Sunday, 28 February 2010

A music video! November 2009

Pablo, a friend from work, is the drummer for a local South East London band, The Explorer's Collective. Pablo saw my barbecue invite and a while later I got a call from the band, asking me if I wanted to direct a music video for them. My first instinct was to say "no way" because of my lack of experience and the pressure of making something for other people rather than myself, at a period when I really wanted to find my way slowly but surely and not be rushed, but getting stuck in is the best way to get experience, so nervously, I agreed. I told the band to keep their hopes at an all time low, because I may own a camcorder but that is the limit of my suitability to direct a music video.

The song is Bangers And Mash, and it's a cheerful number about a serial killer cannibal. The great thing about the song is that the video script writes itself, as the lyrics are very story based. With some videos it is very lazy and uninspired to take things too literally, but with a song like this, it seemed foolish to deviate from the story set out in the lyrics, and the ideas for a video that the band brought to me were also around this area, so I began to storyboard my plan.

I found it was helpful to print out the lyrics and work from them. A script is the natural starting point for anyone making a film, so the lyrics and the story of the song became our script. The video would be shot entirely at the house of the bassist/singer, Mark, who would play a dual role along with Frazer, singer/guitarist, as the murderous couple who lived in the house. They would also play themselves, along with Neil and Pablo, guitarist and drummer, who would also play themselves. The band would visit the house, which has been set up to look like a recording studio to lure in unsuspecting musicians, so that the inhabitants may kill them and eat them.

The video would be a two parter, with the band finding an ad for this "recording studio", arriving, and playing the song in the house. The second part would be the story that fits the lyrics, with the band being picked off and killed by the couple after arriving at the house. The two parts would come together to form the whole video. We wanted to keep it light though, and hopefully fun. If murder can be fun. Of course it can!!

I went "on location" to Mark's house and we checked out the various rooms and the garden and decided what we could use. We knocked up a quick storyboard and I took some test footage so I could take it home and see how it looked. I spent the next few days expanding the storyboard and buying props, such as wigs, machetes, severed limbs, the usual stuff. The challenge with storyboarding was that I needed to have all the "acting" sections to fit the lyrics which meant the band footage would mostly be relegated to instrumental sections. This was easy enough to work in to the storyboarding.

We set a date to come and shoot all the live footage, in which the band would play the song in the garden. We took several takes of them performing the whole song to a backing track so I would have plenty of footage to choose from. We were lucky, not only did it not rain, but, for late October, it was a warm and sunny day. I played around with various settings on the camera (stabbing in the dark really) to make the colours seem really bright and to enhance the beautiful sunshine.

After we got the live footage down, we did a test run with the camera and just acted out the rest of the video around the house, following the storyboard to see if I could make a rough rehearsal edit of the video, for two reasons. One, I needed to see IF I could actually edit this stuff together, and two, I could see if it worked as a music video. After we got all the footage, after a whole day of filming, we went downstairs and watched the unedited footage back on a TV in Mark's basement and drank a few beers and ordered pizza. The footage was hilarious, we were clearly clueless and confused, no-one could act, and I had no idea how to get people to act. But it was okay, because the video is meant to be silly, so the lack of any talent didn't hurt it at all, which was a great relief.

I edited the footage together into a video using iMovie over the weekend and sent it to the guys. The timing of some of the performance parts wasn't perfect but this was just a dry run and by this point I knew I could do it. I did another pass on my storyboarding to make it more interesting and I realised that the lighting inside the house really needed to be enhanced. I also noticed that there was more story footage than I could fit into the song comfortably, so I edited the storyboards again.

My method for syncing the music with the performance was clumsy... the band would be miming to the song playing on a stereo when I was filming. The drums drowned it out a little but certain noises, like S noises, or guitar slides, became anchors I could use to sync the footage to the song. I'd get it close and then start removing or adding frames of video until it looked right on playback. The fine tuning took a while, so I saved the effort for when I would be doing the final edit.

All in all I'm really glad we did the rehearsal run and filmed it. It made the final video so much better. Yes, that's right, it could have been EVEN WORSE. Bet you didn't think that was possible.

