Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Like with jetpacks?

This is a blog post about how much I enjoyed Scott Pilgrim. That is all. If you don't care, look away now.

Brother Pete is way cooler than I am and had been telling me about the comics for about a year. I eventually borrowed the first one back in June, around the time we first started filming the short. It was awesome. I was hooked. And the nice thing about coming to it late was that by the time I'd finished Book 5 I didn't have to wait too long for Book 6.

I saw the film on Friday. And again on Sunday. I loved it both times (although cinemas are crap - both times there were stupid technical problems nearly ruining it, but that's another rant for another day). It's a really good adaptation and successfully condenses what is a two-year relationship in the comics into a whirlwind romance that happens over the space of a few days in the film. It doesn't lose much in the translation. They're kind of about different things - the comics are more about the nature of memory and how we let the past shape our present. There's a little of that in the film, but it focuses more on the idea of taking responsibility for our mistakes. Everyone in it is perfect. Everyone involved does a great job. The videogame and music references are really well handled. I loved it.

I suppose it may not be for everyone, as people who didn't enjoy it or refuse to see it on principle keep pointing out to me. I think it is aimed at a certain generation and if you don't understand videogame grammar some of the jokes will be lost on you. Music tends to divide people too and I think if you were never really into indie rock or can't relate to hanging out in grimy clubs waiting for your friend's band to come on so you and the three other people who came to see them can show your support...then the music stuff might not work so well.

But I don't think you need to understand either of those things to like the film. At it's heart it's a film about friendship and relationships, it just happens to tell that story with a group of characters we aren't used to seeing on screen.

At least we didn't used to be. I was reminded of 500 Days of Summer, Adventureland, Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist - and probably a whole load of other films I haven't seen. There's a movement here, and one that almost makes me wish I was still a film student so I'd have an excuse to write about it properly. I'm not. I don't. So for now I'll just enjoy films like Scott Pilgrim, which I've seen twice already and will most likely see again.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Short Film Diary - Week 17...

I know, not quite the end of the week, but I'm away at the weekend. And I need time to recover from trying to edit the musical sequence.

You know I said I thought it was going to be a bit of a nightmare? I didn't actually believe that. I thought it would be tricky, but we'd get through it. And maybe it would even be easier than I thought it would be. Maybe I have previously untapped Bob Fosse powers and it would all fall into place as a perfect example of my unique film-making vision.

It didn't. I don't. It was a nightmare. It is still a nightmare - we haven't finished. Although there is at least a completed sequence, just one that doesn't quite work yet.

So most of the issues we've had with the editing have stemmed from problems we had while filming, documented here and here. To summarise, on the first day we filmed we had great weather and everyone was on top form. But it was also one of the hottest days of the year and we had problems keeping the general public out of our shots. Eventually it got so bad we had to stop. Also the CD player broke and the camera battery ran out. We had just about managed to get a wide shot, a couple of mediums (but only for the first few lines of the song because that's where the music would cut out) and a reverse, but that was it.

The second attempt was four weeks later, which was problem one (although surprisingly a lot more of the movements match up than I expected, because the actors and dancers are awesome). But the real problem was the weather. It was cloudy and erratic so the light was constantly changing. And it was incredibly windy. I didn't realise how much of a problem that would turn out to be at the time.

So Tuesday night we went through all the footage which took a good few hours. We found an almost perfect take of one of the wide shots, but for some inexplicable reason there's no beginning - it starts about 30 seconds into the song. The other takes have their moments. The stuff we shot on the second day looks wildly different, but we decided that perhaps with some colour correction it will work. When we finished on Tuesday I still thought it wouldn't be too hard to edit. After all, the song is only 2 minutes long. How difficult could it be?

Last night I left work at 5pm, we started editing at 5.30pm and finished at 11.30pm. As I said, the sequence is complete - there is stuff happening for the whole two minutes of the song. For a minute and a half it's almost perfect. Then it all goes a bit weird.

See, there's another problem. We never filmed the end of the sequence. We rehearsed it, it would have worked great, but we couldn't film it. The idea was to move from the seafront down to Hove Lagoon where we'd planned a brief scene to end the sequence as the song finishes. Unfortunately I hadn't accounted for wind surfers on Hove Lagoon. Who are there pretty much every weekend from very early in the morning and tend to dump all their stuff exactly where we wanted to film. It was never going to work so I didn't bother trying to film it.

