Tuesday, 27 April 2010

What does no-budget filmmaking mean?

I'm just looking for blogs on the subject so I can hopefully find some like minded souls. I keep finding groups dedicated to "no budget filmmaking on $50,000 or less" or people advertising how they made a short film for £6,000.

That's crazy fucking money. Low budget? NO budget? I know making a film costs money. I know making a big film takes hundreds of people. I know using film means there are a lot of costs for developing and colour correction, locations and props and extras. But I'm far more interested in spending next to NO cash. That's surely more challenging, more interesting?

My no-budget is not their no-budget. Although I don't think hiring a massive sony video camera, as I recently did, classifies as no budget either!

Monday, 26 April 2010


Today I started the process of going through the footage and logging it on to the computer using Final Cut. It takes a lot of room on the hard drive, especially now that I'm using standard def rather than my sub-standard camcorder. So I'm only logging what I need. This is my first time using Final Cut to edit a project, I've only been playing around with it before. The logging is really easy to use and understand, and although the software bamboozled me the first time I loaded it up, and I mean utterly bamboozled me, I have since read through a good user guide I got and am now getting the hang of it.

In my iMovie days I'd upload the entire tape to the computer and have a huge wad of video footage through which I would wade through and find the little bits I need. Because I'm trying to be better at this, and because hard drive space is a precious commodity, I am jumping in with both feet to the proper logging procedure on Final Cut, and am labelling my files with lots of info and storing them in folders and bins for easy access. I have small snippets of footage, some only a few seconds long, some several minutes, but it is from these that I will be able to get all my scenes. One thing I need to think about is that I will be taking several small chunks from one file, so I might need to do some duplication because I think that once I've marked a file with an in and out point, then I can't change it for subsequent uses of the same file. I could be wrong. Apologies to anyone who just read that as gibberish.

Footage is looking good, we hired some 300 watt lights as well as the camera and tripod, and I have to say, the one thing that will make the biggest difference to the look of your video is not the quality of the camera, it is your use of lighting!!! This looks like such a step up from previous efforts. If you can get your lighting right then it will look great even on a consumer camcorder like mine. I tried filming scenes with both the big Sony camera and my little panasonic and of course, the Sony looks better and sharper, but now I understand the step up in quality. Even on the expensive camera, a poorly shot/lit scene looks crappy. Even on a cheap camera, a well shot/lit scene looks good!

I'm looking forward to really getting stuck in with editing this video. I'm halfway through the footage I need from the first tape, 3 more to go once I'm done!

The big big video shoot was last weekend!

And man, was it tiring! But it was great! Again I got to play with the big Sony HVR-S270E, which put my shoulder out last time I used it! A few weekends ago I was using it for the first time under instruction from a couple of knowledgable friends of friends, this time I was going it alone.

Luckily, it went really well, the camera didn't give me any problems, and I was actually getting pretty good at finding my way around it. It really is nowhere near as complicated as I feared, despite it looking like a huge weight of dials and buttons! It is still very heavy, but this time I was a little more careful and made sure to be aware of my movements and exertions while picking it up or carrying it around. I actually wouldn't mind using it again, and I was a little sad to lock it away in a flight case for its return to the hire company. It was nice using the big boys toys.

I got about 3 1/2 hours of standard def footage on DV cassette from the weekend. We did the whole shoot at Perry Vale Studios, which has a very nice live room which we used as our performance space for the band footage. We also used the lounge/kitchen to double as a house set for the story sections of the videos. We brought along Mark's digital projector hooked up to a DVD player to project some psychedelic coloured donuts on to the band when they played in the live room. Originally I wanted to get really creative with this aspect, and project all kinds of images and videos over the band as they played, but it required a lot more work than I was able to put in, especially as I didn't own a projector of my own. We eventually settled for some trippy visuals. I hope the effect still looks good, it should at least be a little unique. It looked really good when we filmed the close ups on the instruments and faces of the band. Close up the projections were really bright and sharp. On the wide shots with the whole band the projection was a little more dull because the projector was further away. I shot lots of takes of the band performing including closeups of each member playing the whole song, sometimes twice, to give me plenty of live footage to choose from. In the past I had just filmed the band playing and had moved around a bit myself to cover several angles in the same performance, but it always meant that I would end up just missing the best shots because I was on the move. Better to get more coverage!

One thing I'm noticing as I'm logging the footage from the DV tapes on to my computer, you really need to remind the band to stay focused and dynamic, I kept noticing that one member would have a very bored expression on his face during the multiple live footage takes, or he'd sigh or yawn or look around restlessly. Silly boy!

