An interview with filmmaker Julian McDonnell

Stuart Forster interviews filmmaker Julian McDonnell, the creator of travel films and documentaries.

Julian McDonnell is the filmmaker behind the Joolz Guides series of videos about London. His work Take Me To Pitcairn has won three awards at tourism film festivals. It is screened on Air Tahiti flights. With media commentators emphasising the importance of videos and filmmaking, I interviewed Julian to find out how he got into the business and to gain tips for up-and-coming filmmakers.

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“I always wanted to be a TV presenter but struggled to find a way in. People kept telling me I should make a showreel but I thought people would ignore it if it was badly made. I had always enjoyed doing “selfie” films on my travels and used to do silly, ironic pieces to camera just to put on YouTube,” he explains. An inexpensive camcorder and a laptop with video editing software proved his way into the business.

The Joolz Guides London series

“At the moment I’m making a lot of mini videos about London. The aim is to show people that there’s more to London than the snazzy stuff in the guide books. It’s supposed to show you nice places that are right there but you might not necessarily know their significance. They have an element of charm and humour and they are intended to give people a feeling of what experiences are actually like, who you will encounter, how people behave – at the same time as giving a quick history lesson and some trivia which might be useful if you’re ever showing anyone around yourself,” says Julian.

“Someone once said that they are like an old friend or uncle showing you his home town. I genuinely love showing people around London so that should come across in the films. I’m hoping someone will pick up on them and feature them on their site or platform,” he adds.

See more examples of Julian’s work by subscribing to his Joolz Guides channel on Youtube.

Take Me To Pitcairn

“I always maintained that if I went to a genuinely mysterious place that people would respond. Not only is the subject irresistible but it is still a very difficult place to reach. More people visited the South Pole in the last year than Pitcairn. The island really is shrouded in mystery and controversy – from the day the first settlers arrived, in 1790 – after the mutiny on the Bounty,” says Julian about the destination of his most successful film.

“It’s hard to make films about places off the beaten track which aren’t overrun with tourists but Pitcairn is really remote. Just 47 people live there now and its history is fascinating: mutiny, adventure, steamy tales of passion and seduction, violence and longing, palm trees, tall ships, sunshine and huge shirts……what’s not to like?”

“Take Me To Pitcairn shows how hard it is to reach Pitcairn, even 200 years on. It depicts the genuine anguish and gamut of emotions which an unlikely bunch of travellers have to go through to follow their dreams. What is more, it has a strong message of hope and shows how friendships can be made in the oddest of circumstances and how you can do anything you put your mind to. It was a huge undertaking for one person who wasn’t even a film maker at that stage. I’m extremely proud of it,” says Julian about his work.

Julian at work editing a video.
Filmmaker Julian McDonnell at work editing a video.

Equipment for making travel films

“It seems that every time you get a new piece of equipment it goes out of date and is superseded by something else,” says Julian, half-joking, when I ask him about the kit he uses.

“These days a Canon XA-20 with rode mic and also a Sennheiser Lavalier wireless mic. I edit on my MacBook Pro with Final Cut Pro. It’s useful to have a smaller snaps camera for unexpected events. I have a Canon quick shot G12. If I need more cinematic shots I use a Canon DSLR, but it’s not so good for running around and reporter-style filming, which is what I do a lot of,” he explains.

Advice for aspiring filmmakers

So what key advice does Julian offer newcomers to film making?

“The same advice that I heard Quentin Tarantino offer. The best way of learning how to make a film is to go and make a film. You can be taught a lot of things but there is nothing like the experience of running into certain obstacles. The amount of mistakes I made were of extreme value to me,” he says with frankness.

“Always keep the sound running and the video too if possible. It’s always when you switch off the camera that something amazing happens. It’s not a massive disaster if you don’t capture the video. You can always cheat it as long as you have the audio. I would also recommend, where possible, getting release forms ready to sign, just in case it gets picked up by the BBC and you need to have the right documentation,” he suggests.

“If anyone would like to be involved in making a film with me I’m always up for helpers. If there’s a part of London you particularly like and want to do a film with me about that or anywhere really, let me know,” says Julian.

Filmmaker Julian McDonnell filming on Pitcairn Island
Julian McDonnell filming on Pitcairn Island.

Further information

View Julian’s London videos via www.JoolzGuides.com or YouTube and keep abreast of news via the JoolzGuides Facebook page. Additionally, his corporate videos can be viewed under www.Joolz.tv.

Watch Take Me To Pitcairn on the film’s website or via YouTube.

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Illustrating images were supplied courtesy of Joolz Guides.

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12 Comments

  • Simon Edwards

    February 19, 2017 at 19:14 Reply

    I think you’re bloody good at it someone will give you strength I’m just a builder in Devon and don’t have a TV company in my garage but your day will come good luck Simon

    • Stuart Forster

      February 26, 2017 at 15:35 Reply

      I’m sure Julian will be happy with that praise.

  • Chas Longhurst

    November 5, 2019 at 17:16 Reply

    I sit here in Spain as an ex-N16 Londoner and Freeman of the City…have fallen deeply in love with JoolzGuides…my wife and kids give me pity.
    Great presence and presentation.

    • Stuart Forster

      November 10, 2019 at 16:26 Reply

      Joolz is making some very good videos and films.

    • Kim de Quip

      May 20, 2020 at 19:19 Reply

      Really enjoy the youtube videos by Joolz and funny he chose Pitcairn Island for a doco as it was a big interest of mine many moons ago. I am thinking of doing some London tour guiding myself and have a novel idea… Won’t share it here in case someone nicks it! ????

      • Go Eat Do

        May 27, 2020 at 16:35 Reply

        Be sure to share your idea once you start your venture. Here’s to tourism booming safely after the coronavirus lockdown.

  • Danny Murphy

    April 21, 2020 at 13:34 Reply

    Fantastic! Brilliant! What a way to see London; funny and full of quirky information. I will be watching every single one. How about one on the old pie and mash shops. Great work, kind sir!

    • Go Eat Do

      April 27, 2020 at 17:32 Reply

      Lovely to read such an enthusiastic response. Thanks for reading Go Eat Do and enjoy Julian’s wonderful videos.

  • Leslie Skeels

    July 22, 2020 at 20:58 Reply

    pip pip, tally-ho Jules your London videos are the absolute bee’s knees, really enjoy them, wishing you all the very best.

    • Go Eat Do

      July 28, 2020 at 09:14 Reply

      Indeed! They’re fun and informative.

  • Carl Turner

    September 8, 2020 at 16:13 Reply

    Hi Joolz, you keep mentioning your actress mum on you brilliant tours. Who is and what has she starred in please? (I just like TV history.)

    • Go Eat Do

      September 17, 2020 at 10:46 Reply

      Hopefully Joolz can answer that for you in one of his forthcoming videos!

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