I get so many requests for copies or access to material and footage that it really helps to put them all in one place. It also gives an opportunity for anyone browsing the site to find out a little more about my slightly unusual take on the industry – and hopefully encourage visitors to make contact or contribute to the blogs. The site also contains photo essays on wide ranging subjects from both my professional and personal collections assembled in a way to provoke interest and comment. The other menus are pretty obvious and will guide you around the site. The content is updated regularly. The ‘Filmography’ is non-commercial and showcases my work under the fair dealings agreement. Many of the long form videos are password protected – but please contact me if you require access and I’ll see what I can do.
The site also doubles as a digital ‘CV’. I direct people here who request showreels (or are just a bit nosey). It also acts as a contact point for many colleagues and friends who have lost touch. So if you are reading this……leave a fingerprint.
You can read my CV here.
At this time I’m very lucky to be both alive….and still working on several projects. It has been an entertaining and hugely enjoyable journey to get to this point. I spent a lot of my childhood and teenage years tinkering with tape recorders and cameras and then studied photography and audio visual technology at Napier College in my home town of Edinburgh. I spent my spare time applying to numerous photo agencies and broadcasters while working for various Educational institutions as a photographic and television technician. My youthful persistence paid off when the recruitment people at Granada Television pointed me in the right direction after I submitted some photographs and programme ideas – and I’ve never looked back.
I joined the BBC at 21 working as a trainee assistant film and dubbing editor in News and Current Affairs in Television Centre (TVC, Shepherd’s Bush) and then as a Dubbing Mixer and Senior Sound Supervisor in BBC Queen Margaret Drive in Glasgow and BBC Whiteladies Road in Bristol. Working as a sound designer and dubbing mixer can give a deep insight and understanding of the basic practical and philosophical theories of the construction of a story, and oddly seem to be the lessor known parts of the production process. Producers and directors spend a lot of time finding suitable music, composed or off the library shelf, but spend little time on other enhancements to the soundtrack that can dramatically change the feel, tone and dramatic tension of any film – regardless of programme type or genre. Working closely with the sound team is essential. More info – ‘6 tips for a better Soundtrack’ and ‘I was that Meercat’.
However, there is only so much you can take working on other directors films – so in 1989 I took the leap into production – I remember being terrified at the time. The first outing was for the first run of a new BBC initiative called 10 x 10, a series of ten minute films made by first time directors. The director had to come up with the idea, research it, pitch it, get it commissioned, and then beg and borrow people and kit to make it. My film was about the nocturnal army of bill and poster stickers in the London Underground, ‘Bill Stickers is Innocent’. To my utter surprise the film was well received and even had a ‘Pick of the Day’ in the Daily Telegraph and subsequently got repeated many times……it was a life changing event……and I only ever return to the Dubbing Studios these days to mix my own films.
My new production career gathered pace when I ended up directing programmes for the BBC Documentary Unit in Kensington House, London, working on ’40 Minutes’ and ‘Inside Story’. One of the more memorable events was as an Assistant Producer on the infamous ‘IRA Informer’ story. The story of IRA informer Martin McGartland – his cover was blown and he was on the run from both the IRA and the security services. My job was to find him and his two ‘lieutenants’ a safe house and then look after them for 6 weeks, extracting stories and information for the producers and programme reporter John Ware. The day after transmission I was called by the Executive Producer Steve Hewlett and ordered to shred and delete all my notes and note books as the police were on their way up the BBC corridor (years later the story was made into a feature film ‘50 Dead Men Walking’).
I also cut my teeth on a BBC1 peak time series called ‘Them and Us’. This gave me the chance to get involved in more journalistic stories and learn some of the dark arts of journalism and gain a greater understanding of what a story ‘is’, what it constitutes, how to develop it, how to tell it, and most important of all find and use the correct storytelling tools to enable the process. .
I worked with many fantastic documentary film makers during this time in Kensington House including, Steve Hewlett (a great friend and mentor who has now sadly passed away), Peter Dale, Sue Bourne, the infamous Paul Watson, Chris Terril, Olivia Lichtenstein, John Alexander, David Pearson (who also took me under his wing) and many more. I’m indebted to this mob as the transition from sound design and audio post production to hands on directing in my early 30’s was to say the least challenging – and they were always extremely helpful…well…mostly.
