Belfast-born director Ross McClure got a degree in Film Studies at Cumbria Institute of the Arts in the Lake District before moving to London in 2007 to work as a self shooting director for an agency. He was forced to start freelancing in 2013 after being made redundant which he describes as a ‘blessing in disguise’. Based in Barcelona since 2018, McClure recently celebrated the one year anniversary of his production company Magic Eye.
In this interview with Wishu, the bright and multi-talented creative speaks on freelancing pros and cons, creative opportunities in Northern Ireland and social media for independent creatives.
Wishu: Was there a particular age or moment where you realised that you truly are a creative?
Ross: I did A-Level Drama in Belfast and did a Film Studies degree in the Lake District. The degree allowed me to understand the industry in a historical sense rather than a production sense. Then when I moved to London in 2007, I eventually worked at the BFI for 7 years and taught myself how to shoot and edit on Final Cut Pro. I made a web series and then ended up working for an agency as a self shooting director. At the agency we would shoot a couple of stories each week for an online magazine format delivering a 3 minute edit each week which got me used to working very fast. The bulk of work was online branded content and as a result, I’ve made almost every format of online video that exists!
Wishu: How did you get into freelancing in the first place and what were the pros and cons from your particular takeaway?
Ross: I went freelance in 2013 after being made redundant by the agency because they were restructuring. It was a blessing in disguise. I’d been thinking about freelancing but redundancy pushed me to start 6 to 12 months earlier than expected. The rollercoaster feel of job finding as a freelancer definitely took a while to get used to and finding the work can be time consuming, even now that is something I struggle with – I like to make stuff rather than chase stuff. Luckily for me, video making and editing takes a while so I would be fine with about 2 or 3 jobs per month.
Wishu: What spurred you to set up your production company, Magic Eye, after freelancing?
Ross: I’d been thinking about setting up a company for years. Last summer I had a few big jobs coming up but I worried that with a larger budget level it would be easier to manage if it went through my own company. That’s when I knew it was time to set one up. It’s the one year anniversary this September so once I review the year I’ll look at employing more people and expanding Magic Eye.
Wishu: Your production company has worked for a stellar roster with clients including Amazon, Costa Coffee, Heineken and Peugeot. How important was networking and building relationships in the creative scene in order to build this roster?
Ross: Over 90% of the jobs I’ve got have been through mutual friends and connections or even cases where I’m in the pub and meet a friend of a friend who needs my services. The pandemic has accelerated new platforms just like Wishu which I think are really good. Even LinkedIn years ago never felt like somewhere I could find work due to its more corporate nature. Platforms now feel more organic and creative. In the past year, I’ve found a colourist and composer on The Dots and I’m a mentor on there as part of a community to help people with advice in the industry.
Wishu: Would you say Creative Direction is more a combination of multiple skills or one specific strength in overlooking many aspects of creativity?
Ross: I use the term Creative Director in my email because it’s a production company but primarily I would say I am a director who produces and edits. Across the board, the more skills you have the better. I’ve done my best over the years to understand most of the cinematic elements which means you can contribute your viewpoint and empathise with several departments.
Wishu: Your short film INFLUENCERS ANONYMOUS has played in a number of international festivals. Do you believe social media is more of a hindrance or a help for modern creatives?
Ross: When I was at university I ran a short film club on a monthly basis which showcased work by students as well as work from the time by directors like Michel Gondry. But the students never wanted to showcase their own work or needed encouragement to do so. That’s now done a 180 because everyone is constantly sharing everything all the time. As a creative, you have to make a decision to share just work, just you or a blend of both online. In terms of the ways creatives can get work seen by lots of people I think social media can be seen only as a good thing. I think we just need to be careful not to use it too much, which is easier said than done.
Wishu: As a Northern Irish creative do you feel that young people in Northern Ireland are encouraged to pursue creative careers?
Ross: In ‘99 – I was about 14 – our geography teacher asked us to stand up if we wanted to leave Northern Ireland after school. The whole class stood up! At that time, despite the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the idea through the culture and media of the time was that Northern Ireland was a place of negativity so a lot of people from my generation left. Ironically the past ten years has produced big TV shows in the country – from Game of Thrones to Derry Girls. My school was blinkered slightly in terms of creative opportunities and was more academic focused. I went to uni and the first week I met a housemate who said he was studying Graphic Design and I said ‘what’s graphic design’! Now things are much better because of the connections available to us all on the internet.
Wishu: Do you feel there is an element of hierarchy in regards to class and location perhaps when it comes to the ability to access creative careers in the UK?
Ross: Yes there still is. Although things are much better now I still think there’s a larger focus on southern England in terms of the work available. Derry Girls is great but it’s an outlier because it’s one example from a small handful of northern Irish stories. Just today, The Guardian reported that Kenneth Branagh is making a film about his childhood in Belfast and American critics are complaining they can’t understand the dialogue and that it needs subtitles. I’m interested to see how an arthouse film about life in Northern Ireland might change people’s opinions.