Highlands-based Julie Bills, camera operator on some of Scotland’s best known TV and film productions, including The Eagle and Neds, explains how she got started in the business and why the area is important to her.
I originally studied painting at Art School, then worked freelance for ten years as an artist and documentary photographer before applying for a place as camera trainee on Scottish Film and Television Training.
This was a fantastic industry based course which provided me with the support, contacts and work experience to move on and pursue a very exciting career in camera department. A similar course still exists today, New Entrants Training Scotland, facilitated by Edinburgh’s Napier Screen Academy Scotland.
Every job is memorable for the creative challenges filmmaking presents, the places it takes you and the people you work with. The most memorable moments for me usually involve extreme locations, on beaches, in the sea and up mountains at dawn, sunset or in the middle of the night.
Moments which stand out for me include crawling around a river as a full army of Seal Warriors stormed towards camera, being up a ladderpod in the sea as the tide rose quickly full of large jellyfish and being in the middle of a very realistic renactment of the Normandy beach landings. These are scenes that, whichever way you point the camera, are visually exciting, created by the successful collaboration of all departments.
My most memorable cinema-going experience was when the Yurt cinema at Knoydart Festival had to be dismantled mid-screening at two in the morning due to high winds. It was back up and running the following day to a full house.
Every location has it’s specific challenges, whether it is central London or St Kilda! The Highlands offers a huge variety of locations, resources and remoteness. Some of the mountains, islands and coastlines of Northern Scotland rank alongside the most spectacular in the world. You can be remote but there is a support structure there through the Highland Film Commission.
Some things are easier when filming in the Highlands. It’s quiet, you are always away from major flight paths and parking up a film unit is a lot easier than it is in the city. If you are going to need something that you can’t source locally, take it with you.
Family and social life
I have a base in the Highlands and a base in Edinburgh. I have a young family so currently choose to live and work in Scotland. I do a bit of travelling for work but probably less than if i lived in London. Over the years I have travelled a lot to Glasgow which always feels like a commute, travelling in the Highlands to work always feels like a road trip!
I have a few commercials coming up, some work on a drama based in Glasgow, and a feature film later in the year. Time off will definitely include our annual family gathering at the Belladrum Music Festival. If you’ve never been, it’s quite special.
Find out more about Julie Bills in our Production Guide.