Thursday, 22 December 2011

Wheels, motion and daylight beards.

It's almost Christmas time! Looking forward to a nice long break. So what's been happening? Why, let me tell you!

Last night Frazer and Mark came round for a cup of tea and a script edit, and we finalised the exact story. We also worked out some of the logistical problems we'd be facing, coming up with second strategies for uncooperative cats and a complex formula for what we call the daylight/beard light ratio. We also agreed (at least I was immediately convinced) that Daylight Beard is a killer band name, and if nothing else, we will always have that as a fall-back.

We've set our date for the rehearsal filming (early Jan) and the actual filming (late Jan) and we'll have about a month to put it all together in post. It is a short film, probably only ten minutes or so in length, but I will be working on it only on evenings and weekends so I'm glad to have the time and not feel rushed. We may also have a title for the project but we're probably going to keep it under wraps until our first screening as it is tied in to the story itself.

Now that we have a solid foundation I can't wait to start storyboarding and working out all of our logistics, such as cat stunt doubles, shot order and editing plans. Typically, the pre-production (which for me means sketching and looking wistfully into the distance in deep rumination at the office) and post production (editing and sound) stages are the most creatively joyful, while the actual filming is the most stressful. When I say most stressful, I mean that relative to the stress levels of the rest of the project, which are practically zero, save the odd software crash or spilled tea. I love the filming days! And I'm getting better at being organised not getting overwhelmed.

Slowly.

I won't be posting again til after the holidays. All this fancy wine isn't going to drink itself.

Have a great Christmas everyone!

And keep one eye on the horizon for the upcoming album...

Friday, 16 December 2011

As of today, we have a date set for the filming of our short. Mark, Frazer and I originally planned to shoot over the Christmas break but there is just too damned much Christmassing going on, so we will be shooting in late January.

Our deadline for completion is the end of February, by which point we plan to have the film ready to show and also to put online, so that all four of you reading this can watch it too!

Looking forward to setting sail for sunny Watford, where Frazer's home will double as our glamorous film set. I'm meeting Mark and Frazer on Wednesday to finalise the script, then I can do a final draft of the storyboards and (with a little luck) we can get together in London (probably either my place or Mark's) to film a test-run. This will give us an indication of how long it will take, what problems we will hit, and how the whole thing edits together. I really can't stress enough how useful I've found these informal filmed dress rehearsals to be, so many wrinkles get ironed out that it makes the final shoot so much simpler - but still of course, not without complications and troubles - I've learned to accept that nothing is ever going to go fully to plan, but as long as you're prepared then you can deal with problems as they arise, and there will be blood problems!

In the run up to the shoot, feel free to enjoy this sexy shot of our principal cast members, Frazer and Boppy, chilling in the sunshine.

Sunshine seems like a distant memory...

More to come soon, until then, here's a clip of a waving bear.



Monday, 12 December 2011

Happy Monday Everybody!

Going to try to keep a Mon/Thurs update schedule for the blog. Got enough on at the moment to keep this up, it should be a good motivator for me, too! Thought I'd give the blog a cleaner, less cluttered look too. I've got a couple of new pages up as well, including a friends page on which I list people I work with, want to work with, or recommend. Check it out, I'm sure it will grow as time goes on.


Codename: "New Project" 

Got the majority of rough storyboarding done for this now, just working during the evenings sketching out ideas with a biro and clipboard. Some scenes are going to be re-worked but I should be meeting with Mark and Frazer soon over a beer to discuss the exact changes, and then I can prepare a storyboard that we can shoot our rough cut to!

We plan to be finished by February.

I've been cherry-picking bits on shot grammar and shot formation from some books in the library. I used a browser-based brainstorming tool (http://www.popplet.com/) to create a handy visual flow chart that I refer to when I storyboard scenes. This is my main board for that purpose:

(click for larger)
Obviously this is something I've put together using my own shorthand so it might not be as useful to someone else, but I'm including the image as it's an exercise I highly recommend (popplet is a great site for creating something presentable, alternatively many people prefer to brainstorm more creatively by hand. There is no right or wrong way to do this!). It really helped me crystalise the process I need to go through when thinking about my shots. It's so easy to forget to be mindful of everything you need to pay attention to, especially when you're working essentially as a one-man crew. Of course, my shots and framing are usually far from perfect, but I am working on this! It's a good thing if your own work disappoints you, it keeps you moving forward. Here's that excellent Ira Glass quote on the subject of self-disappointment from a previous post if anyone missed it.


Bacalao Performance Company

The talented people at Bacalao have their own website up and running and you can find it here:
http://www.bacalaocompany.com/
You may remember I shot the trailer for Sofia The Show for Bacalao, and not too long ago I was delighted to be invited to a special one-off performance of the show. Sofia The Show is an autobiographical performance by Sofia Marques that takes place in her own house as she celebrates her birthday, and looks back on the particular tragic connection she shares with the date, as well as events that shaped her childhood in Portugal and her adult life in London. It was certainly the most intimate show I'd ever seen, and very moving! The whole evening was wonderfully put together and rather than slip out after the show ended, as I expected I would, Dee and I stayed for drinks and to talk with the other audience members, as well as the talent themselves, Marianne and Sofia. I felt honoured to be able to sit in on such a wonderful show.

Several months ago I introduced Sofia and Marianne of Bacalao to a friend of mine, Andy, who runs his own website development company. Andy worked closely with Bacalao to build the website they needed and his dedication and talent are not to be overlooked. If you're ever in the market for a professional website, I highly recommend him. Here's his site:
http://www.syncrovise.com/

Poetical Cabaret

One more very worthy plug! As well as being one half of Bacalao Performance Company, Sofia also co-runs the Poetical Cabaret, a multi-faceted performance night that runs a few times a month in London. It's free (although you can make a small donation to children's charities on the door) and the night features everything from poetry to comedy to burlesque to bands. It's a wonderful night out and I really recommend you go if you are ever in the neighbourhood! Regular nights are held at the excellent White Lion in Streatham and the Moustache Bar in Stoke Newington.




Well, that's me spent for today, check back on Thursday for the next installment. I hope you like the new look. Also, feel free to send any sympathy my way, I'm currently suffering under a heavy cloud of illness that has kept me out of human circulation for far too long. I will also accept cash, liquor, miniDV tapes or Xbox games.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Cats, Lamps and Links

New Project


We have a deadline for our new project, the whole short should be ready to show by the end of February. We plan to do all the filming over a weekend during the Christmas break so that should be plenty of time to get all the post production done. I don't plan to talk about the details too much, as the video won't take long to put together and I'd like people to see it with fresh eyes and fresh minds, so I hope you don't mind if I talk around it enigmatically.

I can say that there is a starring role for a cat, so I spent today filming my cat, Sir Digby Chicken Caesar, as he walked around the house. All he wants to do is hide in dark corners and under tables though. He's not our star for the project, but he is the stand-in for "rehearsing". 

Rehearsing what I can make a cat do. 

Which is not a whole lot, it seems! 

"far out man."




Amazon UK Links


You might have noticed the Amazon box ---> over there. I've also been adding links to any books I review that will take you to the relevant Amazon page. If you buy something on Amazon after clicking through on my page, then Amazon pay me for the traffic. Hey, if it can help keep me stocked in MiniDV tapes, it's worth a shot! 


I have tagged any posts with book reviews with a "book review" label so you can see all my reviews/recommendations. Click here to see the posts.


If you're interested in any one of my projects more than others, each project also has a label, for easy reference.


Clamp Lamp

Remember my clamp lamp I bought in order to have a cheap n' cheerful spotlight in my toolbox? You might recall from this entry that the lamp cast a horrid light, owing to it's super reflective dome, as it is actually designed for reptile vivariums and not for lighting. Why did I choose it? Some American brands of these lamps are perfectly suited to film-making. But this UK one was just too shiny. I decided to paint the inside of the dome to make it matte, using a spray can of grey primer car paint we had in the shed (just the cheap generic car primer from Halfords).