Instead, I had Brother Tim choreograph some extra bits for the end of the sequence so we could link it all up. And we filmed these extra bits, but they a) don't really match the rest of the sequence and b) aren't quite long enough to get us to the end of the song. That's another problem.

In theory we have more than enough footage to edit with. We have cutaways and close-ups and I have all kinds of tricks planned that will definitely make it work. Except I hadn't quite accounted for the fact that the footage has to be in sync with the song.

For 1 minute 30 seconds of it's 2 minutes duration, it's actually a fairly precisely timed dance number, plus it has an actor in the centre of all the various shots singing along to the song. So you can't, for example, take a moment from 30 seconds into take 1, cut to a different angle, then cut back to the same angle in a different take. Because as good as our actors and dancers are, it's impossible to get the timing and positions exactly the same in each take. Especially with the limited amount of time we had to rehearse. So when you sync up the second shot with the song, the movements don't match. Sync up the movements and the song doesn't match. Cue lots of agonising moments where we kept trying various different takes and amending the cuts by single frames at a time in case they somehow could trick the eye into looking like they worked.

Sometimes it would work. Sometimes we'd cut from a reverse back to a different take of the wide and it would fit perfectly. And we would celebrate and cheer and feel very pleased with ourselves. Then seconds later some random passer-by would walk into the shot, because the only take that we could cut the last scene together with is one of the bad ones.

I tried to get around this by using one wide shot as a base and cutting in various close-ups from the second day of filming. That's when we find out that the footage from the second day really doesn't cut together with the footage from the first day. And the biggest problem is the wind. You can't go from an image that's perfectly calm to one where people's clothes and hair are blowing about all over the place and there's an extremely rough sea in the background. It looks weird, takes you out of the sequence. And we don't have enough footage from either day to use just one of them.

So far we've mostly focused on the Day One footage using only the wide shots, the reverse shots and a couple of mediums for the opening. Every time we hit a moment where some kind of action occurred I tried to cut in one of the shots from Day Two, but they never worked. It's not quite as I imagined it and there are a lot of shots of random people we may have to try to paint out (Darren keeps saying this is possible - I am hoping he is right). But on the plus side the wide shot is good and it allows the dancers to really show off the work they put into the scene.

Then we get to the end of the scene and this is where it starts to fall apart. We didn't have 30 seconds of Day One footage so we cut in some random dancing shots with the wide shot to pad it out. And it kind of works. If the shots matched it would work fine. It's just so different from the rest of the sequence it looks wrong. It looks like a mistake.

And that's where I left it. I've got some ideas of how to sort it out, but I won't go into that until next week. It's like a cliffhanger...

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Satoshi Kon...

So I just found out Satoshi Kon died yesterday. I was never a huge anime fan, but Perfect Blue has always been one of my favourite films. If you have never seen any Japanese animation, or if you have stayed away for fear that it's all big robots in space hitting each other and pocket monsters having fights then find a copy of Perfect Blue and watch it right now. Even if you have no interest in anime, don't really care about films, are not even sure why you're reading this blog - you should still watch Perfect Blue. It's a truly amazing piece of work.

It's a film about the cult of celebrity and what happens when it gets out of control. It's quite grim in places, but has a rhythm and style that is often quite beautiful. It pushes boundaries and takes risks in the way it structures the story, but does so with a level of control and intent that demonstrates true genius. It works as a neat little Hitchcockian thriller but manages to be incredibly moving at the same time. I can't think of the last time I said that about a thriller.

As I said, I was never a huge fan of anime. But if there were more filmmakers like Satoshi Kon maybe I would be.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Short film diary - Week 16...

So there's not exactly nothing to report, but not loads of activity either. I have started editing again though so we are making progress.

There is now fifteen minutes of roughly edited footage. The page-a-minute rule is actually working out to be pretty accurate, so based on that there should only be another ten minutes to go. We're well over halfway and what we've got so far is looking really good.

Rather than just saying, ' We did some editing...and then some more editing' I thought I'd go into it in a bit more detail this time. It may be quite dull if you have no interest in post-production (and I keep forgetting to get more stills so there aren't even any pretty pictures to liven it up).

Anyway the three major scenes we edited on Saturday all had their own unique problems. I'm focussing on the problems, rather being all 'We did some awesome editing on this one scene...We edited it in a particularly awesome fashion...most of the cuts are just too awesome to describe...I am the God Emperor of Editors' - I'm guessing no one wants to read that. So here is some stuff I got wrong in production that is now causing me problems.

