The Runner | My RØDE Reel 2016

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Monday 6th June 2016

The deadline for entries to RØDE’s ‘My RØDE Reel 2016′ competition has just passed, so I thought it a good time to reflect on my experience of entering a film competition.

Filming a running documentary

I’m in the process of making a documentary about my husband Ed’s attempts to break 15 minutes for 5km. At the moment his PB is 15:09, set in the summer of 2015 at a Tipton Harriers open meet, and he’s itching to push his time down further. I’ve been tagging along to nearly every race over the past 6 months to capture race footage – from grim cross country events under flight paths and grey skies (Donnington National Championships in February, I’m looking at you) to blisteringly hot Midlands League events such as Tamworth where Ed has taken it upon himself to gather points for his team and navigate immovable barriers at speed. The steeplechase really is an event for masochists.

I’ve captured lots of footage, but it only makes sense in the grand scheme of a longer documentary. For a 3 minute short film, I felt that the narrative would have been all over the place moving from race to race. As such, by the time May came around I had settled on the idea of focusing on a single race for the My RØDE Reel entry: Highgate Harriers Night of the 10,000m PBs. This is an event that Ed has raced before and I’ve attended as a spectator, but this year it was extra special as the ‘A’ races were also set to be the England Athletics 10,000m championships and decide which athletes would compete at the Olympics this summer.

A change of plans…

My plan was to film his race, some B-roll of the track and event, and a mini interview back at home of him talking about why he loves to race. I thought it’d be a tightly composed short film and would work well by keeping things simple. The footage from all of the other races is going into the documentary anyway so it’s not wasted. The trouble is that races don’t always go to plan. You can train well, eat right, get plenty of rest and be wearing lucky pins, but sometimes legs just don’t turn as fast as they’re supposed to. It wasn’t Ed’s best race, and it didn’t feel right to make a short film about it. With just a week to go until the deadline I began to wonder if I should just scrap the idea.

In the end and after much back and forth I decided to put my entry together in an afternoon from fresh footage rather than documentary footage. On Wednesday evening (the 25th) we drove down to the Lickeys for an evening walk. The forest was lovely and quiet and the light was magic. It was on our walk through the trees and bluebells that we discussed the idea of filming a normal evening run up in the forest with a voiceover of Ed talking about why he loves to run. A couple of days later we went back and filmed everything I needed for my short film in a single evening.

Some final thoughts

First and foremost, the biggest lesson I took from this is that documentary filmmaking doesn’t always go to plan. Documentaries are different from narrative pieces in that there’s very little control of the environment or filming schedule. With a documentary and particularly with events and run-and-gun style shooting I can’t control where my subject will be standing, the light falling on them, the ambient audio, or in Ed’s case with running the fact that some races just don’t go to plan. A planned or narrative film is so much easier because you can repeat scenes, control lighting, audio, wardrobe, and direct the order of events.

The second lesson is something I already knew. It’s really satisfying to complete a project. The process of committing to a project, planning, filming, editing and uploading in a set time period is challenging but incredibly rewarding. Films don’t need to be ‘perfect’ as true perfection doesn’t really exist anyway. I really like forcing myself out of a creative rut and pushing forward to produce something. I need to do that more. There are so many ideas in my head that never come to fruition because I worry I can’t do them ‘perfectly’. I want to break free from that.

I really enjoyed entering My RØDE Reel 2016 and will likely be entering more competitions in the future. It’s not about winning for me, but about pushing myself beyond my usual boundaries and producing the best work that I am capable of at any given time. In some ways, my creative process and goals aren’t too dissimilar to Ed’s training and racing.

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