The Edinburgh-based video production company has helped scores of clients tell their stories in film – including Axa, the RAC, The National Trust, Heriot-Watt University, One Year No Beer and Halfords – and has two Royal Television Society awards, among others, for its documentary work.
“Whenever you create any kind of video content – particularly if you’re a business – you want to try to reach your audience emotionally,” Nicholls continues. “If you put lots of impressive statistics into a video promoting your company, people just don’t remember that. It might look impressive for a minute, but what they do remember is how you make them feel. So you can aim to make them laugh. You can make them sad or try to warm their hearts. And the best way to do that is through telling a story.”
As Swift’s head filmmaker, editor and creative mind, Nicholls himself has filmed some remarkable stories. Following two life-long friends attempting to travel 4,000 miles across seven countries and the Sahara Desert in a car bought for £100, he produced a feature-length documentary End of the Road, which premiered at the New York City International Film Festival and was then picked up and broadcast around the world by the Discovery Channel.
“I just took a camera and headed off with two guys into the desert in this awful car which was going to be our home for a month,” Nicholls relates. “When the clutch went on the edge of the Sahara Desert, I was painfully aware that the trauma of having a broken down car would ultimately be great for the film, because you need those elements of drama. But it just didn’t make it particularly enjoyable at the time. It wasn’t until I looked back that I really appreciated it. And that experience really encouraged me to make more films like that.”
The epic story of solo British cyclist Jim Rees attempting the 3,000-mile coast-to-coast Race Across America was another life-changing project – and won Swift Films its second Royal Television Society Award.
“These cyclists are cycling for 22 hours a day with a maximum two hours sleep,” Nicholls explains. “So after five or six days, the accumulation of sleep deprivation really affects them mentally. I wanted to see if Rees was capable of doing it, but also what would happen to him after a week on the road of just relentless cycling. That was one of the most inspirational and memorable stories of my career.”
More than 80 per cent of internet traffic now comes from video, so there has never been a better time to tell your story this way, Nicholls says. And more than 60 per cent are more likely to buy a product after watching a video about it.
“A lot of clients are realising now that everything is moving towards online video and if you don’t have a video on your website, you’re going to get left behind,” he says. “To promote a business, I think you really need to have some kind of video content. It’s just a very effective way to communicate your message. And people are far more receptive to visual stimulation, as opposed to reading lots of text.”
Recent client projects in 2019 for Swift have included a short careers film for The Telegraph newspaper, and the RAC’s Orange Heroes film series, which follows the work of the organisation’s patrols, who apparently assist more than 6,000 vehicles every day.
Edinburgh’s Merchiston Castle School also commissioned Swift to create a short ‘hero’ film for its homepage.
“The style and tone of this film was wildly different from anything the school had done before,” Nicholls says. “When people get emotionally invested in a product, they imagine how it would affect their life. So whether you’re selling a product or a service, if you connect with someone emotionally, then they’re more likely to invest in you because you’ve touched them in some way.”
Nicholls was born in Edinburgh and grew up in Colinton before going to Warwick University to complete a BA in theatre and performance studies. He then lived in Bristol for 13 years after completing a Masters in film and TV production. He set up Swift Films there in 2004 before returning to Edinburgh with the business six years ago.
He runs the business with digital marketing specialist and former BBC and ITV producer Kirsty Hemming, and director and cameraman Edwin Hasler.
“We are visual storytellers,” Nicholls says. “The look and feel of our videos is very important. We like to try and establish a unique visual style for every production and we want things to look as cinematic as possible. We have our own permit for commercial drone operation from the Civil Aviation Authority and have been providing our own aerial filming services for our clients since 2016.”
One of Swift’s most successful aerial films features crime author Ian Rankin surveying parts of the Capital that tourists often miss. Ian Rankin’s Secret Edinburgh features extensive aerial footage.
“I feel very lucky to be able to make a living from telling stories,” Nicholls concludes. “I like meeting people. I like observing their lives and also being able to tell their stories. It’s a real privilege, and I’m just always, always looking for new stories to tell.”