Jonathan Finnigan

Currently based in Singapore, Jonathan Finnigan is an award-winning director from Britain, with extensive experience shooting all over the Asian region.

After graduating with a degree in graphic design from the London College of Printing in 1989, Jonathan started his professional directing career working for an event production company, Project Worldwide, based in London.

In 1994 he moved into television broadcast at Star TV in Hong Kong. As director of Network Production Services he wrote and directed some of Star’s biggest promotional campaigns throughout the region over a period of seven years.

A winner of fifteen awards at broadcast television’s most prestigious promotions forum – Promax International, he now works as a freelance commercials director in South East Asia, focusing on promotional campaigns with agencies including Saatchi & Saatchi, Leo Burnett, Dentsu, Ogilvy, Lowe Worldwide, BBDO, Bates and J Walter Thompson.

 Turning his attention to documentary film making, he wrote, directed and produced the highly successful and award winning ‘Marco Polo – The China Mystery Revealed’ series for National Geographic – his first collaboration with Michael Yamashita. Filmed on location in Italy and some of China’s most remote regions, the film sets out to uncover the mystery of whether the legendary Italian really made it to the Middle Kingdom. It was recently rated as the 13th most popular documentary since National Geographic began.

2005 saw the production of ‘Treasure Fleet’ that required filming in 13 countries across Asia, Africa and the Middle East. As well as following the voyages of the Ming dynasty admiral, Zheng He, this film also recreated episodes of his life on an epic scale. This two-hour special was aired on National Geographic Channel worldwide. Treasure Fleet won best documentary at the New York film Festival 2006 and the St Lawrence Award for best feature documentary in the New Zealand Documentary Film Festival 2006. It also won two awards at the Asian TV awards 2006 for best cinematography and best music score.

 2008 saw the completion of another epic ‘Legacy of China’. Fifteen months in the making, Jonathan wrote, produced and directed this three-hour television series. ‘Legacy’ sets out to discover why the Chinese were such prolific inventors, why they lost their advantage and why it matters that we understand this enigmatic nation today. Key turning points in history are illustrated with well-produced dramatic re-enactment. Some of these scenes are shot on location in Greece – in Greek. The majority is filmed at Heng Dian World Studios in China where the stunning sets allow for large-scale authenticity. These are in English and Mandarin. The series is shot in China, USA, UK, Greece and Australia.

As a passionate sportsman Jonathan has also produced shows on rugby, adventure racing and boxing.

2009, Jonathan shot his first drama. ‘The Visitor’ is a short film set in a remote farmhouse in the Yorkshire Dales. It stars Patrick Baladi.

Jonathan is currently developing a number of feature film and documentary projects some of which are highlighted in the IN DEVELOPMENT section of this site.

On Directing TV Commercials

The challenge of making TV commercials hits you on several levels. There's the discipline of telling a story in 30 secs or so, and in delivering a really good film that both does justice to the concept and answers the brief. And if you've done your job as the director, you've added insight and execution that brings the spot to life beyond what the client expected.

As the director you also need to be able to take on board ideas beyond your own and recognise whether they contribute positively to the process or not. Sometimes they may be good ideas but not for this board. That can be tricky but dealing with it part of the job.

But right at the start of the process it is important to find the soul of the story and build all creative decisions around that. And then push those ideas as far as they’ll go in an effort to see what will work.

To do that, first you must be strong on your research around the subject or the setting. Any director will tell you that the more references you find the clearer an idea you have of what you should be looking for in your visuals and your performances. But for all the preparation you do, the joy is always finding the unexpected in the shooting and the editing. And this is what brings your work alive.

On Film Making

Whether you are making documentary films or feature films, the long form offers different challenges and opportunities to the TV commercial. And I am lucky enough to have enjoyed both the long and short form of filmmaking.

As with TV commercials its important to understand the soul of your story so that you can develop the style of pictures and storytelling reflect this. It’s also important to identify the single narrative drive of your story. Everything must ultimately contribute to telling this well.

Attention to detail and storytelling in TV commercials are skills that equip me very well for longer form filmmaking. Often on a documentary shoot we arrive on location and have to shoot immediately or at the very most have a recce and shoot the next day. This means you have to really know what you want from every scene and location. This comes back to knowing your story and doing your research. From a technical point of view it means that I have to storyboard everything in my head on the spot. This is where the discipline of shooting commercials is helpful.

Unlike shooting commercials however there's no client or agency to help you or hinder you, depending on which way you look at it. You're on your own. But I love this kind of freedom because I know what I want and it allows me to try things and shoot whatever material I think will work for the story.

One aspect of documentary filmmaking that’s often overlooked is the physical aspect of it. Some of these projects can be grueling. Very early starts day after day for weeks on end coupled with constantly humping heavy film gear – you need to be robust both in mind and body. It’s really not for the faint hearted!

The experience of making The Visitor was immense. It was my own script so I was very close to the material. See the write-up on the Visitor for more detail.

Making features is a new area for me right now. I’ve written one script and working with a writer and producer on another. But I’m really enjoying the process so far and can’t wait to start shooting my first feature.

Your best work is done when you love the story and delight in the storytelling. You must have that passion. Because if you decide to tell a story you have a responsibility to yourself and your audience to do it well.

For me the story must be worthwhile. And you must find a unique way of telling it. And it must be the absolute best you can give at that time in your life. That’s film making.