Face to Face with... Caroline Rowland
Caroline Rowland talks about her directorial debut, FIRST, which follows first-time competitors at London 2012.
Caroline Rowland of New Moon Films has worked in advertising on both the agency side and in production as a producer and exec producer, but for her first directorial role she took on a documentary looking at a selection of first-time Olympians competing at London 2012.
FIRST - released on DVD next week, the trailer to which can be seen above - follows competitors including Chad le Clos, Laura Trott, Missy Franklin and Qui Bo and, below, Rowland discusses the genesis of the film and what it was like working in the hear of the competion.
Where did the idea for First come from?
I became interested in making the Official Film of the London 2012 Olympic Games in 2005, after making the films for London’s successful bid and began to explore the feasibility of acquiring the rights. It took 6 years, but by the end of 2011, we reached an agreement in principle with the IOC and spent the first half of this year refining the rights agreement whilst developing the creative approach to an Official Film that is intended to shift the emphasis on being a retrospective, to being a reflection of the experience of the Olympian.
The title FIRST is not really intended to reflect an athletes’ finishing position in their event – although there is an inevitable play on words! This is a film about first-time Olympians. The title is intended to reflect the cast - young people who are high-achievers in their respective sports, but haven’t yet been part of the gathering of super-heroes from so many nations and sports that is the Olympic Games
How did you decide which Olympians to follow?
Casting this film would have benefitted from having a crystal ball! We started with 4,600 possible first time Olympic qualifiers. That intimidating spreadsheet was then broken down by continent and country, then by sport, then by the interesting stories and finally, the very practical consideration of access to the athletes in the weeks leading up to the London Olympic Games.
Were they all open to the idea when you approached them?
Coaches, managers, sporting federations and NOC’s were all incredibly supportive of the film and the idea of featuring first-time Olympians, and were also very helpful in assisting us with gaining access to athletes that were slightly more difficult to get hold of. As filming took place during the lead up to the Games, it was important that we were respectful of the athletes' training schedules (some athletes were still qualifying at the time to be eligible to compete), but they were all incredibly accommodating and were excited to be part of the film.
How much access did you have to them and how did you approach the project?
In the six weeks leading up to the London Olympic Games, I spent time with the athletes we had selected in their home environments in Britain, Ireland, the US, South Africa, Kenya, India and Australia. Rather than simply recording structured interviews, I chose to take an organic approach to learning about their stories. During the time available with each of them, I was able to gather over 60 hours of interview-type material, but gathered in a combination of structured interviews in a variety of their domestic and training environments, ‘off-the-cuff’ conversations and discussions with families, coaches and friends. I always wanted the athletes to narrate the film and allowing them to explore their own stories by recounting them to me, really gave me wonderful material from which to build a story of aspiration and belief.
In respect of filming at the Games, as a rightsholder we were given access in the same way that the broadcasters are allocated positions in the venues. As a very small rightsholder, we were a long way down the list for the premium camera positions, although in many cases this has contributed to FIRST giving an alternative view of events. Our positions and the Alexa cameras with myriad lenses, gave us the opportunity to capture the action in an unexpected and unusually intimate way.
I wanted to bring a 21st Century perspective to the genre and also a less masculine insight into elite sport. Female directors are enormously under-represented in the genre of Olympic (and sport) films and I’ve really tried to find a humanitarian, visceral insight into the soul of the athlete that isn’t entirely preoccupied with winning.
You’ve worked in advertising on the agency side, and as a producer and exec producer but this is your directorial debut; how daunting a prospect was it?
It was a risk to take the approach of using first-time Olympians as the Olympic Games is well known as the place where world champions face defeat and novices taste glory. But that was an important part of the idea. In retrospect, there was probably never any doubt that this was the film I was destined to make. I’m passionate about the drama and humanity of sport and my persistence in trying to make the film was entirely driven by the stories I knew would lie at the heart of young athletes – and at the heart of every one of us.
And how different is working on a documentary feature to working in the ad world?
In some ways it has been the antithesis and in others, very much the same. Working in the ad world has definitely given me a discipline and focus that really helped in making this documentary. Remaining true to a single-minded idea is very much the heart of advertising and when working with 600 hours of material, it's absolutely essential!
We all now know how successful London 2012 was but were you confident that the Olympics would be a hit?
I never had a moments doubt!
What was the hardest part of the project?
Managing to be in three places at once with three crews filming at Olympic venues every day during the Games! (including venues outside of the Olympic Park).
What are you working on next?
I'm in talks about another documentary film about the New York Cosmos, but am also hoping to have the opportunity to direct ads and perhaps a fictional feature - a romantic comedy appeals!
Did you know that you can follow these people? You can follow any of the below Creative Connections to get updates whenever they are mentioned on shots.net. Simply go to their profile and hit the "Follow this person" button.