Oscar-nominated filmmaker and playwright Mike Leigh is famous for bittersweet stories of the English working-class, but his best known films in recent years include the optimistic Happy-Go-Lucky (2008, starring Sally Hawkins) and the Gilbert and Sullivan tale Topsy-Turvy (1999). Leigh studied at the Royal Academy of Arts and the London Film School, and started out working in experimental theater in the 1960s. His first film was Bleak Moments, a 1971 feature that earned critical praise if not wide distribution. Leigh then worked on plays and British TV productions, and didn't make another feature film until 1988's High Hopes. His films have been called "social realism" or "heightened realism," and begin in the casting stage, with characters and story lines worked out after long periods of research and rehearsals. Although his approach is sometimes called improvisational, Leigh has been nominated seven times for an Oscar. His nominated films are: Secrets & Lies (1996, both writing and directing); Topsy-Turvy (1999, writing); Vera Drake (2004, writing and directing); Happy-Go-Lucky (2008, writing) and Another Year (2010, writing). His work for British television includes the shorter films Nuts in May (1976), Abigail's Party (1977) and Grown-Ups (1980).