Never Stop Learning: A Chat with Philip Bloom
Acclaimed filmmaker Philip Bloom works as a director, DP, and cinematographer, in addition to teaching workshops that emphasize the power of storytelling. As the director for CNN’s The Wonder List, a hit show documenting the remaining wonders of the world, Bloom pairs with host Bill Weir to capture what CNN.com calls “stories of extraordinary people, places, cultures and creatures at a crossroads.” The team travels everywhere from the Everglades to the Galapagos islands to Venice, showcasing the beauty of the earth alongside its problems. Their goal? Sparking conversations about change and conservation, both culturally and ecologically.
Bloom is a busy guy with 26 years of filmmaking under his belt, shooting everything from documentaries, corporate films, music videos, narrative fiction and commercials. He travels globally for The Wonder List and other projects, and his work resonates with filmmakers around the world. As both a gear enthusiast and an educator, Bloom was more than willing to share his knowledge at our NAB booth and with our community here.
We chatted with Bloom after our booth hang-out to ask him a few more of our burning questions. Check out Philip’s answers below:
Story & Heart: How did you get to where you are today as a filmmaker?
Philip: A lot of hard work and a lot of time. That question alone could fill a few articles. I started 27 years ago as a runner in TV news. I then worked my way up to being a news cameraman until I was doing all the stories I wanted to be doing, especially the longform ones. Then I left to stretch myself ten years ago. In those ten years I have challenged myself constantly to always improve in every aspect of my work.
Story & Heart: You’ve spoken a lot about The Wonder List, the CNN show you DP with host Bill Weir, today at our booth. What was the most challenging project that you worked on last year, or was that The Wonder List?
Philip: The Wonder List takes up so much of my time, it’s pretty full on. We did a four week chunk which was really hard, because you’re working every day back to back with lots of travelling. That’s hard because you’re trying to keep fresh, you need to rest between shoots. Doing solidly every single day is hard.
Story & Heart: Are you working on any personal projects right now? How do you balance that with your workload?
Philip: I haven’t really done anything personal for a while. I do photography in my free time. I need to do a documentary on my mom, because I did one on my dad. [The Wonder List] takes up a lot of time and I don’t do that many workshops these days, but when I do them, it makes me shoot more. When I’m shooting for work, I shoot less for myself.
Story & Heart: What makes a great story?
Philip: A great story is one that creates a resonating emotional response from the viewer. For me, a great story is one that people can connect to now matter how far geographically or socially it is from their own lives.
Story & Heart: Why do you think filmmaker education is so important?
Philip: Any education is important. You need to have education, whether it’s formal or not. You need to know what to do and then you can develop your own style. You don’t want to copy anybody. You need to know the rules. You need to know how to light, for instance. But there’s so much online to learn these days. My workshops are very story-based, so stuff that’s hard to find online. The path has changed from when I started. A lot of people are starting young without any training, and it’s challenging for anybody. You need to have some training. The thing is with education that you never stop. I’m always learning. Nothing formal, but from working with other people and seeing other people shoot. If you ever get to the point where you think you’ve got nothing to learn, well, you’re arrogant.
Story & Heart: What advice do you have for filmmakers, new or experienced?
Philip: My best advice is to realize that doing this is a privilege. You could be doing a proper job for a living. I am lucky enough to get paid to do what I love but I never get complacent. I am always learning, literally, on every shoot. You will never stop learning and if you ever think you know it all then you are sorely wrong. Always give 100% to every job you do whether it is something you want to do or not. The moment you don’t give it your all is the moment you start down the slippery slope of hating your job. If you make something good out of something hugely challenging, that sense of satisfaction is priceless.