HSOG Spotlight: Caitlin Black (Class of 2010)

Our next HSOG Spotlight contribution is by Former Pupil, Caitlin Black, from the Class of 2010.

Wow. 10 years since I was at the High School. It’s certainly a welcome opportunity to reflect on old, fond memories during these unsettling times.

When I think about my school years, my first thought is GO GO GO! Life was fast paced and I loved it. Every day was different, packed with lessons, sport, Mr James’ potato scone rolls and playground gossip. There was never a dull moment and I’ll always be incredibly grateful for the work ethic and routine the High School instilled in me. As I’ve moved from university to jobs to countries, the challenges I’ve encountered have proven difficult but I’ve always believed that as long as I work hard at something, it will eventually pay off. That’s thanks to the High School.

Back then my biggest stress was not having a clear idea of my career path and ‘end goal.’ It’s easy to feel this way when most of your classmates seem to know as young as puberty hits what they’re going to do for the rest of their lives. I convinced myself that uni only served one purpose- to get a degree so that I could get the job of my dreams but so much of it is about the freedom to grow and to make decisions for myself, not to please others.

I remember thinking that the idea of being an artist was unrealistic even though deep down I wanted to be one. That’s not a career, how in the hell could I make a living doing that? I had little or no reference points around me. But the wiser I’ve got, the more I’ve realised how important it is to have your perspective challenged in your formative years. That’s where a mentor, in my case Peter Gilchrist, Head of Art at the time, became a huge role model in my life and opened my eyes to the possibilities of what I could achieve taking a non-traditional route. I felt hugely unprepared for art school. I spent most of my time at HSOG playing hockey and like everyone, absorbed in feeling the pressure of obtaining good grades. So when I reached 6th year and the decision to apply to art school, I had to somehow put together a portfolio of work asap. Suddenly my grades weren’t as important as my creative thinking. This was an exciting opportunity and I spent my last year at HSOG in the upstairs art studio in my happy place. Risks and choices became easier when I’d found a place that made me feel at peace. I also realised that I had to be open to possibilities. So, after a lucky conversation with a High School parent from London who told me that I’d be best to apply to this ‘conceptual art school called CSM’, I applied and to my surprise I got a place at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design on the Fine Art course.

When I arrived in London I was thrown in at the deep end. This was a whole new world where creative expression exploded from everyone I met. Incredible rainbow hairstyles, dudes with beards and high heels catwalking down the corridors. I was lucky to be part of the new age of Saint Martins, the industrial 1851 Granary Building at Kings Cross was renovated into a £200m modern art factory for the School and sat next to tech and fashion giants head offices Google and Tom Dixon. Suddenly I could see with my own eyes this booming creative industry which I wanted to try and find my place within.

Art school was extremely stressful and I always felt on the back foot playing catch up. Regular ‘art crits’ where your peers and tutors critique your work were brutal. People ripped apart your ideas and you had to thank them for their feedback. I’ll never forget this one time someone legit fell asleep during my presentation. I held a grudge for a year, told myself I didn’t deserve to be there and it wasn’t till we eventually became friends that I told him how he’d made me feel. It actually had nothing to do with me and my work, he’d been out the night before. That was it!? It’s times like these that you realise the world doesn’t revolve around you and there’s so many reasons why people behave the way they do. I’d wasted energy and questioned my worthiness based on a student who was taking a nap! I had to stop worrying so much about what people thought of me and luckily the older you get the easier this becomes.

Travelling has always been a huge part of my life. I feel most creative when I’m on the move meeting new people in new places. Some of my favourite trips have been interrailing around Europe, bussing through South America and a summer I spent in New York at the Film Academy. On these milestone trips, I’ve come back with a clearer understanding of not only my moral compass, ethics and viewpoint but how I want to use my craft to try to make the world a better place. I decided I wanted to make films. So, in my final year I focussed on the female experience in narrative film and was lucky to collaborate with some of my peers on an exciting art project with Shia LaBeouf. At my graduation Tom Hardy received an honorary degree and reminded me again of the importance of work ethic. He had once been in a very dark place with drug and alcohol abuse and with the help of his family he turned his life around and worked hard using his life experiences to become the actor he is today. I remember being completely overwhelmed by his story and how we as filmmakers can use our craft, our experiences to pose questions to the world. To open up a dialogue. For me, nothing is as exciting as that.

