I originally studied film and photography at the Polytechnic of Central London, now the University of Westminster, writes James O’Hara. At the time, it was the only degree course in film and photography in the country. I thought I would be a stills photographer, but soon after I graduated I got the opportunity to work at the University of Sheffield’s educational television production unit as a photographer and film assistant, working with 16mm, where the seeds of my producing / directing career were sown.
From Sheffield I moved to Manchester and joined Multivision. This was a large audiovisual and live events production company slowly taking its first, tentative steps into something new called ‘corporate video’ in the early ‘80s. Although I didn’t know a much about film and video production, I knew a lot more than many senior staff. At least I knew what an exotic shot called a ‘cutaway’ was and why it was needed. It was sink or swim and I’ve always been a swimmer, so I made sure I learnt a lot more about video production, very quickly.
In my early days in Manchester I was P/D on shoots crewed by freelance technicians 20 or 30 years older than me. They’d been DPs, cameramen, soundies, grips and sparks on some of Granada’s biggest dramas – Brideshead Revisited, Jewel in the Crown, Sherlock Holmes. I still dine out on the stories where freelancers never let the facts spoil a good story. I learnt so much from those freelancers; we all did. Manchester still has a rich pool of creative talent and many of the people I work with today learnt their craft working with the Granada old timers.
When I first arrived in Manchester we had one daughter, Natalie, and shortly after the move Lauren was born. I feel a bit of a fraud belonging to Media Parents because both my daughters are now in their twenties. They witnessed the long, long hours demanded by the media industry, and the days and nights away from home filming. Despite that, and despite my valiant attempts to persuade them otherwise, both my daughters now work in the media – Natalie is a writer, Lauren a stylist and designer. It must be genetic.
My career as a P/D – now freelance for over 10 years – continues. Working from home has its advantages, and the advent of post-production software that runs on laptops plus broadband, means my freelance editors and animators have also been able to work from home. In the last couple of weeks I’ve pitched for a short film for one of the world’s most scientifically advanced biotechnology companies, which would mean filming and interviewing Nobel-winning scientists and surgeons around the globe – so fingers crossed. Next week I’ll be filming and interviewing politicians in Westminster, and we’re about to start casting for a short drama.
I’ve always believed you make about 90% of your own luck. Manchester’s been the other 10%, and I’ve been fortunate to work on some great projects. I’ve filmed and interviewed hundreds of people, from Prime Ministers and Secretaries of State to long-term unemployed and homeless people. I’ve made films for museum and heritage centres, including dramas recreating the Industrial Revolution and a film about John Ruskin.
I’ve been P/D on films and videos for some of the world’s leading brands and biggest business corporations. Along the way, I’ve written pitches and scripts, made presentations, chosen production teams, run shoots of international crews all over the world, directed graphics, animation and edits, always trying to squeeze more and more out of budgets that seem to get smaller every year. As we all do, I’ve juggled multiple jobs, conflicting deadlines and sometimes dealt with impossible client demands, and (most of the time) kept smiling.
Manchester has always been a city of firsts: cradle of the Industrial Revolution; where scientists first split the atom and developed the first stored-program computer; the most visited city in England outside London…
The media have always had a home in Manchester – we’re far enough away from London to have developed as a true media city. Global ad agencies JWT and McCanns have had offices here forever and, of course, we have Granada/ITV and the BBC, plus some large, successful corporate communications companies specialising in video, live events and digital media.
And yet, over the past twenty years or so, Manchester has transformed and reinvented itself. One of the catalysts was the 1996 bombing, when on a Saturday morning, the IRA planted a huge 3,000 pound bomb outside Marks and Spencer in the city centre. It was the day before Father’s Day and England was hosting the Euro Cup finals; Russia was playing Germany the following day at Old Trafford. So, not only was the city centre bustling with shoppers it was also full with football fans, many from abroad. Manchester Police estimate 75,000 – 80,000 people were in the city centre that morning. In the explosion, two hundred and twelve people were injured, but amazingly there were no fatalities. Many buildings were damaged, some beyond repair. Subsequently, millions if not billions of pounds were invested in new buildings and infrastructure and Manchester had a new-found confidence. (Germany won 3-0 by the way).
Now Manchester’s media industry is driving more change, with MediaCity encouraging the BBC to move more key departments to the North West. As someone who’s lived here quite a few years, it’s become noticeable that Manchester and Salford are becoming almost interchangeable city terms. Actually, MediaCity is in Salford. Manchester and Salford merge into each other, and it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins!
• Highly experienced in all aspects of production and direction
• Excellent project management, organisation and communication skills
• Making presentations, writing tenders, concepts and treatments
• Fast and accurate budgeting
• Directing shoots of all sizes, on all camera formats, from the Arri Super 16 to the Arri Alexa, most Sony and Panasonic cameras, Canon DSLRs, Red Epic and Scarlet, high speed camera systems
• Interviewing and establishing a rapport with people from all walks of life including Prime Ministers, business leaders, people with complex medical problems, the young and elderly, homeless, disabled and long-term unemployed people
• Managing complex projects with numbers of films and videos simultaneously going through production; multiple shoots, edit suites and graphic designers
• Arranging and directing location filming across the globe including most of mainland Europe, the United States, the Middle East, India and Japan