Invocation – or a chance encounter.

I met and filmed many people on my journey. One person in particular was, and still is, a musician called James Radcliffe. He and his girlfriend Jen were following an old drovers trail from Skye to Crieff and they stopped for a night in a bothy located in the Lairig Leacach (Pass of the Flagstones) – a glen that forms part of an old drove road linking the Great Glen to Kingshouse at the gateway to Glen Coe. I arrived at the bothy on day 54 of my journey after climbing two nearby Munros (my 84th and 85th). A greyness had hung in the air since dawn and the surrounding mountain tops were obscured by a conveyor belt of cloud.

During my ascent I saw a lone Rowan tree, almost horizontal, growing from a rock. I disturbed a herd of deer which dissolved into the mist like ghosts. I experienced what hard rain hitting eyeballs feels like. I sat at both summits and saw the cloud up close, whipped up into spirals and over rocks by the whistling wind. Everything was still grey, but greyer.

It was good to be here though. My journey taught me early on that there’s more to climbing a mountain than simply reaching the summit to get a view. There is no denying that I’d have preferred to have been somewhere warm. Conversely, I was glad to be on a cold and wet mountain seeing and feeling nature instead of being detached from the world in some dingy basement office (and I’ve sure been there). On such occasions as these, I reasoned that a bit of temporary discomfort was a fair compromise. The bad times during my journey were offset by the good. The Sun would have to come out eventually. It was only a matter of time, whether hours or days. The darkness of winter is always replaced by the light of summer. Both should be accepted and embraced, I think.

I had pitched my tent further down the glen earlier in the day but as I descended I saw smoke rising from the bothy chimney. I decided to change course and investigate in the hope of getting some warmth. I was welcomed inside by James and Jen plus a man called Chris who was travelling alone and they ushered me towards a plastic chair. They had tried starting a fire with the only wood available – a massive tree-trunk of a log. The smoke I had seen was their final attempt to ignite it using scraps of twigs. They had given up.

Barely having sat down, I left and waded up the gully of a nearby river. There are usually trees in gullies and sure enough I found some that provided enough wind fallen and dead branches to get a fire going. Back at the bothy I drank coffee offered by Chris. I ate food cooked by Jen – noodle soup with fresh broccoli. Vegetables were a rare treat on my trip. We warmed ourselves by the fire and spent the evening deep in conversation. Strangers in fellowship. It quickly got dark and, being tired and at least a half hour walk from my tent, I left them by the fire, bid them goodnight and walked into the darkness.

The following morning, I sensed that I should go back to the bothy despite it being the wrong direction for me. James had brought up some interesting points in our conversation and I was annoyed with myself that I hadn’t taken the opportunity to film him the previous evening. When I arrived, Chris was leaving. James and Jen were still packing up. James made me some coffee and I filmed a short conversation with him about nature, life, connection. We exchanged contact details and went our separate ways.

We have since remained in touch and met up a few times in Edinburgh. I recently suggested editing some of the footage I captured on my journey to some of his music, not for the film but just for fun. He wrote a new piece called Invocation (available here) and I put the images together – and so below is the result of a chance encounter that happened via my ascent and descent of cloud-covered hill tops above the Lairig Leacach on a grey September day.

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I’m alive. So is the film.

This is the third attempt in about as many months at writing some form of update about how the film edit is going. I suppose it’s been difficult to think of what to write because there isn’t much to report. But I realise that some people might be wondering if I’m still alive and working on the film – and so this is me writing to say: “yes, I’m alive. I’m working on it. And fear not, I’ll get there!”

The reason why there’s no big news is that editing really is quite mundane. That’s not to say that it’s boring or unenjoyable to do. It really is the opposite and I’m grateful that I am in a position to make this film. But it’s not something that I can write anything exciting about or chart its progress in a way that translates well into words.

It’s a thinking process – of coming up with ideas, developing and shaping them, and sometimes discarding them. Often it requires taking long breaks to distance myself from the editing I’ve done so that I can go back to it with fresh eyes and maybe see things differently.

People sometimes ask me how much I have edited or how long the film is. I might say I’ve edited (vaguely) 2 hours worth, but then go on to say that it doesn’t really mean anything in terms of the edit’s progress to say that. It’s meaningless because those 2 hours may become bigger or smaller as the editing timeline ebbs and flows.

