Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Poet - behind the scenes

OK, I couldn't resist.

After creating 4 different videos of David Mark Williams performing his poetry to camera, I had to put together another, using clips that didn't make the final cut. Included are never-before-seen bits of test footage at my house of Mark donning the round blue specs I use on stage with The Cracked Man, and trying out a few lines from The Devil's School of Motoring.

I realised once I'd completed the editing that it needed something to hold it together - a rhythmic bit of music - so I pulled out my bouzouki and bottle-neck slide and added a quick sound track.

I hope you've enjoyed my little journeys into the world of video making this past couple of weeks, and Mark's wonderful poetry and performances.

If you're interested in Mark's book, The Odd Sock Exchange, then you can buy a copy from Cinnamon Press here:

Normal service (whatever that is) will be resumed next week...

Friday, November 20, 2015

I Don't Know The Address

The 4th and final video promoting The Odd Sock Exchange by my friend, the poet David Mark Williams, is probably my favourite.

The purpose of creating these short videos of Mark (as he's known to his friends) performing his poetry to camera was twofold. The first was we knew his book was going to be launched this year and we thought it would be fun to do something that both celebrated and promoted it, and the second was it would be an excuse for me to develop my filming and editing skills.

Shooting in a moving car was tricky for a couple of reasons. It's pretty difficult to keep the camera steady when the seat you're sitting on is accelerating, decelerating, and going round corners, although full thanks go to Mark's wife, Val, for volunteering to be our driver and being as smooth and steady as it's possible to be driving through and around Castle Douglas. But the unexpected problem was after a few takes I found myself getting car sick.

It's one of those embarrassing afflictions that's affected me since childhood. I'm fine if I'm driving, or sitting in the front passenger seat looking forward, but if I'm in the back of the car I have about 20 minutes before I start feeling ill.

As a kid, my brother and sister thought I was just using it as an excuse to sit in the front of the car and would moan and complain relentlessly that it wasn't fair. Unfortunately I still carry the fear that people think I make it up. If a group of us are going somewhere, and there's talk of car sharing, then often I will insist on taking my car so the issue isn't raised. But sometimes it makes more sense to go in someone else's car and I end up having to apologetically confess. Usually everyone is fine about it, but I still carry a suspicion that those who have never suffered from being car sick think it's just a ruse.

We did several takes from different angles so I would have options to chose from when editing later. I might have done a few more to be sure, but after 8 takes in total I'd reached my limit and it would have been the height of impoliteness to throw up in Mark and Val's car.

Here, then, is the final cut of "I Don’t Know the Address" and below the video, as in previous posts, you will find Mark's take on the whole experience.

Shooting "I Don’t Know the Address"

Kim and I are agreed about this film on two counts: it was the most difficult and draining to shoot and it’s also our firm favourite of the series so far.

For this one, we pushed ourselves even further when we decided that to capture the mood of the poem we needed to film in a moving car. For this we needed a driver. Val Williams, who is intimately connected to me, offered to do the driving. This was a good choice as we didn’t need a fast or flamboyant driver but someone who would drive smoothly and carefully. Val was asked to keep driving us around the town where we live, Castle Douglas. I sat in the back of the car while Kim filmed from the side mainly but also tried out some shots from the front passenger seat.

It was quite a tense shoot compounded by it being a hot day by South West of Scotland standards. By the end of the shoot we were just about melting. At first too it didn’t look as if we would get one complete take as I kept fluffing my lines. This surprised me because it’s a poem that has a lot of repetition, employs rhyme and is more like a song and I fondly imagined I would have no problems reciting it. Perhaps the difficulty was that Address doesn’t have a clear narrative arc but circles around its story, the protagonist trapped in a sort of limbo. It didn’t help that I was getting in a nervous state, aware that I didn’t want to waste time (and petrol!) unnecessarily. The clock was ticking. How many times would Val have to drive us around the town?

In the effort to remember my lines, it became apparent I wasn’t concentrating enough on my delivery so Kim had to step in as director and get me to interpret the poem more rather than simply chant it.

Then a final problem emerged. After completing around the tenth circuit of the town, Kim, who doesn’t usually opt to sit in the back seats of cars, began to feel car sick. Val pulled over and Kim took a few minutes to compose himself. Then we cracked on, mindful now that at any moment Kim might become too unwell to continue filming.

