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Thread: Short Rail Documentary - A Story Of Steam

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2012

    Default Short Rail Documentary - A Story Of Steam

    Hey all.

    As you can probably tell from the join date, I'm slightly new here.
    Strangely enough, I came across it after googling "Breaking the 4th wall". Purely out of boredom that one.

    I worked on a short documentary last year for a college/university project. After it was complete, I tried adding to it and modifying bits. Trying to improve the video for putting up online and make it better.
    Whilst I'm very happy and proud of what I achieved, considering it was the first documentary I had ever done, I've still been trying to hunt around and get constructive feedback on things that are good, what works, what could be improved (and how) and what issues there are.

    I've picked up a list of things though-out editing it and watching it back many hundreds of times. Some shots over-exposed, a couple of interviews could have been framed better, one of the interviews has the sound echoing a bit (although that was due to the clip-mic dying and having to rely on an on-board camera mic).
    And so on. But still, I'm very self critical of what I do and I'm always looking for ways to make things better, learn and improve on mistakes etc.
    I don't know why I haven't considered joining such video communities before. It's not even crossed my mind and surely should have been the first place to check out.
    Anyway, I'm rambling on a tad too much so here's the info on the project and technical details. Hope you enjoy and I hope it's not too much of me asking for feedback.

    A Story of Steam
    This short documentary tried to uncover the legacy of steam locomotives in Britain. From being the work-horse and backbone of the British Railway network and then almost fading from existence. However, we still see them today in their full glory. So why do steam engines still appeal to so many people across all generations? What is their past and how have they been looked after over all these these years. Above all, what do people think of steam - both those who worked with them and enthusiasts alike.
    We follow steam from the 1960's through to the modern day and speak to a number of people from various generations who share their stories and views on what Steam is to them.

    Technical Info:
    Cameras used:
    Sony FX1 (Primary Camera) - HDV
    Panasonic HMC41E (Secondary Camera and Sound capture) - SD Card

    Rode Mic (sometimes two) attached to Panasonic Camera (Primary)
    Lapel Clip Mic attached to Panasonic Camera (for interviews)
    On-board mic for Sony FX1 (back-up and secondary when Panasonic was unavailable)

    Edited using Adobe Premier Pro
    DVD creation using DVD Studio Pro
    Sound editing done from within Premier Pro

    All music used with permission from the artist, John Beagley.

    Other Info:
    Images used with permission from various photographers.
    Filmed at a number of locations include Nene Valley Railway, Crewe Heritage Centre, various London stations, Knebworth and Berkhampsted.
    Narration recorded in a sound studio set up by a friend. We re-recorded the voice overs three times till I was happy with it in editing. The person narrating for me was not best pleased by the 3rd attempt.
    I created a bonus video about the APT (Advanced Passenger Train) to go on the DVD, which is also available on my channel. I was asked by Crewe Heritage Centre for a copy of it for them to place in the APT exhibit. So if you are ever there, please do look out for it!

    Thanks again and I hope you enjoy the video. All feedback is welcome. Good and bad - so long as the later of which is constructive = )

    Kind regards,
    -Richard.C (Geo Ghost)

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
    Surrey, UK
    Blog Entries


    Anyone who's been involved with amateur film/video will have been bored sick by films about steam locos - this is so often the first "documentsry" amateurs make after they've tired of "Our two weeks in [location of your choice]". So you can imagine my trepidation when someone's first post is "A Story of Steam".

    Fortunately this wasn't as bad as I was expecting. Actually it was pretty good. Why? Because it wasnt really about steam locos and the railways at all, it was about a bunch of people - real characters - and their love for it. And your film got those characters across very well.

    There's a saying in film "show faces, not places" which i think is very true. Some people will love looking at the old locos, but just about everyone loves looking at characters and getting involved with them.

    But that's enough about what i like! You've already mentioned one or two things that could have been better so i won't repeat them.

    Firstly - the title. It's a misnomer. This is not a story of steam at all. It is both a story about the replacement of steam with electric and deisel and people's love of steam. Anyone viewing this expecting strories about Watt and Stephenson and the building of the railways will be bitterly disappointed!

