85 year old figure skater stars in music video
  • Nigel's Story
  • What is Sparkling Blue?
  • Concept
  • Location Scouting
  • Mood Visuals
  • Creative Writing, Storyboarding, Script & Shot-List
  • Research And Pre Production
  • Shoot
  • Post Production
  • Conclusion

NIGEL’S STORY

Nigel Moul is an 85-year-old figure skater from Abingdon, Oxfordshire. Nigel loves nothing more than gliding on the ice in his free time. Every Tuesday he visits the Oxford Ice Rink, pulls on his blades and spends hours practising dance moves, spins and turns, chatting with others and generally enjoying himself. Nigel has a history with Oxford Ice Rink. He first started skating at the rink 34 years ago, he fell in love there, he has danced to countless pieces of music there and he was also struck with a heart attack there. All of these things have contributed to making Nigel the artist and personality he is today.

Alongside ice-skating, Nigel fixes, and tinkers with old clocks and time mechanisms in his home workshop. Nigel gave up ice skating in November 2018 because his ice skates were providing him little support which disrupted his sense of balance. After some time off the ice, Nigel decided to get some new skates. Unfortunately, these were incorrectly fitted, creating a further problem. He had been losing hope and spoke of hanging up the boots for good.

Part of the aim of this project was to indirectly encourage Nigel to get back onto the ice and rekindle his passion. His story was and still is an inspiration.

SPARKLING BLUE

Sparkling Blue was a song written and produced by music trio Verna Hark. The three-piece synth-pop released the single back in 2017. It was initially just another song in the first EP release but ended up becoming a body of work that continues to grow. Verna Hark creates lyrically-driven cinematic synth music influenced by retrowave, cinematic and science fiction, balancing weird and often cliché elements to achieve an odd-pop hybrid. Pairing light, sensitive vocals with heavy, electronic melodies, Sparkling Blue is laced throughout with nostalgia, in form as well as content; it is melancholy, but with dark edges.

The song itself is about doing something you don’t want to do and in parts, about a relationship that one person did not want to be a part of. The lyrics function like a hypothetical conversation or confrontation. The song is an imagined conflict or an ideal version of how this conversation could be had if people were able to communicate away from their fears of abandonment and being alone. The song is sad and hopeful and with that parallels were born to Nigel’s story.

CONCEPT

One of the three members from Verna Hark is a chap called George Hopcraft (who is incidentally also the Production Manager at Oxford Media Factory). With a passion for all things music and film, the idea to pair Nigel and Sparkling Blue into a music video came when George saw Nigel dancing for a BBC article.

The original concept was to create a simple piece that showcased non-narrative visuals of Nigel dancing to Sparkling Blue. The concept slowly evolved, as did the production team. George on-boarded James Mckenzie-Blyth of Flyotw, a visual director with a passion for the aesthetically pleasing. With that, the further crew was assigned such as lighting tech Steve Pierce, director of photography Lee Pendle, location sound recordist Thomas Marshall (part of Verna Hark) and a behind-the-scenes team consisting of Dominic Smith, Chris Smith, and Wilson Arrowsmith.

The concept evolved over various production meetings and phone calls and gained a narrative that would tell Nigel’s story through a cinematic lens. Through mood boards and visual research, the ideas came together. A large part of the pre-production was managing the creative alongside what we really would be able to achieve during the shoot.

LOCATION SCOUTING

The shoot took place at Oxford Ice Rink, which is owned and run by Oxfordshire City Council’s Fusion Arts foundation. George attended various visits to the ice rink, meeting and watching Nigel, taking location photos and asking various questions around logistics. The ice rink is a public space, which meant that hiring out space during the day was considerably more expensive. As such it was decided a night shoot would not only be cheaper but lend itself to the visuals being dark, cold and empty. The shoot took place from 10:00 PM to 02:00 AM.

MOOD VISUALS

Influences came from other videos that featured Ice Skating scenes, especially the camera movements and lighting. The directors’ vision combined the dark cold ice-rink with Nigel’s warm and familiar memories of the past. It was clear that depth was important, and all shots would contain a sequence of dolly, truck, and pans. The atmosphere was to be dark and gloomy and what little light appeared was to be bloomed and dreamy. We wanted the audience to experience a night in an empty ice rink, so we were sure to not create too many shots with shallow and close depth of field essentially losing the sense of space.

RESEARCH AND PRE-PRODUCTION

Undertaking a project of this size required a solid plan. Combining basic project management techniques with video production knowledge meant Oxford Media Factory could produce this project far more efficiently, to a high-quality-standard within the time and budget restrictions.

After a few meetings with the Oxford Ice Rink team, we decided to shoot in the centre of the ice rink, to give the audience the sense that they were on the ice, using multiple meter-squared matting as a staging area for the DOP and director to operate from. Lighting would stay around the outside perimeter to cast warm spots inwards. We also ensured we had access to crampons that would fit over the shoe to help with walking on the ice.

CREATIVE WRITING, STORYBOARDING, SCRIPT & SHOT-LIST

One of the first things we approached was the creative writing exercise; often an overlooked step. The creative writing told the story of Nigel, a simple man who loves to skate and tinker with old clocks. This body of text then became the treatment that would be used to start discussions with other people we needed to be involved to help produce the music video.

