Facing a year of uncertainty for his business, and surrounded by gloomy headlines and statistics, filmmaker and professional drone pilot Mike Woods decided to create an uplifting documentary focused on Portsmouth’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, on the cusp of 2020’s close, Mike and his team at aerial photography studio Solent Sky Services have made the feature-length film available to stream for free on YouTube.
Titled ‘A Different Perspective of Portsmouth’, the documentary captures the resilience of key workers, business owners, and local residents in Portsmouth, as the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdowns changed everything. It’s the story of an island city coming together during a crisis.
With a runtime of just over two hours, ‘A Different Perspective’ features footage from more than 25 interviews, and plenty of Solent Sky Services’ signature cinematic aerial shots.
“In March, when the first lockdown came into effect, we started capturing aerial photos of the eerily empty streets,” Solent Sky Services founder Mike Woods said. “Before the pandemic, our social media feeds were already spaces for beautiful aerial photography. Under lockdown, those kinds of pictures became a form of escapism for people.
“When we noticed more and more comments from followers saying they couldn’t wait to get back out to the places we’d shot, our work started feeling weightier. Then, on the night of the first ‘Clap for our Carers’ applause on March 26th, I decided we were living through history that needed to be documented.”
By acting on that newfound sense of responsibility to document the story of Coronavirus-era Portsmouth, the Solent Sky Services team were able to momentarily refocus their purpose, while also sustaining their business via a crowdfunding campaign.
“Every person who contributed to the ‘A Different Perspective’ crowdfunder aided us in telling our city’s tale,” Mike added. “They helped our family and our employees. Now we’ve released the film, that cycle of giving back has come full circle.”
Video files from the six months of shooting weighed in at 6.1 terabytes — 19 hours of the highest-quality formats on the market. As well as upgrading their storage hardware and computer processors to accommodate for the edit, Solent Sky Services invested thousands in top-of-the-line lenses for both their drone cameras and their ground cameras.
They also acquired a selection of vintage Zeiss and Helios lenses to give parts of the documentary a stylised appearance.
“We’ve no plans to profit from the documentary,” Mike explained. “It’s been a way for us to gift something back to the people in our city, our community — many of whom helped our business survive this year.”
Just before the pandemic struck, Mike and his wife Sara found out they were going to become first-time parents. They’d also recently moved into a new office space on Rodney Road, just around the corner from Portsmouth Football Club’s Fratton Park ground, and had just taken on apprentice Lauren Maclennan as the filmmaking firm’s Project Manager.
Looking back on the past year, Sara said: “What’s really been on my mind for these first few months of motherhood is how proud I am of every other mum who has faced the unprecedented circumstances 2020 has served us.
“When you find out you’re going to become a parent, the future suddenly seems like a blur, but it gradually comes into focus through all the systems we have in place for bringing clarity to uncertain times.
“But for anyone becoming a new mum in 2020? The rulebook got thrown out! So, if you’re one of those parents: good on you. You’ve done something historic.”
Mike added: “When George was born, I started contemplating the long-term impacts of every action and decision like I never had before. Add the circumstances of COVID-19 to the mix, and the introspection doubles. I needed to do something beyond charitable donations and offering a listening ear. That was the core driving force of this project.”
For Lauren, COVID-19 cast a shadow of uncertainty on her apprenticeship: incoming work slowed down, colleges closed, and she ultimately ended up furloughed for two months. She said: “I found myself with fewer projects to manage, so I got slightly worried that I wouldn’t have a firm foundation for my portfolio.
“Two weeks into furlough, Mike explained that the drone photos he was taking of an eerily empty Portsmouth were evolving into a full-blown documentary project. And just like that, I found the heart and soul of my apprenticeship.”
‘A Different Perspective of Portsmouth’ is available to stream online via YouTube and the Solent Sky Services website, on all computers, tablets, phones, and TVs with a YouTube app.