Thankfully it didn’t take much longer after that before we got a take we were happy with and this was an enormous relief all round. Sometimes it’s truly the case that one has to suffer for one’s art.
David Mark Williams


It's been a lot of fun creating these short videos with Mark, so there's a good chance we'll do more. But in the meantime tomorrow, Saturday 21st November, Mark's book launch finally takes place at the Gordon Memorial Hall in Castle Douglas. Do come along if you can.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Paranoia of Flowers

The 3rd video in this series promoting the release of The Odd Sock Exchange by my friend, the poet David Mark Williams, had him dressed up as a daffodil (the national flower of Wales: coincidence, or not?).

Mark (as he's known to his friends) is a very warm and friendly individual with a wonderful sense of humour, although you would never suspect this if you were to judge him purely on how he appears in the numerous photos I've taken of him looking mean, moody and intense.

I often like to say, "I make people look cool for a living," but when I called round on Mark and was confronted with a bright yellow face and a headpiece, I knew this was going to be a delightfully different kind of shoot.

I was going to write more about the making of the video, but to be honest, Mark covers pretty much everything I was going to say, but from a better perspective. Scroll down below the video for his view of the experience.

Shooting The Paranoia of Flowers

This was the one for me that was the most fun to do. It felt very relaxed and this time the number of takes was not necessitated by me forgetting my lines but because Kim and I wanted to try out different approaches. A friend had suggested I should deliver the poem with a Welsh accent which was very easy for me as I am Welsh. However, we decided to try out other versions as well and the one we settled upon was the most intense and least comic, which seemed to fit the mood of the poem better.

It was my idea to dress up as a daffodil (those of you who remember the band Genesis will realise this was also a little nod to Peter Gabriel). When I pitched the idea to Kim I wondered how he would react. I needn’t have worried. He loved the concept and was up for the technical challenges involved. For me, the concern was how to make myself look like a daffodil. This was much easier than I had imagined thanks to Google. We found a mail order company that specialised in novelty items and these included daffodil heads (very much in demand on St David’s Day apparently). Then I needed to acquire some yellow face paint which wasn’t too hard to come by (a store in Dumfries sold a good quality product) and that was it. Daffodil Man was created.

Originally we had thought we might use an outdoor location. Daffodils were in bloom so there was a time constraint to get the shoot done before the flowers were past their best. However I baulked at the prospect of being spotted dressed as a daffodil by the general populace of Castle Douglas. We decided it would be best to do the shoot in my backyard. Problem was we didn’t have any daffodils so my job on the day of the shoot was to buy a pot of them. I couldn’t believe when I went to the supermarket to discover how few there were available but eventually I came away with one, albeit rather small.

I applied my yellow face paint before Kim arrived. When I heard the door bell, I hid behind the door. My disembodied voice ushered Kim inside.

When Kim saw my pot of daffodils he declared them to be too small. Don’t worry, he said, I’ll see if I can find some bigger ones. He was back within minutes clutching some fine specimens. I didn’t enquire too closely how he’d obtained them.

We were blessed with good weather. The sun shone and we did the shoot in record time. It took me much longer to remove the yellow paint. For days afterwards there was still the suggestion of jaundice about my gills.
David Mark Williams


Old habits die hard, so after we'd finished filming I knew I wouldn't rest until I took a photo of him looking mean, moody and intense, even if his face was still bright yellow...

On Saturday 21st November Mark is having a book launch at the Gordon Memorial Hall in Castle Douglas. Do come along if you can.

Meanwhile, tune in later this week for the final one in this series of performance poet videos, I Don't Know The Address.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Devil's School of Motoring

The 2nd video in our series to promote The Odd Sock Exchange by my friend, the poet David Mark Williams, required a change of venue and shooting style.

Mark (as he's known to his friends) only learned to drive a few years ago, and with the memories still fresh in his mind he decided to explore what it would be like if Satan himself was a driving instructor.

During the discussions on how we might approach filming it, we decided sitting in the car, as though the poor learner had just pulled over, would be the best approach.

My car isn't that big, so it required my wide-angle lens on the camera and squeezing myself as far back against the window as I could possibly get.

We also decided to film it in two slightly different ways - one where he's leaning back against the door, and the other where he's leaning forward to the point where you really feel your personal space is being invaded.

At this point I wasn't sure which we would use.

However when it came to editing it occured to me we could use both, with almost random perspective changes adding to a sense of disconcerting unease.

Hope you enjoy the video. Below you'll find Mark's comments about his experience.

