Trailer for Erin Buelows ‘Esme’ that I shot picture for.
CHIT CHAT WITH THE BLYTH CREW
I posed some questions to the folks who helped make BLYTH a reality. Here’s their craic:
(L to R - Olly Olsen, Erin Buelow, Sam Booth, David Maughan, Sarah Ingledew, James Newrick, Andrew Sandercock)
Olly Olsen.(33).South Shields
Q: You came into the process relatively late, how did you manage to grasp the film thematically? Did it even make any sense to you?
A: I think the main point I struggled with was with where you were coming from as at that era, I was surrounded by predominantly working class ethics and folk, conversely I think you were coming from a more middle class stand point, maybe your views were a little different from mine and I had to adjust a little to encompass your view point. My work tends to centre around doom and gloom and I look for that chink of light or good, whereas you are all encompassing in your rubbishing of things but maybe you start in the light and work back. I think we meet in the middle in a strange sort of way but always from from slightly different slants. As a whole I think I had the film nailed thematically, but then I saw the footage spliced on the timeline with the drumming going full pelt in the studio and realised it was a hell of a lot bleaker than I had imagined, the landscapes were more oppressive and domineering than I could have thought possible. I think that sickly sweet naivety of New Labour aspirational thought shone through in the footage from the caravan, and that put me somewhere back on track. In other words yes it made sense.
Composition, Sound Recording & Mixing
Q: Being the only other film student involved in BLYTH, how did the process/dynamic compare to other projects you’ve worked on?
A: I think a big part of what has made BLYTH a satisfying project to work on is that the main participants have been a mixture of film students as well as devoted friends from various creative backgrounds. This has made for a dynamic in which there have been no clashing of egos, nor disputes based on personal notions of how a set should be run.
I commend your decision to eschew the customary hierarchy present on many sets, as well as your prioritisation of sound since the project’s inception. This has been refreshing in comparison to some experiences I’ve had on sets where there would be about 30 people running around fussing over the camera and lights but maybe one or two people on sound with no instructions from the director.
Q: Was this the first time you’d composed music for a film? How did you find the experience? Is it something you would do again?
A: This was the first time I had composed music for a film, but its something I have been interested in doing and is a part of film and cinema that I find really interesting. I found the experience really enjoyable overall, although I was a little nervous about what to expect really.
It was great having some direction but also a large amount of freedom to play whatever I wanted over some great footage. It was fairly easy to respond in way to the footage as it was interesting and atmospheric. To be honest, it was just really nice to be asked and to be recorded for something proper. Its something that I would definitely do again, especially with a similar amount of freedom and a similar set up.
Q: Seeing as you’ve never acted before, when you were asked to appear in BLYTH, did you hesitate at all? What made you do it?
A: I didn’t hesitate, because I originally thought that you just wanted a voice over, so I agreed to that, but then it turned out that i had to appear in it aswell, so i felt i was tricked into it in a way.
Q: You’re involved in interior design by trade, did you find that you had to readjust your taste during the shooting of BLYTH? Is production design an attractive avenue for people such as yourself?
A: Yeah, I found it refreshing to work on a project that is’nt fashionable because the aim was to portray one mans idea of home during a specific period of time, so you’re almost designing the habits of the character as well as the space they inhabit. The character is a single man and I don’t think he would spend a lot of time shopping for ornaments; I think he would go to a shop and very occasionally buy something that had an impact on him.
Production design is an attractive avenue, because instead of deciding what looks best I could picture how the character would live in his space and where he would place objects, the historical context of working in this way is interesting because the way we live in our homes is constantly changing.
Production Assistance & Art Consultation
Q: You have a pretty established background in BMX film making, which i suppose
constitutes documentary in a way. How did you find it working on a project of a more fictional bent?
A: For me, the fictional aspects of BLYTH are out weighed by the realism provided through shot location and most importantly subject matter.
Watching BLYTH slowly evolve over time through atmosphere, crew input, happy accidents and your preliminary vision was a very interesting process to be involved in. The way ideas evolve during the production process has always interested me, and it was intriguing to see how you dealt with some of the early problems you were faced with, and adapted the story to suit what you thought was realistically achievable.
Q: You seemed pretty immersed in the theme of the film from the get go, how would you define it personally?
A: In it’s finished form I see BLYTH as more of a North East based documentary piece, making good use of some fictional aspects and character as a powerful tool to help portray a subject matter that existed in the past and is just as relevant now in the present. A grim, somewhat futureless enviroment and an existance created as a result of goverment idealogy clashing with a strong, almost stubborn local identity. That desire to get out and away from tradition by certain people is a trait that grips many people born within the clutches of the ‘grim North’.
On a positive note, I think BLYTH also projects the great character and beauty hidden deep within the North East’s dark and perpetually overcast cloak. A beauty and human character forged by broken promises and the realisation that the grass is not always greener on the other side.
Production Assistance & Photography
Q: I’ve always felt that working on a film set could be comparable to working on a building site. Being a gallery technician yourself, would you say that’s a reasonable comparison to make?
