Monday, 28 June 2010

Short Film Diary - Week 8...

So I spent most of last week working on the shot list and then we had a rehearsal of the musical sequence with actors and dancers on Thursday evening. This went really well. Then Saturday we actually started filming. Here's how it went:

Saturday 26th June -

Saturday I'd arranged to meet the actors at Brother Pete's flat at 7am for make-up and costumes while the rest of the crew were to meet us at 9 on the seafront. I was a bit worried about everyone turning up on time that early in the morning, but then ended up being late myself and arrived to find everyone already there. Because, as I will no doubt go on repeat several times, everyone I'm working with is awesome.

We had a short scene to film on the seafront first of all. Despite being first thing on a Saturday morning in very hot weather, it wasn't quite as busy as I thought it would be. There was, however, some kind of stage being erected not far from where we were filming and a band started sound-checking soon after we started shooting. Not only that, but there was music from the cafe just below where we were filming plus wind noise meaning that the sound for that day probably won't be usable. Which I pretty much knew would be the case but still insisted on setting about a third of the film outdoors. As it was only a short scene I'm not too concerned about re-recording the dialogue later and I was really happy with the performances and how it looked.

Look, I'm like totally directing this scene! I have my directing hat on and everything:

Note how inconspicuous we are. You would hardly have been able to guess we were filming something. We are like guerilla film ninjas.

One thing I didn't really do then (and made sure to do afterwards) was to run through the performances a few times before shooting. Once we started filming it was a bit too late to change anything other than minor tweaks, which was fine for a scene that short but I could've done with giving the actors a bit more direction. Luckily they're awesome, so it came out great anyway.

The other thing I'm struggling with is being able to look at the performances and the camera shot at the same time. I've noticed on the previous shorts I've filmed that I've tended to focus more on what's being shot than what the actors are doing. Oddly enough, this time it's been the other way around which I think is partly because the performances are much more complex than anything I've worked on before and maybe because of working more with the actors on this one. This became more apparent on Sunday shooting the musical sequence - I was really happy with the takes until Darren, the DoP, pointed out that a couple of the dancers were moving out of shot. More on that later.

It's worth pointing out that the crew were amazing the whole weekend. Knowing how ambitious this is I'm hoping to compensate for my inexperience by surrounding myself with amazingly talented people and that is really paying off.

The only incident in the morning was a cyclist crashing behind us. I was mostly worried about having to abort the shoot (because I am a terrible human being and also pretty useless) but Andrea and Darren went over to help (because they have souls and first aid powers) so they made sure sure everything was okay. We carried on without any further incidents.

We were due to start filming in the next location at 12pm. I imagined we'd have an hour or so to spare before we started, but by the time we got there it was exactly 12pm.

We were filming in The Marlborough Little Theatre. Having been there a few times before I knew already that it is a notoriously warm venue and on a day like Saturday was likely to be incredibly hot. It was unbearably hot. I am very grateful to the actors for working through it, especially Simon who played the magician as his outfit had several layers and he had practically melted by the end of the day.

It took a while to set up because we needed make-up done on our audience of seven ghosts and we needed to rig the theatre for lights and sound. It's also a really complicated sequence so it needed a few run-throughs to get it right before we started filming. When we did shoot it was awesome - the wideshot looked fantastic and we managed to cover most of the action apart from a couple of fiddly bits that we needed to shoot separately. The reverse on the audience was awesome and actually really scary-looking. I was aiming to replicate the ghosts from Herk Harvey's Carnival of Souls (if you haven't seen it, it's right here) and Jeanette, the make-up artist, did a brilliant job.

Here's Brother Tim being made-up as a ghost:

By the time we got to filming close-ups and cutaways it was getting late and I think everyone was overheated and exhausted. There was a brief moment when I worried we wouldn't get to finish it, but in the end we only went 30 minutes over schedule and there was only one shot we didn't have the time (or the energy - it was a really complicated effects shot and I don't think anyone was in the right frame of mind to start working out how to do it) to film. Overall this was pretty good going for the first day and I'm really happy with what we got out of it.

Here's everyone (apart from Terry who's taking the photo):

It was around 10pm once we'd packed up the gear and made it home. We attempted to run through the shot list for the following day but I was too exhausted to really make sense of it. I went to bed at around midnight, thinking I'd be getting up at 6am the next morning to shoot the musical sequence.
Sunday 27th June -

Andrea's alarm went off at 5am, which I claimed had to be wrong until she reminded me that the dancers were arriving at our flat at 6am to get their make-up done. I'd told the crew staying at our place no one would be arriving until 7. Oops.

