The London Symphony Journals. #6.

Last year I wrote of Alex Barrett’s crowd funding campaign in aid of his new film, the silent celebration of the city, London Symphony. I’ve invited Alex to use Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second as a platform to broadcast his thoughts as the project moves along. Herein lies his latest diary entry, Alex’s first of 2016.

Sometimes, when you work on a project, it seems like the final stretch is the hardest. While that might not quite be the case with London Symphony, it’s certainly true that it’s starting to feel like the slowest. But, I suspect, this is probably just because I’m no longer the one doing the bulk of the work… For months, I was working on the film every single day: organising shoots, looking at footage, working on the edit. But now the ball has been firmly passed to my composer, Jim, and I am waiting patiently while he toils away, day after day.

Writing a 70 minute piece of orchestral music is obviously no easy task, and Jim has written about how he found it a daunting endeavour, not helped by several false starts. But things are now progressing well. In my last entry, I spoke about how I was working on a new cut of the film. Once that version was finished, I found myself in a similar position to the one I’m in now: taking a break while Jim worked on the score. Being given the opportunity to take a break from the film during postproduction was actually a real luxury, as it allowed me to get some distance, clear my head, and then return to the film with fresh eyes. Better still, at the end of this break, we held our test screening.

For those that don’t know, a test screening allows filmmakers to show a work-in-progress version and gather feedback through questionnaires. The version of the film that we screened was fairly advanced edit-wise, but still quite rough music-wise. As Jim explained at the time:

“The 1st movement is very nearly complete and is written for a theoretical ensemble of strings and single winds, whilst the 2nd & 3rd movements exist as piano sketches only. The 4th movement is a repeat of the 1st, and whist the intention was always for these two movements to be very similar in both structure and tone, they won’t be exact repeats of each other when the final score is finished.”

Still, despite the rough state the film was in, the feedback we received was very encouraging. People praised the large variety of locations covered by the film, the quality of the music and the images, and the wide range of themes covered by the film. People also praised the rhythm, pacing and the overall editing of the piece. Some of the individual comments we received included:

‘Some beautiful and unusual shots of some very familiar places’
‘Surprising views and moments of the capital. Gave a lot of attention to the unfamiliar’
‘Really enjoyed it. Thank you for showing us sides of the city that I never knew existed’

‘At the end my main feeling was ‘what an amazing city we live in’ and it made me realise how many places I still hadn’t visited. Both strong recommendations!’

There was less consensus among the comments relating to the film’s weaknesses. Although this was a good thing, as it meant there was no one area which simply didn’t work for our audience, it also meant that the feedback didn’t point to a specific area that we needed to improve. In other words, we weren’t given a clear way forward regarding how to improve the film. So, in the end, I spent about a month pouring over the feedback and making a plan of action, prior to setting about recutting the film.

I suppose, in truth, the changes to the new cut were fairly minimal. The biggest change was that I tightened the film throughout, reducing the runtime by four minutes. I’m hoping that this cut will be the final cut, but I’ll take another look at it once Jim has finished orchestrating the music, which is what he is currently working on. Our current plan is to have three of the four movements complete by the end of this month. How long the final movement will take will depend partly on Jim’s other commitments, but the end is now in sight.

In the meantime, here’s something to help whet your appetites: our friends at SOAS have released a short video that we made for them using footage shot for the film. We were thrilled to be given permission to shoot in SOAS, and as part of the deal we promised them a little promo — which you can see below. This is an extended version of the SOAS sequence which appears in London Symphony, and features Jim’s piano demo on the soundtrack. Viewing it alongside the final film will offer an insight into how the edit was continually refined throughout the postproduction process, as the promo is essentially the first edit of this material, which was later cut down into its final form. For now, though, hopefully you can simply enjoy it as a little film in its own right.

I’ll write another update for this journal in due course, but for more regular updates you can still join the official London Symphony community here: http://www.londonsymphfilm.com/donate.htm.