When our colleague Jan Ford retired last year, she handed over a new strand of work she had been developing, Create Space, and our first made-for-digital commission. The result, [ B R E A T H E ], an immersive new orchestral film with Manchester Camerata, premiered this month after a year in development and production. Here, the Producer team reflect on the making of our first event cinema film...
Create Space aims to blend the mediums of orchestral music, film and community creation to create new orchestral work for the screen that audiences can come together to experience. Developing this project has been a steep learning curve for the Orchestras Live team: from navigating a different method of interaction between communities and artists to learning about the intricacies of film production and the tech required for cinema screenings. We are fortunate to work with a range of partners who are willing to try something new and do things differently and work around the inevitable challenges of the creative process!
In autumn 2021 we gave our community partners in Darlington, Redcar & Cleveland, Sheringham and Wiltshire details of a call out to their communities. We asked people to think about the concept of ‘Togetherness’, what it means to them and to send in their own responses in any medium.
Our partners identified particular groups to work with as well as open call outs through their social media channels and began the process of encouraging submissions through the autumn and winter. Manchester Camerata brought their dementia café group at Gorton into the project, alongside youth, writers, theatre and creative age groups in other places. We had a range of submissions from communities, including artwork, poetry, long form writing, lyrics/music and audio.
In parallel to this process (and with the inevitable challenges of pandemic scheduling), the artistic team met for the first of 3 creative workshops at Gorton Monastery in November 2021. Our co-creative model usually involves one creative leader working with supporting musicians and community groups, but this time we chose to bring together a wider range of artists, including composer, music creator, poet, orchestral musicians and film maker, to co-create the film in response to the community material.
It still felt unusual to be sat in a room with others and everyone was also individually navigating their own way through emotional responses to the pandemic. Exploring togetherness as a group in response to the community submissions elicited some deep conversations that settled around the film exploring the concept of breath and how an orchestra ‘breathe together’ as a communal entity.
Following the first artistic workshop, we asked our partners to see if they could collect some audio recordings of people talking about togetherness. As the creative process developed, our music creator Ben Nobuto and poet Roma Havers explored how they could combine the poetry and audio recordings we had received into moments of reflection that could punctuate the music within the film. Composer Daniel Kidane began writing his new piece and with Manchester Camerata developed the musical programme. Director Mat Beckett of River Rea films had the challenging task of weaving all the artistic threads from communities and artists together through the visual narrative of the film.
By the end of the third creative session, which had seen Mat pose some crucial questions about how we might visualise the community voice, theme, and artistic voices, there was still a great deal to do – one challenge being how to film a 50-minute film in just one day! As producers, we worked closely with River Rea to explore the potential visual narratives and how to articulate the theme and submitted content.
Another big challenge was to find a suitable location where we could bring the film to life. We settled on the beautiful Victoria Baths in Manchester – a place which was and continues to be at the heart of its community. Mat also brought in student dancers from LIPA to perform with the musicians. The storyboard in preparation for the filming could now be completed and we were ready to gather the team for the film shoot!
A few days before we were due to meet in Manchester, we received a message from James Thomas at Manchester Camerata – due to Covid-19 the shoot had to be rescheduled. This was a major setback as it threatened some of the early screening dates we had booked. After a rush of calls and emails as well as a great deal of goodwill, a new date was settled and we convened at last on 2nd May to set up the space and record the audio, with the film shoot the day after.
It was a great privilege to be part of the River Rea Films team as we planned for the filming day (accompanied by a rather delicious curry and a lot of good humour at the hotel). It was going to be hectic, but there was a quiet confidence in the room from the experienced team Mat had assembled for the shoot.
Victoria Baths is an impressive venue. The space takes you on a journey from old turnstiles down endless corridors, then up well-worn stairs to spectator galleries, and finally to the poolside cubicles and magnificent swimming baths themselves. From shiny green, turquoise and blue offset by cream tiles, the building is lovingly preserved and full of unexpected features, alluding to those families which would have frequented the baths since its opening in 1906. The narrative structure, with the venue itself playing a crucial role, explored the notion of disparate individuals slowly finding their place and each other along the way as they navigated the spaces. The movement artists punctuated these journeys, guiding and leading the way, warming the semi-empty rooms, offering a home to the music.
As Mat and fellow director, Lee O’Connell, executed their vision with to-the-minute precision, performers flew from space to space, recording the scenes together and apart, then to be swept away for an interview, another clip, a bit of experimentation in the projection room. The day was packed until the final moment had been captured. The generosity, positive energy and attitude of the musicians and the dancers on the day must be commended, as they wholly entered into the spirit of the film, naturally responding to requests by the directors. When Mat finally uttered the words “that’s a wrap!”, the sense of achievement was immense! River Rea had risen to the many challenges of making this film, and now the work would continue its journey to the editing suite to pull all the elements together.
After such a long and complicated process of planning the project, co-creating the artistic material and editing the film, inevitably things were up to the wire in terms of being ready for the premiere screening at Sheringham Little Theatre on 9th June. The final cut of
[ B R E A T H E ] was completed 48 hours before the premiere. The accompanying behind-the-scenes documentary still needed some additional content and tweaks, but both were transferred over to the Theatre with barely hours to spare. As Orchestras Live Producer Stuart made his way to the venue, he felt excited, nervous, and keen to discover what the audience would make of it. After all, we had watched and commented on the film many times as it evolved over the previous weeks, and we were deeply invested in it, but what would people with no knowledge of this project think?
Well, the intimate audience, some of whom had taken part in the process, watched intently and there was a ripple of applause at the end. So far, so good! Most people stayed on for a drink afterwards and there was plenty of discussion about what they had seen. Everyone seemed to like the orchestral pieces and contrasting sound-worlds of music and poetry. There was a wider range of views about the film, some finding it deeply immersive and calming whilst for others it was a long way from what they expected in a film featuring an orchestra. One person said she felt like she’d had a massage!
I enjoyed the sensation, certainly at the outset, of my breathing slowing in time with the slow motion on the screen.
~ [ B R E A T H E ] audience member
The first section that I really liked was the relative 'still' of a decorative doorway whilst hearing the first poem/text being read…. a good example of something that really interests me – the use of relative foreground and background between different elements at different places in a multi-art form work.
~ [ B R E A T H E ] audience member
We had expected a range of opinions as we wanted to create something that was different from conventional orchestral performances, something that would stimulate thought and curiosity amongst existing and new audiences. This certainly happened at Sheringham, and we look forward to discovering the audience response at screenings over the coming weeks and months.
[ B R E A T H E ] is screening at a range of venues this year. You can find a links to currently announced screenings nationwide here. If you would like to book a screening, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org