Following David Harewood‘s recent comments about ‘diverse’ talent finding success easier in the States, we caught up with Claire Ratinon a documentary film maker who recently moved to the Big Apple.
What did you do before you moved to the US?
I started working in TV straight out of university through the Channel 4 Researcher Training Programme, with Century Films. I’ve worked on all kinds of productions from The Wright Stuff to Crimewatch but I always knew that documentary was where I wanted to end up.
How did you come to be in New York?
It was a spontaneous moment of madness. I was having a less-than-fun time working on a production and to give myself a light at the end of the tunnel, I just booked a ticket to New York. It was initially for a month, but that turned into three and then six, and now I’ve been here for a year and a half! The fact I ended up working here is a very happy side effect, but it certainly didn’t come easily.
How did you do it?
I met two incredible filmmakers through Craigslist – Jennilyn Merten and Tyler Measom, who are the directors of the feature doc, Sons of Perdition – and I started helping them out with their projects. Craigslist also led me to Emmy award-winner Aaron Lubarksy, who I now work with.
I’ve ended up doing all kinds of different things and expanding my experience through working on their various projects. But as you expect in the world of independent filmmaking, you have to do a lot of work for free if you want to learn and progress. I realised early on that if I stayed in New York, I could take what I already knew about producing TV and learn about what is involved in making films independently.
What are you working on now?
I’ve been producing for Flicker Flacker Films for over a year now and have been working on a range of projects in production and in development. We’re currently producing a corporate documentary and developing a documentary about Mars.
We are also running a non-profit afterschool programme that teaches young people to make short documentary films. Old School Films is an intergenerational project that will connect students in Brooklyn with seniors in the community who will be the subject of the films they produce. I’m excited to see it happen as it’s no easy feat starting an afterschool project from scratch, and it feels truly satisfying channeling professional skills into something worthwhile.
I’ve found that in New York, interesting projects are all around if you look hard enough and keep talking to people. I have a few exciting projects on the horizon that I’m really looking forward to get to work on.
Would you recommend others to make the move to the US?
If someone asked me whether they should move to New York to work in production, I’d tell them to make the decision in a more sensible way than I did! Although leaving the UK on a whim was an exciting whirlwind (I’d never even visited and didn’t know a soul when I arrived), I’m certain there are less precarious – and nerve- wracking – ways of approaching a life change this big. I’m very lucky that things have worked out for me in the way they have. Getting to where I am today is the result of good timing, great people, hard work, dumb luck and a resilience I didn’t realise I had or needed.
This city is brimming with energy, but it’s also tough – it will put you through the wringer and force you to be certain that you really want to be here. You have to be brave, willing to talk to anyone and everyone you can, and committed to giving it your best shot.
Is diversity an issue?
New York’s an incredibly diverse city in a way quite unlike London and I haven’t found diversity to be an issue for me here, neither personally nor professionally. If anything, it’s the fact that I’m from the UK with a very noticeable British accent that differentiates me the most. It’s a novel trait to many and despite the pronunciation conflicts, it has allowed me to communicate with a level of gravitas that feels different from when I was working in the UK.
Claire Ratinon Documentary film maker.