New Roots: Production Diary
The INto INdustry Programme
Creating Professional Filmmakers
Production diary, entry 1: Rashid!
Production phase 1: Subject research
Training activities: Documentary research / finding the right film to make
One month into our documentary pre-production and so much has happened already. The research process was pretty tough, with so many meetings, lots of which were in Spanish, and there was always so much information to take in. But we’ve met so many inspiring people, and it’s amazing to learn more about what’s really happening in this city. Everyone in the team gets along really well and together, we’ve must have now been to every corner of Barcelona. Boryana, a filmmaker from Bulgaria, has been a real star member of our team during research, she’s always full of energy, and it was through her hard work that we met Rashid.
Rashid arrived in Barcelona _ years ago on a small fishing boat after a 3 year journey from his home in Ghana. After such sacrifice he didn’t find the job and life that he had been told about, instead he was “illegal” and unable to work. Rashid started a hunger strike, and despite being granted a visa, continued his strike until he had visas for others around him too. Rashid is also a reggae singer, with all the style and charisma you would expect, he started a band here and was soon playing in concert halls around Barcelona. Having given so much to get here, and starting at the bottom of the ladder in a new country, Rashid decided to invest what he earned through the band in a social project, that he would run, to help other immigrants survive in Barcelona. He is selecting people to take part now. They will have a place to live, professional training in organic agriculture and they will get their own land to farm. What they make from their produce is theirs to keep, so they can start building a new life. It’s such an amazing project and Rashid is such an inspiring person. We feel very lucky to get the chance to tell his story.
Production diary, entry 2: Meeting our characters, Charles and Timrate
Production phase 2: Character research
Training activities: Shoot training part 1 – Camera setup and controls & producing broadcast quality material / Writing a treatment. What, Why and How?
We’ve been training with the cameras for 6 weeks now, at first it was a little overwhelming how much there was to learn, but little by little we are making real progress. In all my film studies and work experience, this is the first real dedicated training that i’ve had on camera operation. We are practising all the time, and often shoot each other, the camera seems to particularly like Durado! But the feeling seems to be mutual there, Durado is another member of our team who is a film studies graduate, and he also has significant work experience as a photographer, so he’s helping us all a lot! We’re now looking forward to putting all this into practice when we start shooting with Rashid.
Research is going really well. We have been getting to know some of the people that will be taking part in Rashid’s project. Two people in particular have stood out as being strong potential characters. Charles and Timrate. They are both from Ghana, they have both been through a lot, but are so dignified and open with us. We are working hard to establish relationships, explain what we are doing, and gain their trust.
We have also started the writing process, which is exciting. There is so much to learn, at first it was a real challenge to get our heads around the concept of actually being able to write a documentary, and how you would even begin to go about that. Now we are taking steps forward and we are really starting to understand the value that writing is going to have for our production. I had done a film work experience placement, and learnt a little about some of the theory behind this, but it’s great to be right at the centre of the creative decision making process.
Production diary, entry 3: Writing our treatment, without a crystal ball!
Production phase 2: Treatment writing / character research
Training activities: Interview preparation and technique / Shoot training part 2 – Shooting for a visual story & Theory of composition
When you watch documentaries on TV or at the cinema, you presume that the crew just filmed everything and later picked out the story. Now that we are getting the experience of working on a real TV documentary you realise that isn’t practical, that a treatment is crucial, and that this takes a great deal of work and skill.
After weeks of work, we now have a first draft of the treatment finished and we are ready to start shooting our film. I had no idea so much went into writing a documentary, and we’ve really developed our abilities to conceptualise and structure a treatment. It’s satisfying for a picture of the film to start taking shape.
Our shoot training continues and we are really starting to progress, we are all starting to get good shots and feel more confident about what we need to do. We’re all eager to start shooting with Rashid.
We are continuing to build our relationship with Charles and Timrate. Timrate is very thoughtful and sensitive, Charles is full of energy and always laughing, they are very different characters, but very good friends. Next week I will officially be able to say that I have film and TV work experience shooting a documentary.
Production diary, entry 4: Disaster!
Production phase 3: Shooting / Writing treatment 2nd draft
Training activities: Shoot training part 3 – Camera movement & The compression of time vs actuality / Character development and Writing a second treatment.
