DOP for Bisqit, Mini Documentaries for ICMM, PeruApril 17, 2018
It’s so easy to get stuck in a rut. So easy to do the same work, day in day out, earn good money and repeat the process, again and again and again.
It’s not so easy to follow your dreams or do the things that you love because you spend all your time earning money.
On the face of it (or if you follow my instagram page!) it looked like I was living the dream. I was a filmmaker, earning a great living, doing what I loved – right?
Wrong. I was a filmmaker at the top of the wedding film game, but 20 years in, every wedding film I made was leading me further down a road I simply didn’t want to go down any more.
My company, Kissing Gate Films had become one of the UK’s best known, and well respected Wedding film companies. The company was constantly (and still is) in demand, had won multiple awards, had sponsorship deals with some of the world’s biggest cinematography kit suppliers, ran expert training workshops and had become the go-to film company for some of the biggest and best /iconic hotels in the UK and abroad.
But I was not happy.
I’d left college in the late 90s with a btec national diploma in photography and film. In truth, I learnt the basics and spent the rest of the three years partying.
But it wasn’t long before when one of my parent’s friends asked me if I would make a wedding film for them. I did it, made a good job and other requests followed. As well as working a number of other jobs, I shot these too until it got to the point where my only real option was to pack those ‘other jobs’ in and start a cinematography company.
It still fills me with pride when I reflect on how far Kissing Gate Films has come. I’d started in my bedroom, with a laptop and a Canon XM1 SD camera.
But I was a passionate filmmaker and I naturally wanted to build the company, and more importantly, my filmmaking, to the highest level. Three years later I won my first national award and some the best wedding filmmakers in the game had become personal friends, who greatly admired my work.
But I was also absolutely exhausted.
Everybody has an idea of what sort of lifestyle they want to lead, how much they want to earn and, of course, I wanted nothing more than to provide for my family.
I wanted the new car, the nice holidays. I wanted to be able to have anything I wanted without having to worry about how much it cost. So I took on every job going.
As well as consulting for other film companies I would work 14 hour days on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays shooting weddings then spend the rest of the week editing. I was working around the world, travelling from Australia to Austria, Colombia, Barbados, Italy, Sicily, Sweden… the list (and the air miles) were endless.
Yet underneath it all I wasn’t happy, despite what my insta feed would have you believe. A crash was inevitable. It was WHEN rather than IF…
Pretending to be the chipper, enthusiastic person everyone knew when all I really wanted to do was sleep was one of the most tiresome and soul-destroying acts I’d ever had to put on.
Many filmmakers look down their nose at shooting weddings. Some think it’s easy, even joking that it’s ‘only weekend work.’ But to make a great wedding film is – trust me – not for the untalented or faint hearted.
On a wedding day I’d wake up at 5am, drive somewhere miles and miles away, shoot all day and night, then drive home, backup footage and charge batteries ready for the next day. There were no days off. On Monday, I would be up early editing – which went on most of the week. This process continued for the whole of summer.
What had started as my passion had become a grind. I wasn’t shooting for me any more. I was so busy, so under strain, I had lost the love for what it was I loved so much in the first place. It had to change.
And finally, it did, when I shot this mini doc.
We met Andy on a ferry on the way to Santander. Actually, Kate (also a filmmaker) did and told me ‘you have to meet this guy’. Andy is a guitar maker who is totally passionate about his craft. He absolutely loves what he does.
Talking to him, it struck me: Andy was the epitome of what I used to be – and what I was so quickly veering away from. I realised I had to make a mini documentary about him. I suggested as much and we decided we would shoot at his workshop in Cornwall that summer.
The freedom shooting this was immense. There were no time restraints. No expectations. I just had to make a film that I wanted to make. The feeling was liberating beyond what I could have ever imagined.
I loved every single second of it. I was creating a mini documentary about something that was so close to my heart and as I was shooting, I realised I couldn’t go back…
The Internet is filled with people talking about ‘living life on your terms’, working 3 hours a day and earning £10,000 a month. I’d say 90% of what these people talk about is bullshit, but I do agree that there is a way to do the kind of work you want to do and you really should do everything in your power to achieve that.
So, I took a giant, fucking scary leap. I stepped back from shooting weddings and let Kate continue the work of KGF, which she is doing an absolutely incredible job of. I was lucky since she was able to shoot weddings and keep that money coming in, although there was absolutely no way we could do it in the same volumes – which was incredibly daunting. Although I knew that I had mortgages to pay and mouths to feed but I needed to make myself happy.
So I started looking for work that I was truly passionate about. It was like starting all over again but because of the contacts I’d created, the friends I had made, and my sheer determination to be exactly where I wanted to be I somehow made it work. I took a punt and it paid off.
I was approached by Thomas Royall, a swimwear brand to shoot their new campaign in Portugal. I jumped at the chance and although I didn’t know it at the time, this would be the stepping stone to get me the space I yearned for.
This was my first fashion shoot and it was SO MUCH FUN. The difference between what I was doing now and what I was doing before was undoubtedly the fact that I had complete free reign on the creative process and the outcome of the films I was making. Something I had only had a very small glimpse of when shooting the guitar maker doc. I was also here that I met my (soon to be business partner and good friend Adam Fussell. Little did I know that we would be starting our own agency www.tomorrowagency.co.uk exactly one year later.
A few more fashion shoots later and I was contacted by Kristian Prevc, producer at Bisqit. Kristian had seen the guitar maker documentary when looking for a Director of Photography for some upcoming documentaries he was shooting in Peru.
He contacted me to let me know that he loved the style of my film, wanted to emulate it for these documentaries and would I be interested in coming in to talk about the project? Er, YEEEESSSSSSS!
The guitar documentary (that I’d made for no money, just for the love of my art form) had done its job and a whole lot more. Working with Kristian was amazing and I’ve gone on to work with Bisqit on numerous other projects.
I believe that my experience truly is proof that if you do what you love, you will do your best work. And in turn it will create more opportunities like it.
It leads to a happiness within the soul that makes every day a new challenge rather than something to dread.
Now I still travel the world as a filmmaker but I am shooting content much more in tune with what I want to be create. And I honestly couldn’t be happier.
I have been concentrating on non-wedding work for about two years now and have become a filmmaker and content creator for some huge brands. I can honestly say I haven’t looked back. In fact, I’ve even shot a few weddings – time away from that industry has helped me rediscover why I fell in love with it in the first place.
I will never forget just what was achieved with Kissing Gate Films and I have no regrets about the time I spent developing my filmmaking there, creating fantastic wedding films for some truly amazing couples. Kissing Gate Films undoubtedly opened so many doors for me. Its legacy lives on through Kate and a stable of trusted filmmakers and I can’t wait to see where it ends up, but I am now concentrating on my new path, still learning every day and having a lot of fun doing it.
Here is my 2017 showreel (2018 coming soon)…
So my final words are: please, please, follow your dreams. Don’t let money or material things get in your way. Stop at nothing to get to where you want to be because, I promise, if you want it badly enough and you are willing to put in the work to get there, you can do whatever you want to do (mega cliché).
Do what you love and love what you do.
Go forth and smash it.