In this edition of Word of Mouth we talk to Self-shooting Producer/Director, Marc Knighton, about the importance of getting to know your contributors, keeping up with the latest tech, and the challenges of filming in A&E.
How did you get your big break in TV, and what was your first job?
I was fortunate enough to gain a place on a BBC graduate scheme, which allowed me to work across a variety of programmes and genres, everything from Watchdog and Panorama through to The Hairy Bikers and Children in Need. One of the highlights was undoubtedly the Ronnie Corbett Christmas Special, working with such talented people, both in front of and behind the camera was a real treat, though I think I failed on the tea making front as they all started bringing in thermos flasks with them after a few days…
With camera technology forever changing, do you feel the need to be up to speed on the latest kit?
Without a shadow of a doubt! Technology has evolved so quickly in the past few years that once you’ve mastered one camera, along comes another. Seven years ago my first camera was the trusty Sony Z1 which used mini DV tapes and most recently, I’ve tried my hand at using Sony’s latest 4K camera. At the end of the day, you have to really know your cameras inside out. This is especially important for self-shooters as using the camera needs to be second nature so that you can concentrate on the characters and action in front of you.
From early on in your career, you’ve been heavily involved in the edit. How important is it to have a strong understanding of the whole editing process?
It’s extremely important. The skills of editing were something I was keen to grasp early on in my career. Just seeing how to structure a story, pacing the different strands as well as understanding the practical sides of shooting, how the shots fit together, what shots are required, assessing the right amount of footage – I don’t think you can really master producing/directing until you’ve been in the edit. Ultimately you have to “shoot for the edit” but you need to know what the edit needs before you shoot.
And does it concern you this trend of having separate producers for the shoot and for the edit?
Whilst it makes sense from a scheduling and budgeting point of view, I feel it’s so important to be able to realise your film from start to finish, taking it into the edit and shaping it in line with your original vision. Being in the edit makes you a better, wiser PD and is the best learning curve a self-shooter can get. So yes, I certainly hope opportunities to edit your own work don’t become more limited in the future.
You’ve worked across a variety of genres throughout your career. Which ones do you enjoy most?
Factual and comedy. I think documentaries are so important, highlighting worlds people may never see, filming thought-provoking characters and stories that often challenge a viewer’s beliefs and opinions. I love coming across new subject matter that isn’t black and white, and tackling it through captivating, human stories. I’ve also always loved working in comedy. There’s nothing quite like letting your mind go wild and coming up with fresh characters and stories, and seeing someone actually laugh at your work (in a good way)!
How important is the contributor/producer relationship?
Having a strong relationship, built on trust, is all-important, no matter what you’re filming with them. A lot of the work goes in before you ever capture your first shot, particularly on programmes involving longer-term relationships, dealing with sensitive subject matter. Explaining your vision for the programme, outlining what the filming will involve, making them feel part of the production and, above all, getting to know them and allowing them to get to know you is so important, especially as filming can easily go on for many months. If you get this right, contributors will often get on board with the project you’re doing and you’ll make a better film for your efforts.
Is there any production you wish you had worked on?
I think The Detectives on BBC Two was an extremely powerful series, tackling some of the most traumatic content you can film in such a sensitive and sophisticated way. The level of access granted was unprecedented and really allowed the viewer to get such a rare insight into the incredible work of the officers. Everything about the production worked so well – the cinematic camerawork, the creative interview angles, the powerful score – it all combined to make it a truly captivating and important watch.
What’s some of the most challenging filming you’ve done?
Every project poses it’s own unique challenges so it’s difficult to single out any particular programme. A lot of my work has involved filming people in harrowing circumstances – sexual abuse victims, sufferers of terminal illnesses, families of children who have committed suicide, to name a few. Not the easiest of subject matter but many of them show such bravery going on camera that the onus is on you to do justice to their stories.
In terms of locations, A&E still remains both one of the toughest but most rewarding environments to film in. It’s such a fine balance capturing the incredible work that the staff do and the bravery of the patients whilst keeping as low key as possible so as to minimise interference. You’re also there at some of life’s most poignant moments – when someone is saved, when someone dies, and all the stages in-between…for me it’s one of the most humbling environments to film in.
What advice would you give to someone at the start of their TV career?
Many people I meet who are just starting out seem unsure as to what genre they want to work in. Try and have a plan of action, consider exactly what kind of TV you’d like to make and don’t be afraid to dip your toe in the water – get some experience in a number of different genres. Write to as many production companies as you can – a strong covering letter, outlining your interest in their shows can work wonders!
I think another piece of advice would be to try and build your skillset as much as possible. I would look at some job adverts for higher up roles and see what skills they require and try and learn these as soon as you can. Take a self-shooting position – learning to shoot, light, edit…all these things make you much more employable! Also any chance you get, speak to people doing the work you’d like to do and pick their brains. Most of them won’t bite! I remember the great comedy Producer/Director, Geoff Posner, let me sit in on one of his edits. Lessons learnt from a day watching his genius in the edit still stick with me today.