Hidden Heroes

Late last year I was approached by the Brady Arts Centre in Tower Hamlets, about working with them to create an animation with their youth group (House of Talent).

The idea was to make a film around the theme of soldiers from India who served on the Western Front during World War I.

Because of the subject matter we felt that we had to be very careful about how we handled making this film, we wanted it to be respectful and reasonably accurate in it’s portrayal.

At our initial meeting we spent time generating ideas and eventually came up with the concept of following a letter sent between home (in this case India) and a soldier in the trenches of France.

There were lots of questions. How did a letter get delivered? How many letters were sent? Who wrote them when literacy levels at the time were so low? Did they have to use stamps? If they did how much did they cost?

Further online research revealed the facts around the War Postal System, which are quite staggering and well worth reading about on the BBCs web site.

So many other questions cropped up and in the final film we tried to answer as many of them as we could. If we did take artistic licence it was done in the spirit of trying to visualise points that we felt were of great interest and needed to be highlighted.

An example of this is the censorship sequence. This would have probably happened behind the front lines in an ad hoc manner. We placed it in a much more official and bureaucratic setting, because we wanted to emphasise the process and what would be allowed and what would be excised.

Over the next few weeks during their regular Thursday evening sessions I worked with the youth group to flesh out the film idea. We spent some time looking through books on World War I and watched and discussed the Sainsbury’s Christmas Truce advert, which covered and overlapped with parts of the story we wanted to tell.

Little by little we broke down the story into different scenes and then some of the group worked on character designs whilst others worked on sets and props.

During each session I set up an animation camera so we could quickly capture any of the ideas we had for scenes. These short rough scenes I then fashioned into an animatic along with storyboards and any drawings .

By the end of the third session we had a pretty good plan of how the film would go together and what we needed to create before filming could take place.

During half-term we set up shop in the Brady Art Centre’s fantastic art room. One end was devoted to building sets and painting, whilst the other was set up for animating.

Over the next few days everyone worked to make models and animate the scenes. This also involved working out lighting and camera movements that would help to keep the story flowing. By the end of filming the young people were really getting to grips with the animation process and their approach to filming was becoming much more considered and their animation much more nuanced. They had also become confident enough to handle setting up scenes unassisted.

The following week I assembled the footage matching it to our animatic. I could see we need three extra pick-up shots to help clarify some of the story points, so we filmed these quickly that Thursday evening. We also recorded the voices needed for the characters portrayed in the film, each of the young people attending that evening played one of the parts.

cutting_east_film_festivalWe were so pleased that the film was accepted into the Cutting East Film Festival 2015 – and was shown at the Genesis Cinema.

We were stunned when the film won the Matthew Martino Benevolent Fund – Rising Stars / Cutting It Short Award 2015.

The award was judged by a panel of film industry guests: Alison Pollock, Director of the East End Film Festival; Cairo Cannon, Film Producer and Executive Producer for Film London and the Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Newham Film Fund; Ally Clow, Manager of Genesis Cinema and AK Rahman, Cutting East Programmer.

The young people won £250 towards their next film project, a trophy and a certificate.

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