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Four Fits With Hector Dockrill

Meet Hector Dockrill. The London based director has been creating masterful music videos, commercial work and film for a while now, having worked with the likes of Stormzy and Jorja Smith, as well as brands such Nike and The North Face to name a few. Hector’s distinct visual style creates a visceral documentary-esque style of film, pairing a striking sense of realism with sensitivity which gained his debut short film ‘Goldfish’ both BAFTA and BIFA nominations. 

Hector’s origins in filmmaking start a long time ago having been behind the camera since his teenage years. He “started shooting around 16/17 running around with a shitty little VHS camera” whilst growing up in Brixton Hill. South London had an indelible impact on Hector’s filmmaking style –  “I grew up drawing inspiration from everything around me – friends, stories, our local shop, the barber, and would shoot photos and little doco films around that.” he explains, starting out by “shooting hood videos for local artists which then had a domino effect and got bigger and bigger, leading me to where I am now in all mediums of filmmaking whether its music, scripted or docs. So I guess it completely defined me as a filmmaker – realism/documentary filmmaking is what I’ve always gravitated towards.”

Now with a camera in hand, Hector would go on to land his first gig not long after he got the VHS camera. “I didn’t go down the traditional route of working your way through the industry. I remember I hit up Onoe Caponoe in the early days of Insta and went to his house in the depths of West London, fucking Perivale, which seemed like the other side of the world at the time.” But the journey was worth it. “We just made a little vibe at his house. And like that, I’d made my first film. Sounds much easier than it was. I was gassed though.”

But breaking into any creative field isn’t without it’s difficulties, especially working as a director where your work is constantly criticised and held to varying standards. Hector knew this and has learned a lot along the way,

Discipline. And resilience.”

He states as the hardest lessons he’s learned. “This job takes time and in most cases, it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s one thing to have ‘raw’ talent but to transition into the next phase you definitely need to obsess over it and learn the craft, which of course takes discipline. I think that’s something that you constantly learn and can never learn enough.”

His ethos is proven by the work he creates, having won several awards, nominations and working with huge name artists and brands, it’s evidence that honing in your craft to utter perfection pays off. A huge part of that for Hector is drawing inspiration from other directors and films. As a kid, he grew up watching a lot of zombie and horror films, later discovering British Cinema classics such as Gary Oldman’s ‘Nil By Mouth’ and Jonathan Glazer’s ‘Sexy Beast’. “Los Olvidados is a perfect film to me. Watch it if you haven’t already, we could talk about this all day.” Hector recommends.

Hector also looks to directors from across the globe, learning different disciplines of European cinema, enjoying the work of the esteemed Andrei Tarkovsky and Roman Polanski. Despite their influences, “That’s not necessarily the stuff I want to make,” he explains. ”I’ve kind of grown into my skin as a director, I didn’t really want to make depressing bleak shit anymore. I think if you can approach brutal subjects with a sense of tenderness or a sense of magic, you’re onto something quite special. So that’s kind of what I’ve tried to apply to some of my recent work.”

“I just wanna make fun shit.”

Hector has worked with heavy hitters in British music, notably Jorja Smith, Stormzy, Dizzee Rascal, Bakar and even Adele. From shooting videos for his friends around him, he’s come a long way from his VHS camera days. “It was a very natural process that happened quite quickly.” Hector put himself out there, just doing what he does best and getting better at it everyday, until people started to take notice. “It’s all about you, just gotta get going man.”

While his notoriety grew, Hector never got too phased from working with artists of that caliber “You’ve got to respect the process.” he states. “The ideas get bigger and the stakes get higher. And you get more freedom of course. Things become more professional and you need to adapt to the level – a level of responsibility definitely comes with that as you become part of a huge machine and you have to deliver. But I’ve never really thought of it like that, it’s been quite a transient process,” he reflects. “You’re kind of coming together as two artists to share the same vision and that obviously takes time and respect”

It’s worth mentioning that Hector’s reach goes beyond just Great Britain. Thanks to his work catching the attention of the right people, one of his most recent ventures saw him spending almost two months behind the scenes on Post Malone’s ‘Runaway’ tour, documenting the whole tour for the globally renowned rapper. 

“I was in Madrid working on a film and got a call from one of my reps at Pulse and they said Post Malone’s team wants to have a call with you about doing the tour doc. So I had the call that night and within 48 hours, I flew back to London.” With things moving fast for Hector he did all he could to prepare for the mammoth of a job he had just accepted “Joe, my cinematographer, gave me a 24 hour crash course on how to use a cinema camera and all these other shooting formats and within another 48 hours I was on a plane and dropped into the beast of a tour that was the Post Malone Runaway tour.”

“I guess that’s just the beauty of filming. You never know what direction it’s going to pull you in and you kind of have to have the flexibility, diversity and versatility, to just kind of move with the plates…It’s an exciting journey. I think that the Post Malone tour was a prime example of what this career and life is like for a director.”

It’s been long said that working with American’s is vastly different to working with British people, but when it comes to artists, Hector thinks otherwise “Artists are artists I find. There’s not really a major difference in terms of creativity’. However when it comes to the industry and production side of things, he notices a stark contrast – “I think things seem to happen a lot faster in the U.S. It’s very much like if you’re there, if you’re ready and you’ve got a good idea, It’s go time. Whereas here it’s often more tailored and, I guess quite specific, if that makes sense.”

The Runaway Tour saw Post Malone and his crew put together 60 shows, with the final few canceled due to the pandemic. Having spent so much time out there, Hector got a good taste of what life in North America was like while on the road with the rapper. “The tour was crazy. It took me around the whole state for two months. I’m not really sure what other job in the world can facilitate that. We were near enough in a different city every night.”

