Sunday, 28 March 2010

Exploding Cinema highlights

Hippo Birdwings by Andrew Rowe, 2009

Simply a recording of a real life conversation, but I like the simple, textual presentation that Rowe has used. Very simple but very effective, and well received.

Suck A Thumb - Richard Mansfield 

A shadow puppet movie made using card cut-outs filmed live rather than animated. Based on the story by Heinrich Hoffman.

There were also a couple of good documentaries, one about race relations in Luton titled The United Colours Of Luton by Gagandeep Singh, which put forward the view that different communities within the same town or city need to have open channels of communication to prevent them from becoming insular, and a fascinating documentary called Vanilla by Jason Gleeson about the vanilla trade in Madagascar, and how the expensive vanilla trade collapsed in 2005 when Coca Cola stopped using real vanilla in their soft drinks and left Madagascar in serious economic trouble. Very enlightening and taught me a lot I didn't know.

Critical Error=True was premiered, which is the latest Jim and Heinz story, featuring a pair of friends who try to find a deleted forum post by following their internet cables to the heart of the internet. Very amusing, told in stills like La Jetée. 

Unfortunately there are no youtube links for these last three yet.

Exploding Cinema - 26.03.10

So I went along to Exploding Cinema on Friday night.
The venue was a pub called The Cross Kings, which also does live music. They had screens and projectors everywhere, some displaying the work of an art collective called Genetic Moo, and some displaying the main features.
I had read their manifesto on their website, and Exploding Cinema is very much a grass-roots collective devoted to getting cinematic work into the public eye. Any cinematic work. They are completely open access and don't censor anything. The only proviso is that your work needs to be less than 25 minutes. The collective shuns the establishment of video art and filmmaking in favour of individuals doing it themselves. I was a little worried that they might be quite elitist, but they were in fact a lovely and very welcoming bunch indeed!

The night is split into 3 segment with two intervals. Very sadly I was only able to stay for the first two segments of short films, as otherwise I would be left stranded in King's Cross having missed my last train! They showed about 8 films in each segment, some a minute long, some 15 minutes long. The quality was mixed, to be utterly honest, but I really like the fact that the event is so open so I had no qualms at all.

The Exploding Cinema collective does shun pretentiousness and try-hard "arty" films in their manifesto, but the majority of the films on show tried very hard to be arty to the point of utter pretentiousness. Some of the films served no real purpose, and some where the execution of an idea that probably shouldn't have made it to celluloid. Or DVD or VHS. A few of the pieces were very cliched and badly-realised, some were a little dull and a little over-long. I know I'm being very harsh here, but some (not all!) of the films were boring, self absorbed, self important and pretentious. And that's fine! This is open access, everyone should be able to put their work up, even if it done-by-numbers or pointless, and of course, that is just my own opinion!!

What worried me was that while I want to work on a short film that would most likely be narrative based or dramatic, most of the films here were overtly arty pieces so my one would stick out a little. While there were one or two dialogue/narrative based films on show; they were quirky and different enough to work as unusual and interesting pieces. Am I trying to make something too mainstream? Should I try and make it a little more outrageous? I am not confined by censorship and I don't need to please people to get funding, so I could make whatever I want. But at the same time, making my film weird just to fit in surely the worst idea in the universe. I think I should stick to my ideas, but maybe be more aware of the lack of limitations upon me. I've got the story mostly worked out for my first short film, I just need to turn that story into a script and then work from there. Exploding Cinema will screen it, because they are lovely and screen anything. People might not like it, but that's fine.

Another major concern, is that one of the videos I saw was shot on low resolution digital video, and when blown up on the big screen suffered from terrible horizontal banding. This is a problem I have encountered before but correct compression when exporting the video cleaned it up, I hope that when my video is blown up by a projector that it doesn't suddenly look awful. I am also worried by the look of some of the dialogue/talky short films we saw. The difference between the films shot on video and the ones shot on actual film were startlingly obvious, even though they were edited well and used interesting angles, the films shot on video just looked so terribly homemade to be almost jarring. A person pointing a camcorder at their friend who is clearly acting. My problem being that I have never directed actors delivering dialogue and I am concerned that my film is going to look terrible, absolutely terrible. I was sitting in the pub oscilating between thinking "I can do better than this" and putting my fist in my mouth and screaming silently in fear of how awful my film is going to look.

