Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Short film diary - Week 12...

I realise it's not the end of the week yet but as I'm going away for a few days tomorrow I'm pretty sure there won't be any further developments this week.

So last night was theoretically the very last shoot. There are a couple of pick-ups and effects shots still to be done, but we don't need any actors or a full crew for that. We filmed it here:

We'd kept it separate for a couple of reasons - 1) it needed to be shot in a location that wasn't anywhere near the other locations and 2) it needed a few extras. When I say a few extras, I'd kind of pictured having two. We ended up with ten. Eleven if you include the dog. Having that many people was ace and made it look more like a Manson family gathering than a Wiccan retreat, which was kind of the point.

There were two very simple scenes to shoot and they went really smoothly. The only potential issue was the light at the time of the evening as by the time we moved onto the second scene it was starting to get dark. In the end even that didn't prove to be too much of a problem and we shot more than enough footage to cover the scene.

So there's not much to write about really. There were no issues, the general public stayed out of our way for a change, the battery didn't run out at a crucial moment and the monkey was nowhere in sight (which he shouldn't have been).

I had mixed feelings about finishing the shoot. Part of me wanted to shout 'It's a wrap!' at the top of my voice and do a little dance while everyone cheered and fireworks went off. Then a title card reads 'Three months later...' and we cut to the screening and everyone talking about how awesome it is. Fade out, then captions appear one by one, explaining how we all went onto bigger and better things as a result.

I didn't say it. Not properly. It didn't feel right. I don't know if that's because I was worried about those next three months or however long we'll be in post production for. And I'm thinking it's not really finished yet and don't want to tempt fate so maybe that's why I didn't really want to officially declare it wrapped. But that's not it.

Reading this blog you would maybe think I would feel at least a little bit relieved that it was finally over. The shoot has been hard work and has completely taken over my life for the last four weeks. I'm definitely out of my comfort zone and am not used to organising that many people or being the person who is supposed to have all the answers (although most of the time I did have some kind of answer - I surprised myself there). I've not dealt particularly well with things not going the way they were supposed to, and though I think I've only ever taken it out on myself rather than other people that comes with its own problems. Attempting something like this while working full time has also been tough and it's kind of felt like being constantly stuck in traffic - there have been days when there has been so much I needed to get on with and all I've been able to do is make huge 'to do' lists to tackle in the evening. So I suppose it is a relief to be finished, but I was still reluctant to call it a wrap.

Despite the odd problem (and to be fair it's actually gone pretty smoothly compared to other shoots I've been involved with) I've never once regretted deciding to do it and for the most part I have really enjoyed the process. I've learnt a lot from the experience and worked with some amazingly talented people. My favourite moments have been the times I've looked over the camera to see a scene played out in real time that a few months ago only existed in my head. There have also been moments, mostly as a result of the two lead performances from Rosie and Lukas, when scenes have turned out so much better than I imagined them. And there have been moments where we've pulled off the insanely ambitious stuff like the dance sequence and the creature effects - things that I thought we'd end up compromising on. But those moments are on film now, and I'm looking forward to discovering more surprises in the editing. Hopefully they will mostly be good surprises. Not evil monkey surprises.

There are also a lot of things I'm going to miss. I'll miss the moment first thing in the morning when everyone has turned up and we've got the whole day ahead of us. I'll miss seeing the same people every week, because they are all awesome and cool people to spend time with. I'll miss the times I had a full cast and crew and it felt like a much bigger and more expensive production than it actually is. But I'll miss the quieter moments too, where we've been down to one or two actors and a couple of crew. I'll miss the moment a couple of days after the shoot when I stop stressing about monkeys in shot and things that may not have worked and realise that everyone did a really fantastic job and we got some great shots. I'll even miss writing about the filming here - I'm going to keep the diary up until we're done, but I can't promise it will be as interesting or will have as many photos. Unless you want to see photos of various people staring at a computer screen. Which I'm guessing you don't.

I suppose the real reason I was reluctant to declare it a wrap was that I didn't really want it to be over. But it has to be over. We need to move on, to editing and sound mixing and all that fun stuff. That way I might even get a finished film out of all this, which was the point to begin with. So I'm going to let myself say it.

It's a wrap.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Short film diary - Week 11...

It's my 300th blog post!!! Do I get a hat?

Speaking of which, in the alternate reality where I decided not to make the film, I would probably be blogging about how amazing Inception is. Luckily I am making a film and you can let everyone else tell you about that while I ramble on about dancing on the seafront and squeezing actors into hats.

