Thursday, 30 September 2010

Short film diary - Week 21...

I'm afraid I'm going to be a bit rubbish this week! Not only is this post really late, but it's also going to be really short as I'm really busy. Also, if that weren't bad enough I'm moving flats next week so will probably have to put the diary on hold for a bit. If I get chance I may throw in a couple of short-film related blog posts to make up for it but I can't promise anything.

Anyway, last week we mostly did ADR. I would do one of those patronising Oscar-style intros about what ADR is, but that's what the internet is for.

We ended up re-recording the dialogue for the whole film. This is not necessarily because we need it, it's mostly as a back-up and to give my sound editor a number of options. Personally I'm hoping that aside from the exteriors we can mostly use the sound we recorded while filming but we shall see. It took a long time but the actors were all really good at it, even those who had never done it before (I was very impressed!), so it was a fairly easy process.

We tweaked a couple of performances and changed the emphasis on a couple of lines, even adding some lines where necessary to fix issues that had come out of the feedback we've had. But mostly I just wanted everyone to repeat what they did on the day we shot because they were pretty awesome performances already.

I also realised I am no good at this bit. I'm not sure I have an ear for dialogue, which sounds pretty bad coming from a writer. I'm fine with it on the page and know how something should sound. I'm okay with working out how it should be performed but in isolation I often struggled to tell whether a delivery was better, worse or exactly the same. It's like if you say the same word over and over again until it completely loses its meaning and starts to sound like a foreign language - I'd just lose all perspective on it. But I did make a lot of notes beforehand so anything I knew needed fixing got fixed which is the main thing. And my sound recordist is awesome and super-experienced so he made sure we got a couple of really good takes of each line.

Anyway, that's it! Need to pack and do writing and stuff. Will hopefully have an update on the next stages of the short soon.

Oh, and totally sign up to the Facebook page if you haven't already - there are like pictures and stuff...

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Short film diary - Week 20...

So I've been trying to finish a script I've been working on in the few spare hours between the day job and short film stuff, hence last weeks diary being a little late. I finished it in the end, although in my constant state of exhausted confusion had somehow managed to make amendments on two completely different drafts. Luckily this was spotted before the script went out to anyone and I stitched the two amended versions together, but this was a clear indication that I have way too much on right now. And I was going to open this diary with a self-pitying rant about how I never have enough time to do anything, then realised my last two blogs have been about films I've watched and bands I've seen. Maybe I'll skip the self-pitying rant and get right into what happened last week...

So last week was mostly spent amending and polishing the picture edit. Most things have been pretty easy to fix - usually it's just a case of tightening up the edit. There are a couple of problem moments where I'd like to have the edit even tighter and there just isn't anything to cut to, but I don't think these will bother anyone else. We also added in some temporary voice-overs and effects so it would look more like the finished product when we showed it to our next test audience. And it felt like it was nearly there, a few cuts away from being finished...until we actually showed it to our next test audience.

I've had a lot of feedback on scripts in the past and have given a lot of feedback too. I know that if you ask someone for criticism there will always be criticism - you will never reach a point with a script where everyone who reads it agrees that it is the most awesome thing they're ever read. The trick is to work out at which point the criticisms stop being problems with the script and become personal opinion instead.

I usually work on a basis of consistency - if everyone is making the same point, then that issue needs to be addressed. If everyone has different issues then you can choose to ignore the points you disagree with. But with writing that decision will eventually be taken out of your hands. You can get feedback on a script forever, but at some point, in an ideal world, that script will be filmed and the director makes the call on the script being finished.

So now I'm in the situation where I'm the director and that decision is mine, which is part of the reason I wanted to direct in the first place. And it's the part I'm finding difficult. I really want to say we're done, just to be finished. I also really want to put the work in now because I know I'll regret it later. But it can't go on forever.

Well, actually it can. You remember back in Week 15 when I had to put it on hold for a bit and I said it would be fine because no one was due to leave the country anytime soon? Turns out one of our actors is actually leaving the country in October. Like forever. So then we had a deadline to get the picture edit near enough finished so we could record her additional dialogue before she left, which in a lot of ways was a good thing - deadlines are always good. And we got it to a pretty good state and did her ADR session on Sunday - it's mostly the exterior dialogue we needed, but seeing as we can't get her back we ended up just recording all her lines again just in case.

So now there's no deadline again, just me wanting to get it finished by the end of the year. And this still looks possible. I had a meeting with the composer last week too and showed him the film as it was (I cringed at the musical sequence which isn't quite the Busby Berkeley masterpiece I'd described to him when he agreed to write the song). The end of the year is working for him too. But before I can pass him the film to score, we need to lock the picture edit.