So I’d found my area of interest, social stories. But how was I going to make films? They cost a lot of money, require a lot of people and energy to make them and I hadn’t gone to film school so I didn’t really know anyone in the industry. Suddenly I realised, like most artists do, that I was about to embark on a dual career. Day job to pay the bills, night and weekend passion projects to feed the soul. I realised that having a belief system is especially important at this stage in my journey. For so many years, you have a fixed amount of time laid out in front of you which you’re reaching towards. But, when you get there, what’s next? For a lot of people, myself included, there isn’t a clear next step. So, those first few years become an uncertain time where you battle between whether you should just give up all your side work and concentrate on one clear career path. To younger HSOG students, I’d say take your time. Get comfortable in the unknown. Patience will pay off eventually. And, trust your gut. The ‘one career route’ was not going to work for me. It would have been easier in the short term but I didn’t want to give up on my ambitions.

After uni, I got the chance to make my first short film ‘Middle Passage’ which is a story about two girls in a refugee camp. It was produced by the British Film Institute which brought together a crew of emerging young female talent from across the UK and our micro film screened before the ‘Suffragette’ movie which was premiering at the 2015 London Film Festival. This opportunity gave me my first confirmation. I’d never felt more alive than when I was on that film set. Well, except for scoring goals at hockey, haha. It’s a magical thing to watch how film conversation develops over time. Cult films that audiences don’t respond to and 10 years later become massive hits. Years after making ‘Middle Passage’ I was invited to Hong Kong to present it at the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, at the British Consulate-General. In this case it’s a sad thing that not much has changed since we made our film about the refugee crisis but I was proud to be playing my part in a discussion on women and girls’ rights.

Following this incredible first filmmaking experience in 2015, I spent a tough few years jumping around from job to job to help support my independent projects. It was never going to be that easy was it? In doing so, I was able to apply what I was learning along the way to my own film projects. I’ve worked in TV, Commercial Production, Post Production, Advertising, and even Magazine Publishing for a spell. All areas of filmmaking that have helped me learn various roles in making a film so as a director I find now that I can gain a better understanding of the bigger picture. I’ve loved the variation in my roles – writing, shooting, producing, art directing. It’s incredible how many friends you make along the way when you work effectively two jobs simultaneously and move around as much as I have.

Still, you don’t always realise how much your approach has helped you develop. It takes mentors and people around you to help you see this. So, when I moved to Amsterdam to work at the advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy, I found another mentor who helped me see that I’d worked in all these disciplines so that I could become a better storyteller. My time in Amsterdam was a lot of fun. I got to work on huge client accounts like Instagram’s ‘Stories are Everywhere’ campaign as well as Corona’s ‘This is Living’ campaigns. The company even supported me writing my first tv spec pilot and gave me free holiday leave to go on a writing residency on the Isle of Skye. When I worked on W+K’s Corona account, it felt great coming up with ideas that were socially and ethically driven. For one project, we built two floating paradise boats that sailed along the canal rivers and bystanders could hop on and listen to relaxing tropical soundscapes to take them out of the city. Another, was an installation billboard campaign in London where we asked the public whether it’s worth living in a world with so much plastic pollution. My film work was featured on Sky News which was exciting as I was asked 20 minutes before they needed it to edit down a week of footage into 10 seconds!

Now I find myself back at home in Glasgow where I’ve been working this past year for a content studio called Cut Media. We’re a little team with big ideas and global clients and best of all, they’re all like me. A creative group of filmmakers with a random range of skills. Last year came to a close in Madrid where I was given the opportunity to direct Sergio Ramos and other Real Madrid players, staff and fans for the Club’s campaign launch #RealFootball. This was a pinch moment.

Being back in Glasgow has given me more time to work on my independent projects too. My latest short film ‘12th Man’ which is about two young gay footballers struggling with their identity and place within their local team is a project that I am very proud of. It was a special moment when the High School publicly backed it on their socials. The writer is my cousin and he and I had a lot of fun running up and down all the steps in the top 12 Scottish Premier League stadiums to raise LGBTQ+ awareness and money for Stonewall Scotland and the production of our film. We even managed to bag BAFTA Scotland’s 2019 Best Actor Lorn Macdonald to play our lead role!

Sitting here writing this, I am grateful to be living in a city that I am from and get to write, direct and tell the stories that matter to me. For the first time, I understand that there’s no end point, just a journey and it feels good. Hope everyone is staying safe and I look forward to times when we get to see each other again. It would be so nice to hear from those looking to get into the creative industry or who already are. Everyone’s path is different, but I hope that with HSOG Community we can support one another as we all move forward.