Chris Terrill: One Man And His Camera

New dates TBC

Chris Terrill: One Man And His Camera

Date: (awaiting dates)

Duration: 1 day
Capacity: Approx. 15-20 participants
Fee: £120  10% Early Bird discount available for limited period

Chris Terrill, a trained anthropologist, is one of the country’s leading documentary makers with a string of awards to his name. He has a reputation for making revealing films about distinct communities in unusual places - anything from cruiseships to prisons to West End theatres. He also has a growing reputation as a thoughtful adventurer: an unconventional presenter figure who lets his pictures do the talking.

In this 1-day workshop, specifically designed for The London Film School, Chris Terrill shares his experiences and offer tips born of his pioneering work as a director/cameraman/recordist.

“I’m passionate about recording my experiences – translating my personal experiences into film. It’s what I do. It’s what I have to do. Fascinated by hazard – man-made and natural – I like to seek out extreme situations because that is where I find people at their best and their worst. I take my camera into life and death situations that will reveal most to me about the human condition." Chris Terrill  


Using his own films as examples, Chris will discuss the great advantages of self-shooting – including the great editorial and storytelling benefits. 

Bringing a range of equipment he uses in the field, Chris will explain many of the pitfalls and disadvantages when self-shooting is practiced without thought and preparation, and without a proper understanding of its implications as a method of observation. He will also highlight the serendipitous nature of working alone - as long as you have the courage to change tack at a moment's notice! 

Chris will have with him his kit pack - a compact rucksack holding the complete kit he has devised and developed over his years of self-shooting. He will unpack it, and demonstrate each piece of equipment, including how it is selected and adapted for the single user. The kit includes camera, casing and mount; lenses, grips and mono-pod; the array of protective coverings that can be created and applied, to ensure the equipment woks in extreme temperatures, in sand-storms and high seas; how to mount and carry sound recorders, with setting displays that can be monitored while shooting. The kit also includes back-up sound and camera, to ensure continuity of filming under the most physically challenging conditions. Each piece of equipment allows constant control over levels in changing conditions, while enabling the filmmaker to maintain constant engagement with the subject.  

Single-person shooting, with practical control of the equipment, allows the filmmaker the opportunity to connect with subjects to a degree unusual for a filmmaker working with a crew, however small. This intimacy also carries with it responsibilities towards the subject, and to the veracity of the documentary form. It allows the ability to follow hunches and explore possibilities; to write with sound and vision, as a journalist writes with a pen.

Other topics include:

  • Interviewing techniques whilst operating the camera – establishing a relationship of trust, using the camera sensitively and creative use of eye-lines and lighting. 
  • Filming techniques developed by Chris in the field – hand held techniques, tripod and monopod techniques.
  • Ongoing refinement of these techniques – both technical (sound and vision) and directorial/creative. 
  • Filming in very extreme and challenging environments – war zones, extreme weather conditions, social unrest, at sea, under the sea and at altitude. Points will be illustrated by film examples and demonstrations using real equipment.
  • Customising equipment to perform better for the solo operator – in particular, sound recording. 
  • The translation of rushes into the final film – the relationship with the editor.
  • Q&A – your chance to get clear, focused advice from Chris.

In preparation for the Q&A session, those who sign up will be asked to submit a few details in advance. For those already involved in filmmaking Chris would like to know what kind of projects you’re involved with, and how you want to incorporate solo operating techniques into your work.

Tutor profile: Chris Terrill, Documentary Maker


Chris Terrill's workshops at LFS

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Back in 1996 Chris Terrill, already a seasoned BBC documentary producer, asked his department if he could experiment with one of the new lightweight video cameras to see if he could use it to make a film on his own – without a conventional crew. This was a highly unorthodox request at the time and the reaction was far from enthusiastic. But Terrill got his way and secured a commission to make a one-off film about Soho as a one man band. This was strictly an experiment with no guarantee of transmission.

But so successful was this experiment that the one-off film ended up being a twelve part series, SOHO STORIES, that went out on BBC2 to critical and popular acclaim. The films were intimate and personal in a way that had not been seen before. SOHO STORIES proved to be a seminal work that revolutionised factual filmmaking. It was also considered the first of the modern docu-soaps, being transmitted three times a week over four weeks. It more than trebled the average audience for its schedule slot.

“It was the most liberating experience of my career. I was able to cast off the shackles – not only of an accompanying crew but also many of the so called rules of filmmaking that had been restricting our spontaneous creativity for so long. We had become hamstrung by filmmaking conventions and so I was delighted to be given the chance to strike out on my own in SOHO STORIES." Chris Terrill

SOHO STORIES won a Royal Television Society Award for Innovation.

Chris continued to refine his ‘one man band’ techniques in subsequent blockbusters such as THE CRUISE and JAILBIRDS on BBC1 and countless series and one-offs ever since, on all the major channels. He is still breaking technical and creative boundaries as a single operator – particularly in extreme environments.

With a zest for adventure Terrill has filmed all over the world from war zones to famine zones and from the bottom of oceans to the tops of mountains. He has gone undercover as an animal trader and a woman trader to expose the real bad guys. He has filmed many times with the Royal Marines Commandos on the front line in Afghanistan and, as part of his immersion, become the only civilian to pass the gruelling commando tests to win his own green beret. He has pitted himself against hurricanes, tornadoes and firestorms in his search for adventure and, above all, the most compelling human stories about people in extremis. 

But Terrill does not limit himself to the obvious TV adventures and has taken his camera into many places just to seek out stories that seldom see the light of day: He went to prison for 8 months in order to understand how prisoners feel and think; he worked in the sex industry to see how pimps and prostitutes interact and operate; he trained with a premiership football team to understand the mindset of a professional footballer.

"There are those who say I have a death wish. Not true. I have a healthy respect for danger....but I love it too. Not just the adrenalin charge that comes with it but because it affords me a very different perspective of our extraordinary planet and those who inhabit it." Chris Terrill