The Camino

For over a thousand years, pilgrims have been making their way on foot to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela, the resting place of the remains of Saint James. About 2.5 million people a year visit Santiago, over 200,000 of them walking the Camino, a pilgrimage across France and Spain. Traditionally, the Camino de Santiago should begin from the front door of your home. If you happened to live 50 kilometres away from the Cathedral, that was all you walked. If you live in Nottingham, like me, walking from your doorstep would take an inordinate amount of time. But, in fact, plenty of people in Europe do begin from their homes, a few weeks at a time over a number of years. So where did I begin my Camino? In 2013 I walked 116 kilometres from Sarria to Santiago in five days. This Easter, my challenge was to walk 90 kilometres in four days across hills, mountains and rivers from Santiago to Finisterre, The End of the World. Pilgrims from every background are today drawn to the Camino from all over the world. What is common to them all, is that they have left behind all that is familiar to them, in order to wake each day to a new stretch of road. No two pilgrims are likely to experience or to understand the Camino in exactly the same way. Some will have walked one hundred kilometres, some five hundred, some more than a thousand. It is essential to travel as light as possible, as everything you need is carried on your back whilst walking roughly 20 kilometres each day. As a filmmaker, I had an excessive amount of equipment.

My BagAccommodation tends to be scattered around the 15 to 20 kilometre marks so it is worth finding out where each albergue or refugio is before you start your trip. Most hostels are made up of mixed dormitories with simple bunk beds. For a few euros you are given a disposable pillowcase and a sheet for the mattress on which to place a sleeping bag. Some Albergues are nearby small restaurants offering simple pilgrim meals and some are nearby or serve no food at all. Refugios or Albergues come in all shapes and sizes and some are owned either by the government, local councils, religious groups or by private individuals. Your Pilgrim’s passport gets you into a refugio. You will be refused entry if you don’t have one. This passport has spaces for stamps obtained from different establishments during the day. These stamps work as proof that you have walked a certain distance.

Small Waterfall

As I have said before, no two pilgrims are likely to experience or to understand the Camino in exactly the same way, but all of those who walk it will experience the same miracle – this pilgrimage will play a defining role in their lives. “The Way” is an inspirational film about Tom, a man who decides to walk the Camino after collecting the remains of his adult son, killed in a Pyrenees storm whilst walking the Camino. What Tom doesn’t plan on, is the profound impact the journey will have on his life. In a way, that very film had an impact on my life in that it inspired me to immediately plan to undertake the final aspect of the same journey, knowing that such an adventure would shape me as a human being at an informative stage in my life. There is a well known saying that the Camino begins when you reach the end. What does this mean to me? It is true that days of walking can produce fatigue, loneliness and pain. However, the sense of achievement that you get from completing such a journey is… indescribable. Life is a journey in itself, and I aim walk my life’s journey with the same enthusiastic and gutsy determination as I walked the Camino. Why did I walk the Camino? Well, for that very reason.

The these blog post extracts were taken from my short documentary ‘The Camino’, premiering on YouTube June 2015. The  text is designed for voiceovers, however, they should flow well as a blog post as I really want to document my Camino experience in text form.

Giving Blood

I just gave blood in Bingham for the first time today. Giving blood is a really kind thing to do, I’m not saying I’m a kind person, but I am ‘kind’ of an idiot if that counts. Awful joke, nevertheless, it can save a life, and although I feel terrible (I will get into that), I am still glad I have done it. All the stuff I’m about to tell you should not put you off giving blood, it was just my experience, everyone there seemed chilled (except for the moron that is me), plus you get biscuits at the end and who doesn’t like biscuits.

I felt comfortable as I entered the donation room as I used to play badminton and have PE lessons there, my taxi driver mother was with me for the brief sign in period as she couldn’t give blood due to having her nose pierced. As soon as you have registered you have to tick a page full of boxes about your health and sexual experiences. I’ve never felt like such a virgin in all my life. You enter a booth after a short wait and they prick your finger to test if your blood is suitable for donation, that was all fine. Can I just mention that the NHS people working there were so nice, I mean it is their job and everything but if someone complained to me about something I’d ave em.

