A young Darlington woman is creating a successful career out of her childhood fascination for how movies are made – working on films like Star Wars, Dumbo and Men in Black. PETER BARRON reports

THE enormous, fibreglass Great White Shark breaches the surface. That familiar, chilling music grows steadily louder. And, with a cigarette still hanging from his bottom lip, Roy Schneider utters one of the most iconic lines in movie history: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

We all remember Jaws, but Lauren Byrne has more reason than most to appreciate its impact – because it helped to define her life.

As a teenager, at Hurworth School, near Darlington, Lauren was tasked with watching the Hollywood blockbuster during an English lesson. The pupils had to assess how camera angles and sound were used to create tension, and Lauren was quick to get her teeth into the assignment.

“I was pretty average at school and didn’t have any idea what I wanted to do, but that lesson really struck a chord with me, and I got an A,” she recalls.

Fourteen years on, as a 27-year-old, Lauren now has a flourishing and exciting career in the film industry, rubbing shoulders with the stars, and travelling round the world.

And the script started when that English lesson made her wonder whether she could somehow make a living by working in the movies.

After Jaws, Harry Potter provided further inspiration. She bought the CD that had special features showing how the films were made behind the scenes, and the more she looked into it, the more fascinated she became.

“Looking back, just that little bit of encouragement from one lesson made a massive impact on my life,” she says.

After school, she opted to go to Darlington College to study Creative Media, Film and TV Production, and left with distinctions. That was followed by a degree course in Film and TV at Northumbria University, where she became particularly interested in cinematography, and the workings of the camera department.

She graduated in 2016 and set about firing off emails wherever she could, desperately trying to get work experience on a film set. Her big break came with an initial three-month internship with The Arri Group, which manufactures and supplies equipment for the film industry.

“I loved it and they kept extending the internship, so I ended up doing a year. By then, I knew exactly what I wanted to do, they could see how determined I was, and they wanted to help me get there.”

Her experience with The Arri Group proved pivotal in her becoming one of only five young people in the country to be given a place on a year-long training programme called Creative Skillset – now known as ScreenSkills.

She worked as a camera trainee on the remake of Dumbo, directed by Tim Burton and starring Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Eva Green and Danny DeVito, bottom left. It was a golden opportunity to find out more about the roles of each member of the team.

“I was given responsibility really quickly and was right next to the cameras, so it was amazing experience,” she says. “I still look back on it being the highlight because of the magic of the circus.”

An important part of her job is to help the camera operator get actors in precisely the right position by marking their place on set with tape or chalk. That means she gets to interact with the stars.

However, it hasn’t always gone according to plan. She laughs at the memory of being told to “mark Danny’s position” for a particular scene in Dumbo, and blurting out: “Who’s Danny?”

Danny DeVito gave her "one of his looks" but responded with typical good humour.

Buoyed by her positive experience with Dumbo, Lauren turned freelance, and landed work on the follow-up to Men In Black, starring Chris Hemsworth and Liam Neeson. “They’re just really lovely, kind people,” she says.

Contracts have continued to come thick and fast since then. She spent two weeks on the last Star Wars film, and then Eternals, a superhero film produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Disney.

She worked again with Liam Neeson on a film called Made In Italy, and finished an assignment on season two of The Witcher – a Netflix TV series, with Henry Cavill in the lead role – before coming home to Darlington to spend Christmas with her family.

As well as meeting the stars, her career has taken her all over the world, including Morocco for Men In Black; the Canary Islands, for Eternals; and Tuscany for Made In Italy.

“As a freelance, you obviously have to take the work when it comes, so you have to plan time off round the quiet periods,” she explains. “It’s a question of working hard to keep getting the jobs because if you have one bad day, someone can outshine you. My philosophy is to act like I’m being watched every day – you have to have that drive.”

Having been a camera trainee for the first three years of her career, Lauren was thrilled to move up to “second assistant camera” for The Witcher. She'll spend around five years at that level, followed by another five as “first assistant camera”. After that, her ambition is to become a fully-fledged camera operator.

So, what’s her advice to other young people who may be unsure about their future direction? “You can do anything, you just have to aim high, and work out a plan on how to get there,” she says. “Think about what you want to do, try to speak to people who’ve done it, and work hard to impress.”

Lauren is also quick to acknowledge the support she’s had from mum and dad, Lynne and Vince.

“When I first started out wanting to go into the film industry, there were people quick to say I’d never get a job, but my parents always believed in me and wanted me to do something I loved,” she says.

The Christmas break over, she’s due to start working on another Netflix film next month, but she can’t talk about it yet – it’s “top secret”.

The plot thickens...