IAmWill Interview: Doug catches up with the travelling videographer Will Gardner in the dawn of his hugely popular ‘Glasgow’ video.
Will Gardner is a young film maker, making his way round the world with his camera. His most recent stop happened to be our hometown Glasgow for the second time (can’t blame him). We caught up after his hugely successful video ‘Glasgow’ which is making the rounds on social media. If you want to get hold of Will to tell him he’s great, or to offer him a job you can catch him on his site!
1.What got you into making films?
It’s weird, I totally stumbled into editing a video, I was all into art and drama and music, that sort of thing and I filmed my mate on my blackberry dancing around to Jackon 5’s ABC. We cut together this thing, and I showed him it the next day, it was only 10 seconds long but we found it really funny. Then we consciously filmed more stuff to go with this video, and it was just fun, just a total laugh, everyone loved it at school. Then I started making some music videos, the first one I filmed I got my sister to act in for a Florence and the Machine song, and that hit 6,000 views over a long period of time, but people were saying ‘oh that’s really good, you should do more’ and I didn’t immediately think ‘sure I’ll make a career of it.’ Then when I went to college I did media studies, where I learnt to film and edit videos which pushed me further into it. So I concentrated more on that and I started doing some work experience with an editor who worked for the BBC. Then when I finished college I decided I didn’t want to go to university. From what I’d heard of people in the film industry it’s all about experience, the jobs you’ve done and the people you’ve worked with, so I decided to go out and try getting a job in the industry, easier said than done.
2.What brought you to Glasgow?
When I was looking for jobs I was applying around for various apprenticeships and BBC Apprenticeships is one I came across. More specifically it was BBC Scotland Apprenticeships, which is a bit more in depth than the London and UK-wide one, so I went to BBC Scotland, applied for that and started in 2013. That was working through every department in BBC Scotland, from entry level runner or production assistant, and then that took me further into filming.
3. Where else has film making taken you?
So after I finished my apprenticeship with BBC Scotland I stuck around Glasgow for four or five months working on various projects as a production assistant, which was just making the project happen, with little creative input. Hard work for very little pay off, and there’s not a lot of money involved. Then just over a year ago I went out to visit my mate who was working in a hotel in a ski resort in France, which was the first time I’d actually saved up money and paid for myself to go travelling, crashed on peoples floors and done the ‘doing it for yourself’ which was quite liberating in a way. Then I came back and there was a commission that I’d had which fell through, so I packed up my flat and moved to France with a bag, got a job in a hotel, lived there for three months, skied all day, partied all night, worked horrible hours at a horrible job. That really made me realise I could have stayed in the UK, blinked once and I’d be 10 years in the future, slightly better job, slightly more money, but the same.
Then people that I worked with in France who’d also worked in America in summer camps and that sort of thing got me looking into film making in America, and it turned out you could be a film maker at a summer camp so I applied for that in Maine. So that’s where I was last summer, and I spent some time in New York and New Jersey. When I came back, a producer I’d worked with got me a job here in Glasgow, which is why I’m back up here for six months. Now I’m making short films and producing this website for Glasgow Caledonian Uni, on a project called Common Good First which is trying to connect social innovation projects, and solutions to community problems across the world. There’s 12 projects overall within the youth and education centre, it’s just a pilot at the moment. Unfortunately I didn’t get to go out to Johannesburg, but there’s always the future.
4. Your films often focus around people and their place in the world; is this a conscious choice?
So, the video of Mahad, the refugee video, I had this idea for this series that I really want to do more of; it’s called, ‘What I See’. I want to tell people’s stories, I think that’s the point of being a film maker; you have a story and you have to visualise that into an output that’s pleasing and people want to watch and listen to. It is storytelling, but instead of writing it down in a book I’m trying to tell some kind of story in one way or another. Whether that’s with people talking, like Mahad or with the ‘Glasgow’ video or in some other way. There’s no set storyline as such but I’m trying to get the emotion of Glasgow as a city, which gets a bad reputation sometimes. With every city there are negative parts, but I feel like I didn’t paint a picture that’s not true of Glasgow, I didn’t ignore things either. The difference between story and emotion is an interesting one, ‘Glasgow’ definitely evokes a lot of emotion with people.
5. Your video ‘Presence‘ focuses on your own view and being content in where/who you are, is that influenced by your travels or one place in particular?
It was mainly when I was out in America. At the camp I was working at, it was such an incredible place, and there were amazing amazing people. I’ve heard it’s quite different to other camps. Just the idea of being comfortable in the situation you’re in and consciously choosing where you want to be, that came from being there. I made that video pretty much as soon as I got back to Glasgow and I feel like I’ve lost that mindset since coming back. I watched it again the other day and felt like ‘Damn, I was so passionate about it then’. I’ve never talked to the camera, I’ve never been on camera, I don’t film myself, and I filmed it in response to a Dave Erasmus video, which gave me the inspiration for it. I didn’t share it loads, I just wanted to capture that feeling, it’s like being a photographer, you try to capture that moment forever.