The problem with the first scene was that it involved all four actors in a really tiny space. I'd encountered this problem before with an earlier scene - it's really the problem with shooting in an actual flat rather than a studio (or maybe just a problem with shooting in my flat). The reason it causes problems is that you can't get a wide shot of the whole scene. Even going as wide as we could we still couldn't get all four actors in the same shot.

This only really became an issue at the moment when the fourth actor enters the scene, because not really thinking ahead at the time I'd asked her to come in on a particular line of dialogue. And it's a line of dialogue where you really need to see that actor saying it. And because we haven't got a wide shot we have to cut away from that actor while he says that line to show the fourth actor entering. And that's rubbish.

In the end we managed to cheat it and cutaway to the fourth actor entering much earlier in the scene than she actually did. Which works fine, it was just a bit of a headache getting there. Lots of staring at the same sequence over and over again and saying things like 'What if we put it half a second earlier?' and then, 'No, back to where it was before...'

The other issue with the footage from this scene is that we were clearly figuring out the shots as wewent along. This didn't happen as much as I thought it would overall - most of the time I did have an idea of what I wanted and it was just a case of figuring out how to get it. So there was always an element of working it out as we went along but that's to be expected to some extent. Watching the footage from this scene it looked like I was literally working it out shot by shot, with each one being a slight improvement on the last because of something that's been tweaked each time.

For example, there's a shot of the main character, Jenny, talking to another two characters. She's in front of the camera, they are behind the camera. There are a few takes of this which are pretty good. One has someone's elbow creeping into the back of the shot, but otherwise it's fine. Then in the next shot it's the same again but with the second actor in the foreground on the right, out of focus - he has his arm across the bottom of the frame so he's kind of framing the shot. This works even better and there are a couple of good takes of this. Then in the last shot the third actor is also in the frame, in the foreground on the left. This is even better still and would've been perfect, but it wasn't the best take and for some reason we only got one of these. If I'd decided that this composition was what I wanted to do in the first place we might've been able to use the best shot.

So we had to use the second version, and it works okay. All this is fine, and obviously we experimented like this all the time when filming, but every shot in the scene was like this - a process of gradual improvement meaning only the last takes were usable. We could've saved a lot of time and made it much easier to edit if I'd been better prepared.

Second scene we had a problem with was a montage. I am a fan of montages and this is a classic. It's a 'looking for something in all kinds of crazy places' montage. Not quite as classic as a training montage perhaps but still up there in the top five montages of all time list.

So on the last full day of filming we shot a bunch of short scenes in which the two main characters are looking for something. I didn't really plan this - in the script it was just referred to as 'Searching Montage'. In the storyboard there was one panel for the whole thing with 'Searching Montage' written underneath. In the shot list I'd at least estimated how many shots we'd need. Ten seemed like a good number. This wasn't really based on anything in particular. When it came to shooting we just grabbed a few shots wherever we could. We did a couple in town, near to the pier which was incredibly busy. Then we retreated to Hove and got a few more when we were finishing off the seafront scenes. In the end there were about seven. The problem was cutting them together.

I thought it would be easy. People are always going on about how great Final Cut Pro is - surely it has a montage button? A montage app maybe? You know, just load in all the clips, press a button and it mixes them up for you, maybe even adds some appropriate music. This doesn't exist yet, apparently. Fine, we'll just manually grab bits of each shot, jumble them up and that will be it. The music will make it work, I told myself. Once we have music.

We started with this technique and it quickly became clear that there is more to it than that. Luckily one of the sequences was quite long, so we ended up using that as a base and cutting back to it between the other sequences. And it works great, almost like I planned it that way. Except I totally didn't.

Third scene we edited was the very first thing we shot - the scene on the seafront that you can see a tiny bit of at the start of the outtakes video (which is here). For a first shoot the footage is pretty awesome. The colour is a bit off because we were still figuring out the settings on the camera, but the shots are great and the actors did a great job - all this despite it being really hot and crowded and being interrupted by a bicycle crash (detailed here). So what was the problem?

We shot too much. There are 3-5 takes of every angle, and unlike much of the rest of the shoot the majority of those takes are good. But we shot way too many angles and most of them we can't use. Despite all this, there's one angle we didn't get that I wish we had - a medium shot of the whole scene. This time it wasn't really a lack of preparation, more like just bad preparation. And partly a lack of confidence on my part as I probably could have been finished with that particular shoot a lot earlier if I'd just said, 'You know what, we've totally got enough footage for this scene'. Still, I am learning a lot from all this.