So once again I was the only one who got the schedule wrong. The dancers and make-up artist arrived on time and started getting ready. Then I headed down to the seafront to start setting up at around 8am.

We'd been there for about ten minutes when someone from the seafront office arrived to ask what we were doing. I claimed we had permission, which we did. Unfortunately written confirmation of that permission was back at the flat with everyone else. So I ran off to pick it up, but when I got back it turned out he'd already checked us out and given us the okay to go ahead. It didn't affect things that much in the end, but it meant I wasted a bit of time by not really being prepared. Still, it was good to know that all the trouble we went through to get permission was necessary in the end.

We started off by filming the wide shot of the dance sequence. However I had underestimated the eagerness of the British public to get out in the sun. By 9am there were already people setting themselves up for a day on the beach and not just the handful of joggers I had anticipated having to shoot around. This seriously restricted the areas we could film in and the angles we could shoot.

This was also when I had trouble watching what the actors were doing rather than the camera. So there are four dancers in the sequence and three actors, all doing different things at specific moments in the song. Making sure all of those people are doing the right thing at the right time whilst also keeping an eye on who is in the shot and who isn't was really difficult. But it looked fantastic, better than anything I could've imagined when I wrote 'Musical Sequence?' in the first draft of the script.

So we got the wide shot, filmed it, and by the end had a couple of really good takes. Then we move onto the next shot. This is when my CD player decides it either doesn't like the song, or the heat, or me but for whatever reason it's not going to work anymore. We try it a couple of times and it still doesn't work. I send Andrea off to get a back up meanwhile the CD player now decides to work long enough for us to get the next shot. Fine, we can carry on. Except now the seafront is so busy that wherever we turn the camera someones head gets in the way.

I come up with a back-up plan - if we can shoot with the Steadicam from a low angle we can cut out all the surrounding area and produce an effect similar to the one used to film the ghosts in Carnival of Souls. At least we can then shoot enough of the dancers to cut the sequence together and film Simon lip-syncing to the song. So James the Steadicam operator sets up his rig and we try it. It doesn't work - the sequence is a little too fast for him to follow the dancers and keep everything in shot and in focus. We run it through a couple of times but it's clear this isn't happening. So then we try the same with Simon lip-syncing the song, hoping to cheat it with him just moving in a straight line. But now my CD player has packed in for good. Andrea returns with another CD player and iPod speakers, but this CD player needs about the same amount of batteries one might use to power a small country and the iPod speakers produce a sound that only dogs can hear.

This is when we decide to call it a day. It was about 11am at that point, we only had permission to shoot until 12pm and there was still a lot to do. My mind was still coming up with possible workarounds, but so many people had put so much time and effort into that sequence I didn't want to compromise. I need to do as good a job of filming it as they have in putting their various bits together. So it's a bit of a pain but I think I made the right choice. I know I need to prepare a lot better for next time and that we may need to start a lot earlier to beat the crowds, but as long as we can reschedule fairly soon that should be okay.

We managed to film a few more bits before we left - a reaction shot on the two leads and another dialogue scene. That last scene went really well and I think we even got some good sound recordings from it so if we can film the wide shot to match it next time it should be usable. The only issue is that by this time the sea was full of boats which brings up some continuity issues. I'm not sure how one goes about clearing the sea.

The final nail in the coffin was the camera battery running out, luckily just after we'd finished shooting a scene. We'd allowed for this to happen and planned a break to go and charge it up, but with filming becoming pretty much impossible due to the amount of people there didn't seem to be much point. I felt pretty bad for using up so much of everyone's time even though we did get some great stuff out of it (and especially bad for James after I made him lug his Steadicam equipment all the way down there and had him set it up only to not be able to use it). But everyone seemed pretty understanding and didn't mind the fact that it meant adding a day to the schedule - another advantage of working with awesome people.

We spent the afternoon taking photographs of our two leads, Rosie and Lukas, in character for a photo montage of various fun times. This also involved me risking death by going on the Crazy Mouse on Brighton Pier. Such are the extremes I'm prepared to go to for my art.

So here's what I learnt:

1) Never schedule an early start immediately after a 12 hour day.