Which brings me back to not wanting it to go on forever and getting feedback from our test audience. There are a couple of issues that I wasn't sure about which everyone who's seen the film has now raised, so these definitely need to be changed. There's also one big moment I'm not happy with that I'm hoping to be able to work on soon. Then there's the ending, which is deliberately ambiguous and confuses everyone. I thought I was fine with this, until I explained what the ending was supposed to mean and everyone seemed to get it and suggested a couple of things to make it work. So I'm going to tweak it slightly. It will still be pretty obscure but if it helps another couple of people in the audience get it then it seems worthwhile.

As with a lot of points it feels like we're treading a really fine line between subtlety and spoon-feeding the audience. A few points have been raised where the only solution seems to be for the main character to turn to camera and explain exactly what she's doing and why (she talks direct to camera anyway, so actually this would kind of work). Although sometimes you just have to trust the writing. There was one moment like this where no one was getting it and I was struggling to find a line we could add in ADR that would help it all make sense. Then Andrea pointed out there was a line we missed when we were filming. And the line in the script that I'd completely forgotten about works perfectly and should help the scene make a lot more sense. So now we just need to ADR that line, which was already in the script to being with.

There were other moments that were criticised, of course, but these were individual comments and lacked the consistency among the group that I'm looking for. I also realised, and this is not just me making excuses, that it's actually pretty hard to get feedback on a film in this state. A few people said they found the inconsistencies in the sound really distracting and some of the criticisms were specifically directed at the sound. I'm confident that these issues will all be smoothed over in the sound mix. So we are going to carry on working on it, and I'm hoping we can get some of the recorded sound put in before we lock picture just to make sure. But I think we are getting there.

By next week we should have finished all the ADR meaning we'll be even closer to being finished...

Dimmu Borgir...

So last night I went up to the Forum in London for an evening of Norwegian metal - Dimmu Borgir with support from Sahg and Enslaved. It was awesome. Being in a room full of smiling, excited people wearing black makes me happy. There is nothing ironic about my love of this music and of this subculture. For me it's always been intertwined with the horror genre as a whole, and Dimmu Borgir are the perfect representation of that.

I like the atmosphere at metal gigs too. There's a general friendliness and a positive energy that's hard to find anywhere else. Here all the aggression is in the music. Like when a girl dropped her phone as the band played one of their biggest hits, and about 20 people stopped what they were doing to help her find it. On the tube back from Kentish Town everyone was sharing gig stories and swapping recommendations. I overheard someone say how rare it was that you find yourself on a tube with a huge group of people you have something in common with.

Even the bands came across as warm-hearted and friendly between songs. Dimmu Borgir played a whole chunk of new songs, and when lead singer Shagrath asked the audience what they thought, it didn't come across like fishing for applause. It sounded apprehensive, nervous even. It sounded like he genuinely wanted peoples' opinions, almost as if he expected a serious of well thought out constructive responses instead of the roar of approval that followed. This made me smile too. It humanised them, made it clear that behind the make-up and theatrics there were people making art.

Mostly I get annoyed with people filming gigs on their phones (I don't get why you can't just enjoy the actual experience and capture it on real life brain memory), but I am quite happy to find said footage on Youtube the following day to post on here.

I was at the front on the left somewhere - right next to the speakers which is why I can't hear anything today.

I promise there's a short film diary for last week coming soon, honest...

Monday, 20 September 2010

A Regular Blog-type Blog...

Thought I would have a go at doing a normal blog about some films what I saw and stuff like what normal people write about.

Friday I went to see Brother Tim in dead celebrity caberet show Alive and Swinging at the Latest Music Bar in Brighton. Got to see my little brother dancing with Marilyn Monroe which was awesome. It's not happening again for a couple of months, but there are more dates in December - the 9th, 16th and 23rd I think - and it's definitely worth checking out if you want a night out with famous dead people.

Saturday I had the last ever movie night in my current flat before we move in October. It's been a good flat for movie nights and it was fitting that on this final occasion we watched perhaps the greatest worst film ever made - the Citizen Kane of good bad films, Unmasking the Idol. Basically, it's Poundland James Bond but with ninjas and a baboon sidekick. The baboon sidekick is also a ninja. The final battle is as dramatic and effective as the opening of Saving Private Ryan, only with ninjas. And a baboon. Did I mention that the baboon is also a ninja? The only trailer I could find is for the German version, but it should give you an idea of the general awesomeness:

Sunday I went to see I'm Still Here, the Joaquin Phoenix going looney film, which was actually pretty amazing. Mostly its a film about someone with the arrogance and ego to think that because he's been successful in one industry he can expect the same success to come just as easily in another, despite the fact that he won't have put the same work and dedication into it. Okay, so there's a lot more going on than just that, but I've met a few people with the same attitude in connection with a couple of film projects so it was nice to see it shown up for what it is. There are similarities to other films - Phoenix's downfall reminded me a little of Danny Houston's character in Ivansxtc which is filmed in a documentary style, and there's something about his arrogance and public aggression that reminded me of Anton Newcombe in Dig!

