“It’s done and it sucks”: learning from your last creative project

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From Steal Like an Artist, by Austin Kleon

Before I get into the next project — and before descending too far down the inevitable path of hopelessness/doubt/boredom as illustrated by Austin Kleon — I’m trying to keep in mind the stuff I learned from the last one.

The last project turned into a 40-minute film, ‘Unladylike’, about women and girls who box. It was the first time I’d made a documentary and the first time I’d worked with my two co-filmmakers.

The real lesson was that doing something like that is possible, if you’re prepared to put the hours in. But there were some more specific things I learned — things that could apply to other types of project, too:  Continue reading ““It’s done and it sucks”: learning from your last creative project”

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Hard-working networks

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The original networking site

I’ve been doing some writing for the European Commission’s EURES website, which aims to encourage jobseekers to take up opportunities in other countries. The blog posts are for the (somewhat oddly-named) Drop’pin blog, which targets 16-30 year-olds in EU and neighbouring countries.

A fairly broad audience then – and, being based in the UK, the challenge is to tackle a topic in a way that’s useful not only to readers in this country.

Experience of living abroad makes you aware of things that are country-specific, though (e.g. appreciating that the charity sector isn’t necessarily as developed elsewhere). Working in international teams is perhaps the best training for writing in plain English – better leave out those dazzling turns of phrase or idioms. And language skills help too, of course – for example, getting speedy responses from a source in Berlin for a piece on accessing the creative industries.

The harder, more time-consuming part is finding the right contacts in the first place. Continue reading “Hard-working networks”

‘Unladylike’ – the journey so far

It’s almost two years ago to the day that I sat in a living room in North London with two people I’d met a week previously and agreed to make a documentary together about something I knew nothing about.

Unladylike, the story of women’s boxing in the UK, is still in progress. Part of me is horrified that it’s taken so long; I probably wouldn’t have signed up to this if I’d known what a beast it would become. Part of me, though, is secretly proud that we’ve stuck at it despite (between the three of us) one birth, one bereavement, several career changes, multiple moving-of-houses, one major computer crash, numerous months in other countries/continents, full-time jobs – and a budget of roughly zero. Still many, many more weekend editing sessions to go till it’s done – here’s a preview in the meantime.

The Swahiliwood sceptics

A class with the Ghetto Film Project, Uganda
A class with the Ghetto Film Project, Uganda

Seeing a TV set when boarding a long-distance bus in Tanzania usually made my heart sink. The music videos or the homegrown melodramas – the ones that take 10 minutes to tell you that our main character is upset, or one minute to show someone pulling into a driveway – never seemed to make those twelve-hour journeys pass more quickly.

So I understood Nes’s point, when I sat in on one of his classes in the slums of Uganda (I’ve written about that, here): be more subtle. To illustrate, the Ugandan filmmaker showed two shorts: powerful films with almost no dialogue that told a whole story without spelling it out. Western-made films, of course.

But I wonder now what he’d make of the critique, on Africa is a Country, of how the Western film industry is muscling in on (in this case) Tanzanian culture. Continue reading “The Swahiliwood sceptics”

And now, something a little different…

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Hogarth makes the cut

It’s not quite world-changing stuff, but you have to start somewhere, I guess.

I started with pugs. And learned a lot of unexpected, and probably not very useful, stuff along the way, like the fact that the crease on a pug’s forehead is supposed to be the Chinese character for “prince”, and that the pet cemetery at Hyde Park has three monkeys buried in it.

The LCC summer course in documentary photography, led by the endlessly energetic Anders Birger, gets you out shooting and putting together a photo story within two weeks. Sounds like plenty of time, but the hours just seem to evaporate. Before you know it you’re cramming in bits of text and agonising over which last image will make the cut. In a way, that’s the crucial bit. Which photos – and they might not be the most beautiful or the most technically perfect – tell the story you want to tell? And is it a story people can relate to? Will they care? Still mulling those things over – in the meantime, here’s my pug-inspired picture parade. Continue reading “And now, something a little different…”

Like nobody’s watching

Dancers in the darkTwo-and-a-bit afternoons of shooting, many more of editing, and some frustratingly slow file transfers all the way to China ended up with this (see below): a 7-minute clip about using dance for adults with disabilities.

Challenges? Not enough time to shoot, you might say – but there’s never enough (though I would’ve loved to film the dancers at home or around the city). Attempting to interview people with learning difficulties who spoke no English? With a good interpreter – once I’d clarified she had to translate my questions, not answer them herself – it actually worked out ok. The really difficult bit, the thing I hadn’t even really thought of till I was standing there, camera in hand, was pretty basic. How do I film these people? Continue reading “Like nobody’s watching”

Playing chess, and other facts

Not for kidsJust finished a first trailer for our short doc (watch it here). There are a few more stories and characters to be added to the mix. In the meantime, some things I’ve learned about boxing:

1. Interval training includes a spot of chess.  Seriously – sprints, to a quick session on the chessboard, to the skipping rope. Turns out it’s not so much about pummelling each other as careful tactics (and then pummelling). Continue reading “Playing chess, and other facts”

The theatre of war

I just watched McCullin, the new documentary about the photojournalist and (though he hated the title) war reporter, Don McCullin. He talks about the absurdity of photographing people’s most tragic and terrible moments; about the struggle to reconcile a desire to follow the action – to the point of becoming a “war junkie” – with a deep humanitarian compassion; about the huge doubts as to whether all of it was worth it – did his pictures ever actually change anything?

McCullin also worked in Northern Ireland – and what struck me there was his comment on how absurd it was that he could fly to Belfast, drive up to Derry and check in to a hotel, and know that at a certain hour of the afternoon, things would kick off. It was like a “football match”, he says; or like a theatre where “you knew the plot”. Easy work for a photojournalist. What’s sad – among much sadness in this film – is that strands of this predictable violence have carried on till now, among some of NI’s youngest people.