Archive Researchers

Featuring: Matthew Sanger, London

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You have been an archive researcher for many projects since the late 90s. How did you become an archive researcher, and what has been your favorite project so far?

I became an archive researcher quite by accident – I was working with a production company in 1996 logging rushes for a BBC series about the Prohibition era and the director/producer asked if I could also source, log and license the stills for the series. After that I worked as a stills researcher on a few other productions and also ventured into researching archive footage. I have always been a film buff so it seemed a natural vocation rather than an accidental career move. It’s difficult to give a favorite project as I’ve worked on so many – so here’s a few of the most memorable – working on three series of the cult Channel 4 series –Eurotrash was fun and an eye-opener, Jonathan Ross’ BBC3 series – Japanorama about Japanese popular culture was fascinating. 

The feature doc – Unlawful Killing, written by Victor Lewis-Smith and Paul Sparks and directed by actor – Keith Allen, about the deaths of Princess Diana and Dodi Al-Fayed was enlightening and it’s always good to work with Victor. The BBC documentary – Five Days that Changed Britain about the formation of the coalition following the 2010 UK general election was special as it felt like we were part of history. It was interesting to work with political journalist and filmmaker – Michael Cockerell on the BBC series – The Secret World of Whitehall and good to be part of Lucien Freud: Painted Life especially as it went on to win best arts programme at the RTS Awards in 2012. Working on the visuals for U2’s Innocence and Experience 2015 world tour was a rollercoaster but an enjoyable ride and finally, it was fantastic working on the film for the recent Rolling Stones exhibition. 

You work both in Barcelona and London, and have access to more resources and clientele.  How has this benefited your work experience being an international archive producer? What challenges have you faced working in two different countries simultaneously?

I live and work between London and Barcelona. This is more a life style choice than a career move. I love Barcelona and Catalonia and my girlfriend lives there full-time but my clients are mostly based in the UK. I haven’t tapped into Catalan or Spanish TV production companies though I have researched, sourced and licensed archive material for exhibitions in Madrid and I’ve worked with a gallery in Barcelona. When I have the opportunity I work remotely with UK companies from my flat in Barcelona – it’s one of the joys of archive research these days that certain parts of the job can be done from anywhere in the world.  

Could you tell us how it was to work on the Rolling Stones exhibition currently on show at the Saatchi Gallery, and what were the major challenges you had to face?

Working on the film for the Rolling Stones exhibition – Exhibitionism was wonderful though it involved many sleepless nights. I made the 4-minute film about the life of the Stones with The Third Company and their super talented editor – Warren Chapman. As the film solely consists of fast-cut archive (footage and stills) projected over 40 screens onto two walls in the gallery, the biggest challenge was the sheer volume of the archive material and sources involved. The film consists of archive from about 45 different sources that include archive houses, broadcasters and collectors worldwide as well as from the Stones own archives. The technical side and on-site build was also very complicated due to the amount of screens and layers of archive. I’m really pleased with the final film – it was an exciting project to be involved in and I feel it’s a great intro to the exhibition.

You seem to produce many television series for British networks.  How is this work the same or different from producing documentaries for the film industry?

I have worked on many different series and one-off programmes for British broadcasters and also some feature docs for worldwide theatrical release. Except for the additional third party clearances that are required for a theatrical release I see no difference in working on a feature length doc for the film industry or one for television. 

Your project Cassius Clay: The Young Ali has covered extensive knowledge about Muhammad Ali.  There are hundreds of archival footage of Muhammad Ali from his fighting days and joining the Nation of Islam, so how did you decide the appropriate footage for this documentary?

Cassius Clay: The Young Ali was a short-form documentary of 15 minutes for on- line streaming. In some ways it was the budget that determined some of the footage – licensing fees for much of the sports footage were prohibitive for our tight budget so I had to utilize cheaper news footage and stills. However much of the news footage of Cassius Clay is excellent so I made the most of this. The young Ali was so charismatic and out-spoken it’s as good to see him in newsreel, as it is to see him in the ring so the tight budget really didn’t matter. I also like a project that pushes you to rethink how you work.

A word about your current project?

At the moment I am working with Nutopia on three exciting projects – One Strange Rock – a major 10-part series for National Geographic Channel that takes a unique look at the fragility and wonder of Planet Earth. This is a co- production with filmmaker Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel and their production company – Protozoa Pictures. Africa: The Great Civilizations – a 6-part series for PBS about the history of the entire continent; and Civilizations – a 10-part series for BBC/PBS that looks at the history of art from the dawn of mankind to present day. This is actually a remake of Kenneth Clarke’s 1969 landmark BBC series. An archive film I produced with a colleague for this year’s ITN/Sheffield Fest Doc Short Film competition was voted as one of the three finalists. We didn’t win but it was a fun to work on and competition is a great platform to promote creative use of archive.

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