Darren Darnborough is a man who goes after what he wants. With a penchant for filmmaking, a talent for making friends, and enough determination to move a mountain for success, he sits down with us to talk about moving to L.A. from the U.K. and how he’s been successful in the city where they say dreams come true. Socializing, working hard at writing, and being a part of the industry in any way he can is his specialty and he makes all of it look -oh-so-easy. Disclaimer: after reading this, you might feel lazy. [Note – he also just booked a role on 2 Broke Girls.]
So when did you come to LA?
Came to LA in November 2006.
And you’re from London. Had you had done film there? What is your background?
I started as professional actor when I was 16 and did commercials and guest roles, then I went to study drama at University, but I was still working. In the UK, the drama is very strict because they don’t want you working professionally until after you study for 3 years. But when I came to class, I felt like I was repeating everything I was learning on set. So I changed to film studies and me degree is media arts and film.
Afterward I started some businesses and I didn’t have a great deal of film experience when I moved here outside of acting, and apart from my degree. L.A. is much more involved industry and people are working at all levels – you can write, produce – and if you have good ideas and you can work as a team. England was very restrictive. If you’re an actor, that’s it. They leave the acting to the actors and the producing to the producers.
And you write?
What kind of material?
I write in 2 capacities. I’ve been a journalist for quite some time. I started as a secret shopper, which was great because I got paid to eat free food, and then my friend started a magazine in Dubai and I started doing restaurant reviews for him. I write for a bunch of different websites and magazines now. I’m about to start writing for BBC America, which I’m quite excited about. I also write for British weekly, 72 Minutes Magazine in the UK. My columns tend to be “British person in LA” focused; for example, one is called “Brit on the Boulevard.” They’re all about my daily life, with a British slant. They’re humorous and satirical.
And I’ve recently gotten more into screenwriting. I wrote a short 4 or 5 years ago that we just shot, that I directed also. I’m also working on feature screenplay with Timothy Linh Bui, a Sundance Grand Jury and Audience Award Winner, who made Powder Blue with Jessica Biel. I’m also doing another project called Andy and Chaz Bugger off to America, which is based on a webseries I did.
Do you write as a vehicle for you to act in or direct?
You know what, I write organically. I’m so busy that I don’t sit down and deliberately write; when I have an idea, I write it. All the projects that I’ve done so far have come out of that.
Did you enjoy the directing?
Loved it. Loved it. Yeah. It was one of my favorite experiences of the last 7 years.
Because it was something that you wrote and directed…?
It wasn’t that egotistical really, it was more… you know…here’s the thing, it could seem quite narcissistic to write something and direct it when you’re looking from the outside in, but from my point of view, it was seeing the words that I’d written, that started from an idea in my head, then come to life in the way I imagined. When you hear writers talk about how directors bastardize their projects, I completely understood that. When I look at the footage now, it was like what I saw in my head. And I can imagine that being frustrating if it turns out nothing like the picture in your head.
I love working in teams and seeing other peoples’ creativity. I was fortunate to have a great team and everyone understood the project. And if I was going to advise anyone, it’s that bit to get right, because if people clearly understand your vision and you’re all on the same page, it takes out a lot of the work.
Were they friends from before?
About 80 percent. Everybody involved in the production were some of the best people I could have found and they were all related through a friendship or social situation.
When you work with friends, it’s tricky because sometimes they don’t take you as seriously as someone who doesn’t know you would.
Yeah. And the barrier of hierarchy isn’t there. Fortunately, I don’t know what happened with this, but everyone was perfect. I picked friends that were very, very good at their jobs. I didn’t work with a friend just because they were a friend. I worked with exactly who I wanted to work with.
What’s the short called?
Stefano Formaggio. It’s about an Italian cheese maker.
So is it comedy?
Romantic modern fairy tale with a very sinister twist.
Do you have plans to submit it?
Yeah. I’m planning to finish it then submit to festivals and distribute it to airlines and DVD collections. Really, the whole point was a springboard for the production company I just started with an investor from New York. We wanted to make a high production value short. There was money spent; we wanted to showcase what our company can do.
What have you learned about making your short?
The greatest lesson is that it cost a lot of money to do. I don’t want to make anything cheap. Not because I don’t want to waste money, but…
You don’t want to compromise.
