TLDR – Today I started work on a long term idea I’ve been mulling over and interviewed a couple of new parents about their recent experiences.
03.12.16 – I’ve had an idea in my mind for a while about making a short >5 minute film about new parents, talking to camera about their experiences and expectations of parenthood. My hope is that if I can make it short and snappy enough I could generate a few select soundbites which might reassure or inspire other new parents who might be struggling or uneasy about something. I’m not too sure on the style or form of the doc just yet, other than I think I don’t want to be in it, and I think the subjects should address the camera directly – as if they were addressing the audience.
With this in mind, I grabbed a Canon 5D from the MRC, along with a shotgun mic, tripod, and Tascam audio recorder, and headed over to a friend’s house to sit and chat with them about the idea. As usual, when visiting their house, we sat down with a cup of tea and started talking about nothing in particular.
I mentioned the idea I had, and they were keen to get involved. A lot of first time parents that I’ve spoken to (and they have spoken to) often have a few concerns or worries about parenting which can go unheard. Either they’re too scared or embarrassed to mention them, or they’re getting so much conflicting advice from other people that they simply don’t know who to listen to. I was talking to another friend recently who said that she was struggling with sleep for the first couple of months after having her first child, until one day she decided to get up at the same time as her husband when he went to work and treat the day like any other. She said that almost immediately she felt better about her day and her time management skills. The baby would nap for an hour or two and when she was down she could get so much more done with her day. Apparently no one had ever told her to get up at the same time that she used to, so she would just sleep when she was tired and generally end up being awake all night. I wondered how many new mothers would be going through the same thing and might benefit from being told something as simple as this. The friends I was drinking tea with agreed, and mentioned a couple of other similar experiences they had had themselves. I realised that I probably should have been recording the whole conversation and quickly set up the equipment.
Dan and Becky aren’t used to being around even the smallest film set ups, so having a camera like the 5D in their living room may have felt a little invasive. Becky did mention that the camera (with the shotgun mic) was a bit weird to her, and I think I could sense a small change in her demeanour almost immediately – the conversation didn’t feel quite as relaxed as it had 5 minutes previously. I do have an app on my phone now (Filmic Pro) which allows me to shoot high quality footage on the phone, so perhaps in future I would buy a tripod thing for my phone and use that. It would put the subject at ease more.
I did enjoy filming them in their home, and I think that’s the way to do it in future. My favourite pieces of the footage are the natural shots of them both interacting with their child, which led me to think that perhaps instead of having the subjects address the camera directly during the film, I might just record the audio of the conversation and overlay it with shots of them being a family. It won’t offer a direct connection to the audience like the other style, but it might offer a more natural interaction.
The footage taken today was test footage, and once I’ve seen the final edit and played with different ideas I think I will go back and film them again, along with 3 or 4 other couples and cut together something a bit more ‘polished’.
One of the first things I noticed when editing this was that not all the sound was as crisp as I would have liked it. The shotgun mic probably picked up a lot of reverb from the walls around us, so I’m thinking next time I’ll use lapel mics. Once the subjects get used to them and start to forget about them, they’ll pick up a slightly better quality of speech, but also seem less invasive. Having a shotgun mic or a boom pole pointed at you is not the most subtle thing in the world. The audio was most obvious when cutting different ‘scenes’ together, so I had to cover these cuts with music, which I wasn’t initially intending to use. Admittedly, I so think the music helps, but it gives a certain feel which I wasn’t intending. It feels like one of those segments on Comic Relief night or something. A bit forced, emotionally. It covers the cracks, but I’ll have to think of a more natural way to include this on the next film.
Another thing is that we had about an hour of footage in total, and the conversation varied wildly from one topic to another. I tried to ask specific questions, but then I found that it was difficult to get a natural response without including my voice in the film too. I want the film to be about the parents, not my conversation with the parents, so I need to think of a more subtle way of getting the dialogue I want.
This gave me another headache when piecing together visuals, as often the lines I wanted, that worked well together, would be minutes apart. While it might be considered a director’s liberty to rearrange dialogue to suit the narrative, it was difficult to maintain visuals to cover the cuts. I realised I needed to take a lot more ‘B-roll’ to cover these edits. In the end I opted for a simple dip to white, but it’s not something I’m happy about. It highlights the nature of the cuts and I wanted to hide them. There were a couple of moments I could cover with footage of the family just hanging out, and while this looks nice, I didn’t get nearly enough. I’ll remember that next year when I produce the film properly.
As a short cut entirely from impromptu test footage, I’m quite happy with this, nonetheless. It’s generated a few more ideas for next time, and highlighted a couple of issues I hadn’t considered.