Charlotte Miles, Filmmaker, Iron Heart Studios
As a Filmmaker in the fitness industry, Charlotte Miles' work documents gruelling journeys taken by athletes from all walks of life. She talks to The Industry Leaders about her journey from Professional Dancer to Filmmaker, and the challenge of wrestling her own emotions in pursuit of capturing someone else's.
How did you end up sitting where you are today?
It's hard to explain the through-line that exists in my career path. Perhaps the journey meanders in places, but I still see a clear route from training as a Professional Dancer, to taking a side step into the world of TV as an Offline Editor; then swinging back towards physicality as a Personal Trainer, before amalgamating it all into my current work as a Filmmaker within the fitness industry.
Basically, I love movement; whether that's set within the theatre's proscenium arch or on screen, through the window created by the camera lens. I'm passionate about telling the stories of those people who chose movement and physical activity as a starting point for bettering themselves and their communities.
What kind of work does your role involve?
I can usually be found face-down in the dirt, trying to capture the perfect angle of a Spartan racer, as they're 42k into a 50k endurance race, clambering under barbed wire, or over a 15-foot wall. I'm tracking alongside them to capture that moment where the challenge feels too tough, and they're an inch from quitting; tears streaming and body wracked with exhaustion.
Other days I'll be in the gym or at the homes of athletes, seeing how their training translates into a life well-lived. It's rare for me to find someone who trains like a beast and doesn't have a fascinating backstory. When you don't get paid to train hard every single day, you must have a really strong 'why'! Whether it's overcoming illness, heartbreak, depression or any other personal tragedy, these people hone a will of steel and powerfully positive mindset in their movement practice.
What gets you excited about your industry?
Whilst I cut my teeth in the very formal and hierarchical world of broadcast television, I appreciate the move towards democratising documentary filmmaking, which has occurred thanks to media-making technology's affordability and the broadening of platforms to showcase creative content. It gives a voice to those who would otherwise have none. My work, in particular, helps shine a light onto those who don't consider themselves exceptional, but whose authentic and emotive stories have the power to influence us all in really positive ways.
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Whatever you are doing, give it your all. No matter what job you're doing, whether it's a top executive at the helm of your own company or cleaning someone else's toilets, do it with care and to the best of your abilities.
People notice when you show care and attention to your work in any industry. It won't necessarily earn you extra money, but it gains respect and the personal satisfaction that you did a job well. I believe that goes a long way when living a whole-hearted life.
What, or who inspires you?
I get to work with really extraordinary people, and it's them that inspire me the most. For instance, the New York mother of nine kids who still takes the time to do a workout each day, while tending to her family's vastly demanding needs. In living like this, she's setting the tone that Mummy's health matters too!
Or the guy running ultra-marathons with a 70lb fridge on his back, in honour of those he knows who have died from cancer. He does this to signal that we're all carrying some kind of emotional weight with us, but that we can still keep moving and keep striving for more.
It's these stories that resonate with me and others too — ordinary people doing extraordinary things to raise themselves and others up.
How do you keep up to speed with what's happening in the industry?
My work spans both the media and the fitness industries, and it can be hard to keep abreast of developments in both. I spend time tracking trends in the movement world, attending events that combine the same love of fitness and storytelling; such as podcast conferences and networking opportunities like Spartan Media Fest.
But actually, my advice to people would be to stop looking so intently at what others are doing and take the time to hone your own craft. Storytelling is a key part of human communication - it's timeless. So, whilst the tech and the styles of cutting a film together might change, the narrative arc and all the necessary emotional beats remain the same. So in truth, I prefer to do the deep work on my own practice.
What was the most challenging project or assignment you've worked on?
The most challenging project physically was filming the Survival Run - an 80km+ ultra race through Isla de Ometepe's volcanic jungles in Nicaragua. I was shooting for over 24 hours, trekking up and down volcanoes, through dense bush and extreme heat.
But the most challenging moments are in the 1-2-1 interviews, where I get to draw out each protagonist's 'why'. Through carefully crafted questions, I have to encourage my contributors to pour out their heart. Usually, the challenge involves sitting quietly and allowing them to cry or unravel in front of you (and the camera) and not be afraid to let them sit with those emotions. It's human nature to want to comfort someone, but those emotions are gold dust in TV terms, so I need to just observe and usually try not to cry myself.
You finish work today and step outside the office to find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?
I'd never want to stop doing what I do, but I'd certainly shift gears. The increased finances would facilitate a long-form documentary that I've been wanting to make; allowing me to really dive into one big story and produce something that could be optioned by Netflix or Amazon Prime. If you can air on one of those platforms, you have a chance of reaching so many more people and really creating a lot of positive change.
How do you switch off after a day at work?
Training is my jam. As a woman raised in a culture that taught us strength was something only for the other sex, I do love lifting heavy shit. I find movement deeply freeing. It helps me get out of my head and into my body, and if I can craft that body to be fitter and more capable day-on-day, then that's even better.
If I'm not flipping tyres or heaving around a heavy barbell, then I love parkour and hiking too!
If you had one wish for the future of your industry, what would it be?
That there would be a resurgence in long-form creative content. There's a real move towards immediacy right now; it's like the MTV generation got put on acid! Everywhere I look there are 20-30 second edits, with music and effects that make your piece look like a trailer for the new Fast & Furious movie. I see this everywhere from Instagram to broadcast media.
It's not impossible, but it's certainly harder to convey an authentic and resonating message within those parameters. I'd love to get back to raw, emotive pieces that don't assault the viewer or lay it all out on the table, but actually, ask the audience to engage and form their own opinions.
What book or podcast should everyone know about?
The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film, by Michael Ondaatje is my go-to recommendation for creatives and storytellers alike.
But more generally I really appreciate Brene Brown and her work on vulnerability. There's a lot to be said for someone who helps shape a language around shame, enabling us to learn that to dare greatly and even to fall face down from time to time, is the path to a fulfilling and meaningful life.
How should people connect with you?
People can reach me on Instagram at @charlottemilesy.
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