Production has just wrapped on ‘Our Fathers’ - a new 30 min documentary for BBC Scotland. The film follows two Nigerian priests who have been sent on a mission to serve a series of remote parishes in the Scottish highlands. Fathers James Anyaegbu and Maximilian Nwosu are warm and joyful characters and it’s been a pleasure to make this film with them.
In January we head into the edit with Erika Iesse and deliver it for broadcast in March 2020. Made with Zoe Hunter Gordon and produced by the Scottish Documentary Institute as part of their Right Here initiative, the project has been a great note on which to end 2019. Thanks to all our friends for their support this year. Have a great Christmas and see you in 2020!
We're delighted to have developed and successfully pitched a new documentary to BBC Scotland - due for broadcast in early 2020. Written and directed with Zoe Hunter Gordon and produced by the Scottish Documentary Institute, 'Our Fathers' tells the story of two Nigerian priests sent on a mission to serve a remote community in the Scottish Highlands.
Part of the SDI's Right Here initiative and run in association with Screen Scotland and BBC Scotland, 'Our Fathers' will be a 30-minute creative documentary. Find out more here:
For this month's blog we decided to ask the brilliant Lucy Watt to answer one of life's biggest questions... what exactly is sound design!?
Well, for me, sound design - much like adding VFX or a grade to the image - brings life to a piece of work and can help to tell or steer the story.
Though it takes many guises - FX EDITOR, TRACKLAY, DUBBING EDITOR, SOUND DESIGNER - call it what you will, we're all doing the same thing: using sound to tell a story. Sometimes we're enhancing reality - take something like BBC Scotland's River City for example. If the sound recordist on set is doing a good job then they will be mic-ing the actors as closely as possible to ensure a good recording of the dialogue. My job as the FX editor is to put all the 'real' sounds back in to aid the storytelling. Whilst a scene might look like someone's 'tenement flat in Glasgow' it might actually be recorded in a big warehouse studio in the middle of nowhere. In order to sell the location to the viewer I need to make it sound like it lives somewhere.
For a recurring drama such as River City we build up a library of sounds that we use for every episode. These are sounds that, whilst the viewer may not be aware are added in, would notice if they weren't there. Flimsy set door slams are replaced with real door slam sounds and so on. In these instances, if a Sound Designer is doing their job well, you won’t necessarily know they've even been there at all!
In other instances, I might be using sound design to create a mood or steer the telling of the story. The easiest example of where you might notice sound design is in the horror genre. Low drones and eerie sinister sounds are layered up to create tension and fear, then can be taken away - luring the viewer in to a false sense of safety, only to be smacked in the face with an over enthusiastic door slam or car crash signalling the next scene.
So, how do I begin?
Firstly, if the project time allows (and believe me, often if doesn't) I will meet with the director to discuss their ideas and desires for the sound design of the film. I recently worked on indy horror film 'Far From The Apple Tree' directed by Scottish director Grant Mcphee. The film was shot almost entirely using analogue material - super 8, 35mm film, vhs etc. and Grant was keen that the sound design reflected that.
The next step
Once a concept has been decided upon, I set about gathering a palette of sounds to work with. I tend to start with a small amount and then build up from there. I do this for two reasons, the first being that you'd simply run out of time trying to use a different effect for every single thing, but also, the piece would sound disjointed and erratic if you just chucked everything in your FX library at it. I tend to veer towards 'natural' sound FX - that is, sounds of things that you hear in real life. I find that 'synthetic' sounds tend to be less enjoyable, hence less integrated, to the ear.
Working with composers
Often sound design will have a bit of a cross over with music in places and this can be both a joy and a nightmare at times! I love working with composers. I find that we're often on the same page creatively and it can be a really great way to share ideas. I often try to tune my sound design to work harmoniously (or not - as the case may be) with the music. I pitch shift drones, drums and siren wails to work with the composed music underneath.
Last year I worked on indy horror film 'Matriarch' with composer Phil Curran. His music was beautifully composed and texturally lovely and so I weaved my sound design around this to add harmonic layers and, in many instances, eerie dischord throughout the film to direct the viewers’ attention. The difficulty comes when you spend time doing this and then the director tells you 'oh, that isn't the final music'!! Then you find that when the final music does come, it's in a different key!! Ha! Hey ho, we begin again.