We went back to Mark's place next week and shot the indoors scenes, the story footage. We dressed Mark and Frazer up as their characters (the murderous couple) and I had pre-arranged the shooting order so that they wouldn't have to be getting changed every five minutes. Frazer's terrible fake moustache wouldn't stay on for more than a few second at a time, and Mark's wig was incredibly hot (not sexy hot) and his horn rimmed spectacles were too small. I think they were made for children's fancy dress. He must have suffered quite a bit for his art!!! Or my art?? No, you can't call it art.

We used a bright halogen lamp that we used to light the indoor scenes too. Where possible I tried to make the lighting quite nightmarish, which was a great change from the washed out grey our rehearsal footage was in. Look, I know this is all boring as hell, but someone somewhere in the universe might get some use out of all this detail when making their own-  far superior - video.

We shot out of sequence to maximise the use of our time and although I tried to be super organised I kept leaving my paperwork lying around in other rooms. I was constantly running around trying to stay on top of everything and make sure we didn't miss anything out. Mark also has a baby, so we had to film without waking little Oliver too. In one scene Oliver could be seen peering out of a first floor window into the garden while the band are playing!

One thing which could have been a problem was the completely different levels of sunlight on the two separate days. But because all the bright sunny band footage would not be edited with any continuity with the rest of the footage, it wasn't an issue. The day went on for much longer than planned and our final scenes, the end of the video, were shot in darkness. This worked in our favour because the passing of time actually, by accident, fits the time frame of the video. A sunny beginning and a dark end. Because the story of the video is consecutive, it makes sense to go from daytime to night-time. We also drafted in Mark's wife and her sister, Jana and Lucy, to help us as extras in the final scene. They were really excited about helping and they really went to town on their outfits!! Top marks!! You'll notice Lucy, as a policewoman, has a baby monitor as her walkie talkie. Work with what you've got!

Anyway, here is the video, my first serious project, although of course the video is far from serious. It's not perfect, but it was fun to make, and I'm kinda proud of it. I think we spent £20 on props, and that was our only real cost. Thanks to the band for allowing me to direct their video!

It's homemade, it's goofy, but it was a hell of a lot of fun and I learned a lot!!!

A stupid video invite - Late June 2009

I made this in about an hour one sunny saturday in preparation for a barbecue party my girlfriend and I would be hosting. I just got the camcorder out, set up the barbecue, and edited it together using iMovie. If you're a mac user and you want to get started making movies or video shorts or anything, then I highly recommend you get stuck into iMovie. You can learn the basics in minutes and before you know it you'll be making rubbish like this!! This was my first project in iMovie. I just wanted an excuse to try and make something.

Again, this showcases zero talent, but it was just a stupid bit of fun :-)

People came to the party too. It rained all day. Fucking England.

I almost regret making this. :-D It's nothing special, there are a million of these stupid things on youtube.

I would just like to re-iterate the point here that I really really don't know what I'm doing, but I'm doing it anyway.

I have no authority to give advice on making video shots. And I don't want to pretend I do! But I've read a lot of stuff over the past couple of years and some if it might be useful to someone. As will my experiences and the mistakes I make. Probably not though. Who knows.

A big big thank you to my girlfriend for starring in the video with me :-)
Dee, you're awesome.

Authentic prop weaponry - airsoft guns

This is an airsoft gun I bought a while back (airsoft is a sport similiar to paintball but with pellet guns). It cost £25, and is a cheap and utterly inaccurate rifle, spring loaded, not gas or electric. Bottom of the range. The loading lever actually broke after a week. My friend bought an electric powered one which was way better but more than twice the price. This gun is rubbish as an airsoft gun, but great as a prop gun!!!

It is full size, unlike any toy guns. It's plastic, but it looks really good... you can see it in the photos.

A word of warning though, since 2007 (after I bought this) it has been a legal requirement that these guns are sold with at least half the bodywork in a neon colour so that the guns do not look real. You can still buy these guns online, but they will be two-tone unless you have an airsoft license.

There are lots of blogs and forums giving advice on spraypainting these guns back to black to make them look real. I believe this is against the law and I cannot advise that you should do this. Walking around town with a realistic looking assault rifle is a really good way to test your local police response time. Don't get yourself shot!!!

