etting a campfire going is harder than it looks. Especially when you’re against the clock, and trying to get the flames roaring before the sun goes down over Sheppey.
In this case the wood wasn’t catching. The bits of old packing crate looked good, forming a kind of teepee around a few flickering flames. But it was a long way from a glorious blaze.
And it had to be right. Because there were memories to recreate. Good memories. And Stephen Fisher was here to recreate them.
You might think it’s impossible to portray Whitstable in a way that is entirely new. But it depends on who is behind the camera.
That man was Fisher, a multiple Emmy-award winning cinematographer, who on a short visit to Whitstable, wanted to give it a try.
He began by doing what you might do when you travel – he read between the lines of the guidebook.
(You can view Stephen’s Whitstable video here)
“ My vision when I travel is finding something that only a few people know about. You want to find those unique things. . .]
Here’s a beach I can surf, and only locals know about this. You don’t want to walk into Times Square when you go to New York City, you want to go to the Lower East side.
So when he was invited to film Whitstable, Fisher set about working his way back past all the images of oysters and beach huts, to find something different.
When I talked to Dan he told me that his family was born and raised in Whitstable. So I asked him: what are your memories from childhood ? What makes Whitstable “Whitstable” to you ?
One of the things he said was going down to the beach and having a fire, hanging out with friends and listening to music. Jumping over the fire. Basically just having fun.
Which brought attention back to getting the fire going, and the images Fisher was looking for. Something nostalgic perhaps, but which also captured timeless sentiments in a town that has since grown unrecognisable.
Which was something like what Fisher had in mind.
You want to make your video for the community. But you also want to make it for the outsider who wants to become part of that community. Even for only a couple of days.
Fisher does it well, with an eclectic portfolio that you can find on his website – fishphilms.
He works without pretension, in a baseball cap, and Chuck Taylor’s. Originally from Montreal in Canada, he now lives with his girlfriend in London.
But his work takes him around the world, which, as a child of missionary parents, he’s grown used to.
It’s varied work too. One month he’s in Africa making a documentary about the plight of children in some of the most deprived countries in the world. The next he’s filming the bobsled for NBC at the Winter Olympics in Korea.
Then of course he’s in Whitstable, trying to get people to act naturally in front of camera. As he put it, when people know they’re being filmed, they tend to forget how to walk properly.
But with a wry grin he explains it’s not always about notions of high art. There are bills to pay after all. He goes where the work is.
That might be documentary making, filming sports events, or creating advertising.
So was he thinking in terms of selling the idea of Whitstable?
It’s more like affirming. Somebody’s already made a choice. They got here because somebody told them “we went to Whitstable and we loved it”.
But if you can go somewhere to look at all the fun stuff, and how great the place looks, that affirms.
“ That’s how you connect. I think people have already made up their minds. They just want something to make them seem right. . .]
It’s an idea not lost on Fisher the traveller. He was quick to discover the parts of Whitstable he could connect with as a creative type.
I think it attracts a certain type of person. I don’t know necessary if you get inspired, but you might already be inspired and you’re just looking for somewhere to relax and think about it, and let it develop. I think that’s what this place does for you.
So while it was a short visit for Fisher, it was a productive one.
While he might always be on the look out for work, sometimes the work seems to find him, and Whitstable is a good place for that.
Even here. A guy was walking by and said “Hey that’s a cool little piece of kit you have”. He ended up being a creative director that lives in London. “Give me your card I’ll call you”.
Then the other day at the Neptune, there was documentary filmmaker who used to work for the Discovery Channel and he’s like oh yeah, I used to do this kind of stuff, give me your card.
But a few days was enough for Fisher to tell part of the town’s story, albeit through the eyes of a few locals reminiscing about their youth.
Which is kind of how he likes it, and which makes the work so rewarding: uncovering those hidden places, whether it’s in a small Kent town, or in cities on the other side of the world.
He gives his own example.
“ There’s a great Mexican restaurant at the back of a grocery store in Brooklyn. And you would have no idea it was there because I don’t think they have a license to operate. But they make the best tacos I’ve had in the States. . .]
And I didn’t find out about this through whoever. I found out about it through a friend who lives there that was walking by one day, and ended up stumbling across it.
It might be that there are no more of those places in a small town like Whitstable. But that shouldn’t stop people from looking.
I guess you just want to give people an idea this is possible. This is stuff you can do.
He paused, and then seemed ready to confess something.
I’m not sure you’re allowed to light a fire on a beach…