After graduating at university, instead of resigning oneself to the usual panic of applying for jobs – Joe decided to make his own. That’s when Joe started up his own film production company alongside his university pal, Anthony Smith. Four years on, he now freelances as a DP as well as still filming for Red Pencil.
Have you always had a passion for film?
“I enjoyed photography from a young age, it was at about 11 years old when I watched behind the scenes on major films that I decided I wanted to work in film and have had a passion ever since.”
What inspired you to get into the film industry?
“Embarrassingly, it was the behind the scenes of Star Wars 3, there was an amazing section which showed the scale of everyone involved and how it all linked back to the script. I then found indie film and realised how important stories are, how they affect and represent people is invaluable.”
How did your career start out? / How would you advise others to start up a film company?
“I went to university to study film production which was a great time to develop creativity and gave me some freedom and support to start learning the craft, the true learning came, however, by getting on a larger set as a runner. I started Red Pencil Productions, a commercial film company with a friend that I met on my course, Anthony R. Smith. Red Pencil grew from strength to strength and gave me further opportunities to learn and develop my craft. I then met another director which launched my freelance career as a DP.”
Was there a particular client/job/film that was the catalyst for your career?
“Other than tiny corporates for family and friends our very first job was an internal piece for ASDA, this gave us enough capital to invest in a good camera and the big name on our website gave people trust to hire us.
YO– USEF, the other director I mentioned hired me to shoot an advert for Pay As You Gym which they decided to use as their flagship TV commercial for the years campaign, having shot a national TV advert really helped people trust me and upped my reputation. I was very grateful for that job.”
What genres have you worked in mostly?
“I have now shot more than 100 commercial/corporate projects and this takes up a large amount of my time. We are keeping a toe in narrative work and have largely done dramas, often with a sci-fi element.”
Could you tell us a bit about your current projects
“I have just wrapped on an online commercial piece for French’s Mustard, a 2-day shoot in London and then I was straight up to Scotland to shoot a pool tournament (I have a side gig as a live sports camera person). I have several shorts in the work, the main one already has a gaffer and lighting package attached and post-production from 344 audio, so the quality and production value should be high.”
What advice would you give to someone starting out in the film industry?
“Get out there and start doing it. It is all about networking and time on set, get on as much as you can as a runner, find what you love and specialise in that area. Larger productions are made up of lots of incredibly skilled and experienced people in their area. Being a ‘filmmaker’ and having general skills in all areas can only take you so far.”
What is it that you love about your job?
“One of my favourite things about my job is the people you meet and the places you visit. I have been inside grand governmental buildings to off-limits blood banks and various other places you wouldn’t normally get to visit. You also meet people in film that have huge amounts in common with you and share a passion for filmmaking and people outside the industry who have really interesting jobs that you get a small taste of. Then there is combining my nerdy science side with a creative and artistic purpose to make images and tell stories.”
What’s your favourite memory from your career so far?
“The first time I saw my commercial on TV I was at my friend’s house. It just came on during an ad break and someone shouted ‘Joe it’s your commercial’ we all sat there in silence and then cheered when it finished. It was a good feeling to see it there in front of me and have my friends that have supported me there too.”
What tips do you have for young filmmakers starting out?
“Pretty much the same as 2 questions back, get on set as much as possible, shoot as much as possible and find what element you love. Filmmaking isn’t a job, it’s a category of lots of specific jobs. The other thing to remember is patience. Most HoDs are grey haired veterans of the industry, it takes a long time and most people have to cut their teeth as assistants/runners etc for years and years.”
Who is your role model in the film industry?
“I have several really.
As a DP, of course, Roger Deakins is the don, he is a genius and his work is consistently incredible.
Otherwise, Max Goldman is an amazing commercial cinematographer, his Carhartt spot is a huge inspiration. Ed Moore is another DP that I respect hugely as a professional as a person.
Finally, Jason Blum is my producing idol, he has revolutionised the filmmaking model and shown everyone there are other ways to produce films to turn a profit and maintain the studio system while producing original content and allowing directors the creative freedom that enables great work.”
If you could tell yourself one thing about your career to your younger self what would it be?
“Shoot more stuff, it’ll be ok.”
Follow Joe’s journey on Instagram @Joseph_mcdonald_dp