Filmmaker Chris Curtiss: Ready for his Close-up

February 2024
February 2024

John Ashbrook

I'm a Senior Writer. I put words together to create sentences. Hey, I'm doing it now! If it needs words, the call goes out: "This is a job for John!" My red phone rings, I slide down my pole, switch my laptop batteries to 'power' and my turbines to 'speed' then I begin typing. What am I going to type this time, I wonder? Let's see ...

Chris Curtiss is a Grimsby-based filmmaker with a global perspective. He has an important mix of technical, aesthetic and interpersonal skills that elevate his work. Chris has a mastery of all the latest technology, of course, but more than that, he uses that technology to tell human stories.

I’ve worked with a lot of filmmakers over the decades and, in that time, I have learned that the ability to create professional sound and imagery is only part of a good filmmaker’s skillset. The really good filmmakers make sure that everyone both in front of and behind the camera is comfortable and feels safe so they can give their best performance. The technology then becomes invisible to the performers and interviewees. The tech is simply the tool to tell stories about people. Chris’ calm, unhurried demeanour on set is perfectly suited for creating that atmosphere!

I suspect he’ll be even better at it in future since I turned the tables on him by putting him in the hot seat. I pointed Chris’ own cameras and microphones at him to get him to tell us his fascinating story, and explain some of his philosophy of filmmaking.

Chris normally presents as a quietly-spoken, unflappable presence on set, totally in control of his equipment and maintaining a great rapport with his client and the people appearing on camera. But, on that Wednesday morning in December, just a few days before Christmas, it was my job to put him at ease, because he was genuinely nervous.

No matter who we are, talking about ourselves can be tricky.

Nevertheless, Chris was completely professional and very eloquent. Why? Because he is very secure in his motives and his philosophy. His business and his way of working is a product of who he is – that comes across in his demeanour, in his talent and in his commitment to tell great stories.

So, let’s tell his story.

Chris Curtiss-Filmmaker-featured-image

Flashback: Chris’ Origin Story

Chris Curtiss was born here in Grimsby in 1990 and here he remained until the University of Lincoln beckoned him to study Media Production. Whilst always interested in film and moving images, Chris’ his principle interest is storytelling.

From those earliest days, Chris’ mission has been to tell emotive stories about real people and make the viewer go on an emotional journey.

As Chris says: “Vulnerability is the key. If I can allow somebody to feel vulnerable, in a positive way so they feel able to tell their private story and be open about their experiences, that’s ultimately what I strive to do.”

Chris is, himself, completely open about his own experiences and about how, throughout his career, necessity has been the mother of (re)invention.

After he finished his degree, he took a job at a charity, initially as a Media Assistant but quickly rising to become Media Manager. Unfortunately, that role didn’t last long and – through no fault of his own – Chris fairly soon found himself out of work, with a new family to support. He had no time to waste, he simply set himself up in business. It was time to get busy living, or get busy dying, to paraphrase one of Chris’ favourite films.

So, even though going freelance was a pivot brought about by necessity rather than as part of some grand plan, it was a path he’s successfully pursued ever since.

I get the chance to tell stories and to help others tell their own stories. To really allow other people to showcase who they are to the world. That’s my goal and it’s my privilege to do it.

chris curtiss

To supplement his income, Chris did take on a role at Grimsby Institute for a while (partly because having a regular gig helped him get a mortgage). Here he oversaw all the Institute’s video content and helped the marketing department to recruit through video and photography. 

Chris admits that, when that role came to its conclusion and he went back to freelancing full time, it presented him with something of a culture shock. He went from being around thousands of people every day, with a team of colleagues (unpaid therapists, as he calls them) to call on for support – to suddenly being a one-man-band again.

Focussing on Life Lessons

With trademark frankness, Chris admits that running a business as a sole trader can be lonely. It’s a challenge to motivate yourself to get up every day and move forward. The flipside of that is fulfilment there is to be had:

“I get the chance to tell stories and to help others tell their own stories. To really allow other people to showcase who they are to the world. That’s my goal and it’s my privilege to do it.”

