How would you describe what you do?
For ease, I’d say I make short films — documentaries, branded content, promos. It depends on the project what actual role I play though. For smaller jobs I wear many hats — producer/director/editor — but in larger projects with a bigger crew, I tend to work as a shooting director or, more frequently now, director of photography.
What did you study at university, and how is it useful to your current role?
I did a degree in Political Studies with a year-long elective in New Journalism. I’m sure certain skills from this — like presenting ideas in a coherent manner, qualifying arguments and forming narratives — could have helped me to an extent, but those are the sort of skills you hone over many years.
I worked as a print journalist for many years before I picked up a camera, so that in itself helped more than anything. I wouldn’t say I came out of university knowing much beyond theory though. I don’t think I really had much of a grasp of what I was doing until I was at least 30.
"Always be open to good ideas and accommodate them. If you don't think an idea is good, don't say no, suggest a way it could perhaps be improved"
Tell us about your first job — where was it, what were you doing, and what did you learn whilst there?
My first ever job was working as a kitchen porter in a posh restaurant in Norfolk. It taught me to be very thick skinned and cope with long exhausting hours.
Out of university, it was a sales admin for a property marketing company. It taught me that I didn’t want to work in a dull office job, and my temperament was fundamentally unsuited to it as well. I got sacked, which was the best thing that could have happened really.
Today, as a self-employed shooting director, how does your work come about, and how collaborative is it?
I find I mainly get work through existing relationships and being recommended by others. It’s a tricky thing as you never want to chase people for work, as that's not good PR, so to speak. Trying to be active on Instagram and such things helps too.
It’s a constant process of trying to build new relationships in an unforced way and maintaining the ones you already have by being reliable and delivering good, consistent work. And when you are not busy, use the time to work on passion projects and try something new. It can often lead you to fun projects down the line.
Whenever you are working for someone else though, it's always a collaboration and you've got to be receptive to other people's ideas and opinions. Always be open to good ideas and accommodate them. If you don't think an idea is good, don't say no, suggest a way it could perhaps be improved.
"When you are dealing with clients, you’ve got to be flexible, accommodating and ultimately just easy to work with"
What skills and tools are essential to your job?
When you are dealing with clients, you’ve got to be flexible, accommodating and ultimately just easy to work with. Don’t be unreliable or difficult. It’s always good to remember that the other person is just trying to get their job done too. If you can understand and empathise with their position, things hopefully should work out ok. I think that applies to all sorts of jobs though.
What are your main sources of inspiration?
It seems like a cliche to say but photography, books and music are the main source of ideas; photography for the lighting, colour and composition, music for the tone, and books for the narrative and exposition.
I don’t think I can really identify specific things though. I tend to just soak things up on a subconscious level and get on with living my life, and randoms ideas seem to just emerge at unexpected moments — then I email them to myself so I don’t forget them.