From Charlotte Street to High Def

Happy Birthday

Bristol Film and Video Society,

here’s to the next seventy five years!

SO, IN THE EARLY 1980’s Bristol Cine Society was alive, well and making films on Super 8mm. Based at its meeting room in Charlotte Street members wrote, acted in and shot productions with the intention of them being entered into the numerous competitions that existed at that time for amateur films. Made with full sync sound

instant pictures on tape?

first steps into digital video and non-linear editing

local productions

broadcast quality on a desktop

we embrace the local thespians

moving with the times and a new name

In the mid 1980’s the possibility of recording on portable video equipment came within the reach of amateurs, albeit the more wealthy amateurs among club members. In 1984, to mark the clubs 50th year, a documentary production was shot partly on film and partly on video. ‘Scrapbook ‘84’ showed the City of Bristol and some of the events that occurred during that year. The sequences shot on film were transferred to video and the whole production then edited and mastered to Betamax video for screening. At the time this was very ambitious as the professional editing and post production facilities that are now taken for granted by club members did not exist. Because of these technical limitations the club continued to shoot the majority of its productions on Super 8mm film stock up until its last, ‘Skodaman, released in 1992. Such was the enthusiasm within the club membership to produce productions that in 1989 two major projects were being shot simultaneously. ‘The Big Bang’ directed by Graham Egarr and ‘The Pink Ballerina Affair’ directed by Mike George.

Apart from the artistic aspects of belonging to a club there are also practical day to day things to consider. In 1987 the Bristol Lions Club, who were the landlords of our basement meeting room in Charlotte Street, off Park Street in Bristol, told us that they intended to sell the building and we would have to find a new home. As the club had been meeting there since 1969 this naturally came as a blow. The search began for a new venue and after much deliberation it was decided to move from central Bristol to a room at the Filton Folk Centre in Elm Park.  This move took place in 1988 and we left behind a room full of memories which for ever will be associated with Bristol Cine Society. This move also brought about a change of name for the club combined with a re-launch to reflect the changing times. It had been clear for some time that the number of members interested solely in all things cine was dwindling as more and more video equipment was made available for amateur use. Indeed during the mid 1980’s another club was formed in Bristol which concentrated solely on catering for those interested in video as a creative medium. Something had to be done if Bristol Cine Society wasn’t to eventually disappear in the rush of new technology. A group of members on the committee saw the chance to try to increase the clubs membership by changing its name to portray what the club was all about and that we were not just a ‘film’ based society. It took a lot of persuasion, lobbying and a vote from the membership for the club to become Bristol Film and Video Society. More ‘video’ based meetings were planned and combined with publicity in national movie making magazines and the local press, membership numbers started to increase. Several meetings were held at the Folk Centre but it soon became clear that the room was too small to accommodate the ever growing numbers. As luck would have it, just across the car park from the Folk Centre was a much larger hall owned by Filton Parish Council and it was available on the first and third Tuesday evenings of every month throughout the year. So in 1989 Bristol Film and Video Society finally had both a new name and a room large enough to cope with its by then very large video oriented new membership.

Another reflection of change within the club in the 1980’s was the casting of actors from amateur drama groups in the Bristol area in club productions, rather than using members of our own club.  Looking back on it this makes perfect sense as they joined their clubs to act whilst our members wanted to know about all the artistic and technical aspects of film making. This was largely due to a contact made with leading amateur actor John Stevens. Over the years he has appeared in many club productions, starting with Foolproof in 1983 he has played a great variety of both dramatic and comic roles, as well as having many contacts in the ‘business’. John was able to persuade other actors that we knew what we were doing on the filmmaking front and it would be to their advantage to develop their skills by appearing in front of a camera and seeing themselves on screen. Thanks to John and the clubs membership of the Avon Association of Drama we now have a large pool of acting talent that can be considered when casting various roles.

So the 1990’s rolled by, with nineteen productions being completed under the BFVS banner during that decade. The club had settled into its new home in Filton and both membership and interest in making movies were thriving due to the ever growing market in video based equipment. 1997 saw the club winning a video Oscar with my production of The Same Time Next Week. Cast with actors from various drama clubs, including John Stevens and shot over three weekends, it came sixth in the top ten of the British Amateur Video Awards and gained other prestigious prizes in of all places Portugal and Estonia. The change from analogue to digital technology in video was greatly improving the quality of picture that members had to work with, indeed the stunning image that is produced by the mini DV format could only have been dreamt of in those early fuzzy VHS days. To add to this, computer based and stand alone editing systems were becoming readily available for the amateur to master. This was really put to the test in Planets, released in 1999 and directed by Graham Egarr. The first club production to use green screen filming which enabled actors to inhabit a world which, in reality, only existed after the computer wizards had worked their magic. The same technique was also employed in his 2001 video Anne Teaks, which involved almost the entire club in an intense weekend shoot with multiple cameras and a large cast on location at a country house near Bristol.