The final stages
Once you're happy with the tracklay, you pass the session over to the dubbing mixer. I always balance my FX, creating a mix that I am happy with. Not every mixer likes you to do this, so it's always essential to check with them first.
Or, if you are mixing the whole thing, you go back to the start and do a Dialogue Edit (that's for another blog!). Then, once you've done that, you go back to the start once more, and do a final mix pass on the whole thing. That's when you hear it all come together beautifully and the fruits of your labour can be loved and revered by all! HA or, if you're lucky, just a few pages of notes for changes!!
A good ending is hard won.
Everyone has probably got their own favourite ending shot from a film. For me, There Will Be Blood is hard to beat. As Eli drains out into the bowling alley gutter, Daniel closes with “I’m finished”.
Film School Rejects have compiled a top-50 list that is well worth a scroll-through. It’s easy to forget how many are truly iconic.
Free Solo & The Dawn Wall. Two recently released documentary features, telling similar stories of climbing the greatest rock face in the world: El Capitan.
Produced by National Geographic and Directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, Free Solo deservedly won its category at the Academy Awards this year. It’s the sort of film that cries out for the big screen. Stunning cinematography, good character journeys and themes – but ultimately, it's the stakes that drive the story. Alex Honnold is climbing 3,000m with no safety line. It’s all over if the slightest thing goes wrong – and it has done, as we’re told, for many other solo climbers over recent years.
The Dawn Wall is Netflix’s superb answer to Free Solo – chronicling Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson’s separate journey up El Cap. Their route up is significantly harder but, crucially, both climbers are using safety ropes.
Tommy and Kevin are arguably more compelling characters and have stronger backstories – but we’re pretty sure that neither will die on the climb. That, in my opinion, is what sets the films apart. In Free Solo, the stakes are simply higher. You feel it in every movement – it’s inescapable. Frankly, it's what makes Free Solo one of the best films I’ve ever seen.
This month’s blog is all about an awesome podcast I’ve recently got hooked on: Film Pro Productivity.
As the name suggests, it’s directed at filmmakers – but there are lessons in here for creatives from all disciplines. Film Pro Productivity is delivered by fellow Scottish filmmaker, Carter Ferguson - and he presents each topic superbly. Episodes are only 10-15 mins long and season two has just wrapped.
Episodes include Obliterating Procrastination, Dealing with your Inner Critic, and Harnessing the Power of No.
Check it out here:
“Fortune sides with him who dares” – Virgil.
My last job when I lived in London was working behind the bar at the BFI Southbank. I’d been floating around various jobs and wasn’t really sure what I was doing with my life. I’d dabbled in a bit of filmmaking - but was far from calling it a career. It was around this time that my girlfriend (now fiancée) and I decided to move up to Edinburgh.
The last few years has brought a raft of (mainly positive) change, and I’ve felt the pressures of London subside. In November 2018 I pitched for my most ambitious project to date - a creative documentary set on the Isle of Rum. I was lucky enough to be commissioned - and trusted to produce and direct it for broadcast on BBC4.
A couple of weeks ago the film premiered at the BFI Southbank, with a few friends and family in attendance. It was good to be back – but this time with a pint in my hand.
Bass Rock Films' short documentary 'Outlying' will be broadcast on BBC4 from 10pm on Sunday 17th March.
Commissioned by the BBC and BFI as part of their Born Digital programme, 'Outlying' will be screened alongside a number of other short films to mark the 30th anniversary of the World Wide Web.
Colour is a principal element of visual storytelling. It can convey tone, mood and theme. A good colour grade can take a film to the next level.
The West Coast of Scotland is incredibly rich - with wonderful natural colours to work with. We shot in 10 bit V-Log to capture the maximum amount of colour for our post-production workflow. Although the image initially appears flat - the actual colour is hidden in there. It just needs a good grade to bring it out.
Working with the superb Thomas Hogben in DaVinci Resolve we created a colour palette to reflect the Isle of Rum's natural beauty. See below for some of our before and afters!
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