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BAFTA accolade for former Sunderland University student A J Riach

Teesside-born A J Riach has gone from film student to award-winner in five years, and he's looking to bring his next project home

A J Riach was named as a BAFTA Breakthrough Brit in 2014
A J Riach was named as a BAFTA Breakthrough Brit in 2014

Going from the classroom to the cutting room of Hollywood in five years, while also being named as one of BAFTA’s rising stars has got to come under the category of ‘pretty impressive’ in anyone’s book.

A J Riach was named as a BAFTA Breakthrough Brit in 2014, and the Teesside-born producer recently worked on his first full feature film, Set Fire to the Stars, which was released in November last year. He has started his own production company called Mad as Birds and is targeting shooting a movie back home in the North East in the near future.

With such an exciting path ahead of him, Riach could be forgiven for getting carried away, but the 27-year-old hasn’t forgotten his roots and remembers growing up in Eaglescliffe, Stockton, with a passion to work in film and television.

“Initially I didn’t know I wanted to be a producer. I realised this in the final semester of my time at the University of Sunderland where I co-produced a comedy sketch show,” he says.

“I enjoyed the process of working with others, and organising everyone and being across all departments and basically being responsible to help the director fulfil their vision.”

Andrew didn’t just walk into a production role straight after university, beginning as a runner on a local production called One Night in Turin, a documentary about the then England manager Bobby Robson and his team’s battle to qualify for the World Cup in 1990.

Set Fire to the Stars, which was released in November last year
Set Fire to the Stars, which was released in November last year

“I loved the entire experience from being on set, the long days, the excitement, I also got on well with the film’s producer and director, and this, as they say, was the lucky break.

“I was offered an eight-week contract in London shortly after filming had finished, and that contract turned into a little over three years where I got the opportunity to work on a few feature films and started to learn and gain more experience in the industry.”

That experience was put to good use when he was called on to produce the 2014 biopic Set Fire to the Stars, a film about hell-raising Welsh poet Dylan Thomas and featuring Lord of the Rings star Elijah Wood, who plays an aspiring poet seeking to save his hero, played by Celyn Jones.

“Set Fire to the Stars was an incredible experience that I am sure will not be repeated as it was the first movie I have produced from start to finish,” says Riach.

“I was given the opportunity and I ran with it and didn’t look back. In a little over 12 months the film was taken from script, to cast and director attached, shot, posted and distributed - and what an adventure it has been. It really has been an incredible experience and I am looking forward to the next one.”

Set Fire to the Stars, which was released in November last year
Set Fire to the Stars, which was released in November last year

About what that next experience might be Riach is tight-lipped, but does hint that he is eyeing a return to the North East, although after his BAFTA recognition keeping a secret has become part of the job.

“To be recognised by such an institution so early on in my film career is incredible, when I found out over the phone that I was a Breakthrough Brit, I was ecstatic. I was dying to tell friends and family but I couldn’t, it was so difficult keeping that (secret) for a whole month.

“I have started a production company and we are looking at working with new writers and directors, we are actually discussing a project with local writer’s that is set in Pallion, and other areas in Sunderland, so watch this space.

“It might not be too long before I get to shoot a movie back up in the North East.”

* A J Riach is giving a talk about his career so far, part of the University of Sunderland’s Masterclass series, on January 28 from 1-3pm, in the David Puttnam Media Centre Cinema on the Sir Tom Cowie Campus at St Peter’s. Tickets are free and can be booked by contacting carole.machin@sunderland.ac.uk

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