Here's where I bought mine from:

Be aware of getting an airsoft addiction and building up a huge arsenal of fake weapons. :-)

Why did I buy this fucking thing? I've never used it in a video shoot and it just sits down the side of a shelving unit. Be good to chase off home invaders with though I suppose.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

cheap tripod dolly

On - basically a set of wheels to clamp your tripod into turning it into a basic dolly. 
£30 including delivery. This will also make the tripod more stable even when it is still. A great price, given how expensive so much camera equipment is. 

I also recently bought a hama star 63 tripod which are heavily reduced on amazon. Got mine for £15. Do an amazon search for "hama star" and have a look at what they have. Nicer than my old tripod, a bit heavier, and has a three-way head so I can tilt the camera in every direction. Still a little plasticy but ift feels solid. Cheap but decent!! Gets the job done.

The first video I ever made with my camera: (early camera test - terrible)

I'm no Kubrick. I made this video at work with my friend Matt. It was a test run with just the two of us playing various characters, I just wanted to try and edit a scene together. This was shot in a dark room at the back of my workplace. The blood squib worked really well! Unfortunately the room was dark so it doesn't show up well. In fact the visual quality is terrible, a lot more lighting was needed.

It's confusing and looks a bit rubbish. I wasn't concerned with lighting or aesthetics, and at the time I knew even less about composition than I do now. Like I said though, I just wanted to get stuck in and see if I could edit a scene together. I lightly storyboarded and shot it out of sequence order. After I put it together I realised it was utter crap so I stuck some Stooges on it because Iggy makes everything better!!

Please note that this is just test footage, I am well aware that it is terrible!!!!!!!!!!

I slo-mo'd the blood squib on a replay because that was the best bit!!

Unfortunately the film that this would have been test footage for is no longer a project I'm working on. It was a childish and juvenile idea for a project, ninjas and swordfighting and gunplay. But what's the point if it's not fun!!!! It's a shame I won't get to make it, but the rest of the world is probably better for it!!

How to make bullet hits with fake blood!! FUN

Full credit to the guys at the above link for this one!!

You will need some hosepipe, some fake blood (use cornpowder, water, food colouring, corn syrup instead of powder if you can get it but I can never seem to find it in the supermarkets in the UK, EDIT: use glycerin from the baking section of a supermarket, or hair gel!!), and a manual pressure sprayer with a hand pump. I bought my pressure sprayer from Halfords for £5, you can also get them from garden stores (pesticide/plant feed sprayer). Use a clean and unused one though, you don't want to poison anyone with DDT or anything.

I have used this method myself... basically you run a garden hose (with the end of the hose blocked off) under your actor's shirt. Secure it to the body. Near the blocked-off end of the hose, make a hole in the hose wall  that you point outwards away from the actor. If possible do some light scoring of the fabric that sits over the hole. Plug this hole with tissue paper or sponge, plug it quite tight but not too tight. You fill the hose with fake blood and attach your manual pressure sprayer to the other end of the hose, which will be off screen and controlled by the bloodsplosion technician. You have your bloodsplosion technician pump the bejesus out of the sprayer (50 pumps or more) to pressurise it and when they pull the trigger, the pressure shoots through the hose and sprays the blood out in a realistic and silly fake bullet hit.

Tip - make sure the end of the hose that is blocked off is blocked off tight, as tight as possible because while you intend for your directional plug to be dislodged, you do NOT want the pressure to fire the end of the hose out and drench your actor under the shirt!! Also, on the other end of the hose, make sure the hose is secure on the nozzle of the sprayer, as the pressure can fire the hose off the nozzle and spray your bloodsplosion technician in fake blood. My girlfriend and esteemed bloodsplosion tech found that out the hard way. Hehehe. You want to use as short a hose as possible to maximise the effect.

Also use a lot of blood, make it gruesome, remember you are shooting on video and things always look less impressive on the screen, so over-compensate. One more thing, be aware that the time between when you pull the pressure sprayer trigger and when the effect works is variable, it can be instantaneous and other times it might take a second while the pressure discharges before it is enough to blow the plug from the hose. This is messy too, do it outside... the food colouring can really stain a bathroom.

Have fun!!!!!!!!!

Edit - here is a much simpler and low-tech way, taping sandwich bags filled with blood to your body and popping the bags with your hand when you get injured (clutching your injury at impact). Again, full credit to the authors.

