A trip along the Liathach ridge with an Olympus XA2 and a roll of film that expired in 2005. I love an experiment!
A trip along the Liathach ridge with an Olympus XA2 and a roll of film that expired in 2005. I love an experiment!
Our award-winning short The Bothy Project is now live and kicking. Lowe Alpine put together an awesome page about the making of the film including images, interviews and of course the film itself.
Click on the image below to check it out!
Scotland welcomed May through the door with sunshine after a good old week of solid rain. We made the most of it with a climb, a swim and at the end of it all the best kind of tired. We hope you got out there too!
We've been doing a lot of exploring around our new home lately, which means we have a lot of shots of it. It seems a shame to have tonnes of lovely photos sitting on hard drives doing nothing, so we decided we'd try to put together mini photo essays every week or so, in the hope that they get to see the light of day. So here is the first one - a selection of images taken around our new playground, put together in the wonderful Adobe Spark.
Just click on the image to see more!
Our second episode for Epic TV's Choice Cuts series is out! Northwest Climbs brings the old Slice of Squam team back together for a new Scottish bouldering short.
Haven't seen Slice of Squam? You're in for a 2011 treat.
In April, dancer and choreographer Natali McCleary and I were commissioned by Belmont Filmhouse on our 3rd collaboration to visit Aberdeen for a week. The plan? To make a new dance film with 7 young filmmakers and 4 young dancers in 5 short days.
The challenges were plenty - time, a large group who didn't know each other, weather and creating a film. We came at these issues systematically.
Time - Nat and I came armed with a plethora of stimuli to help the group come up with a concept for their movement and film. These included pieces of music, a selection of short poems, themes and headings. We brain-stormed, spider-diagramed and chatted. By lunch time on day 1 we had a concept - the groups' conflicted feelings toward their connection with home, a.k.a Aberdeen. With that nailed nailed we were straight into movement and camera workshops until the end of day 2. Days 3, 4 and 5 were spent shooting in the city and reviewing our rushes at the end of every day.
A brand new group - It's hard not to get to know each other quickly and bond when thrown together for 5 intense days, but getting the filmmakers to join in with the movement warm-ups and the dancers to check out the filmmakers new camera knowledge certainly helped speed the process up. My biggest challenge was an 18 year old boy who didn't believe I knew my stuff for 2 whole days. In the end he asked me for a work placement.
Weather - We couldn't find a worthy indoor alternative to the outdoor locations we'd scouted, so we did what we always do - packed extra jackets and an umbrella and braved whatever the weather threw at us, which in this case included snow. Personally, I prefer shooting grey skies to blue so I was happy.
Creating a film - The group continued to develop their concept as we shot, worked hard and became a wicked team. When I left at the end of the week with the rushes I had a good idea of what they collectively had in mind for the edit, and sent the rough cut around the group for feedback before finishing it off.
Low and behold, we did it... thank you Aberdeen!
I’m a grubby woman in a pizza place. I know I am, but don’t realise the extent of it until I go to the bathroom and look into the mirror.
Black fingernails and five day old socks. Scratched legs. Deep brown face - part sun, part dust - hair standing up, up and over and around from that same dust and sun and dryness. I take a little time here to look at myself. From the corners of their eyes other women look too. I want them to look, and to see that I’ve just been somewhere and done something, spent time somewhere they may never get to know. My reflection is my proof. I must look awful, but in that mirror I am beautiful, I am queen.
Later I peel off my clothes before I shower. My ankles are black bands. My legs have gone furry, my hair doesn’t change when I take the kirbies out. I’m reluctant to wash the layers off because they will go, out and off and away. I want the change in me to be visible, to stay there - my full body tattoo. But I wash it all off and it disappears down the drain, my ankles three or four times before the black bands are gone. It’s dirt, after all.
Maybe some of the scratches will turn into scars.