But when I first came back and got a job, getting back into the 9-5 routine was a bit tricky. I was making all my own food and living cheaply still, but over time I’d go out for lunch and starting spending more money, and losing touch with you know, just needing the basics. It’s proven, you and I have felt, when you’re away with very little, you’re content! When I was in America we lived in a cabin with electricity for lights but not much else, you didn’t have phone signal or tv, we’d sit round a fire, and it was all very primal. When I came back I started to lose it, but only very gradually and you don’t notice at first until one day you realise, and it’s so frustrating!
6. ‘Glasgow’ has hit nearly 20 thousand views on the University of Glasgow’s Facebook alone, is it getting similar success on other pages? How does it feel to have such a widely viewed video?
Well the Glasgow Living Facebook page shared it and it’s received over 60,000 and in total on Facebook it’s over 100,000. I’ve never had anything that successful before and it’s a good feeling you know, it means people have liked it. Especially when the share rate on the video is so high, people tagging each other in the comments to get others to watch it, you know. I don’t know these people, and they just want to show off their city and they’re passionate about the city they live in and it makes you feel great because I wanted to show what people in Glasgow experience. And I think it’s worked. I kind of posted it thinking it’d be cool if it got 1,000 views by the end of the day, and it got 1,000 in under and hour on my Facebook. The comments people have given to it are great, things like “This is great, it shows our city how we see it” and it just makes you feel good. Seeing as I’m not a Glaswegian, just being able to represent the place feels like a really good achievement. Especially because I’m leaving in a few days, being able to leave Glasgow on a high is wonderful.
7. In your work with Common Good First which is with Glasgow Caledonian University, how does it feel to be working with a Uni after deciding to make your way into film making without a degree?
Yeah, it’s strange, I didn’t apply for the job it was through my contacts it just proved that it is 100% who you know. I’d still be in uni had I gone and I wouldn’t have any of the experience I’ve had, I wouldn’t have been to any of the places I’ve been to, and I wouldn’t have met lots of the people I have. It is incredible coming here and being offered a job for a university, now I work for a university but I don’t have a degree! It makes me feel like I’ve been successful. I’m only starting on the ladder of where I’m going to go, but so far, I think I’ve been successful. At the time, you might think choosing not to go to university was risky, but more and more people are making the same decision, and it was definitely the right decision for me. Obviously it depends what you want to do.
8. What equipment do you use?
I’ve recently bought a new camera, I was using a Canon 550d which is like no where near a great camera, but it shoots full HD video which is all you need. Then I felt like I should upgrade so I bought the Sony A7, I really wanted the A7s which is like two grand. But I bought the A7 which was released in 2013 so it wasn’t too pricey but upgrades me. Then I use a Rhode Video Mic Pro, because good audio is important. If your audio quality sucks then your video sucks, I concentrate on audio loads. I keep it quite simple although I do have a huge bag of kit. I’ve got a GoPro, I try and a cover all the bases. I’ve got my point and shoot which is my iPhone 6, and then the Sony’s super light too. Then a Gorilla Pod. I use Adobe Premiere Pro for editing, and the Photoshop and After Effects for photos.
9. If you were going on a trip and could only take what you can carry on your back, what would you take?
This is really relevant right now, because I’m going to New Zealand next week. So last night I was looking at my camera bag which is a cheap thing off of Amazon. I was thinking ‘How much can I fit in here, but also fit sensible things like a water bottle and stuff, not just camera gear?’ So I’m struggling with this right now with clothes and basics you know. Camera gear wise I’d take my camera (obviously) and Gorilla Pod, the mic, the GoPro and maybe the GoPro pole. But then I’ve got a smaller Gorilla Pod for the GoPro, do I need both? That’s the dilemma. That’ll probably be it, a good couple of batteries and spare memory cards. The thing is one of the best photos I took in France, we’re on top of a mountain and there’s a sea of cloud and mountains in the distance, I took it on my iPhone. I’ve blown it up, hugely, it’s my desktop, and it’s perfect. So I want to say ‘Your gear doesn’t matter’ and it doesn’t, you know. The real skill is telling the story and getting the feeling across like we said. But it gets to a point where you need to upgrade. I was using a camera worth less than £100, but you can make great films on a phone. Sometimes it’s more authentic on a phone. But you do get used to having proper equipment with you.
10. What’s your plan for the future?
New Zealand’s a complete open book and the future is a whole series of books, I have no idea. I want to make films and I want to see as much of the world as I can. However that happens it’ll happen somewhere or another, I’ve got my options open, I send hundreds of emails to people every day selling myself and see what happens, but I have absolutely nothing set in stone. It’s scary, but if I can’t get job film making, then I’ll work in a coffee shop or bar until something comes up. I’ll make it work.