We’ve been shooting for a few weeks now. Some members of our team have some TV work experience, some have been to film school, some are new to the camera, but all of us found the first few shoots to be a big experience. There’s so much to be thinking about all at the same time and so many decisions to make, and all the time you are trying to be appear relaxed so as to help the people you are filming feel relaxed too. It was a massive buzz from the start, and after a few shoots we are all feeling more confident and in control. We got some great material of Rashid, we were filming his band rehearsal and in a break when he was on his own, he spontaneously started singing about his father, Caroline and Anna were shooting and they got some great shots with good sound! We are all very happy.
However just a couple of days ago our spirits sank as we got some terrible news. The property that Rashid had been working so hard to renovate with Timrate and Charles was broken into. Everything has been stolen, from personal possessions right down to light fittings and copper piping. Charles and Timrate are right back to square one, winter is kicking in and they are living without electricity and hot water. It’s so sad after months of hard work.
Of much lesser importance, but significant for our film, this development completely changes our treatment. However, now that we are into the production phase, we are already used to dealing with new situations and realities and are learning new skills to adapt and develop our treatment. It’s experiences like this that you don’t get in film school, when i studied documentary i learnt about the theory, but it’s completely different learning on a real production like this.
Production diary, entry 5: An overnight shoot to remember
Production phase 3: Shooting / Writing treatment final draft
Training activities: Career development, from work experience to film industry professional!
After a few low days, Rashid, Timrate and Charles seem to have again found the energy to keep smiling, keep believing and push forward. They are working a lot on their land and slowly repairing the house and Rashid is going to do a concert to raise money.
In terms of our production, It feels like our team is really working at a high level all round now. When we are writing it feels like we are getting better and better at the crucial skill of being reflective and proactive on a constant basis, and each shoot seems to result in higher quality material. Last week we did an overnight shoot at the house with Charles and Timrate. It was a huge experience. Firstly to shoot for so many hours was amazing, really hard work, and very tiring but such great experience for anyone wanting to work in film and TV. And on a personal level, it was really special to spend such intimate time with our characters. We ended the night sharing stories and a beer around a fire. Something I will never forget. Matt declined the house and our tent, and decided to build himself a shelter out of hay bales. He insists it was comfortable, but I don’t think he got much sleep!
Production diary, entry 6: Tick tock, tick tock….
Production phase 4: Rough cut edit of all scenes.
Training activities: Editing a scene the absolute basics. Tips and tricks from the industry
We are starting to feel the pinch of time, as there are only a couple of months left! This week we started the editing process. Like all stage of production so far, the start has been tough. It´s a complex process but we are learning the tools and techniques to create and organise our edits. Shooting has come to an end. It’s been such an amazing experience to share, if only briefly, the lives of our amazing characters. Their humility, and generosity will stay with us for a long time. we all feel very privileged to have been let into their lives. Now we have to do them justice with the story we tell.
Production diary, entry 7: Editing in our dreams
Production phase 4: Final edit, grading and sound design
Training activities: Scene transitions / Editing with music / Grading and Compression
Editing is now all we are focussed on, night and day! Uncertainty about how to use the software has been long forgotten, we are all working with pace and concentrating only on how best to tell our story. Lots of late nights and coffee! Tom even mentioned that he had a dream in which he was editing his own dream.
It’s amazing to us how much writing and directing happens at this stage of a documentary production. At this stage you really learn a lot about the mechanics of film, how you use sound and image to communicate with your audience. You can learn about it at film school, but when you are really in the middle of the process with a subject you care about it starts to make sense on another level. There are only fours weeks to go and there’s still so much to do, the film is really taking shape, but we know that with this being broadcast on Barcelona television and watched by thousands of people, every detail needs to be right. We also has so much invested emotionally in telling the stories of Rashid, Timrate and Charles.
Production diary, entry 8: New Roots. Our film.
Finished! It hard to describe our emotions after screening our film New Roots for the first time. We were all totally exhausted but so so proud of our work. I can’t believe how much we have learned, I started feeling like a student, but finish believing in myself as a documentary filmmaker in my own right. We all feel motivated to make the most of the training and experience we now have, and make sure that our film makes the biggest splash possible in the festival circuit and that we take all the opportunities to progress in the film industry.
On a personal level we will always remember the time we spent with our characters and what we have learned from them. Their spirit of defiance and humility in particular. We hope that our documentary helps people to better understand the struggles of people like Charles and Timrate and also to inspire others to follow in the footsteps of Rashid.