Diary of a CA Intern: Q&A with shooting researcher Finnegan James Crouch

Q&A with shooting researcher Finnegan James Crouch

Posted on June 14, 2024

Welcome to the latest instalment of our series, Diary of a CA Intern, where we dive into the career journeys of the newest talents in the creative industries, placed in internships by Creative Access. We’re thrilled to be catching up with self-professed shark nerd, Finnegan Crouch, an adventurous intern making waves at BBC Studios Natural History Unit.

Dialling in from a tent in Dorset, Finn was in the midst of researching and filming rare animal behaviour as part of the acclaimed series The Watches (Springwatch, Winterwatch) when we caught up. We discussed their favourite ‘wow’ moments working in conservation at such a historic point in time, and how they tackle hurdles as an intern new to the industry bursting with ideas. 

We also discussed how being from an under-represented background has shaped Finn’s creativity and work. When you grow up facing the horrifying reality of having to choose between heating and food, it’s not easy to map out a smooth journey to your dream job; but read on to see how Finn navigated this with their Grandad’s sailing mantra of ‘velocity made good’. We also touch on their professional experiences as an ADHDer (“I might be emailing while I’m talking if that’s okay, I’ve got raving ADHD so I can do a bajillion things at once”).

Dive into Finn’s incredible journey so far, shedding light on the invaluable insights and lessons learned along the way…This is a story you won’t want to miss!

CA: Hi Finn, we are so excited to be chatting with you! Let’s start with: How would you describe your internship in three words?

Finn: Fuelling my passion. 

CA: As a trainee researcher on The Watches at BBC Studios, you get to do some very cool stuff. What’s a typical day like?

Finn: We’ll rock up and have a whole production script runthrough with the presenters, wildlife team and production, then on to a researcher’s brainstorm. We go through endless story ideas and animal stories. It might be things that we’ve read, seen, filmed or experienced on location or around the UK. We’ll share footage that we’ve found online on rare animal behaviour across the British Isles, and keep an eye out for cool research and science stories from around the globe. 

Then, I’ll be tasked with writing up some bullet points on a story. So let’s say the story is on Spotted Catshark camouflage, I will have to write up three intriguing story beats about their camouflage and behaviour, then make sure that’s all linked to research from the real scientists. I’ll talk to others; emailing connections I’ve made so far or reach out to people who have written scientific papers in order to delve into their work. I’ll also write up scripts and detailed research documents to pitch to the researcher or producer that I work alongside. They’ll then pitch that to the series producers and once a week we put those forward to the entire team and we decide whether to develop further or drop them. I’ve done some filming for the show too, getting out into the wild. It’s not technically a part of the job but I do it outside of this work and so I said to my colleagues, “I could do this, so use me if you want to!”

I find it vitally important to work impactful conservation messages into our stories too. I think we should do that with all our work, rather than just making it purely on natural history behaviour and animal behaviour. We need to acknowledge the other side of the story.

CA: Do you ever receive pushback when you’re trying to put in a message about a larger conservation problem? 

Finn: Yes, more than I expected, which is something that has upset me in the past and still does, because there’s such a room for it and such a need for it. The world of conservation and climate research is one of the most oversubscribed job markets in the world but for good reason. We need to do all we can, while we can. That doesn’t mean that there’s any reason for us to not keep talking about it. If anything, because there’s more people talking about it, we should keep doing even more. 

CA: Do you wonder if it’s a generational thing? Do you think your generation [Gen Z] is more vocal about wanting to confront global issues within our work?

Finn: Yes, I feel like a lot of people are outraged. A lot of the people that will be facing the brunt of the situation are very vocal about it, or at least understand the platforms to be able to be more vocal about it, rather than people who find it difficult to utilise these platforms perhaps. It’s a symptom of the shifting baseline syndrome, where you view whatever state the world is as the norm, and once it gets worse, the people who grow with that see it as the norm.

There’s always been awesome people who push back like Steve Irwin, Sylvia Earle, Steve Backshall, David Attenborough, and all the people that I share this room with [in the workplace], but I feel there’s definitely a generational charge, which is very exciting. Learning from those who came before.

CA: What were your initial thoughts going into the internship? Was there anything that you were particularly hesitant about? Or most excited to learn?

Finn: I was shocked I got it. I thought um, okay, amazing, someone believes that I can do this. This is awesome. Then, once I started to get into it, I was absolutely terrified. I had such a complete lack of confidence, major imposter syndrome. I would sit down in front of the mirror and say: right, someone believes that you can do this – you may not – but somebody else does. So just go with it and make loads of mistakes, but do it all the same.

I also felt very proud of myself. Really, really proud of myself. Proud that I could do it.

This internship allowed me to get a taste of how the world actually works, rather than observing it from the outside.

Finn Crouch

CA: We’re proud of you! A lot of interns and readers will appreciate hearing your honesty, because it’s a very common feeling in our community, and challenges are part of any learning experience. Would you say that you’ve faced any hurdles during your internship and if so, how did you overcome them?

Finn: One is trying to separate my passion from the facts. I’ve learnt that just because I’m really, really, really excited about something, doesn’t mean somebody else is going to be. Spending lots of time on a project and story, going for it, and then it getting shut down – that’s hard. You have to build a thick skin, as my producer Christina said to me recently. You put a lot of yourself, your heart and a lot of passion into your work, and if somebody else doesn’t reciprocate that same thing, it can be crushing.

