Brighton Bin Men Strike

So the Brighton bin man strike is over. Shame! I liked it, it brought an old fashioned seediness to the city. It also was very effective at wiping the smug grins off our faces.

As Brightonians we are obviously intellectually superior to the rest of the UK and more sensitive to the changes made necessary by climate change as evidenced by having Caroline (“No place for banter and flirting in the workplace”) Lucas as an MP, having miles of empty bike lanes and the sheer volume of waste that we produce. Pop another iPad on the fire darling and close the curtains to make the rubbish go away. How can middle class people sleep peaceably in their beds at night without rough men who stand ready to dispose of rubbish on their behalf? Thankfully the strike is over so we can soon join the queue outside Canhams for our Christmas Turkey without having to inhale the stench of our own sordid hypocrisy. Personally I have resolved to email Ryvita and ask them to stop wrapping their crispbread in groups of four.

COVID Brighton – Update 11 – Creativity

This week I have been editing my documentary about how COVID has affected Brighton. Well, that’s what some would call it but I think that I am finally “creating”. Having spent months, organising, labelling and referencing my media I am into the bit where I am piecing together a narrative and it is far more enjoyable than all the donkey work that has gone before. Having said that the preparation has been invaluable and is now allowing me to focus on creativity. I have made 15 timelines, each with a theme: First Lockdown, Summer, Vaccine etc. To start with I worked on these in a linear fashion but after getting each one roughly assembled I began skipping around as I moved material between these themes. I ended up with a very rough cut lasting much too long and am now into what I am calling ruthless cutting. I’ve heard it said of editing that it’s mostly about cutting and I am starting to think of it like sculpture. I have this massive block of material and I hack away at it to reveal a narrative. Often I have found several excellent pieces but going through the material again and again it becomes obvious that they say the same thing. Only one can remain and so I cut, cut, cut. Like sculpture once I’ve cut there is no going back – that way lies madness. That bit I just hacked off may have made a fine nose but it’s too late now. It’s gone.

Preambles are interesting. I find that each time I return to a segment I find more preamble. By this I mean where people say something like “Um, I think….”. It’s a normal part of speech but adds nothing and each time it’s shaved away a more perfect form is revealed (so I tell myself).

I started out with 15 interviews and about 20 hours of footage and, unfortunately, as I cut I realise that some interviews cannot be used. This is a disapointment for the interviewees but in the end I remember what I was taught in film school: Everything must serve the story.

I learn things about myself along the way. The temptation to balance the screen time of the two students is because I am trying to be fair but fairness is not part of film making. Cut, cut cut! The temptation to shoehorn in an engaging sentence: “They’re all at it!” yells one guy when talking about kids drinking on the beach but try as I might it doesn’t bloody fit and it must go.

I am aiming for around an hour and today I am down to a rough cut of 1 hour and 14 minutes. I need to keep in mind that I will probably have to add some spacing. Pausing between segments. Perhaps a brief musical interlude and titles and credits. All will require more cutting and it’s possible I may have to lose more speakers. However, my iterative aproach reveals more superfluous material at every viewing and so I am hopefully that I will distil the material down without losing too much more of the valuable content.

When this process is complete I have more work to do. I will need to finalise the shot for each clip, add cropping and zooming, shoot more B-Roll and add B-Roll where necessary, add spacing, fine tune the audio, colour grade, add titles and credits and finally add music.

What a palaver!

COVID Brighton – Update 10 – Assembling

Last week I finished prepping the media for the COVID film. I had allowed the task to drag on so I set a deadline and got it finished. This week I started on the fun part. What I am currently referring to as “Assembling”. After the prepping process I had created 15 separate Davinci Resolve “Timelines”, one for each interview. Each timeline contained numerous marked and cleaned up clips of the interviews. (See last COVID film update 9).

I started to organise these into some kind of narrative, picking clips from each interview and adding them to a new Timeline named Opening. I had already developed an idea for the start of the film and so I picked clips from a shop keeper talking about when he first came to Brighton. I added some “B-Roll” of the street and his shop. I found this process far more enjoyable and rewarding than the previous prepping process probably because it relied more on intuition and feel than organisational skill. The hours sped by.

