Adam Coburn

On Set of ‘Ackley Bridge’, Series Two

Ackley Bridge is a Channel 4 series about the clash of cultures preceded by the merging of two schools from a segregated British and Asian community. Series two is currently being filmed in Halifax and will be released in mid-2018.

Through the show’s assistant Editor, Kane Williams, I managed to get a week of on-set work experience, giving me close insight into the everyday workflow of an high-end television production unit.

The first day began with meeting Kane and Adele, both assistant editors, whose day-to-day activities typically involved cutting scenes alongside backing up, logging and importing footage.

It was clear I had arrived on a particularly busy day, with the cafeteria being packed with crew and lighting equipment for a scene that was being shot next door, yet Kane kindly managed to pause between the busy rush to explain the details of his process to me.

I was surprised by how quickly everything moved. A scene was blocked and rehearsed immediately before being shot and then the footage from the shoot was then taken to Kane, who would methodically back it up on several hard drives before sending everything to Simone Nesti, one of the show’s Editors in London. Kane compared his process to that of someone operating in a well-oiled factory, ensuring footage/sound quickly and smoothly goes through the correct procedure before reaching the Editor.

Kane cuts scenes using Avid Media Composer, the editing software that was used for the first series. Avid has become the industry standard, with the software being used by the majority of high-end production companies.

After spending three days assisting Kane with logging footage, syncing sound, and doing the occasional errand, I was taken to see the art department where I met Alex and George who gave me a tour of the sets they’d both had a hand in creating.

From the lab-tech to the pencil holders, everything was designed or altered by both the prop department and the art department. They ensured that wine bottles, chocolate bars and mugs were all labelled with imaginary brands invented by them so to avoid copyright issues. However, despite the amount of work that had gone into these props, they were only to feature in the background of one or two scenes.

Whilst their work may not be obvious, it’s integral to creating a believable world for the characters to operate inside of. Their work also informs audiences more about a character than dialogue may. By the way in which a character’s bedroom or office is structured subliminally suggests what sort of personality they might have. This is something the art department have to consider alongside ensuring the brand colours and style of the imaginary ‘Ackley Bridge College’ are present within every scene the college is featured in.

After spending Thursday assisting the art department with one of their projects, Friday morning began with an exercise; to cut together a scene. I only had time for a neatened assembly, but there was an abundance of video coverage for me to cut from. I edited with the guidance of a continuity logging form, which highlighted the director’s preferred shots and made note of which shots were unusable.

This form had been written by the Script Supervisor (also known as ‘Continuity’) whose job it is to be the ‘Editor’s eyes onset’, watching out for errors in continuity, a break in eye line, making sure what actor is saying matches the script and spotting for anything that shouldn’t be in shot.

After completing the editing exercise for Kane, I spent the rest of the day shadowing Karen Everson, the Script Supervisor on this series, who explained the details of her role to me in between takes. She explained to me how her job also included includes estimating the run-time of episode based on the script and to suggest where to trim a script if it’s too long, or, in fewer occasions; where to add stuff in if it’s too short.

I sat with Karen as she watched, from a monitor, a scene that was being shot in another room. Whenever she noticed something wrong, or if she thought the scene’s length might go beyond her estimated runtime, she’d discuss it with the director.

Through shadowing Karen, I got first-hand experience of what it’s like onset. I watched the camera department setting up reflectors and lighting equipment, the director blocking and rehearsing a scene with the actors and supporting artists, the makeup and art department making the necessary touch-ups between takes.

What surprised me, but perhaps shouldn’t have, was the amount of people involved in one scene. However, despite the volume of people, all working on their individual tasks, everything ran like clockwork. Runners and production assistants/co-ordinators were heavily responsible for the smooth flow of things, ensuring there was quiet onset when there needed to be, and for making sure everybody was in the right place at the right time.

The week’s experience highlighted the importance and existence of roles that went unexplored at University. Some of these roles I was only able to scrape the surface of, however, by being made aware of their existence, I can research these roles further. The experience also prepared me for the rush and speed in which high-end television is produced, and to the standard in which is expected for all those involved.

