To Me, To UWE

One of the main reasons I started this blog was to create a space to display my photographs and build an online portfolio, with the hope that it might allow me not only to share my work, but also that it would open doors for me in the months and years to come. I am so, so, excited to announce that today, one of those doors was flung wide open – I have been accepted on to the Wildlife Flim-making masters course at the University of the West of England, and will be starting the next step towards my dream career in September.

I cannot thank the readers of this blog enough, as knowing that there are people out there who like what I do and think I do it well is what led to me applying in the first place. Yes, it is a bit of a move over to the dark side (apologies to all my die-hard fellow UoB alumni), but I this course offers opportunities that I cannot even begin to fathom, and I can see myself learning and growing so much from it.

After years of studying, traveling when I could afford to, and taking every chance I could to get out with my camera, my hard work has finally started to pay off. I have found myself at the start of what promises to be a very, very exciting journey, and I can’t wait to begin.

So, while there are no pictures today, I instead offer you a massive heart-felt thanks from a girl up on cloud nine. UWE, I’ll see you in the autumn.

Plastic… Fantastic?

Looking around my desk right now, without opening any of the drawers below it, I can count 14 pieces of plastic. Two are single-use, one of which is recyclable: a plastic bottle. The other 12, to my knowledge, are non-recyclable. One day, when their purpose is spent, they will end up in landfill. It is estimated that 12 billion metric tons of plastic will be in the same position by the year 2050. The plastic that doesn’t end up in landfill, and indeed even some that does, often eventually ends up in the ocean.

The wave of plastic flowing into our seas is nothing short of out of control. Aggregations of debris the size of countries are forming in open spaces, seabirds are chowing down on plastic instead of fish, and mircoplastics are being detected as far from civilisation as the Arctic circle. The situation is dire, not least for the marine wildlife of the world, which is consuming, becoming trapped in, and often dying from both the direct and indirect effects of marine plastic pollution.

I spent two weeks over Easter on the Aberdeenshire coast documenting this crisis, and how the local community of activists, conservationists, and civilians are trying to combat it. Unfortunately, as the Springtime weather in Scotland often dictates, filming was hampered considerably for the majority of the time I was there. I think I managed three days without rain out of the 14 I was there: one on the beach; one with Surfers against Sewage; and one with RSPB Scotland. And although I tried my best to make the most of these few opportunities, I will almost certainly need to return in the summer to pick up a few missing shots.

The final film itself is a while off being finished yet – I only just got back this week – but I managed to piece together a couple of ‘sneak peaks’ while I was up there. They were originally made as web clips for my Instagram, but I’ve resorted to putting them on YouTube as well now that the wait for the finished product has been extended. They’re both available to watch on my Turning the Tide page here.

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The topic of marine plastic pollution is not a novel one. It was on the back burner for years before Blue Planet II catapulted it in to the public eye. Since then, it’s been the subject of countless films, research projects, exposés, and photo stories; I am by no means the first to document this pressing issue. But I hope that my film will tackle it in a way that most don’t: by showing ordinary people what they can do to actively help fix it and repair what damage has already been done. Because believe me, even on this tiny stretch of Scottish coastline, it’s extensive.

Three Days at Doghouse

Another month, another few days of work experience and living my dream life. This time, I headed to Doghouse Post-Productions, which is conveniently located just across the road from the BBC’s Natural History Unit, and also visible from my living room.

The work I did at Doghouse was much more varied than what I got up to at Silverback. I spent my mornings shadowing their runner, helping her to make cups of tea for the company’s clients and staff members. This was a fantastic way to get to know the people working in the edit suites, as well as what they were working on, and thus what I might later get the chance to sit in on.

True to form, I spent my first afternoon sitting in on the edit of a programme about wildlife – this time, one aimed at children. This particular show uses a combination of bluechip footage and green-screen superimposition to place the characters in the wilderness with the animals in question. It was fascinating to watch how this kind of show comes together and how green-screen editing works, as it was completely different to anything I had worked on before. That, plus a view in to the rushes of some of my favourite bluechip productions, made for a very entertaining afternoon.

On day two, I arrived to something of a buzz of excitement in the company. One of their clients was preparing to do the voice over for their production that day, and the celebrity who gave said voice over would be in the office shortly. I leapt at the opportunity to sit in on this experience; script-writing skills are difficult to hone without hands-on experience, and here I had the chance to watch the words for a wildlife show come together before me. It was an amazing learning experience, and a great story to gloat about once we wrapped for the day.

