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The making of Chester

  Malcolm Whiteley explains the making of his award-winning documentary about one of England's picturesque towns.

Due to family circumstances my wife and I have very little time away from home, so we certainly make good use of it. We can only take four days out together per year and have no time to plan anything except where we would like to go. Last year it was Chester.

Opening shot of town crier. Montage of four images of Chester. Shot of a river boat.

Rita and I arrived in Chester around 10am, Monday morning, and after booking into our hotel we hot footed it to the tourist board. These are a Godsend. We picked out all the brochures, leaflets, pamphlets and, of course, a map. Over lunch we marked off on the map all the principle attractions. A stroll around the city centre gave us a feel of what Chester was like - as it says in my video "a very friendly city".

After a stroll through the park and along the river bank with my wife (Rita is a bit of a romantic) it was time for tea back at the hotel, which is where we planned out the next days shooting. As the video was filmed in late September we were losing light by mid afternoon, so it was an early night for us.

Street artist drawing. Couple eating sandwiches on a park bench. Smiling little girl dancing to a street busker.

Tuesday morning, we had breakfast and were out by 9am. We walked every where, leaving the car at our hotel for the entire trip. We had identified eight main points to visit, and decided to split these into four per day, i.e.: zoo, river bank, roman gardens etc. Rita was a great help on this trip - and not just for carrying the gear - as she is a great photographer. She barked out her orders on what to shoot. As we travelled from point to point I filmed anything and everything, from an elderly couple in the church gardens eating their sandwiches, to a little girl doing a jig to the music of a street busker. To me these moments brought in a more private, personal touch.

The camera was a Panasonic 200 SVHS on a monopod - I never have time to set up a tripod.  I used the onboard mic for video.

An orang utang at Chester zoo. Chester zoo gardens. Pelicans at Chester zoo.

We had encountered no problems filming except with the buskers; they always seemed to turn their backs as soon as you pointed the camera. (Mmmm ... wonder why?) Still, with the tally light turned off and the camera under my arm, nooooo problems. The only other difficulty was, we had planned to film Chester War Museum as we had been informed by the tourist board that would be OK. A good old "jobsworth" of a security officer insisted, "You can't bring that camera in here." "But we were informed we could." "Sorry, only camcorders allowed."

It was time for Rita to speak up, "Leave it Mal, don't argue, and put him down. " So to the judge who said, I quote: "Would liked to have seen inside," so would I, pal, so would I.

Wednesday, same again, film, film, film. I tend to shoot each item from several angles, but as I only shoot 10 to 15 secs worth of video per shot, it doesn't take long to vary angles.

Exterior shot of the Military Museum. A wide shot of the Eastgate clock in Chester. A young archeologist excavating.

Editing and Commentary
Thursday, and it is time to return home. The first thing I did was to trawl through all three hours of footage. This is where the fun started ... I used batch capture in MSP 6-0 and pulled off all the decent shots in about 15sec clips. These were then placed in separate folders named river, zoo, walls and so on. I did all this at home. Adjusting and tweaking as I go along. I can't afford to waste time on the editing as I am only off work a day and a half per week, and I like to get everything done before I lose interest.

I write the commentary first, but make sure I have enough visuals to cover it. I lay the commentary on the timeline first, then lay the visuals to fit.  I write the scripts and Rita tears them up until I get it right, she is my best critic. I just write down all the facts and try to personalise them as though someone else was explaining them to me.

Pleasure craft on the river. A picture of the Old Dee Bridge. A street in Chester with half-timbered buildings.

I am lucky enough to have a job in a computer environment, so voiceovers are no problem I can get any of the young lads to do this. They use what is called the chill out room, where you can get away from the stress and pressure of the nature of work we do and relax. As it is a very small room the acoustics are great. Armed with a script, a Sennheiser 300 mic and a Mini Disc Recorder away they go.

I then transferred the sound file to hard drive, put it through Sound Forge to edit it, then pulled it back into MSP. I like my voiceovers to flow and bounce along quite quickly so my clips are only 3 to 4 seconds long. I have found if my videos bounce along, people do not get bored.

The groves at Chester. Chester's stone cross. Suspension bridge from below.

This video was my first entry into the larger competitions, and I am very proud of what it achieved: Highly Commended at Guernsey, Silver in the Cotswold film Festival, Bronze in the SOCO, and a Silver at the IAC.

Malcolm Whiteley at his computer. So I am very much looking forward to our four days off this year, mmm…….where shall we go. Answers on a postcard please.

- Mal

Words and frames from the film courtesy of Malcolm Whiteley. Thanks, Mal.
Email: malcolmwhiteley@hotmail.com

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Page updated on 08 October 2011
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