I sat down at the chair, and closed my eyes as the nurse pressured my arm and inserted the needle. Although I don’t like looking at needles on TV and don’t enjoy the experience, I’m cool with it, it’s not bad but it’s not great. As soon as the extraction began, I began to feel sick and lightheaded, both of the symptoms that the nurse told me was a sign that you are not up for giving blood, I blamed it on the nerves and sat there for five minutes doing nothing. The average person gives around a pint of blood in ten minutes, I gave it in five, the fastest that particular nurse had seen anyone give blood. My blood cells obviously hate me. The nurse took the needle out of me and let me sit their for a few seconds before asking me some questions. Did you feel sick or lightheaded? I still do as I’m typing this, one hour after giving blood.

As soon as I told the nurse she realised that I was as pale as Marilyn Manson. I looked like Cassandra, that terrifying skin thing from Dr Who. They pulled a screen behind me and told me to breathe and update them on how I was feeling, that worked well, but I still felt wobbly walking to the biscuit table, thinking about the blood leaving my body. They poured me a glass of water and unpacked a black safety bed/stretcher. In the end, I didn’t need to use it, but that being their made me feel worse as I knew that the Nurses thought I wasn’t right. Whilst stuffing my face full of biscuits I asked my mum a few random generic questions to take my mind of the experience. What’s for tea then? As many as you can get, pointing to the biscuits. My mum is mental.

Nevertheless, I’d still recommend giving blood as it can save a life. Although my experience wasn’t the most fun, you are taken care of and feel good in a way that you have probably kept someone alive. I’m booked in again for the 27th September 2015, join me if you want.

Yours sincerely, the fastest blood donor in Bingham.

Factual Programming

This essay was completed for Unit 27 (Factual Programming) for TV and Film.
A factual programme must document actual people and events to tell a true story. Factual programmes are amongst the most popular forms of television, certainly the most popular non-fiction form of visual entertainment. Television channels such as the Discovery Channel and National Geographic are known for airing documentaries, mostly environmental, cultural and wildlife related whilst Channel 4 are known for producing documentary films as well as content for their TV channel. Documentaries, like feature films, use certain conventions. A primary documentary convention is ‘cutaways’. Cutaways are shots relating to the narrative without showing the action or the speaker. An example of a cutaway is if an interviewee is talking about smoking, a shot of them smoking or lighting a cigarette may be shown over the subject’s voice.  These help the filmmaker to portray a subject in a positive or negative way.

Sub-Categories of Factual Programming
Factual programmes are split into sub-categories, the most popular being documentaries (programmes that provide a factual report on a subject). Docudrama is a sub-category that features historical events, usually re-enacted. However, these documentaries may use archive footage (footage found or recorded from an external source). Some docudrama productions re-enact historical events in their actual location of where the events originally happened and employ actors to voice over the film or TV programme as their character. An example of this is the TV programme ‘United 93’, a docudrama about the tragic 9/11 events in New York. This programme portrays exactly what happened using dramatised re-enactments. Quite a lot of the re-enactments in this TV show are filmed with  handheld equipment. By doing this, the documentary has an amateur and personal quality, making it more relatable to the viewer rather than having a cinematic quality.

Reality TV, also a sub-category of factual programming, is known for its unscripted, spontaneous and humorous situations. All documented events are situated in reality in that they are not acted. Reality TV over the years has begun to evolve around pop and youth culture. Two of the biggest reality TV shows include ‘I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’ and ‘Celebrity Big Brother’, their unique selling point is the fact that their subjects are always infamous celebrities. Having famous people such as these on screen also promotes the programme in some way  as the subjects can have large fan-bases or quite the opposite in that they cause media interest. Celebrities appear on these shows to promote themselves too.