Here's some before and after pics:


The metal dome, very reflective.
The light shining on a wall, horrible!
After a quick spray-paint
So much better!

It's not going to outshine any professional equipment, but it's a light I can use! It also comes with a clamp so you can fix it onto certain surfaces and edges, which saves someone from holding it.




Right, well I'm off, Dee's cooking pizza and I really should get over there and start chopping some peppers! Is anyone else watching Community? God damn, I'm loving that show. 


Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Ira Glass - Why Your Own Work Disappoints You

Here is a quote from American public radio star Ira Glass, a man who has been in the business for decades, talking in an interview about creativity - specifically about storytelling through the medium of radio but equally applicable to story based film making, or just about any creative field.


“What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me... is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.
But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.
It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”


Man, that is a good piece of reading! I have felt this way about my own work for a long time but he puts it so magnificently. If you're disappointed in your creative work during your early stages, this is a good thing. This shows that you are holding yourself to a high standard. You will only get better with more experience.

In short, don't give up. Keep pushing, keep learning.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Surviving The Toilet Circuit - A Brief Retrospective

These are some pictures that my partner Dee took while we were filming our first full scene for now-defunct project Surviving The Toilet Circuit. 

It was a great experience. We were shooting in a stunning Whitehall block right on the riverside that we managed to get access to thanks to a friend. As you can see, when you're working without a crew, any moment that the cast aren't performing they will be holding lamps or microphones or operating the clapperboard. Dee found herself doing a lot of this too, when she wasn't taking pictures she was invaluable as my AD! I just want to add how wonderfully open, honest and helpful everyone was. I really enjoyed working with these guys.
Big thanks to the ever pleasant and ever hard-working Diana, Brian, Fiona, Vince T, Vince N, Pablo, Frazer Neil and Mark. An extra big thank you to Kitty for securing the flat for us to film in and for tarting up to play our working girl! You all gave so much time and energy to the project and I am so grateful for that.

The pictures are testament to how beautiful the flat and the building itself were. A really great location and opportunity. It doubled as label manager Clint Coxon's opulent pad for the purpose of the shoot.

If you're interested in what went wrong with the project, or why it ended up being unsustainable, I have written about it in a previous entry here.
Click for larger images.

Brian's scene - Clint: the decadent alcoholic label manager

Setting up the corridor entrance

Brian stepping in for soundman duties 

Fiona (playing the A&R agent Felicity) on soundman duties

Neil - playing guitarist Mitch - relaxing in between scenes

Frazer and a hard earned beer for his duties as co-writer and cast member

The writers behind Surviving The Toilet Circuit, Frazer and (the unphotographed) Mark have co-written another project, a short film which we will be shooting this Christmas. One location, one main actor, ten minute running length. That sounds a little more digestible!

Thanks for reading, and keep an eye out for the new project (as yet untitled) and also for the recurrence of the STTC cast, as I will be calling them again for future projects (if they are up for it)!





Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Quick book review - The Unkindest Cut



I bought this alongside several other seminal texts (see this blog post from Feb 2010) and it never really managed to grab me, so it kept getting left on the shelf. But it has finally been read!

It's by a  bombastic and egotistic (but very funny) film critic called Joe Queenan who hears about the infamous $7,000 budget for El Mariachi and decided to go one better and make his own self-financed movie for $6,998 in order to overturn the corporate paradigm, make a name for himself, and win a victory for all the average joes who thought that filmmaking was only for the Hollywood elite. All his cash is reserved for film stock, development and equipment hire. He gets neighbours to star in his film for free and uses local locations.

Of course, things snowball out of control very quickly. Queenan has never made a film before, and his cheerful experiment soon becomes a month of terror and dread, with costs exploding exponentially and spilling over all through post production. He loses friends and alienates neigbours, and documents every decision, catastrophe and breakthrough in detail in the book, which makes for compulsive reading.

The movie gets made, but at a heck of a cost. It's a great read if you're interested in what goes on behind the scenes of a film, and if you're interested in making films yourself, you will walk away having learned a lot of lessons.

Sadly the film is impossible to find, it would make the perfect companion to the book about it's genesis. If you've already read Rebel Without A Crew (Robert Rodrigues book about the filming of El Mariachi) then this is a great follow up. The two projects could have not have gone more differently!

It also makes me fucking glad that I work with digital video and not film. The cost is insanely prohibitive!

God bless ya, DV.

If you're interested, you can pick up the book through amazon marketplace:


The Unkindest Cut: How a Hatchet-Man Critic Made His Own $7,000 Movie and Put It All on His Credit Card - amazon




Thursday, 17 November 2011

Some real news!

Actual developments this time, not just posts about me playing Grand Theft Auto. Whatever next??


New Project!

Well I sat down for a drink and a (bloody lovely) burger with Mark and Frazer on Monday night, in a really flashy pub (Horniman's) by the riverside in London Bridge.

We talked through a lot of ideas for a short film, some of which I think had major potential to grow into really interesting projects. However, remembering how our last over-ambitious project ended up, we elected to go for the simplest possible. The reasoning being that if we can conquer a small project, we'll be better informed to take on a bigger project in the future and if it doesn't work out, it's no big loss. After all, no-one says we only have one project left in us. Might as well start small. Baby steps! I like Mark and Frazer a lot and I really trust their judgement and ideas. Frazer has written a couple of novels and in his efforts to get published, he recently got a literary agent, exciting times!

We settled on an idea that was set largely in a single location, with one main actor, and - perhaps riskily - an animal performance. We should be able to shoot it over a single weekend. More info to come soon! Mark and Frazer are working on the plot as you read this. It's not the most sweepingly ambitious of our ideas, but it will be the simplest to shoot. I'm really looking forward to storyboarding this idea, it feels like a much more appropriately sized project.

Does anyone else think of What About Bob whenever someone says baby steps?


Smashing Fun

I called into work this morning and arranged to take the day off as holiday, just feeling absolutely annihilated after cycling in to work for the last few weeks. 20 miles a day is a real shock to the system, not to mention the London traffic. Decided to be productive on my day off and picked up the laptop only to immediately drop it and absolutely shatter the screen.

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuccccccckkkkkkkkkk. Hopefully it's just the screen, need to plug it into a monitor (probably next week at work, no monitors in the house) and see if the rest survived. I don't know what the next step is. I probably need to stump up for a replacement screen.


Stand Up, Sit Down

Some news so fresh it is still piping hot and not entirely confirmed, but hopefully I'll be taping a stand-up show for new comic Robin Adams in the next couple of weeks. Looking forward to it! I think I'll try at least a two-camera set up, one main one on the man himself and a second one off to the side for coverage, depends on what I can get away with in the venue. Need to think about sound too, will be a good opportunity to get some experience here. Will find out what the venue will let me do! Maybe they won't allow any filming :-|


London

You know... sitting in that flashy pub I mentioned earlier surrounded by expensive suits really made me think of the weird relationship I have with this city. I always feel under-dressed in places like that. Probably due to my scraggy t-shirt and jeans look. I live in a pretty decent corner of the overall grubby/crimey/stabby suburb of Lewisham in Greater London (we had a good presence in the 2011 London riots!) but I work in South Kensington, one of the most affluent areas of the Central London, home of Harrods, the Royal Albert Hall and insanely high house prices. The further I get to the centre of the city, the more I feel like an outsider. I think it's a paradox I'm not alone in feeling, seeing as so many of us working in service positions can't afford to live anywhere near we work. It's a chasm I constantly feel that I'm standing near the edge of. I'm impressed by the city, but simultaneously I know it owes so much to the wealth divide. I love London, but it is a weird fucking place. On the plus side, it's one of the greatest and most tolerant melting pots on the planet. I got to say, I fucking love me some tolerance. We need to pump people full of it, because there is a shortage in this world.


Tag it and Bag it

As always I'll be using tags in these blog posts, so you can filter my posts by the project you're interested in. The new project is currently tagged... well... "new project"! I'll rename the tag once we have a title for the damned thing!


