How flamboyant filmmaker turned his passion into successful career

March 27, 2020

Still of Chris from Steam Locos in Profile: LMS Royal Scots

Exposure’s autistic author, Max Ferreira interviews autistic YouTuber and railway enthusiast, Chris Eden-Green

It was eight years ago when I was watching YouTube videos about British steam trains in action, that I spotted a series called Steam Locos in Profile. I found it fascinating and have been a fan ever since.

The series is created and presented by Chris Eden-Green. He explores the concept, history, strengths, weakness, decline and revival of individual classes of steam locomotives. Many fans describe the show a ‘Top Gear for trains’.

It caught my attention when I heard Chris talk about being on the autism spectrum, in one of his recent videos. I was very interested to find out more about the filmmaker who shares the same passion and learning difficulty as me.

So I reached out to Chris Eden-Green to find out about his childhood and his journey into the film industry.

Max Ferreira (MF): When were you diagnosed with Autism and can you describe how it affects you, past and present?

Chris Eden-Green (CEG): I was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, a form of autism, at Guys Hospital in London when I was about eight years old.

I didn’t know the term for my learning difficulties until I was 13. One day, following a rugby accident distorting my left collarbone, I had to go to hospital. My mother asked the doctor if my Asperger syndrome would cause any problems. Thankfully, it didn’t. Later that day I came to understand my diagnosis.

MF: Did you struggle with school or making friends in your childhood?

CEG: How can I put this without revealing that… I hated school!

Infant school was okay but at secondary school, kids would often shout out, “special needs” at me, as a form of discrimination. Some pupils would get physical while others would ignore me because I liked trains or because they thought there was something ‘wrong’ with me.

Sometimes when I raised genuine concerns to my teachers they didn’t take me seriously, which wasn’t very helpful.

I did however, meet my friend Donald at secondary school, we are still close today. We have shared an interest in trains, films and life in general, for over 20 years now.

MF: What was your previous career?

CEG: Between 2003-2010, I studied engineering and then went on to work as a mechanical engineer.

Mechanical objects and how they work has always fascinated me.

When I left school, I knew I wanted to do something with steam locomotives. I looked into metalworking, machining, fitting, fabricating. I hoped that I could serve an apprenticeship and then go on to find a job on a heritage railway as a full-time locomotive fitter.

After unsuccessful attempts to join two of my local heritage railways, due to their lack of understanding about people on the autistic spectrum, I went on to serve an apprenticeship with a small machine shop near Maidstone. It is best known for building motorbike engines.

MF: Who encouraged you to become a filmmaker and where did you learn the skills?

CEG: When I was 18, I made friends with mutual railway enthusiasts online.

A group of us would get together for days out to observe and film trains. Then we would edit the footage for us to enjoy privately.

One of my good friends and enthusiasts, Ryan Hagan believed I was good-enough to take up filmmaking professionally. I could operate a camera and edit pretty confidently. I knew nothing about exposure levels, aspect ratios, camera lenses or colour correction.

So in September 2010, I gave up engineering to study Film & Television Production at Ravensbourne University in London.

I created a short film, Lineside, during my first year at uni, which to this day still manages to make people laugh and gasp. See below.

MF: Have you got any other hobbies or interests besides filmmaking?

CEG: I do have other hobbies, which include travelling, cars, photography, playing music, history and film. All of my interests find their way into my videos.

MF: When did your passion for steam trains begin?

CEG: My mother tells me I caught the bug before I was born.

One day, about two weeks before I was born in Harrogate, my mother took my elder sister to see a steam engine, ‘Mallard’. She claims that as the engine passed underneath the bridge they were standing on, the steam got into her system, and in turn got into mine.

Since then, my interest has blossomed.

MF: What’s the story behind your series, Steam Locos in Profile and do you think it helps young people learn about trains?

CEG: I was inspired by the episode of ‘Top Gear’, where the A1 pacific No 60163 ‘Tornado’ raced against a car and a motorbike from London to Scotland. It left me wondering how I could possibly produce something similar.

Then late one night, while looking at YouTube, I found lots of montages about steam trains, but nobody was actually reviewing them. So I thought I could give that a go myself.

My younger audiences are starting to grow out of Thomas and want more detail about steam locomotives.

I try to include as much information as possible, without overwhelming my viewers. Discussing the facts and history is only half of the battle. The other half is in the presentation. I find that breaking up the facts with music, the odd joke and a few similes, helps young people learn more easily about trains.

MF: Have you created any other railway related videos?

CEG: As well as Steam Locos In Profile, I produce an editorial video series called, Gauge The Issue. This is a monthly Escapist Magazine-style show, which discusses issues and stories focussed around railways.

In 2014, I also produced a half-hour documentary, Going Great Central about the remains of the old Great Central Railway from London Marylebone to Nottingham, Sheffield and Manchester. Following its broadcast on a local digital TV station in London, I released it on DVD and digital download via my online shop.

MF: Have you got any new projects in the pipeline?

CEG: Gauge The Issue and Steam Locos In Profile remain on-going, with dreams of big overseas trips in 2022.

In the short-term, I have hopes for a follow-up series along the lines of Going Great Central, about another long-lost railway network.

If you want to know more about what Steam Locos In Profile has in store, later in 2020, see below.

MF: What’s the most challenging obstacle you’ve had to overcome as a filmmaker?

CEG: The elements of my work that challenge me most are my fears of speaking to an audience and managing a business.

Although I enjoy performing I sometimes get stage fright when I have to talk to a big crowd. Thankfully, a five-week course in television presenting helped me gain sufficient confidence.

As a freelance filmmaker, I have needed to learn the basics in making a business earn its keep. I have to balance my books, do my tax returns and work out where my next income is coming from. Fortunately it has become much easier to manage my affairs with years of practice.

MF: What’s your greatest achievement and what advice would you give to young people, wanting a career in filmmaking?

CEG: Inspiring the youngest engine driver in Ireland to follow his dreams, was a great experience.

When Steam Locos In Profile began broadcasting in January 2012, a 16-year-old enthusiast in the Irish Republic saw the show, which inspired his interest in his local line; Stradbally Woodland Railway.

Five years later at the age of 21, he became the youngest qualified steam engine driver in both parts of Ireland.

He told me that if it weren’t for Steam Locos In Profile, making him feel confident that it’s okay to continue to enjoy steam trains in your 20s, then he wouldn’t be where he is today.

Show business is tough, but not out of reach for those who lack confidence.

To anybody who’s unsure about following their dreams, filmmaking or otherwise, don’t let anybody force you to rule them out and believe it’s impossible. With passion, perseverance and hard work you might be pleasantly surprised!

I found it fascinating to talk to Chris, to understand how he overcame the challenges he faced, in order to flourish as a freelance filmmaker.

As a fan of Steam Locos in Profile, I highly recommend checking out Chris Eden-Green’s Youtube channel on railway topics that you won’t find on any mainstream television channels!

I’ve written an article about my interest in steam locomotives, and how hobbies can help young people with autism. In fact, for everybody, engaging in activities you like is very positive. It can be a great way to focus your mind, especially useful during these uncertain times.