So last week we got to review the footage for the first time which was mostly a huge relief and very exciting, and occasionally a bit painful. The most frequently asked questions from me were things like 'We did realise that mic was in shot the whole time, right?' to which the answer would be 'Not in this take...or this one...maybe in the last take...' Yes, I am destined to be forever tortured by continuity errors and things turning up in shots that shouldn't be there. The first weekend we shot I had someone on the lookout for these all the way through the filming. For some reason I never thought to ask anyone to do it again and there are a few problems as a result. But that's what cutaways are for, right?

Amazingly, the monkey hadn't ruined half as many shots as I thought he had. In fact he hadn't ruined any. Even the one I was positive he had ruined was fine - you can see his arm if you look really closely but that's about it. Which means I very nearly lost my sanity over nothing. Which was obviously the monkey's evil plan all along.

Watching the footage also made me really glad we shot so much outside. All the footage looks great, but any scenes shot in a flat always look a little...flat. So having the contrast really helps and makes it feel a lot more like a film. That's the idea anyway.

On Friday we had another dance rehearsal. This was partly for the dancers as it had been three weeks since they last did it. They are awesome and didn't really need it, but it made me feel better. Important plot point here - only three of four turned up. Imagine if this were a film and at this point I say 'That's fine, I'm sure the other dancer will turn up tomorrow'...would you be able to guess what happened next?

But I'm getting ahead of myself - I haven't built up the importance of this musical number nearly enough yet. So this was the scene that back in Week 8 had ended in disaster due to a) it being the hottest day of the century but only in the exact spot where we were filming so EVERYONE wanted to be there b) epic CD player fail - and subsequent attempts to find a substitute didn't work either so there was nothing to dance/mime to and c) me not having a clear idea of how to shoot it. Here's how I intended to deal with each of those problems:

a) My concern now wasn't the heat, but the possibility that the whole shoot could be called off due to rain. I considered the ways one might exert an influence over the now rather unpredictable weather. I couldn't find a goat to sacrifice, but did briefly wonder whether the monkey would work.

In the end I just spent a lot of time on various weather websites which made me worry a lot as most of them said it was going to be raining. By Friday the weather reports were saying that it would be raining in Brighton, but there was slightly different weather in Hove - a window of sunshine between 7am and 1pm, which was exactly when I was intending to film. It looked like it might work out after all.

So basically I didn't do anything to try to prepare for possible bad weather, I just spent a lot of time worrying about something I had never worried about before.

b) I bought an iPod stereo. Such is the extent of my godlike filmmaking genius.

c) So this was the real reason for the rehearsal on Friday night, so I could rehearse how to shoot it. Or at least how to shoot a version of it with three dancers and no actors. It helped, it made me feel a lot more prepared. I made a shiny new shot list. The big issue was going to be time.

Brother Tim needed to leave by 11am which gave us three hours if we started at 8am. The others couldn't stay much longer than that either. We couldn't afford to experience the same delays that had crippled the shoot last time. But I was determined that no matter what happened I would shoot everything we needed to that day without having to reschedule.

So now I've like properly built it up and everything, picture me saying 'That's fine, I'm sure the other dancer will turn up tomorrow...' See how that works?

Here's how it went down...

Saturday 17th July

The first thing to note is that due to a) me being stressed and b) not having as many crew members as before I completely forgot to get any photos during the first part of the day. This may be a good thing, because most of those photos would probably show me looking stressed. I'll post a couple of randoms from later on in the day until we catch up.

I also didn't wear my directing hat. This caused me additional stress.

So at 6am make-up artist Jeanette arrives with dancers Brother Tim and Becky. We have two dancers and a make-up artist - this is a good start. Outside the sky is cloudy but there are odd patches of blue. This is also good. Around ten minutes later Nathalie, Dancer No. 3, arrives. Awesome, this is going great.

There's no Dancer No. 4. Dancers 1-3 spend the next half an hour trying to call him. When that doesn't work they go over to his house, in full ghost make-up, and wake up Dancer No. 4's housemates. They don't know where he is. Dancer No. 4 is clearly not going to make it.

I am surprisingly calm at this point. I have a solution - it involves cloning Brother Tim. I accomplish this using a time machine to bring Brother Tim from five minutes ago into the present so there are two Brother Tims - that way he can be in two places at the same time. Once again I am reminded of my own genius.

It didn't quite work out like that, but Brother Tim did have to dance both parts. This meant he didn't get a break all morning, but he is awesome and did a fantastic job. He also choreographed the whole sequence, which helped as it meant he already knew Dancer No. 4's routine.

So it's 7.30am and we're already shooting.

This is a huge step up after last time. By 9am I've got enough footage of the dancers to make the sequence work - something I didn't manage to film last time which was part of the reason for rescheduling. So then we break the sequence down into the individual character moments. And the next two hours disappear.

