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Tales From the City: Michael Woods

Author: Hope Hopkinson Published: 13th December 2020 19:13
Following the release of his first documentary ‘A Different Perspective of Portsmouth,' I spoke to Michael Woods (Managing Director of Solent Sky Services) all about how he's found balancing the demands of a large-scale creative project and welcoming his newborn son, all in the midst of a global pandemic.

 A Portsmouth local, Mike spent 15 years working in the surveying industry before managing to turn his passion for drone photography into an integral part of his work.

"I've always been really passionate about film and photography," Mike told me. "I love motorbiking, and used to record all my trips out on my bike. I'd find myself spending the next day putting the edit together, and I loved it.

"I started to question whether there was a way to bring this passion into what I do for my work. I did some research into drones, which happened to be a good segue from surveying properties on the ground to surveying property in the air from drones, and it was quite an organic progression from there to turn something that was just a hobby into something I did every day for work!"

Mike started up Solent Sky Services from his experience using drones in 2016; offering a range of services that allowed him to branch out from just the surveying work to explore a more creative style of drone photography.

"When we started out, we offered everything really - from solar surveys, to wind farms, crop surveys and roof inspections - anything I could think of to do with drones under the permissions I'd obtained, we did!

"After about six months, I did my research and looked into it, and thought that we really needed to specialise in a couple of specific areas. As well as the surveying, we began doing promotional videos for different companies, which then segued into event photography and videography, which allowed me to be more creative with it all."

With lockdown measures being introduced back in March, Mike and the team at Solent Sky Services faced a problem. Whilst they took the opportunity to film more of the empty streets of Portsmouth, he found that the emptiness also meant that fewer businesses were open or able to commission drone shots or surveys.

The start of the year also had a significant impact on Mike's personal life, as he and his wife Sara welcomed their son George into the world, making them first-time parents. "When nature was thriving and people were isolating we felt there was no better time to bring our baby George into the world," Mike wrote on his blog about the experience.

He carried on, "three of the most stressful things a person can do: hold the fort during a global pandemic, move offices, and work on our largest creative project...we did all three at once!"

Inspired by going out and photographing an empty and deserted Portsmouth, Mike and the team were determined to make something good out of the experience, which kickstarted the effort to produce a two-hour documentary capturing the city's response to the crisis - combining a range of interviews and sweeping drone shots.

"It all started out quite organically in that way - the more people we met, the more stories we heard, and we felt like we should capture them all - it felt like the right thing to do. We'd originally only planned to do a couple of highlight videos, showing the empty streets and nature returning - that sort of thing - but it naturally progressed into something that was a lot more significant."

Having never shot or produced something of this nature before, mixed in with navigating the ever-changing restrictions that each new month brought, the creative process behind ‘A Different Perspective' was long and difficult, but at the same time incredibly rewarding for all those involved.

"It took us about five weeks to just figure out how to approach the edit!," Mike laughed. "It was definitely a huge learning curve and I think everyone on board feels a lot more prepared as it allowed us to explore new things.

"I think this year especially, everyone has needed something to focus on. We've all been in the same storm but on different boats. I don't know how I would've got through it all without this project to throw myself into to be honest! We could've quite easily gone on furlough, and I could've stayed at home with my wife and George, and done it that way. But I don't think it would've been anywhere near as positive or good.

"We've created something that we're all very proud of, it's a bit like a time capsule as we can look back on it for years to come, and hopefully show it to George too when he's grown up!"

The sentiment of having a record of mid-pandemic life to look back on is one that holds true in every inch of the documentary; a project whose true significance won't reveal itself until years to come.

Whilst each individual experience of the last year has differed, the effort by Mike and his team presents a snapshot of the city as a whole that represents this fully. Whether in the still and silent drone shots, or in any of the interviews with local businesses and change-makers, it certainly will act as a time capsule that presents a dynamic view of these unprecedented times.

"The night before we released it I felt so emotional, and as soon as it came out I was just nervous! I was quite conscious of mistakes, but I think what matters most is that the messages of all the local people we featured came across.

"We've had really positive reception and feedback so far, but I feel like something like this is a slow-burn. Two hours is a lot of time to set aside, but we felt like every single thing was too important to cut out. We just hope that people continue to watch it and share it with others, and once this is all over it's something we can all look back on."

'A Different Perspective of Portsmouth' is available to stream for free on YouTube. To find out more about Mike and the team at Solent Sky Services, you can visit their website and their Instagram.


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