Danny Cooke – BA (Hons) Media Arts graduate

Current employer: Self-employed, Plymouth University Associate Lecturer

Current job title: Filmmaker

Current location: Paignton and London

“To be a freelance filmmaker, you need to be dedicated and patient. When you start off, it is unlikely that you would be making a sufficient amount of income. When studying, use your spare time to build up a portfolio, this is one of the most important things to help you get clients.”

Tell us about your career path since graduation.

Since graduation I have been building my freelance filmmaking business. Each year I have not only worked in the UK, but I have travelled the world and visited some amazing and eye-opening places, people, and cultures. The beauty of being a filmmaker is that each client and job is a different experience and requires a unique approach, all of which test my skills and passions whilst practising a craft that I love.

Has your career path changed since graduation?

Not really, no. My plan was always to start a freelance filmmaking business whilst I was studying at Plymouth University; it seemed the best opportunity to go forward, and I was always aware that it could take time to grow. I made sure that whilst on the media arts course that I would make all the necessary contacts that would help my business thrive.

What is the most difficult thing which you have faced in your career?

As a freelance filmmaker the most difficult thing I experience on a day to day basis is a level of uncertainty. There can be weeks without work and it can get a little scary at times. On the other hand, there can be too much work and you have to turn people away.

What is the best, most exciting or fun thing that you have done in your career?

When you get a phone call from CBS News asking if you want to go and film in Chernobyl. For some it can be a difficult choice. For me, I was always fascinated by the tragedy, so I said yes without much hesitation – not thinking twice about any harmful radiation exposure I might receive.   

When I was just one year old, my parents and I lived in Italy and we were directly affected by the nuclear disaster. Locals were told to throw away all their crops and anything that might be exposed to the radiation cloud. Exploring ‘The Zone’ and the abandoned city of Pripyat, Ukraine, has to be one of the greatest and most memorable experiences I’ve ever been on.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get in to the same line of work?

To be a freelance film-maker, you need to be dedicated and patient. When you start off, it is unlikely that you would be making a sufficient amount of income. When studying, use your spare time to build up a portfolio, this is one of the most important things to help you get clients.

How did studying at Plymouth help you?

I am a very technical and practical person when it comes to filmmaking. Whilst on the media arts course, I lacked a theoretical knowledge to underpin my strengths. Plymouth University realised this and helped me to focus on my weaknesses. Now, when I frame the shot, or cut a film in a certain way, I’m able to articulate the reasons behind my choices. It has dramatically improved the way I tell a story.

What is your favourite memory of studying at Plymouth?

One of my favourite memories is using the traditional 35mm photography developing suite on a module. I found the task of using an analogue film camera incredibly different to the digital process we take for granted today. Stills photography is not my passion; however, I believe practising this process is fundamental to improving the way we take digital stills or even video.

Award-winning documentary

"The course encourages you to take your work beyond the University and I engaged in a number of professional film projects during my time at Plymouth. In my second year I was Editor and Director of Photography on the documentary Ray: A Life Underwater. This documentary has had amazing success internationally and has been screened on Channel 4."

Danny Cooke

Learn more about 'Ray: A Life Underwater'

Chernobyl video goes viral

Danny Cooke, Media Arts Associate Lecturer and graduate filmed the haunting video 'Postcards from Pripyat, Chernobyl', while working on a '60 Minutes' segment for CBS News about the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

Released on 23 November 2014, the video had 7 million plays on Vimeo in the first week.

Find out more about Danny's work

Inspired by this story?

Learn more about BA (Hons) Media Arts. For more information about our range of courses within the School of Art, Design and Architecture, please visit the school page.

Want to find similar alumni?

If you would like to find out what other alumni from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities are currently doing, please visit the art, design, media and performance interest area.