The story footage was a lot of fun to shoot, we cross dressed the drummer in a dress and wig for one video and slumped the guitarist on the toilet for the other.

After two long days, we finished, and I took my tapes home. My neck and shoulder still hurt, regardless of precautions.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Getting filming permission in London

Going to be doing some outdoor shooting with a very small team this weekend. Found this website, everything you need to know about getting permission to film in London.


But I have no public liability insurance so I will go guerrilla style.

Reviewing the footage from last weekend

I'm still learning my around all this stuff. But I have to say, with the exciting massive expensive camera hire, I guess I was kinda expecting an automatic upping of quality with the footage. I guess I expected, in my ignorance, that using such a ridiculously expensive camera (which the professional camera guys Phil and Andy said was only "okay") that the footage would instantly look more professional, more impressive, more cinematic. Well, it doesn't! It's got more clarity than my little camcorder, but that's about it!

I know it's early days, there is still post production after all. Another new one for me. It's funny... no matter how bright and striking a scene looks in real life, it looks so much duller on video. You really have to up the extremes. Darker dark shades, brighter light shades. More natural contrast. The scenes of the darkened party lit by spotlight look pretty cool, but the footage of the band playing looked good at the time, but a little washed out and uninspired now.

It just goes to show that a better camera won't necessarily equal better footage. You still need to know what you're doing. Other videos shot on expensive cameras look better because of the experience of the crew and director, not because a camera magically makes things look more professional.

Seems obvious, doesn't it?

On the plus side, my shoulder doesn't hurt as much anymore, which is good because I'll be manning that camera again on Friday!

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Shoulder pain

Went to sleep on Saturday night after the shoot with a sharp shoulder/neck pain that is still with me. It's from carrying that heavy camera around all night.

Must remember to warm up next time. It's quite painful.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Half A Glass video shoot 1

Got home after midnight on Saturday night, slept like a brick.
But we did it! I got to play with a massive camera that was way out of my league. We filmed some performance footage of the band in the party venue and we filmed lots of party footage and dancing and drinking. The song is about alcohol and good times, and I only came up with a video treatment on Friday morning. Not a good way to do things. As we were only to be recording footage of a genuine party (it was Jana's birthday party, the wife of Mark the bassist/singer, and they had hired out a venue and invited a lot of friends, they even went for a full-on 1920s theme) of which the band would be in attendance, a full treatment wasn't really necessary just yet, but the notion of going there without a clue left me paralysed with nerves, something that has not happened for a long time. The day I saw a picture of the camera we would be using, I actually had a nightmare that was an obvious allegory for my situation, (being forced to represent England in the special olympics in the new stadium in front of thousands whilst not being eligible to compete and using a massive fancy electric wheelchair for my race that only arrived the morning of the event and that I couldn't operate properly or even get to charge up because the plugs weren't compatible. I felt like a useless fraud. I pulled out of the event, a move which my close friends and family supported but my acquaintances ribbed me for. I was also ridiculed on the radio by Russell Brand but I met him in a field and I wrestled him to the floor and thumped him repeatedly in the chest. He didn't fight back.) and I had a borderline panic attack over not being able to find a vendor to buy my miniDV tapes the day before the shoot. I ended up paying more for postage than for tapes, but they came the following morning and ALL WAS WELL. Of course Mark, who had asked me to pick up the tapes, had gone and bought ten tapes anyway - just in case.

So, the shoot! The plan is to meet at the venue - a large private room above a pub/hotel in Greenwich, and do some basic shooting of the band doing some performance footage (a last minute addendum) and see how we go. We also want to shoot some footage of the party, of people drinking, and of a corner of the room where we would invite people to sit infront of the camera and under lights and hold up signs describing their glass as either half empty or half full, which ties in with the title of the song and the old adage of optimism/pessimism. Initially this last idea was pretty much all we had, which is why I was nervous, as I knew it couldn't sustain a whole video. But, the day before, I had drawn up my plan for the video. The song would open with the musicians on stage, and the first verse, which is a melancholic warning about the negative sides of boozing, will see the band wake up hungover in a house together with no dignity or recollection. The second verse would flash back to the beginning of the party and the third verse, where the song changes tone and the lyrics flip to an acceptance of drinking and good times, will see the party get raucous with much dancing boozing and inebriation. In between this "story" the band will have some performance footage and we will also have the glass half empty/full footage weaved in.