A docu soap is a sub-category that follows a group, family or single person on their life’s journey whether it is day to day or otherwise. Although this may seem identical to reality TV, docu soaps can be based on the subject’s daily routine rather than placing them in certain awkward situations such as a bush tucker trial on ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’. Like reality TV, the subjects can be famous people and do not use scripts. In doing so, the audience is able to see the celebrity as a real person, with real emotions. This enables the viewer to connect and empathise with the celebrity. ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’ is a typical example of a docu soap. This programme focuses on the stereotypical wedding traditions of the traveler community. Although the TV show may seem a little controversial and biased in places, many viewers tune in as it is a different form of  British culture. This show particularly uses the factual programming convention vox pops (unorganised spontaneous interviews). These vox pops are habitually of the travellers themselves commenting on the everything that happens within the wedding process. This is all unscripted. Vox pops are a useful convention in that they provide a informal viewpoint often shared with the viewer themselves.

Infotainment factual programs are based around entertaining the viewers as well as educating them. These programmes usually contain a presenter who is knowledgeable about the subject covered. For example, ex football players present  ‘Soccer AM’. The Discovery Channel’s programmes focus on naturalistic and cultural happenings within the world itself. These programmes rely on fact and professional opinion, using certain procedures such as montages to engage the viewer’s interest. Montages are a key example of a factual programme technique involving clips of the subject alongside a musical interlude. These documentaries also rely on archive footage and graphics made in post production. For example, whilst talking about global warming, an animation could be seen of the world rather than footage of the narrator speaking to the camera.

 

Wildlife documentaries are another sub-category of factual programming. These natural history programmes are educational and contain narration throughout describing for example the animal’s habitat or antics. ‘Deadly 60’ is a TV show created by presenter Steve Backshall focusing on certain dangerous animals. Modern graphics are used throughout episodes to display facts. This makes it more modern and eye catching as the programme is aimed at children. These conventions enable the programme to display facts in an interesting manner, making the programme always have something interesting on screen, instead of just Steve Backshall talking.

Educational television programmes are designed solely to educate the viewer. Children’s educational television programmes are created so that children can acquire knowledge whilst being entertained by a story. The animated television show ‘Dora the Explorer’ often has a plot that the audience is able to participate in by asking rhetorical questions. Dora breaks the fourth wall throughout the show, asking the children watching what she should do next whilst teaching them a new language.

Documentary Sub-Genres
Along side music and fictional films, documentaries too have sub-genres. Poetic documentaries, a popular sub-genre, first appeared in the 1920s. The director of a poetic documentary would take the chosen subject and turn it into a story to create a full narrative. An example of this is David Attenborough’s work. In his documentaries, he gives animals human characteristics through narration to accentuate and embellish the story. Although poetic documentaries are factual and realistic, they use cinematic techniques such as colour correction to improve the film’s overall appearance. Cinematic music is often employed to make the action that is going on in a scene seem more exciting. For example, if two lions are fighting in a wildlife poetic documentary, intense music will play just like an action film to emphasise the seriousness of the happenings.

Expository documentaries speak to the audience often in the form of a commentary or narration to highlight an opinion. They usually propose a song point. In expository documentaries, the narrator and/or filmmaker is shown often in front of the camera and gives their point of view. A good example of this is found within Louis Theroux’s documentaries. A sub-genre in contrast is observational documentaries. These factual programmes always included spontaneous life with almost no filmmaker involvement or intervention altogether. The works of John Grierson are mainly expository.

Performative documentaries acknowledge the subjective and emotional aspects of documentaries and use hypothetical reenactments to emphasise and dramatise scenes. Dramatisation (a key factual programming convention) is used in performative documentaries in order to excite the subject. Some of these effects include dramatic music, cliff hangers and enhanced graphics. An example of a performative documentary is Marlon Riggs’s ‘Tongues United’. The 1991 film constantly switches between confessions, poems, archive footage and interviews to enhance the viewer’s experience and boost the emotionality of a scene. Another convention of performative documentaries are sound effects. If someone were to throw a punch, foley sound would most likely be used just like a feature fictional film to call attention to the seriousness of the action.

