Our Down on the Farm film makers have been busy finishing production on their five minute documentary films. Catch up with how they are feeling as they enter the final stages of the commission...
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It’s been a busy few of months in the edit suite, and we’ve made some leaps and bounds since the last update. The main focus has been story development, but we’ve also made interesting creative developments.
The main bulk of production was completed in May, after spending an amazing weekend with our contributor, Wayne Copp on his family farm in Twitchen, North Devon. Upon returning home, I locked myself away in my editing suite, transcribing and chopping my way through well over an hour and a half of interview material. Wayne was an excellent, emotive and informative interview subject, and we probably could have carried on his interview for another couple of hours. It was an excellent problem to have, I had so much information that it took me well over a month to cut down to 15 minutes. It was then another agonising week or so, where I had to lose even more great material to reach our 5-minute limit. So, with my interview material virtually ready to go – save a final couple of passes we will complete at a later date - I was ready to start building shot sequences, a process I am still up to my knees in as I write this. It became clear to me while cutting, although I had well over 3 hours of footage, I didn’t have anything to provide visual context to a key portion of our film. Our subject is farming through the generations, and although Wayne allowed us to extensively shoot him and his cattle at work, we still lacked compelling visual material that captured his family history.
I jumped back in the car and raced back to North Devon. Wayne and his family have an amazing collection of photographs showing his family history, stretching back to the Victorian Era. The photo albums alone are worthy of a feature film, so thankfully our problem was solved.
Back in Plymouth, I enlisted the help of a close friend and very talented photographer, Stephen Green to help restore and edit the photographs. I wanted to add animation to the photographs, hoping to bring Wayne’s family history to life. Stephen and I are still working to produce these animations, which are turning out better than I could have hoped for. So, a big thank you to Stephen, as I don’t think this would have been possible without his help.The next hurdle to tackle is audio. For this I have obtained the help of Simon Tucker. He is a music and audio producer, based in Plymouth. I’ve worked with Simon before and his knowledge and skill with audio is baffling, so I’m over the moon that I’ve managed to get him on board. We’re set to start work on the audio dub later this week.
So in a nutshell, post-production is going well, though there are still elements of production going on. We’re gearing up for completion and are well on track. To date it’s been an excellent experience and it’s been a pleasure to work with some excellent, creative people. Our contributor Wayne has had a big say on the final outcome of his interview, ensuring that the information is accurate and ticks all of his boxes in terms of the information he wants to give. So the crew and contributor are all working together like a well oiled tractor!
DEE, HOLLY & JO (BLACK BARK FILMS)
We decided, on one shoot, for a fly on the wall style documentation of Liv’s experience as a farmer. Inspired by two long (recorded) conversations with Liv ahead of the shoot, we planned out the day to reflect the feelings she had expressed with a visual story to complement our previous conversations. On the 16th July we headed down to Down Farm in preparation for an early shoot on the 17th. Greeted by a low mist over the top field, as the day went ahead we slowly understood exactly what it feels like to be a market gardener in such a beautiful and peaceful location. Following Liv and Henry about their day, listening closely to the shuffle of the irrigation hose as it’s tugged across the soil, or the bright whip of the sprinkler as it span, the intimacy of the environment filtered into our work and we’re very excited to watch the rushes and start post!
We are very grateful for Liv and Henry for allowing us to interrupt one of the busiest harvests of the year, and we hope that we do them proud with an honest representation of Down Farm - including some beautiful drone footage from Torridge District Council - a shout out to them!
Next steps - post-production. We’re liaising with a composer and making selects for the editing process to begin in October, ready for the deadline. Not long now...
I always find editing a slightly intimidating process, with so many possible ways to tell a story from the footage. I’m really enjoying trying different ways of shaping this project, from something very still and slow to a quicker, more dynamic version.
Five minutes is a challenging target to work to in many ways - there’s no room for unnecessary material or dialogue, and each shot has to earn its place. It’s made me really think hard about the story I’m telling on meat production, and focus carefully on the characters.
While I was already aware of the importance of ethically-sourced meat, it’s interesting working on this subject with frequent headlines in the news on meat production and rising veganism. Whatever one’s choice of diet, I’m hopeful that this film will help viewers make more informed decisions. It’s very nostalgic already watching scenes through and remembering my time at West Ilkerton Farm where I was so well looked after and made so welcome. I’m looking forward to showing them the final version!
Having come into the Down on the Farm project in July, I had a busy month or so arranging filming and getting to know the farmer who will be the subject of my documentary, Ronald Griffey. Ronald grazes sheep on Northam Burrows Country Park, which is an area of common land made up of grassland, salt marsh and sand dunes on the edge of the Taw Torridge Estuary. Ronald is deeply connected to the Burrows so it has been fascinating developing the story and getting to know him.
