Promo: Rebuilding Lives
I directed, shot and edited Rebuilding Lives, a film that asks what it means to have a home, and explores what life is like for those without one. It was produced for A Night Under the Stars, the annual fundraiser at the Royal Festival Hall, in aid of homelessness charity The Passage.
My aim with this film was to encourage people to really think about the importance of ‘home’ because I presumed that – like me – most of us who are lucky enough to have a home, take it for granted.
Dolls’ house scene:
I thought the best way to introduce ‘home’ as a concept would be to use a dolls’ house as this presents an idealised vision of a home; the kind of house a child would draw.
Introducing the dolls’ house on screen was a challenge as it was fairly large, scaled at one-twelfth of life-size. I was given access to a white photography studio courtesy of the kind team at Direct Photographic, which gave me space and time to get the look just right. For the internal room shots I used a really fast lens as I wanted the house to look atmospheric, subtle and real, rather than having to blast it with lighting to get the detail needed. I positioned characters in the various rooms throughout the house in order to depict everyday life. For the external house shots I used high powered lighting supplied by Direct Photographic so I could overexpose and create a lovely consistent white background. I decided to compliment the visuals with a variety of real voices (children, adults, men and women) and sound effects to bring the domestic scenes to life.
This is the fourth film I’ve made for The Passage and I have learned over the years that getting footage of homeless people in situ is very tough. Filming people struggling to survive on the streets is not fair so I made the decision to use actors for these scenes. This enabled me to be more in control of the shots I wanted to get. I positioned my actors (Mark, David and Daniel, who all kindly gave up their time for free) in different parts of London, using the backdrop of a fast-paced city to make the loneliness and feeling of hopelessness even greater. I wanted to show my characters bedding down for the night, wandering endlessly, invisible to others.
I interviewed seven clients of The Passage, who had been homeless and have dealt first-hand with the problems of sleeping rough on the streets. This was organised by Miranda Keast and the team at The Passage. I got some really good results just using a microphone rather than a camera and lights. People could really open up to me in a conversation. I selected a number of soundbites to give authenticity and experience to the street scenes. The content of the interviews was so strong that I have been able to produce seven podcasts which will be heard on The Passage website.
The Passage is a charity that has been helping to transform the lives of homeless people since it was established in 1980. Next year, 2016, is set to be a momentous year for the charity: St Vincent’s Centre, which is at the heart of The Passage, is undergoing a substantial renovation so there’ll be new and better facilities for staff, volunteers and clients. I wanted to include this sense of history in the film, while also throwing forward to the future. The Passage has hundreds of photos in its archive documenting the past thirty years. To bring the selected stills to life I used a technique called 2.5d – where you take an existing still image, cut some of it out (in this case the people) then put the background and the people in 3d space (z-space) and move a virtual camera though the z-space to give the impression that it’s actually moving in super slow motion. The camera movement gives a parallax illusion and helps bring these static images to life. I also used the puppet tool in Adobe After Effects to give slight movement to the people in shot.
I supplied the former host of A Night Under the Stars, BBC3 and BBC Proms Presenter Petroc Trelawny with a script and he provided me with a voiceover for the scene in the film, which looks to the future of the charity amid its improved surroundings in central London.
I wanted to end the film on a positive heartfelt note, clearly identifying that The Passage is making a difference by hearing from someone who had directly benefited from its services. The film concludes with 2.5d visuals from The Passage photo archive voiced by Henry (a Passage client I had interviewed in 2012) describing his first impressions of The Passage and what the charity had done for him…..“it saved my life”.
I graded the colour with colourist Tom Urbye at The Look London – I explained to Tom how I wanted the film to be coloured, in short:
- Dolls’ house scenes – to look warm (like a John Lewis advert!)
- Street scenes – to look de-saturated, cinematic, with deep blacks, similar to a Danish TV drama
- Last third – Positive and warm yet cinematic, with sharp and deep blacks on all the archival footage
The film would be screened first at the Royal Festival Hall and because the auditorium is not your typical cinema, I decided to subtitle throughout so the message would be clear and understood.
I was lucky enough to be taken to the children’s classical concerts at the Royal Festival Hall when I was just four years old, so the Southbank Centre has always felt special to me. The carpets, which have a very distinctive pattern, and the bannisters have not changed much since then and I still remember racing my matchbox sports cars across them as a boy. Needless to say, it was a happy moment having my parents with me at the concert, along with a handful of friends and my wonderfully talented colleagues on The Night Under the Stars committee.
The film was screened at the Royal Festival Hall for 2,500 people on Tuesday 27th October 2015.