It had been two years since the release of my debut documentary, Shelter, when a good friend of mine approached me with an idea for a short movie. Chris Ridgway is an old colleague and a radio show host. We met for a catch up in the summer of 2014, over a couple of pints Chris told me a story about how many CD's and demos he gets in his pigeon hole at work. He tries to play as many of them as he possibly can but sees that 99% of these artists, no matter how good, just haven't got a chance to be listened to by the masses. He went on to say that all of the music that gets sent into him is miles better than anything he hears on commercial radio and on TV shows like the X-Factor.
So he wanted to make a film showing how much good music there is out there and how you don't need to be told what to listen to every Saturday night. Especially from some glorified karaoke singer. Then we thought what if we show how unrealistic these shows are, the viewer only gets to see the contestant rehearsing a song they didn't write, shows them turning up and stepping out on stage. It doesn't show the real side, the side where the true artist struggles to juggle a full time job, studies, rehearsing, writing, self promotion, carrying their equipment to the venue, getting ripped off by promoters, staying until the end to pack up their amps and playing to 5 people in the crowd. Then still getting up the next day to do it all again, because they love their art. It doesn't matter to them if they play their song to 2 people in the pub or a venue with 250, they do it for the love of music. Now we don't want to paint everyone with the same brush, some people do it for the money and fame, as some contestants on the reality shows have the best intentions. But the people running the show don't.
With this in mind we came up with the idea of a 17 week challenge. See how far a band could get in 17 weeks, the same amount of time the X-Factor runs for. One person on the show will go from nothing to National fame and Christmas number 1, on the other hand we wanted the band to see if they could write, record and release a single, self promote it and see what happens. Really give it a good push. Now obviously we were realistic and knew that we wouldn't be challenging for the number 1 spot, thats been done before, so we thought aim for the top 100, however unrealistic it is, give it all you got. But take into consideration everything will be done out of your own pocket; marketing, promotion, rehearsals, studio time. This isn't provided, this is expensive.
Chris had a band in mind. He had worked with them before and knew them well enough to set up a chat.
The Mantells are a three piece indie band from Manchester, I met them for the first time in a pub in Didsbury to discuss the idea and the film with them.
After a long talk the guys were up for it, they were going to give it their all and see just how far they could get in 17 weeks. That meant writing a new song, rehearsing it, recording it, marketing it and releasing it in time for the Christmas chart.
The majority of this film was shot on the C100 MKII, purely because that was the camera I owned at the time. I've been a big fan of this camera since the MKI days and it is still a fantastic camera for documentary work. Only now is it being surpassed by Sony's offerings. But for low light and colours, I absolutely love it.
We started this film by recording The Mantells rehearsing, we occasionally sat them down to chat about what they had been up to and how they thought they were getting on. It wasn't until we got an offer to chat to another band that we had the idea to interlace the main story with that of other bands stories. Along the way we got to chat to some quite well known people, some people on the rise and a few people who have been there and done it all. Chris managed to sort out all of these interviews through his connections at the radio station, the bands were usually passing through Manchester on tour, which meant we got invited to the gig after we interviewed them. Definitely a perk of the job.
A small downside to interviewing these bands, was that we didn't know when to stop, every week we'd be offered another an interview with a slightly bigger band than last weeks. At one point we both had to say stop, because we'd still be doing it now if we didn't.
The filming took place over a 12 month period from the end of Summer 2014 until 2015. In that time I had logged a lot of hours of interviews, rehearsals, recordings, general bits and bobs. Luckily I have enough experience to know to log and catalogue the footage after each shoot, that way when I came to edit the master timeline, I didn't have to waste hours and hours of my time looking back through the footage.
I started the edit very early on, Mr. Peeps was one of our first interviewees and we knew that he would form the spine of the film, we could build around him with the other bands backing up what he was saying and at the same time the main storyline would sync up with it too.
As time went on, I could chip away at Mr. Peeps' interview and tighten it up and fill in the gaps with Chris' interview. It became more apparent after some feedback that Chris needed to lead the film with Mr. Peeps and the bands backing him up.
Leading up to Summer 2015, my wife and I had our first baby, couple this with work and I lost track with the editing and the post-production slowed down, to a complete halt. I got fed up with it and decided to leave it alone, I even thought about getting an editor in to take over.
It was three months before I opened the project again, I watched it through and saw quite a few problems, before I knew it I was cutting and splicing and really getting through it quickly. I compiled a screener and sent it out to a few people and welcomed all feedback. I find this part of the editing process critical to making the film the best it can be. I welcome criticism, as long as it is constructive. I had been looking at this film for 12 months through my own rose tinted glasses, it's great to get other peoples views, without them this film wouldn't be as good as it should be.
One particular part of the edit really got to me, the opening titles. I love rhythmic editing, but I just couldn't create what I had in my head and it was so frustrating. It was around this time that Premiere Pro started to slow down for me. It started to drop frames on playback which makes editing to a beat impossible. This is around the same time that I started to lose interest in editing and decided to source external help for the film. An old friend and colleague of mine, Paul Chamberlain, responded to my distress call and within a few hours sent over an example of a title sequence which was pretty much exactly what I wanted.
The edit took a while, but once I got all feedback back, I kept chipping away at the timeline, turning the screw on it one day at a time, until I was at a point where I was happy.
Premiere and Online availability.
We are due to have a private screening/premiere at HOME in Manchester on December 12th. This is a private screening for everyone who was involved in the film, family and friends.
We decided that because the film was predominantly Manchester orientated it would be a cool idea to have the film hosted online by Manchester based media site, Clowdy.com.
I met up with the founders and we talked about them having the exclusive viewing rights of the film for the first month before it went live on YouTube and Vimeo. The guys were very supportive of the film and I'd like to thank them for advertising the release as much as they did.
Overall this was an amazing experience from start to finish, we spoke to a lot of people and got a good insight into industry. But overall we got to enjoy a lot of good live music and witness the journey of a young, exciting Manchester indie band.
I love music and this was a great opportunity to make a film about something that has influenced me a lot throughout my life, so being able to bring two things together that I am very passionate about was a great experience.
Working with Chris, Tom, Dale and Lewis was a pleasure too. We've all become good friends through this experience and I hope this is will be a great platform for everyone to have a successful career.
Watch the full documentary here.