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Things are starting to get exciting in the world of Stay the Same. The film is now at final cut stages (running at about 14 minutes with credits) and Fraya Thomsen is now working hard on the score which is already sounding great. (Fraya did the score for The Worm Inside with Gillian Fleetwod and the music for Mallaig in It’s Own Way and is now at the NFTS). As we are recording the score with live musicians it’s going to be another few weeks at least before it is ready to put to the film.
By then post production on this film will have taken nearly as long as the year shoot! I am not entirely sure where all this time has gone, but editing the film has been much more work than shooting it. Watching the footage and editing clips from all the days was incredibly time consuming, but so was making the film work. In the end I had to think of it as a visual peice of music with a very strict rythym that had to be adhered to. Films and most other works of creativity have rules and I guess it makes sense that this film is ruled by timing. Moving home, my health and other bigger projects have also sometimes got in the way of the process, but it is been fantastic to be able to take my time and get it as right as I can and I think I am pleased with the final film (even if it feels quite short given the amount of time I have spent on in). So with the sun has been shining on here on the West Coast of Scotland for many weeks now the end of the tunnel definitely feels in sight.
Below is a snapshot of the editing process and the strict rythym of the film, which meant that like it or not, the length of most clips was already dictated regardless of whether I liked the shot or not.
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A few people have been understandably asking when they can see the finished film so I thought I’d better post an update. Basically I am still editing which is proving quite a mammoth task. Having watched the whole years footage twice I have now reduced sixty hours down to thirty minutes. But I have a feeling that might have been the easy bit. The film and the footage now pose lots of very interesting questions both practical and creative about what it is and what it is doing. The process itself has been an act of discovery and I have had to create my own rules when it comes to editing. It feels far more like chipping away to reveal something that is already there than assembling something . . . . . I will try write more about this in the coming weeks. I will also let you know as soon as I do when the film is near completion and where it can be seen. Thanks again for all the support. I will keep chipping away.
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It’s been a while so I thought it time to post an update.
After spending the summer finishing other projects and teaching at the Met Film School I have now finally started editing the film which is quite exciting. It was always my intention to take a break and get some distance from the material before I began because it is so personal and it is now proving very interesting go back in time. The year I was filming felt elongated at the time as a result of the process of making it and not being able to leave, but is now surprisingly contracted in my memory and its a very interesting juxtaposition between the footage I have and the year as I remember it.
In the meantime two projects I worked on during my year of filming, the Mallaig children’s film project and a new feature film idea exploring memory even further have been recognised. Mallaig In It’s Own Way has been nominated for an award at the Dundee Discover Festival and The Story of Me and You won second prize in The Wellcome Trust Screenwriting competition. All very rewarding and a reminder of how much you can get done if you don’t leave home for a year!
Sarah Hill sent me this last week. It’s an old folk song she recorded especially with the folk musician Phil Tyler. She told me it made her think of me standing on Knoydart’s shore everyday. I met Sarah when I first came to Knoydart seven years ago and we became good friends over my first winter .
In the same week Jim Manthorpe another good friend who has just left Knoydart posted this video as a way of saying goodbye to the place.
It made me think I should write a short update of how things have been since leaving and returning. Since June 21st I have been to Edinburgh, Dorset and London visiting family and friends and do some teaching work to fund me through the edit. Both Sarah’s song and Jim’s video captured how I felt returning to home to Knoydart.
As well as a renewed passion for the place and I’ve gained a profound sense of how much I have changed over the course of this project. Despite spending most of the last year fantasising about being back in the city, twelve months of quietness and relative solitude made London suprisingly hard and it was a relief to come home to the birds and the mountains and the constant sound of the sea. (Even if it isn’t quite the same without people like Sarah, Jim, Claire and Oren living here any more.) I have a sense of being more able to accept of what life offers, rather than chasing unfulfilled dreams or trying to escape difficulties, more greatful of the small pleasures and appreciative of the need to put down roots. I am also markedly much better at being on time!
So on to the edit and looking at the film I have with a fresh pair of eyes. The plan is a rough cut by Christmas at the latest.
I’m still musing on ideas of place and time so keep responding and I will post updates as when people send things.
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Originally printed at http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6259034&s_cid=tesmagazinehome
Give children space, don’t ask too many questions and their creative instincts will bloom, says film-maker Sam Firth
It is 9.39am on a bright and breezy day in June and the 10 minutes I will spend standing on a wooden platform, alone, in front of Loch Nevis are almost over.
My only companion is my Sony HVR-Z1 camera, fixed on a tripod a couple of feet in front of me. I have stood silently in the same place on this remote stretch of the west coast of Scotland for 10 minutes at precisely the same time each day for the past year. But today is different: after recording 61 hours of footage, I will have finished filming for my short film Stay the Same.