I don’t want to compromise. Go for what you want. Have integrity. I don’t want to discourage people because I love ambition, but the thing I dislike about the modern film industry is there’s no curation anymore. Every time I watch a short I don’t know if it’ll be good or bad. If you want to make it cheap, write it to be cheap. I waited 6 years from concept to shooting on my short. Over that time, people told me to do it for $5,000 and I said no, but eventually I did it the way I wanted to do it. If I made it three years ago I wouldn’t have liked it.
Have patience too.
Yeah. Patience and respect for your idea.
So, what I know about you is that you’re personable.
And very good at networking.
I hate the word networking. It’s funny because people say I’m good at it, but I think I’m really bad at it.
Why do you say that?
Because of the way I perceive networking. To me, networking implies you’re making connections for a specific reason or because you’re only interested in what someone can do for you. When I hear that word I think of those horrible events with people in name badges walking ‘round asking “what do you do?” Everyone goes to those things and wants something – I need, I need, I need. I concentrate on making friends, acquaintances. And I only work with people I like. To me, I think networking implies you would get involved with someone no matter what, just because of what they could do for you. And if I don’t like someone or what they do, I’m not going to get involved.
I don’t make acquaintances with people for the purpose of getting something out of them.
But I think being social is a huge part becoming successful. Would you agree?
I know people say everyone just talks about doing things in Los Angeles, but I’d rather be in a place where they talk about doing even if they don’t get around to it because at least there’s some sort of motive. Having a wide network of resources can be very useful and make things happen very quickly. In England, I found things don’t happen because people mistrust each other until they have a reason to trust, whereas in L.A., we trust each other until we have a reason to mistrust.
Perfect example: few years ago, I got involved in the charity Hollywood Arts. Did event at Comic Con and I saw a graffiti artist doing artwork and I complimented him, and he said, “I know you.” We had dinner together at Soho House a few months back. I told him about my event and how his artwork would be perfect and asked if he’d paint something to be auctioned for Hollywood Arts. He said, “I liked that you came up and liked the artwork before you knew me.” It was all organic.
The artist connected us with Charity Buzz, a wide social network, and I knew a chairman at Hollywood Arts who was an old partner in the Dolce Group and asked if he could host dinner for the film I was at Comic Con promoting. And it happened. None that would have happened without having a network of people that trust you.
If you were gonna give someone advice to build a network, what would you say?
If they just moved here, I’d say live in Hollywood or West Hollywood. Go out a lot. And say yes. When you get here, you need to be involved because you’re leaving everything of your former life behind. Be in the middle of it because I find L.A. very friendly and people ask you to come out and do things. If you’re accessible and available and say yes all the time, until you establish a base, you’ll find helpful and friendly people. Every time you don’t go because you live far, you’ll be stuck with no contacts and no friends because they’ll stop asking.
You talked about marketing. If I were making a short, how would I go about marketing it to become successful?
Create a buzz. At Comic Con we had a party for fans of the genre of Darkness Descending, which was a film I produced with Danny Trejo, to introduce them to the project. We didn’t have a release date yet. We had fans of the actors and genre get involved with a big party that everyone was invited to and we created an experience for them that they’ll remember. Without doing that party we wouldn’t have gotten publicity that eventually led to a spot on the Good Day San Diego Morning Show. I hear people say, “Oh I’m doing a short, there’s nothing really to talk about”. But there is. If you think that, then there won’t be anything to talk about. If you’re not excited about your project, no one else will be. Being able to jump on an opportunity and execute it in the right way is important. If you try and involve other people by doing good for them and then asking what they need in return, figure out how you can give them that.
Have you gone places you weren’t necessarily invited to be part of the experience?
I go to Cannes every year. Every party has guest list. There could be 50 people that aren’t on the list. It happens all over. Many people don’t turn up, so be thankful for those who do that make your party great.
How important is infiltrating, not illegally, an event?
Get into any event you can. And here’s a hack tip: if you’re not prolific enough to get invited, offer to help them out. That’s a powerful way to do things. Don’t wait to get invited, get yourself there.
I go to a lot of festivals and many people say they won’t go if they don’t have a film showing. I say 1 of 2 things:
1) Maybe going to Sundance will help you get into the festival. You might meet a financer.
2) If you were in the floral business, would you not go to the flower show because you didn’t have a stand? No, you’d go to see what the other florists are doing and to meet people in your industry. It’s your industry and you should be doing everything you can to be involved in it. That separates people. Then, when your film gets in, you know everyone in the festival circuit to ensure your film gets watched. You connect to venue owners, you have friends…you have a network.