On a smaller point, we also ended up cutting a few lines of dialogue because the scenes worked better without them. I haven't told the writer yet. I'm hoping he won't notice.

This week we are hopefully editing the musical sequence. I am not looking forward to editing the musical sequence. There are more individual clips for this sequence than any other we've worked on and cutting them together is going to be a nightmare. Also, it was shot over two days with completely different weather, and on the second day we were missing a dancer. Plus we never got a wide shot of the whole thing. This is going to be tough. I will let you know how it goes.

Oh, and I'm sure I haven't mentioned it before but I set up a Facebook page for the film...

Monday, 16 August 2010

Short Film Diary - Week 15...

So last week I did...er...nothing.

That's not strictly true - Monday we edited one of the tougher scenes. There were four actors, loads of angles, some effects shots and some close-ups that really didn't work which we then had to edit around. It was hard work and took around 5 solid hours to edit together. But we made it. And that was the last thing we did.

So basically my editor has been called away rather unexpectedly and the whole thing is on hold now until he gets back. Which is fine, there's no great rush to get it finished and hopefully we'll be back on track soon. These things happen and we're lucky that this is the first time the process has been interrupted.

I was going to declare an official break - put everything on hold for a few weeks then come back and carry straight on with a diary entry for Week 16 as if nothing had ever happened. But that's not really an accurate representation of how long it took us to make the film. And there's another reason which I'll get to later.

We don't have a deadline - there is no particular festival I'm making the film specifically for, we're done with shooting so if all the actors decide to shave their heads for some reason it won't affect the film, and as long as no one leaves the country we should be able to get them back for ADR. But I'm still anxious to get the film finished as soon as possible. Mostly because of what happened with another film I worked on.

It was a short film called Hit the Big Time. Shooting finished in February 2008. I blogged about it here. I was really impressed at the time as I'd only finished working on the script a month or so beforehand. Ten Dead Men was just about to be finished too and it looked like I might have another short film completed around the same time. Only it wasn't.

Post-production on Hit the Big Time took forever. I don't know the full details, I just know they went through a string of editors. One editor would start working on it, then they'd get paid work or have to stop for whatever reason and it would go to another editor. Which means not only did they have to find someone else, but that person had to then familiarise themselves with all the footage before they could start.

The film was finally finished in November 2009 - nearly two years later. As I said, these things happen. At least it was finished. In the end, what did it matter that it had taken two years?

It was screened in LA and at a festival in Swansea and I think I'm supposed to get a DVD copy. But I haven't seen it yet. And the consequence of it taking two years to get finished is that I'm not really that concerned. I am interested in seeing the film, I want to see how it turned out and I want it to be good...but it's not like when I first heard about shooting being wrapped and I couldn't wait to see it. I'm not excited about it anymore. I've moved on; I'm excited about other projects now. I've lost my enthusiasm for it.

And that's what happens when these things drag on for too long. At the moment everyone who worked on my short is enthusiastic about it and I hope they are excited about seeing it. The advantage of this is that if we need anyone to do anything else like ADR or any promotional stuff it shouldn't be too much of a problem. But once things start to get delayed and you're asking people for favours on a project they thought they'd finished a year ago - then you hit problems. And it becomes the 'Are you still working on that thing?' film.

So I'm hoping that won't happen, and for now the weird part is the stopping. For the last 15 weeks I have been pretty much solely focused on the film. There have been breaks, odd nights off, weekends away, but it's never stopped before without knowing when we were going to start up again. I figured out how to deal with this. I started working on something else - a script I've been writing with Brother Pete that a production company had given us some notes on. By the end of the week I'd had two meetings about other writing projects too. I'm starting to get busy again. I'd succeeded so well in distracting myself that it almost felt like the short film never happened.

Which is the other reason I'm going to continue the diary. And yes, the next couple of entries may be quite dull - 'Week 16 - Nothing to report' - but it will mean we are officially still in post-production. It means that Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw is still the most important project I'm working on right now, and I'm not going to forget that.

P.S. I am now starting to think that perhaps I was a little too eager in setting up the Facebook page, but the one short film-related thing I haven't stopped doing is obsessively checking how many people 'like' it. If you haven't yet you can find it here, and if you have please tell all your friends about it too. That would be awesome.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Short Film Diary - Week 14...

So this week I was mostly drunk. Hence there's not really much to report. Although it was mostly film related drunkenness.

