Close Range Films is a Bath-based video company that, among other things, specialises in capturing the tech and digital community in Bristol and Bath. From huge conferences to intimate portrayals of some of the movers and shakers in tech in the South West, videographer William Sansom has seen it all, so we took some time out to talk to him about his views on capturing stories and how he sees the local tech community from behind the camera lens.
TechSPARK: You were based in London, why did you re-locate Close Range Films to Bath?
William Sansom: I am originally from Bath. I was working as a producer in London, but I was missing Bath’s pace of life. As a lot of my work was in Europe and I could do the London jobs I had from Bath, I decided to move back.
I heard about The Guild co-working hub through Twitter and got myself a space there and started producing video content for them in the form of a regular video newsletter. It gave me the opportunity to shoot little vignettes about the tech community that’s growing in Bath.
TS: Did you know about that tech and digital community before starting this?
WS: No. It was a bit of a surprise, because you think of Bath as being only a tourist hub, but actually there is a lot more going on here than you see on the surface. And I’ve been fortunate enough to film some great tech and digital companies in the region.
TS: Such as?
WS: The great Simon Starr who works for Bath-based Cahootify and is CTO of Mystery Applicant, who puts on these amazing Ruby conferences that I captured footage for – he is a ‘top boy’. He’s well involved in the tech scene.
Event soundbites: Views from the Bath Ruby conference
Then there’s the Guild, of course, which is where I met Simon. When I think of the amount of skill and talent in the Guild alone, just under that one roof, it’s impressive. Tech back-end and front-end development, PR, marketing, editorial and all that kind of thing. The Guild really epitomises what Bath and the West Country has to offer.
Another great tech company in Bath I’ve worked for is software consultancy Rocketmakers. Richard Godfrey and his team are doing some great work there making software systems for both startups and established companies. Among other things, Rocketmakers worked on a training tracking app for the English Institute of Sports that athletes from Team GB used to improve their performance in the run up to the Rio 2016 Olympics.
I got to go around and speak to medal-winning athletes and their trainers, all of whom loved the app, and learn about how the back-end was built. That was a really successful project and the messages we captured from a number of different people involved with it were used as a promo at an expo talking about the success of Team GB. It is great to have produced a film that shows the success of a company like Rocketmakers in Bath which has competed for a tender and produced world class results.
I’m working on another film for Rocketmakers at the moment about the work it has done for a disruptive digital clean energy company called Pure Planet which offers households clean energy for about 20% less than polluting energy! It’s impressive stuff.
I also did some work with Invest Bristol & Bath. They do great things relocating businesses to the region, so I have done a few shorts for them including the VentureFest conference. It was cool seeing all the stuff that was showcased there and to see how Bristol was leading the way in terms of smart City infrastructures and how ahead of that game it is.
Videoing Venturefest: Smart cities, robots, virtual reality, autonomous vehicles and startup pitches
I’ve recently been filming a few case studies on smart cities across Europe with my friend Graham for a company called Ruckus (who provide wireless access points) and the fact that the west country is pioneering all these different innovations on the world’s stage means that even if I do find myself in Paris looking at the smart city engagement on The Champs Elysees, Bristol and Bath is competing with that and I have seen – and filmed – the evidence for that myself.
TS: So is there a specific approach you take when filming video content?
WS: All my work is narrative driven, in fact, I am studying for an MA in narrative comprehension at the moment. I think when people see the human element to any side of a company or an organisation I think that’s the sort of thing that an audience relates to.
There are two ways that I go about it, I either carefully construct a script or I let the people speak in an interview and rework that into a concise way of explaining who they are and what they do. It’s really important that a narrative puts that across to the audience – to existing clients or whatever their consumer base is.
It’s really interesting what you can do with narrative. The film I’m working on for my MA is about the way in which audiences interpret information depending on how a film is shot and cut. It’s a short dramatic piece where the same scene is repeated three times but shot in different ways to make the audience read different things in to the same scene.
This is just by doing simple things, like the Kuleshov effect, where if you get a tight shot of somebody up close followed by another shot showing a sandwich, people will read into that face that the person is hungry. But you can use the same shot of the face and replace the next shot with, say, a girl in a coffin, and people will now think the person is grieving. It’s the same shot! It’s interesting to see how easily you can change how audiences read the information presented to them.
TS: Haven’t you also worked on a lot of crowd-funding videos?
WS: Yes. Last year I have produced a number of investment promos for the Crowd10 platform with Kirsty Ranger. She is an amazing investment startup guru on crowdfunding platforms like Crowdcube and Seedrs. Crowd10 is a crowdfunding accelerator program which helps a vast array of startup companies to crowdfund their ideas and I help provide the videos for these companies to present their ideas. I’ve made 20 or so films for them in this promo-pitch style format. It’s been really successful – I think the stat is 80 per cent success rate in terms of getting funded and she is just shockingly talented basically.
Capturing crowd-funding concepts: Kirsty Ranger introducing Crowd10
TS: What’s the secret to a great crowd-funding video?
WS: They’re meant to be a concise synopsis of what the company is and what the prospect is in terms in terms of investment. It’s about capturing the essence of the company and it’s about presenting something that is just an idea, where there might not even be an MVP [Minimum Viable Product] – it might just be something on paper but which will fill a gap in the market, so getting that across is imperative.
Within about 90 seconds you need to engage a potential investor by telling them what the prospect is, what the company does and what the potential is for growth. Being able to contain that within a short message is very important. It’s a skill which Kirsty has developed a really cracking scripting process for.
She is also very good at training the companies in what works, and I’m involved with a lot of training videos, so I appreciate a good teacher.
TS: What training have you captured? Any tech stuff?
WS: I have done some stuff with DevelopMe, who are a programming training company. There seems to be a lot of people moving from their original line of work and re-training so DevelopMe do really cool courses in Bristol, that help people learn about that and become coders or project managers in those areas.
Tech training: Videoing vocational views on DevelopMe’s coding programme
TS: You don’t just focus on tech though – are there any other projects you are particularly proud of?
WS: I did a documentary about an AIDs orphan charity called ‘Msizi’ in Durban and Lesotho, South Africa. I went over there and filmed street kids getting out of glue addiction and learning how to surf by jumping off the pier, which took them away from gang and street life. In terms of looking at a radically different culture that you had never seen before that was really cool and the kids over there were great. That was a really rewarding project.
I also did a documentary about the history of stem cell research, shooting it in Italy, Rome, the Vatican and St Petersburg. The first stem cell was discovered by a doctor in St Petersburg. That documentary was produced by Mark who is a friend of Smokey Robinsons. He was previously a MoTown record producer turned film producer. So I worked with him and did some work with Smokey Robinson too, so that was really cool.
On a more local scale I did a lovely community project for Bradford upon Avon. We made a film about all the youth centres that were getting closed down at a time when the government was selling off all their local assets – community buildings that were basically part of the entire community infrastructure, and this youth centre was getting shut down. We made a film and lobbied local government. We raised the profile about what was happening and got the community aware of it and they were so enraged that they had to keep it open.
TS: How can people get involved with Close Range Films?
WS: Come down to the Guild – I’m always there! If people want to chat about ideas for their film and video content, I’m always up for just having a chat about what it is people want to achieve, and I understand that with a lot of small businesses budget is always key. It’s just finding out what you want to do, what you want to promote, and how you want to put it across, and then working out the best way to spend your money. Give me a shout on firstname.lastname@example.org I’d be happy to meet up.
Thanks so much to William for taking time out of his busy filming schedule to talk to us. You can see more of his work at the Close Range FIlms website or his Vimeo channel and follow the company on Twitter here: @closerangefilms