When I think back to what we actually shot in those two hours I'm not quite sure where the time went. There were two things that definitely slowed it down. First there was the weather, which despite staying dry for the most part the sky was cloudy and there was a strong breeze. This meant the light was changing every other minute, meaning the shots needed a lot of readjusting and a few takes were ruined due to sudden changes in the light. Then there were the people - less than last time, but enough to slow us down.

At one point a man from the seafront office turned up in a truck. I panicked slightly - we had asked for permission for the extra day, but were told to just write it on the form ourselves and it would be fine (I think the council's response to filming permission requests very much depends on who you talk to there). I hadn't considered the possibility that it might not be okay.

Turned out it was fine. He was vaguely interested in what we were doing, mostly interested in one of our dancers and not at all interested in whether we had permission or not. Panic over.

At 11am I only had a handful of shots left to film, then we could move onto the next scene. That was the other problem - there were several scenes I wanted to shoot on the seafront that day and the musical number was only the first. If we finished by 12pm that would give us about an hour and a half to shoot the other scenes before we would need to leave for the Marlborough for a couple of reshoots.

That was never going to happen. I need to learn how to schedule properly.

Anyway, it's 11am, we're doing okay, just a few more shots to get. Then the camera battery dies.

This was the other problem from last time - the one I forgot to mention, because I also kept forgetting how much it would affect the exterior shoots. The previous weekend it had hardly been a problem at all - we put it on charge while we were setting up other shots and got by without it causing any major delays. Because you can do that inside a flat. You can't when you're outside, and the flat is about ten minutes away from the location.

So Brother Pete leads a group of people back to the flat while I stay at the location getting increasingly more stressed. I was worried that it would all fall apart if I'd gone back to the flat too. It felt like I had to stay there to make sure no one left. No one was going to leave, because they are all amazing and gave up whatever plans they had to make sure filming was finished, but at the time it felt like this nightmare of a sequence that was so close to being finished was slipping away from me again. I briefly mentioned the idea of rescheduling, but it was never going to happen. We had to finish it that morning.

45 minutes later the battery is returned, not fully charged but enough to keep us going. It's coming up to 12pm. There's no way we're going to get those extra scenes done. No problem, we'll go to the Marlborough then come back to the seafront afterwards, presuming it's still light at that point, and film then. It means another epic day but at least we'll be finished.

We shoot the last few scenes of the musical number and I make use of my one remaining dancer before she too has to leave. Then we shoot the end of the sequence. Then the camera battery starts to flash red again. There's one more scene we NEED to film that day so that Simon, the actor who sings the song in the sequence, will have finished filming all his scenes. It's an important scene and one I don't really want to compromise with, but we don't have much choice other than to shoot it in one set up. It works great, we manage to get a couple of good takes before the battery dies. Mission complete. Simon is wrapped. The musical sequence is done.

We got stuck in Saturday traffic on the way to the Marlborough so didn't arrive until 2.30pm. We stopped for lunch first, which felt a bit odd - like me and four friends had booked a whole theatre for the sole purpose of eating lunch there.

But we needed the time to stop and think. Because somehow I needed to figure out how to get these actors...

...into this hat...

...which I did by staring at it intently for a long time...

...until I finally figured it out and explained it to Rosie...

...who then suffered a series of horrific injuries attempting to get inside the hat based on my suggestions...

We got Lukas and Rosie into the hat in the end. Darren figured it out. I mostly just stared at the hat declaring that it must somehow be possible, I just didn't know how. That's like proper directing that is.

So then we film a few reshoots. Like a shot we filmed right at the end of the first Saturday. When we watched it back we noticed that there were about five cables and a light stand in the background. It's quite frightening that no one noticed this at the time but I think we were probably too tired to care.

That first day seems like an awfully long time ago now.

Then Scott turned up to film his last scene, which we filmed on the seafront where there were at least a billion people.

Then we returned to the furthest reaches of Hove seafront, which was empty. I wonder if we could have shot the whole film at 7pm rather than in the early hours of the morning. There actually seemed to be a lot fewer people around and the sky was almost completely clear.

We filmed Lukas' final scene and a few montage bits and that was it. For the first time since we started this I actually managed to film everything I'd planned to film. A few hours later than planned of course, but it's still progress.

So there's one last proper scene left to film, which we're shooting tomorrow evening. Then, presuming we don't need to re-shoot anything major, it should just be a case of filming a few cutaways and one special effects shot (that I still haven't figured out how to to) and we're done.

Sunday 18th July

I had a proper day off.

I watched three films.

