Review 2012: The Projects: Leeds (1994).

Life It’s 1994, and amongst the madder, slightly random modules on my BA (Hons) Information Studies course (librarianship under a swankier name) is Practical Presentation Skills. Of course on reflection it is one of the more future proof courses, certainly more so than data retrieval (obsolete as soon as Google was invented), since it offers advice on giving presentations both or without an overhead projector and later producing a video of some sort or other.

It certainly provides some levity away from the indexing exercises and management training, allowing me to tell a class all about the films of Rob Reiner in three minutes and demonstrate that the Scott and Charlene storyline from Neighbours is really just a veiled rewrite of Romeo & Juliet albeit with a happy ending, depending on how you really feel about Angry Anderson, all created using DrawPerfect, the WordPerfect-based presentation software.

But the most enjoyable, if certainly the most time consuming is the video portion, in which we're tasked with producing either a drama or documentary on the topic of our own choosing, of any duration. Having just watched Manhattan for what may have been the first time, I decide that I’ll produce the presentational equivalent for Leeds, with vox pops and sections about my own favourite places, news of Sundance cinema stroking my auteur genes. Of something.

We don't receive much training in the use of the camera or the editing equipment, a VHS tape to tape machine. Thankfully, I helped film the school panto a year before so I have some notion of how to use the camera, though the additional microphone is cumbersome. But having seen a few Nick Broomfield documentaries recently as well, I assume this isn’t necessarily a problem.

At the end of the process, as well as including a video of our efforts we are asked to produce a rationale justifying out actions, sections of which I’m publishing below in italics along with the necessary annotations. At some point I may post the whole video online too, but as you’ll see below there are mitigating circumstances working against that, morally speaking.  Either way, let’s go.

Let’s talk about this introductory montage first since I didn’t bother in the ensuing report. The footage was mostly gathered over a single day (other than the material in Beckett Park) and pretty much amounted to me filming interesting things. I did have a copy of the lyric sheet to A Hazy Shade of Winter with me and knew I wanted to illustrate some of the words somehow, though I probably didn’t imagine I’d actually find the Salvation Army anywhere.

This is me trying to be Woody Allen, of course it is, though he probably wouldn’t have chosen an old Bangles cover for the backing track and to this day, I don’t remember the relevance beyond quite liking it. It’s hearing it again on Matthew Rudds’s Q The Eighties show recently which gave me the kick to finally post the montage and the rest of this up online.  The titles where created by sticking print outs to walls, fences and vending machines.

The editing process, which again I didn’t touch on below, amounted to copying the track onto a blank video, dropping the footage underneath, the tape-to-tape I now remember having an option for just recording over the video section of a VHS and leaving the audio alone. This montage and the rest of the video took about eighteen hours altogether, six hours one evening, twelve hours with breaks another day.

Some points of interest.  As you might remember from this interview, Spring and Fall is the title of a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem which turned into the name of a television programme I worked on with a friend at school and which I subsequently appropriated for this and that.  Early use of my full name too.

The twirly section at what looks like some kind of expensive American university is the Beckett Park Campus at Leeds Metropolitan University.  I lived there in my first year.  The wall with all the postcards my room.  Those really are the clothes I wore.  Especially the blue jacket.  It was the 90s.

1 Introduction

This Practical Presentation Skills video has the title ‘Leeds’ and is about that city. But it dies not present a balanced view of Leeds, because it does not try to. This Rationale will try and explain who this programme is meant for, why it has taken a different angle from a complete view and explaining each section in turn.

Or rather having gauged the time I had to produce this thing and its importance to the overall mark of the module and the course in general, I chose a topic which seemed pretty self explanatory and which could be relatively free flowing and wouldn’t require me to work with a group which was an option but also a torturous experience elsewhere in which I’d end up doing much of the work myself anyway. Of course, and this hasn’t changed at all in ensuing follies, what seemed relatively simple up front turned into a project that spanned many, many hours and days.

