Face-to-Face with Director Lee Doig

Director Lee Doig from Let it Rain Films is not your average advertising guy. Sure, he’s shot everything from commercials to international long format TV shows, feature films, war documentaries and pretty much everything in between. Sure, he’s been nominated for an Emmy nine times and yes, he’s won an Emmy for best Cinematography. And yes, he’s also the guy who shoots one of the top reality shows in the world. But no, there is definitely nothing average about Lee.

iDidTht: Are you scared of anything?
Lee: No…

Lee, while digging into a build-your-own taco (he even builds his own food guys) at the tequila bar, has just spent two and a half hours captivating us with jaw-dropping stories from his life as a Director. The best damn two and a half hours of our lives! Sam Kelly, his Producer, only gently interjecting every now and again to correct Lee on dates or tiny details, fondly looks on as we sit on the edge of our seats only stopping to breathe or gasp. She corrects him once more ‘Actually he’s petrified of flying, which is ironic because he flies more than most.’
Lee’s fear of flying came from almost crashing TWICE on two separate light aircrafts during his first gig as a Director back in 1999 while filming a series called Wings over Africa. But that wasn’t nearly the most surprising thing about him. Lee has always had a bit of ‘crazy film industry guy’ in his blood. His father, Tommy Doig, was a war journalist and during the 80’s started working in New York for networks like NBC. He soon became the right-hand man to news anchor and correspondent Peter Jennings. The two traveled the world from one warzone to the next. When Tommy was 72 he was still shooting on the front lines in Afghanistan #BadAss
Lee might not have planned to follow in Tommy’s footsteps but it seems like destiny had other plans. Lee jokingly reflects ‘My mom divorced my dad because he was never home, so I thought it was a good idea to do the same.’

Lee grew up on the South Coast and while academics was never really his thing due to his Dyslexia, he discovered he had a mean kick and soon started playing soccer professionally. He started out as a sound guy in the industry because in those days, Lee explains ‘People wouldn’t let you near cameras.’ By 23 he found himself in London and instead of working the bar scene or au pairing, like most sane people or Mary Poppins, he lied himself into one of London’s top entertainment/news companies.
Lee: ‘I just had to get close to a camera somehow and I thought how hard could editing really be?!’ Turns out it’s a lot harder than he thought and Lee was fired, and rightly so…

But the young man was filled to the brim with dogged determination and charmed his way all the way up to the 25th floor of the Canary Wharf building. There, at the Mirror Group, media personality, journalist and broadcaster Janet Street-Porter soon recognised the potential in him (or just recognised the adrenalin coursing through his war journalist blood) and after a few months of spending every free moment of his day learning the ropes from the crew, the 24-year-old Lee had worked himself up to a fully fledged camera operator. From that moment the camera and Lee were inseparable.
Always after the next adrenalin rush, Lee found himself in a post 911 Afghanistan were he was covering the war for an upcoming documentary which Lee describes as ‘ending up to be a bunch of awful propaganda’. With no producers or crew and only one sound guy IF he was lucky, Lee was literally dodging bullets in a warzone. But he did manage to capture some incredible stories following soldiers, helicopter pilots, surgical doctors and even those hectic guys from Special Forces, despite often having to jump into a Black Hawk in the middle of the night not knowing where he was going.
iDidTht: Are you an adrenaline junkie?
Lee: I think I must be…
iDidTht: What were you looking for out there?
Lee: I wanted to tell unusual stories. I suppose it was something in my bloodline as well. I always said I wasn’t gonna do it and then when I got home after Afghanistan my phone didn’t stop ringing. The international news companies heard I shot the American Special Forces and they didn’t stop calling. They were offering me ridiculous money to go and shoot crazy things. But I couldn’t anymore, it was all too much. And eventually, I just packed up everything in Joburg and drove to Cape Town.
Sam: He came to see me.
Lee: Yes, I came to see Sam.

