Invest in Your Education with Shadows & Light

How can you continue to grow as a filmmaker? Never stop learning. That mantra comes straight from acclaimed DP Philip Bloom, and it’s a philosophy we fully support.

Philip does more than talk the talk—he helps put on an annual educational workshop called Shadows & Light with filmmaker and friend Fraser McGruer. The goal: give filmmakers a tangible place to hone their skills, get inspired, and connect with a greater community.

The conference this year boasts a stellar lineup. Phil Arntz will speak on working with high-frame rates; James Tonkin (who’s worked with everyone from Beyonce to the Rolling Stones) will advise on how to get high production value with a small team; Danny Lacey, owner of production company The Stada Group, will dive into how to run a successful business. Plus, attendees will have the chance to submit their work to Philip Bloom for critique...and that in itself is an opportunity of a lifetime.

Frankly, we’re jealous we can’t be there. But here’s the thing: you can. The conference runs from July 11-12 in Brighton, UK...and if you sign up with promo “STORYHEART,” you’ll save £100 off your ticket.

Curious about how this event came to be and why you need to attend? We sat down with the event’s co-creator, Fraser McGruer, an event planner and filmmaker himself.

Fraser shares his story of how he met Philip, brought the event to life, and how the Shadows & Light community continues to grow.

What is your background—with filmmaking and otherwise?

I'm a filmmaker, a photographer, and an event organizer. I was hobbyist photographer and that got more or less serious as time went by. When SLRs went digital, it made things more affordable. My photography took a real step up in 2008, when my daughter was born and we moved to Honduras. The light was so good, and the surroundings were so interesting and inspiring. That really took my photography to another level.

Philip Bloom, co-creator of Shadows & Light.

Philip Bloom, co-creator of Shadows & Light.

Then, my camera was stolen, and I replaced it with a Canon 5D MK II. That really got me shooting moving image. I started shooting more and more and became more interested in capturing all sorts of personal content as my family grew.

I did a part time documentary filmmaking course—documentary is what I really love—and then I went full time as a filmmaker/photographer about 2 years ago.

How did you connect with Philip Bloom?

When my camera was stolen, I was researching a replacement. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was looking at Philip’s website. Right at that moment, the landscape for photography and film hardware was changing, and Philip seemed very engaged in discussing everything with his audience.

After reading his site, I went with the 5D MK II, and it's something I still shoot with now. He seemed so open that without trepidation, I e-mailed him and asked, "Hey, what lenses do you recommend?" He instantly replied and we had a conversation.

I attended one of his seminars a year or two later, which I found really useful. From 2010 onwards, I was a follower of Philip’s.

All of these things combined led to approach Philip 2 or 3 years ago to say, "Hey, let's start a conference together for filmmakers." That led to Shadows & Light being born.

I felt that there was a community waiting to happen.
— Fraser McGruer, creator of Shadows & Light

What need were you trying to fill by creating this conference?

Shadows & Light will take place from July 11-12 in Brighton, UK.

Shadows & Light will take place from July 11-12 in Brighton, UK.

I realized that there was a huge new audience of filmmakers, whose background is either photography or DSLR filmmaking. I felt that there was a community waiting to happen. As a filmmaker, unless you've come into film from traditional training at university, or college, or taking on a broadcast apprenticeship, you can feel isolated. The biggest thing was bringing people together who don't know one another to forge a community of people who are like-minded.

Why is that community important for filmmakers?

You often hear the phrase, "Filmmaking is a collaborative business." Actually, for a lot of the time, it doesn't feel like that to me.

If I can work with others, that's fantastic. If I can have an assistant, DP, or sound guy, that’s great. But most of the time I'm on my own. Secondly, I came into filmmaking from something else—I've always been a filmmaker on my own.

I think there are a lot of people like that. That's why the community aspect is important: what I get from the other attendees at Shadows & Light is inspiration. I see amazing films. The conference also connects people so they can work together in the future, and provides a forum for people to discuss common issues, like pricing and budgeting, or how to conduct an interview.

Shadows & Light participants. Image courtesy of

Shadows & Light participants. Image courtesy of

Where does the name Shadows & Light come from?

Arguably, that's what film is all about: manipulating light, and the reverse of that is the shadows involved.

I think there’s also a correlation in the name to the ups and downs of filmmaking. I, personally, find filmmaking very challenging. Sometimes you mess up, but it’s important to have those failures. Working as a one person team is also tough.

What were the highlights from last year’s event?

Meeting all of the people I had been speaking with for months gave me a real sense of satisfaction from bringing these people together.

And there are some great success stories. I was speaking to a past attendee about this year’s conference, and in our conversation he said that he set up his own film production company because of Shadows & Light. He said that after learning from the workshops and meeting other people at Shadows & Light, he gained the confidence to start his own company.

Why is investing in education—and in yourself—so important as a filmmaker?

One of the things that I love about film is that it’s really difficult. On each shoot, you're learning something. I think it's a craft that you can continually improve. And film is constantly changing in terms of the options available to filmmakers; we all know that gear comes out all the time. Keeping up with gear and trends in the market and what's expected of you is important.

I think that's the reason why it's worth investing in education, whatever that might mean. It might mean investing in books, it might mean investing in seminars. Of course, I hope, it might mean investing in Shadows & Light.

What will people learn at Shadows & Light?

Two main things: I think there's the primary learning you get from the speakers and the workshops. But I think the other thing that's equally important is meeting other filmmakers and talking to them. I think that's a learning experience in itself. Going on to collaborate afterwards and learning from each other. That, I think, is the main learning aspect.

Excited to learn more about this amazing event? Check out their site to learn more. Plus, there’s still time to sign up. Shadows & Light runs from July 11-12 in Brighton, UK.

Use code STORYHEART to save £100 off your ticket price. And don’t forget to send us a postcard!


Justin DeMers