Heaps of creativity, dedication and personality goes into creating a local, community radio station. Christ Jones captures the essence of Exeter’s Phonic FM in his documentary This is Phonic. We spoke to him about getting to what’s behind the airwaves
D&CFilm: This is Phonic is a documentary about Phonic FM – what inspired you to make it?
Chris Jones: I often tune in to Phonic FM, particularly when I’m in the car, and I love the enthusiasm, the passion and the unashamedly ramshackle nature of the station.
The music that gets played is brilliant and eclectic – much more interesting than anything you get on any of the commercial stations – and I was fascinated by the presenters who broadcast live with little or no training, and little or no idea whether anyone is actually listening! I even love the moments (sometimes minutes) of dead air – they give the programs a feeling of suspense you just don’t get on Heart.
D&CFilm: Radio people aren’t usually seen – how did you manage to persuade them to talk to the camera?
Chris Jones: We shot This is Phonic over the course of an entire day – from about 8 in the morning until midnight – and all of the presenters were incredibly welcoming and forthcoming.
Because the interviews were all conducted during the presenter’s live shows we knew there would be challenges in capturing their stories in between them having to go live on air – and this is something we wanted to play with within the film.
These aren’t just sit down interviews – they are interviews snatched between on-air chat and technical fiddling as the presenters went about broadcasting their shows. This gives the film an immediacy and helps bring the viewer into the presenter’s world, as the lines between on and off air get blurred.
We made a decision early on that in order to differentiate between the on-air chat and the interviews we would have the presenters look straight down the lens for the interviews. For this we used a bit of kit called an EyeDirect, which is essentially a periscope that sits in front of the lens so that when the interviewee looks down the lens they see a the interviewer.
This means you can maintain eye contact while having the the interviewee look down the lens.
D&CFilm: There must have been plenty of stories from the presenters – how did you capture the enthusiasm for community radio?
Chris Jones: The presenters’ enthusiasm was palpable, and as the EyeDirect allowed them to speak directly down the camera lens whilst maintaining the natural flow of conversation with us as interviewers, they were able to address that enthusiasm directly to the audience.
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We wanted to know what drives them. They all volunteer their time to host their shows at the station and they are on their own much of the time, battling broken equipment and sweltering heat (the air conditioning was also broken this summer) broadcasting often with no idea whether or not anyone is listening.
There is something heroic about their dedication and the way that music and ability to share their voice features in their own lives. We found that Community Radio not only provides for its listeners, but contributes to the presenters lives too.
D&CFilm: You make all manner of films. What attracts you to documentary?
Chris Jones: This is Phonic is the first film to come out of Preston Street Films – a new documentary film company that we’ve started here in Exeter. Our aim is to make documentaries that challenge the conventions of the genre and tell great stories in new and interesting ways.
We aim to create films that stretch the boundaries of storytelling and connect with global audiences. We’ve got lots of other films in the pipeline, but we’re also always on the lookout for interesting stories – so if anyone out there has a story that needs telling get in touch with us through firstname.lastname@example.org
D&CFilm: The story about an Exeter-based community radio seems to have quite a local appeal, what plans do you have for the film?
Chris Jones: We’re going to get This is Phonic out into the festival circuit. Although it is about a local community radio station, This is Phonic is a reminder that microcosms of creativity, dedication and a wealth of human experience exist behind many doors in this city and around the world. The appeal is pretty universal – its a film about personality, eccentricity and passion.
D&CFilm: Thanks Chris!
This Is Phonic is at the Local Talent screening at the Exeter Phoenix during the Two Short Nights fest. (
Tickets for the local talent screening have sold out but you can be added to a wait list if you call the box office 01392 667080).