DIY rigs for your camera

Some great websites on build-it-yourself rigs and dollies and cranes and other cool things to stick your camcorder on!!! Really fun and inspirational. (registration required, free and totally worth it). Some of this stuff is really easy to make and super-no-budget!

A great blog by a guy who does high-end video and photography for fun. I love his rigs, I don't have the means to build such amazing things myself but this is a great place to get ideas.

A website that sells blueprints for DIY lighting rigs, tripods, dollys and all kinds of cool stuff. I've never bought anything from here, but I like looking at the pictures :-s

More of the same:

THE FIG RIG - a camera rig designed by Mike Figgis for digital video cameras. Because these cameras are so very light and often handheld, camera shake can be a real issue, especially when you blow your footage up on a projector. Previously tiny movements become big sweeping judders in your cinematography and can make your audience feel sick! Manfrotto have built Mike's fig rig and are selling them for a lot of money.... make one yourself!! The fig rig works by stabilising the camera and using your elbows and arms to absorb all the little tremors. You can make a basic version with PVC piping or with bits of wood. There's dozens of variations... Here's one

I made my own one out a leftover lump of wood and a sawed up broom handle. I wish I had a proper workshop... I had to use a pound-store saw and I broke my cheap drill while knocking all this up on my bedroom floor. It's taking the basic idea of the fig rig and stripping it down to basics, but it does the job! Crappy image here

That's what's great about a lot of the tutorials you can find online. You can just adapt the basics and make something at home practically for nothing.

How to give your project that "film" look

Unfortunately a lot of people are snobbish about shooting on video. And while it is true that film DOES look better, it's also a lot more hard work and money. The schism is that professional projects or anything worth seeing are shot on film, whereas cheap DIY projects are shot on video and unfortunately the disparity between the two seems to convince people of inherent quality. It's something we've all been indoctrinated with (higher cost = better quality), but it's not necessarily true.

If the person behind the camera has the talent, then the medium shouldn't matter. 

Here's something to level the playing field a litte... a great article from -

 Seven Secrets of Shooting Video to Look like Film

Very useful information. Some of it a little over my head :-D 
Tips on how to soften the harsh "video" look and some general tips that are of use to any no-budget filmmaker. 


Great books for no-budget filmmakers

Mike Figgis - Digital Filmmaking

Mike Figgis has been a succesful film director for many years and he is a champion of digital video. In this book he talks about his love for the medium, it's future, and shares stories of films he's worked on as well as imparting some tips and advice on filmmaking and directing in general. A slim volume but a good read for anyone interested in filmmaking.

Amazon UK link

Rebel Without A Crew - Robert Rodriguez

This is Rodriguez' account of the time he spent making El Mariachi. Robert had grown up making short films with his brother and sisters, editing them with two VHS players wired together. He eventually decided to try and make a full length movie, doing all the crew work himself. He hired friends to help him make a film that he could release on the Mexican video market, just to see if he could do it. The film ended up being a worldwide hit. An inspirational book about a director with determination and a great attitude to DIY filmmaking. An entertaining read brimming with tips.

Amazon UK link

The DV Rebel's Guide - Stu Maschwitz 

True guerilla filmmaking (moreso than the Guerilla Filmmaker's Handbook, which was very industry based), teaching you how to get stuck in and do it yourself. Great tips on raising the production value of your shots to make them look professional and a huge selection of tips for working with special effects including the use of guns, shooting, models, CG mattes, and other assorted digital trickery. Written with a great DIY ethic that encourages you to be open, smart, and flexible. Packed with useful information and instructions.

Amazon UK link

Make Your Own Damn Movie! - Lloyd Kaufman

Lloyd Kaufman is the man behind Troma, the low-budget bad taste film studio that brought us classics such as the Toxic Avenger series and Poultrygeist. This is Lloyd's tome on filmmaking, replete with advice on staffing, budgets, special effects and directing. While Lloyd's tips on building a crew (hire hundreds of volunteers and treat them like crap) might be of little use to the go-it-alone filmmaker, his stories of film festivals, production, and the industry in general are deeply fascinating and highly motivational. He also shares tips on how to make a dummy head that can be blown up or ran over to gruesome effect. Kaufman is acidid, acerbic, and slightly nuts. A man who argues with his editor and co-founders even within the pages of his book. A great read!!

