Assignment 4 Constructing a narrative

For this assignment you’ll gather documentary footage and use it to create a short documentary sequence representing a portrait of a place. You should try and capture the spirit and feel of the place as well as representing what happens there. Choose a location This could be a train station, a market, a housing estate or a car park. It will help if you choose somewhere that you can get to easily as you may want to film at various times of day. You will also need to consider any restrictions on your ability to film there. (Military bases and children’s playgrounds may cause concern. See note below.) Recce your location at different times and think about:
• What happens? What are the important events that occur daily in your place? Are there any unusual events that might be interesting to follow?
• What or who is there? What and who do you need to show to represent the various elements of the place and paint a full picture of it?
• What is the character of the place? Can you apply any of the ideas of characterisation to the place? What elements typify its mood and atmosphere? What kind of pace and rhythm does the place have?
• What is the timescale of the place?

Can you represent its essential elements over a minute, an hour, a day, a week? Plan a narrative. Considering the information you have, try to think of the best way to represent the place you have chosen. You could go for a day in the life, starting early in the morning and showing events as they occur in a chronological order through the day, or you may choose to visit the location for the same hour every day over a week, compiling a rapid montage of the frenetic activity that takes place at that time.

Draw a chart of your narrative structure. Identify the climax. What is the story you are telling?
Create a shot list – Note the essential shots that you will need to represent your place and construct your narrative, the shots you might like if they are available and any ideas for possible shots that may arise. Obviously you will have to be flexible and respond to events as they occur but this will be easier if you have the confidence of knowing that you have basic footage already. Record your footage. Don’t record too much. Remember every hour of footage will take you over three hours to watch, capture and edit down to useful clips. Try to follow the shot list you made.
Review your footage carefully Watch it through on a TV and make notes (it’s useful if you can see the timecode). Identify useful sections, the elements you knew you needed and anything else unexpected that crops up. This may seem like an unnecessary step, as you could just capture it straight off, but it helps you to focus your mind and become familiar with your footage. You may start to see something different from your original narrative emerging… Capture and edit Start by trying to throw together something like your original plan. Does this work? If so, you can work through it carefully choosing the very best shots, trimming and fine cutting. If not – by far the most likely outcome – you will need to reconsider your structure, narrative ideas and footage. Don’t be afraid to make radical changes. Put your original pre-conceptions aside. Look at what you have and think how to use this to create an impression of the place you know. If in doubt say less. Pick one or two key elements to focus on.

Write an evaluation of your finished sequence (500 words). Submit your sequence online to your tutor with the pre-production notes and evaluation.

Assignment 4:
Ralph Martyn – Turn Up The Silence

Pre- Production:

I had decided from the outset to avoid a literal interpretation of the imperative –  a “place”.  I felt that my long term friend Ralph Martyn and his studio at his home in Sussex, was an interesting setting of its own. Many years I have seen this location as one of creative sanctuary and of channelled energy. As a subject matter, Ralph’s musical output is an interest worthy of focus, one that has been fruitful since his teens in the mid seventies. So my selected place of discussion would be that of Ralph’s mind, or at least his studio.

Initial planning for the film was to discuss with Ralph on what particular aspect of his work would be suitable for presentation. He is currently involved with two acts other than his own work. It could have been possible to follow him at the studio of one of the bands he is working with, the veteren Sussex based act Josi Without Colours, also now on their fourth decade of existence. However, it was a personal journey for myself, as I have such a close friendship with my subject, that it was his unique self-produced ambient electronic music that I wanted to celebrate most, even though I have been involved personally with a number of other musical projects with him throughout the years. But it was his musical journey I wanted to document, and that alone.

Ralph Martyn is a spiritual individual and his studio contains a Buddhist shrine. This has become a factor of the energy that he develops his music within. I have seen over time how this has been integrated into his work and this has added a further dimension and profundity to his art.

A fairly reclusive life allows Ralph some thinking time and with this his prolific output is phenomenal. Countless new songs, poems, prose and compositions have adorned my emails from Ralph for years. After his long walks with his dog Murphy, Ralph often retreats / ascends to his studio in the spare room of his home to bring thought-waves into reality, I am the lucky recipient, often, of the first drafts of these fragments of ideas and concepts. In turn, Murphy must be described as the healthiest dog in the South East.

However Ralph’s health has been an issue of late, and we had to postpone time for shooting a few times, but finally we managed to set aside a day together to get the film shot. As my assignment deadline quickly approached, it became apparent that certain ideas had to be re-thought.

The narrative is presented below in the diagram. I am pleased to see that the final edit,  remained true to the plan as far as possible.


Final Film and Evaluation

The principles that I wanted to communicate were as follows.

  1. A life in music. Not of musical theory or notation, but of experimenting, a love of instruments, especially of synthesizers.

  2. Music as a spiritual journey, of atmosphere and creative output.

  3. People like Ralph are dedicating to this grass-roots approach, not just the mainstream of commercial music, whatever the genre.

As explained previously, Ralph has had some health issues in the past few months and it had proven difficult to commit to a day of shooting, after our initial discussions to make this film. I had alternative ideas, but eventually we managed to arrange a day of shooting.

Focusing on ambient music, it would require a slow paced, long-edit style. I wanted the first sequence to reveal synthesizers and studio “electronica” – Ralph’s workstation. I blended this in with shots of Ralph meditating alongside his Buddhist shrine, however despite capturing footage, Ralph disputed whether Buddhism was relevant as an ingredient within his work. Instead I selected a shot of his Buddha light, which was a “joke” gift he had acquired, more in-keeping with his humour.

Going through the footage, it was interesting to show what Ralph had revealed about his creative process. He had not learned to read notation and that it was a tactile approach, the actuality of learning to play by feel. I had footage of when he was a drummer in one of my own bands, we were recording live drums in a rock venue. I thought it would be an ideal cut, to show the extent of his excellence in percussion.

In the next section I wanted to document Ralph’s extensive career playing in various acts throughout his adult life with archive photographs and video footage using a list of bands. The footage seemed distracting to the focus on the titles, therefore I opted to use solely a slideshow.

The final act of the film would show Ralph explaining the process of recording, whilst explaining that music should take people on a journey and create an inner emotion. Throughout the film I had weaved footage of Ralph walking his dog, where much of his creative thoughts are allowed to breathe. The final frame to show him returning home as dusk approaches and Ralph’s narration describes that music should make you feel that “you’ve been somewhere”.

In evaluation of the completed film I can see that the intended atmosphere has been reached. Ralph’s personality and his ambient music style is apparent. I note a few things I would have liked to have improved upon.
1. Had more opportunities to film his day been available, I would have had more footage. I believe this is a downside of my film. I had plenty of interview shots, but little cut- away footage.
2. If more archive footage had been available, I would have made more of the slideshow and used video edits as well as stills.
3. The final title sequence is rather long, but this allows the song “ Turn up the Silence” to have enough airplay. I wanted to focus on the mood and lyrics of this song as they represent the current focus of Ralph’s latest project.

Peter Owden


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