In conversation with Reece Shearsmith

19 November, 2021

Screen and Film School Brighton were incredibly pleased to have recently welcomed prolific actor, writer and comedian Reece Shearsmith for an intimate and enlightening Masterclass.

Shearsmith’s visit to the Film School was the first in-person Masterclass event since March 2020. So, it was fantastic to see our Screening Room full of students, who were all eager to pose questions to the multi-award-winning comedian.


Reece is best known for hit TV series’ The League of Gentlemen, Psychoville and the extraordinary Inside No. 9. His phenomenally productive ongoing work with fellow comic writer and actor, Steve Pemberton has developed over many years. But, he has also collaborated with the likes of Vic Reeves, Bob Mortimer, Alexander Armstrong, Simon Pegg, Mark Gatiss, Ben Wheatley, Jesse Armstrong, Peter Kay and Steve Coogan.

Long before his work was recognised by BAFTA, the British Comedy Awards and the Royal Television Society, Reece found his start in the industry after a last-minute decision to switch from studying graphic art to drama.

“I got a place on a graphic art foundation course in Hull. And I didn’t go. I went to Bretton Hall College to study drama instead. Literally, it was a last-minute veer off into a different direction that I’d never planned. But, I just felt that at that point, at that ‘fork in road’, if I didn’t do it then I’d regret not trying it. I sort of hedged my bets and thought if I don’t become an actor, at least I could teach it.”

This decision proved to be serendipitous, as it led to Reece meeting his soon-to-be long term collaborators Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Jeremy Dyson, with whom he formed The League of Gentlemen, a dark and surreal sitcom based on the sheltered lives of the delightfully warped characters inhabiting the fabled rural town of Royston Vasey.

The show first aired on BBC 2 in 1999 and continued for three series until 2002, climaxing with a feature-film, earning Shearsmith and his troupe legions of hardcore fans. Several of these were in attendance for the Masterclass and revelled in the chance to ask questions about the various processes behind Reece’s most recognisable characters.

After subsequent specials airing over the next decade, Shearsmith and Pemberton moved on to write another hit sitcom Psychoville along with their most recent success, Inside No. 9. Reece explained how the pair usually go about writing a new project.

“For many years, I’d never regarded myself as a writer. We were predominantly actors who wrote characters for ourselves out of necessity. What we do now is sit in a room and interrogate an idea until we have a strange story that might take off. We’ll talk and talk – maybe for two weeks! – about one thing, and then we’ll write it in a week once we know where we’re going with it. It just depends how sure-footed you are about where you want to take your story, how you want to tell it and in how many pieces.”

Reece went on to take questions from the students who were great fans of his work. Before the session drew to a close, he gave some sage advice about how to persist and succeed in the film and TV industry.

“I’ve gotten to where I have through not giving up and daring to think I could do it. There’s nothing to stop you from doing the same. In television and film, they’re crying out for people with fire and drive. You are a solution to problems!

You’ve got thoughts of your own; ideas, passions, dreams, new ways of looking at things. All I’m going to try and do from now until I die, is latch onto people like you to get back in with the young people, because we want to be at the beginning again.

Believe in the way that you want to tell stories, and in the way that you want to write, direct or edit. You’ll need a lot of luck. But, you’re already halfway there, because you’re sat in this room. You absolutely can do it! Everyone always wants stories. That’s what people want – a new way of telling stories – it will take you far.”

Thank you, Reece for a fantastically insightful Masterclass and to our Industry Engagement Manager, Fiona Adams for organising the event.

Screen and Film School Brighton have plenty more exciting Masterclass guests to come in the not-too-distant future. Watch this space for more updates.

Discover more of Screen and Film School’s previous Masterclass guests, here.


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