Reflexive documentaries are truthful but not a perfect representation of the subject. Commonly known as the most ‘self aware’ sub-genre, reflexive documentaries present the chosen subject as in their own way. Rather than being a window on the world, they can sometimes appear untruthful. Example here Special interest documentaries are a genre that differs from the rest and revolves solely around their target audience. Televisions such as Top Gear focus completely on motor vehicles, appealing strongly to lovers of cars, primarily men.

Research and Respect
As factual productions tend to be based upon accuracy and nonfictional in approach, extensive research needs to be performed in order for the production to be acceptably informative and precise. Before researching the topic and creating a pre-production folder, a producer/filmmaker would need to perform primary and secondary research. Primary research consists of previously uncollected newly discovered data. For example, filmmakers would need to create a public questionnaire and head out into busy locations to ask their target audience on their opinion of the subject. Online questionnaires held on internet platforms such as Survey Monkey are becoming increasingly popular. With just the click of a few buttons, potential viewers are able to fill in information and answer questions online. After this process, the filmmaker can select individual data and figure out which age groups answered what to select a primary target audience. Secondary research includes gathering data that has already been researched. For example, a filmmaker would need to search online for already made documentaries of the subject (if they do indeed  exist) and plan a shot list of cutaways that they would need to create.

Qualitative research is the art of understanding a phenomenon from a closer perspective. Interviews are a key documentary convention and a fantastic example of qualitative research as they include gathering information from an interviewee (usually someone that knows a lot about the subject and/or is involved with it) and asking them for more information on the subject. In contrast, quantitative research tends to be mainly exploring a subject from a distance using methods such as surveys and gathering large amounts of information. Although the information gathered would not be as detailed as within a personal interview, they allow generalisation and can be more relatable as most of the public answering the survey will not know much, if not nothing at all about the subject.

In documentaries, professionalism should be shown if the information given is meant to be taken seriously. During an interview with Jimmy Saville, documentary filmmaker and interviewer at the time Louis Theroux asked open questions and did not pressure Saville despite Saville’s attempts to undermine Theroux. This left the audience to form their own reaction about this infamous celebrity. Louis Theroux is a primary example of a filmmaker who respects the art of factual programming. He is professional, and reserved in uncomfortable interview situations. By constantly remaining relaxed, Theroux lures the interviewee into a relaxed and comfortable state enabling them to reveal their true personality often to the detriment of their career.

 

Stacy Dooley portrays a bad example of interviewer professionalism. During what was supposed to be an interview with Muslim extremists, she begins to argue with them as she disagrees with their opinion, damaging her reputation. Although her documentary would have meant to be controversial, the argument felt defensive, personal and portrayed little factual content. A muslim protester was interrupted by her whilst explaining why they’re protesting and then made this remark: “I think you look naked on the street.” Stacy immediately replies with an angry tone “Do I look naked, do I?” Throughout that interview, it was clear that she had not planned her questions correctly and figured out the best method of getting a good answer from someone without offending them. For example: Confirmatory questions, like suggestive questions, guide the interviewee into saying the preferred answer, leading on answers to support a point.

A good documentary filmmaker should always plan their questions before an interview and ask the subjects to sign a release form (a document giving the filmmaker the rights to use them in their film) to avoid copyright issues. Copyright issues occur when the filmmaker does not ask permission to use footage or takes archive footage without permission. For example, if one were to create a film about video games, they would need to make sure that the game’s developers allow their product to be displayed in the documentary, as although it could promote the game, the product could be controversially represented.

So what is the purpose of a factual programme? Filmmakers that have respect for their craft would plan out how they want the audience to react and what they want the audience to learn. A documentary would be made in a certain way and have a certain style/sub-genre depending on the way a filmmaker would like to represent the subject. For example, poetic documentaries turn a happening into a narrative and use conventions such as colour correction to make the scene look more appealing. No matter what or how a subject is portrayed in a documentary, the priority purpose of a factual programme will always be to inform the audience.

Cambodia

Day 1
Our adventure began with an 8 hour public bus journey to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam as both trips were connected with the travel company “Intrepid”. In the late afternoon, our group leader Channy invited us on a tuc tuc tour around the city.

Day 2
Day 2 appeared to be one of the most thought provoking days of my life so far. This day included a visit to the Killing Fields. Whilst looking at Choeung Ek’s mass graves you could find yourself standing on clothes, bones and even teeth, some belonging to children. It is just one of the areas in which the radical Communist Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot killed nearly two million people outright or died as a result of torture, disease, overwork and starvation in the 1970’s.

Day 3
A slightly more upbeat day 3 opened with a 9 hour bus journey to Siem Reap. On the way, we visited a silk farm and learned how they turn silkworm eggs into the luxurious fabric. Before reaching the city, we visited a floating village where I got some great shots of the houses on stilts by boat.

Day 4
After applying an awful lot of suncream and bug spray to our sunburnt English skin, the day we were all waiting for arrived, Angkor Wat. Built in the early 12th century, the temple complex is the largest religious monument on earth, and is one of the seven wonders of the world, so, you might have heard of it. After this, we traveled to two more beautiful places of worship built in the Angkor region.

Day 5
I am not a morning person, and it takes a lot of breakfast tea and begging to get me up at 4am, unless you count the morning of day 5. The sunrise over Angkor Wat. Almost templed out, we visited a temple called Ta Prohm (sorry for my awful pronunciation of Cambodian names). This temple was famous for having interesting root structures growing in, through and on the complex. The grounds reminded me of the Indiana Jones films but then I was told that the complex was actually used for the film “Tomb Raider” in 2001. With the afternoon to explore the local area, we quad biked through local rice paddy fields which was extremely fun as field shortcuts have no speed limit. In the evening we watched some traditional Cambodian dancing.

Day 6
Our last full day in Cambodia was filled with a 4 hour trip to Battambang to reduce the 14 hour trip to Bangkok. In the evening, we had a go riding a bamboo train. The train had an element of charm about it as health and safety was really not an issue there.

The following blog post is taken from The Breakfast Blog, a collaborative music and film blog created by myself. This was one of the first posts on the site, being taken down now by myself due to the blog’s change of genre.
Original Date Posted: 9th August 2014
Reposted: 14th July 2015

Vietnam

Day 1
After a tiring Friday filled with packing and panicking, my mother and I took a train, two tubes and two flights before arriving in Hanoi, the beautiful capital of Vietnam. There’s a six hour time gap between Hanoi and London so we had literally jumped into Sunday before we new it. Nevertheless, a jet lagged Sarah and Ed met up with the group, checked in and slept.

Day 2
We left our Hanoi hotel around 8 to take a 4.5 hour journey to Ha Long Bay, known for being one of the natural wonders of the world. Our tour group of 16 people took a small boat in order to get to the big boat in which we would stay the night. The views were stunning. After an hour of relaxation on the top deck we visited some beautiful touristy caves called Sung Sot. It was packed inside but we could see why. After lunch and some more relaxing, we kayaked around the bay.

Day 3
The morning of day 3 opened with eight slices of toast and some swimming in the warm lake which could also not be filmed for similar reasons. At around 10am we waved goodbye to our hotel boat and took the 4.5 journey back to Hanoi. This time we were not as jet lagged so we decided to discover some of the Vietnamese culture. Including the 2 million motorbikes and mopeds they have in Hanoi alone. The evening was spent trying local coffee, beer and dinner. The evening kicked off with an overnight train to Hue. I’d been on an overnight train before in china but this one seemed very basic and unclean even though it’s made for more affluent people. Luckily I only saw one Cockroach.

Day 4
We left the overnight train at 11 after about 4 hours sleep. An absolutely shattered Ed checked in at our 12 floor hotel with stunning views and went out for lunch. In the afternoon, we visited Hue’s Synodal. It was very much like The Forbidden City in Beijing except it wasn’t as packed with tourists.