I just need to make it. The first few are allowed to be terrible. I need an arc. Everyone has an arc. No-one is great at anything straight away. Except Orson Welles but fuck him, that was a long time ago. But knowing I have to make terrible films before I can make good ones is deflating. I want to skip straight to the good stuff! So I'm going to try to do that!

Sometimes the self doubt of making something so permanent that could be so terrible is crippling. I also worry about making my actors look absolutely rubbish because I am incompetent. Argh.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

First draft of the Grenade video filmed and edited.

Yesterday I took my camera, tripod, notepad and dog (I was babysitting!) to Mark's house to film the draft for the Grenade video. First of all, we took a detour to Perry Vale Studios to meet Pat Collier, the owner, and to check out the studio as a possible location to film at. My dog Louie marched on in to the studios and made himself at home. He even barked at Pat a little. He's 6 1/2 months old, despite his size (he's a big boy, an Estrela Mountain Dog) but he meant no harm. He's just... barky. Even when he's being friendly.

The live room looked good, the walls weren't as light as I remembered, and we might need to set up some kind of screen for the projection because there are some light fittings we need to think about too. There is a skylight, but Pat has assured me it would be no problem to climb up to the roof and throw a tarpaulin over the skylight. Pat also has a nice kitchen/lounge area for musicians to relax in which will be great as a set for one scene in the video that will be taking place in the hero's house. We were originally going to use a purposefully minimalist set up for the interior scenes (a living room and an office) but by using Pat's lounge we now need to find a realistic office.

Back at Mark's, the draft went well, filming was much quicker than before, I guess every bit of experience helps! I filmed all the "story" sections of the video very roughly, one take per shot and in chronological order (to save time when i edit it together), and then several takes of the band performing the song in the basement.

At home the next day, I put the video together very quickly using iMovie. I plan to use Final Cut Express for the proper video but iMovie is still the editing program I have the most experience with, and because I wanted a very quick, rough edit, I stuck with iMovie for speed.

The video works, it needs more story scenes because the performance footage dominates and drags, mainly because I didn't have enough good takes for different parts of the song to keep it interesting.

I also found when it came to filming, that the final act of the video actually wouldn't quite work. I hadn't given it much thought, and expected it to come together by itself quite naturally, but when it came to it I realised that I needed a lot more planning. We talked and worked some ideas in on the fly. It took a long time but we actually got some good stuff down that was nothing like what I thought the final scene would be like.

The finished first draft is okay, the reason I'm doing it is to find out what works and what doesn't. And I'm really seeing it. Doing these dry runs with a camcorder really helps to show you the holes in your work and the areas you need to think about. It also lets you see things in a new light as you're doing them, and lets you go back to the drawing board and come up with some stronger ideas. I've also seen some flaws in my plan to use projected patterns on the actors, which I should be able to fix by filming them individually in places and by having greater control of the light, which is something we didn't have at Mark's place.

At the moment the video is for my eyes only, and the band. Nothing to share, sorry everyone! Looking forward to the getting the video together, the next effort should be something I'll be happy to share!!!!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Shooting first draft of the GRENADE video on Friday!

Was arranging a meeting with The Explorer's Collective in order to go over my current draft for the Grenade video, but I thought that doing was better than talking, so we've decided to film a dry run of the video and then do a rough edit and use that as a launching pad for a next draft. We did the same thing with the Bangers And Mash video and it was a good way to work. It gives us some immediate visual clues as to how the video is looking, lets us know if the edits will fit into the song, and encourages exciting feedback from everyone involved. It also gives me some much needed experience at shooting, editing, and bossing people around!