Saints Row The Third (is the word)

Don't even bother trying to contact me tomorrow. I'll be locked up indoors with Saints Row The Third, denying the existence of the outside world.

So Peter Jackson, if you need some fresh eyes for your new Hobbit movie, sorry son but I'm BUSY.

Bye :-)

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

My morning

I know I've got a big job ahead of me so I call my friend, Little Jacob. We've been hanging out a bit lately, playing some pool (he nearly always wins) and eating take-away chicken. He answers the phone.
"Jacob," I say. "I need some of those guns you promised me."
He arranges to meet me downtown. I don't have a car. An large red convertible pulls up at the junction next to me and the obnoxious driver yells an obscenity. I pull him out of his car, throw him to the ground and I climb in. I change the radio station and get some electro pumping on the car's impressive sound system, and I speed off to the meet.

A policeman saw the whole thing and has called in the license plate. After a kilometre or two I've got cops on my tail, sirens screaming. I pull in to the alleyway where Little Jacob is waiting. He hears the sirens and tells me he is leaving, jumping back into his car. No fucking way Jacob, I bought you fried chicken. I ram my convertible into the side of his car, crunching metal and breaking glass. Jacob cries out in shock. I lean out with a submachine gun, squeezing down the trigger as flame kicks out of the barrell, unloading a clip in his direction. Dirty bullet holes rake Jacob's car, his windows shatter and his head bursts like an overripe fruit, spattering blood all over his plush interior. I get out of my car and run down some steps into a subway station, chased by armed police. A cop pulls his gun out and threatens me, in the heat of the moment I open fire and kill him with a single shot. People yell in horror. I hide round a corridor corner as my phone rings. It's Jacob, he's getting out of the hospital soon and needs a lift.
"Sure thing Jacob, I'll be there in an hour" I say as the police open fire and concrete chunks get blown out of the wall. People are screaming and running. I jump onto the subway tracks as the bullets fly and get hit by a train. Everything goes black.

A few hours later I'm walking out of hospital. My phone rings, it's Jacob again. He curses me out for not picking him up, leaving him to make his own way home.

And then I got dressed and went to work

Sunday, 13 November 2011

(Not) Surviving The Toilet Circuit

Well, I guess it was just too big a project. A 45 minute short film with over a dozen locations and 8 main cast members, filmed without any experience.

Unfortunately, the short film project - Surviving The Toilet Circuit - a film about a SE London band not quite climbing the ladder to musical success has stalled and is no longer being pursued.

The biggest problem? It was simply too unwieldy, and finding the time when we're all busy people with jobs and bands and families. It took so long that situations changed and the obstacles began to become too big to climb. It is with a strange mixture of genuine regret and naked relief that we closed the project that had become bigger than I could keep track of.

Mark and Frazer are keeping their script though, and hoping to pass it on to some professionals who can do it justice, maybe even a stage performance. I really liked it, and it really resonated with me. I look forward to seeing what happens with the story in the future.

I learned a metric ton of stuff on our filming and rehearsing for this project, and we're all still great friends, stronger than before. But the lesson is learned. If I'm going to do anything as big as that, I need to do it with far simpler logistics. Fewer cast, fewer locations. These are the limitations I need to work in when this is all being done in people's spare time.

Any cast members reading this, thank you so much for giving up so much of your free time for rehearsals, for filming, for logistics, for everything. You were all so generous, I really can't thank you enough.

Well, I'm meeting with Mark and Frazer tomorrow to use this momentum and education we've had, we're going to decide on a short film to shoot. Something simple, no more than 3 locations, no more than 3 cast members, filmable in two weekends or so. Looking forward to it! The sheer mass of the previous project became a suffocating spectre during my low periods, although this is probably largely because I didn't really know how it was going to work out. Learning on the job is the best way to do it, and I've loved it, but there's always the frightening notion that it could all go wrong, and people would be looking to me to fix it, and I wouldn't be able to. Pretending to lead a project while feeling like a fraud is a bad place to be, which is why I try to be as honest and open as possible with anyone I'm working with. I feel like I've learned so much, but I still feel that this is barely the surface.

Sound is still a big obstacle to climb. I should find some people who know all about that stuff and see what I can learn.

In other news, my rent has gone up by £100 a month (negotiated down from £150) and I am so goddamned broke. Missed an opportunity to film Houdini, one of my new favourite bands (check them out here) because of lack of cash, distance (they are based in Medway, not that far away to be honest) and commitments. I would still dearly love to do a video with them though, we've been talking about it for a long time. I'm happy to have full-time work in a financial climate such as this, but it's leaving me so little freedom to work on what I want to do. I'm really glad to be meeting Mark and Frazer tomorrow, get that spark started again, get myself pulled out of the comfortable mire that I sank into once work on Surviving The Toilet Circuit ceased, and since I finished the trailer video for Sofia The Show. 

I've also been fleshing out the basics on my own screenplay finally. I've got a basic outline that I'm really pleased with. I'm writing it with one eye firmly fixed on how limited my options are when it comes to locations and casting and what can realistically be done. Who knows if it will evolve into something filmable, but right now I'm excited, and working on it makes me happy!

Lastly, Saints Row: The Third comes out on Friday. The last pre-order I'll be making for a while until my finances improve. I can justify it because a huge open-world game has real value - I can play it for months - and I'm nerdily excited about it. We all need some down time, and gaming is how I relax. It's my one true vice. You know, apart from all the drugs.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Sofia The Show trailer - finished!

Sometimes it's hard to find a good balance between a full time job, home life, and not one but two time consuming hobbies. The night before last I spent the entire evening putting together a video for Bacalao Performance Company, the footage we shot a while back (mentioned in my last blog) and some footage I had shot since, when I met Marianne, the director of the piece, to film a spoken-to-camera pitch asking for help or funding for the project. The aim is that the finished video trailer will go on the Bacalao website, whereas the trailer followed by the video pitch is now live on a website called Sponsume.com, which is a place where people can show snippets of their work and ask for help funding their projects. Please, check the page out, read about the project, and if you can spare some change, please make a contribution to the show and help Sofia and Marianne, they've worked so hard to get the show off the ground. You'll get a beer out of it!!!

http://www.sponsume.com/project/sofia-show

I was really pleased to get the video done. Putting the parts together and making something that works is really satisfying. I love editing, it's probably my favourite part of the whole project. It's like building something out of clay. You start with a mess and end up with something beautiful. Now I'm not saying my work is beautiful, but I'm learning about how to get there!

I had actually put together a trailer a few weeks earlier, using a scene we filmed of Sofia singing some fado (a beautiful genre of classical style Portuguese folk music) with some shots from the footage. Ultimately though the trailer focused too much on the sad elements of Sofia's story and not enough on the redemptive, joyous part, and wasn't quite representative of the whole performance. Sofia and Marianne were both very honest and forthright and gracious, and their openness was refreshing and really allowed me to see what the video was lacking and what parts of it worked.

I cut a second trailer using a piece of fado music by Amelia Rodrigues recommended to me by Sofia and Marianne and it's a very beautiful piece of music. I've heard it 100 times and I still really like it. This time Sofia and Marianne collaborated with me to help get the right feel across, and sent me detailed notes. I've been working on it for a few weeks, but last night I put in a solid few hours and got the video to a finished state. I then spent the requisite hour exporting the video by trial and error to produce a copy that was the correct ratio, a good size, and below 500 megs (Vimeo has an upload cap), but I got there in the end! The new trailer was uploaded last night and has been met with positive comments from Bacalao, so I'm very happy!

I've created an account on Vimeo to upload the videos and as a newcomer to the service (having only really used youtube before) I'm impressed by how open, friendly and directed the site is. It's specifically created for people like me who want to upload their own work and it looks really nice. I don't know why it took me so long to get here!

I have to say I'm a little intimidated by the visual quality of the videos. There is a sharpness and crystal clear quality that I have just not been able to replicate so far. There is a also probably a bit too much slow motion. It seems these days that you're not showing off your tech or your talent if you're not filming in HD and in extreme slow motion. Makes everything look like an advert for Sky Sports or the latest flatscreen TV. If I had a HD camera capable of slow motion like that, I think I would go crazy with the awesome novelty and document my entire life in slow motion, so it would take ten lifetimes to watch. But I'm digressing!

