Jam, Jute, Journalism meets Pioneers, Practice and Professionalism

We’re off to Dundee tomorrow..to take part in the Artworks Scotland Conference 2013. In 2012 I was filming it, which was good, but a tad frustrating as it not done to leave your post and join in the debate! This time I have the luxury of not working but joining in.

When you’re in the thick of doing work it can be difficult to reflect on what it is you’re actually doing and the quality of the interactions that are the basis for participative practice. It’s also an area where practitioners are prone to not identify what their skills are.

It was a nice little memory jogger making a showreel recently of the work that myself and Gillian Steel have been doing over the past few years.

A “remarkable profile” that could “completely redefine how Gray is perceived”…

It occurred to me that I hadn’t blogged about the (cue limahl singing), neverending story of A Life in Progress…so It is done, it has been dusted and was screened to a nicely appreciative, and capacity, preview audience at the CCA. There was some nice press too from Brian Ferguson of the Scotsman…which you can read in full here. The gist of which says…

“If I needed any further convincing about my new-found affection for documentaries, I found it at the CCA in Glasgow when BAFTA hosted a screening of a recently completed documentary about Alasdair Gray….Kevin Cameron has spent well over a decade with Glasgow’s best-known artist – and has produced a remarkable profile of him….It is no exaggeration to say it could completely redefine how Gray is perceived….”

We did a Q and A too, which was, quite rightly, hijacked by Alasdair, leaving the audience simultaneously cheered and enlightened.

I have recut the trailer too as the film is prepared to make the journey into the festival circuit.

In other news I’m starting a project with Crossroads Scotland and Real-PR which will be a nice change of pace, scenery and focus, as well as an interesting challenge from Artworks Scotland….more of this to follow…

Grierson…the creative treatment of actuality…and other catchy titles

To prove the truism of being in the right place at the right time, I was in the edit suite of Hopscotch films when John Archer, the producer there, asked me if I would like to spend a couple more days in the edit suite helping to finish a project about John Grierson. Of course I did.

If you don’t know, and you should, Grierson is considered the “father of documentary”. Indeed it was he who first used the term Documentary when talking about “Nanook of the North”, a film by Flaherty. The film has been made for BBC Scotland by Laurence Henson, who had been Grierson’s assistant during the period of This Wonderful World, a series made by Grierson and STV in the 60’s. Laurence’s film is a wonderful mix of archive and interview which restores the significance of Grierson, and goes some way to overturn Lindsay Anderson’s assertion that the key talent of the period was Humphrey Jennings. The genius of Grierson was to create the conditions for a flourishing of creativity and innovation inside government. There can’t be many other examples outside the early days of the Soviet Union or the New Deal in America of avant garde artists working to a public service ethos whilst continuing to break new ground.

It was wonderful to work with Laurence and hear some of his stories from his time with Grierson – their meeting in the ’60’s with Leni Riefenstahl, Grierson’s habit of frying fish on a portable gas stove in the edit suite.

The archive that is featured in the film is breathtaking in its diversity and much more risk taking than a public body would consider today…hand painted film to advertise a savings bank, er, I don’t think so.

Interestingly Grierson is more well known for Drifters, a film which has been criticised for making something of a fetish of labour. It is however a much more aesthetic and considered film than this would suggest. In the mid ’90’s I made a little film (oh how I rankled when tv people asked me how my “little” film was getting on) which was going to be called Drifting. It was the last thing I made which was entirely chemical and mechanical in its execution, being shot on a wind up camera and edited on a flat plate steinbeck, in the same manner as Drifters had been made 80 years prior. 

Are we there yet?

Progress of “a Life in Progress” is, er, progressing and I can report we are almost there. The online edit, where the picture gets a bit of polish and technical problems are sorted out, turned out to be a bit more problematic than was previously thought. Mostly this seems to come from taking material from so many different sources…the past ten years has seen a humungous explosion in formats, and wouldn’t you know it many of them passed through my hands as I documented Alasdair’s work. Much of the online has involved bringing up older formats to current levels. Its been a bit of a shock to see footage I shot ten years ago on a dv camera magically transformed into HD! Thanks to Chas Chalmers for that.

On the sound front, there has been a couple of days dubbing so far with John Cobban at 422 who I have worked with from the days when he ran his enterprise from his front room. As anyone who has worked with John knows, he combines that rare combination of technical flare with real creative input.

Scott has been continuing to build up music tracks as inventively as ever and sent me this pic of the recording of the drum track made, to my delight, with a bike wheel. The track that features was written to work with some rather nifty but simple animation of Alasdair’s Hillhead mural that have been put together by Russ Kyle. We are hoping that the music sessions develop into something else…what I’m not sure.

bikedrum

So there is one more day of dubbing the sound and one more day of grading the pictures and then its off to be made into something that can do the rounds of the festivals as well as bring the work of Alasdair Gray (and me of course!) to new audiences….hopefully.

 

 

Dunoon in June

In the process of burning my first ever blu ray for the screening of the Alasdair Gray film at the Dunoon Film Festival on Sunday. It’s still a work in progress but there have been lots of changes to the cut that was screened in February.

