Extant – looking through a different lens

Have you been to the theatre lately?  What did the set look like?  The costumes?  Was there dancing?  Impressive lighting?

Most of us take for granted our ability to see what is happening on stage – theatre is such a visual medium.  But ‘Extant’, Britain’s leading professional performing arts company of visually impaired (VI) people, is making huge leaps in ensuring that people without sight, or with limited sight, are able to have a rich, stimulating and enjoyable experience of theatre.


I have been documenting the first year of Extant’s ‘Regional Hub Building’ programme in Birmingham and Manchester, working alongside Extant’s Jodie Stus.  Working in partnership with The Lowry in Salford Quays and mac Birmingham, Extant have developed a comprehensive programme, focusing on creating more opportunities for people with VI to engage with drama and theatre.

The first year of the programme has involved performance, participation workshops and training – all of which are explored in the film.  However, for me, it seemed only right that everything that I had learnt through documenting the project came into play when editing the film together.  So, this is my effort to make a film with a clear narrative which isn’t reliant on visuals, which makes as much sense for people without full vision as those with.  I’ve focused on using bold text, high contrast and simple graphics and I have tried to audio describe cut-aways of performances and workshops.

I would be eager to find out what ‘viewers’ think of the film.  How can film makers improve accessibility without compromising narrative and style?  Do get in touch with your comments!

Babies, fonts, baked goods and ducks…

…all of which are linked and make perfect sense when making films with a talented, and very witty, bunch of young people!

Recently I’ve been working with the ‘Woodcraft Pioneers’ in Kings Heath, helping them to make a series of short films. Our starting point was that the group love a decent debate, so we decided to make it light-hearted by giving them some statements to defend through a short film.

We started off doing some basic film-making sessions, looking at how to use equipment and how to conduct interviews. Then it was over to the Pioneers to storyboard and script their own films.  A few highlights of filming included brawling babies, stalking ducks and a mass protest in the middle of Kings Heath Park.

So, a few weeks ago we screened the Premiere of our films, loosely based on the statements: ‘All babies should be taught to ice-skate – just in case’, ‘Comic Sans is the best font’, ‘All money should be replaced with baked goods’ and ‘Ducks are the most evil animal’. Unfortunately (as with most work I do with young people) I can’t share the films online, but hopefully these images give you a flavour of what has been a really enjoyable, if highly surreal, project!

Huge thanks is due to the fantastic volunteers who run the Woodcraft Folk group, a band of very creative, enthusiastic and supportive parents.

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The Care Act – the Nottinghamshire Experience

Summer 2016 is knocking on the door.  OK, well not today.  Today it’s raining, but this past weekend the sun was beating down on the bluebells and blossom.  I’m ever the optimist!  Anyhow, it’s reminded me that it’s getting on for a year since last summer’s excursions up to Nottinghamshire with Sam and James from Iconic Productions and I’ve still not blogged about it properly.  The reason?  I helped them to produce a suite of films for Nottinghamshire County Council to explore aspects of the Care Act – how it affects both statutory and third sector organisations, what the public need to know, what is being done on a local level to provide excellent care for adults who have care needs.  I was mainly involved in interviewing – and there were some really fascinating stories to be told, like this film incorporating Julie’s story.

Strength Based Approach from Iconic Productions on Vimeo.

There is quite a range of different films incorporating interviews, presentations, animation and motion graphics.  Plus a voice that you may recognise.  You can view the whole suite of films on Iconic Productions’ Vimeo site, but I particularly like this short animation.  Meet Bob.

Strength Based Support Animation from Iconic Productions on Vimeo.

And if that impresses you, have a look at Iconic Productions’ 2016 showreel.  Talented, talented people.

Iconic Productions – Showreel 2016 from Iconic Productions on Vimeo.

Broadening Choices for Older People

Like so many people, when I look at the options facing me in my old age there is a level of apprehension. Within my own family there have been difficult choices to make when it comes to accommodation and care of elderly relatives.

So, it has been a welcome relief to collaborate with the wonderful BCOP (Broadening Choices for Older People), eight years after I was first invited to make a short film for them. BCOP are a charitable organisation, providing exceptional care and accommodation to people over the age of 50. Accommodation ranges from small houses and apartments for people able to live independently, right through to nursing care for people in the later stages of dementia. Their care homes offer a ‘Sensory Experience’, including pet farms, ‘Sensory Streets’ with sweet shops and tearooms and a huge range of tailored activities and outings for residents. And innovation isn’t just about homes and care – the newly refurbished Anita Stone Court offers a Shared Ownership model, the first of its kind, which allows residents to gradually release equity from their homes to cover care costs as needs change.