I returned to Scotland in the early 1990’s to produce and direct a number of projects including the BAFTA award winning six part series ‘The Gamekeeper’, ‘The Botanics’, and ‘Cracking Stories’ a 12 part series of ‘one off’ stand-a-lone films as Series Producer.
At the advent of devolution I was commissioned to make a four part series ‘The Gathering Place’ about the creation and the building of Scotland’s Parliament. The story was filmed off and on over a five year period and it turned out to be an extremely controversial production, threats of arrest, press manipulation and intrusion, political attacks – everyday brought a new crisis culminating in the newly formed Parliament demanding the rushes, research notes, and all related materials to be handed over to a Government investigation known as the ‘The Fraser Inquiry‘. I refused and hid them in a bank vault. The BBC backed me up and all hell broke loose, but we got it made in the end. We also made a 90’ feature film version, ‘The Holyrood Files’. To my delight and surprise the film has since won international critical acclaim at numerous festivals and won a BAFTA Scotland and a Celtic Film festival award for best feature documentary. It recently had another cinema run during the ‘Made in Edinburgh’ season at the Edinburgh Filmhouse.
‘The Gathering Place’ was an interesting experience and taught me first-hand how alternative ‘truths’ can be created by self-serving hegemonies who create their own narrative by manipulating the media agenda, reinforcing false perception that they themselves had invented. To a large degree it worked for them and it caught me on the hop – and led to a bout of mild depression, something I had never experienced before. It was a project immersed in the cut and thrust of political warfare (and I know where the bodies are buried) but I took a big leap in understanding the less attractive side of human behaviour – standing me in good stead for things to come.
When I wasn’t shooting ‘The Gathering Place’ I was directing a number of other projects for the BBC Documentaries in London and for the anthropological series ‘Under the Sun’ based at BBC Bristol.
The major projects were ‘Rush’, the recruitment into Sorority and Fraternity houses in the University of Iowa (with Producer Tracy Ullman). Its fascinating to look at it today as the subtext to the film, shot in 1998, was to see what the future leadership of the USA may be like around 2012 to 2020. Did we predict Trumpism? Have a look – I think we were very close indeed.
Also, ‘Montreal Moving Day Madness’, a film about why half the population of Montreal move house all on the same day – every year on the 1st of July. Sounds bonkers but it is indeed true. The real brains behind this film is the brilliant Montreal based Producer Terri Foxman…a laugh a minute genius who managed to persuade our main character Ericson, to take part and rarely does a character leap off the screen in such a way. But the film has a very serious narrative backbone – the politics of linguistics and identity politics…..and the unintentional fallout it produces. Ohh la la.
Another ‘one off’ I’m particularly proud of is ‘King of Hearts’, a one hour special made in 2007 about Vladimir Romanov, the Russian oligarch and football club owner. It was made through ex-head of BBC Docs Paul Hamman’s company in London. Even though I say it myself, it’s a really strong story and a great film to watch with the most amazing composed music…..but due to some severe ‘creative’ differences….I don’t think Paul has many fond memories of the production. In fact I don’t think he has any memories of it at all. Another story for another day.
As the Television landscape began to expand and change, a colleague and I formed a number of production companies, Dressing Room 6 Ltd and FilmSpeed Ltd. We won many commissions and did extremely well. We bought all our kit, editing, sound, cameras and rented office space in Leith and proceeded to do all the productions needs ourselves. It was great fun and at one point my business partner, Berg Saetre and I ended up having to make names up for the end credits, just to bulk them out a bit.
Our company got involved in a number of co-productions with the BBC and SBS in Australia. ‘Desperately Seeking Doctors’ filmed in Australia and featuring Doctor Mary Fortune. This led to a four part series for BBC Scotland based in the Scottish Highlands, ‘Doctor Fortune’s Casebook’, and then another co-production with the SBS/BBC, ‘Doctor Fortune’s Australian Casebook’. This is a three part series where Doctor Fortune and I based ourselves in an Aboriginal clinic for 3 months and is effectively a series about genocide. Hidden genocide. Although the Australian broadcasters didn’t quite see it that way and transmitted an augmented version. The renowned investigative journalist John Pliger called to say that the difference between the BBC and SBS version was like the ‘Truth’ and ‘Half Truths’. I guess everybody is getting used to this idea with the current (that’s current) incumbent in the White House.
