Interview with Lee Burnett

Producer Hannah Jones, finds out more about why Lee Burnett, director of photography for ‘The Mother’s Bones’, wanted to be involved in the project and his journey into film.

Could you tell me how you came to be working on The Mother’s Bones and why you were keen to be involved in this project?

A big motivation for working on this film, was the chance to work alongside an artist that was genuinely fascinated by the quarry and the importance of it to the Cornish community. I got on board relatively early, and Abigail asked me to be DP for the film a few months later. Being involved in the project from very early on allowed me to be really involved in the development process and watch the project grow.

Cornwall is a special place to me (having lived there for over 7 years) so it was amazing to be a part of a project that let me experience a side of Cornwall I hadn’t before.

 

What is special/unusual/challenging about this project for you?

One of the most exciting aspects of shooting this film has been the location. Abigail and I have spent a lot of time in the quarry over the past 2 years, getting to know its history, the geological importance of the site and stories of the people who used to work there. Abigail’s curiosity for the quarry has been incredibly inspiring and absorbing.

The quarry is an arresting and eerie location. It’s been shut for years, and you can really feel the stillness when you are there. It features in the film as one of the main characters, interacting with the people and responding to them. It was a challenging thing to communicate, but I really believed in the idea.

 


What has it been like working with an artist? How has the creative process differed to the other projects you work on?

I’ve never worked alongside an artist for a film before, so it introduced me to some new challenges and ideas I hadn’t really expected. An art film can easily step away from the common ‘rules’ of cinematography that narrative films often follow.

‘The Mother’s Bones’ references mythical qualities, has long and lingering shots, juxtaposes images and doesn’t really follow a chronological story. In some ways this allowed us to work more creatively and feel less restricted by narrative continuity. It was a freedom I rarely get on projects. On the other hand, it meant Abigail and I had to communicate very clearly with each other throughout production, to make sure we were both on the same page about the feeling and meaning behind certain shots.

Abigail has introduced some interesting ideas into the film that have been both challenging and stimulating for me as a DP. One part of the film was shot through a microscope in a science laboratory, which required me to decipher a set of adapters and filters that allowed us to film the images clearly. The way Abigail has used some of these more abstract images to develop the film is something I have learnt a lot from.

 

How did you get interested in film and who are your influences?

My Dad always had a dark room in his loft and from a young age he taught me how to take 35mm photos, and how to develop and print them too. He also bought me my first video camera when I was about 14, which got me making skate films every weekend. I would watch films, make films and constantly push myself to learn about cameras and editing. I didn’t intellectualise film theory, plots or stories, I just loved cameras and making images. However, after studying photography at college I stopped pursuing film for some reason. Nobody ever told me that I could make films as a job, so I just saw it as a hobby.

I then studied graphic design at Falmouth University, graduating in 2011, but by the end of the course I felt completely uninspired by the thought of working in design. It was an amazing degree and I can see how it has influenced my film work massively, but I really struggled to be inspired by design alone. Throughout the degree I became intrigued by filmmaking again and after graduating I very quickly picked it up again.

I have since devoted all of my time to studying film and learning all of the specific skills of a DP. I started taking on small film jobs, collaborating with musicians, writers and photographers making little music videos and documentaries. I put all of my earnings into buying new kit and gradually improved.

I’m influenced by a whole host of things. I guess that’s what I love about film. You can take inspiration from so many sources in the real world, pick them apart and combine them in an infinite number of ways. As much as my technical understanding of film is inspired by film directors and cinematographers, I find a lot of my ideas come from the real world, seeing how light moves and shapes things, working out what makes something beautiful and watching how people move through the world. London’s a treat for that. I can sit for hours and watch all the strange and unique mannerisms people have, seeing how they interact with one another, making up stories about who they are. I never get bored of it.

 

What is your career/practice as a film maker now?

My role within film is usually that of director of photography, or camera operator, depending upon the project. The DP works closely with the director to develop the visual language of the film, choosing cameras, lenses, shooting styles, motion, lighting, colouring and many other aspects of the film. All of these details add up to create emotion and meaning and the overlap of the technical and artistic skill sets required, really fascinates me.

My work is spread across a wide variety of projects, ranging from commercials, music videos, documentaries and some narrative film. I also take on assisting and lighting work on bigger projects to gain experience and watch established DP’s working. The variety of my work keeps me excited and means I’m rarely in my comfort zone.

Recently, my good friend and I have started our own small production company. We're currently finishing post-production on our first documentary, writing a mockumentary and will be producing 3 music videos later in the year. We want to create a body of work that steers clear of any commercial influence to really let us develop our own ideas. 
 

Can you give me a favourite moment or anecdote about working on this film?

I was lucky enough to be there when the final composition was performed by St Keverne Band. I remember at certain points when I felt every note vibrate throughout my chest. It was genuinely quite emotional and overwhelming, and I will never forget it. 

 

www.leeburnett.co.uk

Interview with Neil Rose

Producer Hannah Jones speaks with Neil Rose, sound designer for The Mother’s Bones to find out more about his involvement in the project and practice as a sonic artist.


Could you tell me how you came to be working on The Mother’s Bones and why you were you keen to be involved in this project?
I've worked with Abigail before and admire the work she makes, I guess most notably on the Double Brass performances that I recorded (sound) at Kestle Barton. Trying to record the full St Keverne Band trooping a figure of eight around a large field and not get in shot was seriously no joke! While recording Double Brass I met Gareth Churcher (and really liked the music he writes) and the band, who are really skilled players of all ages, so when Abigail approached me to record this new work I jumped at the chance.
 

What is special/unusual/challenging about this project for you? 
I am interested in the natural sound quality that Dean Quarry has, it is an amazing visually imposing location that behaves, acoustically, like nowhere I have experienced. I felt it was a privilege to be given the opportunity to record that uniqueness. It feels like the audio phenomena created by the quarrying won’t be there forever, either because the quarry will become active again and the space will change through this activity, or the walls will fall down/erode, so I also felt responsible for documenting it.

The walls of the quarry create an incredible slap back echo (like the delay that you find in Dub music) and the atrium of the main wall that has been carved out by the stone workers focuses these reflections to particular points. We spent a while there with one trumpet and a tuba to try and locate the best place to record from and so I could work out how to go about recording it. 



You often collaborate with artists (see: www.neilrose.co.nr), how has the creative process for The Mother’s Bones differed to the other projects you have worked on?
I don't know if it has to be honest. I think me and Abigail speak the same language, so I was able to understand her intention and early ideas in making the film. I'm also really happy to spend time with Gareth and discuss his ideas around the composition. Maybe the difference is the need to stay true to Gareth's intention within the composition whilst ensuring that the recordings (and subsequent post production and sound design) match Abigail's intention. Luckily this is quite easy as I am pretty certain we are all on the same page. I also think  Abigail and Gareth feel the same about feeling responsible for documenting the sound character of the quarry.


Can you tell me a bit about your career and practice as a sound artist? 
I studied Sonic Arts at Middlesex University and specialised in Electroacoustic, Acousmatic, composition and called myself a composer. Whilst there, I really started to diversify the types of work I was making and got really into making sound for film, as well as gallery contexts and live sound performances for both clubs and galleries. That was around 12-15 years ago. I call myself a sonic artist now, as in an artist who works with sound, rather than a designer, as I am not a technician and I am not a musician.

I often work collaboratively with artists, mainly from the live art and performance world and I am currently working on a project with Tom Marshman for his Move Over Darling performance works that I feel really proud to be a part of. Tom interviews people over the age of 60 from LGBT communities in a particular area and the ‘site specific’ shows are made all over the country. I create soundscapes and edits for him to use during the live show. 

I am really interested in listening, I think I got that from studying early concrète and acousmatic music, composers like Pierre Schaeffer and the Groupe de Recherches Musicales, I am also very moved by John Cage and his contribution to how we make and think about music. I love listening to music all the time (my headphones have got bigger over the years) and I also love listening to natural sounds as I go about my life. I am influenced by everything that I find exciting to hear, whether that is the sound of the rain in a particular drain, the sound the dishwasher makes when there is a baking tray in it, electronic music (particularly break beat musics), traditional musics from around the world and sound tracks from films - everything influences me as long as it is interesting and exciting to listen to.


Can you give me a favourite moment or anecdote about working on this film?
Maybe my favourite moments are when I walked every surface I could find in the quarry, so to ensure that I had recorded footsteps for every occasion and sitting alone looking out to sea capturing the sound of the waves and how they lap against the shore. There was also a buoy that I waited for ages to make a noise, whilst trying to avoid talking to people who were out walking their dogs. 

My job is always to be as close to the shot as I can possibly be while being out of the wind and out of the shot, but also to document every aspect so it can be used later during the edit. I essentially record everything that makes a noise based on my discussions with the director. Unlike Lee and the film crew, who continuously work out how to make the shot, I have to understand how the space the shot occupies sounds in relation to how Abigail wants to represent it and collect enough sounds to ensure we can achieve that specific audio image.


You can find out more about Neil’s work at: 
www.neilrose.co.nr