Between shooting commercials, documentaries in warzones and feature films, Lee has also been working on the US versions of the Amazing Race and Survivor for which he has 9 Emmy Nominations and one win for Best Cinematography.
Lee: ‘We were shooting Survivor in Nicaragua and Jeff Probst [um, only the ultimate non-ageing presenter] had flown back from the Emmys to deliver us the award. Yeah, we had a pretty big party.’ Jeff Probst hand-delivering our Emmy Award is the only way we want to win one, there simply is no other option.

Let it Rain

Sam: When Lee first came to Cape Town I had already started doing commercials and I didn’t really know how I would work with him, but then we got an opportunity through comedian Henry Rollins who was shooting a series here. Lee DP’d for me and we haven’t looked back since. Lee’s experience in warzones, reality TV and news channels has given him the most incredible instincts. He knows what people are going to do before they do it. He starts zooming in before they’ve done anything. They don’t even know they’re being zoomed in on. Because he can just feel that something is gonna happen.

Lee, like many Directors out there, strives to create authentic work. But for Lee ‘authentic’ has a slightly different meaning.
Lee: For me authentic means unpretentious. I think it’s something you can’t put your finger on. It’s a feeling rather than a look. To me it’s not about the f*cking Loerie, it’s about creating beautiful stories.
iDidTht: What is it about directing that you love the most?
Lee: I like real stories and I love to tell them with a premium look. I just love shooting good pictures. I come from a DOP background and I DOP and direct all my stuff. Like the latest stuff we did for Serengeti, I love that. It’s got a premium look but with a real doccie feel about it.

The Serengeti spot is the fifth project Let it Rain has done with the same Creative Director and we totally get that because these guys have something real special, we also wouldn’t want to leave them.
Sam: For us Let it Rain is about cutting out bullsh*t and being transparent. We rise to any challenge and we’re all about longstanding relationships. Just from a budget perspective, if I save a client’s money I give it back to them and we’ve just always done it that way.
Lee: Yeah, we can make something out of nothing. We want to tell human stories, travel stories, showcase cultures, unique people and beautiful imagery. We love Africa and hustling wherever we are.
iDidTht: Wow, you really are the Camel Man.
Sam: Except he smokes Marlboro Lights.
iDidTht: Okay, the Marlboro Man.
Lee: Didn’t they both die from smoking?
iDidTht: Ignore that. You’re the Marlboro Man from now on.
Lee: Hey, if he surfs, I’m in.

Lee’s experience in the industry has trained his eye to look out for those special ‘unpretentious’ moments he speaks of, perhaps more so than a traditional Director. While the rest of the crew and agency are packing up trucks and heading home, Lee is out in the middle of nowhere grabbing some last minute unscripted time-lapse shots because, you know, the Marlboro Man can.
Sam: Lee is committed to those beautiful shots. He’s constantly giving me a heart attack.
Lee: I love you Sam. I spend more time with Sam then my own wife.

iDidTht: Okay, now come on, let’s get down to the important stuff: What secrets can you tell us about Survivor? Do people ever get bitten by snakes and spiders?
Lee: The camera crew yes. They are there. But we look for that stuff to film them. We also look for metaphorical links with storylines. So if there’s an alpha male in the group I’ll make sure I shoot some Howler monkeys making noise.
iDidTht: So you can get bitten by a scorpion?
Lee: Yes absolutely, but there’s a medical team there. There are two full-time doctors there with a helicopter.
Sam: Can I tell them what happened with the boat?
Lee: Yes, but they can’t put it in the article.
iDidTht: Okay off the record!

[An hour later]

iDidTht: After all these things that you’ve been through, how do you find normal?
Lee: You get married and have 4 kids in three years.
iDidTht: That will do it!

The thing is, there is absolutely nothing normal about Lee, apart from the fact that he is incredibly gentle and sweet and charming and we could, and did, listen to him for hours – jaw-to-the-floor. All we can say is that anyone would be lucky to have this Marlboro Man on their commercial set.

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Executive Producer: Sam Kelly

Produced by the iDidTht Content Studio
Credits: Anne Hirsch (Writer) / Julie Maunder

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This Editorial is paid for by Let It Rain. Want our studio to create content that puts your agency/company/kickass ad you made in bright lights for the whole industry to see? View or editorial packages or contact julie@ididtht.com and we’ll make it happen! #Boom