Monday 31 January 2011, 17:26
Film-maker Marc Isaacs spent three months on the steps outside Highbury and Islington Magistrates' Court in London, talking to the people who were coming in and out. The result is Outside The Court, a documentary that is part of BBC Four's Justice season.
Marc told the BBC TV blog about how he filmed the stories of the people involved in the court cases.
How did you decide on the subject for this documentary?
The idea for this film came from the controller of BBC Four, Richard Klein. He wanted, as part of the Justice season, to have a film featuring ordinary people.
He asked me if I would be interested in this subject because he knows I am drawn to the lives of ordinary people. [Marc made All White In Barking, as part of the BBC's White season, and Calais: The Last Border.] The rest is history, or recent history.
Did you have any sort of security while on the steps or was that not necessary?
No, just my colleague Guy King, who was my researcher and second camera person. But he's soft too, so we were totally vulnerable, but that's the best way.
Did you feel intimidated by any of the people you needed to approach for the film?
No not at all. I run a mile from intimidating people. I go for the ones with soft centres. The ones who are willing to open their hearts and tell of the deeper reasons why they regularly find themselves in front of the judge.
The court deals with all of the usual cases that any magistrates' court would see on a day to day basis, from drug and drink-related offences to violence and motor offences.
Mark [who was in court for breaching bail conditions] and Michel, the Frenchman, were just two of the characters who were more than happy to share their lives with us.
Who were you most interested by, of all the people you met on the steps?
Each for different reasons but Michel stole my heart.
He was in court for carrying an offensive weapon because he wanted to exact revenge on a security guard who he claims had been violent towards him.
On the way to commit this crime, Michel changed his mind and called the police to hand.
The best moment in the film, for me, is when Michel opens his heart to us in the cafe. This is the centre of the film, in my view.
Were people hostile to you at first? What did you say to open the conversations and bring them round?
I approach people in a non-threatening way and just try to treat them as an equal and then act instinctively from there.
Is there a culture of people like journalists and paparazzi waiting on court steps? Did you get friendly with any of the other people waiting outside?
Every time the paparazzi turned up we went home. I despise those people, they are like vultures and I didn't want to be associated with them.
Did the programme turn out how you expected?
Film-making is a discovery. There are always surprises and thank God for that.
Most TV today eliminates the element of discovery in documentary. I want to fight to keep this idea alive. These kinds of films thrive on freedom and spontaneity.
What was the worst moment?
Waiting in winter for hours with nobody interesting turning up at court. I am not good in the cold.
Did you make any friends in the process of the programme?
I will stay in touch with a few of the characters but our relationship will always be defined by the experience of filming together. It's a friendship of a particular kind.
What was the most interesting thing that happened, or that you learned?
I learn something new in every film but, for me, I am pleased that we managed to make a film like this without moving too far away from the court itself. We tread a fine line but pull it off hopefully.
Presumably the story would be ever-changing - would you like to do it again or was once enough?
There is no story until you as the film-makers create one. So yes, if I did it again it would be very different but once is enough of course. I am ready for the next film now.
Outside The Court is on BBC Four at 9pm on Monday, 31 January.
Fiona Wickham is editor of the BBC TV blog.
Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.
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