|Struan Ashby & Jessica Charlton prepare to film composer Chris White|
I want to take my play Throat of These Hours to the United States, take my response to Muriel 'back home' to her place, even though her work belongs to all the world. So the Muriel Rukeyser Centenary Symposium was a great place to start and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to give a Skype presentation. And I wanted to show the work-in-progress, not just to talk about it. A filmed reading and performance of Chris White's songs was the only way.
Two weeks before this morning's presentation at the symposium, I finished the second draft of the Throat of These Hours and – with my beloved writing buddy – chose three related extracts to film. Found the cast and crew, all people I love working with or wanted to work with. Made a date to film seventeen pages of dialogue in three continuous chunks; and two associated songs. Max Schleser organised a perfect space for us at Massey University – a mixing suite that looks a bit like a radio station – and some equipment. Suggested three students to work with us.
Friday a week ago Chris White emailed through her settings for two Rukeyser poems. I listened to them and wept. So beautiful.
Then, last Tuesday, we spent the morning filming Chris performing her compositions. And the afternoon filming three related scenes. An intense adjustment, moving from solitary writer to producer (location, equipment, payment, food) and then to directing. And I didn't get some of it right, as when as director I forgot to give the conventional cues – not quite the same as the 'Everyone ready? Yep? Action--' from last year's 48 Hours competition; I even (blush) forgot to say 'cut' now and then.
But worst of all, I repeated a mistake I made three years ago, with Development-the-movie. The longest sustained shoots I've been part of were for a fast-turnaround children's television series, where the rule of thumb was that a page of script equalled a minute on screen. And that became heavily embedded in my consciousness, with serious consequences for Development. How did I not remember? John Conly, who did a wonderful job on set with the sound, took the footage away to assemble on his own. Then brought it to me on Thursday for the hour he had available. The assembly was thirty-seven minutes long, for a presentation to last an hour, and include an intro and a Q & A. As John said, we'd shot almost half a feature in a single day. No wonder we were tired, though we started at 8.30 and finished at 4.30. Please, let me remember for ever-and-always that my writing takes two minutes per page on screen.
John and I had just one full play-through of his first edit. Script in hand, I concentrated on the text, because this was a filmed reading, not a film. I saw bits of the edited footage when we paused to fix dialogue and I looked up from the script. And felt again delighted by the performances, beautifully lit and shot by Director of Photography Jessica Charlton, with Struan Ashby and student Danesh Pillay on second camera. And now edited.
John-the-miracle worker took it all away for twenty-four hours and fitted the final version around his other work. Then we met Danesh at Massey on yesterday (Friday) morning and upload to Vimeo. Whew. Done. (Once again, I'm overwhelmed with the professionalism and generosity of a cast and crew, that beautiful alchemy that happens when highly skilled autonomous individuals give their all to a group project, regardless of the small amount they're paid. So much imagination, skill and problem-solving of a high order. Here we are in a drought, at the end of a long hot summer. It will affect the country's economy. Has anyone considered what a rich resource our artists are in this time of crisis?)
Back home to cut back on the oral intro, to allow for the longer clip. Done and emailed off as backup if someone in Michigan has to read it for me. A quick Skype test with De Ce Rouseau at Eastern Michigan University. It works. Whew again. An experiment with Chris on Skype at her place and me at mine: 'Take the painting off the wall in the background,' she suggested, 'it looks like a huge whiteboard.'
A large dinner of omega-filled fish. Some lovely luck-wishing emails and calls. Help with getting the painting off the wall. Early night. Up at 5 a.m. to sweep the newly exposed cobwebs off the wall behind the painting and to sort out the necessary lights because it's now still dark at 7 a.m. To decide on clothes: 'Depending on your background wear what you are comfortable in - you know me simplicity all the way. I'd have my pj bottoms on and a teeshirt haha' emailed my writing buddy. Wore the closest I have to a Patti Smith gig jacket, decorated with gifts from dear friends. Chris arrives right on schedule. Together, we lean into the laptop.
And then the presentation. Amazing to see people I'd only read about. Some technical hiccups. Some fabulous comments and questions that will inform my next draft, with more perhaps to come by email. And lovely to hear Chris' responses to questions about her process; she's going to write about it soon. Tiny regrets that we're so far away and missing out on the other symposium conversations, alongside intense pleasure that we made it across the world. Now, here's the original unedited intro.
Note: Our permissions to use Muriel Rukesyer's poems for this presentation do not extend to being able to share the filmed extracts and songs online.
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