Brian Mac Domhnaill
When I was originally invited to join The Pallasboy Project it was agreed that I would document the project with photography, video and sound. I was comfortable with the prospect of taking representative photographs of different crafting techniques and charting the progress of our object throughout, but I was very new to film and sound recording so this part of the work would be experimental and self-thought. Within the first few days I had learned valuable lessons about recording corresponding film and sound clips, not least the value of a clapperboard and windshield. On Day 2 I added an inside-out thermal sock to the sound recorder. It looked silly but it did the job.
The atmosphere at Meitheal Mara played a significant part in creating the right experiential backdrop for the maker and viewer. There was a particular energy created by the shared active workplace that was further enhanced by a sense of being amongst colleagues who were interested in what we were doing. There was also a shared appreciation of the material and skills being used across the site. This was all well and good but the location did present many problems for filming. Our friends in the workshop often used power tools that created a lot of background noise. I later tried to work with this in editing as the sounds provided contrast with those made by the hand tools. There were quiet times in the day but crafting couldn’t wait. The boat builders even offered to be quiet on request but that proved awkward and impractical. During editing I also became aware of other incidental sounds like a magpie, the rain and a baby crying. These were too good to leave out.
Our vessel and woodworker were under shelter but this resulted in relatively low light particularly on dull days. There was also a conflict between our desire to record conversations and exchanges in relation to the vessel and our interest in recording the crafting process itself. If we were making a documentary and time was not so much of an issue we could have employed a full film crew and adopted a filming strategy that allowed for cut away shots and a variety of carefully placed microphones so nothing was missed. In reality it was only me and some modest kit so my attention was primarily focused on the crafting process. I had to ignore much of the interesting banter, which covered such topics as the workload, tools, original use and crafting methods. I also found that the less I focused on people the more relaxed and talkative they were. I inadvertently caught snippets of conversations in the audio but the action was not being recorded or filmed with the intent of producing quality dialogue.
Another issue that I faced was my own absenteeism on site for the end of crafting. Unfortunately I had to be elsewhere but thankfully Muireann Ní Cheallacháin and Eoin O’Conaill were able to fill in for me. It was an interesting exercise as each photographer brought their own style to the record.
It was a pleasure to watch Mark crafting our replica vessel. In fact everyone said so, even if they could only stay for a few minutes. Visitors often remarked that they could watch him all day. It certainly got me thinking about the practical and evolutionary benefits of finding it enjoyable to watch a process of making. Are we hardwired to enjoy watching such activities so that we can learn and survive? During filming it was difficult at times to fully engage with what Mark was doing because of the simple fact that I was looking through a device and not directly at the action. This became very apparent during editing as I realised what I had missed while I was present and ‘looking’. Even though I am now sharing the experience of being on site by uploading an edited video to the internet, the viewer will be situated in a context of their own choosing and must look at the footage through a device, therefore maintaining physical separation.
It was interesting to observe the different techniques and strategies adopted by people when they had a go at hollowing out the interior of our vessel. I was especially fascinated by Ben’s tendency to bend his wrists, a habit he paid dearly for despite improvised duct tape supports. I was feeling his pain watching the footage. I have included a couple of clips of his wrist martyrdom.
Although I was a little overwhelmed and intimidated by the amount of editing required I set about my work with the help of video tutorials and subsequently learned the benefits of automated film and sound syncing software. Despite my limitations as a filmmaker I feel I have succeeded in capturing some great moments in the crafting process and glimpses of some of the people who came and went. The first edit ‘Remaking the Pallasboy Vessel’ is intended as a representative record of the various stages of crafting so that more people can get a sense of what it was like to watch Mark work. The video is also a record of an important technical learning process for me, one I will undoubtedly reminisce about in a future Oscar acceptance speech. In the meantime I have plans to produce an edit more in line with video art (coming soon) and there is scope to revisit the footage at a later date to attempt a more documentary style edit with added voiceovers and context material. I am eager to return to the site where the tree was felled and I also intend to visit Toar Bog, where the original vessel was discovered.
Watch the embedded version below or follow this link to Vimeo.