About Stanley Films
Robert Crampton of Stanley Films.
Robert is an award-winning photographer and filmmaker with over 20 years experience, working across advertising and editorial for the likes of Guinness, Martell, Oxfam, Inntravel, South Australia Tourism, American Express, Saab, and Jose Cuervo, among many more. His work has appeared in many magazines including Jamie, Food & Travel, Eurostar’s Metropolitan, Coast, Country Life, and The Simple Things; newspapers such as The Guardian, Telegraph, and Observer Magazine; and on TV & radio and cinema screens internationally. He formed Stanley Films in 2014 to bring his distinctive creative style to brands and individuals looking for a more personal creative approach to film and photography.
Born in Lancashire, he now lives in rural Oxfordshire and has a studio in Chipping Norton, but works across the UK and internationally.
How and when did you become interested in filmmaking?
When I was about six or seven I tried to make a Super8 cine camera out of one of my dad's cigarette packets. Why, I do not know. But I got my hands on a video camera (a real one) at school and instantly fell in love with putting moving pictures to sounds – I remember a sequence where one of the caretakers was cleaning windows, which we filmed from quite a distance, and in the edit we placed some simple piano music under it. It looked like he was a marooned astronaut waving at us from another planet. I was hooked from that moment.
Film/video is increasingly important for any brand. And it's no longer the preserve of brands with big marketing spends. Platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, Vine and Instagram are direct channels to an audience actively looking for something to watch, share and engage with. Shared content has eroded the passive 'them and us' of what advertising used to be like. People have very different notions of what a brand is these days – and it's never been easier and harder – nor more important – for a brand to connect with its customers. So how does film help? Well, you can tell stories in film that are immediate, and work on a number of different levels – but you do need to do it well. Bad content is a turn off, literally. And YouTube is full of bad content at the same time as being the second most used search engine, after Google. So it's not all about being found: it's about having something worth saying – something that moves a brand's story on, inspires, informs, and entertains.
Give us a brief outline of your road to filmmaking.
I actually started in theatre, at university in Newcastle, writing and directing. Access to the tools of filmmaking wasn't as easy then as it is today. I eventually got a work placement at Yorkshire TV in Leeds, including a spell in the Documentary department and went filming with Barry Cockcroft on the follow up to his BAFTA-winning Hannah Hauxwell films ('Too Long a Winter', and 'A Winter Too Many'). And then working in advertising meant I was around scripts, storyboards, cameras, producers and directors on a frequent basis. As Creative Director in some large ad agencies I really enjoyed working on great campaigns, shooting stills and making films for TV, web, and cinema. For me, it was always the most interesting part of the job. So it became my job.
What influences your filmmaking?
There's a very long list of films and directors I could rattle off. But I keep coming back to the work of Geoffrey Jones. A bit of an unsung hero, he worked within the commercial/corporate sector in the 1960s & 70s making films for British Transport, Shell and others. A pioneer of what we now call branded content. His ideas and editing techniques show how creative 'corporate' films can be if you try. The story behind his film 'Snow' for the railways is inspirational: seeing how the huge amount of snowfall in the winter of 1963 had brought the railway system to a halt, he grabbed his camera (a 16mm, nothing fancy) and went out to film how it'd all get cleared. He just went out, found the story, and made the film. Photography-wise, I love and am constantly inspired by the work of Bill Brandt, Irving Penn, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Jane Bown... and contemporary photographers such as Alys Tomlinson, Paul Hart, Sally Mann.
What are your influences on a day-to-day basis?
Time, budget, and the weather! I'm actually very flexible in just about every other way. You wouldn't believe some of the places I've had to film in, and I like to think that no matter the circumstances I can get the best out of the situation. It's just sometimes you need to be a little more creative! And not mind getting cold, wet, sun-burned, eaten by flies, muddy, etc etc. Time is obviously a key factor: schedules are the backbone of things, and yes there may be a degree of flexibility, but at some point someone wants a film to publish for a reason, so I do everything I can to make that happen. With me, it's never a case of settling for a 'that'll do', more a case of working until I find a 'that's it' moment.
What kind of equipment/technology do you use to make your films?
