‘What do you like about fishing?’ I once asked an Irish fisherman from the west coast village of Dingle. ‘I don’t’ he replied. ‘When I’ve been out at sea and experienced bad weather, and return to port 3 days late, I hate every moment. It is only when I can see my home on the shore, and unload a nice catch, that I feel some joy.’
I remember this statement, because in a lot of respects, it reminds me of filmmaking. I love the rough and tumble of finding a story, filming on foreign shores, meeting interesting people. Then I am alone, just me and my laptop, viewing footage again and again, trying to make a succinct story. This I don’t enjoy, filming has deadlines, editing presents 1,000 alternatives.
I always start with the audio, I listen to my interviews, and try and craft something out of it. When interviewing, I don’t usually have a list of questions, I may have an idea where I want to go with a story, but I am always open to see where the interview leads me, to try and find a spark of passion in my interviewee, to learn more.
Many times I ask an interviewee to repeat their answers, knowing that documentary works on sound bites and that time must be compressed. I sometimes remember interesting things people have said to me in conversation, and get them to repeat these things for the interview.
Sound is emotion, images let people see what they hear. I usually try to get shots of people doing what they normally do, sometimes shots do have to be set up. If I’m showing a location, all my street shots are candid. I go to great lengths to capture ‘real life’ street scenes ie use a long zoom lens, set up shots quickly before people are aware.
I think flow is something you develop with time, that is, how you structure the speed of your storytelling. I enjoy trying to fit stories into internet ready timeframes ie 3-5 minutes. It suits my limited attention span and can be done quickly.
Documentary allows me to tell other people’s stories, and have a brief view into their lives. But I think essentially, the stories I put together are a part of me, my interests, my beliefs. I try to be impartial, but in the end, I film stories that interest me. I do try to think about what people may want to know about a story, but I tend to allow myself to be drawn to the words, images that I like.
I also try and not give too much importance to what I am doing, sometimes setting tight deadlines so as I don’t labor too much over a story. If you worry too much about whether your work is good or not, or whether others will like it, it will be difficult to start, and you will lose the intrinsic value a creative act can give one. That moment when time dissolves, and an alchemy of words, pictures, images and sounds meld together
Carl Jung said, ‘The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.’ I think we need to be like children, just play, just create, we are all creative, there is no right or wrong. And if you tackle a project with this in mind, enjoying the process, you will be closer to achieving work that touches others.
At the end of the day, talking about how to make films, is a bit like a prize fighter telling someone how to box. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. Theodore Roosevelt