Since I started this project on 22 June last year, I have been bitten by midges, faced snow, hail and gale force winds and have repeatedly asked myself the same question: “Why am I doing this?” Plenty of people have told me they think I am bonkers. The locals have genuinely worried that it would drive me mad.
I have spent much of the year thinking the same, while exploring ideas of time, nature and mortality. I still do not have all the answers, although I have a very strong sense of the film I want to make; a piece that shows the passage of time through changes in weather, light, tides and seasons while capturing a short moment from each day of my life throughout the year.
The final film will be 20 minutes long at most and will attempt to express our profound desire to hang on to every moment. At the same time I hope it will convey the sadness we feel at the certain knowledge that nothing can hold back the clock.
I was inspired to make the film after a year in which I was confronted with my own mortality. I was diagnosed with a chronic (but thankfully curable) illness; then I was rushed to hospital with a haemorrhage after a routine surgical procedure. At the same time I hit my mid-thirties and felt, for the first time, that I was that little bit older than I wanted to be.
I moved from London to Knoydart, on Loch Nevis, six years ago. It is one of the most remote places in Britain and I came here partly to give myself the chance to make work. It is a place of extremes and I want to capture the relationship I have with the natural environment in this film.
Making the film has had a huge impact on my personal life as I have not been able to leave home for more than a day, but the project is far more about how it affects others. Hopefully the film will be shown at festivals around the world and I will almost certainly take it into schools as part of other work that I do.
Stay the Same is the third short film I have directed. In 2001, when I was doing my MA, I was asked to help out with a children’s film project and enjoyed it so much that I set up my own company. I now visit different schools and community groups and take children and young people through the entire film-making process. The children come up with the ideas for their film, decide on themes and locations, write the scripts, storyboard, use the camera, record sound, compose music, edit and then organise the premiere for their own short film in a process spanning about six weeks.
I love working on these projects. I learn more about the creative process each time and the importance of playing. Working with images means children do not get bogged down with having to write their ideas out.
It is great seeing children quickly gain confidence in their own creative thinking when they are given the right encouragement and space. I am always surprised and inspired by the strength of children’s ideas and how much ownership they have of their film.
I believe that everyone can be creative – that creativity is a not so much a talent as a frame of mind that can be achieved. It is about being completely open to free association and generating new ideas, allowing them to pop into your consciousness. It is very close to the state of mind of children when they play.
I have learned that it is really important not to ask anyone making creative work to justify what they are doing too quickly. If you question an idea before it is fully formulated it blocks the creative process. Children in particular quickly lose confidence in their ideas and start choosing more conventional, less original options just because they are easier to explain.
Brilliant ideas often seem crazy. But if you write them off too quickly you will never know which of the two they were.
I tend to bypass getting children to explain and just get them to make stuff. Of course we do research, we discuss ideas and themes, and watch related work as this all helps to give their ideas depth. But often you do not know what something is about, or what it means, until it is finished.
I learned this the hard way when my film came under attack last February. I had created a website and blog for my film project and started to collect responses to the ideas behind the film and the process I was going through. I wanted to know if other people were taking photos or filming the same thing every day and why they were doing it. Suddenly, the national press got wind of it, and my far-from-completed project was scrutinised as to whether it had any artistic merit.
I hope my film is moving and says something more profound than can be articulated in words. It is more experimental in its nature than any of my other films, so I do not yet know how well it will work. I am just grateful that the British Film Institute and Creative Scotland have trusted me enough to give me the space to find out. We should give the same space to the creative instincts of our children.
Sam Firth is hoping to finish Stay the Same by the end of this year. Her blog on the project is at staythesamefilm.com, where you can also find links to her other work, including the award-winning film I.D. Her last film project with children, Mallaig in its Own Way, was made with Mallaig Primary School through the First Light Movies pilot award scheme
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Olivia Humphries is another female British short filmmaker making personal films dealing with death and the passage of time. Here is her short film Noctuaries which is quite wonderful and won the Grierson Award and a video diary piece she has made especially for Stay the Same . ..
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A years timelapse study of they sky. Each pixel is a day.
Thank you Alasdair.
I travelled up to Knoydart to visit Sam for the first time since she moved there. This quote from one of my favorite writers Joyce Carol Oates, articulates better than I can, what I feel Sam’s project is about: a desire to “make life more coherent, to set something in order, to single out meanings from the great confusion of the time, or of our lives…because we are convinced that meaning exists and we want to fix it in place ”
“We write for the same reason we dream- because we cannot not dream, because it is in the nature of the human imagination to dream. Those of us who “write,” who consciously arrange and re-arrange reality for the purpose of exploring its hidden meanings, are more serious dreamers, perhaps we are addicted to dreaming, but never because we fear or despise reality.
As Flannery O’Connor said writing is not an escape from reality, ‘it is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system.’ She insists that the writer is a person who has hope in the world; people without hope do not write.
