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Anatomy of a Song - more 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.

More Diversions

I had been alerted to a family wedding a few months ahead and as I had filmed the parents' wedding (early VHS) I was expected to be prepared to do the same for their daughter. I had already made the decision to give up this sort of escapade as a lone cameraman citing age which everyone accepted but actually and whisper this quietly, boredom as well.

I had combined with Dave Wilson on a previous wedding where he did the formal bit and I acted as bonus cameraman for free. In this case, as it was family and I was doing the editing, he offered to charge expenses only. Fine! But what about matching the cameras' images?

To cut a long story short I decided to buy another Canon XHA1. However also available was the new XHA1s. So naturally I opted for the new model. It wasn't quite as straightforward as that but eventually I made the decision. The bad news was that the images aren't an exact match. The good news is that they are closer to each other than the Z1 is to either. The bonus is that the XHA1s has a very slow zoom speed setting that takes about five minutes, yes five minutes to complete a 20:1 zoom. Then the wedding was called off!

I decided to do the rest of the filming for Anatomy of a Song on the XHA1s because its sensor is about 2/3 of a stop more sensitive and at times I had been struggling for enough light.

The Canon XHA1s camcorder.

Back On Track Again

Eventually we were ready to shoot, almost a year since the missing purse episode. It was 5th August 2009 at the church in Ely, retakes and missing bits to be done on 23rd August, same location.

As I mentioned earlier I needed a music bed to mask a slightly noisy recording of Sue's ramblings, so I set up the shot with the metronome in the foreground and suggested she might like to pretend to be trying variations of the tune with some pauses, an odd mistake, etc., etc. I shot this whole three and a half minutes as one shot except that I had the zoom set at its ultra low speed setting. So the shot is a textbook zoom shot with a good long fixed angle shot at each end and a very slow zoom in the middle and the metronome was set at the right speed on the 23rd for take 2!

The keyboard Sue was using had a line output so I was hoping that I could record the metronome with a microphone and have a minidisc recording of the keyboard output. Then I could set the relative levels on the timeline during editing. Unfortunately the volume control also controls the line out signal so I ended up recording the whole caboodle with a carefully placed microphone. It works OK.

We had a copy of Norman Kember's book near the keyboard and from time to time Sue turned to the book and read the quotes I had picked out some time ago and incorporated them in her talking head to camera sections.

As a bit of light relief I let Sue rip up and throw away some newspapers, finally steadying into the Milligan/Ellington rhythm.  Incidentally if you see the shot of Sue tearing the newspaper as a visual pun for Sue tearing strips off a newspaper ... you are too bright for this planet.

The final shot to be taken at Ely was probably the most demanding. As I mentioned near the start of this piece I had no shots at all of Sue in the studio singing this song. Plenty of her and all the others singing other songs but no "Vulnerable Man" vocals.

Picture of a pop-filter.

So I had to be creative and turn the church meeting room into a recording studio.

Fortunately only in close up so it wasn't that difficult. Even more fortunately, by chance, in the room on the 23rd was a large loudspeaker on a pedestal, ideal for a "studio" set up background. I had an old microphone from a previous generation of industrial camcorder which looks rather impressive. For ten quid or less I bought a pop-filter from the local branch of Maplins.

The only thing that was of significant expense was a set of Beyerdynamic headphones that matched what had been used in the studio and appeared regularly through the twenty hours of random shots from there. My own headphones had been falling apart in recent years so rather than trying to borrow a set from the studio I bought a set. Very nice too but not just as a visual prop in this shot because I fed the 'phones from my minidisc recording of the final mix of the song and asked Sue to sing along. "Don't worry about being in tune just get the timing right." A couple of quick rehearsals then the camera rolled. (Won't be able to say that with solid state recording!)

Picture of headphones.

I'd forgotten to bring a second set of headphones so I could not monitor the recording but we were running out of our allotted time so if it wasn't any good it would have required another session and that loudspeaker might not have been available. Anyway as soon as I got home I loaded the shot and lined it up with the audio on the timeline and while there were a couple of moments where it wasn't absolutely spot on, mostly it was and I assumed I could cover the "flaws" with other shots. So on to the editing. Perhaps the French "montage" is a better descriptor.

Anatomy of a Song ... 1 - beginnings | 2 - making plans | 3 - diversions | 5 - editing | 6 - editing again

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