Name: Demi Sutherland

Primary Skill(s): Assistant Director, Production Assistant, Floor Runner, Script Supervisor

Methil-born Demi Sutherland’s freelancing career has seen her crewing on big-budget blockbusters such as Avengers Infinity War and Outlaw King, while continuing to be a part of Scotland’s independent filmmaking scene.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background. How did you first get involved in film?

I am a freelance filmmaker working in film, TV, drama, commercial and independent short films.

I first got involved in film having had an interest from a young age in taking photographs, which progressed into me doing a course at Napier University in Photography & Film. My school offered Media Studies which helped me understand film language a little better. At Uni I met many people through my course, societies and opportunities.

My first ‘break’ was actually with Gavin Hugh on a set in Fife, who recommended me to a director in Edinburgh. I worked on a job and met more people from Glasgow and so the story goes…

Demi (left) on the set of What Separates Us From Beasts with director Sedona May Tubbs.

Tell us about your career before film. What are the differences you’ve found in the world of filmmaking?

I never really had a “career” per se before film, but I did used to work as a tour guide for a length of time, in a brewery and at a science centre. This, like working in film, required communicating to large groups of people with patience and an enthusiasm for what you’re doing.

The difference in film (as with many other jobs) is definitely the hours. You’re required to work on set for 12 hours – sometimes more. A benefit I love is frequently getting to work outdoors! So, you need more stamina than normal. That’s probably a big difference. 

You’ve been involved in a number of projects over the years. What have been some of the highlights?

Working in film has allowed me to assist on shoots in Amsterdam, Spain, China, and the Scottish Highlands. I’ve worked on several productions for Netflix (including Outlaw King and Death by Magic) and on Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War. Some of the highlights have been seeing some incredible stunts, meeting incredibly supportive and influential people, and being part of a huge operation.

One of the coolest moments I think was communicating among mountain ranges between a helicopter launch and the set to direct the helicopter over on Outlaw King. This was a huge film to work on and be involved in. Working in the crowd team looking after large groups of supporting artists, and seeing so many beautiful and often off limit locations in Scotland during memorably great weather was definitely another highlight!

Do you prefer working on smaller projects from local filmmakers, or larger studio productions?

Controversially, I’d probably say smaller!

Everyone loves getting paid well and seeing well renowned actors, directors, amazing sets and stunts… but I personally learn way more on smaller productions and the creativity in the room is electric! You can feel it in every corner. Everyone is testing out what they would one day love to do and the energy is more apparent and shared within the set I think. The teams are a lot smaller which allows a greater team bond.

Demi (bottom right) on set for the Glasgow-set comedy series Weegies.

What is your favourite thing about being on a set?

The problem solving. You exercise muscles in your brain you don’t do every day. It feels like a workout. You gain a real sense of a team accomplishment and feel you’ve overcome and achieved something – often when time, money, or circumstances were up against you.

How important do you think team chemistry is on set?

It’s everything, especially between Heads of Departments.

Filmmaking is a fine balance between collaboration and hierarchy but there’s definitely chemistry in-between all of that. Without it communication breaks down, momentum breaks down and it can make for a tense atmosphere which can affect alertness, safety, creativity and problem solving. It’s a big thing. You’ll have so much more fun, and develop lasting relationships with good team chemistry. 

Have you ever experienced any stigma or jokes at your expense about being from Fife?

I’m happy to say I haven’t experienced any truly negative stigma about Fife and if so I’m the one cracking the jokes. I’ve never been ashamed of telling people I’m from Methil – if anything it gives me an edge! But seriously, where you’re from makes you unique, don’t be afraid to bring this to set and into your work.

People may think or think they know that Fife is a rough area, but only you can change their bias. After all, you represent where you come from, the places that shape us, and I believe you can change prejudices through your own successes and decorum. 

Demi on the set of The Quiet (dir. Vito Milazzo).

How difficult have you found it to turn working in film or television into a professional career?

After leaving film school, l I worked in a sushi restaurant and a clothing store for a year and a half because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do – or really, how! My start began from working on short films or projects through people I met who were also interested in working in film and it grew from there.