It was awesome.

But I could never quite shake the feeling that I was supposed to be doing something else...

Monday, 12 July 2010

Short film diary - Week 10...

Bit of an epic this. But it's okay, the monkey made you a Spotify playlist to go along with it:

That Darn Monkey...

So last week I mostly did non-short film related stuff. Well, stuff that wasn't related to my short film anyway. Tuesday was Son of Moviebar, and on Wednesday the Brighton Filmmakers Coalition screened their latest Film Challenge films. It was watching other peoples' short films that made me want to do this in the first place so seeing so many really accomplished and interesting shorts this week gave me an extra burst of enthusiasm. Thursday Andrea and I went to see The Woman in Black in Worthing which was scary (I mean the play was scary, not Worthing...although Worthing is pretty scary). Friday I panicked because I hadn't done any organising for the shoot, then realised we were pretty organised already. Here's how it went...

Saturday 10th July

So back when I was at university I helped out on a film project with some friends. We were filming a 15 minute short over one weekend. We started on Saturday afternoon. By the time we left the location it was early Sunday morning and we were barely a third of the way through. We had a few hours break then went back and carried on, and sometime around 5am the following Monday we finished. Except the film was never completed. I think it was due to technical problems - things that would maybe have been picked up had we not been too exhausted and too desperate to finish the shoot to notice. This was fine - we were students, these are the things you learn from.

I've since helped out on a couple of other shoots that ran on way too late with similar consequences. In both cases the films were never finished due to mistakes that people made as a result of being pushed to their limits. And I decided that should I ever find myself in a similar position I would not make the decision to push on through the night, I would reschedule or find a compromise or something.

So on Saturday I was faced with that decision and guess what...I'll get to that later. The important plot point you need to note for now is that we started at 8am.

Things started off really well. We filmed a few scenes outside the flat which I'm always apprehensive about because of getting in the they way of the general public (or the general public getting in the way of filming). I also worry about men from the council on quadbikes turning up and asking if we have permission. But other than having to wait for someone to catch a bus so they would get out of the shot it went fine. We even risked death by setting up a shot right in the path of oncoming buses:

Then we went inside to start shooting the interiors. There were a lot of scenes to film, more than we'd shot on any other day, but I figured that because most of it was dialogue it would all be pretty simple. Also, the actors were less giggly as a result of my new fascist approach to directing:

At least I look like I'm enjoying myself at this point.

Anyway, there were two factors I hadn't really counted on -

1) filming with four actors takes twice as long as filming with two. Because you need twice as many close-ups. As I type this I realise it is obvious and I am a fool, but I am still learning.

2) my flat isn't that big and it's pretty much impossible to get four actors into one wide shot anywhere, so you have to break up the scenes into even more shots.

That said, my shot list was pretty epic anyway so I did have some idea of how long it was going to take, I just hadn't translated that into actual hours. That's a lie, I did attempt to translate it into actual hours but when I got past the normal amount of hours any sane person is prepared to work in a day (me included) I stopped counting and convinced myself it wouldn't be a problem.

When we broke for lunch it became pretty apparent we would probably only get through half the scenes we had planned to shoot that day. So we had a meeting and attempted to reschedule, preferably as soon as possible for I had also seen the opposite of those rushed, exceptionally long shoots - the film that goes on for months and months without ever being finished. And in that time actors change their appearance, crew members get paid work...people move on to other things and you're left with a half-finished project that will probably stay that way indefinitely. Then every time you see a fellow filmmaker in the pub they ask 'So what happened to that film you were working on?' and you reply, 'Oh we're just waiting to do this one last thing,' and they say 'But you've been working on this project for the last hundred years! When will it end?'. Then one day you give up and edit it into something resembling a finished film and hope people praise the lack of narrative cohesion as stunningly avant-garde. Which is kind of the way this blog post is going...

So we're trying to reschedule, except now it's four actors who have to commit to a new date at short notice instead of two. And we start to talk about dates in August and suddenly the finish line seems an awfully long way off and the scenario described above starts to seem like a reality. Gentle reader, I'm ashamed to say I did what I said I would never do.

'Is everyone all right to stay until we're finished?' I ask.

'I'll get pizza!' says Andrea. That's why she is the most awesome producer in the world.

Everyone agrees to keep going until the bitter end. I try not to think about what time that will be. And whether anything we film after 8pm, when we'll have been going for 12 hours straight, will be any good. And how much sleep everyone will get before the 7am start the following day. I put all those things to the back of my mind and press on.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Brother Pete was making this:

Which would later be applied to our creature, part of which you can see here:

I debated over whether to post more pictures of the creature. We have some cool photos of it in action but I think I'd rather show it off in the finished film. It is the most awesome prop I've ever filmed. I am a fan of gloopy horror. People don't make gloopy horror films much anymore. This was very gloopy indeed.

