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The making of Life in the Braxteds

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Life in the Braxteds was awarded 4 stars at BIAFF 2008.

Life in the Braxteds Bluebells

The proposal

When the Chairman of the Braxted Fete Committee approached me to see if the Colchester Film Makers Club would be willing to make a video of the village fete my reaction was rather cool. I had reservations regarding the demand for such a video from the few hundred villagers who would be attending the fete.

But when the fete programme landed on my doormat its contents inspired a re-assessment of the possibilities. The programme contained a number of short articles on the history and rich architectural heritage of Little and Great Braxted, - two adjoining villages in Mid Essex. A fascinating picture was painted of the twelfth century churches, a medieval priory, a couple of eighteenth century watermills, and the feudal Braxted Park Estate. Some clues also began to take shape regarding the changing patterns of village life in recent years. A social anthology of village life at the beginning of the 21st Century, filmed in 2007, seemed a distinct possibility. The Fete Committee enthusiastically supported a proposal along these lines, and a couple of Colchester Film Makers Club members agreed to join the production team. John Howden offered to handle most of the interviews and to assist with the editing and Paul Desmond agreed to get involved in filming the fete. My job was to produce a storyline and shooting script and to undertake the rest of the camera work.

Church wedding Golf Farming Cricket

Developing the Story

The storyline focussed on the adjacent locations of the two villages and their beautiful surroundings. It was important to feature their agricultural setting since a main theme of the film was to be the dramatic changes in patterns of employment over the years. One of the challenges was to differentiate between the two villages and yet to bring out the friendly collaboration and interaction between their residents. Grade-one listed churches, the water mills, and a number of listed private residences were highlighted to depict the impressive historical and architectural heritage. The building of the four and a half mile Braxted Estate wall and the eviction of the villagers to Bung Row in the 1820s seemed a good tale linking Gt Braxted to its feudal past. A change from an agricultural economy to one based on an amazing range of small businesses or cottage industries was the next main plank in the storyline. The social life of the two villages seemed an obvious chapter with darts matches in the pub, whist drives, a joint village golf day, and an interview with the President of one of the oldest cricket clubs in the country. All of this naturally culminated in the Braxted Fete, - a splendid example of traditional village life spilling over into the 21st Century.

Polishing wheel Wooden figures Racing car


Preparing a shooting script was not easy because we often only became aware of some of the detail as we addressed each topic. It was therefore an episodic process with scripts being constantly updated and revised as we became familiar with each location or subject. There simply wasn't enough time to research everything in full. Sometimes we opportunistically shot extra footage simply because it looked good or interesting. On a few occasions we revisited a location to get extra cut-away clips as this became necessary at the editing stage. In all we shot about four hours of tape to produce our 42 minute film. One of our overriding objectives was to capture as many clips as possible of people, especially children, since we felt that this would influence demand for the video on completion. This probably led to the Fete scenes being too long for other than local audiences. I make no apologies for this since it achieved our objective.

We had no problems in getting the agreement of people when we were arranging interviews. The Chairman of the Parish Council, Ken Hornett, wrote to everyone in advance explaining what we were doing and this helped us tremendously. I then followed up with a phone call to schedule a visit. Normally we tried to cover three or four interviews and/or locations in a half-day filming session with John fielding the questions and myself filming behind a Sony TRV900E on a tripod. Only on one occasion did we have to repeat an interview. When we got back to base I discovered that my Sennheiser microphone, mounted on a camera bracket, had inadvertently been switched off part way through the interview. Fortunately the subject was a good friend and he turned out without a quibble the next day to do the interview again. We did not have the luxury of a radio mic so all of the interviews were done with a directional Sennheiser. In the main this worked well with just a few problems from traffic noise, which could not be eliminated at the editing stage. All of the filming was completed over a four-week period.

Dogs Trumpet Food Tug-of-war

The Edit

Editing was carried out using Adobe Premier Pro and a rough edit including titles was completed over a couple of weeks, working quite closely to the storyline. At this point I drafted the commentary for a 'voice over', matching it by reading it aloud to the relevant timeline clips. In some instances the commentary was too long and either it had to be abbreviated or alternatively the clip sequence had to be lengthened. My wife Thelma recorded the 'voice over' using Audition and having imported it onto the timeline we used the razor tool to cut it into sound bites ands laid these under the relevant video clips. Next we added a music track and matched that to the relevant visuals with adjustments to volume and transitions where appropriate. All of this was done on a trial and error basis with frequent adjustments until the duration and content of the added sound tracks,(including archive material where appropriate), blended with the ambient sound of the original footage. At this point John Howden joined us and we re-recorded the edited commentary and after fine tuning using Audition we substituted his 'voice over' on the timeline. John then provided invaluable help with fine-tuning the editing, especially the picture within picture stills and other special effects. All of the editing consumed approximately five days with two of us working alongside each other for half of that time.

The Premiere

The Fete Committee decided to mount an event to promote Life in the Braxteds and a Film Premiere with Festive Music evening was organised for Friday 7th December 2007. The owner of Braxted Park Estate, Michael Clarke, kindly donated the use of his Garden Pavillion. A Salvation Army band playing carols, mince pies, a bar, and the stately home setting all underpinned an evening of Colchester Film Makers Club films with Life in the Braxteds as the highlight. Stuart McCrudden Associates, (the PR company featured in the film), secured a three minute slot on Anglia TV news and ensured that every one of the 252 seats were taken.

Finally it suffices to say that we met our original objective. Nearly £3500 has been raised in donations and 220 DVDs have been distributed to date. The restoration Funds of our two historic churches and CFMC are sharing the proceeds and a great deal of pleasure was experienced from the exercise by all who played a part.

As a postscript I should mention that the finished film was 42 minutes in duration. To reduce it to the 30 minutes maximum for the IAC Harrogate Film Festival required 14 minutes to be removed. This took John and I 12 hours of re-editing time !!!

Bryan Littlewood  (Director / Camera), April 2008

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