A: I can definitely see similarities between them. They are places of activity, run on the skills and the organisation of those involved - everyone has a skill to apply to a job, allocated for their expertise and experience, everyone a critical component of a finely tuned machine.While you may have a job to do, it’s the application of yourself to whatever you can that really keeps a job going. Things may be hurried, things may be bodged but as long as you can be a reasonable judge of what is acceptable and what isn’t - you remain a valued cog in the archaic mechanism.
I also found that in both these areas of work, you know more than you think you do and a lot of people know less than you’d expect. To be categorically clear on this, I am not saying people in either the building or film trade are lacking knowledge or skill, more that just everyone carries small facets of information that have more applications than is initially given credit for.
Oliver William Smith (not pictured).(24).Teesdale
Production Assistance & Photography
Q: As my brother, and a freelance film maker yourself, if I’ve somehow managed to teach you anything about film making through making BLYTH, what would you say that lesson was?
A: One of the key lessons I learnt from the production of Blyth, is that the choice of camera and recording format can be a creative, project specific consideration and not just a technical or budget-determined outcome. When I first heard that BLYTH would be shot on hi-8, my immediate reaction was to suggest shooting the film on a contemporary camera, with a simpler workflow and more accommodating performance characteristics (such as improved low-light performance). This would have allowed the shoot to run more smoothly in my mind, and delivered a cleaner end image to be leveraged in post-production to fine-tune the ‘look’ the director was after. As it turned out, although the older camera and its accessories were harder to source in the first instance (the camera itself, an array of batteries, and an old portable television repurposed as a field monitor), it all behaved well during production and never slowed down progress. Had some part of the equipment gone wrong, entire days could have been lost with no easily sourced backup system, but thankfully this didn’t happen!
It added an authenticity to this project that could only have been alluded to by modern means. It also created a comprehensive and unique aesthetic for the film without relying on complex lighting or grading, and therefore created an abundance of atmosphere and personality that a digital film of this limited scale and budget might struggle to imbue upon its subject.
Additionally I had my eyes opened as to how cheaply and effectively a filmmaker can wind the clock back on history using production design and location; since much modern history still surrounds us in our everyday lives both politically (as per the films themes) and physically. Appropriate clothes, objects, and buildings need only be singled out, gathered up and curated before you can fill your entire frame with the ghosts of a bygone era and transport your audience back in time.
A few weeks ago, I sat down with my friend Lewis Greener to chit chat about BLYTH. Here’s what got said:
The video is set in Blyth but shot in Teesside, is the location central to the film? or could this have been set anywhere?
Well, this video is actually a lovechild of a fiction script I wrote last year that was set in Blyth, and was also titled Blyth. That earlier script toyed with the same themes as this video does, and the title stuck for a couple of reasons. I wanted the film to have a provincial flavour to it, but also, i just really like the look and sound of the word. I shot in Teesside because it’s an area where i find the contrast between leisure and industry, and supposed pasts and futures to be very stark, and that aesthetic really lends itself to what the film is about on a thematic level. The North East tends to have a love/hate relationship with the reinvention and regeneration schemes that are systematically unfolding up here, it’s an area that seems to be perpetually wrestling with its own identity since the decline of heavy industries. From my generations perspective, the influence of the Blair years are obvious, and with Tonys constituency being just up the road from where we were shooting, it all just felt very appropriate to be there.
How specific is the era of the videos setting? Were you hoping to make a particular comment on Blair and New Labour?
The video isn’t commenting on New Labour so much as it’s commenting on the attitudes that New Labour gave rise to on a human level. This really isn’t a politically driven piece per se, it’s more of a critique of aspirational culture and the subsequent realisations that things often don’t turn out how we’d hoped and were told they would. We were led to believe that the Millennium was a big deal, and I think people got caught up in the futurism of it all. Granted, I’ve made an example of New Labour because I grew up with New Labour, but really this theme could apply to any decade since the industrial revolution. I’d say that BLYTH is set somewhere between the past and the what lies ahead if that makes sense, another false dawn from yesterdays future.
Outside of your own life experiences that you’ve already spoke of - growing up in the North East, living through the millennium, where there any other influences on you in the preparation of this video?
Two photographers, Martin Parr and Simon Roberts had quite a big influence on me, the way they documented British idiosyncrasies was something I’d always wanted to echo to an extent, both thematically and visually. Writers such as Michael Smith and Owen Hatherley also helped me figure out what it was i was trying to comment on. But one of the biggest influences has been working in a cafe on the Newcastle Quayside for the past year, seeing that regenerated ‘culture’ first hand on a regular basis really stirred something inside me that I wanted to get out through this video before I hopefully get well away from it.
Why did you chose to shoot on Hi-8 video?
I wanted the video to authentically evoke a sense of the past, and it felt like the most practical way to achieve that was to utilise an older format. The resulting images were striking, I was really surprised at the dynamism of a camera I bought on Ebay for £60. I’ve always had a penchant for cinematography, but I find its a field that’s unfortunately most at the mercy of technology in film, it can be stifling, so it was fun to get away from the fuss that can sometimes surround modern cameras and kind of just point and shoot.
