Marko Randelovic–self-taught documentary filmmaker
(but not just another guy with a camera)
When self-taught documentary filmmaker Marko Randelovic agreed to be interviewed recently for my series Q&A: Creatives Speak, I was excited! Marko documents people in different communities around the world. I first saw one of his short films about development in Bali, Indonesia and had many questions I wanted to ask him. Finally, I’ve got the chance! Be sure to keep an eye on Marko’s website, because he’s planning to share a new film tentatively titled Fighter very soon. It’s about the history of Muay Thai boxing but it’s set in the modern world, as narrated by an old ex-fighter.
Have you been conscious of your creativity since you were young? Do you have any early memories that show creative expression was important to you?
I remember always having an interest in making little videos. Usually, this stemmed from an urge to help raise awareness about causes or injustices in the world. I think this was due to being brought up in a mixed British and Serbian family and growing up in the 90s. I was well aware of all the wars and bombings taking place in the former Yugoslavia and wanted other people to know what was going on.
When I was around 15 back in 2006/2007, in the very early YouTube days, I made several videos on Windows Movie Maker about innocent Serbian civilians being bombed by NATO. Exposing how the Kosovo region was taken away from the country, I wanted people to be aware of what I considered grave injustices.
I know this is an incredibly serious way to start the interview and answer the question but I really think it’s the reason why I started to create. Since then, I’ve always been motivated to create when something really important is at stake or there’s a really significant meaning behind something that everyone could learn from. I tend to have much more faith in humanity these days and instead of trying to single-handedly take down the global military alliance of NATO, I pick smaller grassroots causes which I feel I can help raise awareness for and in turn, positively impact people’s lives.
Aside from my early interest in filmmaking, I had a couple other forms of creative expression in the past. I used to write quite a lot and also was really interested in house/techno music, DJed all the time and threw parties in clubs.
Although I enjoyed these creative pursuits, I never fully engaged or felt at home with them like I do when I’m making films. But who knows, maybe I’ll get bored of filmmaking and move onto a career in tap dancing next?
How did you become interested in photojournalism and film?
I’ve always been incredibly curious, I’m extremely interested in both history and current affairs. I’m also interested in culture and the world-at-large so I think it was a natural progression for me to work in photojournalism and film. I’d graduated with a degree in politics but really did not want to be a slimy politician or anything like that. I just enjoyed learning about the way the world works.
Although I’d shown interest in film/video at a young age messing around on Windows Movie Maker, it wasn’t until around 2 1/2 years ago at age 24 that I actually started making amateur documentaries. I’d become disillusioned with the music scene and I was tired of endlessly pitching articles to publications. I had just been sacked from a job in finance; I was actually relieved because I was only doing it to pay the bills. Something had to change….
At the time I didn’t even own a camera or know how to use one but luckily I had friends who did. My experience editing as a youngster on Windows Movie Maker enabled me to quickly understand more complex editing software and put together a short documentary my friend filmed with me about the far-right of British politics. Then I bought a camera myself and learned filming techniques and how to use it through YouTube and never looked back.
That’s so interesting that you’re self-taught. How do you find stories to document? How long do you usually work with your subjects? Do you use fixers? How do you create a strong narrative, while staying true to your subject’s perspective?
Being the nosy bastard that I am and a big Wikipedia buff, I’m always researching the history and culture of places before I go. Thus I come up with ideas for stories sometimes before I even land.
But other stories come more organically. I do like to live somewhere, get a feel for the place, talk to people and see what stories I can discover this way.
A huge part of me being able to do my work is the local people I meet who are willing to help conduct interviews for me and help me transcribe them after. It’s important to conduct the interviews in the individual’s first language to let them express their truest emotions, so a good translator is key.
These people who help me translate always become great friends and without them, none of the films would be possible. In the past, they have also suggested more stories too, so in a way they become fixers. Of course, I pay them for their help but it feels more like friends working together on a project rather than just colleagues.
Could you talk a bit about the whole process of making a short film; before you start shooting, during, and then after filming. What is your approach to editing? And, once a film is finished, how do you market it?
Before I start shooting I have a rough story in my head. I plan my questions to the subject accordingly in order to shape out a story arc. However, I often find that the story is not exactly how I envisioned it, but this is not a problem at all.
I am there to document the subject’s story, not make my own. It’s just up to me to express it in the most meaningful way. It’s important to make sure I’m nimble and able to adapt to anything I discover which contradicts with my previously-planned story.
Usually, the person who is translating for me will understand it’s important to capture the subject’s emotions. They ask my questions accordingly. Sometimes they pry for more information too, if they are really good. I try to leave them to conduct the interview themselves after giving them an in-depth briefing. I trust them to do the job. However they often ask me questions or if something important is said and I can tell by the tone of voice, I will ask to hear what was said.
After the interview, we will begin filming the scenes that I originally thought would relate to the story. If however the story has changed or important new aspects have emerged, my translator friend will tell me. For example, the healer in my film Balian talked about the ancient “Usada” scripts passed down from generations, I had no idea what Usada was but when my translator told me they had spoken about this, I knew we had to film the Balian reading the scripts.
If you’re interested to learn more about my film-making process, I wrote about it process here.
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The Joys of Editing
Editing, the word makes me shudder a little bit. My approach to editing is probably really unconventional and that’s why it takes me so long and can become quite stressful. I struggle with all the different possibilities I can create and the endless refinement which is possible. Perfectionism is something I struggle with. I’ve tried planning the edit on paper first, but I never really seem to be happy with the end product.