We arrive at the venue, a room I haven't seen before, which is a bad move for planning. The room was fine, but the peace of mind that goes with knowing exactly what you are doing is priceless and I will always be sure to at least get a look at some photos of a location next time. I went in completely blind. It was a long room with chandeliers and tall windows. The building is an old coach house and the room has retained some of the old charm. As I arrive the band pull up in a taxi and I help them unload their drums and instruments for our live performance footage. My girlfriend Dee has driven me down here after we walked the dog in Greenwich Park and bought ice cream cones on the first really warm day of the year. She will be returning with our dog, Louie, who will be heading into the venue for a small snippet of footage with him sitting at the glass half full/empty table which we can use in the video to humorous effect.

The brothers Andy and Phil are our camera gurus, and they introduce me to the simply massive Sony HVR-S270E. They teach me how to use the manual iris, focus and zoom rings, as well as the standard zoom switch and record buttons. Useful stuff. We have a little bit of a hold up when we realise the camera takes the much larger DVCAM tapes and we're sitting here clutching a pack of the tiny MiniDV tapes. Luckily the miniDV tapes fit inside the camera, and the brackets mechanically move inwards to grip the tape and takes it inside. Phew. It works. After some guffing around we change the camera settings from Hi-def to standard def, because that's all we need for this shoot. We spend a good hour just getting familiar with the camera and with the brothers giving me a crash course in using the bastard. Looks like I will be operating it after all, the guys are just here to give me wisdom and advice when needed. I lift the camera up and put it on my shoulder, it's cushioned and designed to be shoulder mounted. I put my eye to the eyepiece and feel ridiculous. It's heavy too. Hard to capture footage naturalistically when I look like part of a TV news crew. The camera has a cool zebra stripes function where any part of the footage that is overexposed will have zebra stripes moving across it. You can fiddle with the iris ring to change the amount of light coming in until you don't have any unintentional over-exposed footage.

We have three lights on stands and a nice chunky but easy to use tripod. It's a few steps more advanced than my skinny little cheap tripods, and has a very sexy freeflow head which means I can move it very smoothly in any direction and also set the resistance of the movement to my needs. Really cool. It has a little spirit level in it too, so once you're set up, loosen the head and tilt it around until the spirit level is perfect and you will have a nice set up with the tripod and camera. My current cheap tripod has a spirit level too, so I guess I'm also kinda awesome.

It's funny, you take a step up like this, and you realise how far behind you are. With such a big set up we really had to think about every shot and everything took a while to set up. You couldn't rush anything. With my handheld I'm able to shoot around and not think too hard about anything, but with big gear like this, you have to give so much more consideration to everything. Composition, lighting, angles, and a lot more. Dicking about on your own with a handheld is a great bit of fun and you can get stuck right in, but this requires so much more preparation. A prepared director who knows what they are doing and understands the medium better than myself could probably get some stunning results, but I doubt my results will look that good at all, and certainly not cinematic.

First thing's first. We shot the dog (with the camera!) for his short scene but he had been out all day, was very tired and not at ALL interested in co-operation. He resisted every command and fought his lead, no matter how much we tried to coax a performance out of him. The old adage of never working with children or animals suddenly rang incredibly true. After 15 minutes we managed to get him to lie down next to a pint of beer on the carpet of the venue, and that's all we could get. No sitting on the sofa or near the table, no working with any of our signs, nothing. I love him, but he can be a real stubborn bastard when he wants to be.

Next up we set up cameras at the "stage" end of the venue, so we can record some live footage of the band playing through the song. I don't plan to use a lot of live footage, as it wasn't something I planned for in the video as I didn't know we'd have the opportunity to record any. The stage doesn't resemble a stage at all, more like the far end of a long room, but once the drums and amps are in place it looks a lot better. There are some large and quite nice windows behind the stage, meaning the band will be backlit by daylight which will mean that we need to light them artificially from the front to avoid them appearing as silhouettes against the window. Andy and Phil show me how to play with the exposure settings on the camera to get the band looking sharp and also to get the daylight out of the window to appear as a solid block of bright white rather than a detailed view out the window which helps keep the focus on the band members and looks half decent. We record several run throughs of the band playing the song through, followed by some close ups I plan to insert in the video during the middle. Having the whole performance recorded means I have access to it if it ever suits the video, and also means I'm covered if I ever need any extra footage or I have any gaps.

Then it was close to 5pm and we went out for food. Good lord I was starving.