2) If you schedule any early mornings start shooting at the scheduled time rather than setting up at the scheduled time, otherwise there's no real advantage to the early start.

3) People like the sun. People like the seafront. People also like to get in the way.

4) If equipment is acting weird during a rehearsal, probably best to replace it before the actual shoot.

5) You can't clear the sea.

6) You really do need permission to film on the seafront.

Looking back on it now I'm really happy with what we managed to get. Having to extend the schedule is a pain but at least it means that if there's anything else extra to pick up at the end we've got another day to do it now. Also I think the musical sequence will really benefit from the extra day.

I shouldn't tempt fate, but next weekend should be a much easier and more controllable shoot which should also deal with a good chunk of the script. But before that there are a couple of things to sort out like the re-scheduling of the musical sequence, plus one of our actors dropped out so we've got two weeks to find a replacement. Also, we need to make our flat not look like our flat. Seems like there's always too much to do, but it's great to have actually made a start on the filming and it feels a lot more real now.

I'll let you know how it goes next weekend.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

The last minute...

To introduce a bit of dramatic tension to the proceedings I was going to write a list of things I needed to do before the shoot on Saturday that I'd left until the last minute. Because in my head this was a very long list. Then I started writing it down, and there were two things - two bits of costume we need to get hold of that are in the process of being sorted out anyway. Unless I'm missing something really obvious, and that's very possible, I actually think I'm pretty well prepared for the weekend. We're having a rehearsal of one of the scenes tomorrow so after that we should be even more prepared.

My initial paranoia probably comes from having been up until the early hours of the morning two nights in a row trying to finish off my shot list. I have been working on this shot list for weeks.

So the storyboard took me a lot longer than I thought it would to put together, but I thought the shot list would be far less time consuming as a result. It's wasn't. I've been doing the odd hour or so on it here and there, but at the start of this week I was still only about a third of the way through. I'm going about it in what is admittedly a long-winded way. I'm transcribing the shots from the storyboard one at a time, which is in some ways over-complicating things as several panels in the storyboard could account for a shot that we will be filming in one single take. But it's helping me think about it and hopefully making sure I don't miss anything.

So I'm then taking that literal transcription and whittling it down to the single shots I need. This is where someone tells me about Super Movie Maker Ultimo Pro v5 where you click a button and it does all this for you. I'm doing it all in Excel and it's taking forever. Last night I kept the whole night free to finish it, then worked on it solidly until 2.30am in the morning and still didn't quite get to the end. But I got the shots for the weekend worked out which is the most important thing.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Short Film Diary - Week 7...

Loads happened last week...

Had a bit of trouble getting permission for the location we want to film at. After being assured it would be free for non-profit projects we put the application in only to be told that we needed to pay a fee that's at least half our planned budget. This is after we paid for insurance in order to apply for the permission in the first place. Luckily, Andrea used her Producing powers to convince them otherwise and we now have permission for free!

Everything else has been going pretty well too. On Friday the creature my friend Geraint has been constructing arrived. It is the coolest thing I have ever received in the post. I would put a picture up but I'd rather everyone see it for the first time in the finished film.

Then on Friday evening we recorded a new version of the song for the musical number with the actor who will be singing (previously the vocals had been sung by the composer). This also went really well and I should be getting the final version soon. Feeling rather pleased with ourselves myself and said actor then went to the pub to meet my DoP and friends. Lots of beer was drunk while we did some test shots with the camera, mostly of me drinking lots of beer.

Saturday we fought through hangovers to get test shots of the various locations, like this one.

Sunday was the rehearsal. This was the part I'd been looking forward to all week but was also slightly worried about as I don't have much experience working with actors. Andrea gave me a ten minute overview of her entire drama degree which helped. On the day it actually went really well. One of the actors couldn't make it which was a shame but otherwise we had a good turnout and everyone worked really hard and had loads of enthusiasm. Completely by chance, three of our actors went to school together and the fact that they already know each other really helps. I maybe tried to do too much in the morning, having the make-up artist, DoP and dance choreographer come along at the same time to go through their bits with the actors, but it was a good opportunity for everyone working on the film to meet everyone else.

It was a long day but we managed a couple of readthroughs of the script then worked through the individual scenes, working out some of the blocking and tweaking performances as we went along. This was really useful and made me feel a lot more confident about the shoot. Also realised I'm working with an awesome team of people here and that makes things so much easier.
This week we're doing one more rehearsal and then getting the last few props ready for the first shoot on Saturday. We're filming the most complicated scenes first and it's going to be a really long weekend, but if we can pull it off it should all be downhill from there.

