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The making of Guitar

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Guitar by Harry Lederman and Alan Tutt got a 5-star award at BIAFF 2009 and a sponsor's award from Boosey & Hawkes.

We are prepared to be honest with each other

Portrait of Alan Tutt and Harry Lederman.Alan Tutt and I first met when the Eastbourne and District Camcorder Club was founded in 1997 and have been involved in many of the Club productions.

We are both film makers of "the old school" having gone through the stages of 8mm and Super 8 cine film moving on to camcorders using 8mm and Hi-8 video cassettes and, in the past few years, mini DV tapes. I had retired from my career as a Deputy Collector with Customs and Excise and Alan,(on the left) who is twelve years younger than me, retired much younger as a Fire Brigade Officer.

We first collaborated to make a film biography of my friend, Michael Stringer, an artist and scenic film designer who had worked at Pinewood Studios and for Walt Disney for many years culminating in an Oscar nomination as Scenic Designer for the film Fiddler on the Roof. This film was made specifically for Michael and his family but Alan and I found that we worked so well together that we progressed to promotional films for a number of local performers in the Eastbourne area which in turn moved us in the direction of making documentary films.

Still from 'Sussex Trugs'.Still from 'Useful and Beautiful'.In 2004 we got to know a local potter who specialised in lustre ware, a rare but beautiful form of pottery. It seemed to be a good subject for a documentary and the resulting film gained a number of awards in the 2005 Sussex, SERIAC, BIAFF and Guernsey Lily Festivals. In 2006 we received recognition for another documentary film Useful and Beautiful about the making of pottery, which was an off-shoot of the original lustre ware film.

In 2007 our film Sussex Trugs, which recorded the history of trug making in Herstmonceux, won the Best Documentary award in the Sussex Festival, the Best Photography award in the SERIAC Festival, Three Stars award in BIAFF 2008 and was also awarded a Certificate of Merit in the prestigious American Motion Picture Society festival. The pottery and trug films were donated to the South East Film Archive of Brighton University.

Over these projects our positions in the team crystallised. I am the facilitator, making contacts and organising shoots, and main cameraman. Alan is visualiser, storyboarding in his head as we shoot, and senior editor, although our jobs overlap throughout.

A birthday gift

We first came across Alex Willis, a local guitar maker and repairer, at a Craft Fair and I remembered him when we were looking for our next project. A hand made guitar can take up to 250 hours to complete, so it is not surprising that, between January and December 2008, we shot over twenty-two hours of his work. The guitar was a labour of love for Alex, destined for his father-in-law who lives in San Francisco, so the making was fitted in amongst his regular repair and commissioned work. He intended to give it to him on a visit to America for his father-in-law's birthday in August 2008.

The film was shot in Alex's cramped workshop, a shed measuring no more than about 3 metres by 5 metres. There is a small skylight and window letting in natural daylight but we started filming during the winter with the florescent strip lights on. A white balance setting on "artificial light" seemed to cope with the mixed lighting conditions very satisfactorily so we continued on that setting with the artificial lights on even during the summer. We both have Sony camcorders, Alan a PC9E and mine a PC110E which colour match pretty well. We used tripods at all times. Most of the action was filmed using two cameras, I concentrated on the mid and close-up shots and Alan the wider shots. Head and shoulder close-ups were taken frequently to act as "cut-ins" to progress the making process. Live sound was captured via our on board mics, (I can hear the groans), but in our defence we were filming very close to the action. The voice over was recorded on camera using a separate mic.

Still from 'Guitar'.
Still from 'Guitar'. Alex explained and ran through each process before shooting to allow us to determine camera angles and shot movements. The processes were usually "one-off" so it is essential that no mistakes were made as they unfolded. Occasionally it was necessary to use a guitar "double" but hopefully you will not have noticed.

Guitar making is linear which meant that we were able to edit each section as it was completed. We use Ulead Media Studio Pro to edit. A lite version came with Alan's first capture card and now, through updated versions, it is a programme that we know very well and can use with confidence. We knew that the finished film needed to be about 20 minutes if it was to sustain audience interest, but, with so much film, deciding what to include or leave out was, as usual, a nightmare. But we had plenty of time!

We had decided to end our film with Alex handing the guitar to his father-in-law in California on his birthday in August allowing us plenty of time to have it ready for the SERIAC competition, the closing date having been brought forward to December. Unfortunately father-in-law fell ill and the presentation had to wait until Alex and his wife, Nancy, visited for Thanksgiving in November. We had to sit it out, with deadlines looming, and await their return.

Closing credits from 'Guitar'.Alex filmed the handover on his mobile so we felt it was only suitable for the end credits but we were able to complete and enter the SERIAC competition. Sadly the film failed to get through the preliminary judging. Although we liked our film we were quite philosophical about that decision having had a good run in the previous three years' competitions.

We had had to enter the film for BIAFF 2009, before receiving the SERIAC pre judges' comments so were not able to able to take them onboard and alter it. It was, therefore, with great surprise and pleasure that we heard that the film had been awarded Five Stars in the BIAFF together with the added bonus of the Boosey and Hawkes Music Prize. It confirms the often expressed view that judging is very subjective and one judge's prize winner is another's non-starter.

We believe we work so well together because we are always prepared to be honest with each other and are not afraid to say if there is something that one of us might not like. We now look forward to our next film that might be following a local theatre group preparing for their next project which, rather appropriately, is going to be the stage musical, The Producers.

- Harry Lederman

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