Filmmaker Chris Jones has heaps of experience and is well-known on the D+CFilm circuit, and he’ll be sharing his skills in a documentary filmmaking course Dartmoor Arts Summer School from July 25 and teaching a course in Moving Image Production at the Exeter Phoenix in August. We caught up with him to find out more for a quick Q&A
What attracted you to photography and what propelled that change from still images to moving images?
When I was about 11 years old my dad gave me an old Pentax K1000 35mm stills camera and some rolls of film and for several years I couldn’t put it down. I loved experimenting with lighting and the technical aspects of photography and a few years later I met the late Pete Myatt who was then the Tavistock community photographer and was a great influence on me. Pete introduced me to the dark room and I would spend hours in there developing and printing black and white images.
It was not until I went to Plymouth College of Art and Design after leaving school that I began to seriously explore the world of moving images, shooting short films and music videos on clunky VHS cameras. I loved the process and when I went to university at Napier University in Edinburgh to study Photography and Film I specialised in cinematography.
Do still photographers have an edge when it comes to composing shots?
I don’t know whether it’s fair to say photographers have any kind of an edge when it comes to composition -I think painters and other visual artists would have just as good an understanding.
Where photographers may have an advantage though is in the understanding of the technical aspects of how cameras work -exposure, depth of field etc -and also in the way light behaves. I definitely think a grounding in stills photography can be very useful for anyone wanting to get into moving image camera work.
Your work has covered short films, corporate films, documentaries and music videos. With such a broad range of projects under your belt, how do you visualise a story or an idea -what are your building blocks of creativity?
Every project is different, but the thing they all have in common is the need to tell a story. Whatever the project you’re always trying to work out the best way to show the audience what they need to see -in every shot, in every scene. Your job is to take the vision of the director and put it on screen and so the relationship you have with the director is very important. You have to be able to understand each other and communicate visual ideas quickly.
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned during filmmaking?
I’ve learned a lot of lessons since I started filmmaking, and I learn new ones on every shoot I do. So much of filmmaking revolves around problem solving -even with a really well planned shoot things never go according to plan, and so you’re always thinking on your feet to work out new ways of achieving the shots you need. There is never enough time and so it is incredibly important to be able to work quickly and decisively to get shots lined up and lit.
What advice would you give to people who want to get involved with film?
Getting into film isn’t easy -it’s very competitive and it can be very hard to make contacts and get established. My main advice would be to simply persevere, get as much experience and meet as many people as you can. Be prepared to start at the bottom and work hard and gradually people will remember your name and with any luck you’ll be hired on more and more projects, especially if you make them cups of tea.
What are you working on now?
This week I’ve been grading a feature film I shot last summer, and it’s coming together really nicely. It’s always fun grading films, it’s the final polish on the project and my last chance to make sure the films looks the way I want. Tomorrow I’m off to Bristol to shoot a Digital Short with director Dan Gitsham in some woods in North Somerset.
After that I’ll be back in Devon looking at locations for a Phoenix Bursary film I’m going to be shooting later this summer. I’m also going to be in Devon teaching on the Documentary Filmmaking Course at the Dartmoor Arts Summer School from July 25, and teaching a course in Moving Image Production at the Exeter Phoenix in August.
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