So what's it like making a documentary film? Well, I wouldn't know the answer for the lion's share of the time involved. Like writing, which is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration (i.e. revise, revise, revise, revise some more), most of what happens in making a film is the non-glorious work, after the film crew gets home, of poring over the footage, selecting the clips and putting them together -- in other words, the post-production. I have no idea what's involved with that but I know it's 90% of the work. The other 10% I can tell you all about!
Strangely, it never occurred to me how much research they would have done ahead of time. Toby and Mally (of Cloud Break Pictures in Edinborough, Scotland) had not only had numerous Skype conversations with Berrie, but also read up on all relevant materials they could find online involving Berrie and ADN and Ndjinaa. But although they came prepared academically, I got the feeling they were pretty blown away by the reality of it, having never traveled in Sub-Saharan Africa or been in areas anywhere as remote or as rooted in ancient traditional lifestyles. I confirmed my feeling by asking them. "Did you expect it to be like this?" A wordless answer ensued composed of facial expressions and hand gestures indicating with certitude, "No!"
So while the scenery, the "reality," of it caught them off guard, they were very prepared for the interviews they conducted each day. Mally had thought ahead of time the general line of questioning, and was then adept at "following" the interviewees wherever they went with their answers, composing follow-up questions.
Mally sat with the boom microphone near the interviewees and Toby filmed beside him. Sometimes they would need to redo some footage, go back and ask the interviewee some of the same questions over because the first go-around was affected by some outside force, either something unexpected entering the filming space or, most often, because of some distracting sounds. One time it was me ... the beeper on the autofocus of my camera until I learned how to turn it off. Oops!
Filming in rural Africa came with unexpected challenges, and soon my special role in the filming evolved into keeping at bay any audio distractions. These came in two main forms: (1) children, (2) chickens. And sometimes goats. And once rain on a tin roof ... but there wasn't a whole lot I could do about that one! Notice the curious children on the right, below.
Literally, my primary contribution to the film was chasing chickens and cockadoodling roosters away from the filming sight, running after them whispering "shoo shoo shoo!" Those roosters were maddening sometimes and just would not shut up. It was the middle of the day, for pity's sake, not dawn! I had to shoo them farther and farther away from the film "set" until their impolite outbursts were far enough away to be acceptably faint in the audio recording. This is mostly the reason why I have so many pictures of chickens from this trip (you will find more in other posts, too). Because I was always chasing them, so I stopped to snap a few pics.
Now stay there in "time-out," you naughty chicken!
Equally with the chickens, it was up to me to shush children gathered around who didn't understand the need to be quiet. I felt like a bit of an ogre sometimes, always dampening their giggles and fun with my forefinger up to my lips, and corralling them away like a border collie with sheep.
One time, I just couldn't keep them gathered and quiet, so I decided to try to distract them with something more interesting than the film set. I was sitting against a tree a little ways behind the "set" with my laptop, catching up on some notes, and trying to calm the kids down with the shushing forefinger to the lips, to very little effect. So I turned on the camera on my laptop and motioned them over to me. I motioned them to look at my laptop screen, and as soon as they recognized themselves moving on the screen, they all simultaneously let out a riotous burst of joyful screams and giggles. Toby and Mally whipped their heads around toward me to see what in the hell had just happened. And there I was, not keeping the children quiet, but whipping them into a cacophonous frenzy. Oh dear! My idea to distract them couldn't have backfired more spectacularly.
So then I had to intensify my ogre-ness and beg them to be quiet -- no laughing, no talking, only whispers and silent amusement. I did distract them from the film set, but it was no less difficult to keep them quiet now that they were enthralled with seeing themselves on my computer. What was funny was that I was, actually, eventually so successful in my shushing, that when the film crew stopped filming and the kids could be as loud as they wanted, they didn't understand things had changed and they continued to whisper and be subdued. Because of the earlier required subdued-ness, some of them had lost interest. When I tried to call them back and indicated they could laugh and yell as loudly as they wanted to now, it didn't compute. They kept whispering. I wish I had thought to push "record" instead of just switching the camera on, it would have been pretty hilarious to capture their first reactions. Eventually I thought of it (10 or 15 minutes down the road) but by that time, most of them had become bored with it, especially since I kept shushing anyone hanging around. And I couldn't tell how the camera was pointed since it was facing away from me (I just had my laptop on my knees facing out toward the kids); if I had known, I would have aimed it up higher to catch the taller kids. Anyway ... here is the one clip I got just as the film shoot was ending. It's pretty boring in the beginning, I highly suggest forwarding the play bar to the 2:00 minute mark and the next 30 seconds are pretty amusing. (I don't know how to clip a youtube video.)
Then of course every night, Toby spent time downloading and backing up all the footage gathered each day. There were plenty of beers and good cheer at the end of each day. And a few times we had a full-on party with ourselves.
On a number of occasions we had the most divine accommodations, particularly when in the wildlife park jurisdiction -- the accommodations run by the Namibian Wildlife Authority. We each had our own private chalet. Being the dead middle of the off-season, the prices were fabulously cheap. I couldn't even believe we were staying in such luxury so cheaply.
So the most relaxing interview was at the lovely chalets we stayed in at Onkoshi camp in Etosha National Park. No kids, no chickens or goats, just the quiet, vast Etosha salt pan before us.
I really like these shots outside of Swakopmund in the Namib desert with Toby filming on the lonely stretches of road and desert plain. They look so epic, and I don't know why, but somehow they make me think of the early 20th century ... film crews making Westerns or something. I think something about Toby's hat adds to this feeling.
Sometimes he wanted to get a shot of our car, "The Berrie Bus," driving down some lonely stretch of road. I would always get out when Toby did just to stretch my legs. But it was funny sometimes, Berrie might have to drive back and forth several times in front of the camera for Toby to get the shot he wanted. They also had a Go-Pro mounted to the front of the vehicle which we had to remember about whenever it started raining. One time it fell off and there was a moment of panic in the car, but it was retrieved in good shape.
And here are a couple shots of me photographing in the desert that Susanne took.
Now that the trailers for "The African Witchfinder" are out, I'm giddy with excitement, having been a part of the process ... a small part of the process, but I was the Velcro that stuck Mally and Toby to Berrie to make the film. :) And if I never accomplish another meaningful thing in my life, I will at least always feel good about this.
Watch the The African Witchfinder HERE!!!