Once the creative writing/treatment had been tweaked and worked on, the script and shot-list could reference the creative writing to create something that was structured. The shot-list was invaluable during the shoot and meant the crew could discuss the technical aspects for each shot needed as they were setting up.

In the shot-list, the overall vision was set out by the director. The shots would contain movement in some way, the composition would always have depth and footage would feel dark in comparison to the footage shot at Nigel’s home, a scene that would be conceived and filmed later. Each shot was titled with an abbreviation such as WIDE, MCU (medium close up) and CU (close up) so the DOP and Director would know which lens to choose during the performance.

SHOOT

The night of shoot was during one of the hottest days on the year, which meant it was pleasant being able to spend the night inside of an ice rink. After loading the equipment into the vehicles we headed to pick up Nigel from his home. We planned to meet the rest of the team in the car park of the ice rink. Here we had a quick pre-shoot meeting, mainly about health and safety which is always a big concern of mine during shoots this size.

We had provided our insurance policies and we made sure to be safe with all leading cables and equipment. Most of the floors inside the ice rink were wet and damp so this meant we had to be extra vigilant.

We were asked to load and enter the ice rink through a side door that was also an external fire exit. This meant we could load our kit whilst the public exited the site and the ice was resurfaced. We had a conversation prior to the shoot about the surface of the ice. This was important for a few reasons, visuals, safety and Nigel’s preference. Visually, we wanted to ice left quite choppy which meant you could see a few people had been skating on it. This was also beneficial to Nigel’s preference and safety as it meant for more grip.

For each scene, the aforementioned storyboard was used as a reference for the DOP, director and lighting tech to set up the shots. This was the biggest time constraint for us. Lighting a scene can take a large amount of time, something that should have been better factored into the equation. We focused on using tungsten spotlights for the majority of the ice skating scenes to contrast with the cold blue floods, however for the other scenes we used a combination of harsh flood and spots.

We focused on capturing Nigel’s ice skating scenes first as a priority. We were under a time and budget constraint, so capturing this content was most important. Each take was orchestrated by the director James Mckenzie-Blyth and George, who would usher on takes and setups to stay on time of time.

Frustratingly as we had also used the house lights to cast the majority blue, we had little control over them, which limited some of the creative control. If budget and time allowed, a better option would have been to use our own production lights so we had full creative control over brightness, positioning etc.

We then progressed to capture the “angel shots” or “nice to haves”. Moving from scene to scene through the storyboard, setting up and capturing moments that would help enforce a narrative.

Additionally, onsite was Tom Jaine, one-third of Verna Hark and a professional sound designer. We arranged for him to be in charge of sound, capturing various material throughout the day. One idea was to attach small wireless lavaliere microphones to the bottom of his skates to capture the detailed sounds of the metal on ice. He also captured room tones and pulse responses to create a like for like reverb/tone of the room. These elements would later become a key part of the music video.

During post-production, which is covered later on in more detail, it was a last-minute decision to add an additional scene which would be captured at Nigel’s home. This realisation came into play because of the time restrictions causing us to undershoot many of the scenes. The added scene was shot by Dominic Smith and it captured Nigel doing the things he loves to do at his home in Abingdon. Again, drawing on the warm and comfortable colours contrasting with the cold and unsteady of the ice rink. We aimed to use as much natural light as possible, using a Black Pro-Mist to help ‘mystify’ some of the natural light and then smaller LED panels to fill the shadows.

POST PRODUCTION

The first port-of-call was to view all of the content captured and start to get an understanding of how the edit would come together. The process here was to organise the footage using a traffic light system. Green being most usable and red being unusable. From there we started to build a sequence to the music. Because Nigel was at an age where he could not complete a sequence of moves for the duration of the song, we had to piece together a performance in the edit, something that was an over-site in planning.

As previously mentioned, we also decided that another sequence was needed. Shooting at Nigel’s home created new challenges but was an opportunity to capture some insightful moments and character, something that seemed to be missing from the main sequence.

From conception, we knew that sound design would play a big part in the production but we were unsure how exactly. As the editing progressed, we felt that the piece was a tad long, due to the footage being shakier than we anticipated, we needed something further to build onto the edit.

We decided that we would choose particular moments in the sequence, where the sound design would become a focus by switching between the actual song and an effected version of the song. The effect we applied was a reverb created from the recordings at the ice rink. A pulse response was entered into a convolutional reverb programme which then emulated the actual, room tone acoustics.

We also incorporated the first person ice skating sounds, mixing between perspectives. This could have been embellished further if we had given it further creative consideration early on, however, it did create an amazing dynamic.

CONCLUSION

With the final piece now complete we can now look back and compare it with what we originally set out to achieve. Upon reflection, Oxford Media Factory set out to create a dynamic and visually pleasing music video with Nigel Moul, however, far more came of this project. A team came together and approached challenges creatively, producing an impressive body of work with limited time and budget and Nigel added another ice skating related memory to his rich tapestry before he has to finally hang the boots up for good.

To conclude, there are certain parts of this project that we would approach differently. The main being the amount of time we had on location. Our production schedule was ambitious with the number of shots we wanted to capture. Additionally, we would split the production over more days so that we had the opportunity to review footage.

We hope you enjoy watching the final video.