 

My final day at Doghouse (as their placements are limited to three days in length) saw me pack in two more brilliant insights to the post-production process. For the morning, I sat in on the grading of one of their productions using DaVinci Resolve, and was able to stay for the screening to the producer, who signed off on it at the end. That afternoon, I was back in the dubbing suite, observing the sound mixing for a series of web clips to accompany a natural history series that was about to premier using ProTools. Both of these processes are incredibly interesting to watch and highly skilful, using complex-looking software and relying heavily on a keen eye (or, indeed, ear).

To summarise, the time I spent doing work experience at Doghouse Post-Productions was fantastic. I somehow managed to pack a wealth of experiences in to just three days, and came away feeling like I had learned and experienced so much. I always find it funny how every time I do work experience or finish a project I’m suddenly hit by a wave of motivation, and this was no different – I came away rearing to go for the next step in my career, small though that step may be. And for that, Doghouse, I thank you.

Wised-up and Wisdomless

Buckle up folks, it’s time for another I-got-bored-and-made-a-film-using-whatever-random-old-footage-I-could-find-laying-around-on-my-computer short film! This one’s a bit off-piste, but it’s a style I don’t normally try so I thought I’d give it a whirl.

The footage was all taken in Copenhagen, where I got my first and only tattoo while I was travelling over the summer of 2017 (to those of you who’ve seen my mini-series Exploring Europe, you may have known this already). I’ve tried to make the video a bit different by avoiding any voices in the footage, thus relying on sound and picture alone to tell the story, which I think works well in such a short film.

I don’t really have much else to say about this one, to be honest – it’s only 45 seconds long, and I had it finished within two hours of finding the footage. It wasn’t exactly a technical effort, nor a creative one.

Many thanks to Casper at Wisdomless Tattoo Club, who kindly let me film him as he desperately tried to work around my camera while holding a needle in my foot. And, for those of you who may ask, it’s a Greek evil eye. Yes, I know it looks like a tiny blue target board.

Ant Antics

When I first moved back to Bristol at the start of August 2017, I quickly got my mitts on a second-hand macro lens and set about making a short film focusing on the diverse wildlife in my godmother’s back garden. Inevitably, job hunting and west country weather got the better of me, and I soon found myself forced to shelve the idea until Spring 2018 rolls around.

Fast forward a few months to December 2017, and I decided I was finally going to try and make something out of what little footage I had gathered over those few weeks in the summer. I was lucky that my lens purchase coincided with ‘flying ant day’ – a day which, as a zoologist, I have always found fascinating. This coincidence meant I had a large amount of flying-ant-related footage lurking on my computer, but a few hours later, that footage became this video.

It’s a short story with some questionable shots (aren’t they all on this blog?), but for a hastily prepared piece filmed using only a cheap 2:1 macro lens and a crumbling old Nikon, I think it’s not too shabby.

Will any of this footage make it into the final, originally planned film later this year? Maybe. If I ever finish making it, that is.

One Week With Silverback

What do you get when you cross an over-excited wannabe wildlife filmmaker with a week’s work experience at one of the most prominent independent wildlife film production companies in the business? A literal dream come true, that’s what. And, for one glorious week, my reality.

In all seriousness, and with absolutely no exaggeration, Silverback Films is my own personal Disneyland (and they actually produce DisneyNature films). Smack in the middle of Bristol, this esteemed production company was founded by two ex-BBC Natural History Unit heads, and has a showreel that ranges from upcoming Netflix series Our Planet, to feature-length DisneyNature films such as Monkey Kingdom, to BBC bluechips like The Hunt. I literally could not believe my luck when they invited me to do work experience with them. I still can’t.

Understandably, during my week at Silverback I was exposed to a fair amount of information that I cannot and will not share here. Please don’t ask me what I was working on, because there’s no way I’m going to let slip. I also had to sign a document releasing all my intellectual property to the company while I was there, so don’t expect to see my name on any credits any time soon. That being said, I don’t see why there would be an issue with me telling you about the kind of work I got up to. After all, for some of you reading this, it might provide a valuable insight in to an industry you’re unsure of or have questions about.

