How I made the film of Laurel Holloman’s ‘Fertile Ground’ exhibition (includes unseen footage)

After you’ve watched this film, read on for exclusive unseen footage of Laurel discussing her life and career and to learn why I made certain creative choices.

Copyright John Wilson, 2017.

Last year, I hadn’t heard of Laurel Holloman or even The L Word. My mum though was on the lookout for new journalistic projects to pursue for me and she made contact with Laurel. To her great surprise, Laurel responded and said she would be interested in me filming ‘Fertile Ground’.

So I emailed Laurel with a little overview of my work so far. Enthusiastic, she proposed I film the opening night and installation. I hadn’t really thought through what my approach would be but eventually suggested an honest interview, delving into how her personal life had affected her career. To be honest, I was just eager to interview her and talking to people about deeply personal matters has always appealed to me.

With the interview lined up, I went about buying a DSLR. I had used one before when filming a classical music discussion for The Guardian a few years ago. However, those cameras functioned a lot differently to the more traditional video cameras I used for my Masters in Journalism and now use for my TV reporting for That’s Solent in Hampshire. The content I produced with my friend back then was poor, suffering from major lighting issues despite an attempt to save the footage in the edit.

I knew I needed my own equipment so bought a Fuji-XT2, tripod and various microphones. Desperate to get good quality footage I watched various video tutorials and read the manual back to back. I would learn that is no substitute for practise, something time didn’t quite permit, what with other work commitments.

In the days leading up to the exhibition, I toyed with the idea of creating a film in three acts. This was an ambitious and doomed attempt to create a parallel between the ‘death’ of Laurel’s film career and blooming of her art career and the life and death of flowers as conveyed in her art.

On the train up to London on Monday July 3rd I had though in mind creating a film that focussed on the installation then opening night. It wouldn’t be until I sat in the editing studio that I started to construct a story out of the interviews and footage. Story is incredibly important to film as it provides a narrative arc for the audience to follow and engage with. This film’s story would be Laurel’s evolution as an artist.

Despite having lots of experience I was nervous approaching the gallery. Tense too. Being a one man band can be a challenge regardless of the preparation I had put in, which included researching Laurel’s career online. Essentially, I wanted to do a really good job, for myself, my future career and for all the ones I care about who supported me with this project. I was really keen to impress any viewers, especially any commissioning editors (including those who weren’t enthused enough to publish my piece).

My journalism tutor’s words have stayed with me. So, in tried and tested fashion I did indeed start with what I thought my best images were; three of Laurel’s work which I felt would give her adoring fans what they wanted. I put a move on the shots and dissolved between them to hopefully create a more interesting initial montage rather than just three static shots of her paintings. I was also keen to avoid showing all paintings too early in the films. The close-ups with the movement hopefully showed some of the detail of Laurel’s work and also whet the audience’s appetite.

Conscious of my lack of knowledge of art, I was keen to avoid narrating the film. Laurel’s story would be much better told in her own voice. Really, I wished to avoid creating a piece that was too ‘journalistic’ i.e. in the fact filled style you see on the news.

I felt introducing Laurel early on would please the audience and enable them to understand and care about her hopes for the show. She also referenced London in this initial interview which helped locate the audience. Once London was mentioned I felt the need to convey atmosphere, which I hopefully achieved by using the singer. The first shot of Laurel has the shallow depth of field I was aiming for and one of my main reasons for using a DSLR.

I was keen to show the build-up to the exhibition so using the blue banner going up served that purpose along with being the film’s credits. Following on, Laurel discussed the show’s themes whilst sat down. This interview, along with the earlier one, was actually filmed on July 4th. Laurel helped choose the location. The shot undeniably helped with having the trees behind, feeding into the exhibition’s nature theme. Really though, this shot is overexposed despite some doomed attempts to correct it in the edit. The sun was actually much more powerful than I thought and is most noticeable on Laurel’s face. I chose not to use too much of this shot on screen, just playing the audio over better images that also served the narrative.

In telling the story of Laurel’s development, I faced challenges in terms of what to include and what not to include. As these clips show I left lots out for various reasons. Whilst these conversations reveal more of her character they, I felt, deviated perhaps too much from the central story.  The film’s final length was also a consideration.

Copyright John Wilson, 2017.

Copyright John Wilson, 2017.

Copyright John Wilson, 2017.

Whilst the beginning shots located the audience to an extent, I felt more establishing shots were necessary so I opted for the pan from the river to the gallery then the following one which takes you into the gallery.

I shaped the film based upon the content of Laurel’s interview and the fans’ reactions. Once I had chosen the audio I wanted from the interviews (that created a story of Laurel’s evolution as an artist) I slotted the images in accordingly. My initial ideas went out the way as I chose to use the best footage. On day one I filmed lots of the installation but unfortunately there was a lot of flickering due to the camera’s frame rate not aligning to the internal lights. Looking at day one’s footage at home was really disappointing.

I switched the frame rate for day two filming but that created some issues in the edit, which may be noticeable in the film when certain frames are dropped. I also made a shot list for day two and took a laptop with me so I could check the footage more easily. The small viewfinder on the DSLR isn’t ideal for checking the footage.

Laurel takes us through her evolution as an artist with the theme of nature reoccurring, noticeably when she talks of ‘Swell’. Fortunately I had recorded some footage of The River Thames to be used as establishing shots. Instead, the river shot really worked well with Laurel’s comments about water. The installation shots I used throughout the middle section of the film hopefully conveyed elements of the creative process and also Laurel’s decision making process, whilst adding a degree of tension.

I was eager to create a sense of intimacy when filming Laurel, which I feel comes across in the installation interview. We both agreed that focussing the film on her  career as an artist was the most appropriate route to take so Laurel’s comments about her acting days were only really included as they had a direct relevance to her art career.

Planning for day two went slightly out of the window when I arrived around midday with the intention of getting certain shots and fan reaction at the opening night. Hearing how one lady had travelled from America for the show made me realise I should get an interview with her quick. Other visitors had clearly travelled far and were happy being interviewed so I recorded those which I knew would reflect Laurel’s international appeal. For the final film I chose different comments from the fans that touched upon the themes of nature and artistic development. They also highlighted a key aspect of Laurel’s appeal; her paintings create a reaction.



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