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Tracking Dollies and ‘lager adverts’

I was first introduced to Dolly Tracks during my first year of University. Before then, all I had been doing was running around with a Handycam, occasionally bothering to use a Tripod.  Whenever I watched back my footage, I’d question why my stuff didn’t have the same pizzazz as actual films or those sleek ‘lager adverts’. Those ‘lager adverts’ had better quality cameras, of course, but I knew there was something else missing.

After replaying the same ‘lager advert’ over and over, it soon clicked that it was movement that I was missing – clean movement. The problem with much of my footage was that it was either as shaky as a Jason Bourne fight scene or as still as a photograph. Another thing I found was my footage was missing a cold frothy lager.

David Fincher, director of  ‘Fight Club’ and ‘Se7en’, once directed a ‘lager advert’ himself. A renowned perfectionist, Fincher uses movement to follow a character’s behaviour. When a character shrugs, the camera ever so slightly tilts, almost as if we’re shrugging with them. When a character walks, we follow them. We don’t even realise it’s happening because the camera movements are so subtle, but by using these camera tricks we subliminally become more aware of a character’s behavioural traits, making them feel more real. So, in a David Fincher lager advert, when a character uncaps a bottle of lager and takes a cool refreshing sip, we’re told a lot about this character, thanks to the camera accurately tracking the speed in which they uncap the bottle.

Movement is instrumental in creating ‘Movies’, it’s what Movie means; ‘moving pictures’. I knew I needed to get my hands on something that created movement, so I re-created my own less practical Tracking Dolly by balancing my tripod on top of a skateboard. This, obviously, was a very bad idea, so I instead began to think about putting my Tripod in a trolley and wheeling it along a flat surface – which was an ever worse idea.

After graduating, a realised I could not continue making films without something that created smooth movement, so instead of returning to balancing Tripods on skateboards, I decided to buy a Hague  D5T Tracking Dolly kit – a piece of film-making equipment which allows me to create the type of sleek ‘lager-advert’ shots I’ve always wanted to create. Now, all I need is some lager…


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The making of ‘Waiting for You’

Gregg has worked with a number of different filmmakers during his career as a musician, so far I’ve collaborated with him on three, including his latest track ‘Waiting for You’.

Usually the process goes something like this: Gregg plays the song. We discuss the themes. I go away and retch up a messy puddle of ideas. I go through the clutter and sort out which ideas are A.) Do-able, B.) Relevant to the song or C.) Interesting/absurd enough to grab somebody’s attention.

For ‘Slow Me Down’ we decided to strip it back and do something simple; moodily lit shots of a self-reflecting Gregg aimlessly wandering the streets of midnight Sheffield like a friendlier, less tormented Travis Bickle.

Whilst this sober approach worked for ‘Slow Me Down’, with ‘Waiting for You’ I felt there was more room to be experimental. I recently had the pleasure of watching ‘Loving Vincent’, an incredibly made film in which every frame was a hand-painted homage to the works of Vincent Van Gogh. Inspired by this film’s stunning visuals, I wanted to apply a similar effect to sequences within ‘Waiting for You’, believing it was warranted for the mood of the song. The effect would transform footage I had shot of Gregg wandering a baron wilderness into animated oil paintings.

Now, ‘Loving Vincent’ took six years to make – I had a week… so I cheated. I applied an effect which would make each frame simply appear like an oil painting as opposed to actually being one.

So whilst like ‘Slow Me Down’, ‘Waiting for You’ serves as a solid showcase for Gregg’s abilities as a musician, this video has a healthy dash of oddness sprinkled atop of it. Perhaps with the next video, a healthy dash will become a gluttonous full serving, leaving Gregg with a Daliesque nightmare.

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A Taste of Cinema

Article published in 'Taste of Cinema' by A. A. Coburn

Link to article - Taste of Cinema

Some fan-theories, no matter how bizarre, are so well thought out that they add extra layers to a film, improving the viewing experience tenfold. Other theories, however, are so baffling that they may have been conceived by a deranged madman.

I have avoided some of the more baffling theories out there and have instead chosen fan-theories that, whilst bizarre, have incredible plausibility, gained online traction and highlight existing themes within a film.

Spoilers for the following films are obviously included: Punch Drunk Love, Taxi Driver, Once Upon a Time in America, Spirited Away, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Thing, The Dark Knight, Se7en, The Shining, and Enemy. I’ve tried to include a mixture of well-known films and lesser known films.

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