Born in war-torn Bosnia in 1985, Oggi Tomic did not experience the best start to life. However, his difficult childhood only served to make him stronger. Now enjoying a flourishing international career, the Cambridge-based freelance filmmaker, lighting camera operator and director specialises in creating cinematic movies and documentaries for a diverse range of organisations, and counts NATO, Sony, Google, National Geographic, the BBC and Buckingham Palace among his prestigious clients. We talked to Oggi about his personal story, his triumphant BAFTA-winning film and the equipment he relies on to achieve this work.
Please tell us about your background and your early years in Bosnia, and how this has influenced you later in your life and career.
My first contact with a camera was when I was 13 through Scottish-based photographer, Chris Leslie, who introduced me to the Pentax P20 system. This was just after the Balkan war ended, and since then I have never looked back. Although I started with photography, something led me more towards film, which I do professionally. I keep photography for myself… my soul. It will always be my passion and not something I could do for income.
Oggi Tomic & Chris Leslie
What inspired you to become a filmmaker and photographer?
Being introduced to a camera as a young child inspired me, and helped me stay away from all the horrible things that orphan kids had to experience: from fighting, bullying and crime to drugs, which sadly many kids had to go through. I suppose I was the lucky one.
Oggi Tomic in Sarajevo – Photo by Chris Leslie
Did you study photography and filmmaking or have formal training?
I never needed to study photography, as I had the fortune to be taught by Glasgow photographer Chris Leslie at an early stage. Later in life, I was inspired and encouraged to study film by a good friend in Ireland. In 2006, I wrote to the University of Wales, without any hope of a reply, to ask whether I would stand a chance to be accepted as a student with my background. Luckily, an email reply came back and the rest is history. I graduated in Documentary Film and TV at the University of Wales. Prior to my degree, I had already gained experience working at JWT, Studio 99 (now Al Jazeera) and the BBC, where I had the opportunity to work on big budget commercials for Tetley Tea, Kellogg’s and McDonalds, giving me an insight into the commercial world at just 18 years old. I am really passionate about documentary film and photography as they give me access to some amazing and inspirational stories I would never normally experience if it wasn’t for the camera – I think that is something to value for life and to be proud of.
Portrait of person in Pakistan – Photo by Oggi Tomic
Do you have an ‘idol’ or role model in the world of photography and cinematography? Please tell us who and why.
I’d say my inspiration was Chris’ work, and it can be seen in my own photography – especially his series on the Balkans and Glasgow. When it comes to film, it is tough as there are so many, but to name a few, it would be Michael Winterbottom, Ridley Scott, Michael Moore and of course, Louis Theroux, amongst others.
Oggi Tomic with Michael Winterbottom
Can you tell us about your film ‘Finding Family’, which has won multiple accolades around the world including two BAFTA Scotland Awards?
Finding Family is a documentary by Chris Leslie and myself, produced by Garret Kelly. This documentary captures my extraordinary journey as I head back to Bosnia, 20 years on from the snipers and shelling, in search of answers from my long lost family. I was born with water on the brain, abandoned at birth and given just months to live. Some would say I did not get the best start in life. Twenty-seven years on, however, against the odds and through the kindness of strangers, I am alive, well and living happily married in the UK. After a childhood plagued by near starvation, shelling and continuous suffering, it seems like everything is finally falling into place.
The trailer for Oggi Tomic’s film – Finding Family. Links to the full version documentary at bottom of page.
What about your photographic work? Where has your photography been published and have you held any exhibitions?
My first ever photograph was published back in 2000 at Victoria Underground Station in aid of the charity Hope and Homes for Children. It was entitled ‘When I grow up I want to be an architect’. Since then, my photographic work has been exhibited in Sarajevo, New York and in Parliament in London, and has been published by The Telegraph, the Times, the Daily Mail and by National Geographic to mark the 70th Anniversary of Auschwitz.
When I grow up I want to be an architect – By Oggi Tomic
You often write about and review equipment for your blog – how did this come about?