Anyway, get your ass over to the Sponsume.com page so you can see my video. Read about the show too, it's an exciting and ambitious project.

http://www.sponsume.com/project/sofia-show

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Filming with Bacalao

Just a quick update to say that I had a wonderful time filming with Bacalao the other night. Sofia and Marianne were both so personable and professional and the whole thing went so very smoothly. We're putting together a teaser trailer, and we had a very productive discussion and implemented some last minute ideas which went really smoothly. The whole evening was a lovely stress-free experience. Even though this was our last chance to get some meaningful video, I really felt like the weight was off, and everything just went right. Here's hoping the footage is good enough! Will be having a good close look at that soon (I took the lens cap off, right?).

Time, the great enemy of the clueless videographer (especially when working weekday evenings on a tight schedule), was on our side. We managed to get a lot of footage recorded and it never felt rushed or compromised. Some of the scenes we shot with Sofia were very powerful, dealing as they were with moments of tragedy/cruelty in her life, and to be there, holding the camera towards someone who is experienced at using their emotion to communicate is quite exhilarating. She managed to silence the room on more than one occasion, and goodness - I know this sounds silly - but at times I could physically feel the energy of her performance, like a force.

On the lighting side, having left my new lamp at home, the worklight proved it's mettle and powerfully lit the household spaces. I used a fast shutter speed to make up for abundance of light and I will be interested to see the results. To the eye, it was too much, but on camera, it looked great.

I also got to see more of Nigel Hine at work, who brought only small backpack but managed to pull a veritable studio out of it, reflectors, softbox lighting on a telescopic stand and a lovely Canon camera, before setting about photographing phenomenal promotional portrait pictures of Sofia and Marianne for their upcoming website, all on location at the house that will be the venue for Sofia's performance. Nigel was good, he was working in a non-ideal location that he wasn't able to scout beforehand, but the quality of the images was astounding.

Ah well, until next time!

:-)

(It's nice to be able to write something really positive for a change!)

Monday, 19 September 2011

Wailing and gnashing of teeth

THE LAMP part 2

Remember my clamp-lamp from the previous post? Well, I found one online and bought it. It's basically a heat lamp with a metal dome reflector for use in vivariums. Well my lamp arrived quickly from an online reptile house and yesterday I bought some filament bulbs for it so I could give the lamp a test run before tonight's shooting of Sofia and her show. The important thing to note here, and which shows a lack of foresight on my part, is that tungsten filament bulbs are being phased out in favour of energy saving bulbs. We're already at a stage where you cannot buy bulbs of a high wattage in the store (I had to settle for 60W). Good news for the planet, bad news for the no-budget film-maker.

Well, instead of a clean sharp light with bold shadows as this youtube video had showed me, I was treated to some of the ugliest light I've ever seen. Harsh patchy concentric rings of light all bunched together, like the headlight of a 70's car. It was awful. Thus commenced the wailing and gnashing of teeth. I spent some time trying to fix it. My first thought was that it was the super shiny dome that was causing these reflective rings, so I tried to remove it, only to find the particular lamp I had bought had an irremovable dome. Quick thinking Dee rushed to the bedroom and brought out a white shirt. We stretched the fabric over the dome and it diffused the light quite well, but not well enough. This light certainly isn't the holy grail of budget lighting I was hoping, in fact, until I make some kind of modification, it is beyond useless.

I'm beginning to think I should perhaps spray-paint the inside of the reflective dome with a matte white finish so the light is still reflected but it loses the harsh ringed reflections from the dome. Come to think of it, my dome is a lot more glossy than the dome in the video. I'm talking reflector dome here, and not my head, although let's be honest, my dome does get glossy.

I pulled out my old worklight to compare it to the horrible unusable light the lamp was giving off, and the worklight, despite giving off the light and heat of a small nuclear explosion, gave a far more consistent light. Why did I ever doubt you, worklight?

It's hard to escape the feeling that sometimes travelling on this journey is basically lurching from one disappointment to the next. Maybe I shouldn't have let myself get so fucking excited about a lamp, like it was the answer to all my problems.

TONIGHT - BACALAO FILMING

Got a lot of stuff to take to work with me today, because I'm going straight from work to meet Sofia. On previous trips to work when I've had to come "equipped" I have injured my wrists carrying all this stuff across various trains and tubes, so today I have opted for the big dusty suitcase on wheels. Pulled it out from under the bed, vacuumed all the dust off it, and loaded up. I got my camera case, big tripod, worklight, worklight stand (the nuclear fucker will burn a hole in whatever it sits on otherwise), external microphone and leads. The camera case itself takes up 85% of the suitcase, the rest is wedged all around it. The tripod is massive, but it's wedged into a large outside pocket on the front of the case. Get in! Moving this around the streets of London is still a chore, but it's not the it complete bummer it has been previously. As I dragged the case along the uneven cobbled streets, the rattling of the wheels concerned me. I know that the camera is not meant to be subject to vibration, and I was having bad visions of the camera being shaken into tiny pieces inside it's foam casing. I'll keep you posted.

Ran out of time for breakfast this morning because I forgot the microphone and had to rush to find and pack it. Powered down through some mini cheddars and a fruit corner once I got to work. I'm feeling powerful. Let's see how long that lasts.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Catch-up time!

Been a bit of a while between updates.
HOUDINI

The big news is that I have got a new project, filming a music video for Medway noiseniks Houdini. They are friends of Frau Pouch, the band I filmed live a while back at New Cross. We're just in the planning stages at the moment, but it's exciting, and this is a first for me - to be filming a video for a band that I wasn't already friends with. This is the litmus test, my first foray into commissioned work. They are a tight, furiously talented band and I urge you to see them live if you get the chance. They play Medway and London on a semi-regular basis. Catch them with Frau Pouch if the opportunity arises, for a double whammy of filth and noise.




Check them out here: http://www.reverbnation.com/houdinisaur

LIGHTING

So the new video is in the pipeline and I really want to use this opportunity to elevate the visual quality of my videos (only time will tell if the opportunity is utilised) so I have ordered a new light to illuminate my video subjects. I want to keep it simple and inexpensive, although I do admit I did have a browse through some "proper" lights with tripods and dimmers and barn doors and all that fancy malarkey - however, money is too tight to mention, as the wise man once said (before contradicting himself by talking about money money) and it behooves me to seek a more frugal measure. I have written before about worklights, and how I utilised a worklight I had bought several years ago (to illuminate a night-time barbecue party) as a possible film-making solution. Some of the budget film-makers on the net don't rate worklights as a decent lighting tool and insist that proper lights are the only way to go, and while some of that may be equipment snobbery, there is actually a valid argument here. This excellent little tutorial video makes clear points and actually proposes an even cheaper solution than worklights which works a lot better.

The video suggests using reflector lamps as a point light, the kind you might use to illuminate and heat a reptile vivarium. It's a simple average glass bulb in a metal reflector dome, and it comes with a clamp so you can fix it to objects.



A far cheaper solution and a more controllable light than worklights, which can be a little overpowering as they are essentially halogen floodlights.

A top tip from the video is to use bulbs where the visible filament is small and straight, rather than curly, twisted or circular in shape. It means checking your bulb before you buy, but it means you get sharp crisp shadows (thanks to the straight filament) rather than the fuzzy, graded shadows that are caused by light rays being thrown every which way. I paid a little more to get a lamp that could take a bulb up to 250watts so I had the option to go bright. When the lamp arrives I'll let you know how it works! I'll be using it as a point light for the Houdini shoot and also next Monday, when I will be filming some footage of a theatre show performance for the Bacalao Theatre Company, a project I took on a little while ago.