We write in order to give a more coherent, abbreviated form to the world, which is often confusing and terrifying and stupid as it unfolds about us. How to manage this blizzard of days, of moments, of years? The world has no meaning; I am sadly resigned to this fact.
But the world has meanings, many individual and alarming and graspable meanings, and the adventure of being human consists in seeking out these meanings. We want to figure out as much of life as we can. We are not very different from scientists, our notorious enemies, who want also to figure things out, to make life more coherent, to set something in order to single out meanings from the great confusion of the time, or of our lives: we write because we are convinced that meaning exists and we want to fix it in place.”
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This morning I will step on my platform one last time. The end of this project brings a mixture of feelings. I am excited about leaving, but strangely nervous too. There is also a degree of sadness. A years routine is coming to an end.
I began to look back over this year over a month ago, but it was far from finished. In one of my first blog posts I wrote “ that every year of my life has brought change and unexpected events, but I can’t begin to guess what these might be this year”. I certainly couldn’t have guessed that I would be spending the penultimate day of this project, a film about our relationship with mortality, attending a funeral surrounded by the community I have spent this year with.
This project so far has been an incredible journey. A journey that has taken place without moving.It has been characterised by many different things. There have been two unexpected deaths in my community, but also four births to be celebrated Maja, Reuben, Morgan and wee Victor. My own life has also had its ups and downs, which will no doubt be reflected in the film. It is a self-portrait of my year.
There have been storms and insomnia and it has felt like a particularly long winter. I have felt trapped by this film, my choices, my life, my desire for control, for a story that makes sense of it all, trapped by my body and its failings, trapped by temporality itself.
But there has also been a long glorious spring too. Things returned to how they had been. Eventually I stopped feeling trapped and started to appreciate the cyclical nature of time
It is now apparent to me how I have run from difficulty in the past, kept moving to avoid facing things. I have used fantasy as an escape. Imagining other lives I could be leading, other choices I could have made. This year has taught me the importance of valuing what is there in front of you, the life that you have.
Modern life teaches us to keep moving, chase our dreams, find the solutions, keep up with change, continually adapt but I have found that if you stand still for long enough sometimes the things you are searching for most in the world come to find you. Comfort and happiness can be found in routine, in the cycle of seasons, in the slow putting down of roots. Everything passes with time, time mends and time cements.
This project has been instrumental to my growth as a filmmaker. I have worked on this and new projects as well as working with a the children in Mallaig and learning a great deal from them. I have gained confidence in who I am, what I do and what it is I want to communicate. I have learnt that I don’t necessarily need to give everything away.
In a year in which I have turned my life into a film I have thought a lot about our relationship with stories. We are fascinated with real stories and celebrate those who expose themselves most. There is a sense in which I too have exposed myself, but by doing so I hope to show the beauty in the every day.
Ultimately I want the film to say more with images and emotions than I can express here with words. I hope it will pose questions rather make statements, exploring the journey we are all on.
Life is both fragile and robust, at times it is unbearably painful at others joyous and beautiful, it has an urgency but it is also mundane, and it is temporary. This is all we have and we don’t have it for very long. Living it to the full doesn’t necessarily mean chasing adventure and following dreams. It can mean standing still and appreciating what is there in front of you. Cherishing the moments you have.
I want to use this post to thank everyone who has supported me over this year. I hope I can produce a film that lives up to your expectations.
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Only two days to go and I have pulled out a very dusty suitcase from under my bed ready to catch the 11am boat on Thursday after filming. I really am looking forward to a few weeks of visiting friends, film festivals and doing some teaching in London. I am also starting to prepare for the next stage of this project – editing the film.
This will be an intense process requiring a different kind of reflection so I have decided not to share it on this site and will stop blogging when filming finishes on Thursday June 21st.
The first thing I will do will be to watch the whole year back in its entirety to try and see the film I have. There is nearly sixty hours of footage so this will take at least two weeks of non stop viewing. Once I have a sense of the whole film I will start picking out individual moments I want to highlight and structure the rest of the film around. When I have a rough cut I will start working with a composer on an original score to be recorded for the film. I am hoping to finish by the end of October, but it might be the end of the year.
I will post updates on press and screenings for the film once it is finished on the Tiny Spark Productions website and the films facebook page. The film is intended for the large screen and am hoping it will be exhibited in this way before it reaches the internet.
In the meantime I definitely want to keep collecting and posting your responses to the project here on this site as I know there are more to come and I have been really moved by the ones I have had so far. Even the negative ones have been interesting. It seems, this project has captured peoples imaginations in some way.
If you would like to post a response, in any form, to any of the themes of the film, to the act of stopping and standing still, the way we relate to nature and our own mortality or the attempts to capture the moments in which we exist, then email me direct or at email@example.com
Below are all of the responses I have had so far over the year:
Thank you again to everyone who has submitted a response.