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The making of Control Duel

Control Duel is one of the 150 (approx.) short films entered into Camcorder User's Gone in Sixty Seconds competition. It was short listed into the best ten for final judging.

This film took about 20 hours to make in total. This was divided into Scripting, Preparing and Pre-Recording the Graphics and the Script, Shooting and Editing.

The aim In making the film I wanted to extend a concept, the results of which, are often visible in the skies over south Wales. Where I live, a few miles to the west of Cardiff, is the "Crossroads" for Air Traffic going East/West and North/South. On clear sunny days it is possible to see as many as 12 aircraft at the same time, each giving out a Condensation Trail. Until recently this traffic was joined by Concorde making its way to and from the USA with almost clockwork precision and timing. Frequently, the contrails cross in the familiar cross-hatching of TicTacToe or Noughts and Crosses. Our Crowded Skies are controlled by that excellent and dedicated body of men and women who remain largely unseen - The Air Traffic Controllers. They (used to) work in a darken room with only Radar Screens and Radio for company using a language few of us understand, coping with the stress of the job they do. Do they get bored? Do they "play" with the aircraft they control? Of course they don't! Do they?

It is only 60 seconds OK! I confess! The original version of the film was made for a different competition and limited to five minutes in duration. Our Society shot it in March and it was completed in early April 2003. It runs for about two and a half minutes. I then noticed in my regular copy of Camcorder User that the "Gone in Sixty Seconds" competition was going to take place and that the theme was to be "Intuition". It was generally thought by our Society members that it might be a good idea to re-edit the film as it seemed to fulfil the theme of "Intuition". Back at the Edit Suite I was faced with the task of reducing two and a half minutes to sixty seconds. By cutting out virtually all the padding and chopping the script severely plus using Multi-Screens and Layers I was able to achieve the goal - with half a second to spare!

Zero budget Finding a storyline that can be achieved with the resources available - both human and physical - is quite restricting for our Society, especially with a budget of zero. Like many other Film and Video Societies across the country we have fewer members than we would like. Meeting in a small plain Viewing Theatre on a regular basis - weekly in our case - means that any filming we do in the winter months is confined to our environment indoors or occasional weekends when other commitments allow. As has been said elsewhere "This tends to concentrate the mind".

Equipment From the range of Camcorders that our members have we chose Ian's Sony DSR 200 DVCAM for the "Studio" shots. Using a Professional Camcorder gave us a very good quality of picture in the low light conditions as well as good quality sound from tie-clip microphones. The headsets worn by Trevor and I were not used as there would have been too much "breathing" noise. However, the aircraft shots - all genuine - were taken with a JVC DVL-20E Digital DV Camcorder that is lighter and easier to use as well as having an excellent digital zoom to catch aircraft passing at 15,000 - 20,000 ft. As I use a Sony DSR-11 Digital Videocassette Recorder in my Edit Suite loading both formats into the computer is fairly routine for me.

We have to keep our sets and storylines very simple. We used our regular meeting room, the Viewing Theatre at the Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff. This comprises about 40 cinema seats facing an open area of 15ft by 8ft. On this particular Wednesday evening in March it became "Air Traffic Control". The set comprised of a large 20" TV in a cabinet that we normally use for our films, with a table and two chairs in front of it. On the table we placed a sturdy wooden frame designed as part of a portable TV gallery and into which were placed two 12" colour TV's and a VCR feeding its video signal to all three TV sets. A few books and loose-leaf files helped to dress the set. The whole set was placed across the area to allow the camera to shoot from every angle, including behind. The "establishing shot" of Air Traffic Control was achieved by placing the tripod and the locked-off camera a few rows back in the cinema seats. The lighting was reduced to a single, small floodlight placed very low down and hidden by the seats in front. The flickering light from the three TV screens on which the "Radar" section of the VHS tape was running completed the lighting. The camera was also stopped down to give just a small pool of light with black all around. Trevor, Ian, the late Ron Hughes and I sat two at a time in the set in several combinations while thirty seconds or so of film were shot. This gave me four different combinations of personnel but in the same set. In Adobe Premiere I was able to use Motion Control and five tracks to make one shot smaller and position it behind the original shot while giving another two the same treatment but with an added Horizontal Flip. After some experiment I found that the Luminance Transparency Option gave me the best results. With a TitleDeko title, "Air Traffic Control", added the result looked remarkably realistic and hopefully fooled some of the viewers some of the short time it was on the screen.

The graphics was, perhaps, the most time consuming part of the film. The "Radar" Screens were created in a combination of Adobe's Photoshop and Premiere. Starting with Photoshop, I first scanned in the Bristol Channel area from the ubiquitous schoolboy Atlas, then selected the sea with the Magic Wand, changed the colour, Inversed the Selection and re-coloured the land. The airports of Cardiff (Rhoose), Bristol and Filton were added followed by lines to denote the "Air Roads" North/South and East/West. When appropriate text was added, this gave me a background for the aircraft. A little white square with a small arrow pointer and a few letters and numbers made up each aircraft. These were combined in groups of four to six placed in various parts of the map. Some going North, some West, etc. By using four layers for each group I was able to simulate movement by moving the whole group four times. As there are some eight to ten groups on the screen with each group using four layers this gives rather a lot of layers. Each layer had to be carefully named and numbered - Layer Options - to keep control! By selecting some layers and hiding others then Flattening the Image and Saving with a different name I created four slightly different scenes. When transferred to a separate Premiere Project I made a thirty-second film by stretching each Image to two seconds while using a one-second Clock Wipe transition to simulate the sweep of the Radar to the next Image. I did try adding a little colour to the Border of the Transition but I didn't like the look of it. As each image was overlapped by a second the "sweep" movement became almost continuous. Using the Block Copying option I extended the playing time to about thirty seconds and recorded the result on VHS tape - before the Script Images. I also created a short *.avi file to use in the Main Premiere Project film. Again, it seemed to have the desired effect on the viewers.

Sound is a key element in creating the right atmosphere for any drama video. Sound Effects, Speech and more often than not, Music need to be combined to create that atmosphere. For "Control Duel" a search of my collection of copyright-free music gave me "Gang Fight" from the Burgess Video Group (BVG) in Brecon, Mid-Wales. It starts with some very positive chords that lend themselves to changes in scene for the early part - at least for the longer version. The tone then settles down to give a moderate beat with increasing tension. It is just the right kind of music for the mood I was trying create in the viewer's mind. I had to gradually fade down and remove the central few bars so that the end of the tune coincided with the Credits of the Film. I also had the problem of creating the atmosphere of an Air Traffic Control Centre. Fortunately, I was able to borrow a Sound Effects CD from a another Society Member. From this I used an Air Traffic Control atmosphere - with American Controllers! - and the sound of several jet airliners taking off. Each sound, including the speech from Trevor and I, was placed on a seperate Audio Track . In Premiere I was able to tweak the volumes of each track precisely to give the mix I wanted by using the "Rubber Bands" as well as positioning the sound of the airliners exactly where it was needed on the sound track.

Afterwords I was surprised at first, then very pleased for our Society that the film has made the top ten. However, our pleasure is tinged with sadness for Ron Hughes, a long-standing member of our Society for whom this film was his last contribution. He sadly passed away in August and is sorely missed.

- David Briggs (Cardiff Cine & Video Society)     August 2004

Control Duel was one of the UK offical entries to UNICA 2004, Germany.
Click here to read more about UNICA 2004 and other UK entries.

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