Katherine Jenkins is a formidable star. Six out of seven of her studio albums reached number one in the classical charts between 2004 and 2008, selling a total of more than 4 million copies. After her first album, Premiere, made her the fastest-selling mezzo-soprano to date she became the first British classical crossover artist to have two number one albums in the same year. She is the first female artist to win two consecutive Classical BRIT Awards: her second album, Second Nature, reached number 16 in the UK Albums Chart, and was Album of the Year in the 2005 BRIT Awards.
For me to be invited to make an official video for her latest song, A Flower Tells a Story is a privilege. Not only for the fact that proceeds from the song and this video go toward the poppy appeal and the Royal British Legion.
A Flower Tells A Story was written as a eulogy for fallen servicemen, in part to mark the anniversary of the World War I Armistice on 11/11/11. My grandfather fought in World War II, and his father before him in World War I. It seemed right to take on this project, even if it was a competition that would see my speculative video pitched against other filmmakers from around the world in a bid to make the official video. Fortunately for me, it made it into the top slot.
Dreaming up a Concept
The video clip took four full days to make, from pre-production to final output. Usually it would take almost two weeks to make a promotional video like this, but we weren’t aware of the opportunity until close to the deadline. My first task was to come up with a concept for the video. Although invited to use archive footage from the wars, I thought it might be acceptable to use a little, but I was keen not to make the video about that. I wanted to come up with a modern-day story and intertwine it with the past. So I started with the title, ‘A flower tells a story’ and scribbled down the imagery I wanted to use as part of the story.
The poppy had to feature, of course. But the flower is only symbol of the memory of those who fought for our freedoms and paid the ultimate sacrifice. Remembrance Day is about acknowledging those who fought and lost their lives. The video had to be both respectful and centre around memories, stories and the passing of these stories on to the next generation. The idea of children being educated about Remembrance, being told stories of these brave soldiers and then to pay tribute to them was an early, strong concept for me.
The song is powerful and the latter half is emotional. I needed something special to happen in that bridge of the song where Katherine builds and powers up to a crescendo, then there is an abrupt pause followed by a gentle ending. The idea of using young people playing the role of those soldiers who lost their lives and for one of them to give the poppy to a young child, came last in my formulation of the concept. The lost poppy from the child’s coat might symbolise a memory lost, a soldier forgotten. Which is where replacing the poppy back to its rightful place by the young soldier is perhaps reminding us not to forget them. But with the concept primarily established, now came the heavy work of pulling it all together in just a couple of days.
Pre-production & Production
After coming up with the concept for the video,, I frantically telephoned the local British Legion in Torrevieja to help find some real veterans. By enlisting the help of Torrevieja’s planning officer, Graham Knight, we were able to get special permissions to use the local cemetery.
On casting the roles, I first needed a child that could pull off a grave, thoughtful, intelligent face. A boy I had worked with before on Renoir’s ‘Sky’ in the summer immediately sprang to mind. I knew Josh Fox to be easily directable and that he possessed a powerful expression with the slightest facial movement. Josh’s father, Dean was delighted to have Josh appear in another video. We also needed a pretty young girl to play the important role of blowing the petals at the very end and who could provide balance to the supernatural element in the video. I had worked with Katie Stewart on two previous projects, both for a TV commercial and a Duran Duran music video promo I made at the beginning of this year. Knowing her talent, no audition was necessary.
Eileen Hamilton was a fresh face for me. I was introduced to her by one of our production managers and she was keen to participate in the project. Eileen is a veteran of stage and theatre, but screen was a new experience for her. She was perfect as the kindly grandmother out walking with her grand children and who would tell them stories of long lost, but not forgotten heroes.
El Limonar school, a local international school in this area, have helped me out on many occasions in the past. Head of Drama, Julie Ashurst, has always been on hand to help with casting for various projects. In the space of two days, we had an army of Sixth Formers ready and willing to participate in our story. Most of them were only fifteen or sixteen, but kids look a lot older these days, so they would pass for the young soldiers who went off to war in 1914.
The elderly veterans also came through for us. Philip Timbrel is 90-years-old and he is a veteran of Arnham. He was superb as the gentlemen helped by the young boy from the car and led to the cenotaph to pay his respects. Another veteran Steve Berridge and his wife Wendy also supported the production by appearing in the video.
Production took two half-days, split evenly between the internals, the walking over fields, and the cemetery scenes. Arturo Vilar, a very capable and competent camera assistant, helped me to film the sequences and then it was all down to the edit.
For those technical folk, the video was shot on Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 60D cameras with a variety of prime lenses (ask me in comments if you would like to hear more of a technical summary).
This video will premiere on BBC2 terrestrial (national) television on Remembrance Day, this Sunday 13th November 2011. The program is entitled, Something for the Weekend where Katherine Jenkins will herself be guest. They will show this clip at some stage during the course of the program.