Finally, finally we have finished filming on the Felicia Browne tea set project funded by my a-n professional development bursary!
Due to many technical difficulties with the very first scheduled shoots we’ve had to regroup and recoup over the intervening months to work through and plan what proved to be an extremely straightforward shoot in my kitchen.
I had always seen this film as a tight closely shot affair, but drawing out a visual narrative that played well alongside my poem has been harder than I expected. Word and image mustn’t fight or compete or chase each other’s tails and in a collaboration you need to find the way to understand each other’s vision and arrive somewhere in the middle (while doing justice to your material).
I’ve learnt a huge amount about that process (and my instincts for simplicity being borne out in the end). I had to make a video myself to work this out and to be able talk down the impulse to insert too much contextual information. The issue wth a historical subject is the instinct to explain – but this is an art film. The poem is the narrator and making sure this voice isn’t obscured by the visuals is vital to the success of our piece.
I’m now looking forward to the edit. This again will be made so much easier by all the hard work in our previous sessions.
I’m especially excited that some of my iPhone captures (which on two occasions reached the parts Simon’s camera couldn’t) will be used too! I’m thrilled to have become an active part on the capture side of this project.
In many ways this project has proved not to be what I expected – a simple matter of making a three minute film about a tea set. Project work is often complex. This project carries the weight of a significant history.
We are interested in Felicia Browne’s tea set due to her extraordinary and indeed unique commitment to antifascism, which led to her death in Spain in 1936.
Hers was a history which became entangled in the earliest moments of what would become the Spanish Civil War.
I was recently in San Sebastian (Donostia in Basque) and was moved to find a stunning memorial to the 400 citizens of San Sebastian executed by the Franco regime. As I absorbed the symbolism of this (in my view) perfectly crafted memorial I understood how important it is to get my film absolutely right. I experienced something of an epiphany. The extraordinary sensitivity to the subject shown in the memorial is something I need to aspire to.
My filmmaker, Simon Haynes, and I have been on something of a journey too. It’s taking longer and is going deeper than I expected – it’s more challenging too.
I think it will be a better film for all the delay and hesitation. Just before my trip to Spain we agreed that we have a first draft film but that to be truly happy with what we produce we need to retake the majority of our shots in perfectly controlled conditions.
Come October we will be sealing off my Kitchen to made a studio to film the shots we need to make this film as good as it should be for Felicia’s sake.
I’m so grateful for the opportunity to raise my game in this way. Self-led project design has allowed for all the flexibility I’ve needed to get this job done and to do it right.
The work for my a-n professional development bursary has now officially taken longer than expected – it’s probably quite important to document how creative projects are sometimes trickier than anticipated. Other factors can also interrupt play.
I’m still not quite sure how filming a tea set could be so complicated other than that I am learning as I go on so many levels. Also that my bursary arrived in tandem with a new Arts Council funded project, The Museum for Object Research, and this has been exceptionally time consuming. My work in supporting the professional development of other ND artists, and my consultancy on ND funding applications has also taken off. Somehow I’ve acquired a new commission too. As a freelance it’s important to keep things going.
Juggling projects is eased by working with a flexible collaborator. Simon Haynes, my filmmaker is so patient and understanding. It makes it a joy to work together and it’s been good to pick up the pieces from where we left off.
A delay for Jury Service right at the start of things didn’t help, and technical problems dogged our early footage, but we’re back on track with a plan for further filming and editing.
Sometimes on a creative project you need more time and a little more context. We spent some time watching other short films and reviewing the draft video I made using my iPhone and iMovie. It’s been important to receive Simon’s feedback on the video, and to see some examples of his earlier films which I hadn’t yet seen (being familiar with his more recent filmmaking). It’s really helped to shift my perspective and open up new thinking on the creative side.
Collaboration in this case is so much more than simply pressing on with the job. My estimate of when the film would be ready to upload wasn’t unreasonable at all, but it was based on thinking things would be more straightforward than they have been.