2016 marks BCOP’s 70th Anniversary, so we kickstarted the year with a film documenting some of the many aspects of the Charity’s work.  Once again I teamed up with Sam and James at Iconic Productions to produce something which not only looks really impressive, it also tells the story of the organisation from the perspective of those who know it best – its family of residents, their families and the staff.  It was screened at a celebratory meal for staff and supporters in January and it was humbling to see lots of smiles, nods of recognition and thumbs up as the film was playing.

Broadening Choices for Older People from Rachel Gillies on Vimeo.

There will be plenty more to come over the rest of the year as Sam, James and I continue to document the next stage in BCOP’s journey to create broader choices for people in their later years.

Confessions of a lazy blogger

Hum – so it’s been a while since I’m blogged anything I notice.  I’ve not gone away.  Or at least I did go away, had a baby (yes, another one!) then got back to the business of making more lovely films, albeit on a part time basis.  Fellow travellers in the world of creative and freelance work will know that time is precious when small people enter the equation, so I’ve been head down in work when I’ve not had small children tugging at my legs (and sometimes even when they have been tugging at my legs!).  Sorry for the silence!

So, what to update you with?  Here are a few projects I’ve worked on to give you a flavour…

I’ve been so lucky to work yet again with the fabulous team at DanceXchange who as ever are doing pioneering work in bringing Dance to new audiences.  This time I documented ‘Strive’, a training scheme devised to support Dance Artists in their work with vulnerable and marginalised groups.  The rigor and thought that went into the scheme was fantastic, with plenty for me to take away and use in my own practice.

There have been some really powerful stories that I have been privileged enough to share over the past couple of years.  A series of short films for Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Trust focused on the stories of patients and carers to try to unpick what ‘care’ means to them.  From a mother of a terminally ill child to a nurse with an unapologetically forthright approach to delivering care, the films really showed how complex a subject it can be.  The films are now part of a package of training materials shown to medical students prior to placements.

Another project in Rowley Regis brought to the screen some research done by a group of adults with learning disabilities. They wanted to share their experiences and frustrations as they navigate their way through the many challenges they face in the day to day – including paying bills and filling in forms, finding work, doing shopping and paying for the Bedroom Tax.

On a much more lighthearted note, I continued my longstanding relationship with The Lichfield Festival by helping a group of young people film a series of shorts, all filmed at Chasewater Light Railway.  The filming was silly amounts of fun and hopefully that’s reflected in the finished films!

I have also been collaborating with other Film Makers – the very talented Sam Lockyer and James Watson of Iconic Productions.  We worked together throughout last Summer to film twelves short films for Nottinghamshire County Council, focusing on The Care Act and the range of services being delivered throughout the County.  You may recognise the voice on some of the voiceovers!

Right – back to it with an edit. And this time I will be sharing it widely when it’s done!

What is ‘Care’?

Care.  It’s about wanting the best outcome for someone.  Working with them to make that happen.  Simple, right?

In practice, providing ‘care’ can be complex and far from straightforward, particularly within the NHS and the vast range of services it provides.  Recognising these conundrums, and against the backdrop of ‘The Francis Report’ into care standards which stemmed from malpractice within hospitals in Staffordshire, I was commissioned to make a series of short case studies looking at what patients, their families and health practitioners understand by the term ‘care’.  These films now form part of the training that all medical students at Birmingham City University undertake prior to their first placements.

It was an eye opening and frequently emotional experience, exploring the tough calls, tight relationships and massive dedication required on a daily basis to ensure that patients receive the care and treatment they need.  It was a real privilege to be invited into people’s homes and lives and have them speak so candidly about their experiences.

Here is one of the seven case studies – Madeleine and Liz.  Liz articulates so well how sometimes you have to be, if not cruel to be kind, certainly assertive.  More films in the series can be viewed through the Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust Student Hub portal.

Patient Stories – Madeleine and Liz from BCHC COMMS on Vimeo.

Playing Out

Back in August three roads closed to traffic in Kings Heath to allow kids (and willing adults!) to ‘play out’.  It’s something associated with a bygone era – all of those street games that were so much a part of our grandparents’ childhoods.  A new initiative, called ‘Playing Out’ is trying to create spaces for children to rediscover the art of play – and with it give them opportunities to meet neighbours, form new friendships and to gain a sense of belonging within their own neighbourhoods.

I filmed the event in August for a short promotional film.  There is now a large network of people – residents, play organisations, artists – beavering away to make sure that there will be plenty more events like this.  The film aims to give others inspiration to get their streets closed.  If you are interested then go to www.playingout.net or contact Louise Palfreyman – details at the end of the film.

Discover Dance!

I was a keen little dancer as a kid – ballet, tap, stage dancing.  A precocious little ball of energy, clad in pink lycra with hair in a tight, tight bun and face caked in blue eyeshadow on the stage of Aldridge Youth Theatre.  I loved it, and always get a tingle when I see others experiencing the liberation of leaping about, the point when they are given permission to let go of inhibitions and discover how joyous dance can be.