Day 5
Today began with a motorbike tour of the city. Traveling 50 miles an hour on the back of a Vietnamese motorbike was thoroughly enjoyable. We visited a market and got some great shots of people selling local spices, vegetables and fish. We also noticed that most of the stallholders and a solider were gathered around this one lady at her stall. I’ll never know why but she appeared to be crying whilst packing up her flip flops. One probably the most action packed day of the holiday, my camera battery decided to commit suicide. I relied on my German friend Moritz to film the most of day 5 on his Go Pro. For lunch we were catered for by Buddhist nuns in a Pagoda, so I loved the vegetarian aurora. We also visited the famous Duluc Tomb, multiple monasteries and took a boat trip back into the city.

Day 6
Another early start for Ed for day 6, it was time to check out of our awesome hotel and head on a 5 hour long journey on the WiFi bus to Hoi An with some pretty incredible stops along the way including a nice dip in the sea and some huge viewpoints. We arrived at our hotel at around 1pm and checked in to find out that it had a huge pool and a really nice garden. After this we explored the beautiful town of Hoi An and visited a local tailors where I had a shirt made for me. I also ordered some dodgy tailor made fake vans that had EdFleming98 embroidered on the back. Swag, I thought I’d been ripped off 15 pounds but they fitted perfectly, I still won’t risk hiking in them though. It was Ange’s birthday too, so we toured the town at night, ordered a lot of cocktails and watched our own paper lanterns float away (made a wish). Although I’ve been filming this whole holiday, the only pictures I can post on this blog are ones taken from my iPad Mini in which I’ve been writing everything on. I am unable to connect my camera to my iPad as it requires a laptop that at the moment I don’t even have at home.

Day 7
Today our lovely guide led us on a bike ride around the local country side that included agricultural culture, learning farming methods and riding a buffalo. Riding it was easy except for the fact that avert time you move on it’s back it swats you with its long tail. Nevertheless, the bike ride was a fun sweaty adventure which was rewarded with a boat trip back to the hotel. After some hotel relaxation, my mother and I visited the local beach (which was very tropical) and had a luxurious swim. In the evening, some of us including Nick from Reading room a cooking class at a local restaurant and learned how to cook some traditional Vietnamese dishes (vegetarian of course)including my favourite, the spring roll. Our teacher was called Happy Hanh and was the most eccentric character you could meet, she certainly lived up to her name, I’m pretty sure we sang a song for each item of food we prepared, including the classic “chopped carrot” and “sunflower oil” songs.

Day 8
We woke up at 4am to board a 1 hour internal flight to Ho Chi Min city. Exhausted, we immediately visited the War Remnants Museum. We found out about the horrors of the Vietnamese war and Agent Orange. Unfortunately, I was unable to film most of the museum because there appeared to be a lot of scarring images. Later we took a 2 hour trip to the Cu Chi tunnels belonging to the Viet Cong throughout the war. We were able to see some deadly traps set for the Americans throughout the war and I also got to fire an AK47 at a firing range which was pretty awesome.

Day 9
Day 9 appeared to be the last day with our amazing guide Trung and some of the group.The final day turned out to be the busiest with an early trip to the Mekong Delta. After crossing the width of the wide river by boat we learned how to make coconut candy and sampled some created by locals. We then traveled to our next location by Vietnamese tuc tucs. On the other side of the island, we ate with a family. Different foods and drinks were sampled including dragon fruit, jack fruit and traditional tea drank by locals whilst listening to some traditional music played by the family. To get back to the boat we boarded sampans. With the rest of the afternoon to explore Vietnam, we visited a traditional water puppet theatre in which we saw a mad collection of wooden figures dance in a huge pool for 5 dollars. Roll on Cambodia.

The following blog post is taken from The Breakfast Blog, a collaborative music and film blog created by myself. This was one of the first posts on the site, being taken down now by myself due to the blog’s change of genre.
Original Date Posted: 4th August 2014
Reposted: 14th July 2015