I still need to finish that shot list though...

Friday, 18 June 2010

In cinemas now...

...said the advert for Chris Smith's new film Black Death. Except it's not in cinemas - not in the ones near me anyway. After some searching I found the nearest cinema showing the film was in Crawley, which is about a 50 minute journey on the train and then a 20 minute walk to the cinema. I do really want to see it, but after some internal debating decided I was not prepared to venture into the depths of Crawley for the privilege.

This is becoming a regular occurrence. I was unable to see Neil Marshall's Centurion for the same reason, making it the first of Marshall's films I haven't seen on the big screen. It's further proof that cinema screenings are simply adverts for the impending DVD release these days, which I wouldn't mind if the screenings themselves actually existed. Distributors are now simply pumping all the money they can into cinema advertising rather than paying for the screenings themselves, so a film will be advertised extensively in cities where it will not be shown. A classic example was the film Blood which had posters on bus stops everywhere but in the end was screened in a couple of cinemas in London. And yes, in the end it wasn't that great a film either, but that's not the point.

If it's all just smoke and mirrors, why not just advertise the DVD and skip the screening altogether? I suppose the idea of the cinema still holds more prestige than a straight-to-DVD release. And it means you can get press screenings and do the red carpet premieres and get all the extra attention despite the fact that you're talking about a film that no one can really see for another week or so. But thinking about it we're practically at that stage already - Heartless was released in cinemas on a Friday and then on DVD the following Monday.

At the same time, as more emphasis is heaped upon the home cinema experience (which is shortly to be in 3D although I don't even have HD yet) it won't be long before the tables are turned completely and cinema becomes the inferior viewing experience. And maybe that's not all bad. Maybe the cinema we know will cease to exist but what comes out of it will be more like independent theatre and all cinemas will become arthouses or revival theatres (if all cinemas were like the New Beverly I'd be pretty happy). And maybe that will have some advantages, like a guarantee that the cinema will only be used by people who actually want to see the films and not talk on their mobiles or chat to their mates. At the same time, if we do go down that route I'm still not sure it will increase my chances of seeing genre films like Black Death on the big screen.

Despite all this my last three recent cinema experiences (Bad Lieutenant, Prince of Persia, Streetdance 3D) were all surprisingly pleasant. There were no projection or sound problems and most importantly no annoying people. They're all at home watching downloaded films on their super-HD-4D-holographic-projector TV. So cinema may be dying or at least morphing into something else, but I think this period of slow decline may also be the best time to go.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Codeine Velvet Club...

I got into Codeine Velvet Club by way of Lou Hickey, who is awesome. I usually steer clear of 'retro' sounding bands but have been listening to their album on repeat for the last few days. This song makes me smile, and their drummer has an amazing beard:

I'm supposed to be writing a shot list...

Monday, 14 June 2010

Short Film Diary - Week 6...

Last week was a busy one. I decided to make this short film because the feature projects I had in development didn't seem to be going anywhere. Now two of them have picked up some speed again and I had meetings about both last week. Which means I've been trying to get my head around three different projects - if this short film ends up featuring ninjas and bear traps you'll know that I've mixed up all three projects somewhere along the way.

This week was mostly taken up with finishing off the storyboard which is now done and my ongoing quest to find dancers.

Trying to get dancers for the film has been a lot harder than I thought it would be. In fact, I don't know why I ever thought it would be easy. Maybe because we were really just looking for people with some enthusiasm who are free for rehearsals and on the shooting dates. Our requirements aren't as specific as they were with actors. Finding people has been a problem, and then when we have found them working around 6 different peoples' schedules has been a bit of a nightmare, especially when it's unpaid. Time is also becoming an issue and by the time we got to meet some of the dancers for the first time we were past the point of auditions and onto the first rehearsal.

Luckily Brother Tim who's choreographing the dance sequence has taken over and managed to have the first successful rehearsal on Sunday. With less than two weeks to go until we shoot we've decided to down-size it from 6 dancers to 4 dancers but otherwise it's looking like it might actually work out.

Now the storyboard is finished I'm starting to work on a shot list which is also a much bigger job than I thought it would be. It's useful though and it's helped to work out exactly how we're going to shoot the film and how we're going to schedule it.