Shooting The Devil’s School of Motoring

This is where we upped our game by leaving the studio and going on location. It required all of a one minute car journey to the busier end of King Street, Castle Douglas. Completely at random we ended up parked opposite a betting office, within earshot of the clock tower, the chimes of which worked fortuitously for parts of the poem.

For this one, I had to stay in character for the first time. It also required me to dress up. Solace of Cupboards had been only head and shoulders. I wore a grey suit, figuring that Lucifer would dress smartly. The dark glasses were essential as they were referenced in the poem. Kim fortunately noticed that my shades were dusty. Horror! A quick call to makeup and the problem was sorted.

Performing the poem required me to act a lot more and give it large, as they say, but I managed that fine. What was difficult for me was memorising the poem because it doesn’t have an obvious "narrative" but is a more a collection of off the cuff remarks by the driving instructor to his benighted pupil. I spent a lot more time learning the poem beforehand. However, when we came to do the shoot I didn’t forget my lines as much as I thought I would. I remember coming away from the shoot feeling exhilarated and thinking: this is fun.
David Mark Williams

On Saturday 21st November Mark is having a book launch at the Gordon Memorial Hall in Castle Douglas. Do come along if you can.

Meanwhile, tune in on Tuesday when The Paranoia of Flowers has Mark looking a little yellow...

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Odd Sock Exchange

The Odd Sock Exchange is now out in paperback from Cinnamon Press. It's a wonderful collection of poems by my good friend, David Mark Williams (or Mark to his friends).

On Saturday 21st November he's having a book launch at the Gordon Memorial Hall in Castle Douglas. Needless to say I felt it my duty to provide him with a new promo pic.

Meanwhile, over the past few months we've also been working on a four short videos where he reads a poem to camera. It's been a great opportunity for me to develop my filming and editing skills, and we've decided to release them now to help promote his book on the run up to the launch.

So over the next few posts, I'll be putting up the videos along with written pieces by Mark about his experience of performing his poems to camera.

I did do a post about the first video, "The Solace of Cupboards" about 6 months back, but I'll put it up again for those who missed it first time round, or would like a reminder.

Mark is used to performing his poetry on stage, but he found doing it to camera to be an entirely different experience. Below the video you'll find his comments about it.

Making Films with Mr Ayres

Overall the most important benefit I’ve gained from making these short films with Kim is how much the experience has stretched me. What I’ve learned has been well beyond what I could have anticipated. There were challenges along the way but also a great deal of fun, exhilaration and ultimately achievement.

Very early on in our collaboration came the realisation I would have to work without a net, that is, a script in front of me. It doesn’t come across that well on camera if you are reading from the page. The eyes need to focus on the lens. It’s also about ensuring that you interpret the words, act them in fact. It was scary to step onto that tightrope and there was a lot of corpsing and outtakes but the great thing about filming is you can always go for another take. Sometimes even then Kim’s utmost editing skills were called upon to make for a watchable end product.

I’d never been directed before and this pushed me to more refined and intense performance levels. It made me think about what I was saying and not to fall back upon the default position of merely declaiming. This taught me so much about the poems we’d chosen and also about writing poems in the future. It made me realise more about the architecture of the poems, which ones flowed when spoken aloud and which ones felt more like bricolage. With the latter I had to find a way to bind them together in performance that was already strained through working from memory. It’s to Kim’s credit that he pushed me with his gentle but firm direction into new ways of expressing the ideas in my poems.

The other thing about the medium of film is that it is much more intimate than being on stage. With the latter you have to project, take a broad brush approach so that everyone present feels they are being addressed. With filming, your audience is the camera. I did miss the energy from being in front of an audience. I had to learn to generate that within myself but that made for a different kind of intensity. It was more toned down but still had to be effective.

The other novel aspect for me was to think about setting. We’d agreed beforehand that we didn’t want to make films that were a montage of images with a voice-over. It was essential that we try to capture how I perform my poems. To this end we therefore had to think of how we set up the shots. The first film was relatively easy, Solace of Cupboards, as all we required was me sitting in a dark cupboard. But as we went along our ideas grew more elaborate and bolder, no mean feat considering we were working on a zero budget.
David Mark Williams

Come back on Friday for "The Devil's School of Motoring" and discover Mark as the driving instructor from hell...

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Givember - an awesomely epic photo opportunity for local bands

How would you like an epic photo for your band, which you can use for posters, flyers, social media sites and/or even a CD cover?