I finished my first weekend of filming – unfortunately timed over a weekend of gales and rain so I had to adapt my plans, but that’s the nature of filmmaking and one of the reasons it’s such an adventure!
The afternoon I arrived was a washout with heavy rain and wind, but the following morning, while sheltering from rain showers in Ronald’s barn, I was able to record the first interview with the farmer. During the interview we delved into Ronald’s life as a sheep farmer and the challenges he has. His father and grandfather also farmed in the area, and Ronald’s sons also own some of the sheep, so it’s a family affair and in their blood.
The weather brightened in the afternoon so I headed on to the Burrows for the first time with my camera. Rain clouds scudded overhead, but when I wasn’t diving into my car to keep my camera dry, I spent a happy few hours filming the sheep, landscape and wildlife.
I started to get a sense of why Ronald loves this unusual, beautiful area so much.
By the evening the rain had blown over so I went back on to the Burrows to capture the sunset. I took a while choosing the best position to film from, but finally settled on a point on the pebble ridge looking over the beach and out to sea. The sun went down
over Lundy Island and it was atmospheric watching the light spill over the water before the sun disappeared behind the clouds.
I have a busy week ahead editing the interview and starting to shape the documentary, but I can’t wait to get back to the farm in the coming weeks to film shearing, herding and other work that goes into looking after the sheep.
I have now wrapped up filming with Ronald on Northam Burrows and am hard at work editing to meet the fast approaching deadline. It's lovely to watch the interviews back over and piece them together to tell Ronald's story and bring out his personality. I hope I can create a film he likes! I’m also enjoying picking out the shots from the Burrows and Ronald and his sons working with the sheep. It’s a tricky business selecting the shots that I like best, while having to be ruthless in ensuring they tell the story.
My last weekend of filming on the Burrows was much like the first - windy and wet. But when the sun came out between the clouds, the light across the landscape was beautiful and I was able to get the shots I needed. As someone who loves filming wildlife, I was delighted to see small flocks of starlings swooping over the Burrows and bringing extra life to some of my footage. Having spent so much time out on the Burrows over the last few months, I really have come to understand why Ronald has such a connection to it.
It was so lovely to be back with Rose and Freddy and of course seeing the beautiful farm and cattle never disappoints.
Since my last visit, which was only a few weeks ago (the older cattle went off to market), there has been a lot of rain! Freddy and Rose were telling me how fed up the cows had been and they had to provide additional silage for them to feed on. Farmers really are at the mercy of the weather! Freddy is very proud of the silage he makes; he knows that their cattle are getting the best.
Great to see Bailey too, always give him a tummy tickle!
I then spent a few hours with Freddy, seeing the cattle in the fields. They both read Farmers Weekly and shared some articles from this week. Things are tough for our farmers! I spent time with Rose and Freddy in the afternoon and we spoke about how the year has been and thoughts for their future. As always, Rose cooked us a home cooked hot lunch. Today was pie, chips and vegetables. It was delicious! Then apples and blackberry (from the farm) with custard for pudding! I am always made to feel very welcome, and go home with a food parcel too!
Driving home that evening was treacherous, the rain really made driving conditions tough. It was a long day!
I have really loved my time with Rose and Freddy; it has been a real privilege to capture their way of life over the last year. Farming is hard work, and there is always a job to do! But they both get such pleasure and joy from the farm; they wouldn’t change their life at all! Now the post begins to shape the five-minute documentary!
The editing process has finally come to an end. Condensing footage filmed over 7 months into one five minute film was not an easy task. I am very tempted to create a longer and more detailed film which will enable me to use the interviews, shots and conversations that didn't make it into the final project.
If this whole film making experience has taught me anything it's that the beauty of documentary filming comes from how you cannot script what you film and can never predict what' going to happen when you turn your camera on. When it came to the things that Mel would say when I interviewed her, I never thought they would be so enlightening and also they helped to amplify the themes that I wanted to showcase in my film.
In the end my film was about the hard work that women on the farm undertake and how farming never acts as an obstacle to the relationship between a mother and their child. Despite the demanding and tiring nature of lambing season, Mel took the time to include Lola in her day to day activities and this pair with Lola's enthusiasm for farm work at such a young age strengthened the pairs bond as a result.
I want to express massive gratitude to North Devon Moving Image for allowing me the opportunity to make this film as it was their funding and faith in me that allowed me to hone my film making skills and buy the equipment that helped me to create a better quality and more professional looking film.
Keep up to date with all the latest news from NDMI Creative Director Amanda McCormack.
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Gareth Alvarez, Director
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