Dimitri Doganis, producer on The Imposter, on his love of extraordinary true stories and why being nice goes a long way.
Published 7 February 2013.
What first inspired you to get into your craft?
When I was a teenager I watched a documentary about graffiti and rival graffiti writers in New York. I must have seen it about half a dozen times, watching it over and over again on VHS. It transported me into a world that was really there, but was a million miles away from my life. The people in it were real, their lives were the story, and I was captivated. The idea that these kids, who were my age, had lives so exciting and so different from my own, blew me away. And then I realised that I wanted to find other people like that, and get close to them - partly for the adventure of just doing it, but mostly so that I could tell their stories, and maybe have a similar effect on other people.
How did you first break into the industry?
My first job really was as a news desk assistant in a 24 hour cable news channel (now closed). That really meant being a junior researcher for the real journalists. But I managed to talk my way onto the camera training course. I borrowed a camera on a weekend to do some practising, went to a march that turned into a riot and my footage ended up on the ITN news at 10 (it was that long ago!). So they started giving me a little more responsibility after that.
Which professional figure in your field do you find the most inspiring?
D. A. Pennebaker is the original documentary filmmaker that I admire the most for films like Primary. But there are so many figures who are inspiring everywhere you look. Kevin Macdonald has made some amazing films. Paul Greengrass started in documentaries, and has taken those storytelling skills to Hollywood to make films like Bourne. Asif Kapadia showed that documentary can play like a thriller with Senna. Morgan Matthews makes beautifully crafted documentaries for British television, while producers like Simon Chinn and John Battsek show there's a theatrical market for documentaries.
If you hadn't managed to break into your field, what was your plan B?
I was going to be a criminal barrister. Another way of immersing myself in extraordinary true stories, I guess.
“Don't wait for permission – do it. Whatever it is you want to do, just start. ”
Which film do you wish you could have worked on?
One Day in September.
What single piece of advice would you give to a young person trying to break into your discipline and get noticed?
Don't wait for permission – do it. Whatever it is you want to do, just start. All those people who have the jobs you want? They are no better than you, and they are desperate to find people like you with the talent and energy to make them look good. Make a start, show initiative, and then over-deliver whenever you can.
How important is networking? Is raw talent enough?
I am not a massive networker (but I see that very successful people often are) - I think you want people to want to work with you, to help you. Relationships are important in every field of life. 'Networking' makes it sound like you are just making connections for the sake of it. Be genuine, have integrity, and be nice. If people like you and like working with you your profesional life will probably be easier. (Until you're a star director, and then you can be as big of a dick as you like!)
How do you think the UK film industry will change in the next few years?
There's going to be lots of opportunities for new ways of working because things are changing fast, and that always means lots of opportunities - as long as you aren't wedded to doing things a certain way. At the end of Heart of Darkness, the documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now, Coppola says that his dream is that some fat girl from Idaho is going to pick up a handheld video camera and make a beautiful film. That's happening all around us. It's awesome.