On Wednesday 13 March, ScreenSpace welcomed Charlie Phillips, Head of Documentaries for The Guardian, to host a Masterclass as part of its Production module.

Hosted by Head of ScreenSpace, Lisette Johnston, the pair discussed the world of Online Documentary, what it’s like working at The Guardian, and advice and tips for future content creators.

The Online Documentary Industry

I think YouTube has blurred the idea of what documentary is. We used to have focus groups where we ask people what documentaries they like and lots of them would say Ted Talks, and YouTube vloggers.”

“With online video the first couple minutes has to be really good or else you lose people” Charlie imparts “either keep things strange and be experimental, or be super obvious and hit people over the head with a really traumatic scene.”

The way people watch things is changing “I don’t know what the difference is between TV and online platforms. It’s all just stuff you watch on a screen. Don’t believe it when people say online viewers will only watch clips. People watch lots of different things on lots of different devices.”

Masterclass-with-Charlie-Phillips_Screenspace

The Guardian

It’s important to stay ahead of the news. “The Guardian used to only do reactive videos, like if Trump said something a video would go up with some news pieces. In 2014, however, The Guardian expanded its video output and now has more than 80 documentaries.”

“At The Guardian, once we’re happy with what the filmmaker is making, we leave them to it.”

“We try and mix journalism with independent documentary filmmaking. That’s a hard thing to do.”

Advice to ScreenSpace Students

A big tip I’d give to people is it’s better not to send us anything rather than a really rubbish teaser clip. Sometimes you get filmmakers who say ‘oh yeah I know it looks bad, the actual films going to be better’. I just think, well why didn’t you send us something better then?

“I look for things we’ve not seen before. That’s important. You want something where you’re like, I didn’t know anything about that. The second thing is, is it going to be visually interesting.”


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