Autumn of Terror: How I Failed To Make A Documentary About Ghosts And Legends
You may know from recent blogs that I’m quite fond of documentaries, well one summer, about 5 years ago, or maybe more now, the exact date is lost in memory, a few close friends and I decided to film our own documentary. We are all from Barry, a large town near Welsh Capital Cardiff, in South Wales, an area that seemed to be rich in folklore, ghosts, legends, and even a few cryptids here and there. Now we had never filmed more than a few Jackass style stunts before, we were inexperienced, totally unprepared, but were enthusiastic and ready to bullshit our way around The Vale of Glamorgan, in search of myths, monsters and spooky stories. The team was set up like this, me, my Brother Ollie (camera man), our friend Matty (presenter) and another friend Clare (team complainer ‘It’s cold. It’s rainy. I’m hungry!!’. Sorry Clare, we still love you!). My role was basically handling director duties and trying to get everyone’s arse into gear.
Why would anyone attempt this type of thing for no money, in ones spare time? Well it was Summer, at the time none of us had full time jobs, we were young and bored, and it sounded like a good idea at the time. I still think it sounds like a good idea, and it was definitely fun, if I ever had a chance again, I would totally try and do something again, but life gets in the way. Anyway. I’m getting ahead of myself, things are better started at the beginning, and so, we shall start there…
A rushed ‘production meeting’ allowed us to talk about what things we wanted to cover in this exciting (for us at least) project. The local area turned out to be quite the hotbed of mysterious goings on, from winged snakes, hitch-hiking ghosts, white ladies, black dogs and big cats. We had a lot of ground to cover if we wanted to see it all. Instead, we decided to concentrate on a few of the more likely and believable stories. So winged snakes were out, they hadn’t been seen for 200 years or so, and were most likely the invention of a drunken mind. Ghosts were decided on as being the most interesting and probably the most likely too, and so, our documentary crew went off to their computers and tried to look up any information they could about ghosts in our local area.
A local pub called The Captains Wife, (after the spirit of the wife of a Sea Captain who never returned home from a voyage, the wife so distraught that she hurled herself into the sea, to join her beloved), was thought to be our first port of call, and so, with no script, very little research and a whole lot of youthful endeavor, we loaded up my car and drove to the pub. As we were very early, there were few customers, and so we quickly found the manager, and camera in hand, asked permission to film and interview a few of the staff about their experiences of a ghostly nature. We came up with a genius excuse for doing all of this. Clearly we thought that just saying we were a bit bored and fancied filming something fun for a few weeks wasn’t going to cut the mustard. Instead we invented a whole back story for our group, we had met at university, where we were all doing film studies, and that we had chosen this documentary as our final project. Clever right? Well whether they believed us or not, and they must have thought we were very disorganised film students if they did, they allowed us to film and interview the staff. We were actually doing it.
We interviewed 4 members of staff, who each had tales of ghostly happenings that they had experienced, from chairs that moved on their own, to turning around in an empty bar and coming face to face with the Captain’s Wife herself. Spooky indeed. We filmed the interviews in front of the impressive fire-place, it all looked brilliant and atmospheric, our cover story was holding up, and our first location shoot was a massive success… until we got home to edit the footage. Of course our camera wasn’t a HD expensive piece of kit, so the image wasn’t excellent, but it was passable, in any case, we had already clocked that our film wasn’t going to look as a Louis Theroux or Michael Moore, the problem was the sound. Umm, we had forgotten that microphones are a good idea, and tend to pick up sounds that people say. So excited were we to start our amazing new project, we had forgotten the one of the two most important things about a film. A whole day wasted, and worse, we now had to invest in some sort of microphone if we were going to continue. Also, could we go back to The Captain’s Wife and reinterview everyone? It would be embarrassing, and to be honest, although the stories were very good, we decided the shame of admitting we were inept was too great. It was a dark day for our nameless production, one we never really recovered from.
We decided we would try one more trip, this time to a local country park, reputedly haunted by a White Lady, a legend that has a few stories based around it, but one that people saw every few years. The usual story went as follows; a group of teenagers go camping in the Park, near the large viaduct. During the night, they are awoken by wailing and a ghostly white figure of a woman is seen approaching the tents. The kids leave sharpish, and never camp there again. We had our interest piqued by a girl I used to work with who swore this had happened to her, the investigation was on… But there was another place we wanted to try too. Somewhere that didn’t really have a haunted reputation, but looked spooky as hell. An old abandoned mill on the outskirts of Barry, now in ruins, looked like a perfect place for ghostly goings on. We decided to investigate both. We found nothing, unless you believe that orbs are the spirits of the dead, and not like dust or insects. We spent half a night down Porthkerry Country Park, and an afternoon at the mill. Nothing happened, we went home cold and tired, and a little disappointed, but we were not bored.
Our project had ended pretty much as soon as it had started. We were unprepared and disorganised, we didn’t think it through properly and we had no chance of doing anything of any worth. However, for a few weeks during a long, boring summer, we were entertained and we did some cool research. I would love to do something like that again, giving it a much better go, if I won the lottery, I would be all over it again. Documentaries are hard work, and although ours was a blatantly pathetic attempt it did show us a little of what it takes to make one, and if nothing else, we got to hear some really awesome spooky stories, and wasn’t that worthwhile enough?