Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Bright Lights Big City

Well last week's burglary threw everything off kilter. Last Saturday's filming session for the new project was put back two weeks so Frazer's beard will continue to grow unchecked.

Some good news however. Andy at Syncrovise (who did the website for Bacalao Performance Company) has decided to bequeath humble little me with a continuous lighting softbox set! Two high powered lamps on telescopic light stands complete with reflective umbrellas, diffusers, and even storage bags. A gift!

Like this, only twice!

Anyone familiar with this blog will know that I've had a little trouble trying to find a solution to lighting problems, with professional level kit being so expensive, and lighting such an unsung hero of cinematography. Robert Rodriguez used table lamps and sunlight to light the scenes in El Mariachi. Lars Von Trier and the Dogme 95 guys put down a rule that special lighting (anything beyond the lighting existing in the scene plus one camera lamp) was not allowed in any of their Dogme films. People have worked around professional lighting in the past and with good results. But for me it was becoming a stumbling block that took up too much of my time during a shoot. Interiors are always so dark, especially for video. Any lights I put together from cheap kit were either fiercely bright or ineffective. Regular human living conditions are just not bright enough for Mother Video, who requires eye-straining brightness to bring life from the mud.

In a way, I'm happy that we hadn't already started filming our new project (although understandably less happy about the circumstances), as we can now use a professional grade lighting rig during filming (I should probably say "videoing" or "taping" but filming just sounds much cooler) and the whole project will look better. But don't get your hopes up, I'm still a fumbling amateur who can't walk and think at the same time. .

Andy is also looking for a video producer to help him shoot a couple of product information video for a business that he is building a website for, so he asked me if I would be interested. The answer is a resounding hell yes. So now I have two shoots lined up! Next weekend we are finally all-stations-go on the new project with Mark and Frazer, and the following weekend I will be filming three product information videos with Andy.

If it all goes well I will be happy to offer my services to Andy for any future projects. This could be the first step on a very interesting path. At the very least, I'm going to have some work for my portfolio, something I hadn't really given much thought to before now.

Andy was telling me that he would have had a difficult time getting his own company started if it wasn't for the generosity and support of his former employer, and he tries to keep that ethos in his own dealings with people and to offer the same support that has helped him get started. This is a principle I've tried hard to go by as well. When you are starting out, you have a big hill to climb. But meet people, help them out in their time of need, and a culture of reciprocation and support will go a long way especially when you don't have money or resources. When you find yourself stuck, you'll have a support network that will be there when you need them. That's a hell of a card to have.

This is what gets you places. A talentless person with contacts will get further than a talented one with none. We see it every day. If you can be both, then you'll have a bright future.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Burglary Bastards

On Wednesday night Dee came home a little early from work and walked her bike down the alleyway between the buildings to reach our back garden. Upon entering the garden she found a startled burglar standing in our bedroom, clutching my Panasonic camcorder in his hands, one of his coat pockets bulging.

She promptly asked him what the fuck he was doing in her house. He had broken in from the rear garden and locked our dog, Louie (a 70kg beast of a dog) in the living room before Louie had realised it wasn't one of us coming in through the back door. The dog by now knew something was up and was barking the house down. Dee blocked the robber's exit from the garden. He blocked her access into the house. The guy tried to give back the camera and leave but Dee wasn't having any of it. She blocked his path and told him to wait while she called the police. He tried to shove past, they struggled. Dee gave as good as she got and was grabbing the guy and shoving his face. Eventually he got free and ran off down towards the back of the garden, to climb a rickety fence, and hop gardens into obscurity. Dee ran in the house, opened the living room door and set the dog on the guy. Louie bolted out of the house but the guy got over the fence. Probably a good thing too, I have no idea what state the guy would have been in if the dog got him. Dee sent Louie down through the gardens along the access path but Louie was pent up and didn't know which way to chase until the guy was safely over another fence. Like I say, probably for the best...

Dee called the police who got there in minutes, sent the police dogs down the gardens looking for the guy and even got a helicopter out. I don't think they got anything useful.

I come home to find a police car parked outside the driveway to my flat, and cops shining torches through every nook and cranny in my building. My heart sank horribly as every worst case scenario I've ever imagined runs through my head and then I see Dee with the police, she calls to me that we've been robbed. Thank fucking christ for that, I think, although I still felt gut-punched.

We find out after a thorough search that all he made off with was a pair of antique earrings Dee had. But he must have had his hands in Dee's jewellery box, with her family jewellery under his clammy hands, as he stood right next to the boring looking case that houses my Canon XL1s camera, with our iMac on display, which has all my video work saved on it. He could only have been in the house for seconds before Dee got there. We were lucky she stopped him from taking everything. We were even luckier that he wasn't a physical guy and wasn't looking for a fight. I'd take the loss of everything I own over the personal well-being of my loved ones every time.

We spoke to the police, Louie going apeshit at the cops in the house, clearly overcompensating for his epic failure to keep our place burglar-free. He's an Estrela Mountain Dog, a guarding breed! People aren't supposed to have the stones to burgle a house with him in it. Outfoxed by a burglar, and he's pretty angry about it.

