Tag Archives: documentary

Inspiring environmental radio from San Francisco – RISE

12 Apr

Claire Schoen from San Francisco is a radio maker whose work I’ve been aware of for some time. Claire is not only an amazing radio producer and storyteller, but also an educator who teaches long-form radio production in her regular “Soup-to-Nuts” and “Make  Scene” radio making courses, and who in the past has taught at U.C. Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies.

I’ve been meaning to make it over to San Francisco for years to do one of her courses, but so far I’ve had to make do with listening to some of her great advice on audio verité on the Third Coast International Audio Festival website, and listening to the archive of her inspiring programs.

Earlier this year Claire published a series called RISE, about how sea level rise caused by climate change might affect communities around the San Francisco Bay Area. What I love about these program is the richness of the style. They manage to marry a focus on an important scientific subject with an interest in community and grassroots voices. They blend specially composed music with rich ambient sounds that transport you to a particular place.

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Joining the Radio Independents Group

12 Apr

It’s been a few weeks since my last blogpost – we’ve been moving house and without broadband for a few weeks – but I haven’t been idle on the radio doc front. Creatively I’ve been recording material for this year’s Third Coast Short Docs Challenge, which this year is all about interacting with our neighbours. And what better time to get to know your neighbours than when moving house? It so happened that one of my neighbours saw us loading and unloading the van, and asked us to help him out – moving his beehives. More about that story later.

On the practical front, I’m continuing to develop my knowledge of the BBC radio commissioning process, and getting as much advice and input as possible into how it works, what the different stations are, and the best ways to start pitching and producing as an independent. You may recall that a few weeks ago I met with Nick Lowe from Demus, a Glasgow based production company. Well, one of Nick’s pieces of advice was to join the Radio Independents Group, or RIG.

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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 based 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.

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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.

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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.

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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 an 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.

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