So I thought I would give you all an idea of what it’s like to be a musician by giving you the blow-by-blow breakdown of the making of the ‘amazing’ (NME) Blackbird video.
*For legal reasons I thought I better tell you, NME never actually looked at our folk music video and said it was amazing. I presume this is because they haven’t looked at our video because I am fairly confident that if they did, they would think it was amazing.*
I could lie and say that this video took us no time at all… But realistically, it technically took us months. This is because it was shot in two parts. The first is in November, with my freshly dyed, autumnal-orange hair. The second was on the last day of April, with Dean’s freshly trimmed goats (November was a time of great sideburns for Dean). After that, it was picking the best bits of both shoots and editing it all together (which is monotonous and difficult, especially when trying to lip sync, so I left that to Dean, honestly, I did nothing. Just stood there and looked pretty… Well… I stood there… Anyway...).
Our whole motto is DIY, and that’s what we intended to do. Armed with an mp3 of the song, off we danced into the woods. It was as cold as Thatcher’s icy, dead, heart. However, we danced, we sung, and we felt up trees - what more could a girl want? We shot for about three hours or more. By the time we got back in I couldn’t feel my legs. I wish that could be chalked up to the freezing conditions but it was more to do with my fashion choices - despite wearing shorts, Dean seemed to find every patch of nettles he could lead me through. Despite looking like the elephant man from the knees down, we had a very satisfying day, with all the shots we needed, or so we thought.
This original video idea had been shot with the idea in mind that it would be good enough to put with the mp3 and get it out there, so people could see what we had been getting up to over the last couple of months.
However, life got in the way - which is not such a terrible thing as it sounds. Christmas, moving house and moving jobs seemed to put the whole thing on hold. This actually turned out to be the best thing that could have happened. Me and Dean started to learn more songs together and we realised we wanted to make something better. Still DIY but kooky and cool. We went back to the drawing board and came up with the skeleton of the idea you see today.
Part 2: Sheets and Candles - The Indoor Shoot.
This part took significantly longer. Armed with sheets, nails, and 110 tealights, we began to set up the bedroom for the video.
Everything modern must be covered up! Grabbing some spare bed sheets and armed with a hammer and some nails, me and Dean set out to cover up the lights, the windows, and we even squared off the room - hiding the alcoves and plug sockets. I was very concerned the sheet would set the house on fire, but Dean being cool and rock and roll, he didn’t share my concerns and we soldiered on, starting to place the tea lights strategically around the room. I was also worried that the candles would burn the natural wood floors, again, Dean had no such concerns so we waited for dark.
It’s summer, so ‘dark’ is taking its time. We have put on a large pot of coffee, expecting to be awake for a fair few hours yet. We set up my little Bluetooth speaker in one corner behind one of the sheets, in preparation to lip sync with the song.
Time to light the 110 candles. Working with someone as hap-hazard as Dean, I was almost certain our house insurance wouldn’t pay out for this. Wooden floor boards, sheets, FIRE... what could go wrong?
To be honest it looked amazing. And this is what it looked like by 9:48...
It was time. It was dark outside, the candles were lit and the camera was set up. We brought in the guitars and started getting ready. Dean almost immediately took off his waistcoat. Apparently, the heat of 110 tea lights is about the same as that of a billion suns. We hadn’t even started playing along yet and we were melting into little puddles. We brought the guitars up from downstairs, took a deep breath, and readied ourselves for the night ahead.
Mopping the sweat off our brows, we started up the song, started up the camera, and started singing. We managed to come across our first stumbling block pretty early on - in that my speaker wasn’t quite loud enough for us to be able to accurately play along. That’s where this bad boy came in:
Dean brought his big amp up from downstairs. Now we (and half the population of Unstone) could hear what we were playing along to, and the real work started.
Having now sweated so much that our bodies were practically 80% dust, we decided to have our first break. The camera was full so Dean went down to put all footage onto the PC... Problem number 2. The first lot of footage that we shot way back in November was wide format. This wouldn’t have been a problem had we have been shooting in wide format for this new video. We sat in the bedroom opposite the hall and opened the window as wide as it would go. Dean sat with his leg hanging down and I wasn’t sure if he was honestly contemplating suicide. However, we would not be defeated!
So, we mopped all our sweat into the cracks in the floorboards, set the camera to wide angle, and started again.
Another break. Due to the size of files, the camera was running out of space after every take. This was actually a godsend, as it meant that we could step out of the furnace for five minutes while we transferred all the media over to the PC. By this time I had drunk my own bodyweight in squash. I wasn’t wearing any shoes for this shoot (because I am too cool, that’s why) and I think I got a splinter in my toe. This is by-the-by really, I’m just shamelessly looking for sympathy.
