Interview: Jordan Lee

Jordan is a camera operator and editor at a production company in Leeds. I was lucky enough to have an interview with Jordan about his career plans and film-making. 

Hello Jordan! Thank you so much for letting me interview you. How are you?

Thanks, Rhiannon! I’m doing well thank you, I hope that you are too.

Tell us a little bit about your background.

Well I currently work as a Camera Operator and Editor, at a production company in Leeds. So the typical day would either be out on a shoot, or back in the office editing rushes or fine-tuning the films before we send them off to our clients. Before my career started, I was a student at the University of Lincoln studying Media Production.

Describe your style in three words.

Hmmm, that’s a tough one. The first would be ‘varied’, because one day I may be shooting a short film, the next may be a studio podcast, so each video needs its own suitable style. The second would be ‘unobtrusive’, as whether its video or photography, I tend to film without the talent on-screen seeming aware that I am present. That way, events seem much more natural, rather than staged. And if I’m allowed to choose the third word focusing purely on film, I’ll go for ‘handheld’ – it’s a visual style that I love to use, especially in dramatic scenes such as arguments or fast-paced situations.

I adore your work. What inspired you to start taking photographs and go into film-making?

Thanks very much! I always remember editing together a compilation of holiday photos of a school trip to Holland back in 2009, and the positive reaction that had by my friends made me want to make more, so that’s why I chose to study film the following year at college. I also remember watching the Omaha Beach scene from Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan in an English class, and I thought to myself ‘How on earth was that made!?’, so that also ignited that passion for filmmaking.

Have you always been into photography?

Photography has always been more of a hobby to me, but it has definitely helped me to teach myself the basic rules of composition that are just as vital to know when filmmaking. The first camera that I bought was a Canon DSLR, which was essentially a stills camera, with the additional feature of video, so I definitely spent a lot of time taking photographs. I still take photographs in my spare time, though.

How has your creative process changed since the start? What equipment do you use for your work?

Working at Feature Media has definitely taught me more about the technical side to filmmaking, which proves invaluable when making the creative decisions in projects. It’s always cool when you compose a great looking shot on-the-spot, but it’s great to know all of the nerdy stuff in advance so you know exactly what settings and lighting set-up is needed, which has improved the speed of my shot turnover, instead of spending that valuable time wondering why something isn’t quite working right.

I’ve also realised the importance of shooting for the type of video which you’re filming, so a client testimonial generally looks completely different to a music video, and it’s understanding the psychology of composition which has a significant impact on the finished film.

Also, I learn a heck of a lot after every project that I am involved in, and in all aspects of filmmaking. One time it may be how to erect a day for night scene in a more realistic way, whilst another time I may evaluate an edit of a film, and realise how I would have shot a particular frame differently to emphasise the intended emotions.

At the moment, a lot of our projects are either shot on the Sony PXW-FS7, or the Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera, which are both great cameras. Supporting equipment would be LED lighting and Rode NTG-2 microphones for audio.

What equipment would you recommend for someone who wants to get into photography and film-making?

It all depends on just how much someone is willing to spend, but what’s important is to never just spend all of their savings on the camera body. Lenses are, at times, a lot more beneficial to create great looking content. For filmmakers, I’d suggest looking at the Sony A7Sii or the new Panasonic GH5, but these are around the £2000 price tag. For beginners, the Panasonic G7 is a great little 4K video camera. It’s always handy to invest in audio equipment, such as a Zoom H4n and a Rode NTG-1/2 mic as they are great all-rounder microphones that can cover both interviews and fiction films if you want to make films in your spare time.

Lens-wise, having a combination of primes and zoom lenses is great! In scenarios where you don’t have the time to constantly change your lenses, a zoom lens that has a wide-ish aperture will comfortably see you through the shoot. In environments where you have more control, prime lenses will always give you a sharper and more pleasant image.

Why has social media been an important platform for you to use?

To be honest, I haven’t really used social media as much as I’d like to, as a way of showcasing my work. For my job, I’ve researched into how social media can be effective, so I really should start doing it! I occasionally post on my Instagram page, (plug plug plug) which may be a still from a project I’ve worked on, or a behind the scenes photo. I’m definitely using LinkedIn a lot more now, too! I remember my college tutors telling everyone in my class to sign up to it, but never really understood the importance of it. However, now I’m a bit older, it really is a great way to catch up with old friends and see how they’re getting on, which could ultimately generate possible collaborations on projects in the future.

Who inspires your work?