I find it really hard to find useful and ‘to the point’ reviews on equipment, hence my sometimes ‘to the point’ reviews just happen – whether that’s on set to show what a certain product can do, or by experimenting with time-lapse. As a filmmaker, it is not about how something is pretty or what its functions are, but actually how effective and productive the product can be on a film set. The world of film is not as glamorous as many think, but it can be enjoyable and rewarding if you have the right equipment and the knowledge on how to use it. I always tend to read 1-star reviews before making a purchase, as it helps me understand the strengths of a product, if that makes sense. My reviews are all about helping others achieve their potential when creating engaging content for their clients or personal projects.
What has been your most challenging or memorable project to date?
I would say every project has its challenges. If they didn’t, they would not be fun to carry out. ‘Finding Family’ was really hard to make from an emotional perspective, and I was quite lucky to have Chris and Garret on the journey to provide support, but also to make sure we ‘got the story’. It is a film I will be proud of for the rest of my life, and I hope it inspires other children to never give up finding out about their family, mothers or fathers, no matter the reason they were abandoned. We as humans don’t need the latest gadgets, toys or cars. Family is the most important thing one can have in life and it is something we should value. This is why Finding Family was made: to leave a lasting legacy and to inspire.
Finding Family Poster
What would you consider to be the most notable picture you’ve ever taken, or the most outstanding film you have ever created, and why?
I would say my most notable series of pictures would be of a Yanadi Tribe in India. I had the honour of having them published across many newspapers to raise awareness of their story and to generate funding to help the village in India build their first ever school, church and farm. One of the photographs even won the Telegraph ‘Best Travel Photo’ award, from which all proceeds went back to charity.
Telegraph ‘Best Travel Photo’ – by Oggi Tomic
When it comes to films, aside from the above-mentioned ‘Finding Family’, I was privileged to be part of the crew behind ‘Vincent van Gogh: Exhibition on Screen’. I was (and still am) proud to see this across UK cinemas being beautifully projected onto the big screen. Having an entire museum closed for me to capture this amazing art is something I will never forget.
Behind the scenes at Vincent van Gogh: Exhibition on Screen
Which equipment do you use in your filmmaking and photographic work, and why?
Another difficult question, as I don’t use just one camera. It all depends on the nature of the job. If I am filming broadcast or commercial, then usually it will be the Sony FS7, while the Canon C200 is a more stylistic preference. With photography, I am spoilt for choice. My ‘go-to’ is the Fuji XT-3, while for commercial work, it is definitely the workhorse Canon 5D Mark IV.
Oggi Tomic with his Canon 5D MkIV
What’s in your kitbag currently?
As I write this, and straight from the shoot, in my Billingham Hadley Large Pro are currently a MacBook Pro 16, iPad Pro 11, Fuji XT-3 + 23mm 1.4, 2 x LaCie 4TB Hard Drives, memory cards, 2 x Hyper Dongles, EOS-R with 5 LP-E6 batteries and a Canon 50mm 1.2 L.
If you could take just one piece of equipment with you to an important event, commission or trip, what would it be?
If it was an event for a client, then it would definitely be the Sony FS7. For a trip abroad, 100% the Fuji XT-3 or Canon 5D, purely because of their compact size.
Oggi Tomic with his Billingham Hadley Pro and Canon 5D in Karachi, Pakistan
You’ve told us that you are a very keen Billingham fan. What is your favourite Billingham bag and why?
Well, I’d lie if I said I had a favourite bag! Every Billingham bag has something about it that is special, makes me feel creative and definitely inspires me when going on a shoot. They just give you that ‘feeling great’ feeling! I am lucky to have three Billingham bags that my wife bought for me as a present, which, quite honestly, left me in shock. When I first saw them on a TV show, I never knew what they were, but I knew I would love to have them. It’s my wife’s fault that I’m such a fan of these amazing bags.
