Documentary Filmmaker – Tristan Copley Smith

"They should rather be drawing attention to the vast number of people who have solutions rather than the people who are causing problems."

Tristan works as a freelance documentary filmmaker, who contributed to a fair amount of interesting projects, such as: Open Tech ForeverOpen Source Ecology and Wiki-Leaks.

Connection:

We met at the OUI Share Fest in Paris.

Brewing Time:

90min (+ 45 min delay and chat after)

Taste:

Relaxed. Feeling very comfortable.

Number of Questions:

12 – 14

Comments:

This CuriosiTea started 45min late, breaking our first selfset rule:  Be on time.

Place:

Evening sun and cider at the Railway Pub in Kew Gardens.

Feedback:

Tristan thinks CuriosiTea is a great idea, and suggests that it should work as a platform.

Conclusion

Although I gained a rough understanding of what documentary filmmaking means, I would like to still dig deeper into the workfield. This CuriosiTea triggered my wish to actually spend at least a couple days observing and seeing what it feels like working in those environments with all the various work steps of organizing, leading interviews, filming, sound and the final editing involved.

 

Sharing CuriosiTea-Cider with Tristan in Kew Gardens

 

Tristan, How would you describe your job?

So, usually it is one of the two things: Either it is supporting people to raise awareness about something, or if that subject already has been covered extensively, trying to bring a different angle to it OR doing something that I innately find interesting myself, trying to explore the subject; documenting and presenting it in a way that is engaging and interesting.

What skills do you think are needed and important as a doc-filmmaker?

>> You have to be multi-skilled. Often projects work on a low budget, which means there is no extra editor, sound assistance or director. You have to be technically proficient, juggling a lot of different things at once.

>> You need to know how to frame things.

>> Be well prepared when interviewing people, knowing what you want to ask and leading questions in a logical and natural way. Be sociable and make them feel comfortable, so they are able to relax. It is important that you hide your stress from your interviewees, make eye-contact and be calm.

>> ‘You have to be a great story-teller’, in the sense, that you intellectualize the way to deliver information to make it understandable to people. Find a good angle and format to present your subject, how you link stories together.

 

Where did you obtain those skills? At the film school?

Mostly by doing projects outside of university, but partly I was also taught there.

How did you enter your career path? / / What motivated you to pursue this career?

I was always into art. Compared to academics it came to me more naturally. I was lucky to have parents who could subsidies my choices to go to art school, where I studied illustration. I had this little camera that I really liked, so at the end of the term I didn’t have any illustrations to show, but four little videos instead. After that I took a foundation course in art and design and studied Filmmaking at the New York Film Academy. After graduating I stayed there in the film industry for a year working as an editor to realize that that’s not for me. I didn’t want a desk job, but wanted to work outside, with people, so I moved back to the UK to study Film Production at Bournemouth Film School.

// MOTIVATION //

Being there tucked away in a small place in southern England I was reading those really political books, like Naomi Klein (The Shock Doctrine / No Logo), Noam Chomsky (Manufacturing Consent / Hegemony or Survival), and I became very depressed, frustrated, that I was not doing anything to help all these issues. Documentary filmmaking was a balance between being creative and changing things, or at least bringing attention to things, that are not noticed.

What do you like // dislike about your work?

// LIKE //

– You’re in control of what you chose to make films about, so you’re always chasing things that interest you. Although you also have to make ends meet, to bring money in and that way have to make compromises, like making commercials. But you have the freedom to choose.

– You get to meet really interesting people and see very interesting places.

– I personally got to work with people who I really admire, and I got to help them raise awareness and spread their message. I like, that you help get the message across from people who nobody was listening to.

// DISLIKE //

–  You are very dependent on your own state of mind, how productive you are. It is difficult, if you’re not creatively inspired.

How do you cope with creative lows?

I go to art exhibitions, talk to people, go for bike rides, change the scenery, spend time in nature, walk through forests. It is definitely not helpful to sit inside and mull over things and wait to come up with ideas. I think it is also very important to bring the energy from one project to the next, to use that energy.

Is there a collaborative or competitive spirit between filmmakers?

Both. If you work in the same field and have the same role as someone, there is a competition to take that role. It think it is a healthy competitiveness though. But if you appreciate someone who inspires you, you should let them know that.

What is your average income?

It is hard to say, depends on how much you work really. I usually read up on what other people are charging, depending on equipment – compared to someone using a DSLR I use a proper video camera – based on past projects, number of people working on the film, the budget behind the project, education, experience. Usually on a daily base it would be 500 pounds.

How does your work interfere with your personal life?

Sometimes people don’t understand what has been keeping me busy the past six months. It’s taken me away from London quite a few times and it’s throwing me out of sync with their kind of lives. I’m actually OK with that, but it can feel like treading on uneven grounds.

In another way it’s great, I feel like I get to see all these things that many other people don’t see. And I understand the significance of certain things in the world that other people don’t understand. In that sense it’s really great. I’m finding it difficult to communicate that to people though, and finding them to resonate with those understandings that I have can feel a bit isolated  at times. But you learn to deal with that.

What do you think is the most common misconception people have about documentary filmmakers?

…that the way something is shown is always the way how it was. Some documentary filmmakers will rather manipulate the truth to sell it better, or try to entertain by making it a better story.

How do you see the development of documentary filmmakers in the future? What do you wish it to be?

I think what documentary filmmakers have done too much is focus on problems.

Wikileaks was like that; Pointing out problems, right? Compared to Open Source Ecology, which is suggesting a solution…?

Well, I think in some way Wikileaks was also a solution, we had this problem, which is lack of information about things that could potentially have been corrupted, or the problem of information that’s been kept away from us. How do we solve the problem of it being kept away from us? – Wikileaks.

So I guess my point is: They should rather be drawing attention to the vast number of people, who have solutions rather than the people who are causing problems.

 — THANK YOU for your time!

 

Sharing CuriosiTeas . . .

Evening CuriosiTea with Tristan in Kew Gardens

 

LINKS to related PROJECTS and VIDEOS

www.openpixel.cc

www.opentechforever.com

www.opensourcebeehives.net

www.opensourceecology.org

 

QUESTION-SET

1. How would you describe your job?

2. What skills do you think are needed and important as a doc-filmmaker?

3. Where did you obtain those skills? At the film school?

4. How did you enter your career path? / / What motivated you to pursue this career?

5. What do you like // dislike about your work?

6. How do you cope with creative lows?

7. Is there a collaborative or competitive spirit between filmmakers?

8. What is your average income?

9. How does your work interfere with your personal life?

10. What do you think is the most common misconception people have about documentary filmmakers?

11. How do you see the development of documentary filmmakers in the future? What do you wish it to be?

 



Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.