Friday should be fun. We're going to start with a quick reconnaisance mission at Perry Vale Studios, as we will be using their live room to film the video (thanks Pat Collier!). I'll make some notes and check the space and lighting situation. Then it's back to Mark's to shoot a dry run of the video on my trusty camcorder and then edit it together at home.

The exciting news is, when it comes to the day of the shoot, Mark of The Explorer's is hiring a Canon XL2 videocamera. These are crazy expensive big-time cameras that are way way way out of my league. This one comes with it's own cameraman too, a friend of Mark's called Andy, who is going to help me on the project. Not something I'm used to, and something I'm terrified by, but hey, it's a great opportunity! Who knows, maybe he'll let me hold it for a little while. If that happens, I hope I don't drop it.

Here it is:
Well I better get cracking and get my storyboard ready for the weekend!

A donation for my Rode Videomic!

This was a few days ago, but...

Thanks Suzanne!!


Made my day.

I better get some practice in at recording audio for shooting video so I can actually use the bloody thing when I finally get my mitts on it!

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Shadows and illumination

I noticed while reviewing some footage shot from a video test at Mark's place for the Grenade video some footage of my moving my hand through the projected light. Because the camera is pointing down at my hand, the background is that of the floor in the dark projection room, so it is completely black. My hand was illuminated brightly and had swirling colours moving over it. It looked really good. I think I might try some of this technique when shooting the live performance material, have them appear without the projection hitting a screen behind them but rather disappearing into nothingness or perhaps hitting a screen or wall off camera. That way the only illumination appears on the people and instruments themselves while they are surrounded in darkness. The opposite of a man silhoutted by bright light, if you will.

I think a mix of techniques would be interesting.

When shooting the band in front of a screen so that the projection appears both on them and around them, I will try to angle the camera to minimise the appearance of their shadows. Or, if possible, to frame them with their own shadows so that they are outlined by them and seperated from the image on the screen.

I think I need to spend a lot more time trying stuff out.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Working on the GRENADE video today

Just some basic prep work... I did this for the previous video and it felt like a good way to work. I break the song up into lines and verses and instrumentals and number them all and note how long each chunk lasts in seconds. This gives me a good idea of how much time I can give to certain parts of the song and lets me see if I'm going to need to run out of footage or if I need to cull scenes to make them shorter.

This is just basic structure work and can of course change completely or even go out the window when it comes to the final edit. The previous video, Bangers and Mash, had a story that fitted the lyrics quite tightly, so this was a useful way to work. This video won't be anchored so tightly the lyrics and will be less literal so I don't want to paint myself into a corner by doing this, but it's a good a first step as any!

I already have some ideas of the scenes I want to see, so we'll see how this fits!

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Rode Videomic

Here's the microphone I want!!

I've done quite a bit of reading and this seems like a good choice. It's not as cheap as some maplin mics but to be honest, I'm not sure I trust them. Audio quality is a big part of the overall feel of a film and I'm quite happy to spend a bit of money here. It should be the only mic I need for a long long time. It can also be attached to a boom pole!

It's a good shotgun mic especially designed for DV camcorders. It fits into the accessory shoe (although I will still be recording into a computer as my camcorder has no external mic jack). There are some seriously (prohibitively) expensive mics out there. And some cheap and nasty looking ones. This one is £100 but lots of websites selling it at the £80 mark or less, plus it gets a really good write up.

Looking forward to getting this!! Going to be a hermit in April to save money. I don't have much spending money these days... a month or two should be enough to save up for it.

Read about the Rode Videomic here

Monday, 8 March 2010

Recording Sound

I have a problem. My consumer level camcorder has no input for an external microphone. I was aware of this weakness when buying the camcorder, but I didn't think this would affect me much. I knew that I would be stuck with the onboard mic, and I knew that if I ever really needed high quality sound, I could always record my sound separately. I was until recently in a band that did a lot of it's own recording, so I had a digital 4 track lying around and I knew I could fall back on that if I ever needed to.

