Researching in the world of factual TV

francis longurstAfter gaining work experience at the BBC, Francis Longhurst found employment at the award-winning factual production company Minnow Films and has been there ever since and was recently promoted to assistant producer.

Speaking to The Knowledge, he gives us an insight to what it was like to work on compelling documentaries such as Channel 4's much talked about Dogging Tales and the plane crash film Fatal Flight 447: Chaos in the Cockpit - his most challenging project to date.


How did you become a researcher and why?

I only started thinking about a career in TV towards the end of my history degree, at which point panic hit - I realised I had no idea what to do with my life. After having a long hard think, I hit upon the idea of trying out documentaries, as they offered a creative outlet where my interest in other cultures, times and people could be actively indulged.

I subsequently applied to the BBC work experience scheme and managed to land a month-long placement at the BBC Storyville offices. This led to a couple of days logging footage at Minnow Films, which happened to coincide with the office manager leaving the company.

After being interviewed I stepped into her role and have worked myself up to researcher level from there.


What are the main challenges of being a researcher?

It very much depends on what researcher role you are required to fill - I've worked variously as an archive researcher, development researcher and production researcher. Each role requires different skills and presents different challenges.

Generally though, I find the toughest challenges include dealing with tight deadlines, being presented with last minute changes and the fact that there are only 24 hours in the day!


What is the most challenging programme you've worked on?

Anyone familiar with Minnow's output will know we specialise in quite sensitive subject matter; over the last three years I've worked on films that explore topics including teenage killings, mental health breakdowns and gang stabbings.

In terms of steep learning curves, perhaps the most challenging was a film about an airplane crash [Fatal Flight 447: Chaos in the Cockpit, Channel 4], with the film's short turnaround requiring me to become an expert in aviation safety over the course of a weekend.


What's the most memorable job you've worked on?

Over the past year, I've been working on a film about conservationists that has involved shooting around the world. This has involved being heli-dropped around Hawaii, night time frog searching in Ghana and having monkeys urinate on my tent in a remote corner of Kenya. These shoots remind me why I came into the industry, and demonstrate how the power of having a camera by your side really does open doors to experiences that money can't buy.


How is the role of the researcher changing?

Though I've only worked in TV for three years, I've seen how the huge leaps in camera technology have completely changed the industry. It's now easier than ever to shoot beautiful footage alone or with minimal crew, but because of this, researchers (in docs at least) are often required to do a lot of differe