It's been five years since Al and I last spent time in Squamish, eight since we made our first trip up and down the west side of North America, learning a lot about how we wanted our lives to be. For the past month we've been easing back into something similar, getting fitter, getting sun, getting clean with a swim rather than a shower. At first I was sad that my old self who got strong and brave and conent here seemed to have gone, or morhped into some one else - some one older, more cautious, podgier. It was sad because she was some one I've held onto and imagined being again over and over for all this time. It's taken some work to let go of who I was and what this place meant then. But the more I let go the closer I seem to get to her, and that old feeling of contentment swells.
I got into youth film making projects because I needed some work, and for a while felt pretty out to sea with it. But the more I did the more I got into it, realising that just because I'm working with a group of young people who are new to filmmaking doesn't mean we can't make something worthwhile and 'good' together. Stuff I'd be proud of if I'd made it on my own. More often than not I find a kind of freedom in these projects. Sometimes a participant will do something with a shot or piece of equipment that I've made a loose rule against for one reason or another, but it totally works. Or we'll work in a style I've always wanted to try but never got round to, etc etc. And I like sharing what I've learned so far. The whole package pushes me and gets me psyched.
Take the KIN project with Vox Liminis for example - a project led by a group of young people working creatively to open a dialogue about having a family member in prison.
We've all been young which is usually the common denominator I start with when confronted with a new group, but family imprisonment is a topic I have no experience or knowledge of, and this group were mostly in their early twenties. Goodbye once again comfort zone! I didn't need to worry, this was a very creative, deep-thinking bunch, and it was a privilege to be let into their lives briefly.
So, as an unusual project for me, I thought I'd write a little about the process that went into making KIN.
I often start a film with a piece of text, and KIN has definitely strengthened that part of my practice. Before we met, Vox sent myself and two other artists working on the project some short videos and pieces of writing the group had worked on in previous workshops. I was immediately reminded of the power of tackling a topic without taking it head on - most of the writing was anecdotal and abstract, making it all the more intriguing, and building a picture of these young people that went beyond a relative of theirs being in prison. Funny how much is said in what isn't said. One small sentence that struck the whole team was about a participant talking to trees when they were younger. It made us think of being able to speak without worrying about a response.
We had less than 48 hours to decide on a concept and shoot the film during a residency at Hospitalfields in Arbroath in January. The plan was real collaboration with the young people taking the lead, but other than that we were starting from scratch. We had a beautiful old house and its grounds to work with, the individual and collective experiences of the participants, a camera and a massive topic to explore and communicate. Performance artist Lou Brodie suggested we got started with each of us personalising a passage from Full Metal Jacket, and this became the foundation of the film.
We recorded these passages sitting on the floor in a quiet room for voice over, and took the talking to the trees idea outside. Each member of the group found a spot in the grounds they liked for one reason or another, I hooked them up to a radio mic, and they spoke without any of us knowing what they were saying. Some went through their pieces of writing, some spoke to a family member, some talked through the ideas which had become their piece of writing. It created a personal space, an intimate set of rushes, and looked pretty sweet. In the edit we were able to weave these moments together with the voice over to create a sort of stream of thought, at once specific to an individual, then shared with another group member as they happened to say the same words, or were almost able to speak to one another through what they had written. Multi-faceted if you will.
Next was how to adapt our surroundings to fit our concept. What did a big, grand old house have to do with us? We found that we were drawn to filming outdoors more than indoors, and decided the house and its grandeur represented a box, conforming, judgement, old ideas. Being outdoors was a fresh start, breaking out, turning away from established ways of thinking. This is why we focused on a sunrise, grass growing through leaves, climbing a tree. It was important to us all that there was joy and hope in our film. Again, we explored the space as a group, with each participant pointing out shots they wanted to get because of what a certain part of the house or grounds represented to them.
