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.

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