BACALAO

Sofia, an old friend of mine and a talented performer, singer and actress is promoting her one-woman show, titled simply Sofia - The Show, an autobiographical piece about her childhood in Portugal and her life in London. What's interesting about the show is that it will take place in unusual spaces, such as people's homes which will be opened as public space. Sofia contacted me to help her and her director, Marianne, get a video sample of their work for their website, with the eventual aim of using the footage to show to possible backers to get funding for their new show. I filmed some footage of Sofia performing the show in a theatre space recently but time ran out on us, and I was really disappointed with the quality of the footage once I got it home. The room was dark and we had no extra lighting, so I had to use a wide open aperture, which when combined with the zoom meant that I had a really shallow depth of focus which made it hard to focus on Sofia as she moved about the stage. Sofia's vibrant red clothing - which looked fine on the viewfinder - came out bizarrely blocky and pixelated once I saw the footage enlarged. Another blow came in the form of the audio, which suffered from the loud air conditioning in the studio space. While human ears soon tuned out the drone, the microphone was not so kind. A little more experience (and equipment) and perhaps I could have taken steps to minimise this, but I learn hard lessons on every shoot I do.
Marianne and Sofia were both really great on the night and gave it their all, and I felt gutted that I couldn't give them something that reflected that.

I loved Sofia's work and both her and Marianne are really lovely genuine people, so I want to give them something that can benefit them. I hope I can salvage some footage of the performance and combine it with what we film on Monday. They've both worked so hard to organise all of this and I really want to help.

This may sound really obvious, but I am discovering that it's really not easy to do something well. It's difficult.

SURVIVING THE TOILET CIRCUIT

This project has not gone away, but has been put back a little. Not too much to talk about at this stage, things are still happening behind the scenes, and it all still feel a little vague and up in the air. I must admit, Mark from the Explorer's Collective has been prodding me for a meet-up, and I really should get together with him and talk about it. I've been keeping myself out of the loop because the guys involved have some stuff to work through - outside of the filming - and I don't want to muddy that. Time to catch up though.

BRAIN FIGHT

This has also slipped into the background as I have been so busy lately... now I am worried that it will soon be too cold/dark/wet to be able to organise a large group of people for an outdoor filming session. I must contact Joe of Frau Pouch and have a chat.

BIKE

Not video related, but I bought a bike last week, using my workplace cyclescheme. Should be picking it up in a few days. I'm unfit, overweight, and broke... so cycling should save me a lot of money on my exorbitant monthly train fares. Well, we'll just have to see how it goes!

Monday, 1 August 2011

Brain fight!!

No action on the film front just yet, everyone is taking turns to take two weeks holiday, meaning we won't have a full team for a long time. I really should organise something though, perhaps I'll lift my lethargic hands today and type out an email to everyone to arrange the next bit of rehearsal.

However, a little news to report, a conversation with a friend has spun from a funny idea into possibly a full blown music video. The excellent Frau Pouch are considering a music video featuring a brain fight in a science laboratory. Like a food fight but with brains. Because of logistics and Evil Deadness, we might even host a brain fight in the woods. With zombies. A really interesting turn of events for me is that we might film it all (or at least mostly) on a super8 handheld, and then transfer it to miniDV using a DV camera and a projector.

This madness has only really erupted this morning, but if I can swing it, I think I can have the pleasure of helming this disgusting little foray.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Our first day of filming

It's been a whole week now, but on Sunday we filmed our first scene for the movie.

It was act two, scene three. The band have their first meeting with the record label manager in his plush London digs.

I have never prepared for any shoot as much as I prepared for this. And you know what, it still wasn't enough. But I am gradually learning what I'm doing wrong, and what I'm not doing enough of to prepare.

The whole thing felt strangely anticlimactic, and after arriving and setting up the set (a person's actual home, which lent the whole proceedings a slightly strange air, I was always vaguely aware that I was putting people out) it felt like business as usual.

The shoot went well enough, we got everything in the can, Brian even supplied a boom mic on a grip handle (so you can point it like a gun) that had been sitting around his place for years, most serendipitous indeed, seeing as we were working with capturing high quality sound for the first time. The best thing for me about the shoot was having Dee assist me, she really helped me stay on top of everything and having an extra pair of hands to work clapperboards, lights and microphones was great. Plus there were probably two occasions where time was slipping through my fingers and the task of getting everything filmed felt monumental, and I think I was on the verge of possibly losing all hope a little, but having Dee there kept me sane and kept me together! Thank you Dee, and thank you for the home made scones!

Speaking of food, I was planning for everyone to bring a bit of food along and we could break for a nice buffet style lunch of our own devising, but time was so damned tight that we didn't have a minute to spare. I feel really bad about this as I wanted the shoot to run smoothly and for everyone to have a nice relaxing lunch and chat halfway through the day. Maybe next time I should schedule everything to a timetable, although there is a probability that everything will get clusterfucked after a scene needs twenty takes or I forget to set the sound levels and we have to do it all again.

I've edited together the first 30 seconds or so, and I have some serious audio balancing to deal with because the supposed background silence in certain scenes hums along very loudly in one shot and then disappears in the next (air conditioning or perhaps water boiler?) This will be my first time working to balance audio as well as visuals and so far I think I will have a lot of work to do but I think (hope?) that this is pretty standard fare. The audio capture isn't as sharp as I'd like, voices disappear beneath footsteps and the audio is not crystal clear. I guess I will try my hand and twirling some on-screen dials in Final Cut, shrug my shoulders a bit and then do some googling and see if I can bring up the quality. In future, I need to get the boom mike closer to the actors, judiciously hiding it in the set so it won't show up on camera.

On the plus side, my current concerns about whether I not I kept everything in focus seem to be unfounded, and I got all the footage I was planning to get.

On the negative, I didn't get enough coverage. I never liked the idea of getting coverage, preferring instead to get all the shots on my shot list, but now I'm feeling a little exposed and if anything has gone wrong then it could hurt me later on in the edit. I think I shall correct this in future and get more coverage. I could really use the extra angles, as some of the shots don't quite flow/match up.

The pressure of having the camera in people's faces and being on location, with a time limit, made remembering lines difficult and we went through a lot of takes. I think our rehearsals have had the wrong focus, because we seemed to be finalising a lot of action and acting decisions in front of the camera, and the rehearsals hadn't helped us remember our lines. Admittedly our rehearsals have been mostly sitting around reading the script out loud, when I should have pushed sooner for us to ditch the scripts - although at the time the idea made everyone nervous. Having a script in our hand was like a comforting blanket, and we didn't want to forgo that. I could be wrong but I think everyone probably wishes we had done more to learn our lines in rehearsal, and more to flesh out the scenes, and I take responsibility for that because I really should have been using our time more efficiently. But that's inexperience for you, and this is hindsight. Not much good to dwell on mistakes, far better to learn from them.

I'm looking forward to getting the scene edited together, but life keeps getting in the way. Part of me is terrified that once I put everything together, it's just not going to work (read: it's going to be shittily edited and directed) and we'll have to shoot the whole scene again, without our plush location.

I really should contact the guys and arrange our next rehearsal/scene filming. They haven't heard from me in a week, they probably think I've gone mad with the pressure of putting the first scene together and have shut myself away from the world.

It's taken me a week to get myself together enough to write this.... perhaps they're right.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Our Filmed Rehearsal on Monday

So, after work on Monday I dragged my camera case and tripod (they both get really heavy after a while) to the tube and took myself across town to Mark's place in Greenwich. I arrived early enough to meet Brian (aka Clint Coxon, manager of our fictional Juggernaught Records) for a beer and a bite to eat, then we walked to Mark's. It was nice to have some help with the tripod! Once at Mark's, we had from 7 til 10pm.

We mocked up Mark's basement to the orientation of the London flat we'll be using on Sunday (luckily it has many similarities in terms of furniture and door placement). We did a run through of the scene and talked about how we would do things. We probably spent a bit too long doing this because once we finally started filming, we were only able to film about two thirds of all the shots.

