‘I found my style of filmmaking’: Documentarian Jake Cauty gears up for ‘The Youngest Pilot’
Jake Cauty is a documentarian and editor based in Southwest England. His debut cinematic short, ‘Panthers,’ followed the Nottingham Panthers of the Elite Ice Hockey League and was positively received. He recently set out to produce a new documentary short that focuses on one of the UK’s youngest female glider pilots — ‘The Youngest Pilot.’
Jake, on any given day how often do you find yourself thinking, “thank goodness I decided to get into filmmaking?” Does it make you nervous to consider that you might have followed a different path?
Jake: I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in filmmaking or film. I’ve always had other interests and always wanted to open my own American themed bar — maybe that’ll come one day. Though for filmmaking, I don’t go a day without thinking about it — imagining scenes, scribbling ideas, and thinking up pieces of dialogue. It excites me. I just want to make more. I am grateful for following this path. My dad first got me into it by getting me a camera when I was younger — this massive VHS camcorder — and from then, I was addicted and filmed everything. It’s been difficult to get where I am today and have the chance to work on some amazing projects with likeminded talented people. I almost gave up so many times. I’m glad I didn’t and kept pushing because it’s the most amazing thing to do.
Is that memory of receiving the camcorder one that you often reflect on during your process of filmmaking? Is that important for people in film— to have one moment that helps them understand when it all began?
Jake: I think it’s important to remember how you started. I’m very fond of that memory. My dad also showed me the basics of editing many years ago. I played and played with [editing] for hours, days, and years, until I was getting paid to do it. I’m still finding things out about it today. It frustrates me when someone climbs the ladder and forgets their first steps, especially when they don’t feel it’s important to help others. I often get approached by people in college asking for some help or experience and I’m always willing to support them. I think it’s really important. I never forget how I started out and love the memories of how it all began.
I think it’s great to know that you support newcomers. You previously alluded to obstacles on your own professional path. Were these the kind that money, privilege, and the right connections would have smoothed over? Was there an absence of persons as supportive as you are?
Jake: There have been so many obstacles. Even now, I don’t think there’ll be a day where there won’t be. The harder you push, the easier it becomes to overcome them. In the early stages of my career there was a huge lack of support and money. I’d get frustrated at rich kids getting cameras and calling themselves filmmakers — a company would see the image quality they can capture and often get excited by that. It’s easy to learn how to operate a camera or some editing software. The real skill lies within how to capture or create a story that keeps people interested. There were times where I was working 18 hour days, in three different jobs, at two different hotels, leaving six hours a day left to work at a production company, and then have some sleep. I did anything I could to get out there. I sent hundreds of emails to companies, production houses, and anyone I could think of to try and get some experience. On average, three to five people replied out of every 100 emails, usually with “unfortunately.” It was very tough to keep going after being knocked down so many times. Eventually, though, I got some chances and I did well. I’m still close to those people today, almost eight years on, and will always be grateful for them offering me that chance.
What was the first gig or project that finally made you feel like you had moved beyond the realm of not being able to access opportunities that could have been a good fit?
Jake: I can’t think of any project in particular that made me feel that way. After my “edit test” at a Devon based production company, I freelanced with them for a year and then went on a rolling contract for almost four years. With them, I learnt a huge amount, travelled the world, and worked on a number of projects with some pretty massive clients. Everyone gets to a point where they feel they need a change. At that point, I went freelance again and that’s when I finally felt comfortable in this world of media. Ever since, I’ve been crazy busy. Creating my debut short film Panthers and seeing that receive huge amounts of praise was an amazing feeling. I feel at a really good stage in my career now.
You have a fairly eclectic portfolio. What made you chase after the emotional and often very physical elements of Panthers?