During the interviews I had in mind various themes and I asked questions around these themes. eg: “When did you first hear about COVID?” And “Did you get furlough payments?” I began adding theme related clips and realised it would be better to have these themes in different Resolve Timelines so that I could modify them without affecting the rest of the film. e.g. I could come back to the section on first hearing of COVID and change it.  When I’m done, I can merge all the timelines into one. So I started to make Timelines for First Heard, First Lockdown, Summer, Second Lockdown and so on.

Initially I had been roaring along in a state of flow and had thoughts that I’d polish this off in days rather than months but the work seemed to grow and become more complex as I pressed on. After a while my organisational skills kicked back in and I realised that, without thinking, I had fallen into a further layer of preparation. Different themes emerged as I worked and I was fairly methodically going through each interview and picking out clips relating to the various themes and copying them to the Theme Timelines.

After a while I started colour coding the clips by interview so that within the Theme Timelines I could quickly identify who was speaking. I went back and coloured the clips in each original interview timeline so that when these were copied to the new Theme Timelines the colouring would already be done.

This work was not as creatively enjoyable but I realised that it would allow more creativity later as well as helping to ensure that I captured the best parts of each interview. It also help me identify potential transition clips. For example one guy started saying that, early on in 2020, his friends in Spain and Italy had been texting him saying: “Look out, COVID is on its way!” and this dovetailed nicely with comments from another couple who were in Italy when COVID kicked off. Another clip had one guy saying how he went into the first lockdown and then smoothly moving on to talk about his financial situation.

One challenge I may have with this documentary is that I have so many interviewees. While a normal documentary may have perhaps five main characters I have more that fifteen and, if I’m not careful, this might confuse the audience. “Who the hell is this guy?” – Hopefully the aforementioned transitions will help the film to flow.

By the end of this second stage of prepping I expect to have a number of Resolve Timelines, one for each theme. I shall then edit these down so that they are coherent, interesting and without repetition. After that I will need to string them all together and ensure transitions between themes are smooth. By this time I hope to be able to create some kind of narrative arc as our tutor used to call it. At the moment I’m feeling fairly confident that the material and my process are sufficient to create a worthwhile documentary.

However!! I’ve started watching an excellent TV series named Discovering Film on Sky Arts. Each episode covers the career of one actor. I learnt about a film named John Carter based on the novels by Ray Bradbury. It had good, reputable director, producers and cast and a budget of over $300 million – and it bombed!

There is magic in the movie business and the difference between a good film and something that, though technically competent, is unwatchable garbage is not obvious even to the best in the business. Whether I create anything an audience considers worthwhile remains to be seen but I am hoping that care in preparation will allow me to maximise my creativity. I can also console myself that my budget is somewhat less than £300 million.

Watch this space.

The British Museum

Up The Smoke today. First time in months. Have been reading and viewing some great history books and programs. So to the British Museum to see some artefacts. Train to Victoria. Stifling bus to Trafalgar Square. The designer Thomas Heatherwick recently pointed out how, post COVID, we realise how absurd it is to lock people into tight little tins of metal and glass with miniscule windows. I agree. We need big windows we can open but our efficiency obsessed, risk averse culture wont allow it. Public too stupid not to fall out. A society which lacks confidence in its people.

Trafalgar Square wonderfully free of tourists. Not a trace of a muppet on a stick. A large sign ensured we were aware that Big Brother was watching us and the toilets now accept contactless payment. The state now has a picture of you , your credit card details and, who knows, perhaps a DNA sample?

I was reminded of the last time I called my energy provider and a laborious automated message directed me to look online then warned me that calls were recorded and any abuse of their employees would be taken seriously. One might be forgiven for thinking that they should take all their calls seriously and charging me 35p a minute to waste my time might be grounds for abuse.

On Charing Cross Road I was amused to see a pedestrian crossing with the green walking “man” replaced by an abstract symbol attempting to denote all genders. Good to see that even obtuse people have no excuse not to know when to cross the road. Not that there were many obtuse people…or people…. or traffic. All very quiet and Tottenham Court Road reduced to flogging phone covers and electric razors.

