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The making of Susie the Spider

Spider. It all started one afternoon on Thursday 23rd September 2010 when I noticed a spider building her web in my garden. This spider was busily working away on a rosemary bush in front of the conservatory. I watched the spider for some time and then wondered if it would be possible to film her.

I rushed upstairs and grabbed my video camera and tripod. Thinking that the spider would move somewhere else, I quickly set up the equipment. It was difficult. The spider was only about 12mm high (about the size of your thumbnail in old money) and I wanted to fill my screen with that image - the spider, not the thumbnail.

I noticed that the spider, from my point of view, was moving in a clockwise direction, starting from the outside and slowly working her way towards the centre. Trying to follow a tiny spider at the end of a high powered 25x telephoto lens can be quite tiring, and attempting to film this spider by following her with a pan and tilt head seemed quite impossible, although I did attempt it.

I decided instead to lock-off the camera and wait for the spider to enter the frame, hoping she would conveniently stop for me during her busy work schedule. Sometimes she did, and I knew the shot would work, but more often than not she would pass by and disappear outside the viewfinder frame.

I carried on filming, hoping that eventually I would collect enough good material for a finished film.

The spider took about one hour to complete the task of building her web. In that time, between 6:00pm and 7:00pm, I had collected 9 clips. The shooting was over, my back and arms were aching, but I was pleased with what I'd captured. I went inside to transfer the camera rushes to my editing software: Adobe Premiere Elements. I looked at the timeline which stretched for an hour and decided to leave the editing for another time.

Five days later, I opened up my laptop and had another look at what I'd filmed. I viewed it countless times, trying to pick out the choicest pieces. This process took about a month and many editing sessions to reduce the one hour of shot video down to three minutes.

Naturally I chose a music track called 'Spider In Your Web'. The original track is a live recording (there is no studio version to my knowledge) and runs for 7 minutes and 42 seconds. There are long beautiful guitar and organ solos in it, but it was far too long for my purposes, so I carefully edited the track down to 2 minutes and 34 seconds. I think I did a fairly smooth edit on the soundtrack, because so far, nobody has mentioned the fact that the music has been chopped around a bit.

Spider.Having finished the picture edit, and running the music track against it, I could have called it a day, and completed the transfer to DVD. The film was okay, but it needed something else, something special. I discussed the problem with my wife Susie, who is a film maker in her own right, who suggested we visit a primary school, and with official permission, interview lots of girls and boys and ask them what they thought about spiders. We wanted many short sentences or even single words to complement the film. Unfortunately, I've been described as bone idle and work-shy (usually by my mother) and I couldn't summon up the energy to write to local authorities to obtain permission to film the interviews. Instead Susie suggested that we borrow two girls she knew who lived close by, and who might agree to be interviewed.

We set up the interview on Sunday 14th November 2010. In order to keep the girls relaxed, we decided to interview them using my video camera with its built-in microphone. Any fancy equipment such as boom stands and overhead directional microphones could have made the girls feel self-conscious. So we kept it simple and used the camera on a table top tripod and placed it as close to them as possible. We weren't interested in the video, we only wanted to capture the audio.

I switched on the camera and left the room while Susie and the girls chatted away. I sat in the garden, and waited for an hour before the three of them emerged smiling. That hour was the longest hour of my life. Would the camera work? Was there enough time left on the memory stick? But more importantly, I thought: Would the sound quality from a camera's built-in microphone be good enough?' It was all technical worries. I should have been wondering if the girls had said anything interesting.

I was not disappointed. That evening I listened through the interview. It ran for about 30 minutes. In my opinion, the results were stunning. Susie had done a first class job during the interview, allowing the girls to talk freely and discuss the subject of spiders. Sometimes they agreed with each other, and sometimes they argued. There were so many good pieces in it, that I wondered how I was going to reduce it to the 3 minutes required.

The solution was simple, and I should have thought of it earlier. I simply asked my wife Susie to go through it all, choose the best bits, and lay it against the picture. I told her it was all good practice. She gave me one of her looks, so I gave her one of mine. But I knew she loved the editing process, and so she agreed to do it. I kept away from the laptop for the next few days while Susie worked away at the voice-over track, choosing the best pieces and laying them against the picture track. I had total confidence in Susie's abilities, but occasionally I would creep up behind her and try to peer at the editing screen to see what she was up to, but she would shoo me away. Finally she showed me her edit of the film. I thought it was excellent. I really couldn't fault it. I didn't ask for any changes because she had done a fabulous job.

It took another week to mix the sync track, the music track, and the voice-over track together, and finally burn it to DVD.
It was all over.

- by Huey Walker ( Tiverton Camcorder Club)
Susie the Spider was awarded three stars at BIAFF 2011.

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