So, Chris’ business was born out of necessity – the need to feed and home his family. That’s his story and a lot of business-people will recognise it. They will also recognise that running your own business, doing your own thing, brings many rewards

Success also often involves overcoming many obstacles and learning a lot of life’s lessons. Early in his career, Chris was working with an agency in Burnley – Creative Talent Management – making commercials and training videos for brands like Nissan and Vauxhall. Chris’ boss was Kev Furber, who told Chris something he needed to hear:

“He told me my films were all style, no substance. He said my work looked pretty. It was engaging visually, but what was I trying to say? That really struck home. I was 24, 25 years old and thought I knew everything (as you do at that age).”

Even though Chris was brought down to earth by that painful truth, he’s glad Kev told him. It was a moment of epiphany which changed everything about the way Chris approaches his work. Yes, his films still look great, but now there is substance and heart, too.

Chris Curtiss on Being from Grimsby

Exposition: A Grimsby Story

“Story is everything. That’s what we do.” Chris is certainly on a mission, when it comes to being a storyteller.

“As filmmakers, or as photographers, graphic designers, artists, you name it; whatever creative medium you work in, you’re telling a story. You’re trying to invoke some sort of emotion from the audience. You want them to feel connected to this protagonist or this subject.”

Chris observed that creators often have to maintain a certain professional distance from their subjects to successfully tell their story. It isn’t helpful for the creator to allow themselves to be too vulnerable, to be overwhelmed by their own emotions whilst creating their content. But, that discipline pays off if it allows you to tell someone else’s story because – as Chris says repeatedly – story is everything.

Grimsby’s story is one that evokes a lot of emotional responses. Some people are convinced that Grimsby’s story has ended – that the town effectively died when the trawlers disappeared. However, when you look around, there are a lot of positive stories out there, a lot of vibrant young businesses changing the narrative from one of decay to one of growth and evolution.

Since Chris has worked with a lot of local businesses, I wondered what his take on this was?

“The Grimsby story at the moment is an ever-changing landscape. This town has gone from the busiest fishing port in the world, to having its name dragged through the mud by the mainstream media. But there’s so many good people here and there’s so many incredible businesses that are at the forefront of renewable energy or new generational wealth or new ideas that are sparking conversations within government.

You’ve got the likes of ABP, Orsted and Myenergi – they’re absolute giants in their industries, and they’re based in the heart of Grimsby. And there’s a reason for that.”

Chris agrees with us at CMA that Grimsby as a town, and Lincolnshire as a county, is blossoming because of the vision, hard work and raw creativity of the people here.

“There’s so many good people that are really doing incredible things. And I think it’s down to the likes of myself and you at CMA to shout about these people and shed light on how incredible they are and what they’re doing and how they’re making a difference, not only to the local community, but to the wider world.”

If you tell yourself you can’t, you won’t. But if you tell yourself you will and you actually put steps in place that are actionable, the only thing stopping you is yourself. And that’s true whoever you are and wherever you’re from.

Chris Curtiss

Grimsby’s Starring Role

Despite the whole ‘if it’s from Grimsby it must be rubbish’ mindset, Chris feels that being from Grimsby is a privilege. It’s enabled him to connect with some inspiring people in the local area in a way that he wouldn’t have done if he was based in a large city.

“I think being from this area means that clients around here understand me and I understand them. Because, let’s face it, we’re a rare breed. We’re a little bit different and we can be quite forthright, but for me that goes a long way.

“I think that’s what us Grimbarians do really well. We can have a good laugh, but we’ll always get the job done.”

Chris goes on to detail some of the crazily successful people he has worked with, in various capacities, who hail from our town.

There’s the likes of Anthony Scott Logan who founded the change-making business, Noir Ventures, and is now an investor in a range of cutting-edge businesses. Or Ryan Walton of Klockwork Studios, he’s also out in Dubai taking incredibly glamorous photos and making films. They were both born and raised here.

Chris’ opinion on this is refreshingly straight-forward: “If you see being from Grimsby as a barrier, remove that from your mindset. You’re only as small as your thoughts. If you can dream big, you can be big.

