UCL alumnus and filmmaker, Finnian Moore speaks to Pi Features Editor, Adil Sait, on his attitude to film, work and life.
What inspired you to be a filmmaker?
Finnian Moore (FM): I am a filmmaker and have just finished broadcasting the second season of my first TV show: The Ayala Show. It’s a live music programme that I direct, co-produce and co-own. It goes back to when I was at UCL, studying Biological Sciences and I was aiming to get into natural history filmmaking.
One of my major thoughts at the time was that communication of science to the public is sacred. In particular, communicating information about dangers facing the environment, and human culture in compelling ways. My thought process was basically this:
Who has the best job I can think of? My answer: David Attenborough. Ok. Great, I’ll aim for that.
My plan was to try and follow in his footsteps, but regularly re-assess what it actually is that I really want to achieve through work. I think it really is vital to do this in life.
Lifestyle is important. Do you really just want to be a rugged cameraman (or woman), and have that lifestyle of travelling and being out in the field? Do you want to be involved in the artistic expression of drama pieces?
How did you get involved in filmmaking and what advice did you receive?
FM: I once asked a budding BBC wildlife cameraman “How do I get into the Industry?” His response was “To be honest, I really don’t know! There doesn’t seem to be a way in… does there?”
Unsurprisingly, this was not wildly helpful to me, but as Monty Python said: always look on the bright side of life!
One of the obvious first steps is to look at a course in film making, or TV, though it may not guarantee a career. It felt altogether too conventional for me, and I made the decision to not do this. In contrast, I figured that in order to do science broadcasting I would study science in a more orthodox manner. Enter studying Biological Sciences at UCL.
How did your time at UCL influence and change your attitude towards filmmaking?
FM: Whilst at UCL, I got involved with The Lost World Project: a charity film making expedition to Venezuela’s Mount Roraima, to document the threats to its unique ecosystem. Jackpot. I got the chance to meet like-minded young people and some professionals in the TV industry. It was incredible – squeeze every bit you can from these opportunities.
During my time at UCL I also started a film company with a fellow student, Jennifer Pate (who I met on The Lost World Project), and a friend who had studied Film and TV production at Westminster, Alex J. Nunes. We volunteered our services to make promos, and film events such as conferences at UCL. We did a lot of work for free, which was impossible to avoid in the beginning – nobody wants to pay you to learn!
For every project I do I insist on learning new things, refining ideas, and chucking out old ones, or coming up with new ones – otherwise stagnation of some sort has occurred.
You can also learn a lot by throwing yourself into the deep end. There have been many times I felt like I really wasn’t qualified to be doing the film job that I had landed – but most people at some point in their careers go through these moments of mild existential crisis.
The climax of this film work whilst still studying at UCL was going to Zambia for month in the summer, and filming a documentary about a world first attempt to row in sculls down the full Zambian portion of the river Zambezi, from the northern boarder with Angola, to the Victoria Falls and Zimbabwe. On this trip I was part of the first film team ever to be permitted to film the king of Barosteland in his throne room. I also broke my ankle, and had to chop my own crutches out of a tree with a machete, and camp in the Zambian bush for two weeks before making it back to Lusaka, and flying home.
What challenges did you face when you left UCL and how did you deal with them?
FM: After UCL, I was a runner on a Channel 4 programme about eggs (which was sort of natural history), and then used my newly gained skills in biology to do some research work for a National Geographic documentary.
I either wanted to become a researcher, at Oxford Scientific Films, or I travel to Ireland with my Cousin Philip McKee, himself a theatre director, to make a film of our own.
I did not get the job, I did not get paid, and I did not take the conventional route… I went to Ireland; we spent 10 days making a kind of homage to Werner Herzog’s FitzCarraldo, and our mutual Irish heritage. It is still one of the very best pieces I have ever made. The film is called Stranger
How did you end up creating The Alaya Show and what advice would you give to UCL students planning on forging a career in creative industries such as filmmaking?
Since then, I have been forging my own path – making music videos, promos, and expanding my skills. Then, The Ayala Show landed in a moment of wonderful madness, when making a music video for my sister, Ayala, in Ireland.
We walked into the headquarters of the newly opened channel Irish TV, hoping that they might be interested in playing the music video on one of their shows. After talking to us, they asked if we would like to make them a show. We said yes.
Almost two years later, with a lot of all-nighters and only a handful of days off to boot, I’m editing the most exciting projects of my career, and the future looks bright!
To conclude: I did not get to where I am now by following any kind of standard route, and I don’t think a standard route necessarily even exists in film making. It’s important to ask yourself what you want to achieve in your working life, and try and work gradually towards it. Give your time for free to worthwhile projects and inevitably this will end in paid work, as long as you are constantly developing your skills, your ideas, and your ethos.
Image Credit: Sprout PR