For me, it’s about having the time and room to sketch and experiment in the edit. But I don’t know how long I can keep this up – it means that it can take me several months just to edit 5 minutes worth of film. This method has helped me to create some abstract edits and really squeeze the best I can out of my footage, but in the future, I may have to start planning my edits much, much more. It’s all a learning process though, right?
How to share the finished product
When it comes to the release, my first port of call is Facebook. That’s pretty unconventional in this industry. Most filmmakers will head to Vimeo to release their film. (I release there too.) But for me, nothing beats the reach I achieve through uploading my film directly to Facebook.
Having worked at two of the largest social media companies in the world, I became well aware of the ins and outs of Facebook’s news feed algorithm. One thing it loves is videos directly uploaded to Facebook. If you post a link to a Vimeo or YouTube video it simply isn’t going to perform as well. Not only that, people have to leave Facebook to watch it. That may not sound like a mammoth task, but in today’s noisy world of 24/7 content, I think we creators should feel lucky to have anyone’s attention in the first place. People are less likely to click a link through to a different website to watch a video than to watch one that is hosted right on Facebook and has already started auto-playing.
The sharing ability of social media is huge too, using likes, tags, and shares, for example. Vimeo and YouTube’s audiences are limited. However, with Facebook, you can get your film out to people who would otherwise never come across it.
Besides sharing the films on my own Facebook page, I’ve gained higher engagement by sharing them in Facebook groups which are related to my film topics.
I also occasionally send my work off to film festivals using FilmFreeway!
Does telling stories about other people ever tell you anything about yourself?
I think telling stories about other people really reflects my own curiosities. The type of stories I tell shows what really moves me as a human being. I don’t want to be defined by my work but I think it’s a reflection of my personality, ideals, and ethics.
Most importantly, I try to end all my films on a positive note for the future. I think this also tells a little bit about myself. I’m definitely an optimist. I believe in seeking out great things. I strongly believe that people can overcome great odds!
Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Does this play into how you interact with your subjects?
I’m definitely an extrovert. Having to just go somewhere and make these kinds of films means I get a lot of human interaction. However; at times, I do like my alone time where I can reflect, usually edit and listen to music. But in the end, I’m always yearning for people to interact with no matter where I am.
You work on projects around the world. How have you made it possible to work nomadically?
I’m lucky to work as a freelance video editor for several publications. I create short informational videos for them based on articles and current stories. These publications are usually in line with my own thinking, too. It’s nice to be able to do this kind of work from anywhere in the world as long as I have a wifi connection.
I also sell exclusive and non-exclusive distribution licenses for my films. It’s hard to explain how grateful I am for this, it means I can work on my own passion projects and make money from them. I think this is such a lucky position to be in as a creative. I should probably count my blessings more often.
The attention I’ve got from these passion projects has, in turn, enabled me to pick up commercial work around the world, working with Singapore Airlines, for example.
I manage my time well between the three and luckily seem to be making it work for now. It’s important to be able to pay the bills. Also, the line of work we are in demands investment to keep up with the latest technology.
What are you working on currently?
At the moment I am back at home in the UK editing some films I shot in Asia last year. The one I’m editing at the moment is about a retired Muay Thai boxer, tentatively titled, Fighter. It reflects on the state of the martial art in today’s world.
Are there any ideas you wish you had time to act on but haven’t yet? Do you think it will become possible to explore them in the future?
There’s nothing specific I wish I would have done already. There are things I want to do in the future, though. I’d like to create a feature-length documentary but I think that will come with time. I really want to work on some comedy too. I always enjoy making silly videos and watch lots of funny stuff. It’s a nice break from the weightiness of documentary filmmaking.
Do you consider yourself an artist or something else entirely? What makes one person an artist and one not? Do you think artists should starve in order to be true to only their practice?
I just bought a camera and watched YouTube tutorials on how to use it. But, I think society puts pressure on us to define ourselves. So I tell people I’m a filmmaker and identify as one on my social media. Unfortunately, I don’t know if I’d get much work if I just called myself ‘Someone who bought a camera and watched YouTube.’
But without being too existential about it, at its rawest form, an artist could be someone who has an urge to create and share things. If that’s the case, then I’m an artist.
Art’s not worth dying over or living a terrible life because of, though.
You’ve got to be able to believe that your work is important so that you keep creating. At the same time though, it’s essential to realize films are just some pixels moving around on the screen, and really not as sacred as your ego may be trying to make out.
What challenges have you faced in your creative work? How do you stick with it when the going gets tough?
Editing is a challenge for me, as I mentioned earlier. Forcing myself to sit down for hours on end to carve out scenes, refine the pacing and form the story has been a challenge. I feel it will become less stressful the more I do it and learn to adapt my method.
Another challenge I have faced is living alone in places while producing my films. It can be a little lonely at times. Although I make friends in the new places I visit, I really enjoy being around people I relate to. And that’s not always possible. Still, it’s not a big enough challenge to dissuade me from the work. And I’ve made some really great friends along the way!
How can people view and stay up-to-date with your creative work?
Tell us something we don’t know about you yet:
I once worked for a Chinese mafia boss and you can read about that crazy experience here.
Marko Randelovic is an award-winning filmmaker and photojournalist who documents the world. He travels nomadically, often working with charities and organizations to tell interesting cultural stories through the eyes of local people.
He wants to provide an insight into the inspiring lives of people from across the world, the problems they face and how they strive to overcome such challenges.
Marko is a strong believer in the power of humanity to overcome great odds. He tries to capture this remarkable trait wherever he finds it.