Amazon UK link

On Directing Film - David Mamet

Writer/Director David Mamet has experience of writing and directing both in theatre and on the big screen. He is an advocate of pure filmmaking and the power of drama. In this short book he brings his experience to bear in a series of chapters built like lectures and tutorials where he teaches us how to construct a scene and how to give power to drama while avoiding cliches and conventions. Useful and informative.

Amazon UK link

Bambi Vs Godzilla - David Mamet

Mamet again, this time raging against the machine of big industry filmmaking. Have you ever wondered why movies seem to be getting dumber? About how they are more about spectacle than substance? About how money rules the roost? This rip roaring assassination of the movie industry is an essential read to anyone interested in movies. Less informative for the no-budget filmmaker, but an enlightening book that really gets you fired up and glad you're not working for a studio.

Amazon UK link

Making Movies - Sidney Lumet

Few filmmakers have the kind of pedigree and experience that Lumet has. In this book Sidney muses about his time in Hollywood, about creative control, and about the multi-layered nuances of the film industry. Importantly, he also talks about his experience working directly with actors, and about the understanding that needs to exist between a director and his crew. He also talks about exactly what a film shoot consists of, which is revealing and insightful - while no-budget filmmakers will not be working with this kind of scale, it shows you the kind of things you need to think about, and for me, it made me happy that I would never be working with a studio, with producers, and with a huge crew. Lumet also discusses the power of editing, of lenses and setting up your scenes. Small things that as moviegoers we barely notice, but which coalesce together to ooze atmosphere and intention.

Amazon UK link

Digital Video - Collins Gem Guide

A basic introduction to digital video. If you're new to the medium, this is a pretty basic introduction with a few useful tips for the beginner. It will give you enough to get started and it fits in your pocket.

Amazon UK link

What do I want?

Basically I want to work on some small scale video projects. I'm new to this and as such I want to bumble along and make my own mistakes, so I'm not looking to get a budget or hire a sizeable crew. No thank you!! It's easy to get stuck in and just do your own thing and with a little planning you don't need much help. It's a different story if you're trying to create something incredibly worthwhile, and you NEED talented people to help you. But these are my first steps, and I'm not doing this for anyone but myself at the moment. I'll draft in my friends and we'll have some fun. If I get off the starting blocks okay, maybe I can look towards doing something more impressive, or working with more people.

A lot of filmmaking books and guides will tell you to assemble a crew, or to find ways to drum up a budget, and will give you trails to follow to production agencies and professionals and unions and blah blah blah. Consumer camcorders are idiot friendly and nowhere near as complex as proper film cameras or even high-end DV cameras, you don't actually NEED a crew like that. Or a budget. Even low budget films cost crazy amounts of money that I'm never going to see. I'm very much looking at NO budget filmmaking, films made with spending as little money as possible and without a paid crew.

So I want to work on no-budget films, working very much with a small team of friends and doing much of this alone (no better way to get your head around editing than to do it yourself) and definitely outside of the system of film and media production. I'm not really interested in finding a job in filmmaking. I just want to get stuck in and do things my way.

By the way, if getting a career in film production is your goal, then you should probably find a way in, even from the bottom. Working with other people will probably teach you a lot, and working in the system will bring you closer to what you want to achieve or will at least put you on the ladder. I'm not looking for a career. Just a hobby.

Friday, 26 February 2010

My gear - the camera

Panasonic NV-GS330. A half decent camcorder from Panasonic. Records on to MiniDV tape which means the video is really easy to upload on to my computer via a firewire connection using iMovie or Final Cut. iMovie is a free program with a mac, and it's really user friendly.

I'll be basic here, mainly because I only know the basics! I've basically jumped into this with both feet without having much background. A good selling point of this camera - it comes with 3CCD chips rather than one so you get deeper brighter colours. Panasonic apparently make quite a lot of television cameras that journalists and news reporters use, and they've put their know-how into the small consumer camcorder. Downside is that you have a wide depth of field so it's harder to get cool shots with the foreground in focus and the background blurry, but being a camcorder, this would always be the case anyway, so the trade off is okay. You can still get those shots if you plan them well and use a solid tripod and zoom in from far away. A camcorder lens with no zoom is a wide angle, and when zoomed all the way in, becomes a (moderately) long lens. You also have the option to manually alter the white balance, focus and aperture to give you more control over the picture. Digital Video is still video though, and you need things to be well lit to avoid harsh graininess and ugly looking footage. Another downside to my camera is that it has no external mic port, meaning I need to either use the on-board mic which is risky, especially if I want to edit scenes together that might have different background noise as the mic is omni directional. If I had an external mic port I could attach a shotgun mic which would only pick up the noise it is pointing at, which cuts out background noise and makes it easier to edit scenes together. A workaround - record sound into a separate sound recorder and combine at a later date. Ouch.


