I remember the first couple of weeks at Salford Uni in 2011, and being given the lowdown on the course that would consume my life for the forthcoming 3 years. The one thing that seemed so far off at the time but always seemed very exciting was the final year project: the 60-credit bad boy that would pretty much determine the 3rd year grade based on that one bit of work.
Well, as Sandy Denny so aptly mused: who knows where the time goes… and nigh on at the drop of a hat I’m sat here writing this with University having lived up to every expectation of a darn magnificent time, and having just received a whopping first for not only the project but University as a whole. Result!
I wanted the documentary to be easy to dip in to at any point, so it’s pretty much a selection of mini-features all glued together for one longer story: so I’ll do the same with this blog post to keep it nice and bitesize for you. Bitesize is good, like Shredded Wheat, short films, EPs, mini scotch eggs and Biere d’Ors.
- First Things First – where the idea came from
- Sleeping Out – experiencing a night outside
- For me personally, the most striking interviews
First Things First
Don’t get me wrong, I get ribbed for the stash of old newspapers that I keep in the lounge, but man alive are they a good source of ideas.
I’d decided upon making a 30-minute radio documentary, and I knew it should appeal to late teens early twenties audience. With that decided I ploughed the internet for past-programmes that dealt with the issues and interests of that age group: sex; money; Uni; exams; identity; music; travel… The list goes on.
One topic that I rarely did come across in my delving was of homelessness, and where I’d initially wanted to explore young peoples’ experiences of sofa-surfing in both a good light – whilst exploring abroad – and a slightly more negative one – where permanent digs just aren’t possible because of work or money. The latter, which is considered a type of homelessness, led me down the path of looking at youth homelessness in a broader context.
With a lot of phone calls made, it was time to get properly stuck in to making the doc. This probably started towards the end of March, and I’d planned to use all of April to record and edit. One of the first places I visited was the Narrowgate Night Shelter in Salford, which was my first real foray in to the nasty reality of homelessness. It’s very easy to turn a blind eye to what actually happens to these people each night. Seeing homeless men and women on the street begging is all to easy to acknowledge for a fleeting moment before you’re back on with your day again.
Indeed, it was an eye-opener to talk to some of the people at the shelter. Some of them didn’t want to be recorded but we could still chat. It does seem wrong that in this modern world, such a simple life necessity of a home goes amiss for some people, and it’s for countless reasons. One lad, though, did let me record our conversation and it fed in to the first section of the documentary, where his story – certainly for me – hit home just how quick a person can become homeless.
It’s one hell of a story – Anthony’s – and it stuck with me for a while after visiting the night shelter. He’s one of 80,000 young people who experience homelessness each year in the UK, what a mad statistic.
In an attempt to experience just a shred of the life of a person who has to endure roughing it on the streets night-in night-out, I organised to visit the Bethany Big Sleepout in Glasgow. Granted it was a fair trek, but this is a city known for having many people living in dreadful poverty and I wanted to get a new perspective on the state of youth homelessness beyond the North West.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect, I just knew this would be a chance to capture as part of the documentary what it was like for a chap who is accustomed to his creature comforts in decent University life to dip his toe in to a night outside in the middle of a bitter March. Being a Saturday, the organisers situated the event in the annexes of the Glasgow City Chambers, which was a grand setting it must be said, even if it did transpire to be a car park. Around 80 volunteers scurried around upon arrival making use of cardboard, wooden palettes and their own ground sheets and sleeping bags to create their digs for the night. I was pretty late to the show here and most of the stuff was taken when I got round to settling down, but (remember my newspaper stash) I had stuffed a few copies of the Saturday Guardian in with my sleeping bag. That’s tantamount to a good few inches of relief from the cold concrete floor. Did it help? Did it heck. It was a bitter cold night, and although the annexes provided some shelter, it was an unsettled and uncomfortable experience…
It was, again, an eye-opener. I’ll never truly profess to having spent a night on the street because I was wrapped up in thermals, layers, had good shelter and had event organisers keeping an eye on us all night. It doesn’t bare thinking about people who have to shelter in shop doorways, exposed anybody walking past…
For me personally, the most striking interviews…
The final few interviews I recorded turned out to be the most striking. After having spoken to people at night shelters; people who’d experience life on the street; and managers and volunteers and homeless projects, I’d gotten hours of interviews recorded and ready to edit. I’d started transcribing them which is such a monotonous, time-consuming, tedious process, but when it’s all done they’re such magnificent tools to help an edit. I just felt I wanted some more young peoples’ experiences to form part of the programme and it was the Bolton Young Persons’ Housing Scheme that helped me with this. I ended up speaking to both a guy and a girl in their early twenties who had experienced homelessness in two very different scenarios, but both gave a solid glimpse in to what they’ve had to overcome. It’s hard to initially understand just how can somebody become homeless in the first place, and this section at least tried to give a few examples…
Shortly after, I went to the BYPHS hostel and spoke to some of the younger people there. All around the age of 17/18, this was even harder to get a grasp of. When I was that age, the very notion of homelessness was totally foreign to me, a young lad growing up in the countryside in pretty harmonious surroundings.
These two are certainly the most striking extracts from the programme. I think so much so for me because it’s just so incredulous that young people find themselves in these situations, yet their defiance and strength of character to get themselves back on track is inspirational.
Those interviews signalled the end of a many months of research and recording and it was time to string it all together. Some people find editing a tedious process, but rather like award entries I do find it satisfying to look back over a wealth of great content and pick out the strongest stuff.
The edit was thoroughly rewarding. I’d gotten started with some simple tweaks and heals to most interviews and recordings as and when they’d been recorded. Some EQ and compression in Audition meant most things were easy to bring over in to Pro Tools and get started. The transcripts made life easier as I’d already highlighted and identified the most striking stuff – on paper – and it was then a case of creating some order and cohesion.
From the start I’d had an idea of where various bits of content would lie on the timeline, but the advice I’d gotten from my tutor was to keep an open mind until all my recordings were complete. It’d be impossible to predict what a contributor was going to say and pigeonhole it to one pre-prepared section.
What I did know for certain was that I wanted the programme to comprise of several mini packages. These would be easy to listen to as stand-alone pieces, and they would glue together in cohesive way to tell the whole story. Especially with audio on the internet, there’s nobody I know who would stick around to listen to something for 30 minutes, and it’s inevitable there’ll be some sections that some people like where others might not. It made sense to break it up in to bite size chunks (like the audio clips in this post) to help people enjoy the content either in part or in full depending on what time they had available.
My plan was also to get as much stuff made available online visually, too, but I took quite a few learns from attempting to both film and record interviews and content on my own. In the end Mikki Roy from the film side of our degree shot this package at the Street Soccer Academy, which certainly made this section more appealing online:
I was really pleased with how it turned out – although for the target audience of 15-24 it was probably a bit too black & white, next time I’ll try out some more creative ideas – and very grateful for the helping hand when I knew that everyone was under the hammer trying to churn out their own productions.
There’s definitely ways I’d not considered whilst making the documentary that I’d now employ to visualise my content. I’ve also become a lot better practised at self-opping both camera and audio so I think next time I’d struggle less with trying to do the one-man-band producer job.
All-in-all, the edit went smoothly, and it was thoroughly enjoyable to spend hours on end in the Uni studios tinkering with how things sounded; how the music flowed; re-doing voiceover…
Back in January when the gauntlet had been laid down, it seemed hard to envisage what the final hand-in would look like. It turned out to be pretty monstrous, with an absolute shed-load hitting the cutting room floor. The full project finally got submitted – after 3 ghastly failed attempts – and that was that as far as my Uni endeavours were concerned. Tick the box.