Jake: Whatever I create in the edit suite, I always make it so the audience feels something. Whether it’s sadness, excitement, or happiness, I want them to have goosebumps. There are so many ways to do this and I like to experiment. Music is a huge thing. I could spend a day looking for music for an edit. It has to grab me within the first few seconds. If it doesn’t, how will it grab the audience? Especially now when people watch a lot on their phones. You have to grab them quickly. With Panthers, I had a lot of fun creating emotion in scenes. Slow motion can be massively powerful with the right soundtrack. Something as simple as a close-up of someone’s face with an emotional soundscape can be really amazing to watch. I like to play with both sides — so that calm, beautiful, inspiring stuff, then suddenly [shifts] into hard hitting, epic, and exciting action. If it’s a surprise to the audience, that’s even better. I get a lot of joy out of it, especially when I’m creating it and imagining people watching it.
As you dedicated Panthers to your deceased father — someone who helped introduce you to filmmaking — did you feel like his passing influenced the direction of that short documentary?
Jake: It may have influenced the process in some way. I’m unsure. I loved the fact that he got me into it in the first place. In many ways, whenever I pick up a camera or get into the edit suite, I remember him and feel close to him. He set me out on this road and I’ll always remember that. We lost him suddenly during the making of the film. Having this project kept me busy during those tough times and also kept me close to him.
I read that creating the short cost you around £3000. How did you pull together the funds and was that on the lower end of what documentary shorts typically cost?
Jake: Film cost varies massively depending on the project. For Panthers, I filmed and edited it myself and had the kit to do the job. All money for this project was spent on travel, accommodation, music licensing, film festival submissions and so on. I paid for it using my savings that I’d built up over time. I’ve set up a crowdfunding campaign for my next film as I’d like to pull in more crew and put in a lot more time to create something really special.
Jake: It’s a really interesting project and an amazing story. Ellie approached me through Facebook. She was hoping to get some experience in media and maybe some more exposure for herself. After learning about what she does and what she’s about, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to make a film. She’s often had mainstream media interviews, which never went under the skin to expose the real passion behind her story. I loved having the chance to be able to do that through film. I really hope the funding goal is reached so we can produce this amazing film.
That is interesting and shows why you should be approachable in any industry. She essentially found you. Did you ever learn why she specifically looked for you as opposed to another filmmaker?
Jake: I’m not completely sure why she chose me out of hundreds of others. I’m pretty local to her — only 30 minutes away — so nice and close really. She mentioned liking Panthers, so perhaps that was an attraction for her — seeing my ability to tell a story in a different way with a lot of emotion thrown in. I feel very proud that she came to me and I just hope this project goes ahead now.
How does it feel to have shifted some of the burden of financing from yourself to potential strangers? Do you see any immediate drawbacks to the rise of crowdfunding as it impacts film?
Jake: It’s an exciting idea — the thought of a project being funded by strangers and people who are interested or want to support it. It does lift a burden for sure, but crowdfunding is a lot harder than I thought it would be. I’ve paid for marketing, post boosts, pushed it on social media, had various news articles, you name it, but getting backers is like Everest. I think crowdfunding is a great platform, especially with film. I think the only drawback is that the most successful campaigns seem to be people or companies who already have a big following. So for independent people it’s really tricky. I’ve supported a few films on crowdfunding platforms. It’s great knowing that you contributed to that in some way and that will last forever.
Is independence crucial for you? Do you want to always have the freedom to curate your own smaller teams and be the ultimate decider on content or is corporate and big firm work equally important?
Jake: I’d love to get the chance to work on a massive production — The Walking Dead for example. That would be a dream come true. I’ve tried more times than I can remember to get involved in those kinds of things. Being an independent filmmaker is great for me. It means I can create and produce pretty much whatever I like. Sure, the audience for it is tiny in comparison and I’d love for people to see my work, but as long as I’m making films and doing what I love, I am really happy. I do enjoy being the ultimate decider on projects. It’s freeing in some ways. If I make something and I’m happy with it, that’s it, it’s done. [However], I’ve done a huge amount of corporate work for some massive clients, which is important too. I feel like it helps tighten your storytelling and speeds up your work flow. Being good and quick in the industry is like gold dust.
