Creative Lives — Be loud! Video editor at Channel 4, Dréa D Chambers, on finding purpose
If you’re a follower of Channel 4 on social media, there’s a good chance you’ve seen some of Dréa D Chambers’ work. As part of the social media team at 4Studio in Leeds, it’s their job to create meaningful, informative and inclusive content. But the best thing about working at Channel 4? “The diversity in the team; I’ve never worked at a place quite like it,” Dréa tells us. This hasn’t always been the case, however – and after an early experience with a toxic working environment, Dréa is now using their position to push for greater equity and representation in industry. Dréa fills us in on their own filmmaking platform HAUS presents and their most important learnings to date – including why handling criticism is an essential skill.
Dréa D Chambers
Junior Video Editor, 4Studio at Channel 4 (March 2020–Present)
Creative, DAZN (2017–2020)
BA Digital Film Making, SAE Institute Liverpool (2014–2016)
How would you describe what you do?
I would say that I am a versatile creative individual. Filmmaking is my main medium, but I love to make music; I’ve played bass guitar for 15 years and I’m currently waiting for things to settle down in my schedule so that I can start learning the clarinet I bought two months ago.
I write a lot of poetry that commentates on my experiences and the happenings in the world surrounding me. I also love photography and creating photo art, either in the form of a collage or something conceptual like ‘Blosom’, which is a look at femininity in the masculine body, inspired by my readings of Grayson Perry’s The Descent of Man, and Adrian Piper’s A Synthesis Of Intuition exhibition.
Work for Channel 4 IGTV
During the 9 to 5, I’m a junior video editor for 4Studio, so it really is non-stop – but I do also have plenty of time to chill and see loved ones, that’s why its important to be organised.
4Studio is a sub-department within the Channel 4 umbrella that is responsible for creating content for our social media accounts. I liaise with producers, the social media team, and designers to create content for C4, E4 and All4 social platforms. During my time at C4 so far, I was lucky enough to create the visual framework for Grayson Perry’s Art Club IGTV content, and I’m also working on the social content for his American Road Trip three-part series which looks at the cultural divides in the USA. This means a lot to me, as Grayson is an important idol in my life.
It’s a bit of a hurricane in this brain of mine sometimes, but as I’ve matured, learnt the importance of patience, self-care and being organised, I’m no longer overwhelmed by the abundance of projects I’m juggling.
Content for Channel 4’s Facebook page
What does an average working day look like and where does it happen?
Because of COVID-19 I have been working from home since the very first day I started at Channel 4, although we are now going back to the office on a voluntary basis.
Usually my day starts with a coffee, and a quick blast on the social media news pages to update myself on the night’s happenings. Right now I’m also doing an intermittent diet, so I don’t eat anything before 11:30am. But once I’ve drank my coffee and scrolled, I catch up on work emails and look at my weekly deadlines so I can organise the week ahead.
At 4studio, we have a weekly meeting every Monday where we update the wider team. Once that’s occurred, the week is set for me to churn out content – although new briefs can also pop up throughout the week. I try to make sure I go for a cycle every lunch time, especially now that I’m training to do a one-day bike tour from Leeds to Liverpool to raise money for the Free Black University project set up by Melz Owusu. In the evenings, I dedicate my time either to my loved ones or my independent projects, depending on the priority of the project or my mood.
“To get the best result – and for your own development – knowing how to handle constructive criticism is an essential skill.”
What skills and tools would you say are essential to your work?
I would say a key skill is being interpersonal. It’s important that within a creative environment, you feel comfortable interacting with your co-workers. That doesn’t mean you need to be an extrovert; you just need to be comfortable with, and capable of, talking to people because it is a collaborative effort after all.
Being able to take and process constructive criticism is another vital skill. There will never be a week where an edit I work on gets put through the blender as feedback comes back from producers and contributors. You need to control your emotions – I know there have been times where I haven’t! But in order to get the best result for the company in the most efficient time – and for your own development as a creative – knowing how to handle constructive criticism is an essential skill.
A poem by Dréa, referencing their transition to non-binary
What do you like most about working at Channel 4?
The thing I love most about Channel 4 is the diversity in the team; I’ve never worked at a place quite like it. It’s great to see and work with people from all facets of our society – and a lot of the people in my team are womxn which is a stark contrast to my previous place of employment.
I transitioned to non-binary during my time at Channel 4, and they made me feel so at ease and supported during the whole process. Also, the type of content I get to work on is really important to me; it brings a lot of fulfilment to my heart. It’s meaningful, informative, inclusive and important content for our world to digest.
How do you find Leeds as a place to live and work from?
Leeds is fantastic. It’s urban but encompasses so many nature reserves. The nightlife is sick… well, was sick. But especially for us underground and industrial music scene fiends, there’s a lot on offer. And as a northern creative hub, I feel like it gets eclipsed by Manchester far too often.