At least there were no queues outside the museum. I started at the Egyptian room where a plaque explained that the items were gathered together and interpreted according to a European perspective and this was now being reassessed. Reassessed in accordance with which perspective it didn’t say. A communist Chinese perspective perhaps? Apparatchik running about with thick black felt tip pens redacting any mention of Tiananmen Square protests and carting away customers for reeducation? A fundamentalist Islamist perspective perhaps? Artillery draggged into the museum to obliterate Buddhist statues?

It being unusual for any culture to assess information according to another culture’s perspective, I suspect that they will be assessing according to a 21st century Western persecptive. One that values all cultures equally except the one had the temerity to value all this stuff and present it for general admiration and enlightenment.

Spent a couple of hours wandering around. The Hieroglyphs and cuneiforms lettering were amazing. The Rosetta Stone now sits firmly behind glass, the lettering smaller than I rememberred. The Benin Bronzes are dramatic though I thought they’d missed a trick by not allowing us to inspect the rear of the bronzes to gain a greater understand how they were made. Some looked like they had rivets. The detail on the Assyrian wall carvings was fantastic. On the way out I found that the Sutton Hoo hoard was still on display. The Anglo Saxon and roman buckles and clasps were fantastic but perhaps the most beautiful object was a Roman clasp which was so elegant and intricate it might have been made in the 21st century. Clever chap, your Roman.

Starting around the 80s, museums in the UK were encouraged to rely on generating their own income and The British Museum was fitted out like a cake shop but now the tourists are gone. How will museums finance themselves? The state has been throwing money around like confetti so will a little more hurt?

On the train going up a woman had guilted me into re-donning my mask so that she would feel “more comfortable”. I complied out of courtesy not because I thought it made much difference. Most of us are in no real danger of suffering greatly from COVID yet we live in fear. Over a year on the streets are sparsely populated and business is far from normal. We live in a kind of limbo and the government picks up the tab. I say the government but I mean, of course, the next generation. The one which lives in rented accomodation and has no pension.

The civilisations represented in the British museum all had their day and faded, the causes as diverse as a BBC committee. Nothing lasts forever and surely a civilisation which has disclaimers for its most prestigious cultural institutions must see the writing on the wall. A society which lacks confidence in its institutions lacks confidence in itself. How long before all this stuff is sent back? In the 21st century our civilisation launches billionaires into space yet our economies were in crisis prior to COVID. Within a few months furloughing will run down and redundancies will begin. Inflation has already spiked and when interest rates follow we can expect mortgage defaults. We have to wonder whether the effects of lockdown will precipitate a deep recession and perhaps a more general crisis. There is something to fear.

COVID Brighton – Update 9 – Video Prep

It’s been a while since the last post and we’ve now completed all interviews for the COVID Brighton film. We had a couple more in the pipe line but had scheduling problems and, as we already have fifteen interviews, I decided it was time to get on and make the film. Ah, but there lies the rub – where to start?

Documentaries are often driven by the interview dialogue and my tutor at film school instructed us to transcribe everything, read everything, mark the bits that we like and then cut them out with scissors and lay them out on a table. Then assemble them into some kind of narrative. I started down this line but now realise that the scale of the task was deterring me from continuing me and I procrastinated by chasing the few remaining interviews. Eventually I decided that one thing I could do while waiting for these interviews was to get the media prepared.

Preparation involves synching the video and audio and extracting the good bits of the interviews. After fiftenn interviews, I now understand that people do not speak the way they do on the telly. Most people are unused to public speaking and produce quite a bit of superfluous content. This is not a complaint, it is the way we all speak most of the time and, having listened to my own voice on the recordings, I confess that I am one of the worst culprits. Superfluous content may be things like: Ums, Ahs, unfinished sentences; sentences which start fine but are then reworked part way through, coughing, sneezing or just saying, “Sorry, I’ll say that again”.

The amazing thing is that, even with the most erratic speakers, I understood them perfectly during the interview and it is only under the forensic examination of the editing software that the meandering nature of speech becomes evident. Perhaps when the speaker is not actually present we miss the immediacy of the relationship and so need the speaker to be more concise.

