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Making movies

Mike gets to grips with editing moving pictures. Harder than editing words – official. (Pic: Seb Rogers)

Everyone wants to be in movies. And “in” doesn’t necessarily mean actually appearing in, either – there’s no shortage of aspiring camerapersons and directors out there. Film-making is more accessible than ever before – more, because you don’t need to spend tens of thousands on kit and the likes of YouTube and Vimeo provide an outlet for your creative spurts. The downside is that precisely because of that accessibility, everyone else is doing it to, so if you want to get noticed and actually make some sort of career out if it, you’ll have to work harder. Of course, that’s not an issue if you just want to make films for the hell of it.

It’s good to have a sense of purpose, though, and to that end we (editor Mike and top freelance photographer Seb Rogers) signed up to the Kendal Mountain Festival’s Adventure Film Academy. The AFA is a bunch of one-day workshops on things like camerawork and editing, followed by the main event – the 48 Hour Film Marathon. That’s just what it sounds like – 48 hours to make a two-minute film, with all the entries shown at the Festival on Friday evening.

You may be thinking that 48 hours is a more than generous amount of time in which to make a two-minute film. But you’d be wrong. At that rate, the likes of Seasons or NWDn:Silly Subtitle Here ought to take just a few weeks start to finish. Sure, they have to do a lot of flying around the world and generally set up rather more sophisticated shots than us, but even so, it takes them a year. Making films is time-consuming stuff.

Plus which, we didn’t really have 48 hours either. The deadline was 5pm on Friday, which was only 47. And then the time taken to sort out all the borrowed kit – camera, microphone, stick for the microphone that we never used because we didn’t have enough hands, batteries – and complete the apparently unending risk assessment forms (no, we’re not kidding – “Potential hazard: Riding bikes on uneven/loose surfaces. Steps taken to mitigate hazard: Ability to ride bikes.” And so on) was included in the 47 hours, so we were down to 45 almost straight away.

Then there were the conflicting requirements. Taking part in the Marathon looked fairly convenient for me – I was going to be in Kendal anyway to host the Festival’s Bike Night. But rather too late I realised that said Bike Night was smack in the middle of the AFA’s 48 hours. What with setting up, run-throughs, general tinkering and raiding the buffet at the Festival’s VIP opening (other people were VI, I was just raiding the buffet), plus the fact that my awesome compering skills allowed Bike Night to overrun by quite a bit, meant another seven hours gone. And of course we had to sleep and eat at some point.

Still, with our extensive forward planning, all should be well. Unfortunately, while we’d certainly done a lot of planning, it was all for a rather different film than the one we actually ended up making and was therefore largely wasted. As a result, our excellent plan to do a load of indoor shots on Wednesday evening was hindered by our abject failure to find any suitable indoors in which to do them. We managed to secure the use of a workshop from the very affable (if initially bewildered) Brucie’s Bike Shop over the road, but not until 9am the following morning. What with my prior commitments that day, we’d have about six hours to get all the raw footage we needed, including riding stuff.

Again, six hours for two minutes sounds like a lot, but believe me, it isn’t. We were only using two locations, but one of them was about forty minutes away from the other, and we had to carry the gear a fair way to the nice trails. Then every shot needs a few takes because even I (ha!) don’t get everything right first (or even second or ninth) time. And even with most of our shots planned out (admittedly in the pub the previous evening), there was still plenty of discussion, other ideas getting thrown into the pot and old ones getting fished out and thrown away. It all adds up.

Somehow, though, we got everything we needed in time, leaving us with about 45 minutes of footage to whittle down to two for the finished film. Fortunately Seb, ever the professional (even when not being paid), was willing to carry out the fairly tedious task of capturing all the footage while I was making an idiot of myself in front of a few hundred people at the Town Hall. Capturing is the bit where you connect the camera to the Mac, fire up fancy-schmancy video editing gizmo Final Cut Pro, work through your tape, pick out the bits that you probably want to use and transfer them to hard disc. This takes a while, but was well worth getting done that evening as it left us all of Friday to finish the editing. Which takes even longer.

We’d opted to do the one-day editing workshop before starting the marathon, which proved to be an excellent plan as it meant that we started editing with at least a hazy idea of what we were doing. We also started with a reasonably good idea of where we wanted to end up, but inevitably that mutated considerably during the edit – some things that had been good in our heads weren’t so good on film, some things that were good on film didn’t quite hang together with other bits and so on. Thankfully, once you’ve got the hang of it, Final Cut is a pretty amazing bit of kit, letting you shift stuff about, add extra bits and take bits away with remarkable ease.

Fortunately we had the full resources of Kendal College – including proper professional editors, producers and musicians – to give us pointers and answer all those, “How do we make it do this?” questions. We spent a lot of time fiddling with the soundtrack – it’s amazing how much more professional a film seems to be when all the levels are consistent throughout, the background noise is actually in the background and so on.

Amazingly, we finished with time to spare, giving us the opportunity to do a few minor tweaks and tidy-ups. Other teams weren’t so lucky, taking it right to the wire – the deadline was 5pm, giving the tutors time to transfer all nine films to disc for a public showing at the Mountain Festival at 7pm. When we called it a day shortly after 4, plenty of people were still gluing bits of footage together…

We were surprised to arrive at the appropriate room at the Brewery Arts Centre to find a huge queue. The studio in question wasn’t the biggest room ever, but it was crammed – a bunch of people were turned away. I’m not sure quite why the prospect of seeing nine hurriedly-produced two-minute films was so inviting for the Festival attendees, although I have a hunch that the fact that it was free may have had some bearing.

Nine films were completed, with prizes going to the top three. We didn’t win, or come second or third, but we were pretty pleased with what we came up with. And here it is:
And here’s the winning entry, which we include here because (a) it won and (b) it’s got bikes in it too. For most of the history of the AFA marathon there’s been at most one bike-related film made, but this year four of the nine entries had at least some bike content. “Bored Meeting” was made by Debbie McGowan, Ben Barden and Steve Barber.
We’re certainly inspired enough to think about doing a “proper” short film (that we spend more time making) to enter into the main bit of next year’s Kendal Mountain Festival. If you want to get started in outdoor film-making, then we heartily recommend the AFA setup – find out more at


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