I had a trusty shot list, which had the shot number, the camera angle, and room for writing the timecodes and making notes. I had put my list not in shot order, but in shooting order, so I would do one camera setup, film all of those scenes, then do the next set-up, and so on. There were 50 seperate shots to film, and we didn't get them all. In terms of the scene, we got all of the middle, but missed a chunk from the beginning and end. I also had a floor plan with all the camera angles and another sheet which listed all the shots and gave a description of dialogue/action in each shot. I think before Sunday I will combine the shot list with the list of shot descriptions to save me flicking constantly back and forth between two sheets.

We didn't worry too much about lighting, we stuck the camera on idiot-mode and the cast often had a script in hand for some of the dialogue as not all the lines had been thoroughly learned yet. We didn't have much time to strive for perfect performances. Until now we had only rehearsed the scenes from beginning to end and shooting it in bits and pieces, out of script order, was disorientating. I knew it would be, but I don't think I accounted for how disorientating. I suddenly began to realise that while I thought I had a hold on the scene, and where the characters would be, I actually didn't. Fiona would ask me where she should be during a scene and I had no idea. It made sense when we rehearsed it all in order, but filming out of order I often became befuddled. I think I will need to make a much more developed set of floorplans including character movement so I don't get so confused! There was unfortunately, a heck of a lot of standing around and waiting for the cast, even though we actually got through the shots pretty quickly and weren't trying to light each setup. Any notions of movie-set glamour soon disappeared. (note to self - set up a room where people can wait when not needed so they don't have to stand in the corner trying to be small)

Although we ran out of time and I found myself constantly losing pens or sheets of paper or getting confused (despite some pretty heavy - but not heavy enough - planning) the shoot was never stressful and we laughed quite a lot. Everyone was really enthusiastic and they put up with me and my incompetent boobery. I feel especially sympathetic for Neil and Frazer, as they don't even have any lines, they just have to sit there looking interested and not like they have numb arses, which was probably the hardest of all.

We wrapped up shortly around 10.15pm and made our way home. Being far luckier than I deserve to be, I went home to an incredible homemade pizza made by the amazing Dee, whose patience and support has been consistently amazing. Dee, if you're reading this, thank you. x

I spent Monday night with my brain still wired, directing people in urgent but mundane tasks in my dreams until my alarm went off and I had to go to work.

Yesterday (Tuesday), after work I decided to start transferring the video. After a big delay that required me to trash all my Final Cut preferences (the program stopped recognising the camera) I managed to get the footage imported. The lighting is harsh and the cameras automatic mode was pretty ugly. The picture also lacked sharpness and clarity, which I am a little surprised by, but I know it can do better and I only have myself to blame for using the automatic settings and autofocus. I was careful to check my white balance this time, having learned from previous mistakes.

But there was one thing I didn't check before we started filming. Audio levels. In my utter incompetence and inexperience, I shot the whole scene with the volume setting on the camera left on it's previous settings, which was when I filmed the deafening Frau Pouch/Explorer's Collective live gig. Barely a word registers when I playback the footage, and no matter how much I amplify the audio on Final Cut I can't hear a thing. My plan, to assemble a rough cut rehearsal of the scene that we could use to critique direction, camerawork, and blocking, has pretty much crumbled. I am incredibly disappointed, devestated even, given all the work that everyone put in to make this rehearsal happen. This was meant to help us feel utterly prepared going into our filming on Sunday, and all we're left with is a badly edited silent movie. Not that I've had time to edit it together yet, which should be difficult without any audio cues.

God fucking damnit.

On the plus side, if the footage makes sense (all the timecodes for each take have been recorded so assembling it then trimming the fat shouldn't be completely impossible) without audio then we know that visually, our plans are sound. We can also use this dodgy footage to make sure our continuity and blocking works and make changes where we need to. And on the super-positive side, at least I've learned my lesson BEFORE setting foot on the location. I'm really mad at myself for the oversight, but learning the hard way... sometimes it's the best way. I'm making a checklist, so this never happens again.

I was organised on Monday, more so than I have been on any of the music video shoots, but I realise I am still not organised enough. But I'm getting there!

Thanks for reading x

Friday, 3 June 2011

Filming next weekend! Rehearsal filming on Monday.

I haven't updated for a little while, not because of a lack of things happening, but an abundance! We're filming next Sunday and right now we're meeting quite often to rehearse (we might even be over-rehearsing) and on Monday we're going to have a filmed rehearsal in which we'll practice not only walking and talking but also the different camera angles and shots. I've been mapping out the camera angles on a plan of the location for the past few days now on my lunchbreaks at work. It's something I've never bothered to do before but it really helps you visualise and plan a full shot list and I'm finding it invaluable. I guess how useful it actually is will become apparent next weekend. Sadly our filmed rehearsal won't be on location (a wonderful central London apartment that a friend is lending us), but in Mark's basement mocked up to represent the space as much as we possibly can.

Right now I'm looking forward to our filmed rehearsal, and especially to editing the footage together and seeing if it works as a whole. I've done similar "dry runs" on music video rehearsals, and it has always shown me where my planning was weakest, which scenes needed more thought and which didn't really work, and allowed me to fix that.

Editing is like assembling the jigsaw puzzle. After the hustle of filming, I always find editing to be a real pleasure, ensconced in the study behind a computer screen with a cup of tea and a notepad filled with scribbled timecodes. Maybe a bit more time spent editing will kill that cosiness off, but currently it's one of the things I look forward to the most.

We've been working really hard towards this first piece of filming, doing a lot of rehearsals. If we continue at this rate, filming a scene a month, it will take us 18 months. That's just stupidly long. I'm hoping that once we get this first scene done we'll start moving things a long a lot more quickly, and we'll be more confident. I don't want this shoot to go on forever or become a millstone or a chore for anyone, as everyone is working for free on this project.

Let's hope it doesn't drive anyone insane. As each day passes it dawns on me more and more how complicated this project is and how utterly inexperienced I am.

Monday, 23 May 2011

storyboards

Our first day of filming is approaching fast, two and a half weeks to go.
I'm trying to sit down and bash out some storyboards and shot lists but instead I'm listening to George Carlin stand-up and playing browser games on my lunch break.

I'm still trying to think about the best way to record sound during the shoot. I'm scratching my head a bit because I want to record high quality sound but I don't really have very much experience, or equipment. I have a strong feeling I'm going to end up using the attached microphone on the Canon XL1s. 

I've got a two day hangover and it's got me pinned.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Filming begins ... soon!

Lots happening right now, I've been meaning to write an update for ages!

We've had read throughs with all of our major characters now, only just this week we met with two of our new cast members and had a good time going over the script together. The project really feels like it's building steam when you start bringing in the actors, and it's not just a bunch of mates chatting over some beers in a bar somewhere.

Our read throughs have been pretty free flowing so far, I've purposefully not taken steps to influence how people read the lines or the inflections they use, because I want everyone to lose any inhibitions about acting in front of others, but now that we have had nearly all our introductory readings, I will start directing the cast a bit more and trying things out. Importantly, the cast need to have faith in me, to believe that I won't make them look stupid on film (well, video). And I won't. I will make sure of that. I may be new to this, but I'm hoping that I know when something isn't right. If they don't have that faith in me, then they will be less willing to really go out on a limb and try something, in case it fails.



HOWEVER the big news is that an opportunity to film our first scene has arisen. An amazing location has become available within a limited timescale, provided we can get everyone together on the same day! This does mean that we will be filming earlier than originally anticipated, probably by at least a month, but if time was no object we probably wouldn't begin filming for til late summer because I'd feel bad about rushing anyone or moving before we are ready, so perhaps this is a blessing because it forces all of us to jump in with both feet.

The scene in question takes place in the hotel room of the manager of Juggernaught Records, and was recently begrudgingly rewritten to take place in a less impressive but more available location, and has now been re-rewritten to take place in an impressive space in London. Right now we're working out all the details, and we will have one day to shoot the scene.

I plan to storyboard this thing out as much as possible. I want to be flexible on the day, and try things as they are available, but I want to make sure I have a solid plan to fall back on, as I won't have time to faff around. If we run out of time on the day then we run the risk of having wasted everyone's effort.


