Tuesday 27 October 2020

The NOT EVEN GAY Trilogy - My first experience of documentary making

Between 2007 and 2012, I made three comedy travelogue documentaries about the ultimate pursuit of intoxication with a group of friends. 

Not Even Gay – 30 mins. Filmed in May 2007. Edited in 2007 and 2009.

Not Even Gay: The 2ND Coming – 60 mins. Filmed in November 2007. Edited in 2009.

A Not Even Gay THRE3SOME – 150 mins. Filmed in June 2009. Edited between 2009 and 2015.

Making these three films is not only how I cut my craft as an editor, but it was a great opportunity to get my head around the process of being a documentary filmmaker and crafting a narrative from the chaos of everyday life. 

The films do not have over-complicated plots, each film documents a trip me and my friends took to the south coast of England, where we get fantastically intoxicated and then usually managed to cock things up.

We ended up making three because we had tremendous fun each time and we kept trying to improve on the previous attempt.

These three films will never see the light of day because, well, I promised the other participants that I would not broadcast our sometimes questionable teenage antics to the world, which is fair enough. 

Instead, I have edited together a somewhat censored 13-minute showreel of the trilogy. This is adapted from the prologue and epilogue of the third film...

Legends are told of the c-van Artifax.

Not Even Gay

The first film came about not long after finishing the filming on my first short film The Better Villain. My friends asked me to bring my JVC camcorder along on our trip so we could film anything stupid that might happen. 

It was a big deal bringing my JVC along because this was a few months before the first iPhone hit the market, so smartphones with high quality video cameras had not come along yet. 

The film grammar of microfilmmaking - producing short narrative videos on a smart device - had also not been established, so I didn't really know how to go about filming the day's events.

I also didn't think that anything interesting would be filmed, I honestly thought we would be too drunk to film anything comprehensible. Plus, I didn't actually think we were that interesting!

But I bought my camera along anyway. 

We were at my friend's caravan for one day, the weather was good, we all got drunk, did a few stupid adolescent things, for the most part had a really good time and then we all went home the following day.

Everyone else filmed bits here and there. I filmed the majority of stuff, anything I thought was remotely interesting or funny, but I still didn't think we had filmed anything riveting.

And then, after my hangover had gone, I watched through all the footage. 

We hadn't filmed everything that had happened throughout the day and I had about 90 minutes of footage overall.

But when I laid all that footage out in my desktop editing suite and watched it back through chronologically, I was very surprised with what we had filmed!

Not only was there a lot of funny material, full of quirk and character and different points of view, but I started to see a narrative forming from the events captured. 

So I started to edit the footage into a tighter and cohesive narrative structure.

One of the biggest challenges of documentary filmmaking is crafting a narrative from the chaos of life. It's not always obvious what the narrative is or how to your material to best convey it.

However, if you really want to get practice as a filmmaker and as an editor then I can not under emphasize the usefulness of just going out into the world, filming some random stuff and then setting yourself the challenge of turning it into a compelling filmic story.

I was very fortunate with the Not Even Gay footage because me and my friends are very witty (if only in a very crude way a lot of the time), so the footage was full of recurring and related gags that acted as narrative links and developments.

One of the recurring gags was the, "I'm not even gay though," line, which kept coming up again and again. Hence why I ended up titling the film Not Even Gay, it perfectly summed up the day, not to mention the homoerotic undertones of five young men drunk in a caravan together. 

The first edit was 60 minutes long and I finished that one in 2007. 

It was actually the first film with a fully formed narrative structure that I completed. I had yet to finish editing The Better Villain, the first film I had filmed.

Being my first finished yet, it was very crude.

My biggest gripe with that first edit is that the transitions between events and time jumps in the day's events relied heavily on cross-fades, which mostly just look really tacky. I didn't yet have the confidence as an editor to cut straight into and than back out of a key moment. 

Also, I discovered that when you are working with hand held camcorder footage, you're editing options are often quite limited. 

Quite often something would be happening that the camera was not looking at, but you could hear the off camera dialogue conveying what was happening... so then you have choice do keep it in or cut it out?

Obviously, there is a third option which is to take that dialogue and place it over some other footage that is related to what is happening off camera, if you have any footage and if it doesn't jar with what is already happening in that hypothetical footage. 

I didn't feel comfortable about doing that because I felt like it destroyed the integrity and authenticity of what was captured, so I left visual storytelling rough and ready. 

One of my friends said we should film some interview footage at the fact.

I did think about doing recording some interview footage, but ultimately I didn't feel it was necessary to have our talking heads explaining what is happening in the film, when the film does a perfectly adequate job of telling the story, even if the camera is sometimes looking away from the main event.

