Community Co-Ordinator, Becky Hughes
Last week, Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors achieved a significant first. The company was first established in 1855 in Horsham, West Sussex. Colleagues from the organisation’s four branches – also in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint – recently collaborated to produce their first ever online event, a Remembrance Service, which was broadcast via YouTube. Here, Community Co-Ordinator, Becky Hughes, shares a bit of behind-the-scenes gossip, and discusses what it was like to put the event together whilst distanced from the intended audience…
Now that our Online Remembrance Service has been broadcast, we can share even more about the development of it. If you’ve yet to watch it, click here – we had wanted to keep certain elements as a pleasant surprise, so do watch it before reading the rest of this post. It’s 30 minutes long, and we hope that you’ll enjoy it…
When we originally considered broadcasting a service online, our experience internally was minimal, so we knew immediately that we’d need professional help! Our focus was on achieving a film which maintained our high standards of production, so we needed assistance with producing this, as none of us are filmmakers.
Fortunately, as part of our Community programme, we’d sponsored the 2020 Horsham Film Festival, so our first port of call was organisers Silvertip Films. Geoff offered some great advice, and confirmed that he’d be able to help us, so we were quickly on to the next step.
We knew that we wanted the service to mimic what we would do in person as closely as possible, so we had our format already. There were a few quirks to iron out – some of which were related to social distancing, some were more technological. We were also able to take inspiration from other, similar, events. Some of these were closely related to our own, being presented by smaller organisations, but we knew that there would be parallels with larger, more famous events too, so we weren’t afraid to think big.
In 2019, we’d had a live choir, which sadly wasn’t going to be possible by any means, as choirs currently aren’t allowed to rehearse or perform together. Whilst it would’ve been lovely to emulate some of the large-scale productions which have taken place and have them all record separately at home, it simply wasn’t something we had the capacity for. Although it’s great to dream big, it’s also important to know your limits!
Due to this, one of our immediate concerns was to organise music in a different way – we wanted the service to be engaging and interesting, and knew that the group of us speaking for the entire piece would go against this idea! Chrissie quickly had a great idea: a family she’d organised a funeral for had used a song that two of the children of the lady who had died had recorded as a gift to her several years ago. Abi and I loved the piece when it was played for us, so Chrissie sought permission from the Goldsmith family, who we are incredibly grateful to. Naomi and Angus, who performed the track, very kindly also recorded an introduction to their piece, injecting some real personality to the proceedings!
Chrissie provided a further connection for another track: we wanted to have a communal song, as we had previously. This was my favourite moment of the service last year, as hearing everyone sing the song we had chosen really moved me. Although I haven’t had the same experience this year, Chrissie’s friends, Lindsay and Andrew, sent us a gorgeous performance and I thought of everyone watching as I was, hoping that they sang along too.
With music settled, it was time to consider the wider content of the service. Here, mine and Abi’s experiences of media came to the fore, as we were able to visualise what we wanted easily. I knew from the start that I wanted the service to clearly depict that we were abiding by social distancing regulations, but also to offer people the chance to feel as though they were there with us. For this reason, we didn’t have a seated audience, as the viewer plays this role.
We carefully scheduled and recorded each individual completing their section, including the team sharing reading a poem line by line. Everyone also participated separately in the ‘Act of Remembrance’ section, with me playing the role of director in order to demonstrate their stage directions, and re-set the props for each take! The whole team were incredibly professional and hit their marks first time – I started to get worried that I was actually working with a team of trained actors. For the majority of my colleagues, this was a huge step outside of their comfort zones. They proved yet again that those in the funeral industry are highly personal and adaptable, by learning their lines where appropriate to perfection, and being patient whilst the shots were set up, as well as giving a compassionate feel to a service which was taking place in an empty room.
Abi led the service with her usual professionalism. Having been on camera several times previously, she was well-prepared and delivered the links within a short space of time to be interspersed throughout the service. Alex and I had the task of reading the names of those to be commemorated. Prior to the shoot, we had rehearsed this, as we weren’t sure whether we’d be able to be filmed simultaneously or not. Happily, there was the physical space to do this on the day, which made it much easier to ensure that we were doing this at a comfortable and comparable speed. It’s an important part of the service, and both of us wanted to get it right, to the point where each of us phoned a specific family member on our lists to double-check the pronunciation of their loved ones’ names.
I’m so pleased with how the montages in particular looked in the final edit – it’s great to have as many of the team share in the experience of bringing the service to life. I also really enjoyed watching Jen and Vicky from our Crawley branch read a poem each. I knew Vicky’s quite well, as it was my reading during the 2019 service! Jen’s is a lovely addition by Mya Angelou, and when you see it I think you’ll agree that our resident former-English teacher did the piece justice.
We couldn’t have produced any of this without Geoff’s help – he’s supported an organisation relatively inexperienced in video production ably, and we are incredibly grateful.
Despite the challenges we faced in terms of logistics and finding our way through a new project, we are already considering this to have been a great success. It’s been a steep learning curve, but one which we have benefited from enormously, and it’s already easy to see that, when we are able to hold a service in person again, we will almost certainly produce a digital version too. From humble beginnings in our cottage on North Parade, in the days before cars and telephones, to broadcasting a professional service online, I’m very pleased to be part of a company which continually strives to improve, and do more for those it serves.