2-minute trailer for Horses for Orphans short film

1 01 2011

Posted it on YouTube early this morning to ring in the new year:

Hope you enjoy it!

This is the first film by Blue Cyrus Media, the production company started earlier this year by myself and Charlotte Gentis.

We shot on location in Brazil in March 2010 and have just completed a 20-minute version for the charity’s website. Although not a documentary in the strictest sense of the word – this version is meant to promote and explain what the ‘Horses for Orphans’ charity is doing on their website www.lostchildrenoftheearth.com – it will tell a story using documentary techniques. Hopefully it will be poetic and moving as well.

We do plan to go ahead and try to make a documentary about the main character, horsewoman Ingela Larsson Smith. We’ve invested enough to film throughout two trips to Brazil, but I will be looking for finishing funds to edit and produce it sometime later this year.

Happy New Year everyone!

– Tobi Elliott


New images of the horses for orphans project

7 12 2010

As we continue to put this story together, I’ve clipped some more images from the amazing footage we captured at last March.

— All images from footage shot by Charlotte Gentis

Logging lessons

24 10 2010

My partner Charlotte and I have a similar penchant for thoroughness. And perfectionism. Not that it’s a bad thing. Those are very good qualities to have when you’re researching a story or checking out facts. However I’ve learned it can become a bit of a problem when you’re stuck for days (weeks! months!) doing something detail-oriented like… logging.

We’ve learned the hard way that one can put too much work into a preparation stage of production.

One of those lessons is that when going through 60 hours of video, you do not need to notate certain things. Such as:

1. Bad clips. We started off by marking V (video) and A (audio) as ‘OK’ or ‘bad’. The reasoning was that it would make it easier as we searched through Sony’s XD-CAM transfer software, which lets you enter metadata like ins and outs, comments, and mark a clip ‘OK’, ‘Keep’ or ‘No Good’. It has a handy Search box that will pull up any text you associate with a clip, so we thought it would be useful to mark when we had good or bad audio and video.

However, it’s not. Logic prevailed a few weeks later as we realized you really don’t need to search for bad clips. If it’s bad, don’t mark it OK. You’re not going to need to search for it if you can’t use it.

2. Marking every single clip. I thought I was doing us a service by writing something for every clip (out of 2,500) like this:

  • 1011 – no good
    1014 – Inge rubbing foal.  next to Katy holding bay mare.
    1015 – not a great angle.  of MS Inge rubbing on foal (after working on it with a rope.)
    1016 – MS of Inge rubbing on foal.  not a great angle
    1017 – not good
    1018 – shot of boy sitting on fence watching.  not real compelling shot.
    1019 – no good
    1020 – nice shot of Inge working with lead rope and getting foal to back up all next to her mother.  end shot of foal drinking from momma.  also mom tries to bite Inge.
    1021 – nice MCU shot of Inge stroking foals head/neck while drinking.  also she successfully approaches foal’s hind quarters while its drinking.
    1022 – Inge and Katy walk away from bay foal and mom “excellent we’ve done them all.”

But it slows me down way too much as I get wrapped up in trying to find a place for every little piece of media. It’s like I don’t want to leave anything out. Everything looks useable for something. But in doing this painstaking note-taking, I found I would lose sight of the big picture. What is essential to the plot? What images and sounds will advance the storyline? Which clips can we abandon because they’re not perfect quality? Only the very best needs to be marked up, and even then, don’t take too much time with it because you’ll end up coming back to it again and again anyway.

3. Transcribing every interview. This was a harder lesson to learn. Again, our tendencies to thoroughness dictated that we needed write down every detail of every interview – some of which were two hours long – in order to get a sense of how to write the story. We thought we couldn’t write until we knew what every character had to say.

While that is true, we also learned a far greater truth: it doesn’t make sense to write everything out until you have screened every clip at least once, so you don’t waste your time writing something out from day 4 when a better one on the same topic comes up again in day 8. We wouldn’t be in this situation if we’d logged every night as we filmed, but this shoot was a unique one. Charlotte was working alone as shooter and producer, and she often had 12 hour days in the fields with the camera. At that point we didn’t have enough equipment and were borrowing someone else’s MacBook to upload the clips to multiple drives for storage, and there wasn’t time or battery power to go through every clip at night.