Editing the first film was a great opportunity for me to be really experimental with how th film was going to tell the story

The first edit told the story, so I let it be.

The first edit also had opening and closing title sequences that I had made and cut to some music. 

I even made a few trailers for that first edit, that I showed my friends in anticipation for the release of the film. 

I also edited together a short video, Pirates of the Caravan, using footage from one of the day's amusing occurrences involving pirate hats and swords, which went down well with everyone. 

When my friends finally saw the film, they all seem pretty pleased, so pleased in fact that we all agreed that we should do it again.

Only this time we would do it bigger and better.

Not Even Gay: The 2ND Coming

In November 2007, with a few new additions to our troupe, on a reading day we had off from college, we set off to the coast again. 

This time, we knew that we were making a narrative film so we all put much more effort into the filming and the content of what was being filmed. 

I also did not have to do the majority of the filming this time around, because everyone else wanted to do some filming. I was actually quite pleased about this because it meant more varied points of view and that I could actually appear in more of the footage this time around. 

In hindsight, going to my friend's caravan on the coast in the winter was a really stupid thing to do because it was bloody freezing. But when your 17 with loads of alcohol and weed... screw it,we still had a fantastically good time. 

We were all still very hyped up about the first film and that fed into the collective energy and frivolity of the day's events. 

Again, we did not film everything, but we did manage to capture all the main occurrences and we were heading towards a pretty epic evening... and then we were kicked off the caravan site. 

I don't know if it was because it was November and supposedly no one is supposed to be on the carvan site out of season or if it was just because the site manager was worried about a group of drunk adolescent males getting up to no good on the camp site, but he kicked us out regardless.

After that we headed to the beach. It was cold, it was getting dark and it ended up being a real downer.

Nearly a year went by before I got round to editing The 2ND Coming together. I wasn't able to do it straight away because I was either at college or working my part time job, so I just didn't have time to edit. 

However, once I had graduated from college and sorted myself out with a job that was only a ten minute walk from my house, I had much more spare time, so I jumped into editing in November and December of 2008 and finished it in January 2009.

I found the second one exceedingly easier to edit. 

The fact that we had approached the second one with the enthusiasm generated from the first one and with the intention that another narrative film would emerge from it meant that we had footage full of pace, character and narratively designed intentions.

Presented together chronologically, the raw footage already had a very strong and cohesive structure and narrative. 

Also, the fact that we had been kicked of the caravan site meant that we had a very different and downer ending compared to the first one. 

Visually the ending was very strong because I had captured a great fade out shot of us all being miserable and lost on the beach.

Overall, the ending felt much more like a decisive and appropriate ending for a film about a group of wasted teenagers who are the architects of their own demise (something the events in the first film had already established). 

The ending also felt like a bit of a cliffhanger, so it left things open for another one. 

It did not actually take me that long to edit the second together, it was more just a case of tightening up the narrative by deleting footage that was not needed to tell the essential story beats. 

By this point, I had grown much more confident as an editor so I was much more ruthless when it came to deleting padding and cutting straight into and out of the main story beats. 

My biggest challenge was constructing the ending.

Between discovering that the caravan's electricity and water had been cut off and us ending up at the beach, there was a huge gap where the site manager actually kicked us out that was not captured on camera. 

Ultimately, I used some intertitles to fill in that gap.

Later when I edited a shorter and censored version of the film that was on my original YouTube channel, I recorded some narration bridging the gap. 

My narration skills are a bit hammy because I was trying to sound like a proper narration artist, but really I should have just used my own voice and accent. 

Personally, I prefer the intertitle version because its quiet and fits with the downbeat mood at the end of the film and the end of our day that had not gone to plane. 

However, there is also an argument to be made for including the narration because it acts as booked with narration that is already present at the beginning of the film. 

The title sequence of the second one is a play on the iconic title sequence of The A-Team, which caused no end of joy and laughter from everyone who saw it. 

I didn't cut together any trailers for the second one because there was no need for them. 

I finished editing the second one a few days before my friends came over to my house, so I just showed it to them then. 

While I thought the second one was definitely better than the first one, I still didn't think it was that good. 

Then I showed it to my friends and their response blew me away, they thought it was amazing!

So amazing, they made me show it to them again straight after we had watched it the first time.

I was intially not that happy with second one because it always felt incomplete. The downer ending, thematically it feels like an appropriate ending for our wasted group - it still comes across as incomplete.

It feels like a cliffhanger.

This is why, immediately after I showed the second one to my friends, we started making plans for a third one.

Re-editing Not Even Gay

I was never happy with the first 1-hour edit of Not Even Gay, it was too long, not nearly as good as it could be and I wanted to redo it.

When I got round to editing The 2ND Coming, I also used it as an opportunity to jumped back into re-editing the first one. 

