In our first week, I decided to dive deep and direct a film with a relatively simple idea. We were tasked with the theme of “out of my window”, which started to get us thinking about representing things around us, such as setting locality. Instead of taking the brief literally (by filming from our windows and inside our rooms), we thought it would be a nice idea to use the team’s split locations, with myself in Cardiff; Joe, Lucy and Leon in Aberystwyth; and Helena in Estonia.
In our first meeting the weekend before production week, we established our roles and we created an initial set of deadlines. Sticking to the deadlines was difficult, as creating the shot list took much longer than anticipated. As well as this, we discovered over the course of production that, due to the unpredictability of locations (including weather), we needed a level of improvisation in addition. Because of this, we decided not to pursue developing a storyboard. I developed a plan for the film with our locations set consisting of three main sections (one for each location). As a team, we considered what made each location distinct so that each section would be clearly defined. For Estonia, Helena told us that the local area had been covered in snow and that the lockdown restrictions were weaker than in Wales. When this idea of a “new normal” was raised, I decided that the three-section structure would work perfectly as a “before, during and after” film surrounding the idea of lockdown. From this, I hoped that the busy city centre of Cardiff could represent the ‘before’ stage, and the isolated, quiet streets of Aberystwyth could serve as the ‘during’ stage of lockdown.
Before we knew it, production week had arrived, and it was time to start filming. Some communication issues between the team caused some confusion from the offset and made us lose focus on the end goal. One example is that Leon, who we had tasked with obtaining footage of Aberystwyth and a chess scene, didn’t seem to understand the role of the chess scene within the film. The idea was to have the build-up of busyness in the first section become abruptly stopped in the second, leading to a section of peace through the form of chess and the locked-down Aberystwyth. Upon reflection, I should have briefed the team on my idea in more detail and allowed them to ask questions. However, I think this was partly caused by the improvised nature of the rest of the film and the extra time needed to prepare the shot list. What we really needed was the chess scene to include a face to build some sort of relatable link to the audience on a personal level. This issue on my part definitely changed the feeling and tone of the middle section; however, I think Leon still did an amazing job with his middle section of the film as it seemed to flow quite well.
This film relied on lots of contrasts, going from a busy city centre to a deserted town centre, before compromising to a “new normal” city centre. These contrasts, arranged in this way, almost perfectly fit with Tzvetan Todorov’s “Narrative Theory”, whereby the before section is the starting equilibrium (a sense of normality), the lockdown (during) section is the disruption, and the after section is a new, “different equilibrium” (Todorov, 1969, p. 75). We had to make sure that this new sense of equilibrium established at the end of the film was distinct from the start, showing how things aren’t back to normal just yet. For this, Helena produced some great shots of small crowds of city people shopping and socialising against a snowy backdrop. You can find more information about Helena’s time filming here. Leon used a mixture of archive footage and new footage to capture Aberystwyth, and I was particularly a fan of his smooth slider shots, as the slow movement really helped to represent the stillness and isolation of the location. You can find out more about Leon’s experience here.
After our briefing on production day and a 50-minute walk to the city centre, I started setting up for my first time-lapse shots. I was a bit disappointed to discover that the city centre was quieter than usual thanks to lockdown. However, I was hoping some camera trickery and sound effects would help with pulling off the illusion. In the edit, I suggested to Joe that we superimpose multiple sections of the same long time-lapse take over each other to show more traffic. Surprisingly, it worked! There is a ghostly-like effect on the clip; however, it made the film seem more mysterious overall, which I think really helped relate to the theme of lockdown as something that none of us was used to.
As I was tasked with filming a busy, fast-flowing city centre, I knew that I had to include lots of movement. So, armed with my gimbal, I took some hyperlapse shots as I walked down Cardiff’s Queen Street. I wasn’t too happy with the framing as it was aimed more towards the floor, however, I think Joe did a great job of making it work amongst the static shots of the buses and the other time-lapses. Throughout the day, I used Microsoft Teams on my phone to talk to the cinematographers to check in on how things were going. I found it hard to keep the team on track whilst also keeping myself on track, as the constant moving and setting up meant that taking time for a call wasn’t a great option given our time restraints.
As shoot day started to wrap up, I filmed some final timelapse shots outside Cardiff Central Train Station. I looked like a bit of an idiot filming outside BBC Cymru Wales for 10 minutes, even more so to the PCSOs who advised me to come back in the morning! They were a good help in pointing me in the place of good filming locations, including a construction site just a stone’s throw away from the train station. I then exited the city centre, filming cars passing by on a busy roundabout. Although there were about 20 takes at that roundabout alone, Joe was able to merge the takes to create an exciting build-up to the middle section of the film, plus the takes produced good audio that we could use to build the atmosphere. I also managed to speak to Joe and Lucy on location, as we started discussing stock sounds that we needed in advance, as well as discussing the name of the production. You can read more about Lucy’s time producing this film here.
After working over Teams for about 2 hours with Joe, we were happy with the final edit and I am really proud of what my team has been able to produce for our first collaborative film. It was a challenge and we definitely were not as prepared as we should have been, however, I am really happy with the commitment and effort that was poured in from all members of the team. Don't forget to check out the film, available here!
Todorov, T. (1969) ‘Structural Analysis of Narrative’, NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, 3(1), pp. 70 – 76, JSTOR [Online]. Available at: https://doi.org/10.2307/1345003 (Date accessed: 12 February 2021).
“isolated” (Tyler-Howells, 2021): https://fm11240.37hrd.uk/film/isolated