A Brief Introduction
For my Creative Enterprise project I made a short documentary about a local autistic choir, for them to screen before their public performance at the Keynsham Music Festival in July. I worked with Butterflies-Haven agency, Keynsham Action Network and Keynsham Music Festival.
I could not have managed this project without the support and frank advice from Frankie Towle, social media manager. She has provided constant updates online, beautiful photos and brochure and invaluable advice on my rough-cuts.
There would not be a film without Lewis Killick, he was my sole cameraman for 9 months, recording everything from rehearsals to interviews and cutaways. Waiting for buses in the rain with me countless times through the winter, and his expertise with Premiere. He also helped me create the logo in Illustrator and made a motion graphic for my film.
The project from conception to completion.
In October 2014 I began the Creative Enterprise module, lead by Dr Mimi Thebo. Concerned that I was going to be asked to write a novel, I approached Mimi early on to confess my lack of passion for writing. I told her about my interest in film producing and how I enjoy working with children; and she told me she had the perfect project which combined the two!
In November, Trisha Williams, from Butterflies-Haven and William House, from Keynsham Action Network pitched their ‘autistic choir documentary’ idea to the class. Already eager to know more about the project, I followed them out after their pitch, to discuss their vision in more detail. Initially there were a few other students interested in the project, but after an email discussion, they all moved on to individual projects.
Mimi and I then went for a formal meeting in Keynsham, to meet William and Keynsham Music Festival director, Ric Davison. I took the opportunity to discuss the realistic scope of the project and my capabilities as ‘producer/director’.
I had already brainstormed ideas about how best to advertise the project, and decided a social media campaign would work really well. I advertised the position for ‘social media manager’ with Publishing tutor Katharine Reeve, who posted the opportunity on Minerva.
By the end of November I had also recruited two 2nd year Creative Media Practice students to assist me with the filming. Flora and Evie accompanied me to the first rehearsal to introduce ourselves to the choir, but did not continue involvement with the project due to scheduling clashes.
By December, Frankie Towle was on board as my social media manager. She accompanied myself, and camera man Lewis Killick, to the first filmed session at Waitrose, where the choir were caroling to raise money.
After Christmas, Frankie continued to attend some of the rehearsals to take photos. She also kept up a constant feed of updates on the choir’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. In addition, Frankie also designed a tri-fold leaflet for the choir, to use as promotion at events.
I attended rehearsals at the @One centre in Keynsham, January – through to April, with my camera man Lewis. I also filmed a one-off rehearsal at the Baptist Church, and interviews with Trisha, William, Ric and Charlie Groves, the choir master.
In May I began post production. With 112GB of footage, editing was a daunting task. However, I used my interviews to form a structure, then slotted in the best footage from the choir rehearsals into the gaps.
Simultaneously, I was using Adobe Premiere Pro CC to edit videos for the Forest of Imagination festival. This experience, along with help from Lewis and the technical demonstrators at Artswork Media, gave me good practice for the Butterflies Voice Documentary.
I began the editing process by pre-cutting the interview footage down to key quotes, and placing them in labelled folders within Premiere Pro, called ‘bins’. This process was incredibly detailed and took me a few days to complete. The bins were labelled according to the interview questions, such as; highlights, struggles, first rehearsal and caroling. The benefits of doing this meant I familiarised myself with the footage, and created an easy, organised way for me to find the clips.
I sat down to place a basic structure on the timeline, by creating separate sequences for each segment, then importing them into the final sequence. This wasn’t necessary, but I felt it broke down the task into manageable chunks and meant I could focus on one segment at a time. I had a rough cut within a few hours, thanks to my pre-cut clips, and sent this off to various friends for their feedback.
In the meantime I experimented with several new edits, but I was struggling to see them for what they were, instead all I could see was what was missing. The feedback from my peers helped me re-focus. I had also sent them a shorter edit which I thought might work as an opening sequence or trailer, and ended up using the text and some of the footage in the final cut.
I had the text approved by Trisha and had Charlie record an acoustic version of ‘Miracle’ to go in the film. Lewis also took the Butterflies Voice logo and animated it in AfterEffects, so I could end the film with a motion-graphic of the butterfly.
Lewis also helped me improve the audio in Audition, and import colour correction effects onto various clips to improve their exposure. I then rendered the film, to see it at high-definition. On watching it back I saw a few errors, and made an effort to correct these. My biggest problem was the audio from William’s interview, and although I had adjusted the channels, volume and panner, and added a denoiser, his audio is still not perfect- but as an integral member of the project, I felt I needed his voice in the documentary, despite the quality. It was difficult to monitor the sound with a DSLR and Beachtek during filming, and I feel many of the problems stemmed from this.
I am very proud of my finished film, and look forward to hearing the feedback from the clients. I am also hoping to continue ironing out the sound issues before I hand over the film for the festival screening.
Butterflies Voice Choir, the journey
(final cut minus any further audio correction)
Communication throughout this project has been a challenge, and for more detail you can read my write up on the complicated communications cycle. I have had scheduling issues too, which meant studio recording and dress rehearsals never took place. I enquired with several members of staff at Bath Spa about booking the Michael Tippet centre and the possibilities of recording songs, however the availability of the venues did not coincide with availability of the majority of choir members.
I also struggled to define my role and capabilities throughout the process, occasionally getting overwhelmed with tasks and expectations. You can see feedback from Trisha, William, Charlie and Ric on my performance here.
The choir itself suffered from some major setbacks, including; declined funding application, lack or organisation and losing over half their original members due to poor structure. This affected the progression of the choir, and that captured on camera, which changed the overall narrative of the film.
I chose to film on a DSLR camera because it is small, and less obtrusive in the compact choir room. This did lead to sound issues however, and though I also recorded on a Zoom, I chose not to use this audio in the edit to avoid the hassle of syncing.
I never really made a story board or script. At the time I felt it was not worthwhile, because the choir and I were working on a week-by-week basis, and Charlie didn’t have any set milestones to meet. However I do see the benefits of a script, and feel it might have stopped me from recording ‘excess’ footage- and of course given me more of a structure when it came to the edit.
I have thoroughly enjoyed the process, watching the choir grow and improve with confidence. I have met some wonderful people, not least William, who tirelessly endeavored to keep me up-to-speed, asking for my advice and offering his opinions, and Trisha, who gave me support and encouragement throughout the project.
Although my short film is nothing like an episode from ‘The Choir’ with Gareth Malone, nor does it follow a 3-act structure, with a narrative focus on overcoming an obstacle; I still feel it shows the essence of the choir, and the good work Butterflies-Haven is doing for the local community.