is it to see diverse and authentic Northern stories in films and on TV?
Bradford defied the odds to win the title of the World’s first UNESCO City of Film a decade ago, Leeds is the new home for Channel 4, and recently Bradford has been crowned UNESCO City of Culture 2025. The North shines brighter on the map and we have never been in a better place to tell our stories in our own words. With the stage now set, I believe it’s crucial to see more diverse and authentic Northern stories told by Northern creatives, because it will honour varied voices and better serve the needs of more audience groups to reflect the complete diversity of Britain. Culture connects communities and we all know that under our appearances we are all just humans with the same emotions and needs.
What’s next for you?
Working as a Creative Entrepreneur and producing high-concept work that wows the audience, and taking new creative and commercial opportunities that grow my Production company. I’m currently collaborating with phenomenal talent and my production slate is lined up with very exciting headline ideas, with comedy-drama and boundary-pushing content taking center stage. My next project is an original series which I’m currently developing, Adam Vs Satan. The story follows Prince Adam who has fled the palace to meet the woman he’s secretly been chatting with on a dating app. Just one problem, it’s Satan catfishing him and has terrible plans to seek revenge from God’s best creation.