But there's more to it than that, because of who Phoenix is and because of where it sits in an odd, uneasy space between reality and fiction. I still can't quite believe it exists - that someone with that reputation and so much to lose turned their life into a very risky, very public work of art for a year. It means that in terms of the narrative it works on a whole new level that I've never really experienced before. I remember the Letterman incident, watched it on Youtube, chatted about it in the pub, read various reactions on the internet, laughed at Ben Stiller's impression at the Oscars - I guess I'm as guilty as the rest when it comes to a fascination with celebrity downfall. And then I'm watching a film in which this very real thing that I remember happening forms part of the dramatic climax of a work of fiction. It gives you a whole new take on the story. I guess the nearest equivalent is watching something about real life events where you have some frame of reference, except this is kind of different, because it's created; it's intentional. Affleck and Phoenix created a series of real life events in order to tell a story in a film. I think it's a pretty unique and interesting piece of work and I loved it.

I also did some short-film-related stuff which I'll post a diary for in the next day or two...

Monday, 13 September 2010

Short Film Diary - Week 19...

I went blog crazy! There are two blog posts about the film this week - I also wrote a guest post on the secret origin of Jenny Ringo over at Lucy Hay's Write Here, Write Now blog which you can read here.

Anyway, here's what happened last week:

19 weeks seems like a really long time! I'm hoping the whole thing can be finished by Week 26. 6 months seems like it's a reasonable amount of time to spend on a 25-minute short and I don't really want it to run on any longer than that. We had a post-production meeting on Sunday and have started to schedule in locking the picture edit and dates to record the ADR so it is starting to seem like the finish line is in sight. I'm having a meeting with the composer this week too so hopefully should have an even more accurate idea then of when we'll be finished.

This past week has mostly been about showing the rough cut to a few people to get feedback on it and make sure it's working before we lock the picture edit. It's difficult to get feedback on a film in this state because the sound is all over the place which makes it quite hard to follow. There are huge chunks of silence where there's supposed to be voice over which doesn't help and even where there is audio it's unedited and is a bit distracting. This is the excuse I'm using for anything that may not be working!

There are basically a couple of plot points that need to be reinforced somehow. I'm not sure how yet but I'm hoping we can get away with fixing them in the audio and maybe adding or changing some of the lines in ADR. The ending is confusing people too, which is fine to a point. It's a deliberately confusing ending. But I'd like at least 50% of the audience to get it.

On a positive note, everyone seems very impressed with how it looks and the technical aspects. The parts that I'm not happy with don't seem to be an issue. The musical number, which I now have to skip past when I'm watching it on my own because I can't bear to watch it, has been everyones' favourite part so far. I think even though most people know we did it, it's a change of pace and still comes as a surprise (hopefully not a relief). Also it's so quick I don't think people notice the bad edits on first viewing. So that's good news - it was always supposed to be the highlight of the film and for a moment I was worried it would be the worst bit, but thankfully not.

Most people have been impressed by how we've made our flat look like a film set and not like our flat. Which I can't see because I know it's my flat so it always just looks like we made a film in my flat. But it's great that no one else is thinking that!

Everyone has been pretty happy with the pacing so far, and despite the length no one has said it drags or feels too long. A couple of people have also said it feels a lot shorter than 25 minutes which is good.

I find this stage really difficult. Part of me wants to get it finished as soon as possible, but then part of me realises that having put this much work into it it would be a shame to not spend a bit more time and effort fixing those last few issues. Part of me feels like it's practically finished already and I have to stop myself showing it to everyone I know, part of me thinks too many people have seen it already and I want to wait until it's properly finished before showing anyone else.

I think something changes once people start to see something you've been working on. Random example - I was really excited about the Nightmare on Elm Street remake. It looked like it had real potential and I loved the trailer. It felt like, 'Here's this awesome film that already exists somewhere and all the trailers are screaming 'awesome' at me and I just need to see it as soon as possible.' I was planning to go see it as soon as it came out. Except I didn't for whatever reason. Then I read reviews and it didn't seem like it was going to be that great. Then I spoke to friends who'd seen it and they were disappointed. So I didn't bother. The point is not that I think people will be disappointed with my film (How could they be disappointed? It's awesome), but that right now, when no one's seen it, I can tell you it's awesome (like I just did) and no one can really say otherwise because no one's seen it. Which probably makes me sound completely ridiculous - the whole point of making a film, the whole point of art even, is for people to experience it. I'm just saying that I enjoy the part when no one knows anything about it other than the people who worked on it. It's ours at the moment, and we can say it's awesome all we want with no one to tell us otherwise.

