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.