We made most of the gloop from a cheap KY Jelly substitute (turns out KY Jelly is quite expensive if you need loads of it) mixed with black food colouring. The problem is that our gloop needed to be edible. The label declared it to be 'safe if ingested' but that didn't fill me with confidence. So we made some edible gloop out of condensed milk, cornflour and more black food colouring. The combined effect of the two gloops was pretty disgusting, which was obviously awesome.

I'm really glad we took the time to film the scene properly as Geraint, our own Rick Baker/Stan Winston/Rob Bottin/KNB (let me know which comparison you'd prefer, Gez), had put a lot of time and effort into making the creature. I owed it to him to do it justice. I also need to mention Dominique, the actor who had to 'operate' the creature and it's associated gloop, who did an awesome job and was a real trooper. For my part, I think it was the most fun I had shooting a scene and it felt like we were making a proper old-school horror film.

So we carried on and at around 8pm finished the scenes in the lounge. We had been filming for twelve hours. I now looked less like I was enjoying myself and more like this:

I think Darren is holding me up in this picture.

I was really, truly tired at this point. Mostly I was concerned that despite the collective commitment to get it done and despite the refuelling on pizza there was still a lot to shoot before we could call it a day. It also meant setting up in two different rooms which meant even more time was needed to get the lights ready. On top of that we had to compensate for the fact that it was dark outside meaning we had to put lights everywhere.

For example, for the scene in the kitchen we not only had to put lights in the room itself but also had one out on the fire escape (where Darren is in the picture below) and one in the spare room (with Mike, our Sound Recordist). It worked really well - when you walked into the kitchen it looked like daylight coming in through the windows. The only problem was it took a while to set up and I was starting to worry about annoying the other residents.

Then we had another (thankfully non-monkey-related) continuity error that meant re-shooting a whole set-up again. That's when I started to worry that we were losing control. The thing I'd learnt from those disastrous shoots I talked about above was that there's a fine line between working those extra hours to get finished in time and working everyone so hard everything you film in that extra time becomes useless. It felt like we were just about crossing that line.

We had three more scenes left to shoot - two in the hallway and one outside. I scrapped the exterior first as it was far too dark outside and involved some shouty dialogue. That one would have to be rescheduled. Then I rescheduled the second hallway scene for the following day, citing the lack of light as the reason but mostly it was because it involved all four actors in a tiny space and was a bit of a logistical nightmare. The plan for Sunday was pretty crammed too but at that point rescheduling one scene was preferable to the thought of still filming at midnight. Instead we finished some time before 11pm.

I haven't seen the footage yet but I think we pulled it off. I think I was the only one who physically looked like I'd been filming for fifteen hours - the actors were still as energetic and on form as ever, if a little more hysterical than usual, and the crew were doing an amazing job. At no point did anyone complain or throw a tantrum and I'm pretty confident we won't have to reshoot any of it...I shouldn't say things like that just in case.

I still don't ever want to film for that long again and I think it's always a bit of a risk, but I also know now that if you have awesome, hard-working, committed people around you it is possible to still do good work at the end of a fifteen hour day.

Sunday 11th July

So at the end of the night when people were checking what time they needed arrive the following day I realised that the planned 7am start was a little unreasonable considering the hours everyone had put in. So I went easy on them and amended it to 7.30am, which obviously made all the difference.

For the first time since we started shooting the seafront scenes we had problems with the weather. The sky was full of clouds, but that didn't matter so much. It was the penultimate scene of the film, it was supposed to look a little bleak. But it was also very windy and constantly threatening to rain.

In the weeks since we've started this, the bench we've been using as a location and a base has started to feel like a second home. Maybe in years to come we'll get a blue plaque saying 'Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw was filmed here'. At the moment it's hard to imagine a weekend when I won't be at that bench shooting a scene, so maybe they won't need a blue plaque.

It was also freezing, hence everyone wearing coats and jumpers which strangely makes it look more like a proper film. Or maybe that's just the hat again. Which on this day was completely unnecessary.

After making him lug his kit all the way here for two weekends in a row for no reason we finally got James to film some Steadicam shots. They were really difficult, because a) they involved lots of running and b) the wind was not helping. But James pulled it off because he is awesome and we got some really cool shots. It's the closest thing I've got to an action scene.

The rest of scene went really well and it was cool to film one of the final scenes of the script. It's hard to talk too much about it without giving away plot details, but it was an important scene and I'm really happy with how it turned out. We also finished on time, which meant we could go back to the flat and film the tricky hallway scene.