And there's something else. Part of me wants to get feedback from my peers and to find out which bits aren't working, but part of me just wants to be congratulated for getting this far with it. That's the hard part. If a film works, it should never be obvious how difficult it was to make. The process should be completely hidden. But at the same time when someone's watching it it's hard not to shout out 'That bit was really hard to do! You have no idea how difficult it was!! I nearly went crazy and started seeing monkey's everywhere!!!'

But you can't.

So the above rambling is how I react when I get well thought out, constructive and very useful criticism from my friends that I have specifically requested. I think I'm going to struggle when the film is actually finished and we start showing it to strangers.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Warrioress trailer...

Look! Women with swords fighting ninjas!! In Guernsey!!!

Ross and Cecily have been working on this film for the last 25 years. Well, not quite that long, but they have been working on it a really long time and it's great to see it finally getting close to being finished. Also, I wrote some bits! Although I'm not sure which bits as it was ages ago - I think it was mostly fixing the structure.

If you want to find out more there's a Facebook group here and a fan page here.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Return of my evil twin!

So last September I told the story of my evil twin and how he first appeared in Norwich, followed me to Chelmsford, moved to Cambodia for a while and then resurfaced in Brighton. You can read the whole story and about that last sighting here. Since then my life has been fairly evil twin free. Not one reported sighting.

Until now.

So last night I went to a Brighton Filmmakers Coalition event at Madame Geisha (which was a fantastic evening - felt a bit more like an art installation than a film screening but in a good way). I'm making my way to the bar to get a drink and happen to push my way through the crowd at the same time as someone else. And the someone else looks across and smiles. And I nod, smile back, presuming it's a general 'busy in here isn't it?' smile.

Then he does a rather dramatic double-take. At this point I have a bad feeling that I know what's coming next. I presume the over-the-top double-take was due to the fact that the friendly smile didn't get the predicted response, that I was supposed to say 'Oh, hi Jeff Random, I haven't seen you for ages, not since that thing in the thingy place...'

But I don't. Because I have never seen Jeff Random before in my life.

I turn away, thinking maybe he's drunk, or looking at someone else behind me or something. I concentrate on catching the attention of someone behind the bar. Every now and again I chance a glance to my left and see that he is still there, still smiling at me.

Then he says something to the effect of 'How's it going?'

I am somewhat relieved. He's just being friendly, looking for a pleasant chat at the bar while we wait for the overworked barstaff to get around to us. It's a room full of local filmmaking types so it's safe to assume he is on the lookout for a potential networking opportunity. I realise I'm just being paranoid so I drop the confused act and play along.

'Alright,' I say, 'How are you?'

Then he confirms my worst fears and says 'We were in a workshop together.'

The kind of evening it is, I assume he means some kind of creative arty workshop, and not the manufacturing type. I try to think if I've been in any workshops recently. I haven't really, not since university. He can't be thinking that long ago, surely. Maybe I was in one by mistake? Like I was in a pub having a drink with friends and it turned out there was some kind of workshop in progress only we were all too drunk to notice? But he's talking like I participated. And then I wonder if it's some kind of joke, like that theatre group in New York who pick random strangers in bars and pretend they are all his friends and all there for his birthday party as a kind of street-theatre/practical joke/social experiment thing. But no one else seems to be in on this, and Jeff Random seems very sincere. He really believes I was in this workshop.

'I don't think that's me,' I say.

'Yeah, it was you, I'm sure,' he replies. And he tells me what the workshop is - I can't remember exactly, but it was some kind of physical theatre thing. The kind of thing I am very unlikely to have attended, but he's positive I was there. Jeff Random looks at me like he knows exactly who I am. He even looks pleased to see me, like we had an awesome time in that workshop and he just wants to reminisce.

And then I start to think about something - does my evil twin also have a beard? Last time he was spotted I didn't have a beard. Now I do, and Jeff Random recognises me. Is my evil twin mirroring my appearence? And there's another, more worrying factor here. Technically, in the history of evil twins, only the evil one has facial hair - a precedent set by Evil Michael Knight in Knightrider:

Surely we can't both have beards? But maybe he's not an 'evil' twin. Maybe he's just a long lost twin. Or a clone? Or a version of me from the future? Yes, time travel, that makes sense! That's why I never see him, because it will cause a tear in the space-time thingy, or we will turn into big blobs of CGI like Ron Silver in Timecop.

