Meeting the Documentary Film Makers

November 12, 2014

In recent years, Pacific Quay, on the south bank of the River Clyde, has become home to several of Scotland’s most iconic buildings and media organisations, making the neighbourhood a hotbed of creative activity. So where better to house our ‘Meet the Documentary Film Makers’ event on Tuesday 4 November than Glasgow Science Centre?

Meet the film makers

In partnership with Glasgow City of Science, Creative Clyde were lucky enough to host a panel of some of the nation’s top science-based documentary makers as they discussed some of their experiences and shared advice to budding documentary film makers.

Professor Nick Higgins, Director of the Creative Media Academy and Chair of Media Practice in the Faculty of Business & Creative Industries at the University of the West of Scotland opened the evening as the event chair and subsequently hosted the Q&A session.

John Aitchison kicked off the night and talked about his early career, which stemmed from an interest in wildlife and then photography. As a boy, he was inspired by David Attenborough’s ‘Life on Earth’ where he learned about white tent making bats. In a curious turn of events, he then worked with David Attenborough later in life on a project where he filmed white tent making bats himself.

Jonathan Sanderson took to the stage to discuss how he started off working with STV on the classic show How2 and his transition into independent production. With the digital world expanding, there are so many opportunities now. It’s all about reaching the right audience at the right time so a video on YouTube may have more impact than broadcast, depending on the content.

BBC producer and director Graham Russell believes that a documentary is first and foremost about the story. Documentaries will contain a lot of facts but bring the story to a human level so the audience can engage and empathise with the scenario.

Then, the panel invited questions from the audience. Here, we take a look at some of the issues covered.

The importance of collaboration

John noted that collaboration is very important as it allows specialists to work together with different skills. As a viewer, you may not appreciate the teams of people behind the scenes. Locations like Pacific Quay are extremely valuable as clustering makes it easier to find people to collaborate with.  Graham’s advice to prospective film makers out there is to never stop taking advice. The moment you stop taking advice is when you start to stagnate. Everyone brings a different skillset and your project will only be as good as how well you collaborate with your colleagues.

And what about the industry in Scotland?

All of the panellists were in agreement that it is a good time for documentary film makers to be in Scotland. The BBC has made a conscious effort in recent years to fund projects outside of London and England. However, it matters less where you live and the focus is more on your ability. Both Graham and Jonathan feel the links between academia and media organisations put Scotland in a particularly strong position when making documentaries.

How do you fuel creativity?

Graham believes that it comes naturally through different tasks. Problem solving is an essential part of daily life as a film maker which helps keep you on your toes. Jonathan always works on various projects at any given time which can help keep you fresh. At the end of the day, it’s down to the individual and if all else fails- buy yourself some new gadgets to play with!

Final piece of advice?

Jonathan Sanderson laughed as he advised that you should make all your mistakes early whilst Graham Russell believed the key to success is to practise telling stories. John Aitchison put it simply when he said, “Never give up” and we think that’s advice to live by.

If you attended the event, we’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below.

Wish you were there? Take a look at our video round-up.

Meet The Documentary Film Makers from Creative Clyde on Vimeo.