The states are certainly a far cry from South London. “You guys have been, you’ve seen the difference between LA and Brixton.” Hector says when comparing the two, “I don’t know. The people are different, that’s for sure.”

Off the heels of his work with Post Malone, Hector returned to London releasing his debut narrative short film, “Goldfish’ in January 2020. The BAFTA and BIFA nominated focus on the character of Viola, an 11-year-old girl struggling to deal with the aftermath of her older brother’s death. 

“Goldfish was a film that happened very naturally off the back of a very unfortunate situation. Myself and a dear friend Rajai Mitchell who I’ve known for 15 years now, found ourselves making a film about when he was stabbed. It instinctively came together. He had had this traumatic thing happen to him. I had been talking to him about it for about a year. So we eventually decided to shoot a short documentary on what happened to him and the way he sees the situation.”

Hector went on to share how Rajai’s response to what happened to him resonated with him:

“Being a victim of knife crime and not wanting to retaliate and I found it to be quite a refreshing mindset that he had. So yeah, we made a short film about it. Off the back of that, BFI and Pulse Films came together and funded us to dramatize the short film (the original five minute documentary). From there we went and made Goldfish, a 20 minute, short film. 

“It’s a prime example of turning a very fucked situation into something positive. I think Rajai would agree in saying that….The amount of opportunities that opened up for the both of us is incredible. I think it was just an amazing experience.” 

With Rajai being a close friend of Hectors, it’s obvious that Goldfish was a very personal story to him. Having been around Rajai during the time of the incident, Hector witnessed a lot of the conversations that happened and how Rajai reacted to the situation. This reflected in the scenes and dialogue of Goldfish which were informed by real situations. “It also helped on the day of shooting, a lot of it was improvisation. In addition, the majority of the cast were people who knew Rajai. So that’s actually his Nan, that’s actually his sister and they’re his friends. That’s even the estate we grew up fucking around on, that’s his house. So it all was very organic, and a very natural process when it came to storytelling.”

Hector tells us the approach to making the film was realism. And that comes across clearly upon watching the short, the succinct sense of realism he aimed for comes across clearly in execution, Goldfish is a prime example of the visceral storytelling style he has become known for. “It all was genuine. It was made from a genuine place. It was a story about Rajai made by Rajai.”

Heavily fueled by emotion and experiences both Hector and Rajai gained from the incident, Goldfish taps into themes of knife crime, social pressure, masculinity and its connection to mental health. “I think at the core what we really ended up delivering, is a film about finding the beauty within something so tragic and brutal. That was the story of our film, but I guess what made it even more poignant is this was the reality of Rajai.” Hector explains.

“We wanted to approach a very brutal subject from a very tender point of view. Rajai had a fucked up thing that happened to him. But he had such an inspiring mindset and If that can inspire other people in a similar way, then we’ve done our job.”

The striking film went on to be nominated for both BAFTA and BIFA awards, a notable feat for a directorial debut. “Receiving the nominations was surreal,” Hector tells us, “You don’t go into making a film with the awards/nominations in mind. So to come out the other side and get nominated for something so prestigious didn’t feel real. But also definitely real, everybody involved in that film put their soul into it, so I guess deserved?”

Hector is an avid observer – “I feel the most free in my creative process when you are constantly reading, writing, listening, watching.” he explains. “When I’m in that kind of state, an idea will just come to you and then you incubate and sit on it. The idea might come to an end, you might have to just take time away from it, and then come back to it. But I definitely would say that, like an idea is just not just going to come to you if you’re not fueling yourself. So you need to just be inspired.”

However not every creative process is without flaws. We all burn out, get writers block or just completely blank out. For Hector, the hardest part is the execution, because it isn’t. “If an idea is well formed, then the execution is actually the easy part. I think the hard part is crafting the idea itself. You can have an idea and  it’s very early stages. Then you’ve got an idea when it’s made and is and is finished. But it’s the in-between part and it’s the crafting and it’s the hours that you need to put in that’s what defines a good idea.”

Now having toured with Post Malone and receiving awards nominations for his short film. Hector has some ideas of what a dream project would look like for him: “Kind of obvious, but to mention somebody like Al Pacino or Gary Oldman. I also think somebody from our generation that is currently shaping the future of acting, especially British, would be Daniel Kaluuya. He’s the man…..Also, I want to do a music video for Kendrick one day.”

But looking to the near future, Hector is already working on his next projects, with two feature films which are in development and the aforementioned Post Malone documentary in post production. I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say on one of the features (which I’m writing with my sister, Laura) but my debut film is set in Ireland with the Irish Travellers – it’s a mad story of a young boy finding a home within the Travelling community, and we’ll be using a real cast for that. It’s like fiction, set inside a non-fictional world. But yes, long form is my next step for sure.”

Looking ahead to his feature length films and documentaries, Hector has already achieved a lot in his career as a director so far. From growing up in Brixton to touring the U.S to releasing his own short film, Hector shared with us some advice he has for aspiring young filmmakers: 

“Just pick up a camera and start shooting no matter what it is. Because it’s better to be shooting than not. The worst thing a filmmaker can do is not make a film. So just start shooting. And never, ever be fucking scared to ask questions. Because no one expects you to know, especially when you’re first coming out. Fucking ask questions and be fucking ruthless.

Don’t let anyone tell you shit or tell you that you can’t make something. Because if you’ve got an idea, and you believe in it strong enough, you will get made. As a director and filmmaker, you’re at the wheel and only you can get that film made. So if you want it enough, you just need to take it.”