Spotting Ghost Trains on a Disposable Camera

Hi Guys,

    A shoot happened this weekend - I signed onto it in a second and it was over in a flash, but it was a lovely chance to work with Neil Oseman and co again, and to pay another visit to sunny Hereford.
    Made as an entry into this year's Virgin Media Shorts competition, Ghost Train Spotting featured two characters and one location, so it wouldn't be a massive challenge for me to take on all of the film's design. Of course, no film is ever as straight forward as it sounds, and I still found myself running round like a headless chicken last minute, but none of it was exactly difficult.
Eli Duckett

   The main prop I had to focus on was the lead character, Norman's, glasses. In the script these had to be old fashioned and thick, bottle-bottom types, so I was instantly inspired by those of near-blind Eli Duckett in Last of the Summer Wine (one of my favourite TV shows in its prime). Finding suitable reading glasses in a small space of time proved difficult (particularly male ones) and we couldn't use prescription ones in case they gave the actor a headache. 

My Dad in his 1970s glasses
     But luckily I come from a primarily bespectacled family with decades' worth of old frames in sideboard drawers - so I was able to borrow two pairs of my Dad's vintage glasses (since the second character also needed a pair), pop the lenses out, and create new ones out of perspex.

   To make Norman's glasses extra thick, I doubled up the perspex lenses that I made. At that point they looked good, but too new-looking. Plus, as Eli's glasses prove, in order for glasses to look nerdy and comical, they also need to look difficult to see out of. So I added some scratches to the perspex with wire wool, then coated the back in superglue. This was then scrubbed with nail varnish remover, polished with silver polish, and even sent to a jewellers' for buffing to create an all-over cloudy finish. I left extra thick lines of superglue at the edge of the lenses to create the desired thick, bottle-bottom effect.
Playing Dress-Up!

    The other prop which required particular attention was Norman's trainspotting book. For this - as per usual - I started with a new book, which I got cheap from a charity store, then had to make it look well-used, as though he took it everywhere with him, whatever weather. The book I got was a general guide to privatised railways so I had to create a list of trains for Norman to tick it off, and make it in exactly the same font and lay-out as the other pages, then stick it into the book.

    A general, all-over vintage brown colour was added to the book by leaving it in cold tea for a few minutes. I then put it in the oven to add further (dis)colouring, and to make it more brittle - plus it needed drying out after the tea. It took a few attempts to make the new pages match the old ones, by which point it had been in the oven five times and the spine was melted completely, so I had to glue it back together and finish ageing the new pages with watercolour. The outside cover and spine also had to be weathered.

Question: How many times do you need to bake a book until it's done?

Answer: Five, with a remainder of tea!
Dead Flower Bunches

   Another thing I had to get for the film, apart from the costumes, was bunches of dead flowers. I won't tell you what they were for (watch the film to find out) but these were achieved by me picking wild flowers and dead sead-heads, and putting them together to look like bunches.

   This also meant that I had to carry a load of dead plants amongst the three bags I had on the train, so I looked a bit like a crazy person, and I constantly had seed heads tickling my legs throughout the three-hour trip. But it's better than the last time I travelled from Hereford, when I had to take a certain coffee table with me...

    So, I got everything done on time, and once I was in Hereford, I decided to try a little project of my own. I'd had a disposable camera in my possession for a while, waiting for something to use it on; something special enough to be worth using the camera on, but not so important that I had to be careful of everything I took. This one-day shoot, in an abandoned railway location, bathed in June sunshine, seemed perfect. The camera only allowed for about 12 photos to the roll of film, but since Katie Lake was photographing the whole day anyway, this wasn't a problem.
Retro Director!

   The disposable camera experiment was a good one, although it took me a couple of minutes to remember how to use it (and how annoying it is to keep winding the wheel before every photo). Other down sides were of course the flash button (and how badly indoor photos came out without it, even when it seemed light enough), and the fact that the viewfinder lied about how wide the lens was, causing me to crop people out of the frame on a couple of occasions.

    But all in all I'm happy with the results, particularly how timeless they look, and I'll particularly treasure the little set of negative 35mm strips which came with them. You don't get that with digital prints, after all!

   Here are the results, good and bad, for you to enjoy:


Actors George McCluskey and Rob Ashman in their costumes, both with flash disasters!

Our awesome Transportation for the Day

Neil's 'Stand By Me' moment

AD Katie Lake sets up catering in a clearing

George in character as the rail guard.


Neil directs DOP Colin Smith

Shooting a Scene

Colin, Neil, and the fire at the end of my film roll!

   Ghost Train Spotting will be online soon, so make sure you vote for it in the Virgin Media Shorts competition.

   As for me, I'm going back to the digital camera for now, and I've got more podcast editing for Stop/Eject to do, so it's time to crack on!

Sophie x


  1. Ghost and spirits are the disembodied souls of dead persons that sometimes appear among living persons as vague, shadowy or evanescent forms.


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