Oggi Tomic looking towards the Stari Most bridge in Mostar, Bosnia with his Billingham Hadley Pro camera bag. Photo by Agata Ostrowska Tomic.
How do you use your Billingham bags day to day?
It all depends on the shoot or trip that I’m making. I am currently using the Billingham Hadley Large Pro when working on location or editing films, as everything I need fits: 16” MacBook Pro, Fuji XT-3 plus lenses, 2x LaCie hard drives, 11” iPad Pro (which I use as an external screen), cards, cables, notepad, and Canon EOS-R with 16-35mm, to name but a few. And it still has space for more things – just wow! If it’s just a walk to town, then I am very lucky that my wife bought me a Billingham Hadley Pro as a present, and a Hadley Digital, in which I keep my DJI Mavic Pro with batteries – perfect!
Billingham Hadley Digital and DJI Mavic Pro – Photo from one of Oggi’s Reviews
What exciting developments do you believe we will see in the world of filmmaking and photography in the future?
If anything, I hope for more collaborations between filmmakers and photographers rather than more advanced equipment. I miss the days when we had one camera released every few years, for example, the good old trusty Sony PD150 or Canon 5D Mark I. At the moment, there are too many cameras, too many gimbals, too many drones… I wish we could focus on more storytelling and collaboration between creatives and the industry.
Photo from Auschwitz – By Oggi Tomic
What advice would you give to young people embarking upon a career in filmmaking and photography today?
Shoot, shoot, shoot. No college or university can teach you what you can discover by yourself, and in your own time, by experimenting, making mistakes and learning from them. There’s no excuse not to create content today, whether that’s just a short film to help raise awareness of a local charity, or a time-lapse photography project. ‘Finding Family’ is not the most technically cinematic film, but it is the story that made it a successful documentary. You can have the best camera and the fastest lenses but – this might sound cheesy – the story will always be king, so get out there and capture inspirational narratives, however challenging they are. At the end of the day, the rewards will come!
Oggi in official Buckingham Palace portrait during HRH Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday film shoot.
What’s next in the pipeline for Oggi Tomic? Can you give us details on any forthcoming projects?
I would love to share my next project, but there are so many, from short commercial films to those where I am travelling internationally to capture stories across five countries to raise awareness of mental health. I think this is something we should be talking about more and more through film and photography. I’ll share more about new projects as they come out!
View over Sarajevo, Bosnia. Photo by Oggi Tomic.
Where can people come and see your work / meet you? Do you have any forthcoming exhibitions, talks or workshops?
My work can be seen on my Instagram channel and on www.oggitomic.com mainly, which is due to be updated this year. I’ve been saying that for the last 5 years but I’ve just had no time! I don’t tend to hold photography exhibitions as such, but the best place to follow my work would be Instagram, where I publish documentary photography. I am looking to start a workshop at some point in the near future, where my plan is to share my knowledge with children growing up in state institutions and help inspire them to do something creative – the same opportunity I had in 1997 when Chris Leslie came to Sarajevo. It’s giving something back, I guess.
Oggi Tomic and another film volunteer from Chris Leslie’s project in Sarajevo, Bosnia.
We believe you recently became a father. Congratulations on the birth of your baby girl! How do you think this wonderful milestone will change your life and your work?
My wife and I could not be more proud, over the moon or happier! Our baby daughter was born on 24th January – on my birthday of all days – so birthdays will never be the same, which excites us so much! If anything, our baby girl will inspire me to work on even more creative films than before, and I hope one day she will pick a camera and be on that same journey, with her father and mum. 🙂
Aside from photography and filmmaking, what’s your biggest passion or hobby?
WOW – that’s a tough one, but I’d say certainly watching documentaries with my wife and travelling to new places. I can’t wait for our daughter to be a little bit older so we can show her the world.
Oggi Tomic can be found at:
‘Finding Family’ documentary: YouTube / Google Play / Amazon UK / Amazon USA (Included within Prime Video at time of writing)