Demus – my visit to an established production company

21 Mar

Last week I was lucky enough to meet Nick Lowe, the founder and director of Glasgow basedĀ Demus Media, a well established production company in Glasgow with 18 years of independent radio production. Nick was kind enough to give me some advice and help about pitching radio feature ideas to the BBC, and about some of the challenges involved.

Nick’s advice probably came down to six main points.

1. It’s all about the idea. If you have a great idea, and are passionate about it, it won’t matter if you’re not a big established production company, because there is such a demand for good original ideas.

2. Try to find something – a story, a character, or a presenter – that they want, and that only you can deliver.

3. It’s intensely competitive. And Radio 4 is the toughest nut to crack.

4. Personal relationships matter. You need to be known, or become known, to the commissioning editors. (Although refer back to point 1.)

5. Persistence pays off. Nick has sometimes spent years pitching a story before he has got it commissioned.

6. Collaboration is important.

Continue reading


Useful books – Directing the Documentary by Michael Rabiger

5 Mar

I’ve had Michael Rabiger’s “Directing the Documentary” for several years now, but only recently really had the time and the patience to properly digest it. It’s not so much that it’s over six hundred pages, but more because Rabiger manages to pack so much useful detail into every paragraph that it rewards slow reading and absorption.

Although the book is primarily focused on documentary film, it’s been an important influence for me because it eloquently describes the ethics and spirit you need to cultivate in order to be a good documentary maker.

Continue reading

New friends, new links

28 Feb

It’s sometimes amazing what happens when you create a new blog. Before you know it, you are making connections with people who share your interests, irrespective of geographical distance or time. I only started this blog last Friday, and already I’ve had a guest post appear on the Scottish Documentary Institute’s blog, and been contacted by the author of a very interesting blog about audio, called EarRelevant. And from that I’ve gleaned at least half a dozen new sources of inspiration and ideas.

Continue reading

Sound design masterclass with Michel Wenzer

25 Feb

Yesterday I attended a sound design masterclass with Swedish film maker and composer Michel Wenzer. Earlier in the week I’d seen Wenzer’s film “At Night I Fly” at the GFT in Glasgow, as part of the Glasgow Film Festival. Ten years in the making, it depicted life in New Fulsom jail, a super-max prison in California. The film had a particular focus upon a group of prisoners participating in anĀ Arts in Correction program.

Michel’s route into filmmaking was unconventional – he has been a truck driver in Bosnia where he began to develop an interest in still photography, taking images of soldiers. Returning to Sweden, he wanted to get more involved in the arts, and he would have gone to art college in New York, but he wasn’t able to afford it. Ultimately he trained as a composer, and sound and music are still central to how he constructs his films, particularly his early shorts about the prisoners, and for this reason I’m going to focus on these in this blog post.

Continue reading

Welcome to the Radio Doc Blog

23 Feb

Hello, and welcome to the Radio Doc Blog.

This blog is intended to be a notebook filled with useful links, resources and personal reflection about the art of radio documentary. It reflects the journey I am currently taking for myself – I’ve been a journalist and radio maker for about six years now, but only recently have I begun to focus on the greater challenges of making radio documentaries. As I looked around for resources and help with the medium, I found that whilst film documentary was bursting with useful material – books, websites, and courses – the resources out there to help with radio documentary were relatively sparse and scattered.

Some of the articles on the blog will be about the practical challenges in making radio docs – everything from insurance to permissions to copyright. But mostly I would like it to be about the creative elements and craft, drawing on examples of great radio documentary makers in the field, past and present.

In part, I am creating the blog just to help order all the material I am currently collecting – I have a small but growing collection of books and documentaries on my shelves and on my computer. But writing a blog is also a social activity, and I hope that in putting myself out there, I may also meet some like minded radio makers willing to share their ideas, and also that what I am discovering may be of use to other radio makers wishing to learn more about the this medium.

I hope you like the blog and find it useful – and I look forward to hearing about your own projects and ideas.

Tom Allan, 2012.