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The making of The Fires Went Out

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The Fires Went Out by Billy Ellwood got a 4-star award at BIAFF 2009.

Such a shy bunch!

At 44, I didn't think that I'd find too many areas of genuine new interests for me. But when I started looking for information about the history of my town, I was surprised at how much time I found myself giving to the subject. I even joined our library, and for a non-book reader like myself, a library wasn't a place I'm accustomed to going into! But it's fired up my creative possibilities and I hope to go on from here. Still from 'The Fires Went Out'.
This movie has started giving me some very good responses. I actually presented the final version of it, with a few other things, at our local history society in April 2009.

The idea

Still from 'The Fires Went Out'.Still from 'The Fires Went Out'.I grew up on Tyneside. The year before I left school, in 1980, I saw in the national news how a whole town was going to suffer from its major employer, British Steel at Consett, closing overnight.

Well I now live there, and got into a conversation with Stephanie Smith, a teaching colleague of my wife, who happened to have a project she wrote as a student about the history of Consett. I told her I wanted to piece together something to document our history, so she let me take her project away.

So I knew had enough to start to put something together.

Problems

Still from 'The Fires Went Out'.Still from 'The Fires Went Out'.The largest problem I faced was that I couldn't find anybody with any movie footage that was shot 30 years ago. As a schoolboy from across the Tyne, I had nothing myself. I didn't make films for twenty years after that massive event of Consett being turned into an industrial ghost-town. No-one at my club had any cine about Consett, there is no local film archive, and the TV companies would demand a huge fee just for me to explore their archives.

So I had to look for stills and do interviews, to make a documentary from there.

The other problem I had was that some of the people who have lived there through all the bad years weren't willing to speak on camera. Such a shy bunch!

They gave me some varied viewpoints on the phone - from telling me they hated the steelworks and wished it had closed years back, to those who told me that they would be the first to apply for their old job back as the works was their family. Someone did give me a press hand-out which gave me some info to use.

Planning the movie

Still from 'The Fires Went Out'.Still from 'The Fires Went Out'.I took the academic project from Stephanie and her newspaper piece, and wrote out some key points. Then I chanced to meet upon the founder of Consett History Society. A lovely old man, Tommy Moore, he was more than willing to speak to me on camera about anything I wanted to ask him of Consett and its steelworks. So I asked him to come over for a chat and the movie went from there.

I later joined our library on got more key facts from there, which went into the movie.

The shooting

Still from 'The Fires Went Out'.I spent only a short time shooting. I had missed my chance to shoot the closure of the steelworks and the immediate local ramifications by 30 years ... but I could get modern images of how the place has turned out, as well as thoughts from a seasoned local, who went through it all and still lives in Consett.

I did one sequence without a cameraman and the others either by myself whilst interviewing, or got my son, Richard, or father-in-law, Tony, to handle the cam.

Reaction

Still from 'The Fires Went Out'.Still from 'The Fires Went Out'.At the time of writing it has only been shown to a few audiences, but people see it as a documentary commenting on the enforced changes made by a steeltown's severe change in fortunes. I will contact our local libraries to offer them DVD copies and also the local media to see if there's interest to show it regionally on TV. I will re-shoot some of it in 16:9, as it was the last movie I made in 4:3 format.

- Billy Ellwood

Audience silhouette. Audience silhouette.
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