2 Background

This video is primarily meant as a source of entertainment. One of the many problems which can be seen within video and television programmes about certain towns which try an entertain and inform at the same time, is that they tend to cram in as much information as possible, as though missing something out would render the project useless. This often leads to the film becoming boring to watch as the viewer fails to be moved. Here, the viewer must be entertained for the project to work — any information which comes forth is there to supplement the entertainment.

Really, this is just a justification for the editing process which had to be carried out in a modular way, putting together chunks of stuff then slotting them together at the end, rather like Peter Jackson when he was finalising the original Lord of the Rings trilogy reel by real.  Yes just like that.  If I’d really thought about, I would have chosen one of the mini-topics in particular, but I expect I wanted to demonstrate a range of skills and produce something which looked as close to a television programme as possible. Little did I know that the television programme would be The One Show.

3 Prospective Audience

The video is meant to be viewed by anyone. It attempts to include sections which will appeal to most audiences. People from Leeds will hopefully be interested in how an outsider understands their city. Students should be able to identify with those who appear on screen as they speak of their favourite places — in some instances they may be surprised that a place they thought was only loved by them is also visited by other people. Others may wish to draw something from the places which are named as a kind of representation of the student culture.

See, it is The One Show.

4 The Rationale

4.1 Balance

It has been stressed from the beginning that this is not a complete view of Leeds. There are many reasons for this:

(i) Creating a balanced view of a city can be nearly impossible. Not all people are the same, and so anything created by a single person is bound to be biased. It would be impossible for the producer to create any kind of section about nightlife in Leeds beyond cinema, since he has not undertaken to indulge within it.

Blimey, that’s honest, if sounding a bit puritanical in an uncomfortably Agent Nelson from Broadwalk Empire kind of way. But it’s true. At this point in my university career I spent most Friday and Saturday nights hanging around a sometimes deserted residential hall. Much of this was financial, even with a maintenance grant (slowly being phased out by that Tory government) and loans I still couldn’t afford to do the student thing. Plus I didn’t drink anyway (at least until the third year). But this is the period when I discovered art film, which just goes to show what a tangled web, life really is.

(ii) Resources in equipment, time and money are limited. The effort needed to create a complete programme about Leeds are quite beyond those of the producer.

Oh, so I did mention it. After taking the rather epic decision to make a film about a city, I then had to decide how it would be filmed, which was over many days in different parts of the city, though even at that stage I understood the thing was going to be thrown together in the editing.

(iii) The film need only be quite short, so it was decided to look at a few things in some detail than a complete city, merely skimming the surface.

Fifteen minutes seems short. But by the end I might as well have produce a feature film.

4.2 The Subjects

The video is about the producer's favourite places in Leeds:


(i) The Art Gallery was chosen, because he has always had a love for galleries, and even once said that he would not move somewhere if it did not have a gallery. There are many beautiful works in Leeds City Art Gallery, and it was felt a video could create nice experimentation with them in another medium.

Ah, the third person. This was relatively early in my university career, so I’d hadn’t quite understood how to talk about myself in methodologies in the third person. There’s a real howler at the beginning of the next paragraph:

(ii) The producer has a great interest in the film industry, and has developed a taste for the art house section of the industry. This developed after a series of visits to the ‘Hyde Park Picture House‘. It is included in the video because it helped widen the producer's perspective.

Only after all these years do I see the twin dilemma that would be at the heart of my career choices from then until now. The time after this degree was all about realising that I’d made a huge mistake studying librarianship if I wanted to research art history (the research being less important than the art history to recruiters) and the first half of the noughties were about working towards returning to university for film studies, the second half about realising that there aren’t any paid jobs in that any more either.