I didn’t start editing the film by telling myself I’d edit x number of minutes per day from start to closing credits of the film. Indeed, much of the process has been working out what the start and end are going to be and all of what comes in between. In many ways it’s been a writing process using images, conversations and voiceover to give the film structure. Normally a film is written before shooting it. I’ve done the reverse, and it’s taken some time.

Meanwhile – not that I’m making any excuses – I don’t have the time to work full time on the film. I also spend a fair amount of time doing paid freelance work. And it’s good to have some kind of life beyond the film too. I’ve been on a few walking trips back to the hills since finishing my big journey. I like to revisit landscapes I’ve walked and discover new ones and remind myself of the environment, feelings and way of life that I experienced on my journey. Walking, as mentioned in the previous update (see below), offers a way to think through ideas too. So I consider such trips into the wild very much part of the editing and film making process despite being far from a computer screen.

I’ve taken a break from it for a while now due to so many other things going on over the past couple of months so I’m excited to get back to it and see how it looks with fresh eyes. The main things I’ll be working on straight away will be to finish writing the voiceover and pin down some loose parts of the structure. So that’s really all the update I can give you right now. Nothing exciting, but the film is taking shape whenever I work on it. It’s around 2 hours long. But that doesn’t mean anything, right?

I can’t say when it’ll be finished. But I promise to let you know when it is.

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ON WALKING AND DRIFTWOOD

The sun is rising. I can’t see it yet, but a glow is fading in over the horizon. I know it’s coming. Through the dim days and cold nights of winter I have edited, doubted, struggled, ruminated, created, believed. I have walked long walks under dark skies.

Walks that have often followed the same path which I took out of the village way back in June 2011 when my big journey began. My feet falling on the ghosts of past footsteps. My mind wandering personal landscapes of memory and time.

Path from village

These walks allow me to make sense of the footage I captured and to forge new connections and ideas. They are an essential component of how I shape the film. My walks take me along the shoreline where driftwood collects on the rocks. Each piece on its own unique journey, untraceable and random. Propelled by the constant ebb and flow of the tides. Making landfall wherever and whenever the waves happen to lose their grip. Stationary but only until the next high tide sucks them away to somewhere new.

Capturing footage for Beyond the Mountains was to collect driftwood. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for or what I would find. So I collected whatever caught my attention. What all this stuff would allow me to make remained uncertain. But as the journey progressed I developed an eye for things that might come in useful. By the end of it I had this huge pile of driftwood. And somewhere in the pile were the pieces to make a film.

Driftwood

The creative process for making sense of this pile – full of conversations, landscapes, experiences, and nature – has required more thinking than I’ve ever had to do for a single project. And for me, such thinking takes time and long walks. In today’s world where everything seems to be rushed and deadline orientated, I could have easily gone down the route of enforcing a deadline for myself. But one thing I learned on my journey is that rushing isn’t always a good thing, or even necessary. And to rush the film would not be in the spirit of my journey.

So slow and steady has been my approach – walking and thinking. Sometimes physical labour has helped too. Indeed, while making this film I have collected actual driftwood and made a table. It so happened that the tide conveniently left four fence posts and a bunch of wooden planks scattered along the shore – a coincidence perhaps, or, as a couple of friends suspect, a flat-pack table which parted company with a container ship.

After several trips, I had carried all the pieces home and then I turned them into a table. It was really satisfying and the process of doing it helped ideas for the film to flow – ideas which would never have occurred had I just been staring at footage on a computer screen under the pressure of a deadline.

Driftwood table

By March last year a first and very rickety assembly of the film had emerged. Far from complete and unsure of itself. But it was a basic structure. Something which I could build and develop on. Since then I’ve reworked sections, added new ones and removed others. I’ve experimented with ideas and gently shaped it towards something that one day I can stand back from and admire, like the table. Something that I can ultimately share with others – with you.

So after much walking and thinking and doing other things like making a driftwood table, the film is now looking far more solid and edging ever closer to what I want it to be. The big task now is to cut it down to size – it currently sits at around the 3 hour mark. So I’m continuing to shape and mould it. Refining and stripping back the layers to reach the core, but still open to new ideas and changes.

