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Anatomy of a Song - diversions

The story of ... the film of ... the song of ... the book ... by Philip Bridge

Anatomy of a Song is the story behind the song A Vulnerable Man based in part on the book Hostage in Iraq by Norman Kember.


The plan was for me to listen to the minidisc and develop a script from the material. That was the plan and the first move was quite easy I would just listen to it as often as possible until I knew it inside out etc., etc. Then the plan had to be put on hold.

Portrait of Victoria Pendleton. Victoria Pendleton, who had been cheated out of a medal in the previous Olympic Games, had got one this year and it was gold and she was going to bring it to Stotfold on 14th September 2008, with her training bike, to the Memorial Hall. Everyone was invited. I checked with the local town council and the Pendleton family that I could film it (in glorious HDV of course). No-one objected but warned me to look out for parents of young children who might object. I tried to look as official as possible (I used a tripod) and I was left alone. Mind you there were plenty of other cameras both still and movie there as well. Perhaps the whole world hasn't gone mad yet, after all.

Apart from editing this exciting episode of Stotfold's life I found that quite a few frame grabs would make decent stills ... what better time to get to know Photoshop Elements?

Just when I thought I had finished with that particular episode and could get back to writing the script I had a phone call from Jim Gardner. His father Peter, a long time film-making friend, had died. Funeral 21st November 2008.

The funeral was so good I thought that it should have been filmed. With the family's blessing I arranged with the speakers who had delivered the eulogy and two personal tributes that formed part of the service to redo the exercise and film it on December 14th. Dave Wilson agreed to operate a second camera. It happened to be a SONY Z1.

Then, just to prove that bad luck comes in threes, we lost the chairman of Milton Keynes Camcorder Club, Bill Eustace - a name familiar to members of the NLE Group (as it was called then) and to many in the North Thames Region.

The next few weeks were spent completing the tribute film based on the funeral service and some family photos. Matching the pictures from the Z1 and my Canon XHA1 was quite a challenge but I got somewhere near, so that even I have to look quite hard to spot the differences. Not perfect though!

Many people, even those who didn't know the man, find the finished film quite moving. Me too!

Back On Track

After what seemed like half-a-lifetime, well two completed films and a long spell teaching myself Photoshop Elements, I returned to the minidisc recording of the first trip to Ely.

It became clear after a while that the information on the minidisc recording fell into three distinct parts:

  • first the irrelevant that could be discarded,
  • second the relevant but long-winded which needed a more dynamic presentation and
  • third that which was nigh on perfect as it stood.

I had not allowed for the third part in my choice of microphone (cheap tie-clip) and was faced with the dilemma of using a poor quality recording or probably losing the magic of the moment. I had Adobe Audition in my HDV system supplied by DVC. It was about time to try it out. After all I'd conquered Photoshop Elements why not Audition?

Well after many happy(?) hours of trial and error I finally arrived at a slightly noisy but otherwise adequate sound for this part of the voice-over. As I had always intended to use it over a bed of low level music I thought it would work. I was right and mightily relieved.

So I set about scripting those bits that needed doing:

I found a way of having a cat kicked early on, something gentle to grab the attention. Then I needed to get from a newspaper being disposed of, to the beginnings of the creative process of song-writing ...

Many years ago in the age of black & white television I had watched Spike Milligan and Ray Ellington (names familiar to Goon Show* fans) tearing pages of a newspaper close to microphones to replace or enhance the rhythm section of a particular tune.

I had always intended to use a metronome in this film as it is something ordinary folk like me associate with music even if its use is rare in these days of electronics. What a transition!

It was a pity I didn't think it through a bit better though. I was so thrilled to incorporate this move from the newspaper rhythm to that of the metronome that I forgot to think about how closely the metronome should be set to the actual rhythm of the recorded song.

Yes I know hindsight is wonderful but it's foresight that's needed.

This lack of attention to detail meant quite a lot of one filming session was wasted.

Will I ever learn?

I scripted on!

Anatomy of a Song ... 1 - beginings | 2 - making plans | 4 - more diversions | 5 - editing | 6 - editing again

* The Goon Show was a British radio comedy programme, originally produced and broadcast by the BBC Home Service from 1951 to 1960, with occasional repeats on the BBC Light Programme. The show's chief creator and main writer was Spike Milligan. The scripts mixed ludicrous plots with surreal humour, puns, catchphrases and an array of bizarre sound effects. In keeping with the variety requirements of the BBC's "light entertainment" format, The Goon Show scripts were structured in three acts, separated by two musical interludes. These were provided by the Ray Ellington Quartet—who performed a mixture of jazz, rhythm & blues and calypso songs—and by harmonica virtuoso Max Geldray. Notes extracted from Wikipedia.

The  highly-esteemed all-leather Goon Show can still be heard most weeks on Radio Four Extra.

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