Notes from Production: Gardens are not made by Singing

So now I’m back from University, and I have a a backlog of things I want to write about, and a lot of it I won’t get around to. The pitfalls of a part-time vanity project, eh.

I’ve written about Gardens are Not Made by Singing before: a 3-minute short I wrote on a (sort of) commission from an old school friend, and student on Bournemouth University’s TV and Film Production course, Holly Churches. Its been a fun experience and has tied in really well with what I’ve been teaching myself in my spare time about the mechanics of the industry; specifically, writing for film. Seeing it develop has been fascinating and informative.

Looks good, huh.

Gardens’ genesis lies in the poetry of World War One. Holly and I have both visited the battlefields, cemeteries and memorials that have left an indelible mark on Europe, and we have a pretty good knowledge of the poetry of that time, having studied it for the year. I decided to use the poetry of Rudyard Kipling as the base for the dialogue. Kipling represents the great transition in thought and attitude War produced. His early poetry, informed by his military experience in India, is often cited as a great pillar of British stoicism, jingoism and stiff-upper-lip gallantry. His experience as a Father, who lost his beloved son to the brutal crush of the First World War, informs his later poetry; embittered, sorrowful, almost self-reflexively guilty at the earnest force with which Kipling’s narrative voice inspired senseless acts of “courage”- that by the end of the war was very much conflated with death.

Holly’s project was an assessed piece of work, so it had limits: 3 minutes long, making full use of a particular location she had chosen. She had found a handsome, austere holiday cottage in Cornwall that felt like the sort of place that, no matter how many people lived there, would always feel one person short. This was ideal for the strained Father-and-Son relationship at the centre of the film. We decided that the film would be primarily from the point of view of the father, as his attitude shifts from hard-nosed pride to guilt-ridden grief with the fall of his son in battle.

I decided to use two poems representative of either side of Kiplings wartime experience- My Boy Jack forms the bulk of the dialogue, spoken by the father, filled with regret as he learns of the loss of hs son. We had planned to use the more famous If, the emblem of the older attitudes of stoicism and pride that the father has impressed upon his son. This began as dialogue; but in the edit, Holly chose to use If in a letter the father sends the son- letters became symbolic of their diminishing connection, the outmoded means of communication embodying the outmoded ideas written on them. Holly’s principal skill is as an editor, and having worked with her before, I could trust her editorial perspective to grasp the important parts of the story.

Our Actors: Charles Phillips and Joe Hall

Working on this 400-odd miles apart from each other could be tricky, but in itself was an important part of the experience. Writers are ultimately a solitary bunch, and I could’ve been living next door to the crew and it wouldn’t have mattered- I’d still have to go and write the damned thing, on my own. Building and maintaining that clear line of communication, where we could manipulate, praise and criticise each other’s ideas without the tension or ambiguity that plagues emails, was an important learning experience. As a writer, you are a temporary god, creating stories and environments at your whim- but once you hand it over its at the mercy of other people, and all you can do is hope they’ll understand why that small but crucial detail is in there.


The photos you can see from the shoot show the skill and imagination of Holly’s crew- her fellow students at Bournemouth University. They all crew each others’ projects- whilst Holly is directing this, she will be production manager on one student’s film, and editing another. As a result, the films are tight, intimate, and exceed expectations from student film projects, thanks to their tight, clever production teams. Keep an eye out for more.

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