Well, we start filming our first scene in one month! The ball feels like it's rolling now. I guess it's good that I feel like I'm inside the ball and steering it, rather than feeling that the ball is rolling down a hill like a boulder in my direction. I'm sure that feeling will come later!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

An office, an office, my kingdom for an office

All the parts in the short film project are cast, rehearsals are underway, painfully slowly right now, but it's tricky pulling lots of people together, especially when they're giving their time away for free, for which I am eternally grateful of course! Hopefully we can have at least one thing happening each week.

The next step is locations. We've already earmarked and set aside quite a few, houses and businesses of friends being our main source of locations, as well as the odd live venue which will carry their own set of challenges. But one location, which is pivotal, is the office of Juggernaught Records A&R executive Felicity.

I set up a minimalist "office" for the Grenade music video that I did with the Explorer's Collective, it was just a table, two chairs, a laptop and some charts in an empty room. And that is exactly what it looked like. It didn't convince as an office at all. I don't want to make the same mistake. I guess I want to find an office that is almost ready to go. I know I won't find that, and that I will have to compromise, but then I began to even question what it was I was looking for. I don't even know what the office of an A&R executive looks like. What would be in there? Am I looking for something which only exists in my mind, pinned together from various films and books and stories and hollow anecdotes about record labels? Sure, I was in a band for years, but we never made contact with anyone who worked for a record label. Well, there was one guy, from a very small independent label, but that was a brief informal meeting in a pub where he said he wasn't looking for any bands to take on but he liked us. That hardly helps the situation. Then or now.

So what do I want? I want a room that can convince as one office in London or Greater London. Felicity will need a desk, I guess I'm imagining more of a desk in the centre of the room rather than a corner unit like most people have their computers on at home, purely for dramatic purposes. She will need a computer or laptop, probably a printer, and I envisage piles of CD samples sent to her by various bands. A CD player or record player with good quality speakers. She is after all, in the music business. I'm trying to just get by on logic here, but the more I think about people meeting in an office over a desk, the more I subconsciously try to dress up the office like one from a private eye movie. Venetian blinds! Table lamp! Desk fan! Ashtray!

Is she organised or messy? Are the Juggernaught offices in a dingy cellar or a room with a view? Clean white surroundings or dripping pipes and rot? These seem like decisions the script or story should dictate, but interestingly, either option works with the narrative.

Maybe I need to make it a home office just to simplify things. But I feel that I've made too many compromises like that already, and I want the thing to have some production value, and not be set entirely in what are clearly people's houses.

I need to find a location. Somewhere, someone is sitting in a room just like the one I need.

Where are you hiding?

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

A video for dark dance band Nowa Huta

On the weekend I finally finished a video I have been working on for many months when in between projects. It's a video for a band called Nowa Huta, a dark dance/dubstep/witchhaus band. It's not official, more of a pet project that went ahead with their blessing. However, I don't think either of us expected it to take so long!

I wanted to make an ambient stream-of-consciousness video that lacked a narrative; a visual effect that would work alongside their music. I needed some boundaries though, so I decided that I wouldn't use any stock footage and I would only use imagery that I captured myself on my camcorder. I captured footage at the height of summer and depth of winter (told you I was working on it for ages!) and had hundreds of gbs of video on my hard drive. I only used a fraction of it. It was a long, wide project, I spent many long weeks colliding pieces of footage together until I found something that worked. I got some great effects with liquid ink that I incorporated into the video too.

It's my first attempt at making something abstract, but I hope it works. It was a great learning experience. While working on the video I was getting so close to every frame that I had no idea if I was making something interesting or boring, and it's only now after finishing that I can get some distance, and overall I'm proud and happy with the result.

I never wanted the video to overpower the song, instead I wanted it to be a companion to it, something subtle that doesn't jar too much and that has a similar abstract feel.

Anyway, here it is. All DIY, all shot and edited on consumer equipment.

NOWA HUTA - STILFEELU

You can listen to more Nowa Huta here:
http://www.myspace.com/nowahutanoise
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Nowa-Huta/147049029653

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Link

http://www.cybergecko.com/nobudge/guide.htm

A really cool guide on no-budget filmmaking that utilises a stream-of-consciousness production style to help you flesh out your ideas. Good stuff, with lots of ideas for tapping into your creativity.

Definitely different enough be worth a try!

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Casting complete!

Yesterday I met with Fiona, who we are casting as the role of Felicity, the a&r of a record label that shows interest in our down-trodden band, The Electric Edwardians. She has some experience with filming small projects and has even done a little acting work before, so I'm really looking forward to our first readthrough.

On Saturday we met with Tom Edwin-Scott, musician and all around nice-guy, who has agreed to play the role of Archie, the band's um... pharmacist.

That's it, all parts cast! Now just need to arrange individual readthroughs, and then we can start doing readthroughs with everyone present. Sort our locations out, schedule everything.... then? Filming!

Before we do the group readthroughs I am going to arrange a big get-together for all the cast and anyone who will be helping me with filming, so we can all talk and get to know each other over a few cold drinks, just to eliminate the notion of anyone having to work with strangers. I'm envisioning a picnic or barbecue in a London park in the summer. I can smell those burgers already.

Maybe we could go one step further and organise a fight club, you know, help with the bonding and all that. Definitely a possibility.

Monday, 11 April 2011

11/04/2011

I must stop trying to sound knowledgeable or authoritative in my blog updates because I'm really neither.

There's a saying, whenever someone gives you advice, they are just talking to themselves in the past. That's pretty much exactly what I'm doing here.

I shall try to sound a little more lost and unsure in future posts so I don't give the wrong impression.

In honesty, I constantly feel like Atreyu in The Never Ending Story, walking through that gigantic statue gateway that laser beams you to a crispy death if you doubt yourself.

Friday, 8 April 2011

scripped.com - browser based screenwriting

How are you writing and editing your script or screenplay? The most common answer is probably Microsoft Word, but you need to know that there are a certain set of formatting "rules" which keep the style of all scripts uniform and makes them easier to understand. It seems a bit much at first, but the alternative is people writing scripts however they damn please which means that things will get confusing, so it's handy that there is a set format.

Unfortunately it's a time-consuming bitch to write a script in Microsoft Word and keep it in the correct format, so I spent some time researching computer programs that will handle the formatting for me.

I found some, including software that helps you do storyboarding and planning as well as scripting, some required a paid subscription, and others would shackle me to my home computer, and as I like to work wherever I am, I wanted something a bit more flexible. I began looking into browser based script editors, and after trying several out, the best free browser-based scriptwriting tool I found was http://www.scripped.com/.

You register with them for free and you can start writing your scripts straight away. It takes a little bit of getting used to but it's pretty straightforward. It might be worth familiarising yourself with basic script formatting beforehand to help you understand the program.

Basic screenwriting:
http://www.scriptfrenzy.org/howtoformatascreenplay
In depth screenwriting formatting (including the headache of font size and margins): http://www.simplyscripts.com/WR_format.html

Scripped.com
Pros
  • free
  • browser based so you can access from any computer online
  • automatically formats your scripts as you type
  • you can save multiple drafts
  • export to a variety of formats including text and pdf
  • automatically creates an editable coversheet for your script
  • great user community and forums

Cons
  • No undo button
  • It's browser based so sometimes doesn't feel as robust as a dedicated program and things can go a little haywire although I've never had anything beyond a minor inconvenience
  • It was difficult to import the early draft of the script which was written in Word, in the end I had to type it up from scratch
  • Your script is public (with a copyright) along with thousands of others unless you pay for a premium account
So, not as good as a dedicated program, but for me personally, the convenience that scripped offers trumps that. It suits my needs right now as a no-budget filmmaker. Maybe later I'll get some dedicated software, but right now, this is great for me.

