The skills of writing a haiku are similar to those for making a micro short, says Andy Thatcher whose Walks of Life explores the link between walking and wellbeing. He tells us more about making the Exeter Phoenix bursary film and the difficulty of just having a minute for each excursion
Walks of Life is a documentary following three different walks, around St. Thomas, up the River Otter from Budleigh Salterton, and along the Cornish coast at Penlee Point. Each follows different walkers for who the walk is central to their general wellbeing, something they discuss throughout the short.
Walking and wellbeing
I’ve always been a keen walker, and as someone who has experienced difficult times at various stages, a particular walk has often been crucial in getting through them. These days, it’s Woodbury Camp I’ll head to. My parents similarly have a walk on the Ashdown Forest which they’ve been returning to for almost 40 years, and we’ve sometimes gone there as a family when times have been hard. While there are plenty of TV shows and films about walks, I felt this was an underexplored, but very rich subject.
Drawing together diverse areas
I’ve got a bit of a colourful background and have tried my hand at lots of things over the years. I’ve a keen interest in writing fiction and in psychology, both of which I’ve studied as a postgraduate, and I love photography, having twice been published in The Guardian. Walks of Life draws together all these diverse areas, so it’s been a real pleasure to make. Right now, I’m studying for an MA in Film & TV at Bristol Uni, so the commission was very timely indeed. I hope to continue some of the areas I’ve explored in this short as my dissertation, and these are also central to a PhD application.
A steep learning curve
Making Walks of Life has been a very steep learning curve – I’d not actually shot video before July, nor edited it. Fortunately, I had brilliant help through Exeter Phoenix, who gave me advice, sent me on a couple of courses, and found me some really useful hands-on help before, on and after my first shoot. The background with photography was helpful in setting up and choosing shots, and weaving everything together in the edit reminded me a bit of writing techno on Cubase in the 90s. The psychology was really useful in selecting themes from the interviews, writing fiction was useful in stringing these together, and a teaching background helped me plan and run each shoot.
Discipline in editing
Making such a short film was a considerable challenge. I’d initially anticipated following just one walk, but it was recommended I followed three – making it one minute per walk! Editing hours of audio and video down to a minute was tough, but doing so gave me the discipline to identify what really mattered, both in the interviews, and in location footage. I’m an occasional haiku writer, and this wasn’t so very dissimilar. I’d love the chance to make a longer documentary in the future, though, with more time to plan, shoot and leave room for ambient noise and the long-take long-shots I have a real fondness for at the cinema.
Celebrate important places
Walkers like to share their favourite walks, and I hope some of this comes across to an audience – I’ve tried to balance giving a taste of each walk, with giving voice to the walkers. I also hope Walks of Life will prompt audiences to reflect on important walks they might have, and give them space to celebrate these sometimes small, sometimes infrequently visited, but often very important places.
I’ve already mentioned I’d like to develop Walks of Life further, and it would be great to embark on a feature-length project. There’s a great deal of interest in walking as a practice supporting wellbeing, including initiatives from Ramblers, the NHS, the National Trust, and many others, and there has been a proliferation of films and series about walking and walkers. I hope to tap into this, add my voice in whatever way I can, and keep on growing, exploring, sharing and collaborating as a film-maker.
Walks of Life will get its premiere at the Two Short Nights film fest.
Here are all the Exeter Phoenix commission-winning films