The Brown Cow – a ghost story

This is one of my favorite films from the recent Keighley Creative Partnerships project.  I like this one for a number of reasons but mainly because I didn't have much work to do.  

The children came up with all the ideas, did practically all the filming and editing. In fact the basic editing was done in Windows Movie Maker and Audacity by one of the year four children.  I helped a bit with the special effects under strict direction.

I also like it because it has some stories in it – and spooky ones at that. Whether you actually believe in them or not doesn't really matter. Frankly, I don't.


Memories of the cinema

The idea:
One of the schools in Keighley wanted to gather memories of cinema goers in Keighley through a series of interviews conducted by the children. Alongside this research they were to work with Artist Amy Heild to create a scale model of the Keighley Picture House – the towns last remaining cinema. The model was to incorporate a small screen on which the interviews would play. We felt this was a great way of brining the artwork and the filmmaking together in one installation.  

As well at the physical installation we were also to produce a film to show at the real cinema and so the plan was to use the model as the central feature.

Most of the filming was done using small flip cameras which performed very well. The children where given some instruction on how to use the cameras and to get steady shots with clear sound.

We felt a tripod would have been useful but not essential. It forces the user to think about where it will be placed and how the shot will be framed. The framing needs to be wide enough to alow for the interviewee to move about. 

The maximum distance for clear sound on the flip camera is about one metre.  Much better for the children to work in pairs – one acting as iterviewer and the other using the camera. 

Other thoughts:
Organise some practice sessions and break the interview session down into small tasks and objectives; setting up the tripod, briefing the interviewee, checking the light and framing, recording, thanking the interviewee afterwards etc. 

During interview make notes of what supporting shots will be required – perhaps the guest is referring to an old photograph, in which case get some cutaway shots of the photo afterwards. Or if they are talking about a particular road or locatation plan to get some shots to illustrate what they are saying. This is a good reason to do the interviews early in the project to alow time for follow-up shooting.

If quality is not so much of an issue set the camera on a low resolution or you'll end up with huge file sizes (one school came back with 16Gb or material!). In any event, try to plan well and be economical in your shooting. Too much material will be difficult to manage.

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Wall of Secrets

The idea:
One of the schools in Keighley wanted to take the theme of "lots of hidden things" for their film. They didn't want to take a single person, place or event but to encourage the children to look at their environment for signs of history. The emphasis was on walking about and looking.  They came up with the idea of a wall of secrets which worked well since most of the historical clues seemed to be embedded in walls of one sort or another. Amy Heild helped the children make a puzzle made of numbered bricks. When the bricks were constructed in the right way they made a victorian street scene.

The cinema film used this puzzle – the wall of secrets – as a theme, out of which would come the information about the town's history. 

The children used Flip cameras to record the information.  The opening sequence of the film involved pretty much the whole school and involved the camera being pulled backwards on a chair with wheels. We used a Canon 5D MK high definition camera for the playground sequence and employed some of the children as crew. The idea for the special effects came from the class and was beyond the capability of Widows Move Maker! – so Final Cut Pro was used for this effect.  Although some of these techniques were beyond the school to achieve themselves, I felt that by making these tools available I was able to put no restrictions on their imagination – if they wanted a magical wall then they could have one.

The teacher set the creative bar very high and didn't settle on the first idea that came along. He was open to ideas as they came along and imagined that anything was possible. There was a high level of risk taking and a willingness to experiment with new or seemingly impossible ideas. The children were highly motivated by the large amount of visual media generated by this project – there was a high volume of photography and video used not only in the film but in the course of the everyday teaching. 

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Hidden Keighley discovery day

We completed the Hidden Keighley discovery day yesterday. Six schools trekking around the town in search of boxes which had been transformed by the children. My role has been to organise the film making element in collaboration with artist Amy Heild.

The process of making a film is a fantastic way for the children to learn so many skills and build their confidence, even a simple interview has so many elements to it. Deciding on the most relevant location to film the story, observing  & planning the shots, managing the equipment, problem solving, engaging with the interviewee are only a few skills needed.  It's particularly rewarding to pick shy children to work in front of the camera or take a leadership role and see them rise to the challenge. 

The brilliant thing about video is that you can re-take if things go wrong.  We've had some wonderful conversations about the value of being able to learn from mistakes. At first the children get embarrassed when they make a mistake but soon they're able to have a laugh about it and move on to an improved attempt.

Bringing professionalism to the way the video is filmed and edited can be a huge boost to many children. They imagine that professional film makers have none of the problems they face  – being nervous, tripping over their lines, wobbly shots and so on.  Once they realise that there are some simple techniques to achieving impressive results they begin to feel so much more confident.

We've had a lot of discussion about whether the process is more important than the outcome – i.e. that a poor quality film is OK provided that the children learn something in the process.  I'm sure that the end product is vitally important – especially for a product designed for public showing.  The buzz the children get from achieving a film that looks like something they would see on TV or at the cinema is something they can be proud of and will remember for a long time.


This is  the model of Keighley Picture House. Inside is a screen on
which interviews about of the old cinema play. Next week all the films
will be shown at the real cinema at a red carpet event  for 300 children.


This is from the film Box of Sounds in which we take this animated Victorian girl to re-visit one of the local mills.

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Hidden Keighley

This week I've been continuing the Creative Partnerships schools work. We're working on a series of films about Keighley.  There are six schools and the idea is that they each choose a person, event or place to focus their investigations. The subjects include the local cinema, a haunted pub, a bandstand, a mill, and a school. The films are to be shown at a big screen red carpet event at Keighley Picture House to about three hundred children from the six schools on the 8th of July. 

But the project is more that just film making. Each or the groups has to create a box of treasures which they are to hide in readiness for a hunt using hand held gps tracking devices and hidden clues. It will become a kind of Dan Brown quest to uncover hidden secrets in the landscape.

The ideas the children have come up with have been wonderful including a a talking photo album which tells the story of Braithwaite school, a box of industrial sounds, a life size model of a Victorian child who's revisiting the mills and a wall whose bricks come to life to tell their secrets. Keighley News

All the materials and videos from the project will go on display in a public installation at Cliffe Castle Museum.

This is an area I love. My roots are in industrial Bradford with connections to the mills on both sides of the family. My grandfather on my dad's side was a mill owner and on my mother's side I have an intriguing connection with Samuel Cunliffe-Lister which I'm trying to unravel. Samuel CL was an inventor who came up with a wool combing machine which transformed both his and Bradford's fortunes. My grandmother came from a relationship with one of occupants of Swinton Park – a place to which she was secretly taken to meet members of the family.

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