Industry Insights #6 - Director: Dael Poulter


Dael Poulter is a Director with extensive experience across documentary and commercial projects commissioned by clients across the fields of fashion, music and advertising — from Nowness, Nike, Winkreative, UMG, Unicef, MTV, AEG, BBC; to Rimowa, Converse, Simba and Vivienne Westwood.

He has been working on ‘Portrait of a Fighter’ documenting the story of heavyweight champion David Haye. With 900 hours of unprecedented footage, filmed across 5 years, this is an extraordinarily personal portrait of a man struggling with anxiety, depression and self-belief and what it takes to become a champion!

1. Do you have any creative rituals or routines? Either as preparation or to get out of a mental block?
I run when I feel weighed down. Aside from the physiological benefits, which for me generally result in a feeling of positivity, I tend to use a run to clear my thoughts and reestablish my aims, whether short or long term. 

2. What is a project you’re particularly proud of and why?
I’m just starting out really. The first industry job I had was at MTV, I met a few great people but I realised that I wanted a different kind of challenge. I have a background in Sociology, observation seems to come naturally to me, moving into documentary felt instinctive. I’ve worked on a single film for the past decade which is now in its final stages. This film is more aligned with the type of work that I’ll be pursuing in future. In terms of small projects, I’ve really enjoyed working with some incredible dancers and artists such as Eric Underwood and Robert Montgomery.

3. Who or what is currently inspiring you?
Andrea Arnold, Sam Esmail, Barry Jenkins, Jenny Holzer, Michael Kiwanuka, Emily McDonald, Robert Montgomery, Richard Mosse, John Pawson and Robbie Ryan to name a few!

4. Which part of the creative process do you enjoy the most?
The manifestation of an idea coming to life.

5. What’s on your bucket list? What do you hope to achieve/do in future?
I’d like to make films that affect people, that leaves the theatre with them to some extent. I’d like to be the master of the time that I have. In terms of bucket list, aside from work in the next few years, I’d like to do more surfing and I’d like to ride the Californian coast. 

6. Last film you watched?
The Passenger (1975) by Michelangelo Antonioni.

7. Last song you listened to?
‘Rule The World’ by Michael Kiwanuka.

8. Favourite film score/soundtrack?
Tough question. I’m not sure what my favourite score is but I’ll offer a few that come to mind, The Shining (1980) by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind-Tourre, Blue Valentine (2010) by Grizzly Bear and Under The Skin (2013) by Mica Levi. 

9. Advice for your younger self?
Don’t sacrifice the important relationships in your life for work, time seems to pass exponentially. 

10. What do you do when you’re not working? Any guilty pleasures?
I love things that are well made and stripped back to the fundamental functional elements, in particular cameras and architecture so I spend far too much time looking at designs and images relating to these. Other than that I listen to a lot of music. 

11. Your upcoming film Portrait of a Fighter about David Haye was reportedly filmed over 9 years with 2000 hours of footage. What was it like working with one subject over such a long period of time?
Any project that lasts for many years takes a lot of patience and perseverance, rightly or wrongly, when I set out to do something I aim to follow it through. It’s a large risk to prioritise one project for so long.

12. What was the intention of the film? Who approached who, and was there a planned endpoint for filming?
I met David when I was directing a short VT for a BBC show and he asked if I would film something for him. That something turned out to be Ricky Gervais. I ended up making some entertainment TV shows for David involving celebrities training with him. Alongside this, I asked to document him in the lead up to his heavyweight unification fight. Initially, the intention was to film his victory which would’ve made him the only boxer in history (I believe) to unify the cruiserweight division and heavyweight division. David lost that particular fight and the film gradually evolved into much more than I initially envisaged.

13. As the Director, did you always have something in mind when it came to music for the film? What was the process like?
I was initially very anxious when it came to allowing anyone creative input at all. I’ve worked with two great editors (Henrik Sikstrom and Pablo D’Ambrosi) who I had to trust in helping me shape the film. I knew how important the music would be to the film and have been extremely fortunate to work with Baba and Tom. There has been the right level of energy and resistance when collaborating with people who are equally passionate about what they do — and I’ve really enjoyed working with them both, the combination has been perfect for the film.

14. What sort of input did David have?
From the outset, I was filming sparring sessions that would be worth a substantial amount of money to his opponent’s team. I haven’t ever been asked to sign an NDA, we have always worked based on trust. The same applied when it came to editing the film, I had full editorial control. David advised me on what family footage should be included during the credit list sequence but that’s as much creative input as he’s had. David loves cinema and watches a great deal, he understood from the outset that I would need the space to work without boundaries. In terms of the music, I know David really enjoyed the process of seeing the score develop — he even got to sit in the studio with Tom and Baba to watch them work. 

15. What have you learned from this project to take into the next one?
I’ve learned too much to contain here but in essence, I’ll manage my time more efficiently on future projects and hopefully, I’ll get to continue to work with some of the great people that have supported me on this project. I’m excited to develop some of the other ideas that I’ve had on hold.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to mention a friend of mine whom I intend to dedicate this documentary project to, Danika McGuigan, an amazing person and brilliant actress who sadly passed away recently.