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The Questionnaire: Thomas English

The Questionnaire: Thomas English

Promonews - 9th Mar 2015

Thomas English started out creating visuals at raves while at university, and has never looked back. For a while he was an editor and cameraman in BBC factual programming, but for the past 12 years he has worked as a specialist in Steadicam, becoming one of the best in the business. Now 37, he's worked on numerous TV dramas (including Utopia and Torchwood), movies (including Welcome To The Punch and Kidadulthood), commercials and, of course, music videos - for Peace, Ellie Goulding, Kasabian, Laura Mvula, Conor Maynard, FKA Twigs and many more.

We thought it was high time Thomas answered our Questionnaire - he agreed, and added an important question for good measure...

Education: I studied Marine Technology and Underwater Sciences at Plymouth for a bit, but I got carried away with my visuals company, so I moved back to London. Rave, club and festival visuals where booming back then, and there wasn't so many people in the industry.

Previous occupations: My illustrious career started as a greengrocer's assistant at 14. I got really into making rave visuals when I saw Light Surgeons and Hexstatic play in some warehouse. Then, I got properly into AE, Maya and out-of-focus camerawork and had my own company doing raves, festivals, tours and theatre.

I loved making visuals and VJing. I bought my first Steadicam rig for these.

Favourite music video of the past 12 months? DJ Snake and Lil Jon, 'Turn Down For What'

Favourite video of all time? Lucas 'Lucas With The Lid Off', directed by Michel Gondry

Favourite publications/websites/podcasts: Apart from, I like Davids Review, No Film School, T-Nation. I really love Fxguide. Podcast-wise I listen to the RC, Barbell Shrugged, Stuff you missed in History Class, KCRW's The business and No Such thing as a Fish. 

Favourite food/restaurant: Turkish... turkish is my main diet. 

Favourite drink/drug: Dark and Stormy cocktail. 

Last movie you saw (and was it any good)? Oh I saw Black Hat and it was rubbish, but I am excited to see White God. I'll have hopefully seen it by the time this is out!

Favourite directors: Michel Gondry, Seb Edwards, Jonathan Glazer, Jan Kounen and Wong Kar Wai. I am also a huge fan of the efficiency Gareth Edwards brings to the filmmaking process.  

Last gig you went to (and was it any good)? FKA Twigs. Yeah, brilliant. I used to work on big shows and hands down that was the best lighting design I've seen on a live show. Subtle genius. Dunno who did it but they're good. 

Favourite bands/artists: Sven Väth

Currently reading/favourite book: Massive fan of Audible. I am reading Creativity Inc. about the techniques and ideas that founded Pixar animation.

What was the first music video you worked on - and what were you doing on that job? I used to make visuals for bands. My first actual music video outside of visuals was a little miniDV number for some no-name rapper. I waved the camera around a lot. It was pretty disorganized.  

Favourite job of the past 12 months: Last week I did a Jaguar LandRover job with Ed Moore (DoP) and Casey Hennessy (director). Long single-take Omega Revolution (AR) Steadicam shots. Really amazing. It is a difficult question to answer as there have been shed loads of favourite jobs. But that's the one I did most recently. 

What’s the next Big Thing you’re working on? I got a big sports brand NDA'd up to the eyeballs. To be honest I have no idea what else is on the horizon. The next incredible job just pops out of nowhere!

What would most improve your life? I think we all fall into the habit or addiction of thinking one item – an iMac, a new Segway, bracket or other shiny thing – will improve your life.

What would improve my life would be to stop giving so much of a shit about shiny things. But that's kind of tough in our fast-changing tech industry.

What new technology are you working with? I think the AR rig is still winning in terms of all-encompassing stabilization and creative camera spinning. The regular Steadicam still rules for simplicity and accuracy, and I've playing with putting Movi's on Steadicams but no real breakthroughs yet there.

I'm a massive fan of Occulus/Cardboard VR. I've been making fulldome films for years and it is feeling like a natural progression. I've been shooting 360° using either camera arrays or super-wide lenses, and I've been working a lot recently with the Vicon tracking rig for Anamorphosis projection mapping - where the sweet spot of the 3D perspectives is rendered to camera whilst the camera is on the move. Marshmallow Lazer Feast are pioneers here. 

Best moment, or fondest memory, of your career thus far? Watching back, Laura Mvula, 'She' with Alex Southam (director) and Pat Scola (DoP) - a promo that just worked so well. I felt so proud of our hard work. There is also those times you get a hotel swimming pool when doing an overnight stay for a job. I love those times. 

Worst moment? Those few days stuck under an easyup as the shoot is rained off. It is odd with how rubbish the weather is here in the UK that I can only think of this really happening twice in my whole career. 

Biggest frustration? 9.30am call times, as I've got to get through rush-hour to get to location. 

What’s the big issue or issues facing music video makers right now? Budget. Incredible jobs still get made for no money, but if directors and production companies can't sustain themselves in the promo industry you will simply get a brain drain. 

Person you most admire? That lady or gentleman that works tirelessly in the soup kitchens of London. No glamour, long hours for zero pay. 

What advice would you give to someone starting out in music video production? Buy a van and learn After Effects. Be completely au fait with the merging and crossover between incamera SFX and VFX by reading Fxguide and Cinefex.

Knowing when to stop a pan or get a plate can save some poor AE dude weeks of work.

Any hot tips on who will be the future stars in music video in the next couple of years – directors or otherwise? The runner on this job is the director on the next 10.

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Promonews - 9th Mar 2015

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