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Catching up with alumni Dom Satchell

Dom Satchell completed Cinematography and Directing Diploma at Brighton Film School in 2015. Last four month Dom has been traveling and we were lucky to be able to catch up with him to find out what he has been up to.

Hi Dom, please tell us a bit about your documentary.

Black Swans is a film about a local story in Plumpton Green, where I grew up. When you live in a village you hear a lot of stories, but there was always one that I was particularly interested in; The Plumpton Panther. It might sound fanciful but everyone in the village knows at least a couple of people who claim to have seen it. As a kid I'd spend many weekends in nearby woods with friends "hunting" for it, but never had any luck seeing it for myself. Sightings seemed to have dried up a little in recent years so it's not something I'd thought about for a long time; I'd grown a bit cynical about the likelihood of it. The week of pitching documentary ideas at the film school arrived and I was stumped. The night before I was driving along a stretch of road where my sister claimed, a few years before, that she saw something black with a very long tail run into the bushes. At that moment a rabbit ran out in front of me and I suddenly remembered about the panther (The rabbit escaped unharmed). I spent the evening researching the subject and found there were actually a lot of really compelling stories and theories that suggested it might not be complete rubbish. So I pitched the next day and although my specific film idea was a bit vague at that stage, everyone seemed really engaged with the subject and thankfully it got chosen for production.

What were the particular challenges you had in production and how did you meet these challenges?

Getting people to agree to interviews was a nightmare. Originally the film was going to centre around an enthusiast who calls himself "The Big Cat Detective". I've no doubt he would have been a great interviewee as I spoke to him on the phone at length on several occasions. Unfortunately his work commitments were very unpredictable and I could never tie him down to a time without him cancelling at the last minute. With my village connections I thought finding local people to interview would be easier but I experienced a lot of resistance to the idea of being filmed. It seems to be a subject people are reluctant to speak about openly over fear of being considered crazy or stupid. A couple of the central interviewees are friends of mine and thankfully I was able to convince them even though they weren't keen. Other people agreed to meet with me for a chat but didn't really want to be filmed. I have to admit that on a couple of occasions, when I was getting really desperate for interviews, I turned up with my camera anyway and managed to (politely) twist their arms into helping me out. The film is dependent on the quality of the interviews so I'm really grateful to everyone that agreed to take part in the end.

How did Brighton Film School and the course itself help you with producing the documentary?

A couple of weeks from the deadline and I had hit a bit of a brick wall. I’d largely completed the first two thirds but was really struggling to find a way to conclude the film and I was starting to doubt whether what I’d already done was any good. I’d been getting regular feedback from my classmates and Julian, our course leader, as I was showing my latest edits on a weekly basis. Their input was really useful but because they’d seen so much of it, and many of them had been directly involved in the film, it was becoming difficult for any of us to be objective. That week at the school, we welcomed Michele d’Acosta as our guest and towards the end of the day we each showed her the latest edits of our documentaries and awaited her response. To my relief and surprise, her reaction was incredibly positive and we subsequently had a chat about the production so far and how I might satisfyingly conclude the film. It was less about specific suggestions and more about the confidence it gave me for a leading industry professional to be engaged with what I was doing. I also sent the completed film to Andy Heathcote, a guest from another week, who also gave me some detailed feedback which was really useful in assessing what I got right and what I could have done better. The opportunity to make these connections and others, especially hearing about career paths from a variety of different perspectives, was one of the most important things I took away from the course. It gave me an insight into various routes into the industry and the confidence to believe I could do it myself.

Tell us a bit about it's life post-production, screenings and any opportunities it has opened up for you.

In terms of festivals, I aimed high; originally submitting it to Sheffield. By the time I heard back (unfortunately a rejection) I was working on new projects and had honestly lost a bit of interest in Black Swans as it felt like such a long time ago that I’d made it. On reflection I wish I’d sent it out to a handful of smaller festivals and got it seen as widely as possible. Watching the film back now, for the first time in a few months, is a bit cringeworthy. With distance, I can see it objectively and there are so many things I could have done better. But I’m still proud of it and I’m glad it’s finally going on the BFS website for everyone to see.

Attending a film school can often lead to lifelong connections and future collaborations. How do you feel your time at Brighton Film School assisted you in this regard?

The primary reason I attended the film school was to meet like minded people for collaboration beyond the duration of the course. Our group was a really social crowd, everyone quickly became friends and Friday evenings in the pub became a weekly fixture. Since the course completed, contact and collaboration has continued between many of us. I now have more than a handful of reliable people I know I can call for help on any projects and I hope they feel the same way about me. There has also been regular contact from the school itself; it’s encouraging to see a commitment to students beyond graduation and I’m sure the connections they have will be a very useful resource for promoting future projects.

What future projects have you got lined up?

For the past few months I've been working solo on a documentary about up-and-coming Brighton based country/grunge duo Dull Knife. As well as filming extensively in Brighton, I've travelled with the band twice to Bavarian Germany; the first occasion to record their debut album and the second occasion for a festival. Editing is in the advanced stage but finding the hours necessary to finish the film is tough as I'm currently travelling and won't be back in the UK for several months. I’d like to complete the film in time for the launch of the album and hopefully the film and the music can promote one another. I’m really excited for it to be seen; it’s my most ambitious film to date and I think it’s the best work I’ve done yet. Beyond that, I've brought my camera along for the ride and I've been filming a lot of stuff so far on my travels. As soon as I've completed the Dull Knife documentary I'll be compiling a series of travel films which I’ll be posting online, so watch this space!

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Brighton Film School is a specialist, independent training facility located in central Brighton. The school offers two 2-year HNC/HND (equivalent to the first two years of a degree) programmes in Filmmaking and Set Design for Film and TV, a third-year BA (Hons) Film Production Top-up Degree, as well as an industry recognised Cinematography and Directing Diploma and Set Design for Film and TV Diploma. Brighton Film School also offers evening classes inFilmmakingScreenwriting and Set Design, as well as courses for young filmmakers and Summer Schools.

For more information or to apply please visit www.brightonfilmschool.co.uk