Tea break 266373. The heat of a thousand suns is starting to permeate through the house, so we take our break in the kitchen. This break calls for more coffee and a Tesco finest salted caramel and chocolate cookie. We know how to live.
Dean has a fag and tells me how he likes the way the light from the kitchen window illuminates the stone wall outside. I come to the realisation that with his revelation, there is no way he is going to be satiated until we take some footage outside too. My eyes are starting to feel a little sticky but I am nothing if not determined to get this video finished.
Starting to feel tired now. We've been sweating our balls off for two solid hours, with the occasional five minute tea break. I lay down and contemplate what I have got myself into. I start feeling much better when I see Dean doing this:
Time to start getting some of them really kooky shots down. We have sung and re-sung the Blackbird song about 40 times, including playing along on guitar and I can feel a blister coming on my index finger. Again, this is neither here-nor-there but, aside from crumpets, sympathy is my main source of power. I walk into the room to see Dean fixing a screw to the ceiling. He then ties the camera onto this with a piece of string. We pick up our guitars again, start the song again, twist the string and let the camera record what it sees as it spins round the room. This is how we get that spinning shot from near the beginning of the song. Editing this part was interesting and fiddly - trying to get the tempo right. Dean did it though, cos he a king.
We had all the shots we needed of us singing the full song (thank god, the neighbours shout). So then we took the guitars out of the room and shot the last little bits with the candles before they all went out: the scene where I am laid on the floor (an idea stolen from Shallow Grave) and the opening scenes of Dean talking into a candle, and middle scene of me blowing out a candle... Hurrah we are done!
A shot of me and Dean on our final break before taking the camera outside and shooting the toad scene.
Having set up the camera - Dean seemed to have developed hysteria and couldn’t stop laughing. I, of course, was ever the professional. Dean had to take himself inside to calm down. I stayed, calm, propped up against the wall outside. Well, that is until I heard a rustle to the side of me. I presumed it would be a rat or a field mouse, considering the vast fields that back onto our house. Nope. Looking to my left, I was greeted by a monstrous, brown, toad. The sound that exited my mouth was somewhat akin to a pig having a stroke as I ran in the kitchen and heebie-jeebied all over the place.
Of course, Dean had to go pick it up and play with it. He then forced me to tentatively step outside and return to my position next to him and carry on singing. I was singing fine but I think my disgusted face had Dean in more hysterics and we couldn’t get a full take. I blame Dean completely for this. We were finished, despite protests from Dean of ‘Beth, Beeeeeeeth, come back. Come, Beth, come back, this, no, this is gold, we have a toad, Beth, BETH, we have a toad AND a cat, Beth this is, this is gold, Beth, Beeethhhhh!’.
It was time for bed. We had shot everything that we could. We had blown the candles out and I had seen Derek (our cat) take a big right hook swipe to the toad that Dean had lovingly placed back where it was found. Dean told Derek off as I laughed maniacally at the poor misfortunes of the slimy little bastard.
There are very few people in this world that will have the (mis)fortune of having things handed to them. We live in a time where it is very important that we do things of ourselves, by ourselves, for ourselves. Making this video was hard work. Minus all the planning, the recording, the editing, the learning of the actual song itself, we spent about five hours setting this second part of the video up. I had lost about two litres of bodily fluid and by the end my eyes were just empty sockets full of dust. Many people out there will say, well, was it really worth it?
The end product is something I am insanely proud of. We did it all ourselves, no outside help. This means we have created something of ourselves, it mirrors us perfectly, it’s kooky, it has dabs of humour and I got to create it all alongside my best friend. At half two in the morning, when my eyelids felt weighted with 2 tonne weights, I was giggling my head off. My partner was freaking me out by stroking a toad, but my cat was ready to fight my corner at the first opportunity he got (go Derek!). I got to spend the entire night making something completely unique with the man I love (pass the sick bucket please) it was hard, but it was also fun. Then I got to lay in bed and chatter excitedly for another half an hour about what we want to do with the footage and what potential our future holds.
The moral of this story is DIY. Do it all yourself and you will produce something you love, and work feels like play. Stop waiting around to be handed something on a plate. The likelihood is, that won’t happen anyway. I doubt that there would be the same sense of achievement and elation I feel now if I hadn’t have put the work into this. It looks and sounds exactly how we want it to look and sound. If Pride is a sin, then sin away my friends.