Watercress Line

Filming the Railway: Working with Southampton Solent University Media Students

One of the outreach and educational elements of the Canadian Pacific project is working with film students from local colleges and universities as part of the 'Different Eye' film project.  This year we worked with Southampton Solent University Media Production students to create a series of short films about the railway.  In January, 37 students visited Ropley for an initial visit before filming started in March.  The students were taken on a tour of the workshops and yard to give them an idea of the environment and the sort of areas they would be filming in.  The railway was a huge shock to the group, as the majority did not know about us or the work that went into restoring and maintaining a heritage steam railway.  I think for most, just getting over how cold it was on site, (as all of us who work here know), was a challenge!  The group went away frozen but enthusiastic and full of ideas for the films they were going to shoot in March.

Two visits were planned in March with the group of 37 students divided into two groups, one group visiting us on 10th March and the other half on 17th March.  The students worked in groups of 2 or 3 on work packages, which specified a particular area/topic they were to film.  The first visit on 10th March saw the group split between Alresford and Ropley, a bit of a logistical nightmare, but we managed to get the students to the right sites.  Those situated at Alresford were tasked with filming about a variety of topics including signaling, the booking office, roles on the station, the role of the guard and the history of the Watercress Line.  At Ropley groups were filming about the boiler shop, wheel drop, light machine shop, yard operations and the Canadian Pacific project.  The students went away having shot a large proportion of film and were ready to start their individual film edits.  Meanwhile all those looking after the students collapsed at the end of a long day making sure that they went away with all the footage they needed (and still all in one piece!).

17th March saw us prepare for another group of students, this time split between Medstead and Four Marks and Ropley.  The groups at Medstead and Four Marks worked on shooting footage of the wagon group and station staff. Those at Ropley filmed about the main workshop, the societies, carriage workshop and yard operations.  This week there was also a team of students who were charged with documenting the filming taking place (or making a meta-documentary, as it’s called in the film industry).  The students were given a surprise when we told them there would be a running locomotive.  A photo charter had been arranged for the evening, which meant 45379 LMS Black 5 was used to do carriage movements up to Alton.  For the groups, up at Medstead and Four Marks this meant the opportunity to capture the locomotive coming up the straight to the station.  One group was even charged with filming the locomotive from the side of the A31 (see it here).  For many of the students this was their first experience of seeing a steam locomotive running and feeling that rush of excitement as it passes by.  It was wonderful that we were able to share this experience with the group and show why we work to preserve this heritage.  At the end of a long day we were able to breathe a sigh of relief that we had managed to pull this off.

A few weeks later myself and Dave Deane found ourselves sat in Southampton Solent University film editing suites.  The course had been developed so that the films would be made for a ‘client’ to provide students with some ‘real world’ experience.  Our role as the ‘client’ led to us spending a day with the students before their submission deadline to advise on changes to their final films.  This gave us our first glimpse at the variety of films that we would eventually end up with. It was interesting to see how each person edited the footage differently.  The students found having us there a worthwhile experience, even if it was to spot minor continuity issues in the majority of cases.  It was interesting to see what the students found interesting about each topic they worked on too.

The students’ submission date quickly came around and we were surprised to receive 30 films in total.  It was then tasked to Dave and I to watch through the films and select films for the screening and awards evening.  The award categories were ‘highest production value’, ‘best sound’ and ‘best narrative’.  It was tough to pick the better films, but eventually we selected three nominees for each category and then a winner for each. In the end, we had 11 films to show during the screening which included two films about the filming at the railway (see one here).  The screening and awards ceremony took place on 11th May at Southampton Solent University’s the Spark.  The evening was attended by volunteers, staff and board members of the railway, along with the students and staff of Solent University.  It was great to be able to show everyone the films that the students had been working tirelessly on for months.

A huge thank you goes to all the staff and volunteers that we roped into being part of the films and helped us to look after the students while they were on site.  We would not have been able to pull this off without your help.  We would like to thank the staff and students of Southampton Solent University for being so enthusiastic about this project.  It was a pleasure to share our love for the railway with a new audience and watch them grow as film makers.


To hear about one of the students experiences in their own words, click here.


All the films created by the students are now available for us to use and will be uploaded in the next few weeks.  The aim is to carry on this project with the help of Southampton Solent University next year and create a new section of films.  If any departments have ideas for films that would be useful to educate people about the work we do at the railway, please let me know.


Becky Peacock

Outreach and Interpretation Officer, Canadian Pacific Project

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