In the afternoon we went over to Brother Pete's flat which was doubling for the bedroom of one of the characters. The main room is pretty big which was ideal for filming in. The problem was there wasn't much room elsewhere and at one point we had crammed about twelve people in there. It was also really hot, possibly hotter than when we filmed in the Marlborough (which now feels like it was about three months ago).

This is me looking all happy and confident because we're on schedule.

It was 2pm. We only had one scene to film. It was a long and complicated scene, but it was still only one scene. I estimated we'd be finished by 5pm at the latest. Little did I know, the monkey had other plans...

Only this time the monkey wasn't the only creature intent on ruining the shoot. This baby seagull got stranded just outside Pete's window and decided to spend most of the afternoon telling us about it.

I named him Steven...Steven Seagull.

Then I started to really lose the plot and decided to put Andrea in a sack.

It was for the film. I'm not really mental. Although she claims I enjoyed it a bit too much.

Again can't say much about the scene without ruining it, but the actors were all really amazing that afternoon.

Then this happened.

That's the monkey. He's on the floor. He's not supposed to be on the floor.

So all day everyone had been making a joke of my monkey-related paranoia. 'Is that monkey supposed to be in shot' they'd say, and I'd pretend to check and say things like 'That darn monkey,' and, 'I'm going to set fire to him when this thing is finished' (which was only half a joke, although I'm pretty sure that if I did set fire to him he would turn up, all-charred and demonic looking, on my doorstep the next day, chuckling...). The monkey must have been listening the whole time, plotting the next stage in his plan to drive me over the edge. There were many times he could've chosen to do it, many shots he could've ruined, but he waited. 'Not yet,' he would tell himself smiling, 'It's not time yet...'

Then we finish filming the first chunk of the scene in Pete's flat, the one where the actors were particularly awesome and I'm really happy, when James jokes 'Was there a monkey in that shot?'

'No,' I reply, then I think for a moment and the dreaded realisation hits me, '...BUT THERE SHOULD HAVE BEEN!'

Epic monkey fail.

Damn that monkey. All this time we were looking for him, making sure he wasn't turning up where he shouldn't be, and he knew it. So he tricked us. He ruined a scene by NOT being in the shots that he SHOULD HAVE been in. He is evil and must be destroyed!!! But not until the film is finished. Because then we'd have no monkey and he will have won.

Dramatic exagerration aside, I had my first proper tantrum at this point. I threw my script on the floor. I am like William Friedkin firing guns on set, or Stanley Kubrick swearing at Shelley Duvall; I am a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. Actually, throwing the script on the floor was pretty much it, then I moaned a bit until I realised most of the shots we'd just filmed were close-ups anyway - there was no way you could see the monkey in those. So then I started re-shooting the wide shot, this time with the monkey, and realised that even then the monkey was barely in shot. Turned out he hadn't ruined anything, except maybe my sanity.

We pressed on. After my meltdown everyone started taking things a little more seriously, as shown here:

Not really. We were setting up an effects shot that meant the camera had to be locked and nothing on the set could move for about half an hour. Cue lots of me shouting, 'Don't touch the camera!', and 'Watch the lights!!' and 'Don't sit there!!!'. No one did.

We finally finished at around 7pm. Another twelve hour day, but we were a fifteen hour day crew now. Twelve hours was nothing.

Overall I'm really happy with what we filmed and it definitely feels like the majority of the shooting is finished now. There are a couple of things to shoot next weekend and I'm reviewing the footage tomorrow in case there's anything we need to reshoot, but fingers crossed we should be about 80% done.

So next Saturday we are reshooting the dance sequence that we had to abandon last time. Which I'm not worried about at all, aside from waking up several times in the night thinking about it. We actually have less time to film it this time and aside from getting a better CD player we're still going to face a lot of the same problems we had last time. We will also have less crew. And the weather may not be great either. And I need to somehow manage to learn how to shoot musical numbers properly between now and then.

If I'm rambling about dancing monkey's next week then you'll know he finally pushed me over the edge...

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Short Film Diary - Week 9...

Last week was mostly taken up with finding a replacement actor for the one who dropped out and rescheduling the aborted shoot from the previous Sunday.We also had to pack the contents of my flat into whatever spaces we could find that were not part of the film before the weekend. Here's how we did, with pictures because people are gonna want to know how it went down...

Saturday 3rd July

It was a big day for our art department (Pete and Charlotte) who had to make our flat look like a witch and her slacker flatmate had been living there for years. Kind of like this...

Obviously they would have a copy of Ten Dead Men on display...doesn't everyone?

