Populist stories told with documentary techniques.

Making factual tv has taken me to some unforgettably exotic locations but I started off in the safe and cozy world of the TV archives making pop-culture docs and features like ITV’s After They Were Famous and the BBC’s The Bay City Roller story. Soon after, I was searching for human guinea pigs to test the effects of Cocaine on the Brain for an early C5 doc, and trawling nightclubs looking for people willing to talk about sex and drugs on C4. Keo films used the bitter Siberian winter to persuade me out to work as a 16mm film camera assistant on a C4 doc about the coldest town in the world. On this trip, I lived with the reindeer herds of the Nenet people and shared their delicacies of pony offal and fresh reindeer liver.

Reindeer blood, sex & drugs to silly questions and sea slugs.

Next, I developed my shooting and editing skills on a project funded by an aspiring adventure presenter, Conor Woodman. This trip took me aboard a chartered dive boat to film Conor explore the coral reefs off the coast of Myanmar where we hooked up with the Moken people, a nomadic group who spend most of their lives on boats carved from tree trunks.

Back in the UK, Ask A Silly Question was ITV2’s first commission made at Planet 24 under the watchful eye the late, great Ed Forsdick. In those days, the channel mainly played imported US shows and they needed some short filler programmes. The plan was simple, canvas the nation for abstract opinions based on a set of ludicrous hypothetical questions. The execution was equally bonkers, I managed to blag a massive motorhome and droe it around the UK for two glorious weeks recording countless stories from people we met on the street. This extended vox pop format allowed us to pose questions ranging from the sublime “If you could have any superpower what would it be?” to the ridiculous “if this motorhome were a time machine where and when would you like to go?” In those days self-shooting PDs were very unusual and self-editing PDs were extremely rare but I brushed up my skills and shot then cut the existential answers into a quirky 10 x 10” series.

Nostalgic telly, twisted reality and fast-turnaround fun

My next working on the entertainment spin-offs that accompanied reality show juggernauts like Big Brother, Hell’s Kitchen and I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here. These productions required fast-turnaround video inserts that were based on the reality stories of the day. Working in the edits against tight deadlines is a great place to learn how to condense actuality sequences down to the essential elements or summarise the highs and lows of a character’s story over several months. Of course, poetic license and the creative use of music and graphics were always applied to ensure stories were more engaging!

Having bent the truth and reorganised the reality on most fixed-rig formats it was time to retreat back to the archives and binge on box sets. I also made a few TV nostalgia shows and practiced the art of ‘fair dealing’ footage that weren’t in the budget to broadcast. I interviewed The Fonz, The Equalizer and Skeletor and many other pundits who had something to say about Happy Days, telly’s hard men and it’s most vexatious villains.

Journey to

Travel mixed with work is always exciting and I generally jump at any chance to load my camera kit onto a plane so was thrilled when E4 wanted a brat camp style sizzleshot in a remote Rwandan village. It was such a privilege to be welcomed into a community and record how other people live – I’ve always been fascinated by ethnographic films and, if I ever grow up, I hope to make one.

At the other end of the spectrum, Give Me A Break was a digital travel format for Virgin Holidays where the itinerary was dictated by twitter. Each trip was hosted by a different comedian and we visited South Africa, Sri Lanka, The Caribbean and the USA. We stayed in posh hotels and pretty had to make up the story as we went along. Of course, the bumpy roads and travel sickness were ironed out by the commercial requirement to present everything as the perfect vacation and the social media interactivity drove the storytelling.

A travel show of a totally different nature, Richard Wilson On The Road sees the actor tour the UK toured in a vintage Daimler. Using guidebooks first published in the 1930s, Britain’s favourite grumpy old man begins in Derbyshire where he takes in the sights and local history and discovers that the Kinder Scout uprising in the 30s led to the freedom to roam act the the first national park. He also visits an animal sanctuary to feed the otters, and stops off at the historic towns of Buxton and Bakewell, to try the famous pudding.

Specialist facts, fixed rigs and human guinea pigs

I’m a sucker for specialist factual programmes and encourage my kids to watch history, science and nature shows but it took a while to break into this genre. My first experience was as a hidden camera director on a pilot for a show called Blow Your Mind made for National Geographic by TwoFour. Demonstrated neurological theories as a series of tests on unsuspecting members of the public who were used as guinea pigs. Setting camera traps for human beings is thrilling; trying to predict their behaviour requires skill, and the art really lies in getting the victim to sign a release form at the end of the shoot! Fortunately, performing pranks in the name of science is very rewarding because if it doesn’t quit e go to plan (which it hardly ever does) then scientific conclusions, and therefore programme content, can be drawn from the experiment.

My skills in subterfuge and obfuscation came in useful when I worked as series producer/director on Meet The Humans, for BBC Earth. What started life as a quasi scientific caper very soon became a specialist factual / comedy-ents hybrid fronted by Dr Michael Moseley. The premise was to show Dr Moseley and his expert co-presenters observe a series of psychological experiments performed on members of the public, who were guests at a country house in Somerset.

Having used passers-by as guinea pigs in covert street tests, I expected there to be challenges ahead but luring people to spend the weekend with us to appear on a fake TV show dropped us into an ethical and compliance minefield. Fortunately, the BBC has an Editorial Policy team who guided us around the key casting and secondary consent issues and most contributors were happy to meet Michael when he revealed all at the end of the shoot.