In between all the serious social and political projects, I like a bit of light relief and over the years my factual entertainment and comedy credits include ‘Ruby Wax’s American Pie’ (the peak of her career has got to be ‘The Serpent Handlers’ in West Virginia), ‘Taxi for Cowan’ 6 x 30′ spoof documentaries presented by tabloid columnist and BBC Radio funnyman, Tam Cowan and with it another surprise……the series won the RTS award for best Presenter. ‘Spanish Ayes’ was a travelogue special spin-off with Tam in the Costa Blanca. The place will never be the same.
But more recently with Tam ‘What Burns Did For Me’. A great wee programme about how Tam discovered that Robert Burns had been his mentor and greatest influence since his Primary school days – and how he had no idea Burns was behind his success all along.
Incidentally, I’ll always remember Tam as the man who sent me a memorable text immediately after I had undergone extensive abdominal surgery for cancer –
‘YOU OWE ME £160’! ‘How come?’ I replied. ‘I BOUGHT A BLACK SUIT AND A TIE’
As the television landscape began to shift again, this time it seemed in tandem with the financial crash, the behaviour and morality of many of the powerful people in the industry also seemed to change….best described as backwards evolution. Incompetence, amateurism and bullying spread like a pandemic – these fashionable attributes purposely adopted by hitherto fairly decent individuals, and used as the ‘new currency’ in their drive for success.
During this time I worked with several people purporting to be Executive Producers whose professionalism was non-existent (it was vogue to hide it), their behaviour unforgivable – and I mean unforgivable. Attempts to discredit colleagues, ruining young people’s lives and careers, claiming glory where none was deserved, insidious manipulation of events and emotions – in short, psychopathic behaviour armed only with the knowledge of an amateur. And that was on a good day.
I read recently in the broadsheet press that at least one of them and their company have been banned from ever working for the BBC again. Good…….thank fuck. The other low life Execs have trundled on but by their own admission have ended up lonely and abandoned. Anyone who had crossed paths with them on their scramble up the greasy pole could see this was the most likely outcome. Sad and pointless and the perfect example of hubris advancing their downfall.
However, I managed to shake off the unpleasantness when I was asked to return to the BBC as Series Producer to make a four part series about the social history of football ‘Scotland’s Game’. Working with so many fantastic people and back in the BBC.
I’d forgotten what a comfortable and creative environment it is to work in – particularly at BBC Scotland’s H.Q. at Pacific Quay. I’m so glad to say that the series went down extremely well and all the staff who worked on it or were associated with it are still friends today (and I got back in the BBC Dubbing studios with my old Dubbing Mixing pal Bronek Korda).
I’m delighted to report that the series has won two major awards – the Celtic Media Festival award for ‘Best Factual Series’ and the Royal Television Society award in the ‘Best Sport’ category. Makes me very glad to be alive.
About? – Really About
Not everyone agrees….but anybody involved in film or programme making, the stories they tell should really be about (or say something about) themselves. Otherwise why tell and make them? With any story, narrative, description, history, I guess all documentary makers wrestle with the never ending battle between ‘objectivity’ and subjectivity’ and how ‘pure’ and ‘true’ their films are.
For me, the good news is the mental energy exorcized with this internal intellectual battle seeps into the final print giving the film a personal feel which connects on a level that humans crave and are very sensitive too. When reduced down its all about the levels of trust between filmmaker and viewer with both sides continually searching for reciprocation.
I’ve known and worked with many documentary filmmakers who don’t give a toss about trust or the subject matter as long as it’s a good story and using any means possible to exploit the content with storytelling tools used to the extreme, e.g. format and formatting, high impact visuals, power music, salesman type script and narration, celebrity puppets, special effects etc etc……..as long as it gets the maximum audience and can sell to as many outlets around the world. Tacky programmes with hermetically sealed emotional content, but without soul. It’s a high degree of exploitation and something that television is very good at – because it works! Unfortunately, it tends to taint everything else in its wake.
I guess we are all victims of the desire to maximise the reach of our films – but giving the content ‘depth’, ‘soul’ and ‘meaning’ distinguishes them from the mega hours of shite.
Its a very hard thing to do – giving meaning to all that you create….I guess we all have to shovel shite some days – and none of us in this industry have clean hands.