The edit has been equally collaborative. More accustomed to sitting alone at my desk to bash out a rough cut, we watched the rushes together at the next group meeting and talked through our ideas for the film. Everyone was inspired by Gigi's moment of talking to the trees when she says 'I regret not saying this before but...', and we decided to take that idea and develop it a little, with each participant recording a message there and then to their family member. I think this was an important moment - while the bulk of the film is quite abstract and open, we also wanted to talk directly about the participants' relationships with their relative in prison because of the open dialogue they are trying to build. I then went away for a few hours and presented the beginnings of a rough cut which we discussed again - what was working, what wasn't. This was a totally new way of working for me, which I don't think would work with just any old team. Since then I created two more fine cuts between which feedback was collected and changes were made, finishing with this final film.
They say it sometimes don’t they, that restrictions can be good. Creatively speaking that is, how it’s good to have parameters or your mind goes wild and there are too many options and you’ll end up making something rubbish.
I agree with this theory, and lately have come to think it applies to your body too. I’ve always been healthy and really without limits as to how fit I could get or what I could aspire to do with myself, and that’s great, it’s a phenomenal way to exist.
But without ever knowing anything else, it goes unappreciated, or at least it did by me. I rarely said to myself – 'hey, you’re fit'. Or, 'that was a hard thing you climbed', or 'you’re quite good, well done'. I was always thinking I could have and should have done better.
This trip to Torridon was my first with a new approach, albeit developed by necessity.
I had a spell of bad luck last year. It began with an ankle injury, which a shoulder injury joined, which a long spell of migraines added to, which culminated in a weird case of appendicitis and a good old stint in hospital, made foggy by morphine and puking. Everything I'd been into for the last decade or so fell off my radar for months and months and months.
This was the first time in my life that I was stopped dead in my tracks, and all functions, even the most basic ones, were taken from me for a while. Which meant I had to get these functions back, one-by-one, slowly, steadily, carefully.
At first the thought of that panicked me. But in all honesty, I didn't miss a lot of the things I thought I would. At times I sort of enjoy the process of putting myself back together. Taking time, taking care. Like being a beginner again, it's hard not to make progress. But at other times of course I get frustrated, impatient, and miss my old strength and energy and confidence in my capabilities.
There is definitely a power in learning to let go. It’s too easy to get so close up to your life that you can’t see what the heck you’re doing, let alone find time to think about it. I was in a cycle – trudging around bogs I didn't really want to trudge, trying to climb rocks I didn’t really care about, churning out work I didn’t always step back from to see what I was making. Suddenly, unable to climb or trudge, unable to work, I had time to think about these things a lot. A lot a lot. It was a sabbatical with pain killers instead of pay, and quite pleasant in many ways. And important, as it turns out.
Step by step. Walking and eating. Being awake for a whole day. Jogging and pilates… re-visiting climbing, remembering how much I like it. These days I am the partner who walks up the hill the rest of the group run, who seconds rather than leads, who reads in the car for an afternoon, who asks for a less ambitious plan for the weekend. I'm proud when I run 5k, I'm satisfied when I climb, well, anything. I go ahead and let myself be happy with those things - it's all progress, it's all progress.
So this trip to Torridon marked some firsts - my first Munro in an age, my first boulder since I let my muscles disappear, our first trip away since we let go a little. It's exciting to return to things I've loved for ages and see them in a different light.
This is a post I originally wrote in July 2015, but I thought I'd re-post it now that we can share the video as well as our excitement at winning Best Film in the First Cut Youth Film Festival 2016. Well done team!
Last week I completely side-stepped my comfort zone. I wasn't alone - I had a whole team of super motivated and creative folks around me - and it was planned, but it was totally intimidating nonetheless: The Female Gaze Project.
F-Gaze came into being thanks to Firefly Arts, and is something I've wanted to do for a while. The statistics about women in the film industry are, after all, a bit ridiculous. And I want to be part of changing them.
But this project started in 2012 when I went with dancer and choreographer Natali McCleary to a youth dance competition, where a group of boys she'd been working with were competing with a contemporary dance routine. No, not routine, dance piece. Dance piece. The group called themselves Dimensioin, and I made the short the video above about the day.
Now I had my expectations of what a youth dance competition might be like, and a lot of those were met. But I was intrigued by the idea of group of young dudes getting involved in it and the guts that must take. As soon as the music started and Natali's choreography began, the group had my full attention. And to be honest, the idea of making a film of their dance piece stuck with me from that day on. So that's 3 years of thinking about it.