Unfortunately the 4 track wasn't mine and belonged to an ex band member. We have since returned the 4 track to it's rightful owner.

I recently realised that if I ever wanted to shoot a scene involving, for example, two people talking that required more than one angle in an urban setting, I would need to cut separate takes together to make the scene work. The problem here is, that my onboard mic is omni-directional, meaning it picks up sound from all around it. Including things like traffic, sirens, wind, and so on, and the discrepancy of the background noise during the cuts would jar the viewer. I need to get a uni-directional microphone that only picks up the sound directly infront of it in order to cut out the ambience but keep the dialogue. Then I can record ambience with an omni-directional microphone and use it in a single unbroken audio take. The continuity of the background audio will make the scene seem more continuous even as I am using different cuts. Obviously.

I've been racking my brains for a way to record the audio without shelling out big money for some kind of expensive digital recorder. Over several days I read a lot online but I failed to get the crux of the matter. Then I read a great article about sound recording solutions for low budget films:
Which recommends using something simple like an MP3 player as your capture device. Inspiring stuff, and it was good to read that I didn't need to spend the big bucks.

I began to wonder if the medium I recorded on to would make a difference... would a decent microphone going into an iPod give me worse sound than the same microphone going into an expensive digital recording device? Perhaps it was just a question of whether it would be saved in a lossy format, and if so, how lossy? I poked my head around the corner and questioned my work colleague, good friend, and musician Adam what he thought on the matter. Ad has done a lot of home recording both in our previous band and in his current one. He shrugged and said "Use a laptop?"

I can't believe that never occurred to me before now. With a computer I can label the files, visually inspect the volume levels and see if the tracks are clipping, as well as having complete control over the format. Brilliant!! Now I just need a shotgun microphone...

What can I get for cheap?? The true no-budget filmmaker would of course borrow one. But if I can get a great deal on one, it would be a useful thing to have around, especially as I can't borrow one for everything I work on.

Friday, 5 March 2010

DETONATION FILMS - explosion footage!

I'm cutting my teeth on Final Cut Express, which is a really brilliant program for editing and putting together videos. I've used iMovie up til now, which is great fun and really easy to use, but Final Cut offers so much more. Learning to walk before I can run though, and I figure editing this video will be a really good opportunity to learn while working. is a website I mentioned in the previous post that host stock explosion footage for you to use in a low budget action movie. They have explosions, smoke, bullet hits, sparks, spurting blood. falling debris, all kinds of stuff you can composite into your movie. With a little playing around you can have a lot of fun with this stuff. If you know what you're doing, you can actually make some of this stuff look pretty convincing. They have some tutorials on the website too. Most of the stuff you need to pay for but they have LOTS of full quality free samples, more than enough for you to play with.

Go there! And blow things up!!

Music video for GRENADE - The Explorer's Collective

The grenade we ordered arrived in time for the first meeting with the band. We're going to do a test run of the video in Mark's basement and then film the actual video in a live room of a recording studio the band has hired for a weekend. We're still going to use the projector and I brought some stock explosion footage samples I downloaded from a really really great website called Detonation Films (see below post). We put the stock footage through the projector and projected the explosions and flames on to the band members. It looked good, I hope we're on to something here.

We also came up with a basic video plan, which is currently open to change, so I won't go into any details until we're finalised. But basically we're going to shoot the video entirely in the large white room of the studio, including the story segments.

Also, we have an experienced camera guy on board who is going to supply us with a high quality camera to use. The band would like to try and get the video some airplay on the television, and to do so you need to meet a minimum spec which my consumer camera doesn't reach. So I will get to play with some big boy's toys!!!

Here's our brilliant grenade prop. It's cast from genuine US WW2 moulds and has a removable pin and handle:

I was nervous carrying this around London in case it rolled out of my bag and I got myself killed by armed police. I also thought about using it to demand a pay rise at work but thought better of it.

Here's where I bought the grenade from, it's all legal and above board. It was £18 including delivery and came really fast. They sell a lot of very interesting stuff on the website, great props.

