Katie Garrett is a London-based director and producer of natural history films with a wealth of experience behind the camera. Past projects have included works for National Geographic, Science Friday, Geographical Magazine (of the Royal Geographical Society), bioGraphic, and 60 Second Docs. Although she co-founded a video production company, Garrett had no previous formal filmmaking experience but, as she tells us, there’s more than one way to make it into science filmmaking if you’re willing to take a few detours.
What do you do?
I am a science filmmaker and video journalist.
What did it take to get here?
It was definitely quite a convoluted route! I never actually studied filmmaking formally, aside from learning how to use an SLR camera at college. I studied Natural Sciences at university and went on to become a research assistant, working at the Natural History Museum. After three years working there, I got the sense that academia wasn’t for me, and then my brother suggested taking some time out to travel and film a documentary together. We raised some funds and spent a year filming in Central America and teaching ourselves how to edit. I loved it.
When we returned, we set up a video production business together in London and freelanced in every field you can imagine. We made videos for schools, theatre companies, banks, charities, bands, ice cream parlours, you name it! It really developed my creativity as a filmmaker, but eventually I felt like I really should be using my training as a scientist in my work. Plus, I really missed being in the field!
I have always loved frogs, so I decided to approach an amphibian conservation project out of the blue and offer to make a film about their work. It really opened doors for me and my career developed off the back of that. But it also gave me a fiancé – I’m now engaged to the director of that organisation!
Imagine you’ve met yourself as a teenager at a careers fair: How would you describe what you do to your former self?
I think if I approached myself as a teenager and said “hey, you can basically make films about amphibians for a living” I would’ve lost my s**t! But I would also have to explain that being a freelancer is as much about finding work as it is doing it. Much of my time and energy is spent looking for scientists with stories interesting enough to hook the media, and then trying to persuade outlets to fund them. I try as hard as I can to make films about things that are really important to me (frogs), but I have also found my skill-set applicable to a variety of scientific and environmental subjects I might never have originally considered. I’ve made films about sustainability in coffee, unisexual salamanders, the hydrology of Mexico City, even a woman making clothes out of human hair!
What’s the most common misconception about your line of work?
When people hear about what I do they often think of a BBC camera person spending months in a hide, watching a vole or a penguin or something. But my work is mainly online, and online media is a constantly shifting entity. My work comes from all over the place and can look very different at different times. The whims of the public and the influence of social media (not to mention pandemics) mean that outlets change what they’re looking for all the time. Sometimes I think even I don’t understand my own industry! It takes a lot of ingenuity to find your niche, and you have to be able to think outside the box and adapt.