finally, ice before the ice mile

18th January, 2022

10 months into this project and there it was: a layer formed on a small loch in the Cairngorms. Not thick enough to walk on safely, but thin enough that breaking it would take some effort. 

I’ve found myself wanting to get back into the water more and more these days. Always with the camera, though. I enjoy focusing on the image as much as I enjoy being in the water. They go hand in hand and I just keep thinking of different ways I can change my kit, start experimenting with shooting in the water differently – shooting more under the water, deeper, using lighting… I feel like I’m pretty drawn in at this point. I want to try everything and play around and see what can be done in different water-based environments. Not just with swimming, or even just adventure sport and humans. Just being in the water and creating within it.

I’ve talked about this before, but the longer projects go on the harder it  has been –  trying to do everything myself on this project. It was amazing to have Jessie on our first couple of shoots, and I was pretty excited to have her as a shooting DOP. But that all kind of folded in on itself the more rejections and ignored I got finding funding. The whole lack of budget meant she couldn’t still be a part of the project as we moved on, which is completely understandable. I think Jessie putting her boundaries on what she could do so bluntly and honestly has been part of the reason I’ve not become so clear with my own boundaries for work and projects this year. Despite that, I’d been hoping all along that I’d find a little bit of funding along the way, even if it was a small amount, and be able to at least pay her to join on some of the shoots so it wasn’t as much of a lonely project. That didn’t happen and I feel really sad about that, but I’ve also come to understand my own limitations with what I can and can’t shoot when alone. 

I think I’m also starting to feel the pressure and the worry more and more than I’ll sit in the edit and it… won’t be enough. Or good enough. That I’ve spent so much of my time and Becca’s time trying to make this into a beautiful and interesting film, but it will fall flat. I try to rationalise those feelings a lot, but I’m finding it harder the nearer post-production looms. 

So it was just really good to have Michael come along on this Cairngorms shoot. Partly because we had some free time to stay in a bothy and enjoy some fresh air together, and partly because I asked him to help with shooting. I simply can’t do camera and tripod, fly the drone, and be in the water capturing all at once. Especially in winter when time in the water is limited. By the time I’ve set up one shot Becca’s already out of the water. 

It was the coldest day of the week and the most likely of all the days we’d get any ice. Though that was looking unlikely. We’d arrived in the Cairngorms a day before and the snow was all melting. We wandered up in the hills on our first day in slushy snow and the hills were patterned with rapidly disappearing snow, the browns of the hills getting larger and larger. On Tuesday the temperature looked to be hovering around 0 in the morning, heating up through the day and reaching 8 later in the week. I’m very good at timing my shoots and trips up to Scotland with the thaw. 

But, despite the warm temperatures and most other bodies of water only having some remaining ice at the side. This one was frozen over. At dawn we parked up, said hi, and started walking over to the loch. Hoping and hoping for ice.  I have been so used to difficult and not-what-I-wanted-conditions on this project (thinking about the very mild, very cloudy solstice non-sunrise) that this felt past due.

The air was still, nobody else was here, and the light looked good. Not the promise of a bright, golden sunrise but a gentle winter glow was coming up from behind the trees in the distance. 

With Michael on the tripod, I could put the drone up, without worrying I’d miss anything. I flew, finding patterns in the ice you couldn’t see from the shore. All the while, Becca and Alice slowly made their way into the water, creating a channel, sledgehammering the ice away. 

The drone came down, wetsuit zipped up, camera in housing. And I was in too. I thought maybe I’d be in 5 minutes max, but I stayed, and stayed, transitioning from an aerial view of the ice to seeing it up close.

Moving through the ice slowly, focusing in on the little details – the bubbles in each piece that had been broken, the thickness of the sheet atop the water, the way the shards gently wound their way in journeys through the water. I thought the aerial view was beautiful and was quite unprepared for how mesmerised I’d be by the ice up close. 

I wanted some face-on shots of Becca breaking the ice, which hard to get, because you have to be on the ice to get that angle. So I carefully shimmied my way up onto the ice, keeping my weight low. And filmed as she struck the ice right in front of me. Hoping I wouldn’t go through but prepared to if I did. 

It’s been quite a while since I’ve genuinely felt so immersed in something. Even when shooting other things, I’m worrying about other things and I find it pretty hard to switch off these days, though going into the New Year I’ve really been working on it. But I really did find myself totally in the moment here. Feeling the cold and concentrating on the shots. It’s something I’m really, really excited about doing again. Maybe (hopefully) with Becca but also in other spaces and projects. I have this ridiculous dream of being in the water with Narwals one day. I don’t know why but it’s been a dream of mine since before I even got in the water with a camera. Weird. Probably won’t ever happen, but you never know. It’s nice to say (type) it out loud. 

I didn’t really want to get out but we eventually did. I felt it was one of the best shoots we’d had together. Not sure it it’s because of the shots, because it’s always hard to tell in the water how they’re going to turn out. 

I can’t really believe that in less than a month Becca will have (or won’t have?! – don’t say that) done her Ice Mile. Despite my anxiety about this not being a good film or a film that Becca loves, I’ve really loved this whole journey. I’m not sure it’s quite hit me yet the impact of being so immersed in a sport and in a community I was so unfamiliar with, and that I’ve really fallen in love with, and what that really has meant to me.

The snow is on its way again, and the storms hitting Scotland for the next couple of weeks. Apparently ice is back. I’m praying for settled weather and a warmer day for Becca’s attempt at the end of the month. It would be a cruel joke to have such a mild winter turn into something too cold for her attempt. We’re just crossing our fingers and hoping for the best. 

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