In this reflective post I want to focus on the production side of the film. It was decided early on that the documentary would not be aiming for visual impact – based on my skills audit, I knew I wasn’t the best Director of Photography, and after it was decided I would be making the film in Bulgaria, inbetween work commitments of a full-time job, I knew it wouldn’t be physically possible for me to look for an external Director / DoP to join the project. That was a pity, because while in the UK, the initial idea was for one of my colleagues to join and help with the visual / creative part of the film. He was very keen to help, and what is more, was the perfect match since he knew quite a lot about Trip-hop music already and was ‘in the know’ about underground artistic communities, especially when it comes to urban culture, music, Hip-hop, Trip-hop and digital communities. I knew I had strong enough Producer qualities, I knew what I wanted to say with the film, I knew I had the technical skillset (dealing with camera, sound, etc.), but I knew I would be struggling to tell the story visually – so the biggest downside to the film is that it is obvious it was made without a proper Director and DoP.
For me, the best part of producing the film was not the physical process – it had more to do with communicating with the guys from the netlabel, diving into the world of Trip-hop music, and getting inspired by the craft, art and soul in its unique sound. I wanted to know more, I wanted to get to know this world by being part of it, by feeling it, by sharing and co-creating. The film helped me to see the non-commercial side of music, in its purest form as a means of communication. Money *is* part of the conversation – though it comes much more naturally than the conversation that happens in the traditional music industry where fans are being charged per purchased track.
While making the film, I was able to apply a skill I felt I had but hadn’t really focused on before – making a good interview. I saw from first hand experience what it takes to make a good interview – it took almost a year of gentle introduction and ‘getting to know each other’ between me and the interviewee so I knew well enough what language he uses, how he talks about stuff, what he thinks about the questions I wanted to ask him, and to try and make it flow as naturally as possible. I didn’t force myself to do this – I was inspired by him and the whole community of people around him to get to know them, to try to be part of them, or at least to speak their language – which is also close to the language I am speaking anyway – a mix of music, technology, focusing on words, and lots of emotional references to seemingly weird things such as sounds and noise.
Being well enough prepared for the interview really made a difference. I made sure the technical setup was working well, that the interviewee was relaxed around me, hours before we started filming. The focus of the day wasn’t the one-hour interview – it was the conversations we had in a natural environment before that, trying to get ‘in tune’, etc. It wasn’t about the film – it was about the music.
This made it quite easy to then know what questions to ask and how. It wasn’t so much about asking questions – we were having a relaxed conversation and there just happened to be a camera with us. It then became apparent how important my preparation on the topic was – I knew what I wanted the film to say so I knew how to re-word questions, where to lead the conversation, and was also able to identify topics where we disagreed. I wanted to get my point across in the film through the interviewee – I had a specific thing to say with it, and that was why I chose to go ahead with this idea. But when I felt there was a mismatch in what I expected to hear and what was actually said, I chose not to insist. It was more important for me for the film to sound authentic, than to get my point across. The film wasn’t about me – it was about the netlabel and about Mitko.
Of course, there was a lot that didn’t go well in the film. I didn’t prepare well enough on the technical side so the film is lacking in technical quality. I was doing things ‘inbetween the job’ which didn’t leave enough space to think and be creative. Logistically, that also meant I was spending less time but more money on things that weren’t always the best option, for example not enquiring early enough for sound equipment meant I didn’t have a tie clip microphone and the interview recording ended up having too much urban noise, which couldn’t be cleaned up.
I also had more ideas about the visual treatment of the film, introducing two more characters, but that was just not realistic with the time and resources I had so I had to scrap these ideas. It would have been great to realise my initial ideas to go to Switzerland and Hungary to film the two other characters who would have made the film more visually interesting, as well as add more narrative lines and substance to the story. It would have also been great to get on board co-contributers to join me virtually, help film bits and pieces, adding to the ‘collaborative community’ side of the project. However, I realised I would have needed to devote much more time and energy to this, which I didn’t realistically have.
The project showed me how much a good production depends or management and good organisation – and how little on talent. No matter how talented you are, unless you actually do the work in a structured way, unless you are well prepared, you might get a few inspired elements here or there but you would struggle with putting the whole thing together. The things that did work in my project were the things I specifically focused on, and the things that didn’t work were the things I left as an afterthought.