Alex Buxton takes hard look at disruption in business in Economist documentary series
As a producer, Alex Buxton is relaxed but firm. He understands that filmmaking requires teamwork, and he knows to rely on each different set of skills he has around him to make the best possible production. He treats everyone around him with respect, bringing out the best of their abilities. It is this attitude that has allowed Buxton to rise to the top of his field, becoming an internationally coveted producer and director.
“I’ve been doing this for long enough now that I know there are few problems that can’t be solved eventually, and running around in a stress never got anyone anywhere. Producing involves directing a great many people, and unless you give clear, firm instructions, nothing will get done. It’s important that everyone has a clear, unequivocal vision of what we’re all trying to achieve, so there is little room for indecision. I’d never ask someone to do something that I myself wouldn’t do or that I know to be impossible - that’s not fair,” said Buxton.
With a passion for documentaries, Buxton has created several captivating film and television projects throughout his career, capturing some of the world’s most unique, heartfelt, and unheard stories. This is exemplified with his work on Netflix’s recent documentary series Dogs, telling the story of how a rescue dog saves both the lives of the dog and the adopter. His work also extends to popular series like This Is Life with Lisa Ling, Dark Net, and Street Genius, and he is currently working with Survivornet to tell the stories of cancer survivors.
“The producer has ultimate control over the editorial content of a documentary. That is what I’m interested in. I’m very concerned with the overall tone of a piece, and it’s as a producer that I get to control that. It’s not an ego thing - wanting control - it’s more putting myself in a position to make sure that I’m telling the best story I can,” he said.
Last year, Buxton worked with Economist Films to create yet another enthralling documentary series. The Disrupters takes a look at industries facing disruption today. It shows the disruption modern cities face from increasing urbanisation, the disruption the healthcare industry faces from tech, and how banks are helping to disrupt criminal trafficking organisations, told as global stories.
“This project in particular was a fascinating one, and the two films I was asked to produce, on the future of healthcare and the future of urbanisation, were subjects that really appealed to me. Economist Films are never afraid to send their filmmakers far afield to get the right story, and the job involved flying all over the globe, which I loved,” said Buxton.
Buxton has been working with Economist Films since their inception, and when he was asked to produce and direct the second series of The Disrupters, their returning business series, it was an easy yes.
The main story for each film was already sketched out when Buxton came on board, but he spent a great deal of time carefully deciding on the best stories to follow within that. Geographically, he was given free reign to go anywhere he wanted, which meant that he could pick the most visual, interesting stories, and not be limited by geography. In the end, he chose Seoul, Nairobi, various locations across the US and Basel, Switzerland amongst others.
“I loved how much we got to travel. I had never been to South Korea or Kenya before, and both were big eye openers for me,” he said. “Travel aside, I really enjoyed directing, and Arthur, my Assistant Producer, was a pleasure to work with. I also learned a lot - which is something I love about almost every project I work on. I really love getting immersed in the subject, and I really was here - particularly in Nairobi and Seoul- they’re both cities that just swallow you.”
Buxton was integral to the success of this most recent season of The Disrupters. He chose the stories they were going to follow, shot them and produced and directed the shoots on the ground. Every story was in the films because he decided that it should be, and, as the main shooter, he also dictated the look of them. Carrying out the interviews, he was responsible for the editorial content, as well as the look of the shows. They would have been very different films without him.
“Projects like this, that not only teach you something worthwhile, but also challenge you intellectually, are all too rare. The forward-looking theme of The Disrupters is what I love especially. The future is of course always exciting, but by showing real world examples and extrapolating out, the show makes it feel closer than most others. Nor does it dumb anything down, which I love. I suppose what I would say I love most of all is that it provokes thought - both to make, and also, hopefully, to watch,” he said.
The second season of The Disrupters is out now, and can be seen on Apple TV and at films.economist.com
Written by Annabelle Lee