One person I worked with would recommend me for another project which would lead to another and so on. I built up a network of friends from this and met some of my very best friends today through filmmaking. It was scary to stop working part time jobs and commit fully to being a freelancer, financially and I guess for comfort reasons.

My advice would be to save up as much money as you can to cushion you during this leap! I found it a slow (and scary!) but progressive transition this way. Stay constantly eager and happy to help! Never reject free work – all my paid work came from the free jobs I did first.

The coronavirus has stopped many film and television productions. Have you been impacted by this?

Unfortunately, the type of film work I was doing before the virus has stopped and cannot carry on until probably much further down the line. Instead, I’ve been using the time to pursue my new career path in film: brushing up on skills and practice in wildlife filmmaking! I’ve been considering this transition for a long time, as it’s something I love doing.

I’ve found it challenging but so rewarding so far. I’m learning so much from this side of the industry and I hope to establish myself in the future. It was always something I would watch on the likes of Planet Earth and think: “I’d never be able to do that, I’m too late, I’ve missed the boat”, but I’m finally giving it a try.

It’s not a goodbye to the drama side of things, as I still have a love for that type of filmmaking (especially short films) but it’s certainly where I want to be in 5 – 10 years time in regards to a paid career path. I’m a very environmental person, so it’s all kind of clicked for me lately that there were these other callings and interests I had that could meet my love for filmmaking.

I’m also not very acclimatised at editing, so I’ve been trying to vastly improve on that whilst in isolation.

Tell us a bit about what else interests you outside of the world of filmmaking.

I have many interests outside of filmmaking. Like I said, I’m interested in wildlife. I enjoy painting portraiture (I nearly went to art school), writing, reading and recently, because of the virus, I’ve really gotten into yoga and watching Formula 1! So I’d love to collaborate on any of these, ha. Especially maybe writing lyrics with a talented musician.

Many people say there aren’t enough opportunities for creative people in Fife. What are your own thoughts?

I’m not in the loop now in regards to current opportunities, but when I was in high school I remember two major opportunities that shaped my interests and development. Those were youth theatre at the Kinetic Youth Theatre in Buckhaven and a project called The Big Shouts Big Films which took place from Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy. Both really allowed me to be creative and experience what making a film was like.

In regards to Fife now, I’d say you probably have to really source out creative opportunities or make your own! I know many people from Fife that are creative and enthusiastic. You’d probably be pleasantly surprised if you asked a few like-minded individuals to collaborate on a project you wanted to do, and you’ve created a “community” from there.

What projects are you hoping to do next?

I always have so many ideas buzzing around in my head. The lockdown has made me realise the ones I really can’t wait to do once this is over! One of those requires sourcing a few materials and hopefully collaborating with some animators!

What is your favourite film, and why?

Ok, so this film I hold personally responsible for making me want to ever be a filmmaker. It’s Jurassic Park!

I was blown away when I saw this when I was 5 years old – and of course I thought dinosaurs were very cool – but to this day I still think it’s a perfect film, because it’s almost bigger than your imagination and really takes you elsewhere.

I’m still immersed in the film experience when I watch this: the music, the graphics, the mise-en-scene are all working together seamlessly in my opinion. It’s iconic, and I love it.

What words of advice would you give someone new to filmmaking?

Make your own magic.

Enthusiasm will take you everywhere and never feel disadvantaged because of where you come from or the different experiences or start you’ve had in your journey compared to others. You have something unique to bring and if that’s just an interest or passion to work in film then that is gold in itself.

Watch your favourite film and really think about why you like it. Grab a camera (anything will do) and go out and find something interesting to film. This could be a tree blowing in the wind – anything! Piece some simple cuts of footage to some music you like and see what happens, see if you can infer any meaning or subject matter from this. For me, filmmaking hides in there somewhere.

I’d advocate for chasing some kind of higher education on filmmaking but this could literally be a short course or university. Learn from others, from Youtube, or a book. The most important thing is that you practice and collaborate.

You don’t appreciate this stuff as much when you’re younger, but I’d always say to keep an eye on Creative Scotland’s Opportunities page as it’s a great resource.

Any final thoughts?

Great questions! Really had me thinking! Was lovely to go down memory lane and reflect. Hope this helps someone!