Born, raised and educated in Wigan (home of Northern Soul and pies), filmmaker and director Martin Swift has spent the last 14 years or so working in commercials, documentaries, music videos and film/TV titles sequences, so he’s truly seen all sides of the industry and lived to tell the tale.
In his own words, he’s been fortunate enough to work with some of the most prestigious ad agencies, innovative creatives and iconic brands and is very proud of the thought-provoking films he’s made for several respected charities.
To dig a little deeper into his career, we put the Member Spotlight on Martin this week.
How did you get into the industry?
After graduating with a Fine Art Degree, I was a little lost, needed to work but didn't know how to start my career or what creative industry I wanted to aim for. I answered an advert in a local paper for Film extras for a George Best bio feature film.
I didn't (and don't) have aspirations to be an actor but as soon as the crew turned up and started shooting the scenes, my curiosity was unleashed. I’ve always loved the cinema, music videos, photography, TV & documentaries but had always felt like (and was told) that it was impossible to break into.
From that day, I had a focus and I applied for various junior positions, working at Granada TV, BBC, and eventually I secured a position in a small London Post house, which had its own studio, lighting and most importantly cameras.
I started to make my own work, dream a bit bigger and learn my craft, establishing myself as a DoP / Director shooting commercials & music promo, working and being inspired by other creative’s and filmmakers.
Where are you based now and who do you work for?
I am based in the UK, just outside London but work takes me all over. I am freelance, represented by agents in the UK / China / Sweden and India, giving me the freedom to work with any Production company, Ad agency and direct to many clients across the globe.
If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?
Well I would probably settle for a career as a professional footballer, centre midfield for Liverpool would be acceptable I suppose …..dream on … possibly a photographer / travel journalist.
Can you explain your creative process? What makes it unique?
After receiving an brief and being asked to pitch on a project, I like to start with a chat with the creative team or client and try to get as much out of them as possible, how they see their product, how they see the film, what story they want to tell and what is it about my work that attracted them etc.
I’ll then start the work of trying to imagine what the film can be, how it should look, how it could feel. I’ll start making notes, looking at images, thinking about location, tone and colour, performance, music and once my take on the brief starts to inspire me, I need work out the best way I can get this across in a treatment.
Each project is different and each approach varies and to a degree it is all unique and I don't have a formula that wins every time. But I do know where my strengths lie and I have the confidence to deliver my aesthetic on screen.
I also like to listen a lot and keep an open mind, especially when it comes to production. Ideas develop and evolve, get binned and replaced with new (hopefully) better ideas, that’s just the nature of the creative process, it’s always good to keep thinking, and stay creatively agile.
How would you describe your style?
My style of directing is very involved, hands on and personal. From creative brief, into production and finishing off in post-production, I like to be a team player with the agency, crew and production.
I strive for constant aesthetic beauty and strong cinematic styles in everything I throw myself at, whether that's waiting for the perfect light on location or coaxing the best out of a performance. It's a dream job, what’s not to love?
Which individuals do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?
I get inspired all the time, people who I work with who are fantastic at their job, they don't necessarily need to shout about it, they just come up with solutions and can see the whole of a project not just their part.
Of course other filmmakers, photographers and artists have inspired me over the years throughout my career and have influenced my work, so my aim is to get it right and do justice to them.
What tips would you give to aspiring creatives looking for work?
Believe in yourself and your vision, be bold and brave, but open to other ideas. Don't give up.
What tips would you give to other professionals to get more clients?
Network, research the clients you’re aiming to win over, research their work and the industry they work in. Use every tool to get you & your work visible, noticed and stand out from the crowd …and don't be a dick.
What kind of tools/kit/software could you not do without?
Cameras, laptop, rucksack, sunglasses, music apps, headphones, weather apps, lightroom, word, keynote, Vimeo, wechat, Instagram, Linkedin, google….
What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?
Listen to music, watch films, read, collect photograph & art books, go for walks, go to the pub , see people, spend time with loved ones, get up before sunrise, walk around a city at dusk & sunrise, travel , do new things , see new things , keep dreaming.
What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?
I'm fortunate enough to travel and collaborate with some of the most prestigious ad agencies, innovative creatives and iconic brands, different cultures and walks of life.
Also, I'm very proud of the thought-provoking films I have made for respected charities covering issues including drug addiction, AIDS and homelessness.
What is the one thing that you would change about the industry?
More belief and investment in new & existing talent and their craft, new technology is fantastic but don't loose or forget about where it came from and how it has evolved. Creative thought can be found looking forward and looking back.
Any websites, books or resources you would recommend?
Cinematography for Directors By Jacquelin B. frost
House Hunting By Todd Hido
Hitchcock at Work By Bill Krohn
Twilight : Photography In the Magic Hour
Black Hole By Charles Burns
American Cinematographer Magazine / British Cinematographer Magazine
Films / TV series
‘Seconds’ By John Frankenheimer
‘French Connection’ By John Frankenheimer
‘Buffalo 66’ By Vincent Gallo
‘Under The Skin’ By Jonathan Glazer
‘Kes’ By Ken Loach
All Films By David Lean
All Films By Hitchcock
Monty Python Flying Circus complete series.