Thursday, 4 March 2010


I want to make a short film. I've been flitting around the idea for ages. The thing is, whenever I give it any serious thought, I become paralysed by a fear of my own ineptitude, and I have a hard time visualising a good outcome.

But I just need to jump in and make something. Make it quick, don't hang around, get experience.

Started blocking out a script today, thought it would be a good place to start. Need a script otherwise the whole project has no foundation... it's step one. Time to get moving.

New music video with the Explorer's Collective!

After our last video, local band The Explorer's Collective have asked me to direct their NEXT TWO videos. The first is a song called Grenade, about how events and catastrophies can fall into our life and derail our plans. An unexpected pregnancy, getting made redundant, being dumped by your partner, all metaphorical grenades. Our video will be simple, footage of the guys each receiving a metaphorical grenade. We've actually bought a genuine cast WW2 grenade from a military surplus store to act as a physical representation. Whereas our first song was very much literal and followed the lyrics, this song is more abstract and the last thing I wanted to film was people throwing grenades at each other. Because this song isn't about the military ordinance, it's about sudden life changing events that detonate and send you reeling. It's a metaphor. But I thought, why not use the grenade prop as a physical metaphor? We can have footage of people being handed the grenade by their boss (you're fired) their partner (you're dumped) by a high court judge (you're going to jail) and so on.

Explorer Mark has a nice video projector I want to use too, I want to try to project footage over the band members themselves as they play, to give the video an extra layer of information and hopefully some interesting visual trickery.

Going "on location" (God I love saying that) tonight at Mark's place, although we're probably going to film it in a rehearsal studio.

Tripod Dolly

My tripod dolly arrived! I set it up and clamped in my tripod - very easy! I wheeled it around the house but I noticed the camera was shaking quite badly... the footage looked very shaky. That's exactly the opposite of how I wanted my dolly footage to look!! I am concerned.

I re-read the reviews on and 8 out of 9 reviews gave glowing praise. The one negative review reflected my problems exactly. However, there is a comment attached to the review, recommending that the reviewer adds weights to the tripod to increase stability. My tripod (Hama Star 63) comes with a hook at the bottom of the central coloumn for just this purpose. I always thought it looked a little plasticy, but I'm going to give it a try this weekend and see if that fixes the problem!!

Fingers crossed!!

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Exploding Cinema

Exploding Cinema is a collective that hold screening nights every two months in London. Currently residing in the Cross Kings pub in Kings Cross.

They will show pretty much anything you send them, and they are dedicated to celebrating hard work and talent without any industry intervention. In fact, they seem pretty disillussioned with the industry in general and their website makes for some interesting reading. There's a lot there, but have a browse, it's all good stuff.

I love their ethos, and I think it's damn admirable. There's a great feeling of a communal anarchy running through their veins.

If you've got some work (under 15 mins) that you'd like to screen, send it to them, and then come on down and be present for the screening. But no-one is going to hold your hand and tell you your work is awesome if it's terrible, and I like that honesty.

Next show - Fri 26th March

Monday, 1 March 2010

New book - Film Directing, Shot by Shot - Katz

This is a bit of a staple I think for pretty much anyone who wants to get involved in filmmaking, editing, film production, and so on. So far it's really good. He goes into a lot of detail and makes things very clear. The first section, on storyboarding, really hits home how important it is to storyboard your ideas, and I think he's really right. Speaking from my own limited experience, if you're going to shoot something and edit it together, you really need to storyboard it, just so you know what you're doing. It also opens up a whole new world of ideas once you see your thoughts on paper.

I know I'm a complete newcomer and I've only made a couple of stupid videos but I can say that Katz is right, you really must storyboard. Even if you haven't got an artistic bone in your body, stick figures and planning your camera set up is really useful. Plus it's kinda fun.

I really want to gravitate towards doing something a little more ambitious and worthwhile, and I'm glad that I'm giving myself good habits nice and early.

I've got several more chapters to go, but I can already tell this book will teach me a lot.

Here's the link to buy it from amazon: