The University was approached by the Heart of England Community Foundation to help with the producing of a documentary about a unique WW1 hut in Southam, Warwickshire. They wanted a few students to go and film around the Hut, capturing the spirit of the place, the people that use the hut, and to show what a unique and precious piece of history it is. So after our initial meeting (you can read some notes here), we set out to do a recce and to capture some footage in the Hut.
We decided to go on a recce on a Tuesday morning, when the regular market takes place. We wanted to see the Hut being used and full of people, and to get the whole team to get to know the place. Before that, the Director, DoP and Producer had already gone and met some of the people on the Committee there, so we knew who to contact if we had any questions.
We initially arrived too early, as miscommunication with our tutor had led to us thinking the market starts at 8:30 and it didn’t start between 9:30. This delay wasn’t much of an issue though, as it allowed us to spend more time in Sotham and around the Hut, which is part of what a recce is about anyway. Once the market started, we were allowed in, and started filming. I was on sound, and even though we had different types of recorders and microphones, I was a bit nervous so I was only using a Marantz and a rifle microphone. This proved to be far from the best choice, as the Hut is wooden, and especially when full of people the sound there was quite an issue – there was A LOT of reverb, the microphone was capturing too much of other people’s conversations, resulting in the unclear recording of interviews. What is more, I wasn’t allowed to get too close to the subject as the microphone kept getting in shot. I knew the team had brought other recorders and microphones, but I was still quite unexperienced with recording sound on location, didn’t think there was enough time to experiment, so I ended up stressing out and not getting the quality I wanted.
What was good about this shoot though was that I got a better understanding of how to work as part of a crew, working closely with one of the camera operators and one of the producers – who was taking notes of our recordings. I was really keen to help produce the log sheet, as I know what hassle editing can become with multiple cameras, separate sound, and a totally new subject matter. What I was also doing was giving the Producer additional notes from stories I had heard from the people in the Hut. Since the project would require lots of research, and there wasn’t much in the books or media, most of the stories were kept in people’s memories and every time someone mentioned something, we would take note for later research.
We were trying to capture a good mix of personal stories related to the Hut, both from the past and from the way it is currently being used. It turned out to be a great community centre, bringing people from the area together from all backgrounds and ages. One of the people we interviewed, a lady in the kitchen, got very emotional as she was talking about her memories with the Hut, and her husband that is now sick. Another person we interviewed was the leader of the Tug of War team that use the Hut for their evening practices, who turned out to be yet another great character. We were thinking of doing a separate bite-sized documentary just with him, so we can capture the amazing spirit of the coach.
We ended up with much more than we expected from a ‘recce’. We were all very pleased with the material we got, the research we were able to make, and the contacts we made with the people around the Hut. Here is the video that the team put together as results of our recce:
What I learned from this shoot wasn’t so much about the technical side of my role. It was about the attitude within a team, how to work as part of a big crew, how to take direction, and how to collaborate with everyone on set. What is more, this recce shoot taught me a lot about research, how to talk to people, how to make them feel comfortable to talk about their stories, and how to capture the best of this on camera.
Good News – The Funding Announcement
One of the secondary aims of the recce video was to help persuade the people in charge of the funding for restoring the Hut to see how valuable a community centre it is and how important it is for the Hut to be kept and preserved. The Hut was in need of lots of improvements, it needed repainting, needed a better toilet and hot water facilities, a better heating system, so it can accommodate for the various different clubs and communities that people wanted to use it for. A few weeks after our initial recce, we were contacted by Kate (our contact in the Heart of England Community Foundation), and were informed the decision had been made and she would go to Southam to announce it to the Hut committee. We wanted to capture that moment, to make it part of the story. We wanted to see the people’s reactions and show that in the final film. Kate had assured us only she knew the decision so we would be able to capture the genuine reactions. We weren’t quite sure either what we were going to hear – we could only guess and hope it was a Yes. So we travelled to Southam to film this announcement.
When we arrived there, we had enough time with Kate to arrange the room and set up in such a way that we can both keep the authenticity and also make sure we have basic control over the setting. We knew Kate and another member of the Committee would be speaking in front of the people that come, and that there would be the locals as the audience. One thing we didn’t know was that the local press was also there, but that wasn’t much of an issue – they were doing their job, we were doing ours. We didn’t realise, but we set up in record time, the announcement happened fairly quickly, and we packed in a short time too. We were able to fit everything – from arriving in Southam, setting up, filming, packing, to leaving Southam, in less than 90 minutes.
As Sound Operator, my job was to make sure we had clear recording of the speakers, and to also capture the people’s reactions in the Hut. This time I had tie clip microphones, so I wired the speakers attached the microphones to a Marantz recorder and made some sound checks. I also wanted to get some ambient sound and the people’s reactions, so to do that, I set up another two microphones – a rifle close to the wall, pointing to the Committee members that were most likely to speak, and another cardioid microphone in the other part of the room to be able to pick up people talking from the audience. These microphones were attached to a second Marantz. I was operating both recordes simultaneously, monitoring levels with the LED registers and with separate headphone sets. This proved a great way to set up, as I was in full control of the sound mix, and even though it sounded complicated, once I knew what I wanted, I was extremely happy that I had ‘reached new hights’ in my sound recording abilities. Later, when I was listening back the recording, I was more than pleased by the result – the levels were right, I had captured the event both in terms of story and atmosphere. I made sure I had clear notes when labeling the audio files, so that the editor can easily use them.
I learned a lot from this project, and I think I grew a lot as a media producer and sound recordist. It taught me the importance of preparation and good communication on set, and I was introduced to a new concept – being calm on set 🙂 I was more relaxed and focused on the second shoot, even though it was a more important one – because we knew what we were doing, we knew what we wanted and we had prepared well. This is something I definitely need to take forward in my other projects, especially when working with the same crew.