Creativity in Leeds is thriving, and growing exponentially. You’ve got places like East Street Arts, Open Source Arts, Left Bank Leeds, and CHUNK, that offer great spots to meet local creatives and likeminded people. And platforms such as Urban Soul, The Sunday Practise and Say It With Your Chest provide a space for Black artists to showcase their work. People are willing to help people out here – that’s the mentality up ‘ere in North and in Leeds. I think the UK really needs to watch out for Leeds, we are a proud bunch with loud and creative personalities.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
In March I set up a filmmaking organisation called HAUS presents, a platform dedicated to creating, profound, informative and captivating films and short series. Our latest project, Melanin, is an anthology series exhibiting Black British art and history. COVID-19 has delayed a lot of the production, but I managed to organise a couple of the integral shoots. One of them gave me the chance to collaborate with an artist called Altherhythm, a poet and yoga lover from Liverpool. For the visual framework, we got her into Video Odyssey Studio in Toxeth, Liverpool. We projected contextual images and animated text onto her whilst she performed a variety of yoga positions, which will then be complimented by her heartfelt poem and informative cutaways that commentate on racial injustice in the UK.
It also gave my partner a chance to dip her toes into the world of video production. She shot the behind-the-scenes film, which will be released in the coming weeks. But it was important for me to give her a chance; that’s what I’m about, giving people a chance no matter what your background and experience is. The episode, titled, The Black Liver Bird, and the rest of the Melanin series will be released most likely at the end of January 2021.
Dréa and Altherhythm
With so many changes happening all over the world over the past few months, do you feel your industry, role or even outlook has been affected?
The spark of the Black Lives Matter movement after George Floyd’s murder sent me into a state of deep self-examination. I grew up as a Black person who lived behind the picket fence of white middle class, and I disassociated myself from the stereotypical image of Blackness due to a complicated relationship I have with my father.
So the spark made me realise just how much I had been neglecting Black culture and my innate connection with it. It helped me unlearn the inauthentic criteria attached to being Black and understand the many authentic facets of Blackness; that I’ve always been Black, but just not a stereotype.
“I am in a position where I can push on and help bring equity in the film and video-making industry.”
It was this newfound love and respect for my Blackness, and a now-burning intrigue for our historical stories and successes that conceived ‘Melanin’, and my new objective as a professional artist. It made me realise that I am in a position where I can push on and help bring equity in the film and video-making industry. It gave me a meaningful purpose, something that had eluded me prior to May 25th.
And I am so grateful to be working for a company who hold strong anti-racist values and respect me as a Black employee. I feel like I am in the perfect organisation to fulfil my dreams of amplifying the stories and lives of Black people and other marginalised people – whether that be through representation in our programming or by providing job opportunities and support.
Poems by Dréa
How I Got Here
Do you feel your upbringing had an influence on your choice of career?
I guess it had a big influence. My mother worked in casting at ITV back in the day, and I had a number of opportunities to go into her office and see what was happening. My mother, who was my number one carer, is also a creative individual, so I think being around her allowed me to discover my creativity.
When it came to my A-Levels, however, I had no intention on pursuing film, funnily enough. My plan was to do maths, history and physics; it wasn’t until my head of sixth form pulled me into the office and was like, “I really think you should consider doing a subject that is a little less challenging than the three you have chosen.” So in that moment I picked film studies because I enjoyed media studies at GCSE level, and had an interest in film production from my experience of seeing my Mum’s working environment. I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t make that decision when I was younger.
You studied at SAE Institute – how important was this to your career progression?
Going to SAE changed my life. Originally I intended to study history at Liverpool John Moores, but I didn’t get the results I needed to attend. I took a year out, re-evaluated things and realised filmmaking is definitely the career I want to pursue. I ended up going to Bucks New University in High Wycombe for two semesters. I loved the people I met and the path I was going down, but I hated the town and the university – I’m a city dweller!
So I started doing a bit of research and I stumbled across SAE institute’s two-year digital filmmaking course in Liverpool. Looking back, if I hadn’t had done the semesters at Bucks, then it’s likely that off the back of my A-Level results I wouldn’t have had the qualifications to get into SAE. They really took a chance with me, and I’m forever grateful.
“SAE was the best decision I ever made! Without it, I really would not have known my potential.”
SAE was a fantastic experience. It was predominantly practical rather than theoretical, which suited me, because at the time, exams and essays were not my thing. The opportunities and training were next to none. In the first week of studying we had the opportunity to work on the production of ‘Between Two Worlds’ which starred music producer, Example. I didn’t jump on that opportunity because I was far too busy making friends and partying in a fantastic university city. But opportunities like that were a common feature, and having that exposure whilst studying, being trained on industry leading equipment such as the Black Magic URSA and the Steadicam in first year really helped shape my future as a filmmaker.
Plus the people I met during my time there are filmmakers I am collaborating with still to this day. SAE was the best decision I ever made! Without it, I really would not have known my potential or got the breakthroughs that are bringing me success.
Tellin’ Dad, 2016
Would you say formal training is essential for what you do?
I think formal training is needed to some degree. We live in a competitive world, and the film industry is one of the most competitive sectors. Knowing the latest tech, lingo and procedures is essential to get ahead. And, unfortunately, to get a corporate job, qualifications will put you ahead.