This idea of refining came up in a recent conversation with a friend who is an independent musician. We shared experiences of our creative processes and agreed that there comes a time when the thing that has been created develops a life of its own – and it becomes harder and harder to retrace the steps and thought processes which formed it in the first place.

It now seems the film has reached this point. It has developed its own identity. So I let it evolve. I let it lead me to wherever it wants to go. Whether it takes me through a fog of new ideas or forces me to retrace my steps along familiar pathways. It does not matter. I know I will get there. The sun is rising.

Sunrise inversion, Knoydart

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FILM UPDATE, AND A NEW CLIP FEATURING ORIGINAL MUSIC

The rough cut continues to be shaped ever closer to the final film. Unfortunately, the rough cut wasn’t enough to be selected for the Edinburgh International Film Festival. But it’s not too surprising given the competition and the fact there is still a lot to do in terms of editing, story structure and other post-production bits and bobs. Time would have been extremely tight to finish for June so now I can continue at my own pace to make the film as good as it can possibly be.

But there’s only so much I can do on my own. I’ve now got Edinburgh-based motion graphics artist Danny Carr on board to do some graphic maps. Also, musician and composer Michael Blake all the way over in Portland, Oregon in the US is writing some music for the film. I will also be licensing other music that I want to use and call in the help of professionals at a post-production studio to polish the sound and images of the final edit and make it suitable for movie theatres for festivals.

These final things require the most funding for the film so a third (and final I hope) crowdfunding campaign will be launched on Kickstarter in the coming weeks in order to raise the necessary funds to complete the project to a standard it deserves.

In the meantime, here is a brand new short clip that I quickly put together featuring a track specially written for the film by Michael Blake. The sequence contains some of my favourite shots of textures and light that I captured during the journey. It was such things that provided me with my entertainment. They would make me stop and stare and marvel at my surroundings.

Please share it if you think others might like to see it. And if you want to support the project before the Kickstarter campaign is launched feel free to use the “Back the Film” button in the top right to make a contribution via Paypal.

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ON EDITING

Over the past few months I’ve really been getting stuck into the edit. The rough cut is now 60 minutes long and I’m very happy with it so far. The aim is for the finished film to be around 90 minutes long so the end is definitely getting closer.

It’s been a joy to watch the footage I captured, but working out how to stitch together disparate pieces of footage and conversations that I collected on my journey into something that resembles a film has been daunting and challenging.

It’s required a lot of thinking and patience. And a lot of cups of tea and coffee, not to mention long walks to rest my eyes from the computer monitor and to clear my head. But I always had confidence that somewhere in the 170 hours of footage was the film. It was just a matter of piecing it together – a bit like a jigsaw puzzle but without having the image on the box as a reference point.

Instead, I have over 10,000 clips to play with and make sense of. Like all edits, I have to decide which bits get used and work out where they might fit in to the film as a whole. Now, you might wonder how I have gone about this. I know at least one person who does.

A week or so ago I invited followers of the Beyond the Mountains facebook page to ask any questions about my journey and/or the film making process. David Hodgeson responded by expressing an interest in my workflow.

David wrote: ‘I’d be interested to hear about your workflow. I’m often in a position where I’ve got loads of photos and video after a trip and find organising, editing and cutting it all a nightmare. Very easy to get lost and bogged down!’

Now, I should say that the nature of this film project is bigger in scope and scale than anything I have ever undertaken, so I can’t say whether my approach to making Beyond the Mountains is applicable or even advisable for other projects. But for me, it works.

Initially, I thought I would simply sit down and watch every clip while writing notes. But I worked out this would take at least 14 days if I spent 12 hours a day on it. For me, it just didn’t seem like a good approach. It felt too systematic and limiting, and not in line with the nature of my journey. I needed to take my time. It couldn’t be rushed.

I always knew that the film would focus on the people I met on my journey. So, instead, I set about editing a few of the conversations I had filmed (there are around 100 in all) and started to get an idea of who might make it into the film and who wouldn’t. I suppose a kind of reverse auditioning.

I also always knew that my film wasn’t going to be about me huffing and puffing my way up every Munro. From the beginning, the rough idea was that the journey would be a means to make a film that attempted to tackle the subject of our connection to the natural world. On the journey, I hoped to collect footage that could possibly reveal something about our relationship to nature through the people I met, the experiences I had, and the things I observed.

