DYCP -Blog 5: JAGUAR KIN, pt.2 – Filming a video with Thirty10Arts & Blk Diamond Dance

My preliminary meetings with Munya Muchati at Thirty10Arts were so incredibly helpful with guiding me in how to plan the video effectively so that the filming day would run as smoothly as possible. He talked me through the things I needed to think about in order to write a detailed Creative Brief for a film project. In many ways, it was similar to the way I’d been thinking as I worked through WHQ courses to create a novel plan – What was the premise of the story? Who’s the protagonist? What’s the inciting incident that hooks the viewer in?

This is the premise I landed on for the film I wanted to make:

There is light (+ growth + power) to be found, uncurling, amongst the darkness.

Munya also encouraged me to think about my objectives and what goals I had for the finished film, and to make a moodboard of imagery that came to mind when I imagined the film. I knew I wanted the film shot both in town and somewhere in nature, and after chatting with Munya I thought a bit deeper about filming locations. I spoke to some of the other collaborators and visited a few spots before deciding on 4 places: Portslade beach, a new-ish residential area in town (Brighton), Hove seafront and Woods Mill Nature Reserve (Steyning). 

Once I had decided on locations, I went back and updated my storyboard and it started to make more sense… Again, the process didn’t feel entirely dissimilar to reworking a poem, article or piece of prose. On the storyboard, I added notes with shot descriptions and some thoughts on Lya’s choreography and wardrobe. 

Munya also talked me through the Shotlist document he usually uses before filming. Some of it took some time for me to get my head around, as there’s a lot to think about for each individual shot: what type (eg. ‘medium long shot’ or ‘extreme closeup’), which equipment (eg. gimbal, drone or tripod), which direction to film from, how long for and at what speed. I filled out what I could and then sat with Munya whilst we went into it in more detail and I learnt a lot going through this process. You can think you’re talking in specifics when you don’t have enough knowledge to actually know quite how specific you can go! 

Screenshot of a draft of storyboard

Meanwhile, I also prepared some info documents and had a couple of preliminary chats with Lya (aka Blk Diamond) to give her some direction and hear her ideas about choreography, and also to discuss thoughts for costume, hair and makeup. Lya was great to work with, full of heart, enthusiasm and ideas! Also very resourceful and with creative skills in many areas.

An example of the written guidance I gave to Lya for each section

We chatted through some of the inspirations and themes running through the poem, such as experiences of lockdown in Brighton, and also Harriet Tubman and how we could nod to her legacy in the film. We went through the lyrics together and I explained the feeling behind each verse and how I was imagining a dance might look. We discussed how we could create four different looks in four different locations, and shared ideas for clothing from our own wardrobes and fashion/art/media images we liked. 

The four locations and outfits also represent the four elements – in town, Lya would wear orange and reds to represent the ‘fists full of fire’ from Femi’s poetry; on the seafront we’d dress Lya in a floaty top and feathers to represent wind and movement; at the beach she would sparkle like the sea to represent water and spaciousness; and at the nature reserve she would dance and crawl barefoot, representing a healing connection to the earth.

From the beginning, I knew a jaguar-woman running through nature would be a big part of the film. But it took a while to decide how to create that jaguar look. At one point, I thought about making some kind of headdress… but, again the week before, I got in touch with friend and brilliant artist Carolyn Baguma aka Art by Mulinde and she was available to come along on filming day to do makeup – perfect! 

Filming day started at an eye-watering 5:30am, with shooting the beginning of the video – in town (Brighton), with shots of Lya dancing in the fire outfit amongst some new-ish blocks of flats, and walking and running through the nearby streets. Munya also got some great drone shots that would help with setting the scene. Once we were done there, we headed to Hove seafront to shoot the wind scenes and meet the rest of the band (for our cameo scene) and Carolyn, who would be coming with us to Woods Mill Nature Reserve to do the jaguar makeup (and generally be an extra creative brain & pair of hands on set!). 

Munya filming Lya on the seafront

We were blessed with beautiful weather that day, and I had a really lovely time filming at Woods Mill with Lya, Munya and Carolyn. We had a lot to get done, including a costume/make-up change and we also needed to eat lunch (important!) and were hoping to get to Portslade beach that day too. First point of call was for me and Munya to take a walk around whilst Carolyn and Lya got into the first outfit. I’d chosen some specific spots at Woods Mill when I’d visited before and made the storyboard, but it was a different time of day with different weather and when me and Munya explored we found a couple of fields I hadn’t come across before. 

It was great to learn from, and work with, Munya on filming day. We talked through creative decisions and worked well together to create the looks we’d discussed in our planning meetings. In the woods, we were chasing the sunlight and sometimes needed to redirect it through the trees so that it shone right on Lya and made her melanin pop! Munya taught me how to use the reflector to find the light and point it on to Lya, and my arms got a good workout with holding the wide reflector at all sorts of angles. 

Carolyn doing Lya’s jaguar makeup

Soon it was time for lunch and a makeup change. Carolyn was great to have on set and had a lot of creative input and understanding to offer. It was amazing to describe a look to Carolyn – I’d sent a written description & a moodboard a few days before & also discussed with Carolyn as she did it – and then watch her create it on Lya’s face. We had a lot of different shots to get in the jaguar outfit and Lya blew me away with her choreography, dancing and acting skills. It was a long afternoon and by the end we were really chasing the sunlight and all getting bitten by bugs! But it was really successful and such an incredible experience to watch this idea I came up with just a couple of months earlier sat in the park with Femi, really coming to life.

Although I thought I had meticulously planned the timing of the day… we were running late by the time we got to the second location. I’ve learnt a lot about how long it takes to set up and shoot film and I will certainly time things differently next time! We weren’t able to finish all the filming that day. But luckily, Munya and Lya were up for another afternoon filming at Portslade beach a couple of days later. It was just the three of us this time, and Lya wowed me again by doing all her own makeup and styling. We had a couple of trick shots to film at this last location, which meant Lya had four outfit changes! I also wore a couple of the outfits to add background to a running/chasing shot. 

Again, I learnt a lot from Munya about how to set up and film different kinds of shots. Feel lucky to have found these great collaborators and hope we work together again. Right at the end of the day, I jumped in the sea with a GoPro – which felt like a fitting way to end !

About to dive in…

A few days later, I started the edit off using Da Vinci Resolve – my first time using this programme but Munya walked me through it and it does have some similar features to Final Cut and Adobe Premier (both I’ve used in past). 

First, I went through all the raw footage, choosing clips I particularly liked, and sorting them into folders so things were easier to find throughout the edit – eg. group all the shots from the beach together, all the shots from town together etc. Then I started going through and slotting clips into the main timeline. This process was so much more straightforward than it has been with videos I’ve made in the past – and that’s because I was much more organised with pre-planning this time. I was able to just follow along the most recent storyboard and, because I’d sorted the folders, I knew exactly where to find the clips to slot them in.

I got a first draft together and then talked it through with Munya and handed it over for him to work on the next drafts. It was great to collaborate with someone with such knowledge and expertise, and I learnt a lot throughout this process too about what is possible in the edit. Needless to say, it looked much smoother after Munya had tweaked it and also added in some of the drone shots and b roll to set the scene and break up the shots of Lya. He explained a bit over zoom about how colour grading works, but there’s definitely more of that for me to learn about next time! I look forward to working with Munya again in the future. 

And.. the film is pretty much finished! We’re just doing some final tweaking and then we can think about how/when to release it…

Watch this space!

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