Meanwhile Jeff Random is not ready to give up on me just yet...

'Don't you remember?' he asks.

'No,' I say, and then helpfully 'Maybe I was drunk?'

I'm not sure where I was going with that, but the fact that I would consider turning up to a physical theatre workshop while intoxicated seems to be the thing that finally convinces him I'm not who he thinks I am.

He does another double-take, then apologies. Even offers to buy me a drink to make up for the awkwardness. I introduce myself properly and then someone I actually do know pushes to the bar next to me. I say my goodbyes and chat to my real friend.

But the last thing Jeff Random says stays with me. He looked me in the eye and with a deadly serious tone said, 'You've got a doppelganger, mate.'

So it would seem.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Short Film Diary - Week 18...

The rough cut is finished! We have reached our first post-production milestone and I now have twenty-five minutes of edited footage that plays like a film. It's an ungraded film with terrible sound, no music, long stretches of silence and a couple of scenes that really don't work, but it is a film. I've watched it through a few times now and it does work - there is a story with a beginning, middle and end with stuff happening and characters that develop and all those things like what you see in proper films.

Yes, I am very excited about it.

When we checked it through scene by scene it didn't even seem like there was too much that needed fixing. A few shots run on a little long and need tightening and there are a couple of moments where I'm hoping we have better takes we can use, but for the most part I'd say it's 90% awesome.

The musical sequence is the only real problem. I am determined to make it work somehow. The first minute of it is almost perfect except for one split-second shot. The next 30 seconds are a bit ropey and then it all falls apart at the end. But the optimist in me says that's only one minute of footage we need to re-edit. And that's not too bad.

There are a couple of possible solutions. One involves re-editing it using what we have. The other involves re-shooting one or two elements of it to make it work. I'm reluctant to admit it, but the re-shoot is looking like the easiest option in the long-run. The problems are time and weather. The time issue isn't so bad - we need like an hour with one actor so we can do it in an evening. Weather is looking like the real problem. It was the problem with the sequence to begin with so there's no point re-shooting with a cloudy sky again. We need lots of blue, and it's getting to be the wrong time of year for blue skies. Maybe that tricky re-edit will be the best option after all.

Also, I should point out that no one has seen the rough cut apart from the three people working on it. We are about to show it to a few experienced filmmaker friends for feedback and I am a bit worried that some of it doesn't work and I'm too close to the process to see it. That's the problem with writing, directing and then being involved in the editing as well. I know exactly what's supposed to be going on in the film so it's hard to see whether that will actually come across to someone seeing it for the first time.

But for now I'm really happy to have reached this stage and I'm looking forward to moving on to the next bit.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes...

'Your torments call us like dogs in the night. And we do feed, and feed well. To stuff ourselves on other people's torments. And butter our plain bread with delicious pain... Funerals, marriages, lost loves, lonely beds - that is our diet. We suck that misery and find it sweet.'
The best line from the best scene of Something Wicked This Way Comes, delivered with perfect malevolence and menace by Jonathan Pryce as Mr Dark. I used to have nightmares about Mr Dark. I can't remember how old I was when I first saw the film, but I can't have been much older than Will Halloway or Jim Nightshade are in the film. I remember being particularly haunted by the scene in the library - by the fact that Mr Dark finds the boys despite their best efforts to hide and takes them back to the carnival. The spider scene always scared me too.

Watching it now for the first time since then I was really impressed by how effective the film is. Pryce is awesome, as is Jason Robards who plays Will's father and goes head to head with Mr Dark in an effort to make up for not being the dad he feels he should have been. The scenes I remember being scary are still pretty terrifying now - particularly the spider scene. Not to sound older than my years, but it would all be done on a 'puter these days.

The script, by Bradbury himself, brilliantly weaves the concerns and arcs of both the child characters and the adult characters together without over-complicating the story. And it's directed by Jack Clayton who also directed The Innocents (one of the most beautiful and haunting horror films ever made) and applies the same atmosphere of creeping dread here. He also came from Brighton, which is probably of no interest to anyone except other Brightonians.

There are also elements I think I may have subconsciously stolen for some of my own work. The way magic works in the film is certainly familiar and the 'wishes gone bad' formula is at the heart of Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw. There is also something of Mr Dark in the Magician character in my film, and Mr Dark's carnival is not too dissimilar to the Magician's theatre. They are both populated with the ghosts of past victims.

For some reason it doesn't appear to have ever been released on DVD in the UK, but you can get it on Region 1 and it's certainly worth seeking out.