  • Relatively cheap consumer camcorder
  • 3CCD meaning bright colours and good visual clarity
  • MiniDV so instantly compatible with my computer and editing software
  • Manual control available for focus, shutter/aperture, white balance


  • Digital Video needs good lighting
  • No external mic jack
  • Not HD
I also have an outdoor halogen spotlight on a stand that I picked up from a DIY store for about £25, and an inexpensive tripod I bought on ebay years ago for photography for about £15. Very very basic stuff and inexpensive. But that's the fun part, I basically have no idea what I'm doing :-D

First blog.

My name's Dan.
I set up this blog to keep tabs on my progress in the field of being a very very amateur filmmaker. I will not pretend to know what I am doing, but I intend to stumble blindly on and see if I can actually achieve anything in this field. Maybe my mistakes might be of interest to someone... maybe not. I can't say why I've decided to do this, it had always been a pipe dream I had entertained since I was a teenager. But one week, aged 27, I seemed to have awaken with a burning desire to make no-budget films and shorts. I had no experience whatsoever. I began to devour books by low budget directors and guerilla filmmakers, and I spent a few days researching cameras before I spent £300 on a Panasonic NV-GS330, a 3 CCD miniDV camcorder. I was working in a bookstore at the time, not exactly earning the big money, so I opted for something affordable and well reviewed (Although as I browse around, it seems plenty of people hate this camera too) because there was every possibility that I was in the grip of heartfelt but short lived new-hobbyitis. So the camera is hardly a pro choice, but hell, if you can't work with what you've got, then you don't have what it takes anyway.

As for putting the footage together, I started with iMovie (such a great program) and am currently learning Final Cut Express. They have both served me very well.

So I took my camera to work and assembled some of my colleagues. We'd shoot small videos of ourselves messing around at work. One guy had a great realistic airsoft guns he'd imported from Japan. We went online and bought some cheap neon airsoft rifles and spray painted them black. We took them to work along with a samurai sword I bought on ebay for my flatmate, sneaked into a poster tube. After we locked the store up and the manager went home for the night, we let ourselves back in with my girlfriend in tow (assistant director!), deactivated the alarm and we just played around with the camera in the back room after hours, a huge cavernous room with bare brick walls and a dusty floor, throwing home made fake blood around and doing a practice run for a crappy but fun idea about guys with swords and guns fighting zombies. I didn't care that it was stupid as hell, I just wanted to see if the camera worked. Unfortunately the back room was only lit by a single fluorescent tube so the video quality was ass. Also unfortunately, I got caught by the manager who was a great guy, but was highly concerned that I was bringing guns to work and trespassing after hours on the property. It probably didn't help that me and some of the guys from work spent 30 minutes of work time shooting up some old damaged books (High School Musical - who wouldn't want to shoot Zac Efron) with my new airsoft rifle. We were encouragable oafs.

I got suspended pending an investigation from head office and almost lost my job. I kept it by the skin of my teeth, but handed in my resignation while on suspension anyway, as I had received a new job offer. It was a hairy time, no-one wants to get fired with no savings and with rent to pay. But I managed to move into a new job and I managed to avoid getting fired. I worked my notice amicably and I miss everyone there.

I hardly ever see the guys from the bookstore, and our highly enthusiastic plans of making a terrible no-budget action movie (I was highly motivated by Robert Rodriguez' book Rebel Without A Crew) died a death. But I still had my camera, and I was just waiting for the right opportunity to come along.

But you can't just hang around. You need to get out there and start making things. I need to be more MOTIVATED. I need to get stuck in. That's why I've started this blog... to talk about getting started with zero experience and zero credentials. Hopefully somebody might find it interesting!!