Queer cinema and the Premier League: going #BehindTheLens with John Reavey

Queer cinema and the Premier League: going #BehindTheLens with John Reavey

This year’s LGBT+ History month is around the theme ‘Behind the Lens’ – celebrating the work of LGBTQ+ directors, producers, and crew, and raising awareness about the stories of the people behind the screen in TV, film and video content. To mark this, we’ve interviewed John Reavey, a Freelance Director currently working for the Premier League’s Creative team.

John has had a fascinating career so far – from breaking into the industry in a new country and new city at just 18, to taking the leap to going fully freelance in 2022, to the work he’s doing in the football world as a  creative director now. We at Salt are so happy to have had the opportunity to hear his story, and to share his recommendations: from what to watch this February to how to become your own boss, whatever your industry. 

Introducing John Reavey

My name is John Reavey. I am a 24 year old Freelance Director living in London, originally from Ireland.

I would describe what I do as ever changing, ever adapting, and a really, really fun but demanding job, which sometimes can be difficult to separate from life. Um, but that’s why I’m very lucky to say that I do what I love.

How did you break into the film industry?

I was obsessed with the internet from a young age, and I loved digital content. I loved the fact that you can create anything, from anywhere.

The internet opened my insights into creating and becoming an artist with some kind.

It wasn’t until I started studying film production at school that I find my passion for being behind the camera and really directing. I enjoyed deciding what looked good on camera and what I thought was interesting as an audience. And it was when I understood that I was pretty alright at it at school.

I knew I wanted to pursue it as a career, but coming from a really small town, not even a town, it’s a village of around a hundred people in Ireland, these things aren’t even viewed as careers. They’re viewed as dreams. But I always knew that I really wanted to do something like this.

That’s why I made a decision to move to London for University, and it was a massive step forward, putting myself in a city where there’s opportunities everywhere. But I knew that just being in London wouldn’t be enough. I didn’t know anybody.

So, when I was 18 being in London, I immediately reached out every time there was a set happening, I was putting my foot in the door, introducing myself to people, saying, hello, I will do anything for, for anyone, for no money at all. I just want to make connections. I want to meet people. And that was how I got my foot in the door.

It’s the best advice I can give to any young person or anyone who’s aspiring at any age wanting to work in the Film and TV.

What were your first jobs in crew like? Is there anything you learnt in the process?

So, the roles were usually production assistant , or running jobs, but I noticed that because I had experience in taking pictures I had something to offer, as no one really wanted to shoot for free.

I knew what would be a really useful tool for people is content and I knew that I could deliver that.

So, what I used to do was I would actually try my best to put myself in situations where there were people with a lot of followers, high profile a lot of good connections. And what I would do is I would take pictures of them and immediately send them, try and get their number, try and get their emails, try and get any sort of contact because that was different than just emailing them.

I was actually providing them with still image for their portfolio or a still image for their social media – and this was back when no one was really doing that. Doing that meant that I was immediately getting a connection. Sometimes they would even invite me back because the images I’d given them were great. I was making a connection that way.

That meant that next time I could be a runner on the set, I was introduced to the producer, introduced to the manager, and that was a tactic that I used a lot to meet people. You may think when you’re a production assistant or a runner that you can’t really give any value more than just making tea and copies or running errands on the set. But the reality is that you’re starting somewhere in the tier system, you’re looking to go up that ladder and you can provide value no matter where you are.

What do you think of this year’s LGBT+ History Month’s theme – #BehindTheLens?

I’m really glad there’s a light being shared on stories behind the lens, particularly as someone who works in crew, I see that directors, producers, and people who create what’s on screen go unnoticed.

Because people don’t really care as much about their stories. They care about the work that they create.

And although it’s so satisfactory to have what we create be loved – I find that a lot of the times people don’t ever dare to look behind the lens and figure out about the artists themselves who’ve created that piece and the stories that they have to offer. It’s usually the people who are involved in front of the camera. So, it’s really refreshing.

What was it like working for West Ham FC?

Working at West Ham was a massive step for me, I think, coming from a really small village. And I remember when I was offered a job, I called my mom. I couldn’t even believe that someone like me had put my foot in a door like that. Working with such a massive club for the biggest league in the world in football terms was massive and it set the standard for my career really.

I knew that I always wanted to be involved with the biggest brands. The biggest come up with the biggest me. West Ham was a really good opportunity to do that. My career highlight at West Ham was directing and producing the west Ham kit launch for 2021-22. It’s one of my proudest pieces of work. It was made with a very minimal crew and a whole lot of love.

West Ham kit launch 2021/22

I spent so many hours on that project, and it went on to, to do great things and it’s definitely something I’m so proud of and have great memories of even creating.

What was making the transition to freelance like?

So, freelance has always been a dream for me, and it was absolutely the scariest step I’ve ever made. When you come from a background where money doesn’t come easy, the idea that you are not guaranteed to make an income is terrifying. And it’s a step that I can only imagine will continue for a lot of young people.

It’s never just as easy as say and take the leap because there’s a lot of factors that come with it. I would’ve wanted to have gone freelance years before I did. But the reality is that it was never safe to do so. Being in a massive city like London, this place can eat you up and spit you out in seconds. So, you have to be really careful with the things you do.

It was more of a measured decision to go freelance. I felt that I had really grafted out and I felt comfortable in a place personally, that I could make the, the jump. Now, that said, it definitely wasn’t the case where there was no risk involved.

There’s always a risk going freelance, but I knew that I also had the hunger as well as I’d spent so much time planning it and years went in the jumping into it.

Going freelance was exactly the confidence boost I needed because now I feel that no matter what happens in my career, I’m always going to be able to consider freelance as an option.

I’m super fortunate to be able to say that, but it’s years and years of hard work, research and love that went into even getting that as an option. And I’m so proud of myself. The proudest thing I’ve ever done is go freelance and being my own boss.

How did you know when it was safe to go freelance?

The reality is when you never have a safety net of savings or inheritance to fall back on, it’s never going to feel like the right time. You have to really look deep in yourself and ask yourself, okay, do I feel like I can at least begin to do freelance as a career?

The reality is when you’re in a big city, example London, there’s always going be a retail job you can grab part-time if you need money urgently there’s, there’s more than enough ways to make money. You might not be doing what you want, but there’s more than enough ways to make it, even if it’s a small amount, to just pay your rent.

Luckily, I was in a position where I hadn’t signed any crazy contracts or massive money commitments, I felt uncomfortable paying, and I was in that position and I said to myself, yeah, it’s, it’s the right time. You know, some people get a lovely house and have lots of bills they need to pay for.

I had set myself up that it was all going to be realistic on a low budget. I think that’s a great way to start when you’re really scared making the jump and you haven’t got massive savings fall back on, it’s the way you have to do it and then you can just build from there.

You’re currently working for the Premier League’s creative team. What are you up to and what can listeners watch out for?

I am over the moon to be joining the Premier League. It’s been a dream come true to even just like say out loud. It doesn’t seem real and little me is still screaming every day I get to go into the Premier League office. I am currently working on a range of really cool projects.

I joined the creative team at Premier League and it’s been so satisfactory to finally be part of a team are creatively as driven as I am. There’s been lots of times when joining a role where you worry about if you’re going be creatively satisfied. The whole interview process, the whole onboarding process, everything from start to finish was so clear to me and I knew I simply had to get involved.

Anyone that maybe wants to follow any more of my work to get really excited for some outside of the box content, whether it’s promotional or it’s just content to be engaged and listened to. But I’m definitely bringing something new to the table in the realm of football and I couldn’t be more excited for it.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to go freelance?

I would say you need to learn from the best. You need to almost find yourself a mentor. I’ve met so many people who have had mentors.

For myself that was just one of my best friends, who is a full-time freelancer and has been for many years. Any questions or concerns I felt comfortable asking him whether it was the stupid question I could think of, or it was a basic simple one.

The reality is that the role of freelance is untouched when you’ve stayed in full-time employment for your life.

There’s going be a lot of silly questions you have because you’re still figuring it all out when you haven’t even jumped yet. So, having someone you can ask those questions to and really feel comfortable and get them out the way and understand how it all works and see it done in person and know that you can do something similar is exactly what you need, in my opinion.

Is there any career advice you wish you’d had earlier on?

To be honest, like I think it’s more the reassurance of constantly believing in yourself. Particularly in the freelance world, you need to be believing in yourself and you need to be maximizing the time that you have.

There’s days in the freelance world where people wake up and they haven’t got a gig booked, they haven’t got a job booked, and they take that as a day off Monday to Friday. That time is still on the clock. Even if you are not making direct money during that, that is valuable time to secure how you’re going to get the next money.

It’s really easy to get into the mindset that when you are not being paid for something directly, that it’s not as important. But the reality is that as a freelancer securing work and working towards the next job, in any situation, is as valuable as actually doing the work.

That’s something I wish I knew as well as constant reassurance: try not to compare yourself to what everyone has to doing. I think putting up an age where I have literally seen Instagram transform people’s careers for the good and the bad. YouTube, TikTok completely dominate the social space and digital space.

It’s so easy to compare everybody else with what you’re doing, but the reality is that no one is doing what you’re doing because there never will be in the history of the world, someone like you again and you have to just focus on what you’re doing and you will be happy no matter what.

What has been your biggest learning moment?

For me, it was two things that come to mind. The first one is working on the Reavey Brothers short film project. It was my directorial debut and I worked with an incredible producer called Jamie Tarr, and the standard that brought to everything he did, not just what was on screen changed my life for the rest of my life.

Every single meeting we had, whether it was a coffee, whether we were hanging out together socially, he was there five minutes early and he looked great. He smelled great. He was more than prepared with a pen and paper in hand, whereas at the beginning I was rocking up minutes late as we had lots of time in my mind.

Working with him on the standard that he brought to every element of the project has impacted the way I work and will impact the way I work for the rest of my life. Everything on that project was done to the highest standard it could be.

I’m a man of standards when I see it on camera, but he brought a standard to how people interacted, how people worked together.

Everything was so tailored perfectly, whether it was the accommodation people had, the events we were doing after work and the lunches we had, there was love with every decision. I think that, especially in film where essentially what you see is all you see on the screen. It’s easy to forget that behind the camera. There’s so much more that happens. Working with the producer, Jamie Tarr was definitely, definitely a career defining and phenomenal moment.

The second one for me was when I moved to London, the first day of my life in London, I was 19. And I got to my student halls. I had lived with my parents for my entire life before then, and I had, a couple hundred pound savings from Primark, which I used to work in. I arrived at student halls and I had one bag with clothes basically. I had no bedsheets, no quilts. I didn’t have any shipping coming over. I didn’t have a fork, knife or spoon, nothing to cook with, no cutlery. And that was when I realized, I could no longer fall back on anyone, and I was completely on my own then. Its biggest like reality check I ever got.

Although I was not spoiled growing up in terms of financially, I was certainly looked after by my parents in terms of like I would come home and my mom would make my dinner. I’m so fortunate for that. And that was just no longer the case. If I didn’t make myself food, I wasn’t going to eat.

That was when I realized I was on my own and it was absolutely no one to go back to. No support system and a complete fresh start.

Also with my sexuality, I wasn’t fully confident then, and I just felt like a totally new person. And the first person I speak to, I can tell them I’m gay and there’s no connotations because they don’t have any of the same connections, and it was the most overwhelming experience and thus began an entire new life.

With #BehindTheLens being the Awareness Month theme this year, are there any films that you’d recommend they go away and watch?

In terms of queer stories that go #BehindTheLens, a film I would recommend, which is an Irish watch, it’s called Dating Amber. It is a story which follows two young queer people in Ireland, rural Ireland. I think what I love about it is that impacts so many people that exist in Ireland and the invisibility to those living outside in cities. Those that pretend to be someone they are not.

It does so much for people who live outside this realm of what we see in front of the camera, and that would be my definite recommendation. I love that film.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I know when I was very young, I wanted to be a football player and the reality is that was never going to happen. My ability couldn’t take me enough far.

I always loved teaching people and especially when it was anything I could excite people about. So, the idea of a teacher was in my mind for a very long time, and it wasn’t until that I realized through film I could teach people in a different way rather than having to directly speak with them.

I can instead show them a piece of entertainment that they can learn from. That was when I knew I wanted to work in the film industry. I still have a passion for young people, education and learning people, but I don’t think I would survive in the teaching world today.

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