Also, our main character and the leader of the project, Ingela Larsson-Smith, is a unique individual with almost perfect recall, someone who could talk about any aspect of the project in endless, fascinating detail, while using as many variations as one could ever wish. Every day, Charlotte had her debrief about what had happened that day and what she anticipated for the following day, so we ended up with a lot of similar-but-not-identical clips.

If I could do this logging marathon over again, I would take my great friend and mentor, Magnus Isacsson‘s, advice, and mark in a very general way the interview clips I want to come back to, and listen to them ALL before I start transcribing. It’s simply a huge waste of time and energy to notate everything before you’ve heard the rest of the interviews.

However, it has been a very good learning curve and I don’t regret how painstakingly we’ve learned it. We are precise. We are thorough. We just need to take shortcuts.

And get ergonomic office chairs…

PS: here’s an interesting journal from a first-time documentary filmmaker, Caleb Clark. I’m considering doing the same thing as a general sum-up after this project is done, hoping it would be useful for someone else.

Horses for Orphans: how orphaned boys began their journey into healing and horsemanship

28 08 2010

Two horses out of a herd of 15 that were donated to the orphanage. Photo credit: Ingela Larsson-Smith

I’ve been working on a project for the past month that I absolutely love, which has the working title “Horses for Orphans”. It’s the powerful story of how a natural horsewoman and her team tame and gentle a herd of unwanted, almost-wild horses in order to reach a group of orphans. Both the animals and the boys are wounded, have experienced abuse and neglect at the hands of those who were supposed to love and care for them, and have been “given away” because no one is able to look after them anymore. In learning to handle the horses, the boys begin to understand their own journey to healing.

A boy gets in close and personal with a young horse – but he’s gotten that far only because the horse is beginning to trust him. Photo credit: Ingela Larsson-Smith

A horsewoman and photographer, Ingela Larsson-Smith sets out to teach the boys first how read a horse’s body language so they can begin to understand what the horses are thinking and feeling as they begin to approach them in a new way – as friends. Most of the horses have had some traumatic experience at the hands of humans in the past, so they’re scared, untrusting, ready to fly  at the first sign of danger, and can’t possibly understand that this group of humans want to help them.  All they have known is being “used” for their ability to work, and when they were no longer useful, they were neglected or given away. So why should they trust humans?

A horsewoman who teaches a natural, respectful approach to animals, Ingela makes initial contact with an animal not with lassos or ropes, but only through trust, when the animal accepts that she’s not out to hurt it. Photo credit: Richard Smith

At the same time, the boys have been through much pain already in their young lives and although they have been brought to a safe place – the children’s home is a good place to live – they have only begun to heal. As Ingela and her team (husband Richard Larsson-Smith, horsewoman Katy Overton) and the children seek to establish a new relationship of trust with these horses, the hope is that the boys will see themselves and their own inner journey reflected in these animals.

As they begin to understand why the horse flees to a safe place when it senses danger, the boys will perhaps make the connection why they hide behind walls of self-protection with their own behaviour, to prevent being hurt again. They might see that the battle to win the horses’ hearts and minds can only start when they themselves begin to trust and open up.

The project leaders hope not only to teach the children horsemanship, but also communication and leadership, essential skills in any part of life. They are creating a program that includes English lessons and a horsemanship curriculum from which the children can graduate to be certified to work with horses once they leave the orphanage. It is about real life-skills, but also about healing the heart and soul.

The footage was shot as a gift to the Horses for Orphans project by my friend and business partner, Charlotte Gentis, a videographer who freelances for CBC Vancouver, over a 14-day period in 2010.

Charlotte films Katie_IMG_7039

Charlotte’s challenges included:

– tropical rainstorms that lasted for days, during which the work of building an arena and of recording important milestones with the horses and children had to continue;

– an issue with language, as specific natural horsemanship terms had to be translated by a non-professional Brazilian translator, extremely challenging;

– working in the field as a one-woman production team, trying to manage sound capture, perfect image capture and do interviews;

– all the while learning a brand new camera (Sony EX1r) that is very very unlike the heavy shoulder-mount cameras she uses at CBC.

So it was a challenge, but so very worth it, as I can see now logging the video. We have about 60 hours of to wade through, so much of it usable that I think we have a problem of too much rather than too little. Going through the moments, I discover what the team faced when they got there, how they overcame their challenges day by day, and what ultimately happened in the end. It’s a daily delight.

Stay tuned for news of the next project, which I’m getting ready to dive into this week with a trip back up to Northern B.C., to my dearly loved frontier towns, Dawson Creek and Fort St. John.