Plus, speaking from experience as someone who comes from an underprivileged background, these training opportunities may be the only chance you get to operate equipment because they are expensive. And you are exposed to networking, which opens up opportunities and takes you down paths that will further your development – not only as a filmmaker, but as an adult navigating this difficult and sometimes debilitating world.
After graduating, what were your initial steps?
I definitely didn’t find my feet quickly. I moved back to Leeds and got a job at John Lewis, which was depressing. Even though I passed university with a first-class BA honours degree, time is destructive; the longer I was at John Lewis, the harder it became to get a job in my field. And I refused to go to London where there were plenty of opportunities that I could have applied for; I’m a northerner, and I want to help the north become recognised as a creative hub.
Opportunities were slim in Liverpool, but Channel 4 had announced their intentions of moving to Leeds, and there were independent production houses whose doors I was knocking on, unsuccessfully. But I waited, anxiously, and I’m glad that I did. I stayed connected to filmmakers that I met in Liverpool, and an opportunity came that would go on to be the project I needed to rekindle my confidence and get a job in the sector.
Work created while at DAZN; written, performed and edited by Dréa
Has there been a project that particularly helped your development?
The winter after graduating, and a few months into my tenure at John Lewis, I got a phone call from a friend of mine, Daniel Lewis, founder of Dock House Media & Podcast. He was one of the actors I worked closely with whilst creating student films at SAE. He said that someone was asking around for me and wanted me to direct and edit their next film. I was shocked and humbled by the request. This is where I met Carl Loughlin, the writer, producer and lead actor of Tellin’ Dad, my first short film.
The film centred around a working-class gay male called Dan, who had finally plucked up the courage to come out to his family. When I heard the premise I instantly accepted, because being queer myself it resonated with me. We shot the film on a shoestring budget. I edited it, and it premiered at Liverpool’s FACT cinema, and was picked up for distribution by the UK’s leading LGBTQ+ distributor, Peccadillo Pictures, in their Boys In Film series.
And then a few months after that, DAZN, an innovative sports streaming service, moved to Leeds. This was the first major broadcast media company to settle in Leeds. And finally, I saw a chance to get a job, somewhat in the area I had worked so hard to get into, that was in my beloved hometown. With Tellin’ Dad under my belt, I nailed the interview and got the job.
“I wasn’t passionate about pursuing a career in the sports production industry...and I was cripplingly introverted at the time as well.”
What would you say has been your biggest challenge in the industry so far?
The biggest challenge I have had to face was my entire tenure at DAZN actually. To start with, I am a sports fan, I love Arsenal, and through DAZN I grew to love the NFL as well. But I wasn’t passionate about pursuing a career in the sports production industry. So it was difficult being in a team of sports aficionados, and I was cripplingly introverted at the time as well.
Luckily, I latched myself onto the creative department and this is where I was able to shine, creating promotional content and sporting event openers. But the real challenge was navigating the heteronormative, toxic masculinity environment as a Black queer individual. For about a year and a half, I was the only Black employee in our team, and only a couple of individuals were members of the LGBTQ+ family.
“It’s not just about providing opportunities, it’s about creating an environment where people feel like they can thrive and live comfortably.”
I faced many racially-charged microaggressions that manipulated me, misguided me, skewed and suppressed my authentic identity, and left me in a state of dysphoria. This experience obliterated my mental health, and I slipped into a severe state of depression. I was changing the way I would act and behave in the office so I could fit in with these sport-obsessed men, be the cool Black guy that everyone liked, and suppress my Enby beauty out of fear of potential ostracising. And even though I have made lifelong friends out of my time at DAZN, and I am appreciative of the opportunity to develop as a young professional in the industry, the damage was pervasive and a challenge to overcome.
I didn’t get better until I eventually met my partner and moved to Channel 4, where I was finally able to come to terms and express the Genderqueer person that I am. I think the sports production industry has a lot of changing to do. Right now it is not a safe and propitious space for queers, womxn, and minority ethnic people. You know, it’s not just about providing opportunities, it’s about creating an environment where these people feel like they can thrive and live comfortably.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to an emerging creative wanting to get into the same line of work?
Persevere, because it isn’t easy. You can’t half-arse your way to your dreams, you’ve got to put in the extra work. And if you are from a marginalised group, then you’ve got to put in extra work on top of that.
Be loud, don’t be afraid to express your ideas and your personality – both in the physical world and through your work. If you can’t express who you are as a person in a company, then get out and find somewhere else, because there will always be somewhere that will love you for you and what you can do, and not just what you can do for them.
Be brave, make bold and sometimes even risky decisions. Trust your intuition, but also be open-minded, because not one person knows everything. Collaboration is so important to get the best end product, but also to help your development.
Listen to loved ones, take breaks, bare breaks! Look after your body and mind. Yoga, meditation, cycling, anything that helps you escape from reality for a bit. It will stop you from imploding and help to open your mind.
And last but not least, network your arse off! Be confident and approach people to talk about each other’s ideas. Like, anyone reading this – please feel free to hit me up for a chat, I’m always up for meeting and chatting with creatives and intellectuals alike.