Of the interviews conducted so far, three speakers spoke in coherent paragraphs and all three had experience of public speaking. It’s also true that some of the people who were more erratic spoke more spontaneously and with more emotion and this is very good for film makers.

I have hours of footage and it is the task of the editor to piece these sections together into a coherent narrative. The following is a discussion of my experience as I attempted this. It’s fairly technical but might help anyone attempting the same task. We used two cameras for most interviews and I am using Davinci Resolve software for editing.

I began by synching the audio with the video footage for each camera so for most interviews I ended up with two clips. I then created a “Timeline” for each interview and dropped a clip onto the Timeline. I listened through and clipped “OUT” my speech as well as, superfluous comments, retaining bits that I thought were useful for the final film. Very roughly this brought interviews of perhaps 50 minutes down to about 20 minutes.

On maybe the 3rd interview I realised that I should be adding “Marks” at the position of pertinent comments. I started doing this and then by about the 6th interview I realised that I should be using the top marker as this one shows up in the main timeline below the video pane. By default markers are named Marker 1, Marker 2 etc and this shows upp in the top timeline. It’s better to rename these top markers so that the main timeline markers can be browsed. Again, this is me feeling my way through the workflow and it’s possible there are all sorts of other mechanisms that might be used.

I’d had a nagging thought rattling around my head that I was only cutting and marking one of the cameras and I vaguely thought that I would synch the second camera clip ad hoc when I needed to but, as I progressed and created perhaps hundreds of clips, I realised this was going to mean a lot of work. Eventually I realised the solution was obvious: I should have synched the two camera clips together prior to beginning the editing and marking.

Davinci Resolve – Prepping

So, perhaps half way through the prepping process my workflow for each interview is now:

  • Synch Camera A & Audio and save as Interview Clip A
  • Synch Camera B & Audio into Interview Clip B
  • Create Interview Timeline (eg Pizza).
  • Drop Interview Clip A onto Timeline using Tracks Video 1 & Audio 1
  • Drop Interview Clip B onto Timeline using Tracks Video 2 & Audio 2
  • Slide Tracks 1 & 2 around so that the audio in the clips synchronises exactly.
    • (Tip for this is to turn off the “Magnet” so that you can slide more precisely)
  • Synch the two clips together.
  • Listen through the clip and edit out superfluous content using the “Razor” tool.
  • Click “M” to mark clips and enter text relating to the speech in the title of the top mark.
  • Use different coloured marks for different purposes. eg. Background, Interesting, Must Have.

When the end of the clip is reached I end up with numerous marked clips. I then delete the gaps between the clips as follows:

  • Highlighting all clips (Ctrl A)
  • Edit – Delete Gaps
  • Don’t forget to Save – Give project version numbers and save with different version numbers after sections of work are complete to allow recovery in case you screw something up.

The result of all this work should be a Timeline for each interview which includes both cameras, only the interesting dialogue and has marks for the interesting points.

All of this does nothing to contribute to the eventual shape of the film but goes back to what I hear again and again which is to break the task down into smaller tasks. The preparation process will provide me with a sort of “pallet” of useful video/sound bites from which I can assemble the final film. And that is when the real work starts.

COVID Brighton – Update 8 – B-Roll

Filming continues for the COVID Brighton project though interviews have been thin on the ground over the past couple of weeks. We did manage to film two students. One at a sixth form college and one at university and it was very refreshing to get their, no less serious but more jovial, take on the activities we’ve undertaken during COVID.

We also interviewed a local church who thought the isolation brought about by COVID had been very hard but found Zoom to be extremely useful in holding their congregation together. Having said that they admitted that what they really missed was the real world physical communion of being with others and singing together.

We have only a handful of interviews left to finish and I have finally found my commuter. In the mean time I have been collecting what is known as “B-Roll”. This is additional footage such as film of empty streets, trains and dogs. I am coming to understand more than ever, that documentaries are driven by speech and, since people speak in erratic ways and since only a minority of the interview speech will be used, I will have to run B-Roll over the top of the audio. This will help make the film visually more appealing and also paper over the numerous cuts I will need to make.

