Stéph Bosset is a filmmaker and broadcast journalist, with a background in photojournalism. Stéph has freelanced for the Associated Press, NBC, CNN, and HuffPost UK, and loves telling the stories of trailblazers and local heroes.
We spoke to Stéph about filming riots and protests, being open to changes in storytelling, and why she loves working on subjects she knows nothing about.
How did you get into your field of videojournalism and press photography?
I did my MA in TV Journalism in 2014, and that was after being a press photographer for about five years on and off. Having done photography since I was a teenager, it was sort of creative at the beginning, but it slowly moved into more documentary-style work. One time I was on holiday in Barcelona, staying in an Airbnb-type place. I thought my host was so interesting, and her flat was full of weird stuff, so I just asked her if I could take her portrait and take photos of her flat. I did loads of projects like that.
I moved into press photography after the G20 in 2008, and that was my first taste of rioting and protesting. And I carried on from there, because I really enjoyed documenting that volatility. I had contemplated television journalism for some time, without knowing how to get into it. One time after a protest I was covering I chatted to another group of photojournalists there, and then a domino effect of events led me to someone suggesting doing a masters to get into TV news. I did that, and I loved it. It was so much fun.
What is it about covering rioting and protesting that appeals to you?
Some of it is selfish – wanting to be at the scene of the action, where things are happening. With the small protests, you want to document them because most people aren’t even aware that they’re happening, because they’re not always covered by television news. And with the big ones, you want to be in the mix of it on the ground; because again, a lot of people might see pictures taken from further away, but you need to see the conflict at play. To see why people are out there, to see the emotion on people’s faces, and understand that it’s real and that people are angry. I think it’s important for everybody to realise that there are people who need to express their disappointment with the way things are. It’s satisfying to do – you’re in the middle of it, and it’s quite enveloping. It’s not always scary, sometimes it’s weirdly comforting. It’s very bizarre.
“I love working on things I don’t know anything about, because it’s a whole new part of life that I get to involve myself in.”Stéph Bosset
What other story subjects do you like to pursue?
I’ve realised what I enjoy is when I’m offered something – whether that be a collaboration, a commission, or whatever – that I might not have come across, or that I know nothing about. Something that’s not on my radar. I love working on things I don’t know anything about, because it’s a whole new part of life that I get to involve myself in. You sort of get swallowed up by subjects when you’re filming for a documentary. I love to expand my knowledge of what I know, with things that I wouldn’t have pursued myself. It’s easy to pursue things you like, and your passions, but I like left-field stuff.
When you work on a new project, how do you approach it?
Basic research always helps, but I find that if I’m learning while I’m shooting or producing, it means that I’ll end up asking questions which the viewer might also be asking. So you get answers that shed light on the subject in a way that the viewer will understand, because we’re going on that same journey of discovery together. We’re both discovering this unknown subject at the same time. Maybe if you know too much about something you’ll ask questions that you want to know, or that only someone with your amount of knowledge would be able to ask, but if you’re at the same level as the viewer you’re unraveling this content on that same level, which makes for a more interesting approach.
How do you find unique stories to pursue?
Social media is always an easy one, but there are other creative ways to go about it. Before social media, it was all about getting out there. Look at the classified ads people put in their corner shop windows. Read the local papers, because there are always stories that will never go beyond that, but have potential. Definitely get involved in the community that you want to report on. Collaborate with other people who are interested in the same topics. You’ll find that you’ll chat to one person, and then it just snowballs so easily sometimes – it’s amazing who you end up meeting and talking to because of one conversation. So be open and chatty.
What creative decisions need to be made when working on a video project?
There’s so much that needs to be considered creatively. The aesthetics of the shoot – how you decide to frame something, and the look and feel you want to give something. Even the kind of camera you want to use. And then there are creative decisions in the story structure, and when you edit. There are so many levels of decisions that all have to marry up. The way I prefer to work is to see it all from beginning to end – to work on every aspect of it, from the shoot to the editing.
I think it’s a case-by-case basis of what creative style will do justice to a story – you want it to look good, but the story structure is almost more important. Take A Syrian Love Story (2015 documentary/drama), for example – there’s nothing especially creative about the way it’s shot, but the story is incredible. I think about that film a lot – every few days it pops into my head. Sometimes if a story is so strong, it doesn’t matter what you do with the rest. I try to make something with a good story structure, but also as beautiful as it can be, because I love filming – but I’d say aesthetics are important, but not vital.
“Before and after that one photo, there will be fifty shots on either side of it. The best ones are where you really embed yourself with whoever you’re documenting.”Stéph Bosset
How do you structure a story in video work?
If you know your subject or the topic, do your research so initially you know who you’re going to be talking to and you can structure it around that. You need your structure so you know what you’re talking to people about. But sometimes the best thing is when you’re talking to someone and they tell you something you didn’t know about, or they want to introduce you to someone else, and then you have new characters in the story. Then you’re following a story that’s unravelling in front of your eyes, and you have to roll with it. It’s important to have a story structure to begin with it, but be prepared to follow where the story goes.
I find story structure quite difficult. It takes quite a lot of skill, and it’s one of the things I ask for the most help with. I think it’s always good to have more brains on a story than just mine, because you can get stuck in a story. I like to have a person to look at the editing, a person to look at the story, and then a person to just watch it as someone who’s never even heard of the story. You have to be open to changes. There are things I’ve worked on where people have suggested things, and I haven’t always agreed, but when they’ve put stuff in it’s totally worked.
It’s incredible how experienced photographers can capture so much in a single photo. How do you approach photography projects?
Before and after that one photo, there will be fifty shots on either side of it. The best ones are where you really embed yourself with whoever you’re documenting – really getting to know them, and listening. Be interested in them, until they want to show you things because they trust you. Whoever you’re with, they need to trust that you’re there to show them their story, and to do it truthfully. And they will take you in and show you things because they want you to see them – that’s how you get the best shots.
You also need to know what you’re doing with your camera, because sometimes you don’t get a second chance to get that shot. People think they need to get all the kit when they’re starting out with something. They think as long as they spend money, get all the attachments and gadgets, it will turn out fine. But they’re pretty useless if you don’t know how to use them. It’s easy to fall into that trap. Start with one camera, see how you work with it, and then you can get accessories.
“It was amazing to see the work that people are doing during this shitty time – to see people coming together to help others. That’s one of the best aspects of the job – where the work can take you.”Stéph Bosset
Is there any work you’ve done recently that stands out for you?
At the beginning of the pandemic I had lost loads of work, and my girlfriend suggested I come and do some short films for all of these amazing food projects at the charity she works for, that needed a spotlight of some kind. I absolutely loved it, because it was amazing to see the work that people are doing during this shitty time – to see people coming together to help others. That’s one of the best aspects of the job – where the work can take you. It can be uplifting, eye-opening, and humbling.
What would your advice be for beginners looking to get into video work?
I think it’s worth doing a course of some kind – it doesn’t have to be a long one, but something that gives you the technical know-how. And then after that, you need the contacts. There are different online groups of filmmakers, documentary makes, events and stuff like that, so that’s one way of doing it. Otherwise, watch the documentaries that you really love, wait till the end and see who the production company is and get in touch with them; places are always looking for interns.
You can find Stéph on Twitter at @39_Stephs and on Instagram at @stephoid.
Visit Stéph’s YouTube channel to see her video work: https://www.youtube.com/user/stephoid80.
For more about Stéph’s work, visit http://www.stephaniebosset.com/.
Featured Photo credit: Kate Elliott.