Write Your Own Scripts
I’m black and I come from a council estate. I was trying to break into an industry where you’re expected to hide where you’re from.
My name is Peter ‘Rad’ Miller. I’m a filmmaker, born and raised in the Canterbury estate of Great Horton, Bradford, and I’m a child of the 70’s. Rad was my street name, and being a former rapper it stuck. As I always say “MC Peter” would never have worked on stage!
My late parents were of West Indian heritage and Canterbury back then was a melting pot of heritages; White, Irish, African, Pakistani. Regardless of our differences, we all had one thing in common and that was being poor. When you’re a child you’re oblivious to the realities of where you live, but ‘the estate’ was home to me and my family. Our community was about getting on and getting along together.
When you grow up surrounded by poverty your ambitions generally aren’t about being the next astronaut or the next lawyer, it was mainly about getting through. My family were very community orientated, both my parents were well known locally and everybody including strangers had tasted my mum’s food, whilst my dad could turn his hand to anything from cutting people’s hair to fixing things for people, he was a real DIY man.
I remember my first encounter with the media at the age of 10, at Ryan Middle School. Out of the blue the producers of The Book Tower, a Yorkshire TV kids programme in the 80’s came to my school and cast me and a few friends in a children’s book adaptation, the story was called Babylon. We were filmed and ended up on the telly! I loved the experience, but never got the bug for acting. Growing up in the 80’s as a Black person in a working class environment, acting was stratospherically away from my reality, I was all about playing with ‘me mates’ and building bikes from whatever scrap metal we could find! But little did I know that Media would form the basis of my life.
After Middle School I went on to a local Upper School. We had a great headmaster who later became a much loved councillor. He was very liberal and forward thinking, but maybe this wasn’t the right time at my particular school. We were coming out of a culture of corporal punishment in schools and my school had a liberal approach; we didn’t have uniforms, we could address teachers in a more casual way. Going from a strict regime it was too much of a jump in our reality and lots of the students found it difficult to cope with the freedom. Having no uniform put a lot of pressure on parents to provide a respectable change of clothes for the kids on a daily basis. Even though I had loads of friends and didn’t do badly at school it wasn’t really a positive experience for me, it was more of an existence.
I left school without any actual focus, apart from music. I was a passionate musician and used this drive to set up a music studio in Little Germany. There was a mixture of family and friends all involved in these music collectives – groups of people who bring their skills together to make their dreams happen. It wasn’t just me, everyone in the early 90’s had the music bug. We weren’t given opportunities to work in an office or a retail environment so we created our own opportunities to make good music. Music was exploding at this time, and there was a surge of artists like my cousins in Creation Roots and Tasmin Archer who was a like a sister to us. As a music collective we created an active hub, a culture being surrounded by creative people who were all inspiring each other and making our music passions happen.
We had 10 years in Merchants House, Little Germany building up our skills and equipment, working on different music projects, where musicians up and down the country would come through our door and produce music. As a collective we decided to put together our own demo reel and get it out to different record labels. Instead of going to London all the time, which was what we did, our plan was to get the music executives to come to us. So we convinced the heads of Virgin, Sony and EMI to travel up from London and meet us in our tiny humble studio, which you could barely swing a cat in! We did a showcase and it was one of those pinch yourself moments, you know! And in no time all these big execs were engaged in a bidding war over my band, Virgin won so we signed to them. It was great being signed to the same label as my friends and mentors music legends Unique 3, who were also from Bradford and signed to Virgin in the late 80’s and had Top of The Pops appearances, so there was a big buzz around them and they passed on their success to me through advice, networking and contacts. From there the world was our oyster. We travelled to America and Denmark to work with remixers, they were fantastic times!
Out of nowhere Virgin got taken over by EMI which meant our contract got shelved, our management support was gone. We’d spent 10 years getting to the point of success and then having the rug pulled out right under us felt demoralising. This also meant we had to sell the studio off and I wasn’t sure what to do. I spent six months trying to reassess my situation, I didn’t feel as if the music industry held a career for me anymore and I wasn’t sure what to do.
Not long after, through the help of Bradford Council, I started to work as a music mentor, helping young people to make music. All the way through having the studio we had young people coming through and we’d built up a relationship with Bradford Council and people like Mick Chandsoor, Mena Monnan and Norrina Rashid, who introduced me to the world of youth work. Although I wanted to keep on producing music I realised it wasn’t a path I could continue on. I stopped and reflected on my skills and interests and thought back to when the Book Tower production crew came to my school, and I decided to follow a new path.
I discovered the world of video production, which used a very similar set of skills as music, around 2006. At a time when we were focussing on young people I decided to give back and offered my work as a video producer. I learned on my feet to give people the chance to experience the world of media. We went round to different youth centres and our tag line was “Giving Youth a Voice” – encouraging young people to talk about issues that were important to them. This was key to setting up Pocket Projects, my production company which focused on this idea of youth media.
Now I’m going into schools, teaching the skills and enthusing young people to make films, the same exciting process I experienced. However, there was a big downturn in 2011 when the government cut funding to the creative industries, having a massive impact on the youth sector. All the projects inspiring young people and creating jobs suddenly went and we had to work out ways we could still deliver the same programmes, but without the safety net of council funding. So this this is how our relationships with schools and broadcasters grew. Through my experience in the music industry I’ve developed the professional side concentrating on producing documentary and promo films in order to support the media facilitation and youth work. This allows us to train young people in media work and then offer them paid opportunities. We also show people that there’s more to the media industry than being a YouTube star, and that there’s no such thing as overnight success. This is why at Pocket Productions we teach a range of skills that go beyond being in front of the camera. Our aim is to build up our relationships with broadcasters and to get our productions onto television, which is slowly happening behind the scenes. We employ freelancers, our core group of talent. Some are young people who we met through our youth initiatives and it’s important to us that we show people, especially young people that careers in the media industry are possible. Some of our partners include: Channel 4, the BBC and Burberry who we work with in schools, giving young people access to high profile people in these sectors is really important for their future careers.
The three C’s- collaboration, community and collectives have been key to my success. Whether it’s music production, a band or a collective, having a small team of people who can work together and rely on each other is vital. My mum and dad were the biggest influences in my life and when they passed away we had to hold the services at Bradford Bulls because so many people wanted to pay their respects – a testament to the community they’d helped to build, and also a shining example of why being actively part of a community is so important.
I now live on the outskirts of Leeds & Bradford with my partner and two amazing kids that are both destined, like me and their dancer mum, to work in the creative arts industries.
The media is traditionally a white middle class industry, so there have been lots of barriers to overcome during my journey; I’m black and I come from a council estate. Breaking into an industry where you’re expected to hide where you’re from, trying to speak like they do to fit in, you shouldn’t have to do that. I learned that the more you say you’re a ‘thing’ you become that. If you are authentic, living what you say you are then people will believe it. I was telling people I was a musician so I they saw me as a musician. If you want to become a lawyer then study what lawyers do and become that. The same applies with Media, I said ‘I’m a film-maker’ and so I was. You have the right to own the titles you give yourself. You have the right to follow your own paths, and to write your own scripts.