Interviewed by Sabarno Sinha
Cult Critic- Could you tell our readers a little about the creative method that you chose for your film in order to talk about the problems pertaining to climate change?
Steve Mortimer– As with sustainability and climate change there is no one answer, and no single way, but a hybrid of differing causes and solutions. We wanted our film to be creatively reflective of a project that was not linear or singular, but postmodern in terms of its media model. The films ethos very much tries to meet at the intersection between art, science, and spirituality – which all, in their own way, contribute to our existing problems but ironically also offer the best solutions. The times we live in now require an ‘all hands-on deck’ approach. We need the voices of all; scientists, artists, those working to promote healthy traditions, and also especially those who are marginalized from these conversations – particularly women, indigenous cultures, and the young who have so much to contribute. The arts and media can provide an effective platform for these voices which, with our diverse range of artists and presentation methods, is what The Black Chapel Collective hopes to have achieved.
Cult Critic- You have made great use of song and dance in the film. Can you please explain the process of ideating? How did you come up with this idea?
SM– I think dance is everything to do with using the body to communicate feelings, be that ecstatic, celebratory, pain or other. The Sufi tradition has Whirling Dervishes, The Shakers from the U.S.A, the Native America Rain dance, and of course electronic rave. All of these and many other forms of dance are powerful ways to use the body to reawaken energy, to keep fit, and to get us out of our post-enlightenment heads. In the film, I really wanted to inject this movement visually to prompt that. Often the image of someone dancing, especially when slowed down, is remarkably graceful and empowering. For us, one song ‘Temple’ highlights this. Sung by Lula Hemmings it features Laura and Sam from DYB, a yoga group I met locally. They did a very slow yoga practice behind Lula as she sang. I feel that song and dance are natural ways to communicate. They are pre-modern and don’t cost anything. So, to that end I totally agree with Matthew Fox who says we need now “pre-modern wisdom for post-modern times”.
Cult Critic- Your lyrics are very innovative as much as the presentation of music in the film.Could you please tell us the process of composing the lyrics?
SM– Apart from one song, all of the lyrics were written by the incredible collaborators in The Black Chapel Collective. My only brief was “don’t make the lyrics plastic or shallow”. I explained what the project was about and asked them to individually write lyrics around instrumental pieces I had sent them. Interestingly three performers all unknowingly wrote a song they entitled ‘Breathe’ – I find it fascinating that they did that independently. Also coincidentally the breath is such a powerful tool in spiritual traditions, it often symbolizes Spirit and is a key part of Buddhist practice, mediation, and mindfulness.
Cult Critic- In the first part of your film, multiple singers sing out parts of a connected song.Could you tell us about this song and how did you decide the sequence of the parts?
SM– The film features ten separate songs sung in order by Ce Ce X, Kelli- Marie Holmes, Rachel Brooks, Safe Nath, Helen Connelly, Lula Hemmings, Daniela Rhodes, Sara C, and a track Sunscreem kindly gave us permission to use with its wonderful refrain, ‘I Belong’. All of the songs deeply explore the themes of awe and amazement, pain and suffering, creativity and diversity, hope and transformation.Cult Critic- After the vocals are done, there are just very impactful and strong instrumentals. Can you tell us why you did this?
SM– The film was written as a whole experience. Nuclear physicist David Bohm reminds us we need to see things in their wholeness and not as parts. He says “interconnectedness of the whole universe is the fundamental reality”. This thought process influenced the entire project and for me makes the work much more interconnected. The instrumental music and speech samples, (which were kindly used with permission from author Robert Macfarlane, scientist Rupert Sheldrake and postdenominational priest Matthew Fox), acted as steppingstones in this holistic experience. In modern terms I suppose it is the equivalent of a DJ mixing, but with film, visuals, speech, and music.
Cult Critic- Your film makes use of a number of videos which are superimposed on the videos of the singers. Why did you choose to do this instead of simply showing the clips and having the music play behind?
SM– Yes. I have always liked thee superimposed, double exposure idea, concept and mood. There is something about it that makes things less singular and more interconnected. But also, paradoxically, it randomizes things as well creating new forms, shapes, and color. I like that a lot. In terms of physically projecting onto the performers one of the key areas we wanted to communicate was people’s perception of what an artist is. We are all artists whether we are on a stage or nursing someone who is dying. So, to that end we deliberately chose to do that. In fact, the performers arrive on stage from within the audience and return to the audience when they have finished each song. For me the message must be bigger than the artist rather than the other way round which is so common in media industries, particularly music. Less ego, more eco.
Cult Critic- How did you select the clips that were shown? Did you record some of them or were they taken from existing archives? Could you tell us about that process?