I imagine that desire for authenticity would have a heavy influence on set design/dressing, wardrobe and
Yeah, obviously deciding to make what is essentially a period film on a shoestring is always a massive gamble, but luckily, large parts of the video were shot at a historically ambiguous, semi-rural exterior so it was easy to avoid the traps. The decision to feature a static caravan for interiors meant we could literally search for the location by it’s date of manufacture thus doing a lot of the hard work for us, though it took a long time, it was totally worth it. As for wardrobe and props, seeing as the video is set in the not too distant past, everything was within reach via charity shops, Ebay, and the accumulated wares of a few friends.
Were there any other conscious decisions around production techniques that you thought were important to the film?
I guess one of the most important decisions was to produce this video more or less by myself, from the development process, right through to the photography and editing. Being abe to have complete creative control over a film is something you’re just not going to encounter once you graduate, so instead of adhering to some kind of industry model or hirarchy, I wanted to take advantage of the freedom that my position as a student allowed. For the most part, the people that I chose to collaborate with had no background in film making, and I find it’s when you bring together these disparate outside influences that you get refreshing outlooks without the agendas that other people can sometimes bring to a set. Film students especially can have conflicting ideas about how a set should run, and though I’d say that the way that we operated wasn’t ‘by the book’ in any way, it worked for us.
With regards to the crew, like you say they have little background in film making, in particular David Maughan the lead character in BLYTH could be the subject of a modern kitchen sink drama in his own right, what lead you to cast him and how did he find the role as a new actor?
David has been a peripheral figure in our circle of friends for years, though I only really got to know him after he moved into James Newricks house over the street from me a few months ago. I’d find it difficult to put into words the type of folklore that surrounds the guy, he’s had a colourful past to say the least, but I’ll say this, he’s a very misunderstood lad, very self deprecating, outrageously honest, wears his heart on his sleeve and is great to be around. When it came to casting for BLYTH, I knew David was artistically inclined (he’s actually a very talented photographer), and would be without inhibitions when it came to acting, and that proved to be the case. Aside from that, he has this haunting look about him, and he’s very offbeat with a great accent too. I think he enjoyed the whole experience, though he’s refusing to attend the premier. The photographs of his wardrobe fitting attracted a personal record of ‘likes’ on Facebook for him, I think he was pretty pleased about that!
So who else worked on the video and what were their backgrounds? aside from the fresh outlook what impact did they have on the production?
The core group that worked on the video varied from fine artists, musicians and writers, to civil servants and antiques dealers, all of whom were close friends of mine before the development of the idea. Seeing as I was taking on most of the key roles myself, I felt it important to surround myself with people who knew me well, and would be able to see in the video what I saw in it through mutual humour and interests. Everyone got the picture, and it meant that they could openly suggest things and be part of the process. It also took a lot of pressure off me personally, and made sure the set was a really fun and consequently productive environment.
I can remember you mentioning a few times aborted shoots and set & prop opportunities turning out to be dead ends, how did you prepare the shoots and how did you solve the problems you’ve had?
I’d wanted to keep shoot days to a minimum, especially those involving other crew, as you’d be surprised at how difficult it is to get everyone free on the same day simultaneously. We ended up with only one shoot day that entailed pretty much the whole bunch, and that was the caravan scene. All of the landscape stuff, I just travelled to the location by myself, seeing as those shoots were often at the mercy of the weather, with it being winter, it didn’t make any sense to pay to cart a load of people to teesside only for things to be called off. I had a massive headache with a trials motorbike from the 1970s that was supposed to be used instead of the pedal bike that David ends up riding in the video. Basically, that scenario reached a head when 7 of us found ourselves on the beach in gale force winds with a motorbike that wasn’t ours that had managed to break down. I spent a good couple of months after that trying to keep the owner sweet, but he ended up never fixing it so I’d wasted a lot of time on that. The pedal bike was a last minute substitute, but as it happened, i think it turned out the better for it anyways.
Another still from Erin Buelow’s film ‘Esme’, that i shot a few weeks back.
BLYTH SYNOPSIS 1 & 2
I just realised that i’d never posted any kind of synopsis or preface for BLYTH, so just in case you were wondering what the fuck is going on, here’s a short one, and a longer one.
BLYTH is a Hi-8 video about a myth of transcendence. Retrogressing to a time of foolhearted optimism nurtured by an aspirational government, BLYTH is gently satirical and obliquely humorous in its parodying of another new era we were apparently swaggering into.
With Northern Britain finding itself at the mercy of a new age of austerity, BLYTH reminds us of an optimism now consigned to a recent past, and represented here in a haze of video noise. This is a comment on the fluctuating identities of those living in post-industrial regions, with the advantages of current hindsight serving to contextualise a perhaps careless, over optimistic decade sometime previous.
Through it’s soundscapes, locations, and dialogue, BLYTH exhibits film making of an ambient approach, whilst showing a vision of Englishness that sits outside the status quo. The video is ponderous, atmospheric, and resonating with a social commentary akin to the works of Owen Hatherley, Michael Smith, Simon Roberts and Martin Parr. This is a peripheral England, shown in a way that adheres to that great British tradition of satire.
a still from the final day of shooting today. i guess that’s a wrap