Danny Cohen has been rather influential as I continue to develop a visual style. His handheld style in films such as Les Miserables and Room, as well as his beautiful ultra-wide shots in his work with Tom Hooper, is always pleasant to see. Also, the recent work of Emmanuel Lubezki where he attempts to perform long takes and one-shot illusions is always great to see from a filmmaking perspective.

Why is photography and film-making important to you?

Without sounding biased, I feel as though they’re part of the most exciting industry to work in, and therefore it feels nice to wake up and not dread the thought of going to work. It’s important to me because I’ve been able to capture moments such as the growing up of my two nephews over the past three years, and documenting that through both photography and video is something that I’m proud of, and also my family are grateful for. Hopefully, I’ll have a lot more exciting times ahead and look forward to capturing them properly – it’s always a little heartbreaking when you have a photo taken at some important event, to find out the photograph is blurry, or a nice finger covering half of the lens!

What makes a good photograph?

That’s a tough one. I think the definition is personal and differs from one another. Of course, composition and lighting are important, but if a photographer can capture something with context behind it, it will always mean more to whoever the photograph is for. I’m going to go back to my nephews as an example here, but my nephew Thomas’ smile is so addictive, so I love to get that across in photographs I take of him. And it is those kinds of photos that generally get the best reaction.

What are you currently working on?

At the moment, I have just finished helping to film a series of short films for Wakefield Council, and cannot wait to see how those turn out. Away from my full-time job, I’ve started some portraiture work, and look forward to hopefully continuing and developing on that in the future.

What's your typical working day?

A typical working day for me would probably start with me waking up in the middle of the night, worrying whether I put all of the camera batteries on charge or not! But once I’m up, there may be a small journey to our shooting location, and then I begin shooting with a great friend and workmate, Rob. We’ll conduct the interviews, commence with the general cutaways etc, until we feel that we have more than enough to work with.

Then we’ll head back to the office, and if we have enough time, we would review the footage, perhaps begin assembling all of the footage into usable sequences, and if we’re lucky enough, have a mess with either colour grading or whipping up a rough cut.

What are your career plans?

Ultimately, I would love to work as a cinematographer in advertising or film. With that, it would hopefully allow me to travel and see more than just England – I haven’t been abroad for over seven years, so I am deservedly ready for a week away somewhere nice! In the meantime, I will continue writing, developing, and shooting small films in my spare time, hoping that the experience will continue developing my skillset, and hopefully become noticed by someone who would give me a chance to work on some larger-scale productions.

Was it hard finding a job after university?

Although the end of the third year was a rather stressful time for many of us students, I made sure to begin applying for jobs in around March, with the assumption that I’d have more chance finding a job then, rather than in May when a swarm of Media Grads will be applying for all of the jobs out there. Unfortunately I didn’t find one at the time, but the experience of attending interviews definitely helped. I worked freelance for approximately six months, until I was fortunate enough to be awarded a full-time position at Feature Media. In fact, one of the interviews I attended during the end of university was at Feature Media, so just because you may not get a job instantly, it pays off to make a good impression, just in case another job becomes available in the future!

Do you have any advice for anyone finishing university?

I’d advise anyone to really build up their portfolio of small projects, because as I mentioned earlier, the experience gathered from every project is invaluable. At the same time though, I’d work on developing an idea which you really believe has potential, and take your time on it! Gone are the days of project deadlines where your time is restricted.  Even if it takes a year to write, that freedom of doing it whenever you can will only make the idea better.

Another piece of advice, and it’s rather cliché, is to never give up. If filmmaking is something that you really want to get into as a career, don’t pie it off just because you haven’t got a job after a few months. The technology available now is scarily good for the price, so there is nothing stopping you from making your own little projects. The more of those you make, the greater chance you have of getting that chance.

What's the best piece of creative advice you've ever been given?

Forgive me, as I am currently writing this at 11:30pm, so I cannot remember who told it me, but I remember being given the advice that there is never a wrong way of doing something, but there may be a better way. I really agree with that, too. Everyone has an individual way of showing something on-screen, and if I reviewed a project that I had done, I may find myself criticising a particular shot, and think of better ways in which it could have been shot. The original composition would not necessarily be wrong, but having the time to review afterwards will always result in a better way of doing it – it’s identical to when you think of that awesome comeback for an argument which happened six hours ago. The only positive is that you’ll have that one-liner ready in the back of your mind, for when you may next need it, just like when that shot I thought about would come in handy on the next project that I work on.

Jordan currently doesn't have a website or Facebook page, but if you would like to see what he is up to, please follow his Linked In page.