By Bella Spencer
I chucked buckets of paint, glitter and washing up liquid over 7 people. It was all for art… and science.
Earlier this year, 11 months into my time as a Young Leader for Science Gallery London, I pitched an idea for a short film to promote the next Young Leader programme. My idea combined my previous experience of directing short films and animations, with hours of trawling YouTube watching content developed by other cultural institutions to capture the attention of young people. All the videos took a similar approach - picture talking heads getting their message across but doing little to invigorate their audience or reflect their practice. As the Science Gallery prides themselves on being an ambitious space for 15-25 year olds to challenge the status quo, I wanted to create a promo video that did just that.
A still of Laura, glittering and gold.
To make my idea into a reality, I worked closely with Emma McLean, Marketing and Communications Manager to develop a brief, which we sent out to several film-makers. After much deliberation we agreed that Sofia Olins would make fantastic mentor and director. In the following months, she spent hours helping me to identify exactly what I was trying to say with my film and how I was going to say it. It was such an amazing, if not slightly daunting process of completely stripping my idea back to its core components. Eventually I came to the conclusion that my concept boiled down to something hyperstylied which explored what it meant to be young - much like every short film that ever lived…?
Initial scribblings of an idea
To help me find the flesh and blood that would hang off my barebones of an idea, Sofia suggested that I interview each of my fellow Young Leaders, who would also be the stars of my film. So I posed some very open ended questions over the phone and listened in awe as they waxed lyrical about the struggles and ambitions they associated with being young. We then pulled the most golden quotes from the transcript and saw that one theme cropped up time and time again… uncertainty. An uncertainty about what they want from the future, how to get it, and about how to operate in an ever changing society. With the help of script writer Laura Scrivano, we tweaked the language to ensure it resonated with all demographics and transformed the jumble of sentences into an emotive and empowering script.
A still of Angela, sporting silver paint.
With the real essence of the film defined, next we needed a visual tool to reflect it. We bounced around ideas of playing with light and colour to obscure faces, alluding to uncertainty. After many iterations and a 4am lightbulb moment from Sofia, we landed on the concept of distorting figures with liquid, then rewinding the footage to reveal a united group of young people with a new sense of clarity. The idea really resonated with me as I felt it mixed concepts of science (think chemistry experiments and the laws of gravity) with the aesthetics of art. I wanted to use a mix of materials to reflect the diverse topics that Science Gallery London explores. To decide which materials would be used, a fun afternoon was spent staring at the Young Leaders’ headshots, choosing which substance would look best poured over their beautiful faces.
High tech meets low tech as Stacie is film being covered in washing up liquid.
It may come as a surprise, but neither Sofia or I had any prior experience in the art of capturing liquid being thrown over someone's face at a great height, so we did a test run. We filmed cold custard, glitter and red paint being poured over my head and used the footage to map out a shot-list and plan the logistics of the unexpectedly complicated shoot. It was so valuable to learn about the sheer amount of time and planning that goes into films that appear so slick and simple.
Mandeep meets his paint fate
Then came the shoot. With the help of Director of Photography, Anetta Remler, two camera operators, a paddling pool and a lot of plastic sheeting to protect the kit, we filmed over two consecutive evenings. Because of the unpredictability of how each substance would fall we decided to film each set up twice. It was all hands on deck to get each Young Leader in position, filmed, cleaned, reset and filmed again. It was intriguing to watch how Sofia got the best performance out of each Young Leader and kept energy up on set, while also ensuring we got the footage we needed in the little time we had.
With hours of footage in the bag, Sofia and I joined editor James Stubbs for evenings on end to cut down to our final 1 minute 12 seconds. It was amazing to see how meticulous and patient James was, searching for the right split seconds to carry the film along. We sent an early draft, along side a playlist for inspiration, to sound designer Jen Walton, who created our track. After lots of tweaking, additions from a sound designer and the voice over, the audio was complete.
A storyboard to map out the key shots.
The day the final filmed arrived in my inbox was a tense moment and the anticipation as I pressed play was explosive. Despite having watched various iterations of the film, thousands of times, I was totally captivated and choked up by what we - Sofia, me and the village of people who helped us on the project - had created. It was such a relief that everybody’s creativity, ambition, time, sweat and glitter had paid off. I hope that the film resonates with the audience and inspires the next generation of Young Leaders to rally together and make our generation’s voice heard in this uncertain time.
Selecting shots in the edit with James Stubbs, Final Cut
Big thanks to everyone involved- the cast , the crew and the team at Science Gallery London. A special mention goes to Sofia and Emma - thanks for giving me this amazing opportunity and for forgiving me for covering everything in glitter. Let’s call it my legacy.
Creative director and Young Leader, Bella, covered in feathers.
Bella Spencer is a Northerner and Neuroscience graduate with a creative streak. She is interested in how art and science combine to engage diverse audiences with scientific and social issues. Bella recently created a short film, Staccato, exploring the paradoxical beauty behind neurological diseases. She applies her love of story-telling while co-editing her online zine, Plathoes Cave. Her ultimate aim as a Young Leader is to produce innovative and ambitious projects that provoke thought, debate and change.
October 10, 2019