Back at the venue and the party was starting, guests were arriving, and the birthday girl was setting up tables and party hats. I wanted to get some party footage once the drink was flowing, because initially everyone was being very polite and grown up and behaved. So I waited. Nearly all the guests had come dressed in 1920s attire, which made for some interesting shots. There was even a jazz band playing. I began to feel as though I was on the Titanic, or sucked into The Shining. I felt odd running around in my everyday clothes pointing a gigantic camera at fantastically dressed people I didn't know. I had detergent marks on my jumper and a hole in the sleeve. I was also shattered after the build up to the event and the early morning. I was in a bit of a torpor, not enjoying the party because I hadn't yet gotten my footage and couldn't relax. Because we had the expensive camera hire only for the weekend, and only one party, I felt the pressure and knew we wouldn't be able to do this later. I was really happy when my girlfriend Dee arrived at the party, having taken the dog home and got dressed up and headed back, and it was nice to have a familiar face who also didn't know most of the people there! We grabbed some food and sat down together with the camera, waiting for the party to kick off.

Two hours into the party, after getting a tiny amount of not very useable footage of some very polite people (I was really after slightly raucous party footage) the lights suddenly dimmed to a very low level. This was how the lights would be for the rest of the night, atmopsherically dimmed to a candle glow. Not good for shooting video. I was not happy. I spoke to Mark and asked him when the lights would be coming back on. Never. Shit. I was not told about the lights going off. I had no good party footage yet. I tried cranking up the gain on the camera which gave me much better results but Phil warned me about the inevitable grain that would mar the image. I spoke to Mark and we agreed to go ahead and set up our table in the corner with our glass half empty/full signs and spotlight it using the lighting gear. That gave us more than enough light to light to corner and we proceeded to invite people over two at a time to sit at the table and choose the sign that best expressed their feelings. Obviously everyone was having a really good time so we had to ask some people to hold up the glass half empty sign and they pulled humorously sad faces while doing so. It felt good to be doing something again and people were really up for having a laugh and appearing in the video. Once we'd shot those scenes, I felt re-energised, as did the rest of the party, who were drinking and dancing all over the place. Dee pointed out to me that the spotlights illuminated a fair section of the main party area as well as the corner, and we turned the spotlights around and the partygoers were suitably illuminated enough for us to film them. I dashed around with the camera getting footage of people having a great time, including the band members, who I coaxed over near the spotlights for some better lighting. Having the focus and exposure rings on the lens itself is such a bonus, you can do so much work with the image on the fly, whereas with my camcorder those setting are buried in an electronic menu It's a shame that only expensive cameras have this feature

We did it, we got the footage. Andy Phil and myself packed up the lights, stands, tripod and camera and I ejected the miniDV tape (we filled only one 60minute tape, a lot less than I thought we would) and I bought myself a nice cold bottle of beer. We partied a little bit and then I called a cab, because I was absolutely shattered!!!!!!

I started this epic and probably utterly boring recap on Sunday morning, but I have only just now finished it on Monday late afternoon. I apologise for the length!!!

Saturday, 10 April 2010

MiniDV tapes arrived

MiniDV tapes arrived at 7am this morning.

I'm already up though, shitting myself with nerves.

Shooting music video on Saturday - Half A Glass - Explorer's Collective

Been a while since my last blog post, been very busy, sadly not with anything related to the blog, but, ah well!

On Saturday I am heading to Greenwich to shoot a themed birthday party/music video footage for the alcohol themed "Half a Glass" by The Explorer's Collective, a bonus video I wasn't expecting to direct having been offered the job of directing the Grenade video. Seems they will be releasing Grenade and Half A Glass as a double A side.

I know we're going to be using a lot of live footage that we're taking on Saturday of a party, but outside of that we don't have much of a plan, which is making me nervous because right now I feel that the video lacks structure. I feel like I am supposed to have some kind of plan, especially as seeing as other video shoots have been so meticulously storyboarded (for the most part).

I also found out that we won't be using the Canon XL2 after all, but the Sony HVR-S270E, which looks like this:

Very scary stuff considering I can only just about find my way around my Panasonic camcorder. Luckily we have a camera genius in attendence who is going to make sure everything looks nice and do the lighting, I just need to tell him where to point it. This is something I am very much not used to, and very nervous about. I've never bossed anyone around before, especially not someone qualified and in the business who actually knows what they are doing.

I also need to order the miniDV tapes to go in the Sony bastard. I have just noticed I only have two of my own left. Have ordered some on Amazon for a saturday morning delivery, the morning of the video shoot. I need to be at the location from 12 so I hope they come in time.

(This post was written on Thursday but only published today on Saturday morning)