The Journey of a Letter

07 February 2017

Preparations for our first temporary exhibition are well under way and we caught up with the exhibition officer Emma, who went behind the scenes of the shooting of ‘The Journey of a Letter’.

Have you ever wondered how that letter, bill or birthday card makes its way to your letterbox? Some of us might recognise the postman or woman who pops it through your door but before this, every letter has actually made its way through a series of different machines and people.

The Postal Museum has been working with a film company called Chocolate Films and six young people to create a film showing this journey of a letter and how important it is in keeping us in touch, even in today’s increasingly digital world. The final film will be shown in the new Postal Museum galleries opening mid-2017.

The Mount Pleasant Mail Centre, London

The Mount Pleasant Mail Centre, London

Last week we carried out the bulk of the filming in Mount Pleasant, one of the largest mail centres in the country, which sorts thousands of letters and parcels each day.

One of the main aims of the project is to provide the six young people – Reece, Niall, Antwon, Shannon, John and James – with film making and editing skills. Before the shoot days there were three training sessions where the participants could become familiar with the different pieces of equipment. Then they got to try these out for themselves on the shoot.

The Chocolate Films Team

The Chocolate Films Team

First things first, Shannon and Antwon set up the equipment.

The Chocolate Films Team

The Chocolate Films Team

This could include attaching additional elements like microphones as Ryan and James are doing here.

The Chocolate Films Team

The Chocolate Films Team

Our journey started, just as all letters do, at a post box. Here Oli from Chocolate Films shows Reiss how to set up the shot – adjusting the zoom and focus – as we laid in wait for Postman Gary to come and empty the box on his rounds.

The Chocolate Films Team

The Chocolate Films Team

Once collected – bang on time! – we headed back to the mail centre to film some of the machines that then sort the letter. As we filmed these machines and others, the trainees had to adjust the settings as we moved from one environment to another – as well as from outside to inside.

Some of these have fantastic names, from the Culler Facing Cancelling Machine, which sorts letters by size, rejecting anything larger than a standard size letter or card and separating First and Second Class postage; through to the Intelligent Letter Sorting Machine, which reads the postcode on every letter and prints a barcode which holds the details of the address.

The Chocolate Films Team

The Chocolate Films Team

One of the most exciting bits of equipment was the ‘Gimbal’ – a stabilising device that allowed the young people to film on the move. It became a firm favourite!

The Chocolate Films Team

The Chocolate Films Team

After three days of hard work there is a good amount of footage that will now be edited into the final film.

Come and visit us later this year to see the end result and find out exactly how your post reaches your doorstep! Make sure to sign up here so you don’t miss out!

– Emma Harper, Exhibitions Officer