When I decided to make this film in October 2014 I had little apart from an unedited script, some kit and my own devices. Compared to many other films it’s been a relatively short ride, or so I reminded myself last week when I spliced together the five rough-cut reels that make up “Voyageuse.” Certainly the task is easier – and cheaper – than had it been originated on film but even so, to watch it on my domestic smart TV means copying files to the public share of the NAS (Network Attached Server) from where via the DNLA (Digital Living Network Alliance) finally I could fret about its shortcomings: the holes in the timeline, raw sound, pacing errors and miscued temp music.
As with any work-in-progress I console myself with the parts that work. To answer the operative question – does this film fulfil its original intention? – I’d say yes, it does. Had I taken a conventional route to production no doubt my script would have been eviscerated in development and I’d probably still be searching for funding, ergo the film wouldn’t exist. Where the cut succeeds there are moments when the parts combine to forceful effect without shouting ‘look at me’ or dazzling the eye with vacuous trickery.
Recently my husband remarked, ‘what if someone asks why didn’t you move the camera’? To which I replied without hesitation, ‘because I didn’t need to’. I’m not being flippant. To not move the camera is a decision I took not because of a lack of resource but because the static frame is a perfect expression of Erica’s state of mind. Trapped in a house with an ageing mother she has no prospect of moving forward. With life at a standstill, Erica’s only solace is a retreat into memories triggered by her surroundings and the objects around her. The visual stillness serves Siân Phillips’ performance by focusing on the storytelling and not the distraction of pointless camera moves.
Over the next few weeks my attention shifts to sound design, laying down ambiences, atmospheres, foley and spot effects that best reflect Erica’s outer and inner worlds. Typically sound design and mixing would be handed to a specialist but since I don’t have the funds I’ve assumed the role myself as I did on my last film, “The Devil’s Plantation” (2013) where the sound for the entire film – all 850-plus tracks – was created in my garden shed, usually at some ungodly hour.
So it was a strange coincidence when a few weeks ago I ran into a sound mixer I previously worked with. It’s been years. Exchanging greetings, he asked what I was up to. Making a film, I said. Do you need a mix? he replied. I’d love a mix, I said, holding the parallel thoughts – a) I can’t afford it and b) there might be a way if I do the sound design and lay the tracks myself. We’ve since swapped a few emails and had a meeting so hopefully a deal can be struck that won’t bankrupt me so the film can have the Dolby mix it deserves.
Similarly, after much soul-searching, I’ve enlisted a composer, a luxury on a film of this scale. For once this isn’t a question of money, more a hesitation on my part following the death in September 2011 of Bobby Henry, who scored two of my previous films. A legendary producer and songwriter, Bobby was also a long-time friend and his loss still weighs heavily. Could I ever contemplate working with another composer? Often it takes years to build a relationship between director and composer and the kind of intuition that allows both parties to say – ‘yes, that works, but this sucks’ – without leading to rancour. Tell it to Bernard Herrmann, famously fired by Alfred Hitchcock during the music recording for “Torn Curtain” (1966) where the composer credit was given to John Addison.
With so few feature films produced in the UK it’s rare for composers to get the chance to score. Every week or so I’m contacted by talented musicians and composers looking for a break but while I’ve always intended to have music in the film – see my last post – the idea of an original score never occurred to me. I mention this casually to my next-door neighbour, Euan Stevenson, a highly accomplished, award-winning pianist and composer who for months has patiently listened to my blow-by-blow account of making this film just as I’ve listened to him playing through our adjoining wall. Professionally our paths haven’t crossed much, apart from me making a no-budget video for one of his projects a few years ago. Initially I was uncertain whether Euan would be simpatico with my musical direction for the film or indeed my ability to communicate my ideas but with his curiosity piqued, at his behest I sent him the tracks and a link to this blog. What did he think?
Not only did Euan express his enthusiasm for my choices but also the opportunity to score a film, a first for him. Where other composers might balk at a strange proposition such as “Voyageuse” he never questioned its unorthodoxy. In the edit suite I laid out the script and showed him the rough cut, conscious of the challenge for any composer given the absence of on-screen action, with the emphasis squarely on the voice.
During our conversations, Euan mentioned casually how a distant relative of his, Muir Mathieson, worked in film music. Muir Mathieson? The most important figure in British film music of the 20th century? Who knew? Later Euan offered me a copy of his biography. ‘I haven’t read it myself’, he admitted. The book now sits on my edit suite desk as a touchstone for whenever I feel complacent.
After a few weeks of mid-century musical immersion, Euan, assisted by Douglas Whates, recently recorded an improvised session in the McLeod Hall at the Pearce Institute, Govan. With his piano temporarily out of commission, Euan played on a refurbished grand in a room so live that every sound – voices, footsteps, birdsong, police sirens and construction – was magnified tenfold. As much as I liked the ambience, recording in the equivalent of the inside of a bass drum isn’t ideal so an alternative needs to be found. We’ve also agreed that the piano has the potential to become a one-instrument orchestra – and that preparing it can produce a nuanced palette of sounds that fit with the tone of the film and my own sound design. It’s early days, of course, but as with everything else on this film I travel hopefully.
The above image is a frame grab of a mantelclock that features prominently in the film. It’s a reminder to myself that time is short and September’s not such a long way off.