Monday, 22 February 2010

A Change in Tyne

Back in September I visited the North East in conjunction with filming material for use in my film The Jarrow Crusade. Highlight of the day was a cruise up the River Tyne onboard the ferryboat Pride of The Tyne, and may be read about here if you’ve got nothing else to do. The trip was extremely interesting, but the highlight was undoubtedly the moment when the boat approached the Millennium Footbridge that links Gateshead with Newcastle. As this structure is low slung, the engineer had designed it so that the entire bridge could tilt to allow shipping to pass underneath. This is a fascinating scene to watch from any angle, as the entire bridge is made entirely of ellipses – so as you watch it tilt, the bridge continually alters its shape. The effect is most pronounced from the water, as all of the arches perfectly complement the arch of the Tyne Bridge beyond.

Seen from the Gateshead side, the clever design of the tilted bridge shows up well; in fact without knowing what you're looking at, this could easily be just a contemporary artwork or sculpture!

The bridge moves so slowly and gradually that the viewer is uncertain that any movement is actually taking place in the early stages, and even having viewed this film several times during the editing stage, the uplift is barely discernable as the boat approaches.

Once under the bridge, the boat spins round alongside the Sage Theatre – another modern, curved and distinctive building, covered entirely in mirrored glazing that reflects the buildings on the Newcastle side of the river. Finally the boat ends the turn facing back downstream, with the fully opened Millennium Bridge directly ahead. The whole manoeuvre is skilfully executed and absorbing to observe.

The viewing gallery of the adjacent Baltic Museum is an excellent location to see the bridge. The top picture shows the bridge in lowered position, with the curved walkway and arched span evident. Below, the bridge is raised as a boat passes underneath - yet you wouldn't think that it was the same bridge at first glance. The view from the river introduces an entirely different perspective - this is a stunning piece of engineering and architecture, and almost makes up for St Tony's Dome in London.

I shot the entire sequence in one ten minute take, and other than some minor editing of the approach and turns, (and removing a bit where another passenger in a pink bobblehat got in the shot - a problem easily solved with a handy AK47), the video depicts the lifting scene in full. Scoring the scene was the most difficult part of the process, and is the main reason why it has taken so long to produce this film after the event. The music had to be of a slow rolling tempo to match the speed of the boat and the slowly lifting bridge, yet build up in a crescendo as the bridge rises and the boat passes beneath. This had to be maintained as the boat spun round and ended up looking back at the bridge. I tried numerous pieces of music that just didn’t cut it for various reasons, and the project was then shelved. As is always the case, I was working on something completely different (the Minsk film) when I discovered Yann Tiersen and knew immediately that I found a piece of music that fitted the film perfectly. The project was back on, and here is the end result:

To complement this film, I recommend viewing the video below by Chris Overall who filmed the lifting procedure from The Baltic:

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Back in The USSR

I’ve been having a go at something a little different in the Grumpy Git Productions studio this week. The idea was to take a straightforward photo album, create a film with the pictures, and then set it to a suitable soundtrack. Although I’ve got plenty of albums to choose from, I wanted something a little out of the ordinary and an exciting challenge. For that, I turned to my 2008 holiday in Minsk, Belarus as I managed to amass a large number of photos from the trip. The city is a fascinating place, and well off the beaten tourist track – to me, one of the main attractions. In a whole week I didn’t see a single size 46 Man-U shirt with McKetchup dribbling down the front. That’s what I call a holiday.

The gothic splendour of the Stalinist era architecture knocks you sideways when seen for the first time, and this contrasts remarkably with the quiet and tranquil parks and public spaces that abound in Minsk. The holiday was covered extensively in the book that I wrote upon my return, whilst the full photo album with detailed captions may be seen here, should any further information about the scenes in the film be desired.

To make the film work, a suitable multi-layered soundtrack was required. The natural way to begin was the strident Belarussian National Anthem, and I used this piece to introduce the city and its imposing buildings. This is followed by one of several pieces of music created by Yann Tiersen that has a distinctive Russian folk flavour to it – heavy on violins and trumpet with a fast beat for dancing. This section took in some of the many monuments dotted around the city, mostly relating to the Second World War. During this conflict, known locally as ‘The Great Patriotic War, Minsk was flattened to the ground by the German forces, and the citizens suffered a cruel and terrible occupation.

The next section takes in the beautifully laid out and well tended parks, with the various autumnal hues bring many pictures to life.

This is accompanied again by music from Yann Tiersen that leads into the fourth movement – the suburbs of Minsk with the dominating apartment blocks showing four decades of design. The bleak Stalin era grey blocks contrast markedly with the contemporary designs.

Finally, to finish off, a quick tour of Minsk by Night plays out to the Anthem of The Soviet Union that builds up to a rousing conclusion.

The music by Yann Tiersen was originally created for use in the film Goodbye Lenin. I was so impressed with the score that I purchased the DVD. Yes, I actually spent some money! It’s a German film with English subtitles – I prefer this to dubbing any day. The story is set in East Germany at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and is a quirky drama story with some excellent dialogue and some very funny moments. The cast excel throughout with realistic performances, and the film is well worth watching. But for now, I present: Minsk, City of Contrasts. Enjoy, Comrades!

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