My go-to camera is the Canon C100 with a Ninja 2 recorder for broadcast quality footage. It's a brilliant camera, the image-quality is lovely - soft, filmic, cinematic... the footage feels like a human eye has been involved. Obviously I use others if the job needs them, but the C100 is the 'house' camera. I've got the very wonderful A7rii – which is probably one of the best stills cameras around today, and shoots a very nice 4k image for video when I need it ...though personally I find the vividness loses some of the sense of story-telling, strangely, I don't know why. For me the focus is always on the story the images and sounds tell you when they're put together, and technology is always a tool, not the hero. I'm still a big fan of film cameras too. I've got an old 8mm Bolex and a 16mm Krasnogorsk which have been employed form time to time. And a Super8 too (not made from fag packets). And I love suing film for my stills work too – there's a texture and quality that you just can't really get with digital, or replicate.. so I still work with a fantastic Mamiya RB67 for medium-format film photography, as well as a large format 5x4 view camera. Film takes time. And time is worth taking. As for post-production I'm a big, huge, complete advocate and fan of the Adobe Creative Cloud... Premiere Pro, After Effects, Lightroom, Photoshop, InDesign.. It's a superb suite of software built by and for creatives.
How do you find the ‘story’ for a film?
I get to know the people first. It's very much a personal service I offer so I like to take time to understand the background, get to know the personalities involved, and really get to the heart or the essence of the story that needs to be told. There's always a great story to tell, if you let it be found.
What comes first when you make a film?
A tingle. That sense of 'what if...?' The moment an idea lands and things spark is always exciting. But I know you need to be practical too, to make things happen. So, next is a plan. Then a budget. Timings and resources, scripts, locations and everything else hang off that original plan. Very often I'm there working out the plan with the client, working through what we want to say, how best to say it, and then making it happen. I'm very hands-on really. I think my clients appreciate that it's me, soup to nuts. It's a joy to see a project all the way through pre-production, production and editing to publishing it online.
In your eyes, what makes a ‘good' film?
In a sentence: one that takes the viewer somewhere they weren't before they pressed 'play', and for that while nothing else exists.
What gets you excited, creatively?
One word: possibility. What is possible? Where's that going to take us? The idea lands. Where is it going to go?
How would you describe your style as a filmmaker?
I think I come to filmmaking from a photographer's point of view. Some people do say my films are like moving photographs. I actually quite like that idea. We call the films I make for Inntravel 'Slow Films' because they're about exploring their 'Slow Holidays', but I do like the idea of being a 'slow film maker', where slow isn't about speed, it's about time, and detail, and craft. In photography there's the exposure triangle of shutter (speed), aperture (light) and ISO (film sensitivity), and I like that idea of inter-balance when it comes to making films... of time, light, and sensitivity. Film vs Photography? I'm very happy passing from one genre of image making to the other. It's two sides of the same coin. And being a Gemini helps.
What films/TV/books did you enjoy when you were growing up?
I met Elizabeth Beresford, who wrote the Wombles books, so I was a big fan of Orinoco and co, plus all the Small Films stuff – anything Oliver Postgate put his magic fingers to. But my filmic education came from watching 'Belle & Sebastian' during summer holidays, and those late-night director seasons they used to have on BBC2.
Something most people don’t know about you.
I used to work for Oxfam, as a writer. I was lucky enough to go see some of their work in Senegal and Zambia, and travelled across India by myself for five weeks with a notebook and camera, from the earthquake zone in Maharashtra to the quarries of Bihar, where children as young as six were scrabbling rocks out of the earth with their hands – Oxfam were there helping with literacy programmes to help the kids have a better future. It puts things in perspective a bit when you've had a hard day filming.
What advice would you give to a budding filmmaker/photographer?
Framing. Getting the shape of the image right in the viewfinder, telling your story in the frame, is one of the few things you can't really fix in post-production. And get good sound, too... (yup, I've learned that one the hard way).
Do you listen to music or the radio while you work? What are you currently listening to?
Well, not when I'm shooting or editing. But doing the admin or working in Lightroom or Photoshop, or the darkroom, I'm a big fan of 6Music and Radio 3.
Do you have a muse?
Tweed, my Border Terrier.
3 essentials you always pack for film shoots?
Battery chargers; spare batteries; and spare spare batteries.
Make mine a….
If it's tea, it's Yorkshire. Coffee, espresso - best make it a double. And if you insist, for something a little stronger a Jameson's will do nicely.