Transcription is well underway and I expect to start preparing the footage for editing in the next few weeks. This will involve syncing the video and audio as well as labelling and marking the various media clips. I’ll probably write mote about that as I get into it.

Also worth mentioning is that, since 2020 was a wash out, I hadn’t botherred entering previous films in more than one festival but I have just submitted “Alison” to 2021 festivals in Bolton, Cambridge, London and Los Angeles! Hollywood here we come!

Twitter is a Leveller

Donald Trump’s use of Twitter defined his presidency. His comments outraged his opponents while galvanising his political base but, in the end, his desecration of the medium may have done us all a favour by destroying any remaining vestiges of the illusion that power equates to integrity.

We live in torrid times and society has become divided, both in Europe and America. Many are so outraged by differing opinion that they are prepared to overlook democratic norms. If it took a private corporation to silence President Trump, so be it. Yes, yes, of course, we say, and that’s why, in both Europe and the United States, work is underway to control social media via legislation. Well, yes, but that starts us down a path that democracies have tried to avoid: Censorship.

I suggest that we need very little censorship. Yes I concede that there are murky areas where it may be necessary such as paedophilia but censorship should be restricted to an absolute minimum. What!? And let the bigots and morons plaster the Internet with filthy lies? Well, yes, perhaps.

When Facebook started it was a way to share pictures of your kids and cakes. Kittens and puppies became fashionable and eventually politics raised its head. It took BREXIT & Trump to fill social media with pub bores. Debate became scarce amongst the deluge of partisan ranting. Many people have withdrawn from Facebook, either through boredom or fear of abuse. The field left to boors and bigots of all persuasions.

Yes, it is ghastly. However, once you start to understand what’s happening, it’s actually quite interesting. People are becoming inured to the ranting of the white supremacist and the woke alike.

What is really astonishing is the hysterical outpourings from the great and the good. Public figures, whom we held in some esteem and whom we regarded as intelligent, informed and sober are blurting out the most preposterous drivel. Many latch onto these comments to infer that their political opinions are wrong but this is unfair.

People are succumbing to Twitter frenzy in the same was that some get addicted to eating or gambling or computer games. Twitter has found a way of hooking into their neuroses, uncovering something in their psyches which is fed by the constant sparring and, since social media has a ready supply of billions of people with whom to spar, how can one ever feel closure. “Just one more level, just one more level” and there they are at 2am, opening another bottle of wine and arguing over greenhouse gas emissions with a butane salesmen from Iowa.

When we post a comment on social media, we should ask ourselves what we are hoping to achieve. Are we hoping to convince someone of our opinion? Are we looking for an exchange of views? Is this really the medium for either? The reality is that when we post on Twitter, we invite argument with any number of billions of people with not only different opinions but different, educational levels, expertise, cultures, contexts and perspectives.

Does this matter? Not if we understand what we are doing. Ricky Gervais brilliantly pointed out that we should regard Twitter in the same was we regard the wall of a public toilet. It’s true that there may be pearls of wisdom scrawled above the urinal and while we’re taking a leak it’s vaguely entertaining to have a look but this is not the place where we should seek wisdom.

And yet supposedly intelligent and reasonable individuals with impeccable credentials are appearing as complete buffoons. Paul Mason issues marathon multi-tweet diatribes on Gramsci and the Labour tradition, AC Grayling bangs on about the EU, says he’ll never stop being angry “to the marrow of his bones”, calls Michael Gove a “little squit” and talks about hypocrisy “oozing like pus through UK politics”. Richard Dawkins posts a sarcastic anti-Christian comment in response to the tragic death of a Romanian baby during baptism. Robert Peston joins in the conspiratorial speculation about the reflection of a telephone lead in a photo of Boris Johnson. The truth is that we are all capable of tweeting drivel when we’re off guard and that is precisely the time when Twitter offers temptation.

