Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Stirring Stuff

Close your eyes. What noise does it make when you stir a Cuppa Soup? How is it different from stirring tea? What sounds do you associate with being in a loft? You hear rustling of some old letters. Can you sense the type of paper, and how old they might be?

Today I’m all about sound effects and storytelling through the medium of the radio play.

I am a radio play geek. If I can’t listen to them live, I put them on the BBC iPlayer, one after another for hours, shushing anyone who tries to talk to me. It makes me feel a bit sick afterwards – like a child who ate all their sweets at once. It also makes me hungry to write my own.  

This weekend I attended a brilliant Radio Play Writing Workshop led by Zosia Wand. Zosia is a prolific writer and an inspirational teacher. I dutifully turned up on the day with my homework -  a five minute radio play with carefully laid out sound FX and scene directions. Group members acted out each others work, to hear how they sounded.

My play was about a young couple about to move to Australia. They're getting rid of the last of their possessions. For him, a collection of Fleetwood Mac vinyls from a previous relationship, and for her, a box of old love letters stashed in the loft. I wanted to explore the emotional attachment we have to stuff. I wanted the tone to be fairly serious. This is where we came unstuck. None of us were professional actors and without time to prepare and read through in advance it was hard to gauge the hoped-for tone of each other’s work. Some serious pieces came out as comedy farces and vice versa. 

I wonder which is worse; to find humour where the writer wanted contemplative sobriety, or to remain po-faced and stricken through what they thought were killer gags. I had, like others in the group, tried it out on husband before the workshop. But he started reading the male characters lines with the strangest, most strident Lancashire accent I’ve ever heard, including  “t‘loft”, “ayes” and “nay lass”. How bizarre. It wasn’t written like that. Husband said he was trying to “get into character”. (It makes me think we should never resort to roleplay in the years to come.) But it turns out that acting is a Very Hard thing to do. When my piece was read in the workshop, the girl’s part came across exactly as I’d imagined, but unfortunately the male character was read out like lines from a BBC family-time sitcom. It created an interesting effect.  Probably not one I’d want to repeat. But it got the lines across and I learnt a lot from my own and others’ scripts (some parts read by me, I must add, equally as badly) about what to cut and what to keep.

There were the usual gags about coconut shell horses hooves and owl hoots to represent all things dark and spooky, but it got us thinking about where words could be replaced with particular sounds for greater effect, and the power of a character not speaking, and careful use of relevant sound effects. And effective careful scripting. Creating a believable world - where the sounds and effects listeners hear enable them to fill in the gaps is an art different to any other. 

I was struck by the collaborative nature of the radio play. The script writer puts the words down on paper. The producer, director and actors are equal parts of the process. It is a massive leap from the fiction writing I feel comfortable with; sort of starker, and less containable. But isn’t that an exciting thing?

So I’m working on a full length piece, based around the canals where I live. The BBC writersroom is invaluable for this. They have example scripts on there, as well as other great tools, resources and opportunities for writers to explore. 

Oh, and after extensive research, I conclude that the sound created by stirring a cuppa soup is dependent on brand and dried matter content. But a slimmer soup is virtually indistinguishable to tea. Until you taste it. 

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Shutter Speed

Husband and I have spent the last week in a contented, navel-gazing bubble. Our wedding album arrived. No one is allowed to touch it without first washing their hands, blowing their nose, donning archivist gloves... I want nothing to sully our beautiful album.

We struck gold when we found our wedding photographer. We had already seen a couple of photographers, one of whom addressed everything to husband and said nasty things about his 'other brides'. And another who also did pet portraits. I was momentarily tempted by the images of pitbulls and kittens.

But then we met Stewart, at Randallphotography. He showed us a slideshow of spectacular images over an Elbow song we had already claimed as ‘ours’. He is an amazing photographer and I feel more smug than I am comfortable admitting every time I look through our photos. He even managed to make my slightly ill-thought-through meringue dress look good. A feat in itself.

Wedding photography must be the most terrifying job in the world. Perhaps only surpassed by a career as a fighter pilot or soldier. Although I'm not sure how much difference there is between a raging insurgent and a soon-to-be bridezilla. I think I managed to keep my nuptial-monster under wraps, although things did nearly come to blows over the choice of napkin bands. 

Not only is photography (good photography; the arty sort that turns people monosyllabic) Very Hard, this is surely magnified under the pressure of being at a couple's wedding, where, let's be honest, there’s always potential for weirdness – a unique mix of personalities, lots of hymn singing and bubbly early in the day and a bride who is constantly reminded this is supposed to be the 'best day of her life’. The pressure to capture the moments as they unfold on camera must be intense. I think if I was a wedding photographer I would have recurring anxiety dreams about forgetting my film/memory cards, or mistaking the wrong woman for the bride’s mother and snapping reportage style shots of an unraveling affair. Hats off (large flowery ones, or feathered fascinators) to brave wedding photographers everywhere. Especially Randallphotography who truly captured our day perfectly.

To justify the procrastination, I’m treating our wedding album as research. It has inspired a few story ideas that I’m now developing. Some are blurred and badly framed (see where I’m going with this…?) others are flashes of brilliance.

I also love old photos. I stumbled across Found Films, a fascinating website showing photographs from reels forgotten about for years in old cameras. I’m not sure about the speculative captions under some of this website's images, but the photographs themselves are intriguing. I'm sometimes sad that digital photography has taken away the mystery of those undeveloped films that used to gather fluff in the back of drawers.

Today, I’m working on a story called ‘Shutter Speed’ which plays with this idea of lost film and the important role photos play in our lives. For research purposes, I’d better just go and have another look at my wedding album…