The third in this weekly series of interviews with clear-minded creative types is my old pal Douglas Anderson. It was a no-brainer to include him here because Dougie is probably the most determinedly creative person I have ever met. I’ve seen him go from making daft DIY videos about the A-Team for a laugh to interviewing Dirk Benedict (aka The Face) himself on live national breakfast telly (I nearly choked on my Cheerios!).
All the way though he’s worked on and developed his own creativity, whether it be by scripting and directing his own short films or writing regularly on his website. He was most recently spotted performing as top Scottish band Belle & Sebastian’s manager (more on that below) and is a regular on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Fighting Talk.
Hey Dougie – tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a broadcaster and writer primarily but also try to keep doing my personal creative projects in my spare time such as short filmmaking. I’ve worked a lot for the BBC and Channel 4 as well as other broadcasters, production companies, bands and writers.
Did you always know what you wanted to do (creatively) or has it been a process of trial and error to get to the point you’re at now?
From my mid teens all I really wanted to do was be in a band and play music. I went on to play in several but although coming close at times never got signed.
It was all a valuable experience though and I went on to work with some good independent music producers and contribute music to short films and independent features. I became more and more interested in short filmmaking and along with some likeminded friends, started to make my own. It was all very DIY, no budget but a lot of fun and creatively gratifying.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do professionally and the whole TV world seemed an impenetrable place, a bit like the Death Star. However, I filmed a short about what you can get up to in the summer if you’re skint, edited it in-camera (who knew where edit suites were?) and sent it to the BBC. They saw something in it and that’s how I got into presenting and the media world.
I would quickly find out that this was not a typical entrance as other presenters seemed to be either ex-models or former researchers who wanted to appear in front of camera. This contributed to me feeling like I was slightly in my own world due to my creative background but that’s not necessary a bad thing.
I also enjoyed not having to rely on other musicians who can be, shall we say, unreliable at times. I liked knowing that I could rely on myself to get stuff done. Obviously, I needed the work opportunities as well.
Have you organised your life in a certain way/made sacrifices in order to continue to be creative?
I’ve made quite a few sacrifices but that’s what you have to do at times. Someone in my position needs to be focused and I think I have a good work ethic, as old fashioned as that sounds. One of the biggest things I did was moving to London from Edinburgh without a job at the other end. It was a risk in some ways but one I was prepared to take.
You can look at these type of things as part of life’s adventures but when you’re on the overnight bus surrounded by drunks and not knowing how things will pan out, it can feel a bit nervy.
Sometimes it’s good to take a leap in to the unknown. Other sacrifices are simpler but still important such as deciding not to go to the pub and instead try and start a script you have the seed of an idea for. The pint will always taste better after you have got somewhere with an idea.
I’ve met some people over the years who seem to have a Bukowski-esque outlook to creativity ie, get drunk, talk about what they are going to do artistically but never get around to it. The thing is, Charles got drunk but he never forgot to write.
How do you define success?
If success means having loads of money then I’m in trouble. There’s no doubt that it’s nice to be paid well for your creativity but I’ve never taken the quick buck for the sake of it. Maybe I should have done but you go with instinct. I suppose success could be viewed as being personally gratified at the body of work you have done. Or as I mentioned earlier, being able to do professional work as well as independent creative ventures.
I still do short films, they don’t make money but they are good to do. For example, last year I filmed my short Timber! Due to good will and contacts, I got professional actors in and a great crew. I ended up being producer, actor, director and a lot more besides but I saw it as a success as I got something from script to the finished article which I think looks great. It’s a cliche but it is surprising what you can accomplish if you put your mind to it, keep focused and put in the necessary effort.
We all have to make money and there are definitely times when you have to do jobs which whilst perhaps not being the perfect gig, are good for other reasons such as making new contacts, raising your profile and of course making money to pay the bills.
To give you another example, I worked with Belle & Sebastian recently, one of my favourite bands. They asked me personally and as a result, the show we made together felt very much like a successful creative undertaking. It didn’t make me loads of money but it wasn’t like I started looking at flats in Mayfair before filming began. I went record shopping instead!
What in your opinion are the positives and negatives of technology when it comes to both creating and promoting your work?
It’s important to have a web presence but more than that, a good web site. I see some presenters’ sites and at times it looks like a case of style over substance. For me, it’s great to have a site where I can have examples of my professional work, short films, articles I’ve written and a blog.
I guess some of the negatives are that everyone seems to have an online presence so there’s a lot of competition for views. My advice would always be to have a site which is easy to navigate. You don’t want to get to a site and have no idea where the blog is or examples of work and have to drag your mouse over loads of images in the hope they might link to something. As I’m bound to say, I think my site looks good, but it’s also easy to get around.
Do you collaborate with others or prefer to work alone, and why?
I love working with others. On tv and radio shows there are obviously more than those on-air working on the show. It’s also nice to be around fellow creatives to share and exchange ideas. Regardless of all that, it’s good to be around those with a similar outlook to yourself.
It’s funny as ‘media types’ have a certain reputation and there is some truth in it but there are many others who work in the industry because like me, they had an unquenchable urge to create in some form of artistic realm. It’s also important to have friends who don’t work in the industry as you don’t want to be submerged in it all the time. That would be counter productive and also bloody boring.
Is community important to you – either local or online – and if so, why?
Well, as someone who lives in London, community in the traditional sense is not too prevalent due to the vastness of the city. It’s different online of course where geography goes out the window somewhat. Networking sites such as Twitter are certainly helpful as they can put similar minded people in touch and open communications.
I’ve often found consistency difficult in terms of learning a craft and then practicing it regularly – is this something you’ve mastered and do you have any advice on how to maintain this?
I’ve always been of the mind set that you never really master a craft, you just get better at it the more you do it. It’s all a continuous learning process. I think it’s good to learn as many crafts as possible but at the same time not spread yourself too thin.
You can undoubtedly learn many skills without at times knowing what they are. It’s a case of determining what skills you have amassed and how they can be used to greatest effect. That sounds like something a careers advisor would say and I’m not one of those, I’m still trying to determine my own!
You can hear Dougie on a recent Word Magazine podcast below.