I sometimes get so passionate and excited about something, I keep nattering on and then don’t deliver the right words. And then I go home and think, ‘I could have done so much better than that’. 

Yet, there are highs and lows. You can’t have one without the other. You have to try and recognise the nine wins against the one loss. 

CA: We understand that that’s so much of the intern experience. You’re trying to do everything for the first time, all the while thinking I know I could do this better.

Finn: But then again, it can also really push you, which is quite cool. It is a lesson every day.

CA: Has there been a moment during your internship that stood out as a highlight? Something that made you think ‘This is why I’m here’?

Finn: One moment was filming puffins on Skomer Island, and telling the story of their conservation and the most recent sandeel ban, from ideation to release. This was a story that I pitched, wrote, developed and filmed, alongside a great team that helped along the way. Actually being there on the island, surrounded by the animals, filming them and talking about behaviour with researchers, I thought, ‘Yeah, this is what I wanted to do, this is what I trained to do.’

It was a unique moment and absolute pleasure to be there surrounded by such quirky, interesting, little birds. And also to learn about everything else – the threats that they face, the threats that we’ve imposed upon them, and also the endless hope and passion that people have to rescue these animals from the brink that is just so inspiring. 

Image: Puffins on Skomer Island

CA: Many of our readers are looking to break into the creative industries through internships. What advice would you give to them?

Finn: Be proud of what you know, be proud of what you want to know, and when people try to push you down, just use that to fuel yourself. Keep pushing but learn how to slow down and appreciate where you are. If someone says I can’t do something, I have to show them that I can. Reach out to people to help you, because people are actually really, really kind. As long as you are kind back to them, they’ll have a lot of time for you.

I would also say, you have to deliver. If you promise something, then you must deliver it. Keep yourself to your own word, whether that’s with your goals and aspirations or waking up in the morning and going for a walk or a stretch. It can be such little things, but keep yourself to your word. 

Something that my Granddad always said to me, and it really helped me when I was young, is a sailing phrase: ‘velocity made good.’ If you have an end goal – mine is to be an underwater cameraman or a self-shooting producer or even a conservationist of sharks or whales – it doesn’t matter if you have to tack and go to the right, or left, or around the other side and zigzag through, just keep moving towards your goal. That goal can change, and that’s fine, being amenable to change is really important. But don’t stop trying and don’t stop looking, and be kind to yourself and be kind to other people.

CA: How is your internship at BBC Studios influencing your creative aspirations?

Finn: It’s informed how I need to practise my skills, it’s helped me make connections, and taught me how to be professional. It’s allowed me to get a taste of how the world actually works, rather than observing it from the outside.

I wouldn’t be sitting here, being able to have a conversation with you if it wasn’t for that, I’d be in a pretty bad spot. So it’s definitely given me the direction of, right, that’s the career angle I want to go down. That is the kind of life I want to live.  

CA: At Creative Access, we know that everyone has a unique perspective to bring to the table. Have you had any reflections, so far, on how your identity intersects with your creativity and work, now you’re in the industry?

Finn: That’s something that gets missed a lot of time I think, and it’s such an important dynamic of every person that you meet. There are a few different angles to this for me that have really impacted my work; neurodivergence, gender and socio-economic background.

My time at the BBC has really put my brain and heart to the test. I have, and am extremely proud of having, ADHD. I’ve had to think deeply on how it affects my workflow, both positively and negatively. From time to time, it can mean that I feel overly emotional about my work, about the state of the industry, and when I’m feeling invested I can go down deep holes of research. However, I find that this is also one of my greatest strengths. I’ve been told by colleagues that my ability to hone in on a story, character or species so much that I fall in love with it, gets them just as invested. It makes me think from a different perspective, perhaps from an angle that hasn’t been seen before. 

I have spoken with many others from Creative Access at neurodiversity meetings, NHU [Natural History Unit] Inclusion chats and with colleagues, and every time people are wanting to learn, share their thoughts and grow. I’m proud of my ADHD; the drive it gives me and the passion it helps to fuel. I do sometimes forget to slow down, but wow, I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

As a non-binary person, working at the BBC has actually been a great experience. As a member of the NHU Inclusion group, I have been connecting with people like myself and not all across the industry. Many people are eager to learn and understand. It has been a really pleasant experience. 

I have also experienced living on the streets for a time to now being in my own home with an amazing job and living my childhood dream. This industry is known to be very hard to break into with only around 8% of people being from a low socioeconomic background (Channel 4). Growing up with having to choose between heating and food didn’t allow for much time to think about exploring my dreams. However, this didn’t seem to stop my fascination with nature and my obsession with animals.

CA: You’ll complete your internship this summer. It’s a while away but do you have any exciting plans or projects on the horizon?

Finn: These past months have been a blast and have indeed, blasted past. So, the post-internship plans are coming round sooner rather than later. Currently I am open and looking for more work both within and outside this field, behind, in front and working the camera, within conservation, design or anything TV/film related. 

I am also a part of an awesome research team of UK shark species, helping to create a vital film project with an NGO named Kai, alongside Liberty Denman and many others. It is a real grass roots project but I couldn’t be more proud so far. Sharing an insight to one of our most underappreciated shark species, due to be released and tour the UK later this year. Also, I will be releasing a passion project of mine in November, which is a series of magazines and a short film about the conservation hero, Chris Hines MBE. Other than that, I am open and free to start exploring what comes next and always keen to hear from people from many sides of the creative, scientific or both.

CA: Thank you so much for your time, we can’t wait to see what you do next!

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