Bring in the girls. Now as I mentioned above there are lots of depressing statistics out there about the number of women in the film industry, especially in technical roles (3% of cinematographers were female in 2013). There's also lots of chat about how kids don't know the meaning or value of playing outside these days. So it's probably fair to say we made big strides in the right direction for both of these issues with this project. From my experience in trying to push the female voice in the adventure film industry over the last few years, I've learned that the best way to start changing things is to just get on with it, so over at Firefly Arts we assembled a film crew of six teenage girls, while Natali recruited fifteen fresh young dancing faces. Over four pre-production sessions the two groups honed their skills and got ready to meet one another and make a film out of this rather neat piece of dance. Dance piece.
Logistically it was complex - we chose tricky locations, were ambitious with our schedule and were at total mercy to the weather. On set, we rotated roles within the crew to give everyone as much experience as possible in different positions. On day one we moved slowly and got muddy.
On day two we worked in an ice cold river where the water was red, the canyon walls were green, and our wellies quickly filled up with water.
This meant the pressure was on. We couldn’t afford to do many takes, and we had to set up quickly so no one got toooooo cold. Decisions were made fast, and we all had to get it right.
On day three we hiked uphill for 45 minutes to reach our final location -The Whangie, where once upon a time the Devil apparently brought his tail down so hard he create a funny little canyon. Most of our team members had never been hill walking before, so it was a gentle intro, being battered by wind and lashed with rain with no shelter to run to. Escaping bad forecasts for three days in a row would have too much to ask.
But you know what? Tired as everyone got, uncomfortable and soaking and cold as everyone got, we kept smiling and we kept going (literally as fast as we could by the end). I'm so proud of my crew, who grabbed this challenge with both hands and not only got on with it, but totally rose to the occasion and showed us just how much they’ve learned and how creative they are. And the dancers? Plastered in dirt one minute, submerged in cold water the next, being pumelled by wind and rain after that, but always up for it, professional, and most importantly a little bit cheeky.
By day three it we were all zonked, but it was like working with a group of colleagues, not members of a youth film club at all, and I was excited to have tried a completely new kind of filmmaking with them, survived, and made something awesome. After two days of editing workshops with the crew, I pieced together the final edit and we were done and dusted - I'm thrilled to be sharing the finished film with you below. Thanks Firefly Arts, Natali, Rosie, Geraldine, Claire and all of our young film crew and dancers. Even Tom Waits thinks we nailed it. Yeah!
When you make a film you have a pretty clear image in your mind of what it is you're setting out to make. Then you film it, and you get to the edit room and you realise it has turned into something quite new, so you start editing and make something else again, and this leaves you with a mixture of what you set out to make and what it is you actually made, although the roots are the same, and you're not always exactly sure what that is because you're so darn close to it.
So on reading this review of Operation Moffat from John Horscroft, I felt like the film had been crystallised to me - what it is, why it's important and even why we were so drawn to Gwen in the first place. Thanks John for your considered words.
Al and I have been getting into ski touring, and it makes for some lovely shots. Yes, yes I take my phone up there with me, but I'm also playing with a little old 35mm Olympus and a black and white film, so hopefully I'll have more to share soon. This lot were taken in and around Glenshee and Glencoe on a mixture of rocks, ice and some snow for good measure.
We've been enjoying a spell of praise and awards for Operation Moffat recently, and I can't deny, it's pretty fun.
Earlier this month I spent some time with Andy Kirkpatrick, getting the very first shots for our upcoming film project. We filmed his performance in Salford...
...and all around Hull where he grew up.
It's always an adventure travelling with Andy, filling up with fuel with 7 miles left in the tank, helping crippled bunnies... and always feels like blowing the cobwebs away with the first shoot of the year. And reminds me to invest in a lighter tripod.
We've been plotting and planning this project for some time now, and will be sharing more details on soon!