In previous entries I have written about creating The Laboratory, two monsters and writing a play. All of this has been inspired by Mary Shelley and Frankenstein. I have also talked about promoting my children’s book Will Blyton and The Stinking Shadow. To promote the book I had written some of Will Blyton’s diary entries from before the book starts – a type of prequel. It seemed to me that if I was going to get the children interested in The Stinking Shadow, perhaps I had to film some of the diaries and put it on Youtube. It was going to be so easy. A little dramatic irony there –In this post, I look at some of the problems we encountered whilst filming.
The first problem was the constraints of continuity. The book was inspired by my son. The same son also acts; therefore it was going to be even easier. It is only when we have convinced ourselves that certain undertakings are going to be like a perfect day that we remember that it doesn’t exist. For instance, boys grow into teenagers. The most obvious continuity problem was that my son’s voice has become too deep for a twelve year old’s voice. However, as well as giving my son work experience, I wanted him to be involved specifically because of his age. In other words, I have no doubt that kids learn from other kids. I have watched children work together and learn together – kids often pay more attention to what older children are saying than they do to adults. So even though my son’s voice is too deep for the character of Will Blyton, I still approve it because the main aim of these videos is to inspire children to read and write more. I think that boys (9-12) watching a teenager involved in something like Loony Literature will be inspired themselves. I hope that it will help them see that reading, writing, filming, in fact, any sort of creativity is both fun and fulfilling.
Another problem was lack of experience in certain endeavours. As I said, my son acts. He has passed acting exams with Distinction and performed live in front of audiences many times. However, he hasn’t got experience in front of a camera. It would seem, I expect, to most of us, that if you act, you act – it should not matter whether there is a camera there or not. For the strangest reason, initially we were both incredibly self-conscious. Years ago, I was filmed for exams performing both Chekhov and Brecht – I don’t remember feeling self-conscious simply because it was being filmed. Therefore, I can only put the current self consciousness down to lack of experience and recent practise.
During the first three diary entries, my son seemed quiet and lethargic. As I have watched him perform and listened to monologues for exams many times, I thought it was because he had outgrown Will Blyton. Today as we have been filming the fourth diary entry, his sparkle has resurfaced. When I told him this, he said it was because he wasn’t used to being filmed. The more he does it, the more comfortable he is becoming in front of the camera.
These insights seem obvious as I write them but when we are living experiences, it is always easy to be wise in hindsight. I would say, therefore, to anyone in the arts, if we try something in our field which is slightly different, we must not be put off if we don’t appear to be successful at first. Keep writing, keep acting and film making – hard work will always improve whatever it is we are trying to achieve.
A major constraint when not filming in a studio is lack of equipment. In this case, it was not having an autocue. Normally, when my son is acting he learns his lines. However, as we are moving through scripts quickly and he has lots of other things to do, I don’t feel as if I can expect him to learn everything off by heart. The problem, therefore, was how could I film someone reading narrative without their head being stuck in a book?
The first solution was to have the text on a laptop in front of him. The problem with that however, is that The Stinking Shadow is set in 1974 and we could not film without the laptop being seen. I decided to enlarge the text and print it up. It then occurred to me to stick it on a board. As I looked around the room, I noticed the box which one of my painted screens had been packed in. It is about one foot wide and five feet tall. If I put it lengthways, I could stick the text all along it. It probably looks an effort but it works.
If all else fails to put us off filming our fiction the thought that the world wants to sabotage our efforts will surely mean that the camera lens stays closed for good. The tiniest thing can sabotage filming our work. Mildred, The Laboratory cat, becomes unbelievably mischievous when we are filming. The first day we were filming Will Blyton’s diaries, my son was in his seat reading from the board and I had the camera. The next moment, I heard one almighty screech and my son had catapulted from his chair. Mildred had been hidden underneath the table and had dived at his nether regions. Today, she grabbed me around the back of my leg whilst in the middle of filming. For a moment, I thought I was being attacked. I think she has designs on being in the videos herself.
Swat the obstacles
The main reason I write this journal is to, hopefully, give other people inspiration and ideas. So even though all this probably sounds like an awful time – it isn’t. It is truly wonderful. To prove it, I am now off to dress up once more as Mr Hyde (Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde) to film another Will Blyton – The Alternative Detective Diary.