Tuesday was Son of Moviebar which was awesome as always and kind of turned into half a cast and crew reunion. I drank too much and then on Wednesday, our only editing day, the only thing I could really face editing was the outtakes and even that was a struggle. We got to ten minutes, which seems like a lot but it could've been a lot longer. Otherwise editing is going pretty well. We've been saving the complex scenes until last and there are ten of them left. While that's ten tricky, time consuming scenes it's still only ten scenes away from a finished rough cut. Which is how I convince myself we really very nearly finished.

Thursday was the wrap party where I drank some more...

Pretty much everyone involved with the film turned up which was ace. We showed the outtakes on my laptop so no one could really hear anything, but they went down well and it was cool to be able to show off some footage.

Most people I've worked with haven't really bothered with wrap parties once shooting is finished and it means you don't see anyone again until the first screening, which can be months and sometimes (hopefully not in this case) years later. The result of that is it highlights the stark contrast between shooting and editing, just in terms of the number of people involved and the working atmosphere. So it was fantastic to see everyone on Thursday and really served as a reminder of how many people put a lot of time and hard work into this film, which made me want to get it finished and make a good job of it even more.

Ironically, despite officially wrapping the production phase we then did some more filming today. I mentioned before that we had a few pick-up shots to do, we just never got around to filming them until now. We had much fewer people on set, just Darren, Andrea and myself, so it went pretty smoothly and only took a couple of hours.

We officially wrapped at 3.45pm on Sunday 8th August.

Thanks to everyone who signed up to the Facebook page (and if you haven't already it's here) although I'm starting to wonder whether it was a good idea to set it up so early in the process. I feel like now it's there I should post some interesting stuff, which I think is why a lot of film-makers on Facebook seem to post dozens of slightly different versions of the same trailer for their film. In an effort to avoid that I've posted a heavily-edited spoiler-free version of the outtakes on there so you can actually see some low-quality ungraded and overly-compressed (by me messing about) footage:

The first outtake is the very first thing we shot on the very first day of filming.
This week I hope to mostly be editing. I'll let you know how we get on.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Short film diary - Week 13...

Can I call it Week 13? Is that bad luck? Should it be Week 12A or something? I'll risk it...

It's been an odd week. Last weekend we were in Birmingham for a party, which helped the readjustment to a normal life in which I'm not constantly making lists of things I need to do, getting up at absurd hours to start shooting on the seafront and forever worrying about cursed monkeys. Suddenly I have time to do stuff again, normal stuff like what real people do.

But I still can't get used to not doing any film-related activities at all, so ended up making a fan page on Facebook. If you haven't noticed the subtle link on the right, you can find it here. Tell all your friends about it.

I also spent a good few hours tyring to teach myself Photoshop so I could make a temporary poster until I get someone with mad skills to do a proper one. Here's the best I could come up with:

I was going for a kind of carnival sideshow thing, but with the least amount of effort or artistic ability possible.

It's also one of my favourite shots in the film, but one we probably won't be able to use.

This made me realise that I could make up for not being able to post photos of me, Andrea and Darren editing (well I could but they would not be very exciting) by posting stills from the film itself. Which would be great, but I only just thought of it and I only have a fraction of the footage on my computer. And that footage is from a scene we haven't started editing yet. This scene:

Editing has been going pretty well so far and we're about ten minutes into the rough cut, which should be just under halfway through the whole thing. There have been some really awkward bits, the most tricky being a panning shot around the inside of a circle of witches. We had to stitch two shots together then cut the whole thing down to about ten seconds, which took about three hours. Three hours editing. For about ten seconds of footage.

But otherwise, and I'm aware I'm tempting fate here, it has gone very well and we seem to have enough coverage to make all the scenes work the way I want them to. There are a few things I wish we'd picked up on when we were shooting. I think I mentioned in Week 8 that I was struggling to watch what the actors were doing as well as what the camera could see, and there are a few scenes where actually I should've been paying more attention to the actors - just small, occasional inconsistencies that would've been simple enough to sort out if I'd picked up on them at the time. Then there are the shots that could've been better but aren't because we ran out of time or light or some other factor outside our control - so far there haven't been too many of those.

Watching back what we've edited so far I'm really happy with how it's turned out and can't quite believe all the footage is there. I keep expecting to come across a scene that we forgot to film or had to cut for whatever reason, but other than a couple of pick-ups (the same couple of pick-ups I keep mentioning that we still haven't shot) it's pretty much all there.

It's still a long way off being finished - we'll need to fine tune the edit once the rough cut is complete and then there's the grading, sound and music to be done - but my tentative end of the year finish date looks very possible, and it might even be finished sooner.