4.3.3 Leeds City Art Gallery

Welcome. The footage was gathered during an afternoon at the gallery, when it was relatively empty. I don’t remember if I wrote for permission beforehand or if I simply turned up and filled in a permit, but looking at the footage, I’m amazed an attendant didn’t step in and stop me from dashing around the artwork and whatnot. The girl was just someone else in there working, but I know for definite I asked her permission to video her.  I think.

This section of the video is meant as a taster to the gallery itself. It does not include all of the works by any means, but hopefully includes those which are among the more accessible, since abstract and modern works often need more explanation.

The narrated section gives a short introduction to why the producer chose the Art Gallery, and a small piece about the Pre-Raphaelite movement, his favourite group of painters. There is no music over these sections so that the viewer is not distracted from the works or the voice. The narration has been recorded on a tape machine of quite a low standard, so that the sound has a much earthier quality, which will hopefully complement the works.

There isn’t any music because I couldn’t work out how to mix music and voice together without it sounding rubbish. The real failure of this section is only having a couple of actual Pre-Raphaelite paintings with the rest of the duration padded out with work that quite obviously isn’t.

There are two music sections. The first, using a carol sung by the folk group 'Steeleye Span’ was chosen since much of the art within the piece has a very natural feel to it, and the music seems to typify this. This section tries to put across the variety of works which exist within the gallery, is not as expansive as the producer would have liked since much of the higher section of the gallery was closed due to staff shortages on the day of filming.

I’d forgotten about that. Perhaps that’s why there aren’t as many pre-Raphs as I’d been expecting to including. Yes, that must be it. Also, yes, Steeleye Span. Gaudete would go on to appear on a dozen Christmas compilations.

The second section of music is from the soundtrack to John Hughes’s 1986 film ‘St Elmos Fire, and is the only orchestral piece on an album of rock tracks. Here it is used to complement the sculptures which are being represented, since often sculpture is isolated within galleries, like this piece on the album. The three sculptures chosen seem to typify three different states of womanhood — regality, sexuality and intellect.

I’ve left the glaring factual error in here. That would be Joel Schumaker’s St Elmos Fire, younger version of me. Enjoy also the hint of pretension. Again this is all justification after the fact. I had loads of shots of sculpture and I really chose the track because it was a favourite of a course mate I had a secret crush on, even though she’d never even see the thing. Sigh.

One of the problems which exists in showing Art on television, is that a two-dimensional screen cannot completely show the works to their full glory. In spinning around each sculpture, the viewer is hopefully seeing each from all side. A parallel is also trying to be found at the end of the piece between the student working and the sculpture reading — bringing home the reality of some of the works.

In truth I think I plagiarised the spinning thing from the end of a romantic comedy I’d recently seen. But it is quite effective even if you’d don’t really see the sculpture itself much.

4.3.4 The Hyde Park Cinema

The producer did not know what kind of access he would be getting to the cinema before he got there, and so only made simple plans before hand. An interview schedule was drawn up, because he thought he would have access to the manager. Unfortunately, her house was burgled the night before, and so the interview with the projectionist was improvised — which did actually allow for some insights, which might not otherwise have been found. Because of the conversational nature of the interviews, they have been kept in full.

Apart from here, where I’ve only included the montages. As with some other elements, the projectionist certainly didn’t give his permission to have himself posted the internet twenty-years later, no releases signed, so it doesn’t seem fair to pop him up here apart from in an unavoidable glimpse. The majority of what he said has been posted to the Hyde Park’s own website.

As regular readers will know, the Hyde Park is where I really became a film fan during those three college years.  I saw Pulp Fiction on its opening night here and Tarantino's other adventures in late night double bills, Reservoir Dogs not yet granted a video classification from the BBFC.  Although it was still a slog to get to in the first year, by the third year I was living practically next door and saw pretty much everything they booked in.

Being given full access to film that he liked in the cinema, the producer set about taking shots. The cinema was being evaluated that afternoon for a BBC2 documentary, however, and this limited him somewhat. Many useful shots where taken, however.