I’m now also excited by the need to acquire some new software so that I can consolidate what I learn from Simon, and eventually be able to edit my own work on Final Cut Pro. This will involve some research on laptop speed and external hard drives. A bit of a stretch in terms of my technical understanding. Though I am finding that as I keep working with Simon my tech skills are gradually expanding and I’m gaining so much more confidence in this area.
I’m so very grateful to a-n for the bursary, as the opportunity to self-lead my project has allowed the flexibility I’ve needed in circumstances where complications set in. Knowing that there is more time is allowing this project to breathe. Amen to that!
So far the blog posts about my professional development bursary work have been about the upsides to the project. This time I’ll present a round-up of some of the challenges – project work is often not plain sailing.
- Filming a whistling/ steaming kettle repeatedly in my kitchen during a heatwave. (Actually more fun than it sounds.)
- An unfortunate series of technical glitches which emerged on viewing much of our conservatory footage.
- Understandable delays as Simon adapts his working process in order to teach me the job of editing. (Penny drops – this is a two way learning process).
- A corrupted upload form a memory card.
Well. No-one ever said filming was going to be easy or without incident.
My response has been to dig back in to my own video practice to feel my way into the creative concept while I wait for our next shoot.
I’m such an immersive maker that I’ve found the systematic approach to film making fragments and distances my grasp of the film as a whole. I need to be able to see how it all fits together – image, music and voice work. This has been what got me into video making in the first place – a need to see and do for myself within collaboration. It’s ultimately why the editing skills I learn from Simon (on Final Cut Pro) are so important to me – ultimately I need to be able to make high quality videos on solo projects too.
So I made some basic capture on my iPhone and created a short iMovie to try it all out.
This was an opportunity to practice reciting my poem, and I’m so glad I did this before recording the voice work with Simon. I was nowhere near ready, and now resale that this is a new skill of it’s own and takes practice.
It’s been lovely to get back to making videos. I so needed to do this to articulate what I’m aiming for in my film collaboration.
I now feel we’ll need to pare things right back. The poem is the narrative engine and there could be a tendency to illustrate it and this would feel overdone.
My return to video has been hugely beneficial. I know exactly what I’m looking for.
I’m behind with blogging! A familiar sensation – if I don’t blog in the moment, the practice can drift.
So I’m picking up again, an hour or so before another meeting with Simon Haynes, my filmmaker and collaborator for this a-n professional development bursary. Our previous session wasn’t committed to ‘paper’ but I have a cunning plan. I’m going to sew two blog posts together. Aha!
I guess my lapse in recording the process from last week was in part due to the fact that we were filming again, in pretty much the same manner as my previous post describes. There’s a limit to how much anxiety over breakages, and the minutiae of filming tea cups you can get over without deviation, hesitation and repetition.
Suffice to say that our second trip to the conservatory for filming threw up the problems of working on a glass surface when there is intense yet intermittent sunlight. This time we worked on a list only basis for our shots, though we needed to be creative problem solvers – improvising fixes when our proposed shots didn’t quite work out in practice. Highlights included anointing Felicia Browne’s 1932 Berlin tea set with actual tea (brewed in a separate tea pot and cooled down to avoid the possibility of heat damage), while the definite low point was the failure of our steam shot. Shhh…though! I’m probably giving too much away.
…Several hours later…
What a fascinating experience looking over our shots proved to be. Although Simon explained that it can be tedious to do so, I can see exactly why it’s important to do this BEFORE getting stuck into the edit. So much of what worked and what didn’t can be gleaned – and it is possible to favourite clips, and even favourite excerpts of clips pre-edit.
Simon took notes while I clicked, to mark clips so that we can summon just favourited footage when it comes to the edit. We have a second round of clips to go through next week. I really get the sense of exactly how much work has to go into even a very short film.
At the moment I really can’t quite see how it will all come together. It was so very interesting (and surprising at times) to see how terrible some of our footage is. But equally how promising the glimmers of what’s good are. There are shots we’ll need to redo – but fortunately they’re not complicated.
Onwards – taking notes as we go.