I’d mentioned in an earlier post in this series that I don’t storyboard or plan my episodes. That’s mostly true. In some lucky cases the story line and the way to present it has been obvious to me (listen to Connecting with Val Willis: The magic of ‘My Horse, My Passion’). Other times, a deadline helps motivate me to weave together an interesting story told by many voices (listen to Before Green Gables and 100 Years of Anne Shirley for which I recorded four hours of audio at a book launch and then produced a twenty-one minute documentary in my hotel room that night in another four hours).
As I listened more closely to the recordings I made and the way I had labelled them, it became clear to me that the main story is the blend of fantasy and reality that magics-to-life love, conflict and the passage of time.
Having made that decision, I was able to eliminate a lot of the audio as unrelated to the main theme, and then start moving pieces in place.
In order to keep things interesting, I took some liberties in the sequencing of the story and intermixed excerpts from the book reading with reflections on the real family and the process of creating the book. I also managed to keep my voice out of the program as much as possible — a bonus. It’s particularly effective in a documentary when the facilitator’s role can be implied or completely overlooked. The characters and the witnesses should be the stars of the show.
Putting everything together is like solving a dynamic puzzle; any combination can work though some combinations work better than others. And, to keep things particularly interesting, all of the pieces are interdependent; moving one piece can affect others or even the entire flow of the program.
So, I spent about four hours moving pieces about on my audio canvas. Selecting which pieces to use wasn’t the problem. Those feels obvious to me.
LIKE WRITING A SONG
As I think about this whole process — and, believe me, this is the first time I have really thought about what I do and how I do it — I realize that this is a lot like songwriting. Some people write songs from titles, others write music from lyrics or melodies, and still others will back-fill lyrics from music. In fact, some people can write in all three ways.
Sometimes, a project I’m working on will happen completely on its own just by me picking the right clip with which to kick off the show. That’s right, sometimes the right 5-20 second opening clip will be like a creative spark and the rest will flow and fall into place. The “A Bear in War” project began with a draft recording of a framing narrative then putting some of the storytelling elements in place. As I shuffled and considered them, I realized that the backstory needed to be pushed through quickly to get right to the meat of the story. So, I decided to open the show with an excerpt of the reading which, using a dialog between Teddy and Aileen, gives away the war setting of the book.
After the theme music, I use a short narrative to create a scene in the mind of the listener…
- when am I speaking
- why is this moment significant
- where are we
- what are we going to experience
- who is going to walk us through this journey
For reasons I can’t quite figure out, I’m not able to make an introduction of the program and myself as host work. That’s still not a priority right now. I have bigger questions on my mind like will music make a difference? If so, what type? I listened to some music during some errands earlier today and wasn’t able to find anything that feels right. I’ve put a couple of feelers out to some musicians I know to see if they have time and interest in putting together two minutes of original music for me. I want the music to convey a feeling of being connected across distance by a stuffed toy. I want that on an emotional level, though. I don’t want chimes and plinky crap.
Where the book takes a lot of time to set up the warmth of the family, I don’t have the time to do that. What I mean by that is I don’t think I can hold the listener’s interest by getting into too much detail. Besides, I want to introduce the book, not give it away in its entirety. So, I move from my narration to another excerpt in the book and then I introduce the grand-daughter of the soldier — the woman that found Teddy. From there I move to some short clips with the authors. I let them explain that the book is about a family during wartime, not the war.
This is the first of all my book-related coverage in which I’ve used so many excerpts from the book. I like them becomes they move the story along. In fact, the five excerpts I use pretty much tell the main story. But, that’s not my shining moment in this program. I have taken it upon myself to demonstrate the importance of this book by including the voice of a child that shares what his favourite moment in the book is (a tender moment in which the soldier pins his medals of bravery to Teddy) and I include two questions (one deep and one light) asked by children during the Q&A along with the answers given by the authors. Parents should know that there is no reason to shelter their children from the reality of life.
In its current form, the program is about twelve-and-a-half minutes long.
My next tasks are to review my narrative and make a decision on music. After that I’ll start cleaning up the edits and mix.