Next weekend we're doing our first full rehearsal which I'm hoping goes to plan. So far my attempts to get everyone involved in the production in the same place at the same time haven't quite worked out but if we pull it off on Sunday I'll feel a lot better about the shoot. Generally though things are going pretty well. The way I tend to judge how prepared I am is by thinking that if for some reason I had to shoot the whole thing tomorrow, would that be possible? At the moment I think it actually it would be possible which is a good sign.

We also did some test shots for the effects in the film which were surprisingly easy to do in the end and came out really well. I was going to post the video on here, but that felt a bit like letting the audience peek behind the curtain before the magic trick has even been done. Which makes it sound like an effects-filled extravaganza, like Avatar or something. It's not Avatar, but there will be some cool tricks in there.

What I will post is a video of Brother Pete amputating the monkey's paw. He is now cursed forever.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Short film diary - Week 5...

Last week I was mostly going to weddings and parties and not getting enough sleep. As a result not much film-related stuff got done. But as promised here are some pictures of the stuff what I have been working on in preparation for shoot.
Firstly, and most importantly, here is the monkey:

He smells of old people and only has one ear. We need to chop his paw off but I'm scared whoever does it will be cursed.
I spent most of the previous weekend storyboarding. In an effort to compensate for my inexperience I'm trying to be as prepared as possible. The problem is I can't really draw. Witness my inability to draw below:

I decided to steal a technique a friend of mine has used for shorts before which involves creating a storyboard from photos. So I spent Saturday 'sketching' out the shots I wanted. Then on Sunday I recruited Andrea, Brother Pete and his girlfriend Charlotte to play all the parts as I took photos like this one:

And this one:

There weren't really enough of us to play all the characters, so one of the bad guys had to be represented by this terrifying nightmare creation:

Since then I have been slowly arranging those photos into a storyboard like this:

It's kind of a laborious process but at the same time it really helped me get some way to figuring out how I want to shoot it. It's a good way of working out which areas of the locations we need to dress and where we can put the camera.

It also threw up some problems - I was hoping to match the hallway in one location to a room in a completely different location, but realised that the doors are hinged on opposite sides. It also made me realise that some places I wanted to shoot in may be impossible, but some might just work. We won't be able to replicate all of it though - it's easy enough to stick a tiny stills camera inside a fridge to take a Fridge POV shot, but it might not be so easy with an actual video camera.
Arranging the storyboard has been pretty useful too in terms of thinking about the finished product and how it will cut together. It's also taking ages and I'm still only halfway through, but it's definitely been worthwhile so far.

In other news the schedule has been pretty much finalised, I met with one dancer and am hopefully seeing more tomorrow and my art department has been doing an excellent job gathering props despite my general slowness in replying to e-mails. Speaking of which, here's some awesome concept art.
Here's the playwright Anton Chekhov who plays a pivotal role in the film:

And here are a couple of costume designs:

This week I'm really busy again but hope to be able to get the storyboard finished at least.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Short Film Diary - Week 4...

So the delay this week has been to do with a couple things 1) me being incredibly busy (though mostly in a social capacity), making huge lists of things to do, then realising that some of the things on that list, like this blog are not exactly essential and 2) my idea for this week was to post loads of pretty pictures of concept art and storyboards but that involves a bit more work and I've run out of time this week. So instead here's a brief summary of where we are:

We've got a cast! There's one small role to fill but otherwise everyone is confirmed.

I've started the storyboard, which helped me feel very prepared until I realised I'm only about a third of the way through.

Perhaps most important of all, we have a monkey.

We've got a few other props.

We've got a date for the first rehearsal and the first shoot. It's in less than a month which is slightly terrifying.

Locations are pretty much sorted, apart from the one I had an issue with. Turns out the location I want to film at is free for non-profit organisations, although we will need public liability insurance and they still need to actually give us permission. The first company Andrea spoke to about insurance wouldn't do one-day insurance so it would cost £350 for a year. This was the kind of thing my research turned up before, hence the huge rant about no budget film-makers. We've got a couple more options though so I'll let you know how that goes.

Still trying to pin down a few crew members, which I'm not worried about at all, it will be fine, of course it will.

I am now looking for dancers, and despite a slow start I've actually had a pretty good response.

That's it for now. I'll try to make next week's post a bit prettier with pictures and stuff.