We may have missed the real contribution social media has made to public discourse. It is a leveller. It allows multiple perspectives but we are confusing perspective with truth. Twitter has also lifted the veil on a neurotic political/media establishment. Prior to the printed word people believed all sorts of nonsense. With the advent of religious texts some standardisation of that nonsense occurred. By the late 20th century a handful of versions of the truth were disseminated by newspapers, radio and television all operated by professionals and controlled by a handful of competing vested interests. Digital media changed all that.

Two things are now happening which undermine the standardisation of truth. First the professional media has competition from those with radically different perspectives – yes, often (but not always) disseminated by unreliable and disreputable sources (a bit like the professional media). Second, social media has removed the mask of respectability previously enjoyed by professionals.

Old media was capital and labour intensive. It was mass production. It required standard processes and armies of fact checkers, ghost writers and editors. Prior to anything being placed before the public, the errors, libels and insults were carefully air brushed away so that the end result was coherent, authoritative and believable. The general public made the understandable mistake of inferring the quality of the author from the quality of the work. The authors were revered as intellectuals, motivated by reason alone but in reality their credibility rested on not just their words but the polish provided by a large organisation.

Social media has revealed to us that our God’s have feet of clay. Twitter in particular, has shown us the collective unconscious of humanity – and it’s not pretty. Perhaps the vulnerable angry inner child that lies beneath the surface of us all is more volatile in creative types? In old Fleet Street it was common knowledge who was an anti-Semite, who a Marxist and who an alcoholic but everyone was engaged in a professional ball holding exercise.

In the 21st century the inner child is given a platform on social media. The Wikipedia profiles of some of the most frequent Twitter pundits may provide some idea of their motivation. George Mombiot’s family were old style Tories. Isn’t it just possible that his relentless obsession with proving himself lies somewhere in his past? AC Grayling was brought up in the colonies. Could it be that he lives in fear of being driven out of the intellectual inner circle and back to a provincial office job? The tweets of Peter Hitchens stick steadfastly to reason as he refuses to engage in a battle of insults but even here, can we not glimpse a strategy adopted as a counterweight to a more erratic sibling?

The valuable contribution of social media is to demonstrate to Joe Public that the Emperor has no clothes. Everyone is capable of behaving like a wanker – and that’s OK! Sure this leaves those who believe that they have some important truth to tell with a challenge but that challenge is no different than it ever was. The mistake has been to become embroiled in a medium which, by its very nature, encourages bigotry and prejudice.

Way back in the earlier days of TV, news anchors were banned by their employers from speaking in public for fear that the public might confuse their private opinion with the serious business of disseminating news. There were some raised eyebrows in 1976 when BBC news reader Angela Rippon appeared as a high kicking dancer on the Morecambe and Wise Show. In 2020 Channel 4’s newsman Jon Snow claims he can’t recall appearing at Glastonbury singing “Fuck the Tories”.

The correct response to the torrent of lies and distortion appearing on social media is not to create an Orwellian and necessarily gargantuan ministry of Truth to police the billions of comments created every day. The fact that such an idea is under consideration speaks volumes on the authoritarian ambitions of its advocates.

The correct response is to be selective about the media one “consumes” and the platforms on which one comments. The intellectuals will worry that many will fail to follow this advice but this has always been true. Stupid people will always believe stupid things. Many religious beliefs when looked at from a rational perspective are ludicrous. Millions believe they’ve seen aliens. A poll in 2017 showed that 85% of British MPs don’t know where money comes from. A democracy which relies on indoctrination is no democracy at all.

The correct response to poor quality information is to double down on creating quality information. Be distinctive by maintaining journalistic standards and a commitment to open debate. Specifically any news source claiming integrity should refrain from treating obscure social media posts as a legitimate source of news – The Mail and The Guardian take note. The emotional incontinent will continue to scream into the void but, over time, humanity will become accustomed to treating social media with a pinch of salt. It’s happened before. People didn’t buy the Sunday Sport or The National Enquirer to be educated, they bought it to be entertained. When I was very young people would say, “It’s true, I saw it on television”. When I was a little older this comment would be met with derisive laughter.

