With only two days left before Commentary comes to Phoenix, my emotional state is occupying a level of tense I didn’t realise I could reach. This is not unusual; before any show, my stomach will start to knot as we get closer to go time – but this is different, because the amount of preparation has been huge.
Commentary is a difficult concept to explain, but a wonderful idea to put into practice. Leicester comedian Daniel Nicholas got in contact with me about an idea to have local comedians interacting with popular films, providing an alternate take on the director’s commentary. This idea soon snowballed into Commentary.
What Commentary has become is an opportunity for live performers to interact with film and digital art in entirely new ways. Comedians and musicians have re-scripted and re-scored a variety of short films; spoken word artists have created films to complement their own work; original works of art have been created to complement each other when performed and broadcast – and there’s even some improv, where the performers will utilise audience suggestions while reacting to what’s on screen.
Our final rehearsal was last night: we were all in a room together and performed the whole show from start to finish. Dan and I were blown away by what these wonderful performers have managed to create.
With new concepts, however, have come new challenges. Despite performance credits of my own, I opted to handle the technical operations involved in producing the show. It turns out that putting together a show featuring 10 live performers and 15 pieces of film, to be performed in a space which has never before been used for this level of interaction, involves a considerable amount of preparation!
Firstly, we had to source film footage. We’ll be using a variety of short films and animations sourced from both public domain archive footage and works released under a “Creative Commons Attribution License” – a legal copyright notice that means the creator of the piece has given full permission for other artists to edit, adapt and reuse it. During that time, we asked Paul Banks from Peril Design to help us get the word out with our branding and posters.
With the film footage came my first challenge: creating the digital format of the show. We wanted to make use of the full, glorious capabilities of the Phoenix projectors, so we enlisted film editor extraordinaire Nick Banister, who works at Phoenix, to help us optimise our recordings. To do this, we needed to put the entire show together in one continuous file for him to process, which meant video editing.
I’ve done video editing before, but this took things to a whole new level. Because every part of the show (even the interval) needed to be included in the recording, I had to create many new things – countdowns, title headings, filler segments, credit sequences… It was nerve-wracking to build a show which flowed smoothly, mixing up comedic elements with instrumental or more sombre pieces.
Luckily, I’m a fast learner. I’ve had a few 3am bedtimes, but I’m proud to say that it’s all ready. As I write this, the DCP of Commentary is being tested in Screen 2. The comedians have finished their scripts; the musicians have finished their scores; the poets are ready with their poems; and the dancers are ready with their moves. Everything is set to answer the singular, burning question which Commentary is looking to ask:
What Are You Watching?