“In my opinion, if you tell yourself you can’t, you won’t. But if you tell yourself you will and you actually put steps in place that are actionable, the only thing stopping you is yourself. And that’s true whoever you are and wherever you’re from.”

Grimsby on the Big Screen

There are few who have a better understanding of how to capture Grimsby’s story on film than Chris, who has been involved with both of the feature films that were made here in the last couple of years.

Director Jack Spring (who, although he’s from that there London, has family here) made the comedy heist film Three Day Millionaire here (still available on Netflix) and, while he was in town shooting that, Grimsby Town FC was experiencing something of a renaissance with a take-over and a heroic  play-off run in the National League. Town’s story was irresistible so, as he explains in this interview, Jack had a few meetings and, suddenly, he was directing We’re All Town Aren’t We – the documentary about the ’21 – ’22 season. Check out Shush Films’ socials for updates on where and when you can see that!

For both projects, Spring needed some aerial footage of Grimsby, so reached out to Chris who’d been sharing his drone footage on his socials.

Therefore, Chris – along with fellow local drone operator, Lee Howard, and local filmmaker Mark Cribb – shot the aerial footage that now graces both films.

Owning and operating a camera drone for commercial use is a serious business with, as Chris will only too readily confirm, a mind-boggling number of rules and regulations to learn and abide by.

That’s why you need to hire an operator like Chris who knows exactly what he’s doing and, importantly, what he’s legally allowed to do.

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Cast in Order of Appearance

No one is ever really a self-made success. Everyone gets help along the way.

Chris is very keen to stress the helping hands that were extended to him, particularly when he was starting out:

“Some of the most helpful advice I ever got came from Kev Furber, who I mentioned earlier. He taught me so much, from how to hire equipment to making sure that story is at the epicentre of everything I do. So that was kind of my first taste of high end commercial corporate work.

“I then met a good friend called Chris Kibui who owns Hockey Tutorial, an ice hockey YouTube channel. As an ice hockey player myself, it was an opportunity I had to jump at and myself and Chris have travelled the world, creating documentaries around ice hockey and telling stories about indigenous populations and how the game’s growing there.

“We’ve been to Kenya a couple of times to shoot documentaries there. We’ve been to Finland; we’ve been to Belgium and Thailand. He opened the door to travel to me and that was how I found my love for documentary – which is storytelling in its purest form, because there are no frills.”

“I’d also like to give a mention to. Ben Herbert, who runs Lightspeed Film Co over in Manchester. He’s taken me on a lot of shoots with him. We’ve been down to Abbey Road Studios in London working with Universal Music and some really large, large artists. And that’s just a privilege, when somebody else is trusting me with their brand, with their business, with their clients. They’re allowing me to be a part of that journey, part of that story.”

And, of course, Chris has collaborated with a lot of local people along his career path. For example, Dan Clark at Grimbarians, then there’s Luke Drewery at Know Film, and Dan Ballard at IceCap Media, to name just three.

Chris is normally one for nostalgia, he’s always looking ahead to the next project, the next challenge, the next story to tell. But, when he takes time to reflect, he realises how incredible his story (so far) has been.

My success is not thanks to me, it’s thanks to the people who give me great opportunities. Without them, I wouldn’t be who I am.

chris curtiss

Behind the Scenes, It’s All About Trust

For Chris, the joint keys to good business are trust and reliability. The first step is to turn up, prepared and ready for anything. He then puts his ego aside. When he’s doing a commercial job, his priority is what the client’s business needs, not what Chris Curtiss needs. It isn’t about his story, it’s about theirs.

“When I’m working for a client, I’m Chris, I’m not Curtiss Creative. I’m representing their business and I take a lot of pride in that.”

He believes the client is not hiring a camera, they’re hiring a person who can tell their story with a camera. That conviction is what generates the trust his clients have in him, which is why they ring him back for the next job.

“I don’t see myself as a business owner.” Chris confesses, “I don’t look at the overheads, I don’t look at the profit and loss. Maybe I should, maybe that’s where I’m potentially going wrong.” He laughs at this, but the sentiment is serious when he goes on to say: “What matters to me is the outcome for the client and the relationship that I have with them.”

Process Shots: Curtiss’ Creative Services

So, what kind of services do you at Curtiss Creative offer to the organisations that want to tell their stories?

“Me! I’m the founder and the only full-time employee of the company. I hire-in freelancers I trust, so I can offer a lot of creative services, the main one being video production.

“I have a specialism in animation and experience in graphic design as well. Also, I have photographers on hand that are some of the best in this area (obviously, I’m going to be biassed about that, I wouldn’t employ them if I didn’t rate them). So, my main source of work is always video production. That can range from events to music videos to corporate gigs to commercials to some short form animation.”

When somebody rings him to offer him a job, Chris’ first questions are about the deliverables. What do they want to produce? Why are they making this project? Who is the audience going to be? Where it is going to be shown? 

Essentially, he needs to understand the destination before he sets out.

And, speaking of destinations: “If they’re a new client, I always go for a face-to-face conversation, to really understand what it is that they’re looking for. Sometimes I have to drive across the country to do that, but it’s important because it shows I’m willing to show up – to literally go that extra mile – to put in the effort to understand their needs.”

Chris Curtiss on Ambition and the Future

The Final Act & Planning for the Sequel

I wondered if always working on other people’s projects left Chris wishing he had time to work on his own. He replied that his clients’ projects are his projects!

“The vision for Curtiss Creative – and for Chris Curtiss the person – is just to be happy. It’s to be content. It’s to wake up and know I’m doing some good and I’m helping somebody.

“I don’t necessarily set humongous goals within business. For me, the size of my business is perfect for the way I want to work – it’s intimate and personal and the stories I want to tell are intimate and personal.”

That said, one project he is working on, purely because he feels it’s a story that needs to be told. Chris is working on a documentary for Andy’s Man’s Club, who are a male suicide prevention charity. There’s no money in it for him, no sponsorship, it’s purely a pro-bono job he’s creating in his spare time.

“It’s a story that I really want to tell, that I feel really passionate about.” Chris confirms. “It’s gonna potentially help hundreds, if not thousands of men around the UK to seek help if they need it.”

That story is more important to him than any amount of money.

So, if it’s not about the money, why does he do it?

“Well, this may seem stupid. But it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I’ve never pursued anything else. I can’t put a shelf up. Can’t really work in an office. But, I can do this. And this is what I love doing. I love telling stories, and I don’t do it for the external validation of likes or comments or shares. I do it for that one person my work connects with, who will come to me and say: “Thank you. That made me feel something. That was really powerful. It has really inspired me to change.”

So, for Chris, it’s not really about the end product – the film itself – it’s about the journey, the people he connects with and the experiences he gains along the way.

But, being pragmatic for a moment, I asked him about his plans for the business. He seemed positively embarrassed to admit he didn’t know.

“There’s no top of the mountain for me. There’s no end goal because, once I reach that goal, I’ll just make another one. So, I’ll never be satisfied, I’ll never be fulfilled.

“I’ll always just want to create something that means something to another person. And if I can continue to do that until the day I can no longer hold a camera, I’ll be a very happy person.”

The Director’s Cut

Below, you’ll find the full-length interview with Chris. Enjoy the spectacle of seeing him stepping out of the shadows into the glare of his own cameras and lights for the first time. You’ll get to see a frank, funny and often moving profile of one of the people we, at CMA, admire for doing so much to make Grimsby Global!

Contacting Chris & Us

If you have a project that needs Chris’ calm, conscientious approach, you can find him on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram or via his website:

And, if you’d like to know more about what CMA can do for your business – or you’d like to nominate another local hero like Chris (or games designer Jo Smedley, or fine artist Piers Phillips, or environmentalist The Canoe River Cleaner) for the CMA profile treatment – feel free to fill-in the form, below.

John Ashbrook

I'm a Senior Writer. I put words together to create sentences. Hey, I'm doing it now! If it needs words, the call goes out: "This is a job for John!" My red phone rings, I slide down my pole, switch my laptop batteries to 'power' and my turbines to 'speed' then I begin typing. What am I going to type this time, I wonder? Let's see ...
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