As a musician as well as a photographer (I'm one half of The Cracked Man), I'm keen to help support and promote the vibrant music scene in this corner of Scotland, which is full of amazingly creative musicians.

Inspired by the Givember movement, I am offering a free photo shoot for local singers, musicians and bands based in the Galloway region, if an awesome image idea is possible.

CD Cover for "The Yahs"

If you want to fire up those creative brain cells to create an image that looks like it could be a film still, a scene from an amazing story, or something that makes you want to shout, "damn, that's cool!" then get in touch to arrange a time to meet up during November for a hot chocolate and start discussing possibilities.

And if, between us, we can decide on an attention-grabbing, visually-engaging photo idea, and can then work out how to create it using the right combination of location, outfits, props (if necessary) and Photoshop editing, then I will do the photo shoot for you for free.

Promo shot for "Finding Albert"

If you're interested, here's what happens next.

1. You phone or email me (subject "givember" - contact details on my website) to arrange a time and place to meet up during November 2015

2. You start talking to your band members, friends and/or parents, while looking at Youtube, Pinterest and Google images, and start scribbling down cool ideas.

3. We meet up for a hot chocolate (or other beverage of choice) and start discussing awesome band photo ideas.

4. Locations, outfits and props (if necessary) are sourced and a date is set for the photo shoot over the winter months.

5. Photo shoot takes place. I edit the photos.

6. You are licensed to use the photos for posters, flyers, social media sites and/or even a CD cover.

7. You pay it forward by helping to support and promote the local music scene whenever possible.

If this is of interest to you, then don't hang about. Due to time constraints there are only a limited number of spaces available, so get in touch as soon as possible.

AND - if you're a new band that's unrecorded, check out the amazing Givember offer by the other half of The Cracked Man, Marcus of MW Sound - he's offering a complete professional recording session for your first EP: https://www.facebook.com/events/1659531044261682/

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Yorkshire Dales

Last week Maggie, Meg and I stayed in a cottage in the Yorkshire Dales. It's a stunningly beautiful area of the country and a place we've returned to again and again. And at this time of the year, with the rich autumn leaves, it can just take your breath away.

(click on the images for larger versions)


This time we stayed in the small village of Reeth, nestled on the side of the Swaledale valley.


Part of the enjoyment for me is driving over the tops of the hills along narrow, winding and sometimes very steep, roads

Narrow country lanes

You realise life travels at a very different pace in a place like this. Rural, remote and a sense of deep time moving slowly

Tree and walls

On one of our drives we came across an old lead mine that had been abandoned back in Victorian times

Old lead mine

I went back out there one night when the skies were clear to see if I could get some interesting star photography. A bright moon meant the milky way wasn't as noticable as I would have liked, but it was amazingly atmospheric moving around these old, remote abandoned buildings at night.

At night

One of the other advantages of visiting Yorkshire is it's only a couple of hours' drive from my father who, because of the distance, I just don't see enough of.

At 79 he's not so keen on getting his photo taken - strongly disliking the whole getting old thing. Inside he's still in his 20s and I think he still gets a shock everytime he looks in the mirror. However, I managed to convince him to let Maggie take a photo of the both of us.

Son and Father

Maggie says it's not difficult to see the family resemblance...

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Baskets on the Beach

Geoff Forrest creates baskets, wall hangings, sculptures, and pretty much anything else that fires his interest, out of willow.

I've periodically been doing photography for him for the past 3 years. Although product photography is not something I advertise, it is something I get approached to do every now and then. This corner of Scotland has more artists and creators per head of population than any other part of the country, and because of the circles I move in, it's not unknown to be asked to photograph baskets, sculptures, jewellery, pots or paintings.

The first time I photographed Geoff's work was in my studio. The next couple of times were in situ at exhibitions. This time we decided to take his works outdoors.

The weather forecast said it was going to be dry, although the sky was a dark grey as we set off towards Dhoon Beach, near Kirkcudbright and it began to rain almost as soon as we left. However, by the time we got there the shower had passed and it wasn't long before the sun made an appearance.

I spent the next hour or so lying on the sand at funny angles trying to get some nice arty shots his baskets with the sand, rocks, sea and headland disappearing into soft focus.

I was really quite pleased with the results. The natural environment suits the willow well. We're already talking about where we might shoot next year.

Here are a couple of my favourite shots: