In May I began work on my first feature length documentary. I filmed everything on location between May and August, and I have just finalised the edit. Last night I hosted a private premiere for the stars of the documentary and I wanted to write about the experience because it’s a milestone for me, and one I don’t want to forget.
Between May and August I followed the training of a marathon runner, H, as she undertook her first full season on the track. I’m using her initial here rather than her full name, not because it’s a great secret that I’ve been making the film, but rather because this is my personal blog and her name might pull this post up in Google search results. This blog post isn’t so much about H or the specifics of the film, but rather my experiences as a filmmaker in making and showing my first feature length documentary.
Briefly though, H’s story is unique as she is relatively new to the sport and has progressed from her first parkrun to the elite field of international marathons in under three years. Her coach is a good friend of my husband’s, having met through running, and so I came to know of her through the two of them. Growing increasingly frustrated with weddings for a variety of reasons, I wanted to branch out and make a full length documentary and H’s story felt like the perfect opportunity. Completed, the documentary could benefit us both as she begins her professional athletics career and seeks sponsors or a shoe contract, and I branch out into documentary filmmaking.
I have been making short films and wedding films for about five or six years now, but last night was the first time I’d seen anyone other than Ed watch my work in person. When I deliver my wedding films I don’t get to see how the couples I work with react to watching themselves on film for the first time. I wish I could, especially for the films I’m most proud of, but it’s a moment that I’m not privy to. Sometimes the couples I work with get back to me and tell me how much they love their films, and other times I don’t hear a thing. One time I received a message asking me not to deliver the films after they had been paid for, filmed and edited. I have my suspicions that the couple in question had their marriage annulled based on events that took place on their wedding day, but that’s not my story to tell. All this is to say that I have no gauge of how other people perceive the work I do, and I was nervous. What if the reason I’m not booking enough weddings to make a living is because I’m just not good enough, rather than because the economy has tanked since the 2016 referendum and British couples just aren’t that into video? That’s the mind of an anxious pessimist, and that’s where my mind has been for much of the past year.
I put so much time and energy into the documentary I made this summer, but as premiere night grew closer I was becoming increasingly nervous. I knew it was, or rather is, the best film I can make at this moment in time and with the resources and access I had available to me. However, I was worried that they wouldn’t like how they had been portrayed, or that it just wouldn’t live up to their expectations. There were some very difficult moments during filming, and periods of time where I was uncertain whether there would be a film at all. There’s a scene in the middle that I really struggled with at the time of filming, and again in post-production. The film is just so personal, on so many levels.
Thankfully they loved it and we’re now exploring a few different options and ideas for distribution. H and her coach think big and have ambitious dreams for her running career. I know that she has a considerable audience, but I don’t want to get my hopes up too much that this film can be anything other than a YouTube release. It would be a dream come true if we can get it onto a more prestigious platform with a bigger (as in, bigger than £0) advertising budget, but for now I’m just pleased that the premiere went off without a hitch. It was another first for me. At times I lie awake at 3am questioning all the decisions I have made since I left academia after completing my PhD in 2014. I question if my dreams are viable. I question whether I have it in me to make a success of it. I have confidence in my photography and filmmaking skills, but I know that I’m hopeless at self-promotion. Come to think of it, that’s also part of the reason I wasn’t cut out for an academic career either as so much of securing research contracts comes down to peacocking over cheese and wine, and all I was any good at was the research and writing! At thirty-three I still haven’t worked out how to make a go of life in an extrovert’s world and I wonder if I ever will.