If you'd prefer a program rather than a browser based editor, then I recommend you have a good look at the following:

FinalDraft: a professional screenwriting program and an industry standard.
http://www.finaldraft.com/

CeltX: Free software, basically a free and less glossy version of FinalDraft.
http://celtx.com

I hope this has been moderately helpful.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Praise be to Google Documents

During the planning phase of a project I like to be - or at least feel - organised. On my first projects I began by having lots of stuff written down which I would lug around, but not often reference. Sometimes while at work shooting something I'd realise the one thing I really needed was on my home computer and inaccessible from my current location.

Thank the cosmic valkyries for Google Documents. You work on your files from any computer via your google account and they will be saved among your google documents for access from any computer. This is great news for me.

I use a lot of documents during prep. Mark has made frequent reference to the barrage of documents and spreadsheets I bring out during rehearsals or when script editing. I have spreadsheets that I reference frequently, such as the invaluable Locations spreadsheet, which lists out all the scenes and locations for the filming. It also tells me who appears in which scenes and also allows me to see which scenes have the most actors and which actors have the most scenes (really useful when planning a shoot).

Then I have spreadsheets I don't reference much beyond making them, such as the character relationship sheet, which has all the character names going up the side and along the top, and I write about character A's relationship with character B where they intersect. Interestingly, but crucially, A's relationship with B is often different from B's relationship to A. It's rarely the same relationship from both perspectives. Although I rarely go back to it, the act of writing it is invaluable and revealing, and also lets you know pretty quickly which characters you don't have a grasp on, and where you need to do some more exploring.

I also have a spreadsheet with all my extras and their contact details, a document outlining issues that crop up when planning certain scenes, which is a really great place to put all my ideas and solutions for working around these problems. I have one containing ideas for the current project and another for music video ideas (best to write them down before they disappear into the ether). I have some "drawings" on google documents as well, looking like a big flow chart which allow me to visualise the scene flow and the throughlines for each character as well as their objectives in each scene.

Sure, sometimes the google versions of spreadsheets and word documents aren't exactly perfect or fully featured, but it's a small price to pay for the convenience of accessing them anywhere any time, without having to spend time copying everything over to a memory stick every time you change something. I know a lot of people find word processing cold, and prefer to work with pen and paper, which is (of course) preferable when working with the creative side of things (I do this too, I always keep a notebook handy, doodling seems to unlock the inner artist), but for organisation and planning, sometimes you can't beat a good spreadsheet, much maligned as they are! It also means I can spend downtime at work tinkering about with all the difference facets of the production, which keeps me immersed in the project and keeps my thinking up to date.

So, spreadsheets! Pretty boring subject matter, I know! But sometimes it really pays to have this stuff available for quick reference, and it also means I feel a hell of a lot less stressed about the project. You start finding problems that you didn't even realise existed yet, and you can apply a little creativity and solve them before you even get to shooting, which, speaking personally, is liberating.

Be as prepared as you can possibly be, but make sure you're still flexible and open on the day. You will still get hit with a lot of unexpected issues, but you'll be in a much better position to deal with them if you're not fretting about everything else.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The location massacre

On Monday evening I met with Mark and Frazer and we began to attack our locations sheet. We axed a scene, re-wrote two others, came up with new locations and ideas and pencilled in new possibilities. We are now down to 9 locations which is far better than the previous 15.

We still need to fix a few things, but right now things feel a lot better. A lot more "travel sized" than before.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Locations

Right now we film 18 scenes in 15 locations.

That's a HELL of a lot of locations for a no budget movie.

On the one hand, having that amount of variety might make our short film look less "cheap" but on the other, I might be biting off more than any of us can chew. I don't want to be making this movie forever, so I am taking a look at our location lists and seeing where I can move things around and re-use locations. Sometimes we can even use one location but film it as two, for example, seperate rooms of a house could double as completely different locations.

Some scenes can be quite easily tweaked, for example, instead of the band members visiting a friend, he visits them, as we've already got a scene based in their flat. That takes one location out of the equation. The scene might need a tiny bit of a re-write because of that but doing so also enables us to get creative and see old lines from a fresh perspective. I think I'll go over this in detail with the writers, we can get together over a cold one and work out some solutions.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

First readthrough with a non-principal character

On Tuesday we met with our friend Vince, who will be reading for Ken, the manager of the Electric Edwardians. Ken is the non-principle character with the most scenes, and the first casting we've done outside of the band who are all playing versions of themselves.

We had a laid back readthrough at my place (the bonus of not having to travel!) over a few beers, and Vince was absolutely brilliant. We had a great laugh and read over his scenes a few times and tried a few things out. It was utterly relaxed and everything came very naturally.

I think Vince is our man!!

Over the next few months we'll probably have similar readthroughs, with the principal cast present to read with the new cast member. Once we have had a low-key rehearsal with each cast member I'm planning to bring everyone together at a party, perhaps a barbecue, so that everyone can meet and mingle. We're all untrained actors, and I think everyone probably feels nervous about acting next to a stranger, so we'll remove that barrier.

The last thing I want on this project is for people to feel stressed. Perhaps I might need to help myself out and get some people to assist me during shooting, I've got a lot on my plate!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Gig recording at New Cross Inn

On Saturday I took the Canon XL1s and my trusty Panasonic camcorder sidearm down to the New Cross Inn to video tape two bands, Frau Pouch and The Explorer's Collective. Mark of the Explorer's brought another small camcorder for me to borrow, so I had a total of 3 camcorders to film the gig with. Pablo of the Explorer's brought his digital audio recorder that he uses for capturing gig audio so I could have a seperate sound recording.

I enlisted several helpers to man the two camcorders for me throughout the two sets, so I want to publicly announce a big thank you to the incredible Diana, Phil, Pablo, Steve and Lauren. I couldn't have asked for more! Further thanks are in order to Diana again for taking care of the transport and being super-amazing in general.

Basically we recorded the bands from three angles and did a seperate audio recording so I can put the results together in Final Cut. We recorded each set in it's entirety, with no stopping between songs so that the three video files would be easier to synchronise when editing. We didn't really plan or co-ordinate our filming angles but we have some audience shots we can use as a cutaway in case all three camerapeople were shifting positions or changing focus at the same time. I took the Canon and tried to get the main shotsdown at the front and I think the end result came out pretty good. I brought enough tripods for everyone but didn't use any as it was risky to put a tripod up in case it got knocked over by a drunken dancer, and having the cameras handheld gave us so much more freedom.

The audio recorder was placed up by the soundbooth to minimise crowd noise. The soundman (a helpful guy named Ben) recommended putting it behind the bar as the speakers were pointed that way, but I put it by the soundbooth so I wouldn't have to hassle the barstaff or fight through barflys between each performance. Pablo still has the sound recorder so I haven't been able to use the captured audio just yet, but the cameras actually did a pretty good job, much better than expected. There was some crowd noise but I couldn't hear specific conversations or yelled arguments, which was my main concern. The venue was very dark, the stage lighting would sometimes hit the band members, but often not, with people on stage right often shrouded in darkness. I turned up the gain on the main camera but this meant that a lot of images were grainy. As a result of these factors the video and audio is certainly not pin sharp but it feels accurately representational, and hell, I was never going for pin sharp anyway!

I spent most of the evening either frantically filming or waiting in the corner guarding all the gear. A friend's handbag was stolen a few months ago in the same bar and I didn't want to take any chances. The crowd was great though, lots of people I knew, so even though I was hanging around I was never bored. I have also never spent that long in a pub without drinking!

In the end the whole thing went unexpectedly smoothly, everything went to plan, we had complete support from everyone, the bands, the staff, the punters. There was never a second of stress during the entire evening, right up until I lost a camera bag but it turns out Frau Pouch accidentally took it home with them. But I have Suzanne's shoes so I'm sure I can arrange some kind of prisoner exchange with the Pouch People.

Here's the first edit, the footage of Frau Pouch. They needed some live footage asap, so I've rushed this one through.


The rest of the footage will have to wait until I've finished one of my current music video projects as my hard disk is groaning under the weight of all the footage.

Summary? This was a lot of fun! Just got word that Frau Pouch like the video too, so I'm damn happy right now!