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The making of In the Trenches

To BIAFF 2009 results | To Full Making Of Index

In the Trenches by Jersey Camcorder Club got a 4-star award at BIAFF 2009.

A record of an historic achievement

Still from 'In The Trenches'.The Jersey Camcorder Club has been running for 18 years and currently has 20 members, with fortnightly meetings. The highlight of our history was when Laurie Stewart, club Chairman at the time, was awarded Best Documentary in Movie '98 for Jersey Royal, but we have not quite lived up to that since.

We don't manage to make many drama films, although we have made a small number of light hearted fiction films, more for our own amusement than for competitions. But when we have been asked to make a documentary record of some local event we have endeavoured to respond to the request, with as many members becoming involved in the filming as were available.

Period drama or documentary?

This was the situation last September when the Club was approached to see if we would be interested in filming a project which involved creating a replica First World War trench system, as a commemoration of the 90th anniversary of the ending of that Great War. The suggestion put to us was that we may be interested in creating a period drama using the finished Trench as a scenario, or that we may prefer to document the creation and occupation of the Trench.

We decided on the latter option, and six club members took part in five weeks of filming, covering the first planning stages through to the final march to town of the occupying College cadet force.

Part One

Each club member would be using their own camcorder, so there was likely to be some discrepancy in colour which would hopefully be resolved in editing. And the decision was made to film 16:9, which caused some problems, as some members were also filming another project around the same time in 4:3, so we had to learn our respective menu systems to be able to change aspect relatively easily. Also holidays and work meant no one member was able to be present throughout the whole period, and the editor had not been decided, so frankly the filming lacked any serious direction at that stage.

Part Two

However one member, Dieter Paland, spent many hours at the Trench and then at Victoria College, filming the cadets as they ceremoniously set off to march to the Samares Manor site to occupy the Trench. As they had now been equipped with genuine First World War uniforms and guns, they made a very impressive spectacle. During the actual 'occupation' another member, Alan English, was able to practise his interview skills to get some views from the cadets on their feelings about the experience. The finale of the three day occupation involved a spectacular 'shell attack' (courtesy of a local firework company) with the troops going 'over the top' of their entrenchment and off to fight the enemy. This was filmed by all members available, and as the project had by then attracted a great deal of media attention, also present were the BBC and Channel Television crews. These, however, did not have the benefit of multiple cameramen for the occasion and so Dieter was very pleased when the CTV camera man asked if he might use some of Dieter's footage, which had been taken from a different angle from that the reporter had chosen. Naturally Dieter agreed, and some of his film was included in the evening News Report. There was no payment, of course, but in return Dieter was given a copy of the CTV filming, with permission for the club to make use of it.

Still from 'In The Trenches'. Still from 'In The Trenches'.


Back at Club, once all the tapes had been brought in and quickly viewed, a decision had to be made as to who would undertake the editing, and Dieter said he would be happy to make a start. However he had not previously undertaken such a large project, and had not so far had occasion to add a commentary to a film. Nonetheless he commenced by downloading the five hours footage and editing it down to 60 minutes. At that stage he felt he needed the commentary, and as club secretary Annette Lowe had just returned from holiday she again became involved in the project. Dieter had decided that his film would be an all inclusive record of the occasion, complete with speeches, for the benefit of the cadets and the College, and this was duly completed.

However Annette felt that there could also be a shorter version, more suited to competition entry, which would benefit from a different slant on the event. The aim was to contrast the 18 year old cadets with their young counterparts who fought in 1914/18, and to focus the attention of the audience on the hope, reality and horror of that 'war to end all wars'.

Accordingly she researched archive photographs and music from the era to see which could be included. Amongst these she found two relevant songs written by Eric Bogle - a protest song writer and singer living in Sydney. One of the songs was suitable as it was, and could be downloaded, whereas the other referred to the Australian troops and their battle in Gallipoli, rather than the English forces in France and Belgium. Of course Eric would hold the copyright of both, so they could not be used without permission. However Annette emailed Eric, who answered very promptly saying the material could be used without fee, as no profit was to be made from the film, and he also gave permission for the words to be changed in the second lyric to make it more appropriate. And when a singer was found for the rewritten words Eric even obligingly emailed the sheet music to help. [http://ericbogle.net]

The original 1914-18 recordings of patriotic songs were now out of copyright, so available to use, as were the photographs, according to the websites from which they were sourced. Annette had also decided she would like someone playing a harmonica in the background for the trench scenes, and was fortunately able to find a musician friend to provide just the right music. Another requirement was for stirring copyright free music to enhance the 'over the top' episode. None of her available CDs seemed to have anything suitable, so she enlisted the excellent service of Richard Curry, the music advisor for the Film and Video Institute and as only 2 minutes of music were required Richard emailed a suitable MP3 file, which worked very successfully.

As original film from the era was not easy to obtain, it was decided to simulate First World War footage by using a black and white film effect on the contemporary shots, and then fade this into the coloured film of the modern young cadets in their vintage uniform and this worked quite effectively.

Still from 'In The Trenches'.
(Soldier in a gas mask)

Still from 'In The Trenches'.


Alongside all this, further interviews were recorded - with the organiser of the Trench Experience, and other participants in the event. Since completion of the film comments have been received that these interviews should have been introduced better and also that the backgrounds for the interviewees should have been chosen more suitably. Both these suggestions are valid and will be remembered for the future.

However another comment is that one of the speakers did not have a clear voice and was sometimes difficult to understand. This was again valid, but more difficult to resolve. The man had apologised for having a cold on the appointed day, but he was nervous and wanted to get the interview over. As he was a key player in the event and had some very interesting ideas to impart, we didn't want to lose him. Subtitles could have been used, but that seemed rather patronising. And of course, listening to the same thing so often when editing, you get used to the pronunciation and forget there may be a problem. It's difficult to say what the solution should have been.

Once the film had been edited - finally being 15 minutes - a further problem was encountered due to the decision to film 16:9. Although all the camcorders were able to film in that aspect, and Annette's Premiere 6 was supposedly able to edit widescreen, when the film was transferred to DVD she found that it was 'letter boxed'. Fortuitously an article had appeared at that time in the Film and Video Maker magazine pointing out that other film makers were making the same mistake and submitting DVDs like this for competition. As the DVD had just been posted to BIAFF in that mode, this was a bit alarming, and a follow up mini DV tape was hastily dispatched. A correctly formatted DVD had to be made on another member's system as further experimentation with Annette's programs failed to solve the problem - it's obviously time to upgrade!

Still from 'In the Trenches'.

Eventually In the Trenches was well received by the Trench Experience organisers, and by Victoria College. It was decided that a saleable DVD would be made, with the proceeds of sales going to a local charity Holidays for Heroes, whose remit is to provide free holidays in Jersey for injured servicemen and women. Fortunately the head of Media Studies at Victoria College, offered to use his graphics expertise for the DVD cover, and he produced a beautiful design which made the product look extremely appealing. The film is now in the local library and Jersey Archive as a record of an historic achievement in commemoration of the ending of the First World War.

- Annette Lowe

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