BFI Film Academy 9: Chloe Bush

Chloe Bush is one of the participants on our ninth BFI Film Academy (2020). Having finished the film shoot, we asked her about her experience of the course…

Making our documentary has been such an all-round incredible experience! The first few weeks of the process were spent brainstorming ideas and planning our documentary over Zoom. We whittled four strong ideas down into our favourite one– a documentary that explores the different experiences that people have had throughout lockdown and how things like their occupation, background and personal circumstances affected what they were able to do. The pre-production process was something that I was particularly excited about as I am especially fascinated by the writing elements of filmmaking and, even though you don’t write a script for a documentary in the same way you do for a fiction film, it was still such a wonderful experience to be able to bounce ideas off of other creatives to tell a story that we all felt passionate about. After developing some ideas for stylistic choices and contacting some lovely volunteers who were happy to share their personal lockdown experiences in an interview, we were able to commence with shoot week.

We were all split into smaller groups of four or five for the four-day shoot week. Each day was structured so that each group would spend the morning undergoing a ‘crash course’ on the main aspects of the shoot: cameras, lights, sound and interview techniques. In the afternoons of each day, each group would be filming an interview with a handful of different people who all had very different lockdown experiences. This would be used to make our final documentary. Some of these interviews took place in person in one of the theatres in HOME with the appropriate social distancing/safety rules followed and others took place over Zoom. My group was the second group to film out of the four groups.

One of the things that I had been most excited about right from the start was having the opportunity to learn about how to use all of the different equipment to get the best results, so the morning workshop sessions were definitely something that I was delighted to get stuck in with. Despite it being a lot of information to consume in such little time, John and Judith, who were leading the sessions, made everything very easy to understand and we were all able to briefly experiment with operating all of the cameras, lights and sound equipment too (after sanitising our hands each time, of course!). I really enjoyed being able to learn details about set etiquette that I previously wasn’t aware of – like if sound isn’t rolling on a shot, the Clapper-Loader should put their hand between the arms of the clapper board, in front of the camera, to indicate that there isn’t going to be any sound recordings which match up to that particular take.

After a quick lunch break we commenced with filming the interviews. The group that I was in had two interviews to film. As we were setting things up, it quickly became apparent to me that the fact that we were going to have to be continuously social distancing could pose a significant challenge if we needed to communicate with each other. But reflecting on the process, I think this just made our teamwork a lot stronger. For the first interview I operated the main camera, something which involved checking to make sure that everything that we wanted to be in the frame was in the frame, that the interviewee (our subject) was always in focus and that they stayed central to the frame the whole time. As this was the main footage that we would be using for the documentary I felt some pressure to make sure that everything looked perfect but as soon as we started filming a lot of that pressure melted away and was replaced with this really magical feeling which is something that I have always loved about making films.

Moving on to the second interview I felt much more confident now knowing what to expect from the shooting process. This time my role was to help set up the boom mic and then control the sound mixer, making sure that the audio that was being picked up from the boom mic stayed in the range that we wanted it to to avoid it getting clipped. This felt much more challenging than when I was operating the static camera because if someone suddenly laughed, the signal would go extremely high and this was something you were constantly on the edge of your seat trying to avoid! Nevertheless, one of my favourite parts of documentaries is being able to listen to people’s stories and the impacts that they have had, so being in control of the sound really gave me the perfect opportunity to listen to what our interviewee was sharing.

The final part of the day was spent gathering some extra B-Roll footage to accompany the interviews. As we didn’t need one of the cameras or to record sound for this, myself and the rest of the crew stood around the monitor and we all took it in turns in directing and filming the extra shots, something that with the practice from the rest of the day I now felt much more knowledgeable and positive about doing. I really appreciated the opportunity to operate the camera to get this extra footage as it allowed more room for creativity of the shots that we were getting and it was a really good chance to gain more experience whilst putting into practice things that we had learnt from the earlier workshops about tilting, panning, framing and the effect of different camera heights and positions.

Alongside the production elements of this incredibly exciting process we have also had a huge range of other opportunities as part of the Film Academy which I have thoroughly enjoyed being able to immerse myself in. I have found the Film Theory Sessions about the history of film to be particularly eye-opening to pivotal moments and figures in the craft – many of whom I have never heard of before but I feel I have been particularly inspired by. Additionally, we have all undertaken a Silver Arts Award which has given me an exceptional opportunity to dive deeper into filmmaking, set myself challenges, achieve an additional qualification and have so much fun whilst doing it!

The whole experience is an opportunity that you don’t get everyday and it has quite literally been a dream come true for me so far. As I hoped it would, the Film Academy has really affirmed to me that this is where my heart lies and working in this industry is absolutely the thing that I want to spend the rest of my life doing. It has challenged me in so many ways, pushed me out of my comfort zone – I have learnt a lot of things about myself and made so many fantastic, unforgettable memories whilst doing it. I feel like it has made me much stronger, more knowledgeable and a lot more confident. I am eternally grateful to all of the academy leaders – John, Judith, Christina, Ally and Ellen and the rest of the group for making this experience so great despite some of the obstacles that we have had to face. Applying for the Film Academy was easily was one of the best decisions I have ever made and I can’t wait to see how our final film turns out!