Five minutes with… Sea of Hull film company Nova Studios


Nova Studios directors Matt Stephenson and Al Jones enjoyed the privilege of exclusively filming Spencer Tunick’s ‘Sea of Hull’ for KCOM on Saturday, 9 July last year.

They talk to us about capturing the events of the day as Tunick’s artworks go on display at the Ferens Art Gallery as part of its Skin: Freud, Mueck and Tunick exhibition, which runs from April 22 to August 13.

How did you get involved in filming Sea of Hull? Who from Nova was involved in filming on the day?

MS:  The short answer is KCOM asked us to! We have a good relationship with KCOM, Hull City Council and the Ferens Art Gallery, which commissioned Spencer Tunick to make Sea of Hull.  People have seen films we have made like This City Belongs to Everyone, which was part of Hull’s bid to become City of Culture, and they know we can handle large-scale events and work creatively. 

AJ: On the day I was filming and Matt was working alongside me, doing the sound and interviews. We had another crew working on capturing other angles and a third crew shooting drone footage.

You were the only film company invited to film the events of the day. Are you honoured to have captured such an important cultural event for your home city?

MS: It’s great to be so closely involved with big projects that really show Hull in a wonderful light. It was clearly going to be something that was going to be a world-class event, it was a fantastic opportunity and really enjoyable to be a part of it.

AJ: As a cameraman I had never filmed anything like it before. It was a big talking point in Hull afterwards and it was great to be right at the heart of such an incredible and visually stunning event.

It must have been an early start on the day. What time did you wake up and what were your first thoughts?

MS: I’d had about two hours sleep. I think, apart from thinking I haven’t had much sleep our first thoughts were technical. We had done a lot of planning for the filming and we needed to make sure that things went according to plan.

What was going through you minds when the participants started to take their clothes off?

AJ: I remember thinking this is going to be uncomfortable, but that lasted less than a minute and it just became normal. Everyone was painted blue and that kind of made people inconspicuous.

MS: I felt the same as Al. It was amazing how quickly the uncomfortable feeling went away and how the nakedness just seemed to disappear.

At which locations did you film? How long did the day’s filming take and how long has the film taken to produce?

MS: We filmed at all the locations, starting at Queens Gardens and finishing at Scale Lane Bridge. We also went to the South Bank of the Humber Bridge.

AJ: We filmed for about nine and a half hours the first night and probable about five hours the next day. Aside from shooting, the film took about two weeks to make.

Did you have any interaction with the participants as Sea of Hull was taking place?

AJ: From my point of view I was focused on filming and I didn’t pay any attention to individuals.

MS: From a documentary filmmakers point of view it was important that we should be invisible and just follow the process and that is what we did. It was Spencer’s show, not ours, so we tried to blend into the background and keep out of Spencer’s way. We were privileged to be allowed so close to the action so it’s important to respect both the artist and the participants by being inconspicuous, polite and helpful.

Did you encounter any people you know who were taking part?

MS: Quite a few. One of our friends ran up to us making us laugh, other people I knew I gave space, I was fully clothed and I didn’t want them to feel uncomfortable.

AJ: Quite a few people I know that I have seen since making the film said that they saw me, but I didn’t see them.

Would you have stripped off to take part in Sea of Hull had you not been filming?

MS: Yes. I had seen other things that Spencer Tunick has produced, I think it’s a once in a lifetime chance to do something that is legal but breaks the norms and rules - I like that idea.

AJ: Probably not.

It’s almost a year since you filmed Sea of Hull, what’s your overriding memory when you look back?

MS: We’re still impressed by how incredibly well organized it was by Hull City Council’s events Team and Spencer’s team.

AJ: Getting 4000 people organised into a variety of photographs is an amazing feat.

MS: The night had a magical quality. When everyone lay down on Alfred Gelder Street, near the Guildhall, it really was a sea of people and I did feel wowed. It was a beautiful thing. Also that idea that everyone is different, but once you take your clothes off, then everyone is equal. There was a great atmosphere, it was life affirming. People are good.

AJ: It was an amazing event. My lasting impression of the night is how quiet it was. It was weird. The whole thing was surreal and I think the film puts that across.

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