Without this general idea of what the film would be about, I would probably have been lost before I had even switched the camera on to start filming. It was this idea that helped me to decide what was worth filming and what kind of shots I might need.

So, with this idea still in mind, I began editing people who I think have particularly interesting views about nature and modern life and/or who have unusual lifestyles. And I used my memory of what I filmed to dip into the 10,000 or so clips to find shots I particularly like to form meaningful sequences.

The challenge was then how to weave these random encounters into the story of my journey and the theme of our connection with nature. And I had a lot of questions to answer: How do I introduce the characters? How should the film start? At what point should I include this or that theme?

The editing timeline on my computer was beginning to look quite messy. I needed another approach before I got lost. I needed a way of visualising my thought process and see the general shape of the edit. So I got some card and cut it into smaller pieces the size and shape of playing cards. I then started to write on each one. Some were assigned a character, while others got a theme or an idea.

I then pinned the cards onto the wall and began trying to arrange them into a sequence that I could see might work. And from that I could go to and from the editing with more of an idea of how to proceed. In a way, I was creating a reference point – the cards were becoming the rough image on the jigsaw box. But importantly, more cards could be added/removed and they could be moved around as the edit and my ideas developed.

Now the jigsaw image is beginning to look a lot less vague and when the rough cut is more or less done, I intend to spend those 14, 12 hour days watching all the footage. By that stage I will be able to see how a particular shot might fit into the film and how it might work better than what’s already in place. Or I might come up with a new sequence to insert into the film. Who knows?

And so this has generally been my approach. It might not be for everyone, but it has allowed me the freedom to develop the film into something that is structurally coherent. It would be a lie to say that I’ve never felt a little lost or bogged down at times. But perhaps such moments are needed during the creative process. For it’s these moments that force you to stop, consider where you have reached, and think of new ideas to get you back on your way again. And discovering a way out of it can be really exciting.

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Dear Green Place – A short film

DEAR GREEN PLACE
A short film about North Kelvin Meadow – a green and wild community space in Glasgow that is under threat from property developers.

During my journey, capturing footage was as routine as putting one foot in front of the other. So when there were no more steps to take and I returned home in July, it was inevitable that putting the camera away would create a void in my day-to-day life.

After spending the initial couple months of my return watching some footage, working on a new trailer and website and generally enjoying fresh food, clean clothes and taking a daily shower, by the end of October I was itching to get out and film something.

So on a drizzly autumnal evening I took the bus from Edinburgh to Glasgow to film a Halloween event that was taking place in a green community space called North Kelvin Meadow.

I first heard about the meadow in August at my goddaughter’s 2nd birthday party in Glasgow. I got chatting to Emily who runs a weekly playgroup in part of the meadow called the Children’s Wood. I was amazed to hear that a meadow and woodland had come to exist in such a built-up and urban environment, and I was keen to go and explore it.

The land used to be a football pitch and tennis courts but over years of neglect it fell into disrepair and became a dumping ground and a hangout for drug users. In 1996, residents in the local community took it upon themselves to tidy the place up and sowed some seeds.

Now, hundreds of trees – some 40 feet high – tower above the tennis courts and the meadow is home to an array of wild flowers and animals. The local community use the space to hold events, grow vegetables, walk dogs, entertain and teach kids and to simply escape the bustle of the city for a while.

However, the meadow is under serious threat. Glasgow City Council want to sell the land and an application by a developer has been submitted for the building of 90 apartments on the meadow. If the development is given planning permission then it will mark the beginning of the end of a much-loved community resource.

On my journey over and between the Munros I lived and walked through some of the wildest parts of Scotland and I came to appreciate how important wild places are. Many people, particularly city dwellers, are not in a position to experience the wildness of the world beyond concrete. But the North Kelvin Meadow goes some way to provide people with that important opportunity.

I think such green spaces that have genuine value to a community and that remind us of something more natural and human should be protected not destroyed. So I wanted to make a short film to help the campaign in some way and help save the meadow for future generations to enjoy.

If you think nature is more important than a high-end new-build then you can help the campaign by signing the online petition and by lodging an official objection to the planning application here: http://northkelvinmeadow.com. Please also take a moment to share the film online to help raise awareness http://vimeo.com/beyondthemountains/deargreenplace.


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