    Next, your narrator had an excellent voice and certainly gave the impression he understood the subject. However there were several points where I thought the narration was a bit rushed - some breahing space was needed to let the viewer take in what had been said. Get someone who doesn't know the subject to listen rather than listen to it with your already knowledgeable ear.

    I applaud your concern to credit the images - intellectual property rights is something i'm very keen on - but plastering the credits on every photo was a real distraction for me - I ended up playing guessing games with myself as to which photographer would come up next rather than looking at the shots. I suggest you save the credits to the end.

    I liked the switching between shot angles of the interviewee. So many people don't do this. The difference in camera was quite noticable though. It is possible (when the interviewees are on-side) to do this with one camera. Just interview them twice - you often get additional useful comments.

    I did like the comments you used. Every one was nice and short and said something different. It must have taken you days and days of sifting through the interviews to work out which lines to use.

    Some of your shots were poor. I'm not talkig about those of steam (which you can get away with as people accept there aren't so many), but some of those of modern motive power. Wobbly hand held shots panning to follow a passing train.Thses were often only filler shots but there's still no excuse. Get out and shoot some more. They really detracted from the over alll quality of the film.

    Finally, make sure your titles and credits are 100% correct. Again there is no excuse for this being wrong. You own name features in a typo and you've used "Inteviewee's" when you mean "Interviewees". Small things maybe, but if people see you've been that careless on your tites, they're less likely to trust what you've said in the film is 100% correct.

    I hope that doesn't sound too harsh and you find some things to think about in there.

    Overall I really enjoyed the film and felt i got to know a lot of the characters. Thanks for posting.

  3. #3


    I'll ditto what Tim said. I thought it was well shot and put together. One of the high lights for me was the second camera man coming into shot at 8:33.

    I live in York so I see steam trains going past my house every day in the summer going to Scarborough.

    Well done on a good job. Even though I have no interest in the subject.

  4. #4


    Before I get onto you're film can I just say what a refreshing change you're introduction here is. So many times we get people come along pimping their latest YouTube effort .... Watch this rate subscribe blah blah blah I don't bother you have made an effort to list every aspect if your production. Geekey ? Maybe ! But for me very welcome. I'll review your're film later once I've had a proper chance to watch it.

  5. #5


    Nice work, wasn't expecting such an interesting piece of film, well done.

  6. #6


    Good job, learnt some few things i didn't know.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Feb 2012


    Dear Tim Stannard.

    Thanks ever so much for such in-depth and thorough feedback. You said it might sound a tad harsh but to be honest, whether it was or not, that's exactly the kind of feedback I have been looking for.

    I think I can understand where you are coming from with the steam locomotive films. I was very worried it might come across as one of these 'regular boring' kind of ones where it is all footage and someone saying "And now we see number #### the ## class locomotive named ---- on the ----- line. Stuff like that, whilst interesting for serious enthusiasts, just comes across as boring and a bit of a cop-out I think. I really wanted to make something that would appeal to a much wider audience. Plus I love talking to people are sharing their stories as well as just filming footage.

    The title, thanks for that. It's not actually crossed my mind before but after reading that and thinking about it, i can see what you mean. It was a working title that stuck. I'll make sure to think up more fitting titles in the future.

    The narrator, my friend, was quite pleased when I told him about this. I agree with some bits being rushed and admittedly, some bits were. he didn't really know anything about this subject other than stuff he had picked up from shoots and I was teaching him things as we went along. Unfortunately, I hate hearing my voice - I'm one who likes to be behind the camera and never in front heh. Completely understand what you mean with all that though and I'll note that. The narration changed a lot since the first version with was a bit too 'rail geeky'. Thanks =)

    For images, Now you've mentioned that, I can't stop noticing it. I hadn't noticed how distracting they were till now. Many thanks for pointing that one out.