I wanted to make sure it didn't look like we'd just filmed in our flat with all our stuff everywhere. They did an awesome job with the lounge and the hallway, then they had to make our relatively tidy kitchen look like no one had cleaned up in there for years. In my head it looked like the kitchen of the house I'd lived in for two years at university, where we washed up maybe once every six months and every available surface was occupied by unwashed plates or half-finished meals. By the time they'd finished it looked much much worse than I'd imagined. Kind of like this...

It was perfect. And smelt of beans.

The scenes on Saturday were all pretty straightforward as I was only filming the scenes that involved Rosie and Lukas without any other actors or tricky effects. Mostly it was odd half pages of dialogue. We also had less of a crew and no producer on set, hence no photos.

It should have been a short day but we were slowed down by the fact that we only have one battery and one memory card for the camera. So it takes around an hour to charge the camera which then lasts for about 3-4 hours before it needs charging again. This sounds fine in theory because the timing works out so you break for lunch when the battery runs down, charge it up again and you've got enough for the afternoon. But the memory card adds further problems - at some point during the day we also have to dump the footage from the card onto a computer and the files are so big that this takes around an hour too. This meant that on Saturday we ended up having two breaks without much filming in between.

So the planned short and simple day turned into an eleven hour epic. By the end everyone was slightly hysterical, particularly the actors who by this point found each other hilarious, but my relentless determination to get a perfect take without stopping for anymore breaks wasn't helping. We got there in the end and I'm pretty happy with the scenes we did manage to film.

Again there were a couple of shots we didn't get around to but I've come to accept that this is the way things go now and am pretty sure we will have to schedule an extra half-day to get the last few scenes. Overall it was a pretty productive day.

Sunday 4th July

Learning from the previous week I went down to the seafront with the rest of the crew at about 7.30 so we could start shooting at 8am. This worked much better and I felt a lot more prepared when the actors arrived.

Here we are recreating a scene from Planet of the Apes...

When we were setting up on the beach up a middle-aged American man shouted over to us - something about him being a producer or something and a film I'd never heard of. Then he wished us luck and went on his way. I was preoccupied at the time, but it was kind of cool - like we were filming in LA or something, where every passer-by is probably involved in films somehow. Later on, a man walking his dog stopped to chat to us because he'd seen us the previous weekend and presumed we'd been there all week. We're starting to get noticed, which is fine, I just hope that by the time we reshoot the dance sequence we don't end up with an audience.

Here's me like totally directing again. The hat does help.

The shoot went a lot more smoothly than the previous weekend. There were less people around, and because we were shooting on the beach rather than the promenade it meant we could frame the shot to cut out potential passers-by anyway.

The only problem we had was a continuity issue. Rosie is wearing a pendant as part of her costume. The pendant itself belongs to Lukas who wasn't due to turn up until 10am. We'd filmed a bunch of scenes without the pendant before the make-up artist pointed it out. As with the monkey, I spent a good few minutes trying to work out whether this would actually be a problem or not, then decided to reshoot the scenes anyway to be on the safe side.

We may also have continuity issues with smoking. I'm trying not to think about that.

This was followed by a lengthy dialogue scene on a bench, for which I had helpfully written 'They are both holding ice creams.' Never film with ice creams. It wasn't even that hot, but we'd barely started shooting the scene when the ice-creams had turned to liquid, splattering the actors' costumes at the same time.

We tried a couple of takes cleaning up as we went along but it clearly wasn't going to work. Andrea then consulted the ice-cream man for his expert opinion and returned with a superior ice-cream for filming with. Once again, we just about made it through the scene before the camera battery ran out. That meant another scene had to be added to the list of things we'll film later.

Wanting to avoid a repeat of the delays we suffered on the previous day I came up with the genius idea of charging the camera and dumping the footage before starting again so we'd be set to film all afternoon. This meant waiting around for two hours in the middle of the day. Not such a great idea after all as it kind of killed the energy a bit.

Still we made it through the bedroom scene okay. Note the piles of random stuff on the left - most of our flat is now packed into the bedroom.

Then we shot some exteriors of the flat, but it was the wrong time of day really and the sun was in the wrong place. There was a massive shadow in front of the building that made it look like we were shooting in the evening unless the actors walked right out into the street to do their lines. Another one for the growing list of reshoots.

The last few scenes we shot I talked about here. The less said about that the better.

Overall I'm pretty happy with how the weekend went, despite the rogue monkey. I was hoping it would move a little quicker but we got most of the stuff on my shot list with the exception of one more seafront scene that's been rescheduled for this coming weekend.

