Michael Apted helms both documentaries and narrative features, and has won numerous awards for both kinds of films. But he is best known for his career-defining Up Series, a documentary project that has been in progress since 1964.
In the Beginning
At its inception, Apted was working as a researcher at Granada TV, where he had entered a trainee program shortly after graduating from Cambridge University, where he had read Law and History.
The Up Series began with one film--a sociological study intended to forecast future British society by profiling fourteen seven-year old British boys and girls from widely diverse socio-economic backgrounds, and analyzing their aspirations and expectations. As researcher on that first film, entitled Seven, Apted was involved in selecting the youngsters.
Apted says that the one-shot doc evolved into a career-defining series almost accidentally, when the producers decided to revisit their fourteen subjects every seven years in order to keep track of how their lives, aspirations and expectations were developing. Hence the series' titles: 7 Plus Seven, 21 UP, 28 UP, 35 UP, 42 UP and, most recently, 49 UP.
From Slogan to Screen
The premise for the series comes from the well-known Jesuit slogan, “Give me a child until he's seven, and I'll give you the man.” But Apted, who has directed all but the first film in the series, suggests that another factor that has been equally formative in his subjects' lives is the British class system, which is still largely in place.
UP to the Task
Apted claims pure luck landed him the directing assignment on the second film. “It was a time when fewer people were working in television, and I just happened to be the one available to do it,” he has said.
Audiences around the world have eagerly awaited each new chapter in the UP Series, and have watched with rapt attention as these familiar lives have played out before their eyes. Apted's concern for and intimacy with his subjects puts him in a unique position to reflect changes in their outlook and circumstances. Each installment is like a long-awaited visit with old friends.
49 UP was released in 2005. The UP Series is available in its entirety on DVD, and may be purchased as individual episodes or in a boxed set of all. Apted, who now lives in Los Angeles and currently serves as President of the Directors Guild of America, is preparing to direct 56 UP when 2012 rolls around. He will be 72.
Truth in Fiction, Too
Meanwhile, he is directing fiction features, including the brilliant Amazing Grace (2006), a fictionalized biopic about Lord William Wilberforce, a Nineteenth Century English peer who sought to abolish the slave trade.