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The making of Weir Here

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Laurie Miller has received the following awards for Weir Here:
2008 BIAFF – Four Stars; 2007 Guernsey Lily Festival – Highly commended; 2007 North Thames Regional Trophy (First Place) and Trophy for Best Editing; 2008 Surrey Film Festival – Documentary Cup; 2008 SERIAC Film Festival – Runner Up, JVC Editing Trophy and Alex Dove Plate.


A couple of weeks ago, I received a cosy e-mail from the IAC webmaster, actually, webmistress, Jan Watterson.
'Hi Laurie, would you like to tell your story of the making of Weir Here, for inclusion in the current write-up of films at BIAFF 2008?'
'Yes, ok', I replied. 'Great!' said Jan, 'I look forward to hearing from you'.
Then I became anxious as I read again some of Jan’s questions.

'What problems arose during the Project?' Hmm, there weren’t any!
'Did anything go wrong during the shoot?' No.
'Were there problems in the post production?' Not really, apart from my renowned clumsiness with my computer keyboard and mouse!

So, not much interest there!

Don’t panic, I thought, have a look at other film maker’s contributions to the IAC website for some inspiration. All that that achieved was fear. Fear that I would show myself up with my inability to write eloquently about making a film.
However, I promised Jan I would tell my story, so here goes.

(to the tune of London Bridge is falling down)

Old Sunbury Weir is falling down
Falling down
Falling down
Old Sunbury Weir is falling down
Or it soon will be!

One evening, early in 2003, I was at my club (Staines Cine and Video Society) and some members were banging on about something or other, probably copyright issues, or the inadequacies of film judges, and I started to drift into a mild doze. During this time a fellow member gently raised my arm and I woke up to find that I had volunteered to mastermind the Club’s 31st annual Newsreel of the goings on in our borough of Spelthorne. What had I let myself into? I lived several boroughs away and, frankly, I didn’t know the area at all.

First thing to do was to get hold of local newspapers and journals to read up on current news and trawl the events diaries. I spotted an article about the plight of Sunbury Weir on the River Thames and that, as a matter of urgency, The Environmental Agency had given the immediate go-ahead for its replacement to begin. I got in touch with the agency and arranged a short film interview at the site for inclusion in the Newsreel.

Having visited the site and caught the flavour of the project, I thought that the whole thing could make an interesting film.

I approached Nuttall the specialist construction firm building the replacement weir. They agreed that I could film the whole project to its completion, subject to provisos. My film must be non-commercial, I would have to pass a basic induction course, including Health and Safety Regulations, etc., and wear all the appropriate gear, viz steel toed boots, hard hat, high visibility jacket, safety harness and lifejacket. Without them, I wouldn’t be allowed on site. The location was particularly dangerous and a ‘loose cannon’ would not be tolerated. Throughout my many visits I always complied with all of this, never took any liberties, behaved myself, and quickly gained the trust of the workforce.

Crane   Barrier   Testing  Cement

I filmed the rebuild over fifteen months, making about fifty visits to site. Due to a good rapport with the management team, I was regularly kept informed of noteworthy events that might be worth filming. My camcorder was a simple, basic Panasonic NV100 which, because of the cramped nature of the site, was generally hand-held. In all, I finished up with about ten hours of film!

The work site was a documentary film maker’s dream, so many ingredients, so much going on. Lots of energy and lots of different trade skills at work. Moreover, the kindness of the people doing the work, patiently answering my endless questions and explaining clearly what they were doing and why; such co-operation was so rewarding and valuable to me.

The only land access to the site was by way of a three feet wide pedestrian path, so everything, heavy equipment and all materials, had to be transported by river and this provided extra interest for my film.

Lift2  Lift  Barge  Water

Due to other film projects a couple of years elapsed before I got down to turning my footage into a film, editing it with Adobe Premiere 6.0. At first I thought that it would need to run for at least forty-five minutes, but eventually I decided to limit the duration to about ten minutes. In the event, I produced two versions of the film, one nine minutes long, which included an interview with the Project Manager. That version was produced on DVD and copies were given to the fellows who built the weir, for which they were absolutely delighted, quietly proud of their work and deservedly so. I was quite touched by their comments. Later, I heard that quite a number of the chaps were boring their families silly with repeat showings of the film. One of them said “Most people can work a lifetime and not have a souvenir of what they have done in their working life, so I feel lucky to have one”. Apparently, the work team, now on another site, occasionally looks at Weir Here during their midday breaks in the canteen and this type of reaction is rewarding in itself.

The other version, used for competition, is about 7 minutes long and excludes the interview, which I felt slowed down the pace I wanted to maintain and I am happy with my decision.

Measuring   Mixer   Sluice   So small

I am happy too with the film – my best so far. It has been quite successful in competitions. I am particularly pleased at winning two separate editing awards, probably my most favourite part of the film making process, and being awarded the Alex Dove Plate which was decided by audience vote at the 2008 SERIAC film festival for the most enjoyable film shown on the day, even though it was the runner up and not the outright winner of the competition.



 I set out to make a film that celebrates a highly professional construction job well done and I hope it shows through.

So, although disappointingly no meat here for the film making craftsmen and women or technologists, I hope my film and what I have written here conveys in every respect the utter joy I have had in making Weir Here. After all, joy is what a hobby should provide.

Laurie Miller, April 2008

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