SM– A lot of the clips were licensed from stock footage libraries. I knew which themes I wanted to communicate and would select them accordingly. One of the themes is female empowerment and representation which is sadly lacking in most climate negotiation talks and most music live festival line ups. This is why 80% of the performers in the Connect project are female, so literally a role reversal, as if to illustrate that point and wear our colors.
For example, I would search stock libraries for strong and positive female clips. This, combined with the live female footage we filmed, were merged throughout to form the narrative. The challenge was to make sense of the live footage, stock footage, and music in the context of the film, music, and overall experience. I was also writing the film so it could be performed as a live music, visual experience which we are looking at now.
SM– Thank you! It is actually me who did the editing! I am not going to lie, it was a mammoth task involving numerous nights of rendering video. The majority of the project was done on an 8 year old PC laptop with an 8GB RAM running a piece of entry level video software called Premiere Elements alongside a budget version of Cubase Elements for the sound.
Due to the demands needed for FX on both the RAM and software I had to render individual sections and export them to an external hard drive. When all of the sections were complete, I then reimported them back into the already exhausted laptop, but this time created a new project which did not use any effects, rather it was a case of loading the new individual files into the timeline, arranging them, and adding simple transitions between each new video to make an overall project. I think when it was finally completed, and I did my final render of the whole film, it took my laptop around 12 hours to export the final HD 1080 version!
Cult Critic- You have used very strong blue lights throughout the film. Any reason for this particular color? Did this cause any trouble during shooting? Can you tell us about that experience?
SM– Yes, blue was used a lot wasn’t it? This wasn’t a conscious decision, apart from with one song, ‘Breathe’ sung by Rachel Brooks, which was about the psychological impact the pandemic was having on us. Blue seemed a strong and fitting color. Hot Box in Chelmsford was the live music venue where we filmed the music video, and they had a selection of lighting equipment and effects available for live bands to use. I think at the time the blue lighting worked best with the three screens for live shots, particularly because we did not want the visuals to be overpowered. The lighting was almost an ambient shade which came through a lot in the final cut and seemed to give the whole thing a pure and perhaps an almost oceanic finish. The camera crew John, Kyle and Freya from Hot Box were superb and thankfully appreciated the dilemma of our set up and helped enormously with the whole project. Also, I am sure I used blue flares in the editing as well, it just seemed to work well.
Cult Critic- As there are so many songs that are used in the film, you must have had to record and mix the audio very carefully. How did that go? Did you face any trouble?
SM– The audio side of the project was complex and challenging, but because I come from a music production background ironically I felt more comfortable in this area. The music you hear in the film is a combination of pre-mastered instrumentals mastered by Compound Audio, and audio post-production superbly edited by Paul Carnell and Lucia Holm from Sunscreem. When filming Connect live, we played the pre-recorded audio masters out of the P.A at the venue and placed microphones near the front. These recordings combined with live desk recordings featuring the vocalists, live bass, and backing vocalists were then mixed post filming in Sunscreem’s studio. The final mix is what you hear on the film, and our aim was to try and capture the engaging feel of a live event. We did this by incorporating the vocals that were sung live by the artists into film.
Cult Critic- Even though you have shot indoors, the film must have been done during the pandemic. Did that cause any trouble or pose any barriers for your film anyhow?
SM– Connect was initially planned as a local, grassroots, live mixed-media performance. The pandemic forced all of us to reevaluate how we communicated at that time with the closure of venues, cinemas, and generally outside events. As we were locked down with the rest of the world, we came up with the idea of adapting the live project into a film to be screened initially to locals who could not make the live event we had planned to present. We checked with our local authority on what we could and could not do regarding social restrictions and performing at the time. They were very good to be honest and so supportive. In the end we had to have a rota of performers arriving on set at different pre-booked times. As I recall in the UK we had a thing called the rule of six where no more than six people could meet for work purposes, etc. Each performer was allocated 45 mins for three takes, and the film is a compilation of their best takes. Once the performer had completed their takes, they had to leave the building and then the next person on the rota was allowed to come in. Fortunately, everyone understood the importance of this and were all willing to work as instructed. I think we did the entire shoot in two days.
SM– Thank you! That’s very kind! I have always felt that great art is made by people who have to do it, rather than those who want to do it. It is in their D.N.A, a part of their life-force. They have to express something much bigger than just themselves, as a necessity. I have always believed the message is more important than the artist, especially in the world we now live in.
In today’s world we are seeing the devasting consequences of climate change, global warming, ocean levels rising, climate migration – all of which are so rapidly increasing. With all of these things occurring, in the words of Thomas Berry we have to ask – “What are we looking for in life?”.
The role of the artist in the 21st Century, for me, surely must be to offer hope and inspiration, whilst also fiercely defending injustice when she or he sees it. Anything else just feels like fiddling while Rome burns.
PS- Thank you for these insightful questions. Thank you for watching Connect – A Creative Response to Climate Change and talking with me about this film. I’m really honored.