It wasn't a case of taking the first edit and cutting it down, I went back to the raw footage and re-edited the entire film from scratch. 

The fast paced editing and high energy content of the second one inspired my approach to re-editing the first one. 

I was editing the second one and re-editing the first one side-by-side. When I was getting bored with editing one, I would jump over and edit the other.

I was relentless with re-editing the first one. 

The new edit was 30 minutes long, half the length of the first edit and it still convey the exact same story.

I created a new title sequence and new end credits sequence. 

The most crucial change I implemented was the opening scene.

The first edit had begun with the opening titles and then told the story of the day chronologically.

I was never comfortable with telling the story in a nonlinear because I thought that would be to confusing and would take away from the authenticity.

However, after I had finished the first edit, I started to see that a better way to open the film would be to use a bit of footage from the middle of the day. 

It was a bit of footage where we were in the caravan, already drunk and it was where the recurrent, "I'm not even gay," line was first established. 

It was perfect for starting the film, it was full of energy and it perfectly summed up what the film was all about - a group teenagers getting absolutely wasted in a caravan and making complete tits of themselves.

I further ramped it up by cutting in a few more "I'm not even gay," clips from elsewhere in the film together with some intertitles establishing the context and purpose of the film. 

Then it cuts into the opening titles and the rest of the film plays out with a much faster pace. 

The rest of the film plays out more or less chronologically; I did move a few things around and cut back and forth between a number of events in order to allow the overall film to play with a faster pace.

I was very pleased with this second edit.

The DVDs 

My teenage explorations and experimentations of what you can do with a desktop computer included how to create desktop published DVDs and DVD packaging.

When I was editing The Second Coming and re-editing Not Even Gay, I also edited together some menu videos for the DVDs.

Not Even Gay had one disc which included the new tighter edit with chapter points, a chapter menu and a main menu. The disc also included all the deleted footage in a separate compilation with chapter points and its own chapter menu.

Not Even Gay: The 2ND Coming had two discs. On the first disc was the film with chapter points, a chapter menu and a main menu. The second disc included all the deleted footage with chapter points and a chapter menu.

I invested in some DVD cases, made some covers and gifted a copy to each of my friends who had been involved in the making of the first two films.

A Not Even Gay THRE3SOME

The point of these films was to tell the story of a group of teenage lads who go to the coast to get fantastically drunk - the ultimate pursuit of intoxication. 

In Not Even Gay we went there, we got drunk, we did lots of stupid shit and it ended up being a really good day... but we did not really know what it was we were doing when it came to making a film about it. 

Hence Not Even Gay: The 2ND Coming when we went back to do it bigger and better... but we got kicked off the caravan site, so we didn't actually get that drunk and the end of the day just ended up being a huge downer.

When we started to talk about doing a third one, the way I pitched it to everyone was that it needed to be the first one but the way we had done the second one. 

The third one had to be the one where we got it right, we needed to be like a pheonix rising from the ashes.

About five months later, we headed back down to the coast.

The setup on this one was slightly different. 

This time we were down at the coast for three days, opposed to just one. 

There were even more people involved and each day had a different set of people because people kept coming and going. 

I had a new digital photo camera that also recorded reasonably good footage. I brought it along so we could have a two camera setup.

I invested in some bigger batteries for my camcorder and an external battery charger so that we could film for long and also have a spare battery in reserve.

I also brought my laptop with me which meant we didn't have to worry about 30GB harddrive on my JVC or SD cards for my digital camera filling up, because I could just empty their contents onto my laptop.

I was adamant that we should film everything non-stop and we did, we ended up with about 36 hours of footage. 

With the third one, we achieved what we set out to do. We did not get kicked off the caravan site again and we ended up having a fantastic time.

The problem with the third one arose when I sat down to edit the thing, because we had shot 36 hours of footage on two cameras. Not only did it take forever to review all the footage, it took even longer to edit my way through!

It was good though, because suddenly I had so many options as an editor about what material to use, from what angle and how to structure it all. 

I decided to structure the film into three parts to reflect each day that we were there. 

This is how the name of the film came about - A Not Even Gay THRE3SOME - it was the third film comprised of three parts.

I knew it needed a prologue to encapsulate the first two films, recap the cliffhanger of the second film and establish what it was we were trying to achieve with this ultimate pursuit of intoxication. 

I also knew it needed an epilogue to wrap everything up - this film and the first two as well - because we had achieved what we set out to do with this one and it was very likely this would be last one we did.

I started with cutting down the three days into three narrative structures that had many links and references between the three days, because, like the first two films, me and my friends were very good at introducing lines, jokes and happenstances that all built on each other as we went through our time there. 

Then once I had the three days edited in reasonably good shape, I jumped into making the prologue and epilogue. 

