‘Porters’ dir. Dan Ridgeon, James Dougan & Max Cutting

Tells the story of those who work in one of the most unnoticed and unappreciated sectors of the British National Health Service. This short documentary offers a unique insight into the joint notions of life and death through the men whose job it is to deal with them on a daily basis.

Director: Dan Ridgeon, James Dougan & Max Cutting
Producer: Dan Ridgeon
DOP: Max Cutting
Editors: James Dougan & Max Cutting

Named the winner of the RFP, Hunger Magazine and Doc Heads £5K Documentary Film Competition.

You can find out more about Porters here.

C8: First off, how does it feel to win the £5K Documentary Film Fund from RFP, Hunger and Doc Heads?

JD: It feels great. To be given the freedom that comes with a proper budget has opened up a lot of possibilities that simply weren’t an option before.

C8: Do you have any idea as to what you might want to make with it?

JD: We do, although we don’t want to say too much just yet. At no point in the competition process did we actually expect to win the prize money so although we’ve been throwing ideas around we’re going to need to have a serious discussion to decide on a final project. We have been talking for some time about collaborating with a friend of ours who is a journalist in Cambodia. With the prize money this has become a real option for our next documentary.

C8: Tell us about ‘Porters’. How did you come across the subject matter and why did you feel compelled to tell this story?

JD: The father of our co-director and producer, Dan, works at Bournemouth hospital and it was actually originally him that mentioned that he thought the porters deserved to have their story told. After meeting with the porters over the course of two months it was clear that this was a film we were all very keen to make.

We felt compelled to tell their story as it gave us an opportunity to highlight the incredible work that they do. The porters are an essential part of the NHS and without them the entire system would come to a standstill. They’re not only responsible for transporting people around the hospital but also essential materials such as blood and oxygen. The porters have to frequently act as security when something goes wrong; it’s not uncommon for a doctor or nurse to be physically threatened or assaulted by a distressed or inebriated patient and when this happens they are the first to the scene to diffuse the conflict.

Another interesting part of the work they do is the relationships they form with the people they transport. They will often transport the same person around from ward to ward for weeks or even months on end and if you spend that much time with one another you inevitably get to know each other a bit. Patients can often get lonely during long hospital stays and having someone to talk to who isn’t your doctor or nurse can be an invaluable part of keeping fit and healthy mentally whilst being treated physically. A porter might be wheeling a patient to a potentially life-threatening operation and to be able to speak to someone about something as small as what they had for dinner last night or a bird they’ve been watching outside their window can be a really comforting thing.

If the worst happens and something does go wrong during the operation then it could easily be that same porter who transports the body to the mortuary. As spencer says at the end of the film, this has to be one of the hardest things they have to do.

Although the film does not explicitly address the current issues relating to the recent cuts and motions to privatise sections of the NHS we have been very pleased with the conversations we have had (and have overheard) with audiences after watching the documentary. We hope that the film contributes to a much wider debate, arguing the importance of keeping the NHS in tact by highlighting the incredible work that is being done by a dedicated work force in all departments who go to work everyday because they want to help people, not because they’re trying to get rich.

C8: Did the Porters open up quite naturally or did it take some investigating?

JD: Yes it was a very natural process. The porters seemed to relish the opportunity to take some time out of their day to talk to us.  The interviews that form the main structure of the film were actually meant to each only last an hour or so but these all went on to more like two or three hours because the guys had so much they wanted to tell us about. It’s not often they get to sit down and just talk about the highs and lows of their job and the things they have to deal with on a daily basis. It was an honour to get to hear their stories. In a way it felt a bit like therapy for us as well as them.

C8: What were the biggest obstacles during production and how did you overcome them?

JD: Probably trying to get a dissertation written at the same time. The whole project was planned, shot and edited in the course of about three months and throughout this we had to juggle the film and our other university work.

C8: Tell us about some of the challenges filming in a hospital. Was it difficult to get permission to film?

JD: We spoke to a number of different hospitals at the beginning of the project in England and Wales and it seemed as though it was going to be almost impossible to be granted access. At the moment hospitals across the country are being increasingly wary of whom they let in to film and the biggest challenge was convincing them that our motives were good. Luckily we were eventually given permission when the communications team at Bournemouth hospital recognized the potential that the idea had and made it easy for us to roam around large portions of the hospital freely over a two-week period.

There was a lot of waiting around on shoot days and that could get tedious. We would sit in a ward and wait for one of the porters to pick someone up to transport. There were some parts of the hospital that we didn’t have permission to film in so Dan would go ahead into the ward with the porter and discuss the film with the patient and why we wanted to make it. Dan would then ask them to sign a release form and get back to us quickly so we were ready to start recording. Some of the journeys through the hospital had to be done quickly for medical reasons so at no point could we intervene. If it was a short journey we might only have a minute to get our coverage before the patient was wheeled into another restricted area and then we would wait until there was another patient who was happy to appear on camera.

C8: What did you shoot on and what was the reasoning behind this choice?

JD: We shot on a Sony FS700 running into an Odyssey 7Q raw recorder. The FS700 was small enough to have on the shoulder all day and didn’t look too daunting to the patients and porters we were filming. It was also the cheapest option that gave us the ability to shoot in raw, which proved to be a big plus. Bournemouth hospital is actually set over two floors with long corridors. There’s a lot of natural light but also times when we would move into a completely artificially lit space in the same shot. Shooting in raw gave us the ability to change white balance in post. Max was pushed around in a wheelchair to get all of the moving shots with the camera on his shoulder and having the ability to change to higher frame rates with the camera helped a lot with stability.

C8: Can you tell us about some of the complexities of directing as a trio?

JD: It actually wasn’t very complex at all. We’re all friends and share a similar taste in films so that made it easy. Having the ability to constantly bounce ideas off one another always helps a project grow organically.

C8: How did you plan your aesthetic approach to the film?

JD: At the beginning of the project we watched a lot of documentaries set in hospitals and similar locations and decided early on that we didn’t want it to share the familiar hospital aesthetic that you might see in shows such as ‘One Born Every Minute’ and ‘24 Hours in A&E’ that are shot in a run-and-gun style. We wanted to take a more stylised approach that would create a contrast in the ways in which the porters are presented out on the corridors to the ways they’re presented in the porters lodge.

C8: The film was your graduation piece. How much assistance did you receive from the University while making it?

JD: Our tutors (and practicing documentary film makers), Chris Morris and John Burgan were a great help particularly at the beginning of the process when we were deciding on the structure and form of the documentary. So a big thank you to them!

C8: What is the essence of a good collaboration?

JD: It helps if you’re mates.

C8: Where would you like to see yourself in five years time?

JD: As long as we’re still making films and enjoying the process I think we’ll be happy with that.