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The making of Crossing Batty Moss

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Crossing Batty Moss was one of two films by John Astin to win a 4-star award at BIAFF 2008

Crossing Batty Moss

Still from 'Crossing Batty Moss'.Still from 'Crossing Batty Moss'.I have always had an interest in railways (I have a large model one in the loft!), and with relations living nearby, the Settle/Carlisle Railway has always been a favourite.

Indeed, one of my early film successes was The Rise and Fall of the Settle and Carlisle, a Super 8mm epic that won quite a few stars in, I think, the 1985 Ten Best LAFF Competition. There are excerpts from that film in Crossing Batty Moss.

So when, as a member of the Settle and Carlisle Association, I was told about the walk over the viaduct that the Association had persuaded Northern Rail to allow it to organise on the last day of a two-week line closure in July 2007, my cousin (another railway enthusiast) and I jumped at the chance to take part.

Still from 'Crossing Batty Moss'.And, of course, my Sony TRV900 came along as well. Nothing else for the walk, no tripod, no extension mike, just a prayer for a rain-free day and a few shafts of sunlight! The inevitable wind was expected to cause problems, but my camcorder has a piece of Rycote1 muffling permanently fixed over the on-board mike, and that usually helps. And as I will mention later, there are always sound effects discs!

I wanted to do some tracking shots, but found it difficult to maintain a smooth movement whilst walking over railway sleepers and ballast, even keeping on wide-angle throughout!

To be frank, there was nothing remarkable on the viaduct itself, but I tried to film adequately everything that could possibly interest an audience. I always try to think of what points I want to make in the voiceover, and ensure that I have enough clips to cover them all (a good mix of Long-Shots, Medium-Shots, Close-Ups and big Close-Ups). A decent pace, it seems to me, demands that no still shot lasts on the screen longer than about 4 seconds.

Still from 'Crossing Batty Moss'.To avoid a surfeit of voiceover, I also filmed notices, signposts, tickets etc. to help tell the story and move the action along.

When I came to look at the material I had shot on the Walk with regard to structuring it into an entertaining video for a general audience (which surely should be every amateur videographer's aim), I realised that I would need to explain clearly the history of this railway "icon", and give some more detailed information about its current state. After all, non-railway enthusiasts (and southerners!) may never have heard of it!2

This would need more material, so on the Tuesday after the Sunday Walk (when the line was open again), I returned to the viaduct (with a tripod, this time, and a railway timetable) to film the trains passing over. I also knew what facts about the viaduct I wanted to convey in the voiceover, and filmed the relevant shots accordingly, again ensuring I had enough material to match everything I wanted to say. "A documentary is just an illustrated script", I read recently. Is it?

But what about the history? I knew a little, and had the 1980s film mentioned above. On Wednesdays in the summer, a member of the Settle & Carlisle Association leads an informative walk around the viaduct, pointing out historical remains and so forth. So back I went to the viaduct on the Wednesday, and joined the morning walk, taking copious notes about things I considered interesting enough to feature in the video.

Still from 'Crossing Batty Moss'.After lunch, I did the walk again, on my own this time, but with camcorder and tripod, and, as on Tuesday, I carefully filmed enough material to illustrate the voiceover that would be based on my morning's notes.

I also knew about the role of Chapel-le-Dale Church, which is not far away, so I went on finally to do the relevant filming there.

In the finished movie, these explanatory and historical aspects take up three-fifths of the time.

In this section, the graphics were achieved using Photoshop 7, plus Transparency (Chromakey) and Motion on my Adobe Premiere timeline. I have a love/hate relationship with these devices. It's fascinating to see what can be created using blue screen and motion keyframes, but it's very much "trial and error", and therefore incredibly time-consuming.

For example, I write my voiceover, time myself reading it, work out how long each "effect" needs to appear on the screen to match the words, and then set the keyframes etc. accordingly. However, I often find that when I actually record my voiceover and lay it onto the timeline, I have spoken more slowly than I did previously, and all my settings are out, and need to be re-done!

Still from 'Crossing Batty Moss'.Still from 'Crossing Batty Moss'.I should mention that I make the route lines on my maps advance by having two identical stills of the map created in Photoshop, but one with the lines already on. I then put the stills one above the other on the timelines, and "Wipe" from one to the other over, say, a period of 3 or 4 seconds. I set the "Wipe" to move in the general direction that I want the route lines to move, and, because the map stills are otherwise identical, the effect is that the route lines appear to move up, down or across the map.

The "still photographs" (that the participants take from the top of the viaduct) are actually still frames captured from clips, which are put into Photoshop for enhancement, then put back on the timeline with an Adobe "Clip" Video Filter on. This enables me to put a "frame" around the picture of any width and in any colour. The three in this movie have a fairly narrow width, and are, of course, in pure white, hopefully resembling a typical still camera photo.

Before each one, the camera shutter is the "Camera Shutter" Transition from my rather ancient Boris FX3 bundle. The effect is topped off with an actual recording of the sound made by my old 35mm still camera in operation.

I am very fond of dissolves. In this movie I use them in different ways. In the church sequence they enhance the tranquil, melancholic mood. On the viaduct they suggest a passing of time and avoid a jump cut between the viaduct walking shot and the shot of the inn from the parapet.

The entertainment value of my video is always at the forefront of my mind during editing, and I always seek to add in devices that I believe will add to its embellishment.

Still from 'Crossing Batty Moss'.Hence the lightning effect, which I achieve by putting on top of the background shot on a higher timeline four frames of white at four frame intervals over a period of 2 or 3 seconds. The relevant sound effect completes the effect.

After my 2007 success with The Thames Tunnel (and with my constant quest to avoid "boring bits"), I now go large (perhaps too large) on sound effects.

This video is enhanced, I hope (!), with the sounds of sheep, steam engines, horses and carts, storms, thunder and lightning - all off Effects CDs.

Music, of course, also helps to enhance videos. I am beginning to learn how to use music to create moods, and to use stings and bridges as punctuation marks or italics, to underline points. The "killer stabs", for example, underline the strident protest groups, clamouring against the possible line closure.

By choosing a lively piece of music, and cutting a sequence to it, events can be "speeded up" - the preliminaries to the beginning of the walk are treated in this way, and are dealt with at considerable pace, just showing highlights.

Although the event was covered by a professional video company (who turned out a finished DVD of the event within a week), it was not covered by TV, and so it was, in my opinion, exactly the sort of event that best suits amateur videographers - probably a one-off event, no restrictions on camera positions, of historical and archive interest, part of our national heritage, but not big enough to be covered by TV.

- John Astin LACI, April 2008

1 Rycote Microphone Windshields Ltd  (www.rycote.com) make a wide range of windshields including Mini Windjammers and GustBuster to fit on-board camcorder mics.
2 Batty Moss (technically Ribblehead Viaduct) on the Carlisle to Settle railway  has 24 massive 104 feet high stone arches stretching 440 yards over the moor. Its building cost so many lives through accidents, fights and smallpox that the railway paid for an expansion of the local graveyard at Chapel-le-Dale.
3 Boris FX (www.borisfx.com) is a company supplying effects and titling plug-ins for a wide range of editing packages.

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