COVID Brighton – Update 7 – Audio

This week I put effort into setting up more interviews for the COVID Brighton project. I use a spreadsheet to track the contacts and it now has over one hundred rows. One for each organisation I have contacted. The bigger they are the harder they are to get in touch with. I’ve tried Amex & Legal and General but no response to phone calls, emails or a letter. I usually flag them as dormant after a few weeks and move on to someone else. This week, however I had some success. I have preliminary agreement from a charity and a church and good contacts with a railway company and a doctor’s surgery. The Universities are both playing dead and the students union are not responding at all. I’m also chasing up recycling centres as there seems to be something going on there. Whenever I visit they are full and I’m unable to get in. Perhaps we’re ordering so much stuff online that we’re throwing away more junk than usual?

We did conduct one interview this week at a Pizza restaurant which opened up last summer. The interview went well though we were aware of a dull buzz in the background. I decided proceed as I thought I had it under control but reviewing the sound later it was awful with a loud low frequency buzz throughout. However, watching several YouTube videos on the audio software Audacity I discovered ways of filtering out the worst of the noise. Tip for audio techies: don’t just rely on “Noise Reduction”. Try switching to Spectrogram view and using notch filters. They can work wonders.

COVID Brighton – Update 6 – Transription

Comedians love the sound of laughter. It encourages them to continue. Similarly in normal conversation a listener gives feedback by way of words words like “yeh”, “right” and Wow!”. This is important as, subconsciously, it informs the speaker that they are saying something interesting and should continue. This week I conducted more interviews for the COVID Brighton project and one thing we learnt about interviewing is that we must not speak over the interviewee as this can muddle the audio.

However, I must still supply feedback to make the speaker comfortable and encourage them to continue speaking. So without the ability to speak I do this by nodding, facial expressions, eye contact and general body language. Under COVID restrictions this could have been a problem. Having both of us masked up would have made it difficult for the interviewee to read my expression and made for fairly boring visuals. Luckily we’ve been able to maintain social distancing and so, in most instances, we’ve both removed our masks. I think one requirement for providing feedback is to be interested in the story the person is telling and since I seem to have an innate ability to be interested in everything this has not been a problem.

I have also been transcribing interviews. This is done in order to get a text of what was said so that it can be more readily reviewed and statements of particular interest identified. It’s a long process but can be interesting. People speak in different ways. This week I transcribed two interviews, one by someone who continually muttered “um” and “ah” and restarted their sentences as well as often leaving parts of sentences hanging. The other spoke in concisely formed paragraphs. The amazing thing is that humans are so used to communicating in these ways that I understood both and hadn’t even realised the difference in the way each person spoke until I came to transcribe the interviews.

Interviews conducted this week include the leader of a Brighton Wheelchair basketball team and the manager of an animal sanctuary. Both supplied fascinating insights into how COVID is effecting Brighton.

We are still looking for people to interview and specifically:

  • A commuter turned home worker
  • A new mother or maternity worker
  • A mature person who may be struggling with lockdown or, who knows, may appreciate the change of pace.

If you are interested then please get in touch via the contact page.

COVID Brighton Update 5 – Burials, Bikes and Hospitality

This week we filmed three interviews for the COVID Brighton project. On Tuesday we spoke to the manager of a burial ground who told us how the bereaved reacted when visits were severely restricted. On wednesday we heard how bicycle sales rocketed just as supplies from the Far East dried up and on Thursday a Brighton business man told us how the hospitality industry has been hammered by the dearth of tourists. The effects of COVID on the businesses of Brighton has been mixed, many have suffered but some found opportunities. The effect on individuals is not so clear though we are startinjg to hear about problems with mental health. Broadly three main themes are emerging from the COVID interviews: the death of the high street, digital tech and mental health. We’ll be following these up in future interviews.

We’re still trying to speak to representatives of the more senior members of our community such as care homes and we would really like to speak to new mothers or maternity workers. If you have a story to tell then please get in touch.