I started off on the Monday working on rushes from a recent shoot – logging and rating each one to aid the job of the editor when they came to piece shots together. It’s a lot easier to build a sequence when you can search through clips by keyword or quality, so although this job can drag on, it could not be more important. At least, that’s the thought that kept me motivated when it became apparent I’d be logging all day. Don’t take that as a complaint, though – I could have kept going all week. When even the most boring job in a production line fascinates you, you know you’ve found the right career.

Day two, however, was something else. That Tuesday, I was unbelievably fortunate to be able to spend the entire day sat in one of the in-house editing suites, watching the assistant producer who offered me the work experience working on a project with a top editor. Being able to see how they work and the software they use (Avid, in case you were wondering) was such a valuable learning experience, as well as having the opportunity to talk to them as they thought aloud, and chiming in with my own suggestions from time to time. The hours flew past, and when they called it a day at 6pm I didn’t want to leave – I happily could have stayed there late in to the night.

By day three, I was on a roll. A morning spent logging the rushes for a bluechip production was enough to keep me happy for hours, but what came next was even more exciting. The assistant producer I was shadowing wanted my input in to her production. Having recently had to re-order the sequences in the film, she asked me to help provide new links between each portion of the film. I spent all afternoon typing up my ideas with the draft version playing in the background, feeling monumentally proud that she had liked my previous ideas enough to want to see what else I could come up with.

My last day here at Silverback inevitably rolled around far sooner than I was ready for, and once again did not disappoint. Another morning on the rushes was swiftly followed by an afternoon in the edit suite, continuing on the same project I had been introduced to earlier in the week. Editing really is an art form, and watching the editor so easily make adjustments that I would no doubt fumble over was surprisingly mesmerising. Afternoon turned to evening, and it wasn’t long before I had to head home again. I have literally never been so gutted to reach the end of a working week.

As a final note on what has so far been one of the most exciting weeks of my (admittedly very early) career, I would like to give a massive thank you to the assistant producer at Silverback who believed in me and so kindly allowed me to shadow her for the week. I am honestly more grateful than you can ever imagine – getting a foot in the door is never easy, and to have been able to learn from a company that I have always admired was such a privilege, and an immensely inspiring experience.

So, with all the gratitude I can give, thank you.

 

Exploring Europe IV

Chapter IV

To Spain, and Beyond

This video marks the final chapter of my European adventure in summer 2017 – the last leg of my journey, as I cut across France to Barcelona, Spain, spent just over a week exploring this fantastic country, then ended my trip in Lisbon, Portugal.

To say that this summer was “the best summer ever” would be an understatement of monumental proportions. The five weeks I spent interrailing between June and July 2017 were quite possibly the best five consecutive weeks of my 22 years on this planet so far. They were five weeks of exciting, nerve-racking, inspiring, outrageous, adventurous, incredible fun; and if I’ve managed to get even a tiny amount of that across in these four films, then as far as I’m concerned they’re a huge success. And special thanks to all the fantastic people I met along the way, you made this trip what it was.

I confess, as the disclaimers have made very clear, the quality of filming has not always (read: rarely) been great. The storylines have been lacking, if not non-exisent. I was brand new to this when I started off in Norway, but I think I learned quickly, and I think that in these videos I’ve managed to make the most out of what I came back with. Besides, I expect a lot more of myself now, so any future videos will be better, I promise. I’ve got a few in the works already.

So I hope you enjoy the final chapter of ‘Exploring Europe’, as I hope that you’ve enjoyed the previous three, and I hope that you enjoy what comes next, whenever that may be. And, for the final time, don’t forget to check out my other blog!

Exploring Europe III

Chapter III

Heading West

From Prague, where chapter two ended, I moved on to Budapest, Hungary, then west towards Interlaken, Switzerland.

As with Berlin and Prague, good company kept me busy and away from my camera, so Budapest features minimally in this segment despite being one of my favourite stops along the whole journey. Horrendous weather later limited my filming opportunities in Bled and Interlaken, as it often does, while Venice was crowded and loud despite being shrouded in history and beauty. So no, this video is not very long. But I can tell you that the next one is longer already.

Once again, please take this chapter with a pinch of salt. Read the disclaimer at the beginning. I am not a professional filmmaker (at least, not yet), and that shows in these videos.

Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy this chapter. And, as ever, you can head to my other blog to read more about my travels.