    With the camera, gewd yes. The quality difference drove me to insanity. we've made it work before on other shoots but on this project, it seemed utterly different. Learn from mistakes luckily and i won't be doing that. I think part of the issue was that the Panasonic camera we were using had no ND filter or settings to compensate with over-exposure. Ideally, I would have had two Sony cameras but only one was available to us which was a shame. Again, I'll keep that advice in mind for future project =)
    Interviewing people was incredibly fun. Luckily, I stuck to a list of questions and got people to talk about them rather than give straight answers which made it easier. But all the stories I heard made it worth sifting through the footage. Well, until I get to one with a "yeah I enjoy it" answer followed by an awkward 5 seconds silence where we're hoping to hear more. Ah well. Just means I needed to structure the question better or ask if they can go into more detail.

    For the shots in question, I totally admit - the majority of those shots were my fault indeed. Some filmed on second cameras and such but most are mine and it's one of the things I dislike most in the film. I would have used a tripod or something of the sort to get something more stable but at a lot of places, as you can imagine, staff are very funny about use of equipment. But as you say, there's no real excuse for such. They could have and should have been better. In future luckily, I'll have more kit available to use (in theory) so issues like that I hope will be eliminated forever! Thanks for the brutal honesty. I'm glad that it wasn't just me who was picking that up!

    When it came to me, yet again, mistyping my own name, I'm very red-faced. I've no idea how I missed that one for so long. It was only pointed out to me about a month ago by a friend and I immediately hit my head on the desk in embarrassment. I'm very prone to mistypes especially with my own name and 'just' (usually putting 'jsut' instead).
    not sure why, but it's a pain. Proof reading skills are apparently something I lack heh.

    Thanks ever so much again sir for the feedback and such. It is far more constructive than anyone else has ever given me. I appreciate it no end =)
    I'm also very happy you, and many others enjoyed it. At the end of the day, if I fulfil that target, than it has been completely worth-while.

    Quote Originally Posted by Midnight Blue View Post
    I'll ditto what Tim said. I thought it was well shot and put together. One of the high lights for me was the second camera man coming into shot at 8:33.
    I live in York so I see steam trains going past my house every day in the summer going to Scarborough.
    Well done on a good job. Even though I have no interest in the subject.

    Dear Midnight Blue.

    Oh dear, the second camera indeed. What you don't see is me tugging the back of my friends head to pull him back out of the shot
    I must say, I'm quite jealous as I would love to live in York! Such a beautiful city and of course for me, it's got all the railways areas. I'm a tad obsessed but ah well. Childhood passions never die =)

    Quote Originally Posted by enc View Post
    Before I get onto you're film can I just say what a refreshing change you're introduction here is. So many times we get people come along pimping their latest YouTube effort .... Watch this rate subscribe blah blah blah I don't bother, you have made an effort to list every aspect if your production. Geekey ? Maybe ! But for me very welcome. I'll review your're film later once I've had a proper chance to watch it.

    Many thanks enc. I sometimes think I talk a bit too much in posts rather than getting straight to the point.
    I know what you mean about people asking to "watch, rate, subscribe!" I get messages like that from time to time. I usually try to ignore them as irritating as they can be.
    Most tend to be form enthusiasts who are trying to share their latest videos of a train at a station. nothing against that usually except most of the time there is a very bad 2-minute intro with a title "This is an IC_Class_90 Production!" in a horrible template which is then followed by a 10 second mobile phone clip that leaves me heading my head on the desk repeatedly. Always tried to prevent my projects these days going anywhere near that path. Plus, I like to make my own intros from scratch. It's no fun using templates!

    COCAINE PONYTAIL and Vevcom - Thank you both for your comments also. much appreciated! The former of the two, I must say that's quite a unique name to have!

    Thank you again everyone for your feedback and very kind comments. These have certainly made my day and given me a bigger insight into how I can improve and make things better in future projects. Though even then, no doubt I'll still be digging into the all saying "What can be better! What can be improved."
    I suppose if you could make something that is top notch straight away, there's nothing higher to aim for. That would kind of take the fun out of trying to challenge one self to make something better.

    All the best and kindest regards,

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