And how. I don’t remember the name of the documentary, but I’ve a feeling it was Moviong Pictures. To be honest this section is probably only included to pump up the word length. As you can see I was pretty much given full access to the place, with the projectionist even running trailers and announcements for me to film.

The musical section is from the soundtrack album of ‘The Fabulous Baker Boys (featuring Michelle Pfeiffer, and the Bridges brother, Bo and Jeff), a film which played at the Hyde Park a couple of years ago. It is a very badly distorted recording of a Duke Ellington record, and is used here to create a feeling for the history which is attached to the cinema. Some of the camera work during the piece is at time quite obscure, but this will hopefully give the piece a more cinematic feel to it.

Which is really me justifying the use of what amounted to B-roll, moments where I was carrying the camera between places and hadn’t turned it off. Rare for many years, The Fabulous Baker Boys album’s now available digitally, but having spent so long with that cracked vinyl, it simply sounds wrong without the jumps and scratches. Oh and it’s the Benny Goodman Quartet not Ellington. I think that mistake crept in because I was working from a cassette I’d made before going away to university and I’d failed to copy out the track listing and the internet hadn't really been invented.

4.3.5 So what is your favourite place in Leeds?

These small sections are here to add an extra flow to the two pieces, and to create a loose structure upon which everything can hang. The people interviewed are from The University of Leeds, The Studio Theatre, and around Macaulay Hall, and where not planned, creating a spontaneous atmosphere.

This is the biggest omission from this post and again for much the same reason as the projectionist.  These people all gave their time on the assumption it was just for my course and I’m not sure how pleased I’d be to be reminded of my bygone days many years later, especially the girl who joked that she walked around Hyde Park in bare feet and I think she was talking about the pub. Assuming that they some how manage to stumble on the videos on YouTube, which is unlikely but you never know.

You can imagine the process, standing in the street and approach people. I had some idea of the sections. Places you like to go during the day, places you like to go during the evening. I volunteered at the Studio Theatre, attending workshops so I took advantage of that and some of the best answers were from there.  It was during this process that at the age of nineteen I met my first American, who reminded me of a young Margot Kidder and described things as "cheesy".

The people where asked a set of questions based upon who they were (Students, Lecturers, General Public). The answers have been edited together in a shot gun effect so parallel the open titles, and to add some kind of urgency to the section, hopefully speeding up the pace. Almost all of the interviews taken have been used. The objective was to interview most types of people living in Leeds, but as it turned out, mostly students were used. This causes the viewer to draw conclusions about student life in Leeds based upon the answers given.

For the record in the first section the answers given were Victoria shopping arcade, the Town Hall, the Corn Exchange, stay in and be boring, Park Square, the library, Middleton Park woods, Beckett Park, Café Caliente in Headingley, the countryside, Pizza Hut, my house, the Indian restaurants around here, the Merion Centre and Leeds Art Gallery.

The second gave, Town and Country, the Coburg or the Highland, Stomp on a Friday night, the Music Factory, the Fenton, the Faversham or the Student Union, the Hyde Park, the Eldon, the Duck and Drake, the Skyrack, Hyde Park Cinema, Hyde Park Cinema, Hyde Park Cinema, Hyde Park Cinema …

To my astonishment (no, really), no one was choosing the same places as me and I knew I wanted to have the vox pops lead into the relevant sections, so in another dubious move, I had a few of the people give that answer anyway, not entirely convincingly, and the lead in ended with my voice correcting them with the “Hyde Park Picture House”.

5 Conclusion

This video is the producers first attempt with the video medium. it has been very interesting finding out about how the various equipment works and what can be done with it.

The content was chosen because the producer felt most comfortable with it. There is an old saying ‘Write about what you know, not what you think you should know‘. In choosing two favourite places, the video becomes much more personal. Adding the interview sections, brings the viewer into the video, since their views are also being catered for.

That’s it.

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