Zan Barberton – Director/ Self-shooting PD / Editor

Who is Zan Barberton?

I’m a massive storytelling geek and I love documentary but also revel in the lighter stuff. Outside work I have two kids and love foraging (training in the event of an apocalypse) and reading science fiction and poetry. I studied English literature and Fine Art, so reading and making stuff is a big source of pleasure.

How did your career path develop?

Breaking into the industry was very challenging, so I took pretty much the first job I was offered – which happened to be a start-up local TV channel, working for free at first under Labour’s New Deal. I got into a fight with my boss over cutting the Arts programming – an intervention that left me as the channel’s Arts Producer, with a half-hour weekly magazine show to deliver, and five live VT inserts. I worked with Blueberry’s own Dragomir Bajalica, cutting to daily live deadlines. He trained me to look for undulation of a cut and the underlying beauty of video storytelling.

This formed me as a multi-skiller, which proved to be a blessing and a curse, since we were pretty much the first generation of multi-skillers, viewed with suspicion by the industry’s establishment: “jack of all trades, master of none” – they said. As a result I marketed myself as a director or an editor for many years. It’s taken a long time to feel fully confident to embrace my range of talents as an advantage. I love pursuing new ideas and I’m lucky to have been working with award-winning documentary makers such as Marilyn Gaunt, Roger Graef and Nick O’Dwyer.

I have a track record of winning broadcast commissions like for instance negotiating access to a Shari’a court for Roger Graef, winning a prestigious BBC commission. At ITV’s “The Lab” I devised, cut and directed on the series “Booze Britain” developing an unexpected talent for scripting Blue Lights shows. I also worked with Out There News, the company that produced much of Channel 4 News’ coverage of the Iraq war and its aftermath. During this time I cut two half-hour documentaries for Al Jazeera and directed one.

Any projects you are most proud of and why?

Alongside broadcast work I’ve always maintained contacts with the major charities – making campaign films for Save the Children, Action Aid and Oxfam – I did their “most successful viral ever” that got 1.7 million hits  for a flashmob with pregnant breakdancers on the South Bank.

A high point in my career was taking a break from mainstream TV to make a documentary with children in Palestine. At the time I was one of the first people doing what is now known as “participatory filmmaking”. The resulting film, “Child of Bethlehem” was shown internationally and won awards. To my great pride, one of the children went on to become a documentary maker in his own right.

Another project I am proud of is winning a commission for Landmark Films for an Extraordinary People series for Channel 5. I directed “Addicted to ASDA” – a long form film about a woman with PTSD who fixates on shopping which was ‘Pick of the Day’ in the Evening Standard and mentioned favourably in the Times.

What’s your greatest achievement so far?

Right now I am working on a series of films on Maternal Mental Health – working with Best Beginnings, as part of a campaign supported by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. This has been a real labour of love and I am proud of it. The series will be launched in November.

Share your biggest lessons in life and work

Not everyone can do storytelling very well – so it is a talent I value more as I get older. In the long run, perseverance and focus count for a great deal more than talent.

View Zan’s full portfolio.