My intention with the prologue was to make it epic beyond belief. 

It needed to feel like summer at its finest and it had to elevate what we had done to legendary status.

By the time I had included the material from the third film necessary for setting up the third film, plus summarising the first two films, and then added the opening title sequence onto the end of it, I had a prologue that was 15 minutes long. 

I used some pretty epic and euphoric music to ramp it up even further and I recorded narration which I did in the style of your typical film trailer narration. 

I wanted to get the third film off to a rocket blasting start. 

I did start to piece together the epilogue, but I couldn't finish it because I didn't yet know what exactly to include and how exactly to wrap up the THRE3SOME and the trilogy.

The problem was that I had spent so much time cutting the three days down into narrative structures - it had taken me a year - that I had become so accustomed to the material that I could no longer see it objectively. 

I figured the best thing to do would be to show it to my friends and get their input, so I compiled everything I had edited, plus a very short and very quickly edited "epilogue" together into a 5-hour final cut.

Yeah, 5-hours! 

I had so much footage, I even made the trailers for the rough cut 7-minutes long.

Trailer 2 for the rough cut

The length of the rough cut was a problem. 

I knew it was too long and that it needed to lose some material, but because I could not longer see it objectively I wasn't able what needed to be cut in order to tell the essential quirky story. 

Showing it to the other participants was the absolute best thing to do, because it became immediately obvious what needed to be cut based on their reactions to the material and the pacing. 

I still didn't have a strong feel for the epilogue, but I wasn't worried because once I had removed all the material that needed to go and I had massively brought the runtime down I had a feeling that the epilogue would present itself. 

Before that, I needed a break from editing it because I was exhausted and a little sick of doing it. I did little bits of trimming when I could but it wasn't until 2 years later that I got back to editing it. I was at university during this time and the only time I could devote to projects outside of my studies were during the summer holidays.

During the summer of 2012, I removed anything that was not needed or had not received a good response. I was absolutely relentless and surprisingly quickly I managed to turn the 5-hour rough cut into a new 2-hour and 25-minute cut. 

Then I focused on editing together the epilogue which I still wasnt entirely happy with, but I did manage to do a better job than the one in the rough cut. 

My biggest issue with the epilogue is that it needed to re-address that we had been kicked off the caravan site at the end of the second film and that we hadn't been kicked off this time. 

One of the reasons we all wanted to do the third one was because it would be like a redemption and the epilogue needed to bring all of that together into a satisfying conclusion. 

There were a few instances where us being kicked off last time had been referenced, so I put those in the epilogue and together with my voiceover narration, I established that we had avoided being kicked off this time and had restored our legend. 

But even so, it still felt very thin and tacked on at the end. 

The solution was to re-establish the threat that we could easily be kicked off as a recurrent spectre within the main bulk of the film. 

I did this by taking the footage from the second film where we discovered the water and electricity were cut off. I split this footage into two segments. I placed one segment in the transition between the end of day one and the beginning of day two and the other segment placed between the end of day two and the beginning of day three. 

Both segments I tinted in grayscale, I set them back into a reduced screen size against a black background and altered the sound to give it a far off echo of the past quality. 

The incident these two segments convey had already been established in the prologue, so now I had a narrative thread that started all the way back in the second film, was picked up in the beginning of this one, carried through via various references and two significant punctuation segments as a background spectre and was all brought together and resolved in the epilogue. 

Now I was very happy with the epilogue and the 2-hour and 32-minute film as a whole.

However, it wasn't actually until 2015 that I finally burned off the final cut for the other participants to see, what with university, graduating and setting myself up after university, the THRE3SOME just fell to the back of the queue.

The trailer for the final cut

I had produced some video clips to act as DVD menus in 2011, but I never got round to producing the DVDs because, well, what with age of online streaming and cloud storage taking off in the second decade of the 21st-century, I didn't need to. 

Aside from fixing an export error in the 2015 version for when I wrote this post in 2020, the only other time I returned to the third film was in 2017. 

I briefly toyed with refining the 2-hour and 30-minute, but ultimately abandoned it. 

Theres a point where you have to move on from these things and just let them be.

The stuff of legend

This blog post has been a long time coming and I am glad to be able to finally include The Not Even Gay Trilogy as a part of my film portfolio.

Making this trilogy of travelogues was a hugely valuable experience for me.

Not only because it allowed me to grow as a filmmaker, but because the trilogy chronicles some of the best times of my life, from long ago, in a caravan far, far away...

We are the stuff of legend.

For more on my early documentary filmmaking and to see the sister project of The Not Even Gay Trilogy and where the "NEXT FRIDAY" joke comes from, check out Down A Word: The Story of NEXT FRIDAY.

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