This was me at three years old. On the bonnet of my parents’ 4X4, in rural South Africa. My parents were activist filmmakers, documenting the forced removals of Apartheid. I held the slate at the beginning of the shoot.
Later that year we left the country to edit and distribute their film. We stayed away a year, too afraid to return to South Africa in case of repercussions from the secret police. They had friends who had been killed for their stance against Apartheid.
At six I went filming with my father amongst the Bushmen in Botswana, and again when I was 12. He was assisting an old friend of his who was a filmmaker for the BBC. The story was about people forced off their land, this time to make way for diamond mining. In the bush I learned the basics of filming. How to hold a reflector, how to duck out of the shot on a canoe, how to set up camp, drive a truck, charge the batteries and label the tapes. It was heaven.
Later, graduating from art-school, I realised that the art-world was not where I wanted to work. I thought of those happy times from my childhood in Botswana and began instead to make films. I took jobs wherever I could, from home videos for millionaires to real-estate videos for cable TV. It was two years of foundational experience, but I knew that filmmaking could mean so much more.
I had kept in touch with my dad’s friend. He was still making films for the BBC and had become my mentor. One day he called me up and said he had been asked to do a short film for an environmental non-profit but he was passing it on to me. Could I come to a meeting with the client? Here was a chance to work with a client that was making a difference in a sector I found important. I was excited and nervous.
The day arrived and I was early. I waited in the entrance foyer. I went through to the boardroom, shook hands and sat down to receive their brief. I felt nervous. I hoped it wouldn’t show.
As I listened, I had ideas to share but wasn’t sure they were good enough. I wanted to test out my ideas alone, not in front of others.
The second meeting went better, I know I listen and analyse well, and as a result I was able to glean some important details from them. I still wasn’t brave enough to pitch any ideas for their film, but after this meeting I needed to provide the goods. I needed an idea that excited their team and fulfilled their business needs.
Back home I worked through the material I had gathered so far. As I did so there was a shift inside. I realised that I need to step up and use my voice. The apprenticeship was over. I was no longer the young boy holding the clapper for my parents, no longer learning the basics in Botswana. I was a professional and, while I would always learn more, I needed now to trust my own ideas. It was time to risk getting it wrong and in the process maybe create something meaningful.
At the third meeting I presented my concept for the film and the team loved it. After a many weeks of filming and post-production I was back in their boardroom. I dimmed the lights and showed them what they had been waiting for.
When it finished my client’s eyes were wet. She explained that although their NPO had achieved so much, it was only in watching my film that she realised something had been missing. They'd never had a way to show their impact, to tell their story. Till now.
From there I found more projects in the non-profit sector, and also corporate social investment projects, and it was all word of mouth. Somehow I was getting a reputation. My clients came to me because I told their stories in a way that moved people.
In my mind their work is too important for anything else.