COVID Brighton Update 4

This week was very productive for filming the COVID Brighton documentary. On Tuesday we filmed a physio therapy company where we learned how digital media helped them maintain a minimal service even during the tightest lockdown. On Wednesday a self-employed carpenter told us how his business evaporated and he was forced to move out of Brighton and on Thursday a pub landlord explained the perspective of the pub trade. In the pipeline we have a bicycle shop, a taxi service and a restaurant. I’ve also been chasing the local council and a super market. I am trying to include as many aspects of Brighton life as possible and so, this week, I contacted a care home and a funeral parlour. End of life may not be a pleasant topic but it is an integral part of the life of any city and both of these services must have been intimately involved with COVID. Anyone with a story to tell is still welcome to get in touch.

One technical aspect of filming occurred to me this week. We’re using two cameras for the interview and I considered how, for one interview, I had stood between the cameras. I began to fret that, in the edit, as I cut between the cameras, the subject would appear to look in different directions. After some exchanges on a Facebook group I realised that this was breaking the “180 rule” of film known as “crossing the line”.

I am aware of this rule, having been taught it in film school, but I had not considered how it applies in an interview situation where the interviewer is not filmed. In a drama with two characters an imaginary line is drawn between the two subjects (actors) and the cameras should avoid crossing this as the subjects may appear to be looking in the wrong direction. It turns out that in an interview, the interviewer can be considered the second subject even if he or she is never shown and so the line is drawn between the subject and the interviewer.

Another thing we learned for our film this week was to get cut away shots of the subject carrying on their normal routine. This was not practical for a pub under lockdown as we’re all currently banned from getting pissed in pubs but we’ll remember it for the future.

As I speak to more people the details of the events of the past year become clearer and I am starting to hear about a baby boom which is just now materialising. I am therefore keen to speak to any midwives who would like to contact me.


COVID Brighton Update 3

This week we conducted two interviews for the COVID Brighton project. On Monday we filmed at Richard’s Café on Church Street in Hove and on Thursday we filmed at the DVD shop Hunky Dory 2 on St James Street in Kemp Town.

We now have the media for three interviews which I’ve started to “prep”. This involves transcribing the interviews into text and marking the media with notes about relevant shots and audio. Film making is amazing and I alwasy learning. While reviewing footage today it occured to me that, for two interviews I have stood on the left of the main camera and for one interview on the right. This affects the shot because the interviewee looks to the side of the shot where the interviewer stands. When editing shots of different interviews together it may be desirable to have the interviewees looking in the same direction. Firstly, so that the audience do not feel that their position is switching back and forth and secondly to avoid the apearance of a conversation between interviewees. Not a rule but something to consider.

We’ve also been collecting “B-Roll” footage. This is general film of Brighton under lockdown that we’ll use to add some atmosphere to the film. On Wednesday I walked around the Laines with the camera mounted on a new “gimbal” stabilising device which I have just acquired. An excellent  ”Moza Air 2”. It can be a bit fiddly at first but once it’s setup it smooths out the erratic movement which is often the result of handheld filming. With the Blackmagic camera mounted on the Moza I walked through the (almost) empty passages in the south Laines collecting (hopefully) dismal scenes of despair and depression –  though don’t let me skew your opinions in any way.

I see that I am switching between “we” and “I” and so I should explain. I am producing and directing the film and some film school friends are acting as crew, handling a lot of the camera, sound and lighting equipment. The role of the director is to order the crew about. “Film that”, “Don’t film that. Get a shot of this”. The role of the producer is often not well understood but, for me, it is more the business end. Arranging the interviews. Coordinating who’s working on specific days. Prepping the kit and endlessly charging the bloody batteries.

As producer I’m also still working to involve more businesses. This week I gained agreement from a nightclub, a dentist and a clothes shop and discussion are ongoing with universities, tech firms and a travel agent. I have leads for a church, student representatives, a co-working company, taxi drivers and restaurants.

I’d still like to involve a big corporate and a supermarket but I realise they have difficulty committing to projects such as this. Having said that, they are often keen to claim that they support the local community and it’s true that they have done good work in Brighton so I urge them to show some enthusiasm and community spirit and volunteer for an interview. – I don’t bite. In the meantime the pace is stepping up next week and we are filming a physiotherapist, a carpenter and a boozer.

Each story is different but one common thread that is emerging is that COVID has accelerated a trend that started well before 2020: The decline, not only of the high street, but potentially of life outside the video screen.