So how wonderful was it to document a project that encourages dance in the middle of lessons?  Yes, that’s right.  Dance in English.  Dance in Maths.  Dance in French!  And for that to be coupled with seeing professional dancers perform in the middle of your classroom?  To have the opportunity to go on a trip to see a live contemporary dance show?  Tingly.

‘Discover Dance’, a project developed by DanceXchange and Dance4, brings live professional dance to the classroom and uses dance to engage pupils in learning key subjects in a creative, exciting way.  It’s hard to visualise how dance can be relevant to learning about algebra, but as you can see from the film, this works.  Pupils use their bodies to explore concepts and ideas that may not make so much sense on paper.  It’s fun, and so, so liberating to push the desks to one side.  Pupils also have the opportunity to attend a live dance performance, to make connections between what they have learnt in school and the world of professional dance performance in professional venues.  Inspiring stuff.

I’ve been documenting the pilot project in two schools.  The short documentary is now doing the rounds of schools to encourage other schools to participate in developing the project further and bring this wonderful scheme to others.  I think it’s a great idea.  See for yourself.

Discover Dance from Rachel Gillies on Vimeo.

I’ve worked with the fabulous staff at DanceXchange before – their creativity, vision and commitment to advocate for dance as an art form is wonderful to be around.  Jane Ralls, DanceXchange’s Dance Development Director also provided me with this wonderful reference.

“Rachel Gillies is a wonderful community film-maker, demonstrating real ability to make people feel at ease with her presence and obtain exciting and relevant footage. As the film-maker for our Discover Dance project in 2013, she had a warm and friendly manner and was exceptionally flexible in approach. She did a excellent job of editing the material that she captured to create a snappy advocacy film for us to promote the project – and its already been used on numerous occasions. She would be a real asset to any education/community project – either to help document and evaluate work or to help with promotion.”

If you are a teacher and want to learn more then do contact DanceXchange (in the West Midlands) or Dance4 (in the East Midlands).  Teachers and pupils were raving about the project – I’m excited to see how it develops!

Health Visitor promotional film

One of the wonderful things of being a film maker rooted in my local community is seeing people who I have worked with or filmed in the day to day. Yesterday I went swimming and saw someone who I had last seen when I filmed her on a bug hunt! Today I was chuffed to bump into (and film!) two women I had met about three years ago when they were attending a breastfeeding support group! Not only are their daughters growing up big and bright and happy, one has a younger sibling and the other will have one imminently!

Unfortunately they had not seen the final film which promoted Health Visitor Services. So, if you are one of the two wonderfully obliging women who have allowed me to put the camera in your faces on more than one occasion, this is for you!  Thank you!

Health Visitor Film Part 1 from Rachel Gillies on Vimeo.

Health Visitor Film Part 2 from Rachel Gillies on Vimeo.

Importing AVCHD MTS footage to Final Cut Pro

I’m NO expert when it comes to the technical side of film-making, but I do, when required spend a fair bit of time on Google, sifting through discussion forums to find a solution to whatever problem I’m faced with. Recently I bought a Canon XA-10 camera to replace my trusty and well-loved Canon XL2 (which I’m on the cusp of selling but I’m still thinking that it’s a fantastic camera and could be brilliant in some circumstances, despite being SD.  If you’re interested in buying then get in touch).

When I got it home and started playing I realised that the MTS format I wanted to film in wasn’t immediately compatible with Final Cut Pro 7.  Rather frustrated that I couldn’t scoot through the footage on Preview (much like a .mov file when imported), I started looking through forums.  No, I didn’t cave in and open a bottle of wine.  Yes, it was tempting.

So (and this is just my limited experience so far), you DON’T need to pay to download expensive software.  Just change the import settings to one of the Apple ProRes 422 settings (use Proxy or LT for small file sizes, the normal Apple ProRes 422 setting for quite large, or HQ for the best quality) and import the MTS files through the Log and Transfer window.  It allows you to view clips in real time and decide what to import.  I’ve been able to edit with no problems, my first edit has been sent in this morning and I’m really happy with it.  There’s more information on the workflow in the FCP 7 handbook.


The reason I put this up is because it looks as though two companies, PavTube and BroSoft have hijacked all of the discussion threads to sell their software.  I may be missing a trick here.  Maybe I imagined that I converted my footage without any other software or plugins.  Maybe the software creates a better workflow.  Maybe the conversion results in better looking or sounding footage.  Maybe these companies are ripping people off.

Anyhow, I hope that this is of some use.  As I say, I’m no tech-head so I’m not wanting to get into a prolonged debate.  This works for me at the moment, it may work for others.  This post may save you some money.  Read around, decide what works for you…

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