Will Robson-Scott Q&A — Filmmaker Will Robson-Scott on his new short documentary John and George about a down-and-out East London artist and the unconditionally loving dog by his side.

As a photographer, Will Robson-Scott has embedded himself in underground communities – from London to NYC and a bunch of other complex cities in between – to shoot intimate, insightful and revealing portraits of people living in unusual circumstances.

He’s documented the key players in the explosive grime scene of noughties’ East London, violence and survival in post-Iraq War era South and West Chicago, and many of the most talented, respected and elusive graffiti writers in the world, as anthologised in his recent book Crack On, Shine On, published in December 2013 by Topsafe.

As a filmmaker, Robson-Scott has taken his documentation to new levels. With projects that focus on incredible characters – and spin off to consider the wider landscapes, communities and social issues that surround them – the talented artist has found a new outlet for his visual storytelling. His new film John and George is a delicate, humorous and moving vignette of one inspiring man and his loyal dog. We caught up with the filmmaker to find out more.

How were you introduced to John and George and when did you decide to start shooting them?
I was introduced to John via Griff [Richard Howard-Griffin of the Howard-Griffin Gallery on Shoreditch High Street] who has helped John sell his artwork and organised his show [in September 2013]. Usually I have a chance meet with someone and decide to start shooting them but Griff approached me about shooting this story, which is very rare. Usually my work is completely self-initiated. Me and John met up to see if it would work and we ended up getting along.

What’s your background in documentary filmmaking?
I stared shooting video about two years ago [check previous docs Chi Raq, PAL in NYC, Jela, Ricky and Action Bronson]. I was shooting photographs before and I still love shooting pictures, but one thing that’s obvious, but really makes me want to pursue films, is being able to hear your subject’s voice. It adds another dimension to the work process. The edit is a huge part of filmmaking and luckily I have had great editors, Luca Campanale and Kieran Gee-Finch, who believe in these sorts of projects, as most have no budget.

What were the challenges in presenting John and George’s story to a wider audience?
In general I’m drawn to the fringes of society, or dare I say subcultures, but what really interests me is people. I like the idea of looking at people’s motivations in life and why they do what they do. We’re complex creatures.

What’s your relationship with London? Was it important to you to represent poor social conditions in the city authentically?
I’m born and bred in London, although now I’m based in NYC. I love London and love Londoners. I try and give the people I work with an authentic voice weather that be in Chicago, London, NYC or wherever. For example I did a piece called Chi Raq last year, which looked at the South and West side of Chicago where there are staggering murder rates. I can’t relate to the conditions and strains these communities are under, but as an outsider with a strange accent they accepted me. I just spent a bit of time with the people in the film and I guess they kind of trusted me, which is a lot to ask.

What did you feel your responsibility to John was?
I liked John and wanted to show the realities of his life, but at the same time I didn’t want to demonise him. Everyone has their issues and it’s brave to let yourself be documented. I wouldn’t want to be followed with a camera.

What are the major things you have learnt from making the doc?
Same thing I learnt from Chicago; people are people and don’t go into situations thinking you know everything, you don’t.

How do you hope your documentary will have an impact?
It’s very easy living in a city like London or NYC and ignoring what’s right in front of you. I hope people might have a chat with John if they see him on the street and have seen this piece.

You can see more of Will Robson-Scott’s short films and documentaries on his Vimeo channel.