Since you mentioned The Walking Dead, where do you stand on the idea of living in the so-called “Golden Age” of television? Will there be net gains or net losses for persons focused exclusively on film and not TV series?
Jake: I think TV and film are now bigger than ever before, but with that comes mass produced projects and the “business” side of filmmaking. You can easily tell them apart though — the films made for the reason of telling a great story and the ones made for the sake of money. The great story always wins. I think TV series are coming up strong, especially with platforms such as Netflix. I don’t think TV or Film is bigger than the other. The whole industry of TV and Film is so competitive, [that] to get noticed, you need to have that big idea and be different. I’ll never forget something Robert Rodriguez said and that was not to copy anyone else, but to create your own style. If you copy an idea or a style solely for the money, you’ll get nowhere.
Does that mean that if someone approached you about turning The Youngest Pilot into a documentary series or a dramatic film, you would be open to the idea largely due to the stature of today’s film and television?
Jake: I’d definitely be open to it and I can picture it as a miniseries or even a film. If it was created in that sense, produced with a bigger budget, released into cinema or Netflix, I feel it would be huge. It’s definitely fresh, new, different, and exciting. I do feel that if more people knew about it and could imagine it how I can, they would get behind it and love the finished product. In today’s industry, if I was approached, I’d be excited. In this age, it’s an important subject matter that I hope would inspire young people to pursue their own dreams.
Assuming you’re successful in raising the funds and complete filming, what is the most difficult step after that? Distribution? Editing? Some post-production legal dance non-filmmakers are not aware of?
Jake: I really hope we get to go into production. I’ve got some amazing crew and people lined up. A lot of people can be daunted when it comes to editing. I’ve been editing for as long as I can remember, so I’m excited to get to that stage. It’s easy to learn how to operate the software and shortcuts. The tricky part is knowing how to create a story that will keep the viewer watching. Distribution can be tricky. It is time consuming for sure. There are some great platforms available for festival submissions like Film Freeway, which makes things easier. Getting it out there and seen is difficult, especially if you don’t pay a fortune for marketing. If we reach [our] goal or even exceed it, we’ll know what and how much we can do on the distribution stage.
Earlier, you talked about supporting newcomers and in fact, that led Ellie to you. I would like to end on what you feel is the best strategy for incoming filmmakers, especially those from working class backgrounds, to go about connecting with mentors and securing legitimate work opportunities.
Jake: It’s really important to support each other. We’re all here together. I’ve taught people how to edit and will continue to offer a helping hand for those seeking a footing in the film world. I’m not going to lie. It is really tough and competitive, but if you love it, then you shouldn’t ever give up. My advice would be to find your voice in filmmaking, go out, make something, practice, practice, practice, and find your style. See what you like creating and what stories touch you. Approach independent filmmakers and companies and get experience wherever you can. Just make something and do what you love. Once you start doing that, opportunities will open for you. Shortly after I left college there were a lot of times I wanted to give up. A lot of people asked why I didn’t have a normal job or why I should even bother. I kept at it, kept making, creating, and exploring this passion of mine. It led to some great opportunities and I found my style of filmmaking.
Seven things to know about Jake
How much he considers things like Brexit and politics in filmmaking: The government and Brexit will always be frustrating. At least they can’t take my vision or skills away from me.
Any subjects he won’t touch in film: I don’t think so. Maybe one day I’ll find out.
Inexpensive film equipment he recommends: Maybe a Canon 7D. Small, cheapish, HD, endless possibilities.
Whether he considers a 10 second Instagram clip to be a short film: I don’t think so. It would have to be spot on if it was to work.
His favourite 21st century documentary: Making a Murderer. Also anything Louis Theroux.
What he thinks will be the next big film technology advancement: The next step of drones. That’ll be sure to open some crazy doors.
His favourite set-up: Sony FS7 with a Sigma 18–35 lens. Handheld. I hate tripods.
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Interview has been condensed and edited for clarity