This is a post about pre- and post-production, focusing on logistics and project management.
In preparation for the shoot, I had to make sure I had everything crucial in order to make it happen. That included arranging the interviewee’s availability, my availability (of course), having a place for the night, travel arrangements and equipment. I booked a hotel room in a quiet area of the town. I made sure its location was as convenient as possible and easy to reach from the railway station and close enough to Mitko’s home and to the seaside. I noted their locations and chose the hotel on a map. Location was more important than offers. Another crucial thing was planning the journey – since Varna is so far away from Sofia, I decided to take a train and not bus, so I can try to sleep and / or work while travelling.
When it came to equipment, I had made an initial list a few months ago of potential places to hire a camera and sound equipment. I had made the decision to only use a DSLR if that’s my only option, and ended up using a lower-end handycam – but I really insisted on having a dedicated *video* camera for filming. I was trying to get hold of the Sony EX1, but wherever I made an enquiry, they were already booked. In a way that was good though, because I soon found out you could only hire equipment if you give a deposit for the full price of the device. So I ended up only hiring the sound recorder like that, paying a full deposit. The deal was that once I return the recorder in full working order, I will get the deposit back, minus the hiring fee. I am glad I did that, because it allowed me to work with a recorder I was familiar with and felt confident working with – the Zoom H4n, that provided good enough quality even in the far-from-first-class conditions that we ended up recording.
For the camera I activated my contacts. I wrote a short message describing specifically what and when I needed – what type of camera, for how long, what I insist on, what I can pay, etc., and started spreading the message. That proved a good strategy, because I soon found out a friend of friend had a handycam and access to a tripod that weren’t being used that particular week. The only problem was it recorded on a miniDV tape, which meant I would then need to digitise the footage. My computer doens’t have a FireWire input, so I had one new mission – to find digitising services. Thankfully, a specific Google search soon took me to a small family-run business, specialised in digitising footage from VHS, miniDV and other media. I got in touch with them, made a specific enquiry and soon had an offer and all the technical details that I needed. I had to re-negotiate how long I could keep the camera for, so I could give the footage to the digitising company all in one go. Then came production, and post-production started just a few hours later.
After a weekend in Varna, walking around town to film, I had an 8-hour long train journey back to Sofia. I had the sound recordings (video footage hadn’t been digitised yet), my laptop, headphones, MP3 players loaded with the Dusted Wax Kingdom catalogue, and a lot of free time, so I decided to do some work.
I used the first half of the journey to transcribe as much as possible from the interview. I was rigourosly noting filenames, times, beginnings of sentences, transcribing every word, every pause, etc., so I can have a text version of all the footage. When my laptop battery finally died, I moved on to the Dusted Wax Kingdom music catalogue that I had loaded on my MP3 player. By the time I arrived in Sofia I had shortlisted just over 60 tracks that I could use in the film. The most important ones were ‘Rooftop Serenade’ – the track by Anitek that we mention in the film, that has been licensed for a Google advertisement; ‘Thank You’ – a track by Esbe that I thought would work very well as an ending of the film and potentially for credits – which I really used that way; ‘Money Ain’t No Women’ – a track by Frenic that would work perfectly with the ‘commercial side of music’ part of the film. I even found a track for the opening shots – one of Jenova 7’s tracks – ‘Introspectre’, features a countdown from 8 to 1 that I decided would work well in a music themed film.
Shortlisting music turned out to be quite an important part of the process – especially after I had just finished transcribing interviews. The film was already starting to shape in my head, and for the first time it felt real. Before the trip to Varna I didn’t quite believe I’d make it. Now, it was happening.
After all the footage was digitised, I put it all on the timeline and synched it with the audio recordings. I also cut all the cutaway clips I made and put them onto another sequence. It turned out I work best when I can see all the material that I have on the timeline. However, the majority of the editing process didn’t happen on the timeline. It happened in a Word document.
My main focus was the paper edit. I knew the film would not be very strong visually, but for a 10+ minute film, it needed to have a strong enough narrative to hold the viewers’ attention. My narrative was in the words, and I had the task to cut a 55-minute interview down to a 10-20 minute narrative. You don’t do that on the timeline – you do it on paper. I went through each paragraph that I had transcribed, and ‘tagged’ them – there were a few main themes in the interview, and I wanted to have a visual representation of what is being discussed where. I had ‘process’, ‘music industry’, ‘Creative Commons’, ‘the netlabel’, ‘Mitko’s life’, etc. After I had that categorised, I started ordering and trimming down stuff. There was a very big chunk of the interview that I left out – the part where I was asking Mitko about the difference between working with frequencies (as an engineer) and working with tones (as musicians do). I initially thought that might be an interesting angle for the film, but later decided to take most of it out. I realised it was interesting for *me*, but not necessarily for the viewers. I might later edit this in a separate ‘extra’ / ‘teaser’ video.
Then, after I had a paper edit, I read it with a soundtrack in mind. I wanted to illustrate different sections / ‘chapters’ of the film with the right kind of music. For example, when Mitko is talking about calmness and serenity, I wanted a peaceful track. When he’s talking about money, I would use the previously mentioned ‘Money’ themed track. I also needed a track to illustrate the Hip-hop theme, and I was lucky enough to find a song from Anitek’s releases that fit.
Funnily enough, Mitko is an electrical engineer, more specifically, he is working in traffic lights maintenance. I was trying to find an angle in the film where I would incorporate this in the narrative, but I found I didn’t have the visual imagination to actually do it so I left it out. However, I did make a few shots of traffic lights ‘just in case’, which I think work quite well in the edit. Along with the music, the traffic lights countdown shots are setting the rhythm for the film and helping with the pace. And of course, that’s one of the ‘trivia’ in the film – if you know Mitko well enough, you’ll know why I included those shots.
Because of the way we recorded sound, there was a lot of background noise in the interview recordings. It was therefore good it would be a music film, so the soundtrack would distract people from the problems in sound. What is more, it was all recorded in Bulgarian and needed to be translated and subtitled in English, which also helps comprehension and I can ‘get away with’ the poor sound quality. What I did decide though was to loop a 30-second clear recording of sea waves throughout the whole film. It sets the atmosphere of calmness and also the fact that Varna (and the netlabel) is based on the seaside, and also helps mask some problems in the film. Actually, this worked quite well with a few tracks, where they are peaceful and calm enough and the waves feel like part of the sound design in the songs. I definitely think I was directing and editing with the sound in mind, and visuals were just ‘documenting’, ‘illustrating’ the points that were made with the recordings. I think the film would work as an audio documentary as well.
The links for hiring video equipment that I had collected a few months ago:
Crystall Ball Productions
(I ended up using this company’s services)
Print Digital Center
Студио и техника под наем – Варна