A Conversation with Kate Griffiths, Winner of the Jane Mercer Footage Researcher of the Year Award

Kate Griffiths, the winner of FOCAL's 2015 Jane Mercer Footage Researcher of the Year Award, has developed something of a specialty in music-related projects over the course of her 27-year career in archival production and research. So it's fitting that she won this year's Jane Mercer award for her work on Soul Boys of the Western World, a critically acclaimed archival documentary about the British New Romantic band Spandau Ballet. We had the chance to speak with Kate recently about her work on Soul Boys and her experience as an archival producer.

Footage.net: Congratulations on winning the Jane Mercer Award. Can you say a little bit about what it means to you to win this award? 

Kate Griffiths: It's a huge honor and means an enormous amount to me. I've been judged by my peers and colleagues in the industry and they have acknowledged and appreciated my work.

FN: You won the Jan Mercer award for your work on Soul Boys of the Western World. Can you tell us about the experience of working on this film? 

KG: It was a fantastic film to work on not least because I was given the time and space to really go in-depth and seek out every bit of relevant material. I first met with [producer] Scott Millaney and Steve Dagger (the Band's manager and Exec Producer) and we agreed they were only going to do this once so it needed to be tackled properly. I began by reading the Bands' various biographies plus the film's preliminary script, making notes about key clips and following leads. Steve also gave me their wish list of archive to find. I spoke to others that were on the scene around that time as well as fans and visited Dame Alice Owens School (where the Band met and formed) to research their archives for early photos and stories. I scoured every part of the globe, pursued many leads, discovered some fantastic new sources and established and nurtured some great archive relationships. What was truly wonderful was the level of good will. There was a genuine affection for the Band and most people were extremely co-operative. 

FN: Soul Boys sounds like an enormous archival undertaking. Was this one of the more complex projects you've worked on? 

KG: Yes certainly, being that it was an archive-only film, they were relying on me finding everything they needed to tell the story. The different subject matters, sources and footage had to be comprehensively researched, catalogued, cleared and delivered to the highest specifications. 

FN: Scott Millaney is quoted as saying that your "role went well beyond the definition of archive producer as [you] were involved with meetings at an early stage with band members, writers and the two directors that were retained on the film." Is this a typical assignment for you?

KG: I've never had an assignment quite like this before - for a start in the beginning it was a very small production team - just myself, the producer and the original director who was also the editor. Normally I'm used to getting ongoing and specific archive requests as the project progresses but the amount of footage I was unearthing and delivering seemed more than adequate for them.  We then had a change of director and she (George Hencken) needed to catch up fast. Fortunately I had created a very detailed archive log (running over 230 pages) describing every bit of footage and organized under many different headings/keywords with unique reference numbers for each clip to make them identifiable in the EDL.   I delivered the archive on two drives and over 6 weeks she watched every frame.  There was supplementary material needed later on but the archive she needed to create the Band's story was all there.  

FN: Talk about your approach/process to archival research. For example, how do you identify the sources? How do you manage the workflow? How do you keep all this material and information organized?

KG: For Soul Boys I began by reading the Band's biographies and film script and drew up a time-line of key names, dates and places. I also had a wish list of archive from the producers. First of all I targeted the commercial archives around the world. Then I tracked down individuals who were witness to key events and might have filmed/recorded or know who would. I also spoke to fans thorough Spandau's official site as well as fan forums. I mainly worked from home, which meant I worked pretty much 24/7 and could deal with archives on different time zones. I created a detailed Master Archive Log with unique EDL reference numbers, shot descriptions, dates, places, people, quality and master issues (everything you'd need to know really). The archive screeners and masters were all digitized on drives and filed/labelled to correlate with the log. Once the clips were edited into the film, the EDL would tell me exactly what shots were used. 

FN: Are you typically in charge of managing your budget? 

KG: I'm usually told what the budget is and I try to come in on it, however, it's often under calculated so some sacrifices may be needed. With the Spandau film, however, I was consulted from the start and we set a realistic budget...which I'm proud to say we came in under. 

FN: Was there a big "eureka" moment in the Soul Boys research process where you found a really special shot? 

KG: There were quite a few actually! In my first meeting with Steve he gave me a list of important clips to find including the HMS Belfast concert and the New York interview. It took three years to track these down - one was discovered in a kitchen drawer in London, the other in a lock up in Queens. Also the Nationwide rushes were a great find - Steve remembered that he'd been given this big film can at the time of filming (1981) and for three years I searched and searched - eventually finding it in one of their storage facilities, in a flight case under some stage clothing where it had been sitting since 1986. Then there was Gary Kemp's first ever TV music performance at the age of 14, performing a song with Phil Daniels. He talked about the performance in his book saying..."Somewhere in the basement of a TV studio lies a tape of a boy who would eventually star in the movie 'Quadrophenia' and his mate...hopefully that tape will never be found!" Well of course I had to find this tape! I knew the show was filmed by Thames so would be in the Fremantle archives, but they had no listing of the performance, so I called in every episode of the show and searched through until I discovered it and Gary was rather glad I did! During the course of researching at Fremantle we also found a film can marked Beat Club...which turned out not to be the German TV program, but a piece on the London club 'Beat Route' including a great early interview with the Band. One of my particular favorites was the Birmingham NEC backstage rushes which I discovered at NEFA. The Band had never seen them and had no idea they still existed - thankfully due to David Parsons who kept the cans even though he was told to throw them away a few years earlier. Its beautiful pristine film footage of Spandau Ballet at their peak and the camaraderie and exuberance of the Band on the road is clear to see. 

FN: Did archival discoveries influence the film's narrative? If so, can you give us a good example?

KG: Absolutely - there were various Spandau Ballet interviews that seemed innocent at the time but when you knew the back-story they took on new meaning and you could then recognize the tensions and conflicts (e.g. the MTV Europe and US interviews which were being conducted oblivious to the fact that the band had split). 

FN: Much has improved in the world of footage archives over the last few years. That said, I am sure there are still some pretty big obstacles when working with archives. Can you talk a little bit about what has gotten better and what has not, or maybe what has gotten worse?

KG: A huge amount of archives now have an online presence and they are constantly working to improve their websites - to be able to instantly search, view, share, cost and download content has completely transformed the way I research and deliver archive material. The numerous digital formats, aspect ratios, frame rates, specs and codec's can be challenging, though. 

FN: So are you still a big fan of Spandau Ballet?

KG: I was at the time and I'm an even bigger fan now!