Without a doubt the use of video as the recording medium combined with the editing and post production effects available from the late 90’s to the present day have made almost everything possible for the filmmaker and something the original founders of the club in 1934 could never have dreamt of. In 2002 I decided to look back over those years and have a wallow in nostalgia in Images in Time. The production centres around an interview with the longest continually serving member of the club, Ron Elson. This gave a chance to show extracts from productions going back to the early days, as well as illustrating how the City of Bristol had changed over the years. It also showed how much more sophisticated we had become in both production and technical aspects over the years.


When you look back at the archive list for the past twenty five years certain directors names keep coming up again and again. Between them and working in collaboration with others Graham Egarr, Mike George and Malcolm Stephens have been responsible for half of the forty club productions. If you also sit through the end credits for most of those productions you will also see a credit for ‘sound by’ the aforementioned Ron Elson who joined the club in 1953 and is still going strong.

Members of the club have always been keen to tackle subjects that link in with places of interest in the area and this is clearly illustrated by three productions from the prolific two year period from 2003 to 2005. The New Room tells the story in dramatised form of the worlds oldest Methodist chapel situated in the centre of Bristol, Festival of Remembrance is an edited recording of the 2004 event at the City’s Colston Hall and The University of Bristol Botanic Garden at Bracken Hill is a guide to the garden in its final year before moving to a new site. All three productions involved many hours of location filming by dedicated members and hundreds of hours in post production on stand alone or computer based editing systems.

During the last few years club productions have become even more ambitious in line with the kind of equipment that is on the market to help directors achieve the vision they have. In 2006 Clarkson, a lavish period costume drama, told the story of one of the unsung heroes of the campaign to abolish the slave trade, Thomas Clarkson. It used very sophisticated post production image processing to create the right atmosphere on the screen combined with a good deal of state of the art green screen shots. While in 2008 Encounters with John Wesley was the first club production to be shot in widescreen with another technical advance, High Definition cameras.


It is not just a matter of luck that Bristol Film and Video Society is still here in 2009 to celebrate its 75th anniversary. Over the years hundreds of enthusiastic members have served on the committee to make the whole thing run smoothly, whilst the unsung heroes of the club, the programme secretaries, have produced thousands of hours of twice monthly meetings for members to be educated and entertained by all aspects of this engrossing and fascinating hobby of ours. As well as this, in more recent years devoting hours if not months or years to projects is nothing new to keen club members. From night location filming for such productions as ‘The Pink Ballerina Affair’, ‘Cabot’ and ‘Planets’ to creating action sequences in ‘Terminal Moves’ , ‘The Big Bang’ and 'The Pink Ballerina Affair'. From the time it takes to research, write, shoot and edit costume pieces such as ‘Cabot’, ‘Clarkson’ and ’Encounters with John Wesley’ to working with actors and locations to create magic moments that live again and again on the screen…

Bob Bennett
January 2009
info@bristolvideo.org.uk

the big picture

As mentioned earlier, the last production shot on film was ‘ Skodaman’, released in 1992. By then the cost of the Super 8mm film stock accounted for the largest part of a club film's budget.  There seemed only one way to transfer the rising costs from materials to something that could be seen up on the screen and add to production values and that was to use video instead of film.

Camcorders using the greater definition of the Super VHS format were becoming available and post production and editing facilities were improving all the time. This spurred on club member Graham Egarr to propose the largest production the club had ever undertaken, an epic production based on the voyage in 1497 of Italian explorer John Cabot from Bristol to what became Newfoundland. A production that took a year to research and write, a year to shoot and a year in editing and post production, including the final edit taking six weeks on a professional non linear editing suite. Cabot was released in 1996 and starred a professionally trained actor, Geoff Salter in the leading role. A production that would have been way beyond the financial means of the club if it had not been made on video.

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they were mainly comedies and dramas. The term ‘amateur film’ conjures up all kinds of horrors, but on the technical side Bristol Cine Society productions were always noted for their high production values