Throughout his entire 16 years of life, James had never been able to communicate with the people he loved. This is the story of what happened, when revolutionary eye-gaze technology gave him the voice to speak to his Mum for the very first time, and the community that were sparked into action around them.
Music by Icelanders – ‘Violet’
- Tobii Dynavox
- Brand, Doc, Promo
For more about Tobii Dynavox and the work they do – www.tobiidynavox.co.uk
As we delved into this story, firstly by reading this article by the Hull Times, then through a few long phone conversations, we discovered that there were a lot of wonderful characters involved and moving pieces to this story.
The more we chatted about it, and the more we learned, the more inspiring those 2 words became; “Hello Mum”. And we decided that the focus of the film would be about how those 2 simple words inspired that community to work together to raise enough money so that James could have his very own device at home.
Once we had the concept forming, we looked for inspiration and reference material. Because of the nature of multiple characters and their coming together, we found ourselves drawn to less linear narratives, and more towards poetic and lyrical narratives that drew out the meaning and atmosphere of a story.
Take this film for example; “Our Future Is In Baltimore” by Salomon Ligthelm.
It is very obviously a much heavier subject matter than our film, and because of that the visuals follow that darker tone. However, what we drew from it was how visually textured it was, it doesn’t necessarily set out to explain exactly what is happening, but instead it conveys more about the atmosphere and feeling. It invites you into the story and puts you right into the emotion of it. It really is a beautiful and powerful film.
We knew that we didn’t want interviews to simply tell the viewer about what HAD happened, but to tell the story as though it WAS happening.
So we made 2 decisions, early on, that massively helped shape our approach:
We decided not film any of the interviews, but just use the audio. This could help to sell the immediacy of what was happening in the moment. It also had the added bonus of helping people to feel more comfortable and natural during an interview, allowing us the room to guide them towards talking about things in the present tense.
The most obvious of decisions, but we we’re going to be filming recreated moments. However, when working with real people (rather than actors), there is always an element of documentary shooting; by capturing things quickly and in the moment, it keeps things authentic and keeps people comfortable. The same can be said through our experience of working with people with various disabilities, and we knew that we’d have to be respectful and work with James and his energies; we wouldn’t be able to ask him to repeat actions over and over again.
So, even when you’re coming with a documentary approach, the more decisions you can make before hand, the more confidence you have when going into a shoot, and the more likely your spontaneous decisions can avoid being useless and tangental but can actually serve the story you’re telling.
It’s one of our favourite parts of filmmaking, way before any camera and lens is picked up, you start to create the film in your head. We love it!
Onto the production, and with only 2 days to film, a small 3 man crew, with multiple locations and multiple people to film and interview, they ended up being a couple of very intense, fast-paced and problem-solving shoot days. But hey, we think if you’re pushing yourself, they always tend to be that way.
“That shoot was really calm, everything went according to plan and we had more time than we needed!” – NO-ONE EVER
From sunrise to way beyond sunset on both days, Aaron (Director and DP) led the charge with Christophe (Camera Operator) and Joel (Sound Engineer).
We filmed using the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera (BMPCC) using a handful of vintage lenses. The camera is nicely designed and very compact, but it can actually be a bit of a bugger to work with, always needing extra rigging and set-up to get it to a usable place. But despite its drawbacks, the image quality is fantastic and is well worth a bit of tinkering.
We had 2 BMPCC’s with us, 1 was used mainly on a tripod or would be whipped off for handheld, whilst the other was kept on a stabilising gimbal, so that we could be as quick as possible to set-up, shoot and move on.
And that’s exactly what we did, from the bridge, to the school, to Dave’s house, to the pub, to the gig, shooting inserts whilst travelling, and recording interviews wherever possible. We certainly slept well after those 2 days!
It was a real privilege to meet James and his mum, Gina, and to see and hear about how the eye-gaze device had completely changed the way their family interacted, and how it was finally giving James a voice. We even got to see some of James’ legendary sense of humour!
We got to meet Dave, who instigated the ‘James Walker 100’ Facebook group. He told us, that as a parent of a disabled child, himself, that it’s difficult to ask for money for your own family, so he thought he’d ask people for money, on their behalf. What an inspiring bloke.
We also got to meet some of the staff at James’ school (Frederick Holmes School), and chat with Mike, one of his teachers. As well as a handful of other wonderful people who were all part of this amazing community.
It was such a pleasure and inspiration to spend a bit of time with these amazing people.
One of the most interesting moments for us, came when we started previewing the film for people for the first time. We were surprised that for some, the film was really quite moving and powerful… which is obviously what we were aiming for, but our surprise highlighted the problem when editing needs to be done swiftly. When you’ve been working on an edit for quite a while, you’ve seen the same footage over and over again, and you don’t have any time in the schedule to step away and have a break from it, then you can often become a little numb to it. The impact and emotion sometimes lessens, and all you see are the mistakes and the technicalities.
But that’s exactly why you preview it to a few people, so that you can be reminded of that first time experience. And that first time experience, it was the same emotion and excitement that we felt when we heard about James’ story and when we met him for the first time. Its the heart of the film, its why we made it, and its also a handy lesson for editing as well, it’s something that you need to keep in the forefront of your mind throughout the process.