From Granite City to Tinsel Town
It’s a long way from the leafy streets of Cults to the hills of Hollywood, but it’s a journey worth taking, film-maker Steven Lewis Simpson tells Your Job
Film-maker Steven Lewis Simpson. KAMI THOMSON
AT 18, an age when many a young man begins to think about finding his first job, Steven Lewis Simpson was already working as a fully qualified stockbroker, the youngest in Britain.
By 22, he had packed it in and swapped his Aberdeen home for one in Los Angeles, where he hoped to pursue a career in the movies.
It was a gamble which paid off handsomely – Mr Simpson is now an internationally acclaimed film-maker who returned to his home city recently to attend the Aberdeen and Shire Film Festival at the Belmont Cinema, where fans were treated to the first Scottish screening of his nail-biting feature film, The Ticking Man.
There’s no doubt Mr Simpson, 39, a former Cults Academy pupil, has come a long way since he left his home on Abbotshall Road, where he lived with his parents, Norman, a chartered accountant, and Tessa, a career counsellor, writer and clinical hypnotherapist.
But how did a young lad from Cults find himself mixing with the great and good of Hollywood?
Mr Simpson explained: “I had no interest in going to university. By sixth year of school, I was already investing in the markets.
“I’d heard that most financial jobs were never advertised, so I called around local firms and landed a job at what was then one of Aberdeen’s top financial firms, Parsons & Co.”
After sitting his stockbroking exams at the age of 18, the firm discovered there were no other qualified stockbrokers that young in Britain.
Promotions quickly followed and he became an official trader who, to this day, is still qualified to give financial advice by the three main regulatory organisations, IMRO (the banking regulator), LAUTRO and the Stock Exchange.
However, his passion for writing and making films was growing, so at 22, he moved to Los Angeles to work for the legendary Roger Corman’s Concorde Pictures.
He returned to the UK in 1993 to shoot Ties, his first feature film, which he wrote, produced, directed, edited and financed through his company, Roaring Fire Films, which has its head office in the Granite City.
It’s clear the film-maker is passionate about what he does, although he says he is surprised so few Scots have ventured out into the global industry.
Mr Simpson said: “When I was starting out, I was ready to jack in my job, fly over the world and work for free to get a break. It’s a huge learning curve, but there’s not been a single day that I’ve thought I couldn’t cut it.”
His latest movie, and first love/drama, Rez Bomb, was shot on location on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota, the first universal story to be set on an American Indian reservation.
He said: “It was the hardest experience, and also the most rewarding. The culture and the people face so much discrimination.
“It’s the poorest place in the United States, with an 85% unemployment rate and one of the lowest life expectancies in the world when you take away war and malaria.
“Most people look at the film business and see the fluffy side, but here we helped plant a seed in the process of breaking down barriers.”
One of the key messages Mr Simpson was keen to pass on while meeting fledgling local directors during his visit home is that the international film business is not as far away as they think.
“The great thing about Aberdeen is that it has fostered some very ambitious local film-makers when it comes to the aspirations of their films, but then there seems to be a problem with them going into the industry globally.
“I’d like to encourage more of the local film-makers to become more globally liberated in their thinking.
“My advice is to get out and meet the industry at places like Cannes, as life experience can be character-building and more useful than education.
“People looking to give you a break need to be convinced you are convinced in yourself.
“Whether you want to be a footballer or director, self-belief is the common thread throughout.”
Mr Simpson added: “You have to look cold and hard at yourself if you want to do this job, and if you think you can’t pull it off – get out.”