MetFilm School x BFI: Co-writing Rye Lane with Nathan Bryon
By Elise Czyzowska
20 April 2023
From a young age, writer and actor Nathan Bryon always knew that his passion in life was for telling stories – and throughout his career, this has taken many forms.
From winning the Waterstones 2020 Children’s Book Prize with his debut, Look Up!, to his role as Obi on the BAFTA-nominated series Ghosts, when Nathan joined us for a recent MetFilm School Masterclass, he emphasised the importance of trying anything – and everything – at least once.
This year, the world was treated to the latest ‘first’ from Nathan Bryon – his first feature film, Rye Lane. Co-written with Tom Melia, and directed by Raine Allen-Miller, critic Mark Kermode gave the film four stars for The Guardian, writing that it leaves audiences with ‘renewed confidence in next-wave British filmmaking’.
In today’s blog, we’re sharing our top takeaways from this recent Masterclass, including how Nathan approaches the creative industries, his advice for aspiring creatives, and of course, how Rye Lane came to be…
Starting out in the industry
When describing how he got started in the screen industries, Nathan used one word: hustling. With no formal training, and tired of coming up against industry ‘gatekeepers’, he realised that to get into the room with the producers and agents he wanted to talk with, he would need to be audacious.
After making a short film with a friend, and with an idea for a new cartoon series ready to pitch, Nathan realised he couldn’t wait for an opportunity to come his way, and the pair go to work. ‘We used to try and guess email addresses for producers,’ he explained, ‘and one day, for the first time, our emails didn’t bounce back’.
Within five minutes, the Head of Warner Brothers’ emailed my friend, inviting him to tour the studios, and a little later, I got a similar invitation from the company behind Rastamouse – a really successful cartoon at the time. Not only did I end up writing for Rastamouse, but the company ended up buying my show idea too.
‘I’m the same way now,’ Nathan added of this hustling attitude. ‘I probably worry about things a bit more, but, you know, if Steven Spielberg had an email that I needed to be jump, I’d be there, trying to figure out what it was!’
How Rye Lane came to be…
‘This movie,’ Nathan told our students, ‘might be the first productive thing to come out of a drunken, 4am trip to KFC’. There with his soon-to-be co-writer, Tom Melia, the pair decided to write a script together, taking inspiration from Tom’s love for classic romantic comedies like When Harry Met Sally.
I like romantic comedies, but I felt like I never saw myself in them. I never saw the London that I lived in reflected, and Black love in film so often ends in tragedy.
So I knew that, if we were going to really do this, I had a list of things I wanted to exist in the film – of course we started with a story, but we also started with these tent poles. I wanted two lead Black characters, for example, and for us to show the nuanced, colourful aspects of London that aren’t just London Bridge or Big Ben.
The script – with the working title Vibes & Stuff, went on to be produced by Yvonne Isimeme Ibazebo of DJ Films, and Damian Jones of Turnover Films, with funding from the likes of BBC Film, the BFI, and distributor, Searchlight Pictures.
Working with director Raine Allen-Miller
Raine was introduced to the writing duo through Damian Jones, and immediately, they realised that their project would be in safe hands. Through his career, Nathan credits the success of his collaborations to finding people he genuinely liked working with, and as Raine presented the pair with the exact same musical and film references they had in mind while writing, he knew that this would be just that.
‘And also,’ he added, ‘if you were to ever meet Raine, you’d quickly realise that she’s one of the coolest people, with great taste, so we just went, “ok, she definitely knows what she’s doing!”’.
While he does have ambitions to write a solo feature, and perhaps direct it himself, Nathan added that this never crossed his mind once Raine came on board. And, because Rye Lane was her own feature debut, this only made the collaboration more enjoyable – a lesson, Nathan told our students, in finding a community of people who ‘you really love in life as people’, and who will make working ‘extremely easy’.
3 Tips with Nathan Bryon
- Get out of your comfort zone: ‘If your comfort zone is watching action movies, go and watch the ballet. You, as an artist, need to take in all art forms – that will only, in turn, make your art better.’
- Don’t worry about the details: ‘The most important thing for a creative mind is the idea. If the main problem with your script is a spelling mistake, no one is going to care – if it’s a really fire story, no one will care.’
- Own your journey: ‘This industry is exciting because it’s your industry – you own it. It doesn’t matter if you can’t get an agent. Go make a short film that shows your talent, enter it into a festival… the agents will come.’