Prior to that screening I was working with another filmmaker, Joseph Briffa, who also edits.  Since then Hopscotch secured some funding from Creative Scotland to work towards finishing the film and found me a tiny room with an edit suite at the back of Film City (in an area fittingly reminiscient of the hotel in The Shining) to plod away on my own. It’s been quite an experience jumping back into the material and rooting around to make sure that I was getting the very best out of what is many many hours of Alasdair. There are some real gems…more singing, reflections on mortality, thoughts on self plagiarism and, yes…we shot more…including interviews with Ian Rankin and Alan Bissett.

Its been great to work with a composer too. Scott Twynholm based much of the music on the cadences of Alasdair’s voice, selecting particular phrasings to be translated into notation to be played by violin, piano, electric guitar, banjo and some eastern looking instruments that I’m not entirely sure of the name of. Through this he has added a whole new dimension to scenes with a soundtrack that is by turns beautiful and quirky, creating an added poignancy in some places, and humour in others.

One area that I’ve not touched on in the film is the whole “Colonisers and Settlers” debate which caused something of a storm in a teacup at the beginning of the year (and briefly made me feel that I had blundered into being a latter day Leni Riefenstahl!). Looking through the material and newer interviews it seemed to say more about the echo chamber of the media than about the life, work and legacy to date of Gray. And, rather confusingly, the debate seemed to bear very little relation to the actual content of Gray’s original essay. The full text of this can be found here.

Whilst the computer rendered some files I did a trailer for the Dunoon screening which gives a little flavour of what is in the film, especially the splendid title track wherein Alasdair was subjected to some sampling and remixing.

200 years of David Livingstone…. and how, 10 years prior, I resolved the struggle between narrative and spectacle

It is apparently 200 years to the day since the birth of David Livingstone…and on an (only) slightly less auspicious note, 10 years since I worked with the David Livingstone Centre. It  got me thinking to some of the ways that I have tussled with the conundrum of how you make engaging work with people who have had, or indeed are having, a bad experience of education. In the words of Eric Booth, how do you get them to PAY ATTENTION, when their fingers have so often been burned in the exchange of their attention for knowledge or experience.

Like some aspects of being in the education system, the pleasures of making moving images are often more deferred than immediate. Before you get down to being in the moment, there is planning, discussion, ideas to be hatched. Effective storytelling through animation can take this process and draw it out exponentially!

One of the ways that I have resolved this is through making trailers for imaginary films.

If I took away anything from four years of studying film and television its a general impression that mainstream movie storytelling is a bit of a struggle between narrative and spectacle. To put it in terms of musicals, a struggle between the big all singing dancing numbers and the work to make those numbers mean something. And of course it is work, hard work often…anyone left perplexed by Les Miserables will attest to this!

This trailer was made ten years ago with Streetbase Blantyre, an organisation that tries to keep young people from getting into bother with alcohol on the streets of the town. Since then I have made trailers with young people involved with gangs, young people between school, education and work, and girls, described through the euphemism of “being at risk of disengaging with PE”…a risk that I’m sure if you have got this far into my writing would relate to you, dear reader, at some level!

Some feedback for the GFF13 screening…

Some people had used the word “brave” but I hadn’t really questioned the wisdom of screening a Life in Progress as a work in progress, why would I? Some things seemed a little alarming, like the time frame, and being in GFT 1, oh and the Meet the Filmmaker events at the CCA…but…It seemed a great way of moving the project along which could, potentially, end sometime after I do!

That was until the last thirty minutes prior to the actual event itself….”Stuff” had been happening to the film that morning from 4am, prior to the screening at 1.30pm, to get it onto the cinema’s preferred format of blue ray disc. This had not worked. Standing in the projection booth of Glasgow Film Theatre’s main auditorium, surveying the audience from on high and then the hard drive linked to the lap top, linked to the GFT’s setup, through a network of trailing cables, it occured to me that we might have been a tad rash agreeing to get something together for the event with only a couple of months to go (one of the months unhelpfully containing Christmas and New Year). As if to confirm my fears, we even had a little terrifying blip where the film had to be restarted after 2 minutes in. I felt that the mantra “it’s a rough cut, it’s a rough cut” would only work up to a point. That point had already been passed as I clicked on the laptop to restart the film.

Somehow the film played for the full 90minutes, and despite some more surprises (the sound mysteriously fell away to a much lower level for a good 5 minutes, music cues continued long after they were meant to) the experience seemed to please at least some of the people, for most of the film! There were laughs too. In the right places.

The festivals director thought that as a work in progress it was probably not a good plan to get reviewed – even people used to seeing these things struggle with the notion of a cut that isn’t complete. That however didn’t stop me having a peek at what was doing the rounds on twitter. You should also be able to get a flavour of the Q and A too from these too….

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We even got a very nice preview in the Skinny! Image

and on a final note, John Archer, the producer, got an encouraging email saying….”The litmus test of quality for me was that I remained engaged throughout. Because I’m thick, with a minuscule attention span, making anything that can enthrall me over the course of, say, 2-3 hours, is an extraordinary achievement. I haven’t a clue what the running time was. All I know is that it ended too soon.”

Ah ended too soon….such is life.

Much to my surprise even the Q and A ended too soon….here I am doing what seems to be a characteristic hand gesture next to producer, John Archer, and author Alan Bissett, a great chair of the after screening chat. It was a shame that Alasdair couldn’t make it as he was under doctor’s orders not to leave the house but he his wife Morag was in my eyeline whilst I tried my best to explain why she didn’t want to be in the film! Fingers crossed that the next screening will be of a nicely graded, lovingly dubbed and soundtracked final film.

me talking gft