Speaking of which, this weekend was supposed to be the last weekend of filming, but it hasn't quite worked out that way. I've also scheduled more scenes than we've ever shot before which should be a challenge. I've bought Darren a new memory card and he's hopefully borrowing a spare battery so we should at least be able to get through it without so many delays. Who needs breaks anyway...

To recap, here's what I learned -

1) Never film with ice-cream.

2) Never break for more than an hour if you can help it.

3) Try not to let your actors overdose on Haribo.

4) Beware of cursed monkeys.

Monday, 5 July 2010

The Monkey in the Middle of the Shelves...

...or how continuity errors, a non-linear narrative and a cursed prop have driven this particular filmmaker to the edge of insanity.*

So there's this Ray Bradbury story called The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl - it's a reworking of Poe's Tell-Tale Heart. A guy commits a murder, then realises he needs to wipe his fingerprints off everything he touched. Except the more stuff he cleans the more things he realises he might've touched and the more things he goes about cleaning until it becomes an obsession and he's still cleaning the house when the police arrive to arrest him. Here's my version...

So it was about 4pm on Sunday and we had two more shots left to film. They weren't easy shots - our protagonist is talking to camera as we follow her into another room where there's an exchange with another character. It means lighting two rooms, making sure you can record sound wherever the actors go and at the same time being careful not to have any of the lighting or sound equipment visible in the shot. Tricky at the best of times.

We'd filmed for eleven hours on the Saturday, and had been filming since 8am on the Sunday. So everyone involved is pretty exhausted and now we're filming this really complicated shot with all this stuff we need to look out for. At the same time we don't have a monitor so I can't really see what the camera sees until it's been filmed and then I watch it back on the tiny screen on the back of the camera.

Anyway, we film both shots, the actors do a great job with the dialogue and hitting their marks, it seems like we've nailed it. But just as we're packing up and sending everyone home I go and review some of the footage with Darren as it's being uploaded onto the computer. And that's when Darren says 'Oh look, there's the monkey.' And I say, 'Oh bugger, that's not supposed to be there.'

There's a moment in the shot when the camera enters the room and turns past some bookshelves. I knew we'd see the shelves but figured it wouldn't be a problem as we'd never see what was actually on them. On one of the shelves is the monkey. This is the opening scene of the film. The characters aren't supposed to know about the monkey yet. He's not supposed to be there, but there he is. It's so obvious he may as well be waving at the camera.

It's then that I realise the monkey must be cursed. I think it's out to get me because we cut off its paw. I thought I'd be okay - Brother Pete cut off the paw, not me. Surely he should be the one who's cursed. But these ancient monkey curses are more complicated than you think. I've been targeted. It knows I was the one who initiated the amputation and it's out to get me.

Darren assures me it will be fine. It's only on screen for a couple of frames. It's unlikely anyone will notice it, but even if it is particularly obvious he can sort it out in post. The thing is I've heard that before. I worked on a short film once that had a similar problem but the 'sorting it out in post' caused so many delays the film was never finished. The only other option is to reshoot it, except I've already got a growing list of things we either need to reshoot or never got around to shooting in the first place.

For the rest of the evening Andrea and Darren kept trying to change the subject and I would respond with 'What are we going to do about the monkey on the shelves?' I tried watching TV to take my mind off it, but I kept looking for the monkey in the background of shots, hoping to find proof that others had suffered at the hands of the same curse. If they had maybe I could track them down, find out if there was a way to break the curse. But no, it seemed like the monkey only appeared in the back of my shots.

At work this morning I was e-mailing someone about an insurance matter and at the end of the e-mail found myself typing 'In addition, please can you confirm whether it makes any difference if you can see the monkey in the opening scenes of the film?'

But then I remember that although the scene is at the beginning of the film, it actually takes place at the end of the timeline. So it's possible the monkey would be on the shelf anyway. Maybe. At a stretch. Then I realise it's not the beginning at all, in fact it takes place inside the protagonist's imagination so isn't even based in reality. And then I start trying to figure out if the protagonist would imagine her flat with the monkey on that shelf at that particular time. And am I just covering to avoid having to reshoot, or will this genuinely work?

But wait just one minute - if the scene isn't based in reality, then it never really happened, and that means we never really filmed it! And if we never really filmed it, the monkey wasn't there after all!! But the monkey is real, because it's still sitting on that same shelf!!!!!


I don't know what's real anymore. I just know that when I close my eyes all I see is this...

*Please note, this is mostly a joke and I am not actually insane. However, if you happen to see the monkey anywhere it shouldn't be in the finished film I would ask that people do not approach me with comments like 'Did you realise you could see the monkey in that shot?' as this may push me over the edge.