I mean look at him! He's huge!

Since then we've had forensics over, who dusted the house for prints and took one of Dee's cycling gloves to check for DNA (she was shoving the burglar's face during the physical struggle she had with him and there may be some saliva on the glove) and we've had community support officers visit the flat. Still waiting to give an official statement to the burglary squad.

I feel terrible that Dee found herself in that situation. But she stepped up, didn't take any shit from the guy, and saved our stuff. She's got a fresh set of bruises from the struggle, including a big one on her leg. She was pretty shaken up by the whole thing but I am so proud of her. She's my Batman.

We have had a very good outcome (all things considered) from a very bad situation. We were lucky.

We have new locks for the back door, a timer to make our lamp turn on at night, and we're a lot more aware. I always thought it would never happen to me, but I think this kind of thing... it kinda happens to everyone, eventually. And it's usually a lot worse.

Turns out Forest Hill police dealt with five interrupted burglaries in a two hour period. They normally get one every two weeks.

(I wonder if this is the karma I get for joining the Thieve's Guild in Skyrim. I'll never be able to burgle a virtual house again without feeling guilty or punching myself in the face.)

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Weekend Filming and the Overdrawn Filmmaker

No big updates just yet, but we are taping on Saturday in Watford, in Frazer's flat, with Frazer's cat.

The rehearsal footage has been put together, it is lacking any kind of audio finesse (or even effort) so it certainly feels patchy. I'm looking forward to working on the finished article. I feel ready!

Not sure if we're going to get everything done on the Saturday or if we'll need to go back. We should hopefully get all the scenes done in which Frazer needs his beard so that he can, at least, return to the world of the clean shaven. If he so chooses. 

I don't know if anyone else here is treading a financial tightrope, but I am. It's a struggle to keep the outgoings below the incomings. I have a daily budget, which I made in google spreadsheets (yay spreadsheets!) which helps keep us afloat. I stop paying attention to my bank account for two weeks and...

I'm several hundred pounds beyond my overdraft limit. For no good reason either, just bills and food shopping, pummeling my frail account into oblivion. Although I have no-one to blame but myself. 
I've had to buy my weekend's worth of miniDV tapes on the credit card for now. Going to try and make the few coins I've got in my pocket last til the end of the month. Luckily I've got no video game related tempations as I'm already playing Skyrim, and the delightful Christmas gift that is Batman: Arkham City is waiting on the shelf!

Are you playing Skyrim? That game is immense!! I'm not a fan generally of the fantasy swords and dwarves stuff, but this is not a great genre game, it's a great game full stop. It's actually intefering with my life. Wonder why there hasn't been a blog update for 8 days?

This is why. Partially.
Getting back on track for a second, I have just realised that I don't have the perfect setup regarding audio. I do have a good mic (courtesy of Brian when we were shooting Surviving The Toilet Circuit) but I don't have a good cable to connect it to my camera. I'm using a workaround and some adaptors/extenders. It's a little frail and some noise sometimes makes it into the audio mix, or sometimes the cables just pop apart. I might need to make a quick online purchase, whip this Amazon Prime trial period for all it's worth and get some quick delivery of a good cable before the weekend. On the credit card. Like I need more debt, Jesus. 

Anyone reading this, you don't need me to tell you that Skyrim is a great game, but if you are looking to buy it, if you follow this link - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Xbox 360)
 to the Amazon site first then you'll earn me some cash which I can put towards miniDV tapes and decent cables! 

I also got Roger Corman's book How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime
 for Christmas so maybe I should get reading that and see if I can transmute any of his life lessons into a cheaper shoot this weekend! Seeing as all it's costing me is tape and train fare, I doubt it, but you never know!

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Friday's filmed rehearsal of the New Project

On Friday Mark, Frazer and I gathered at Mark's house to shoot our "dry-run" pre-recording recording. We basically act out the storyboard as a filmed rehearsal. We get to work out a  lot of logistical problems in this early stage and the editing (of which I am halfway through) also lets me get a good feel of how the final piece will come together, and helps me identify what we need to change.

These filmed rehearsal sessions are normally a pretty laid back affair, we're not doing it on location so we're only working on an amalgamation of what the final project will be like. We don't have a lot of time before we film "for real" so we've had to settle for a date and location we could all do, but this didn't give us ideal conditions. Mark had just got back from Slovakia the day before, and the kids were home and Mark and Jana were hosting a dinner party in the evening. Now, I do take these pre-recording recordings seriously, we all do, but it does get hard to keep the focus when we're working among barking dogs (any given day at my place) or arriving dinner guests or  baby poop emergencies. The fact that we're also not working on location means that we're only guessing how the final filming will work.

These sessions are useful, but I feel they could be more useful, and I feel that I should plan them better. What I don't want to do however, is basically film the project twice, once as a "rehearsal" and then again as the final piece. I purposefully hold back during the rehearsal, and I don't insist on repeated takes or solid acting performances. I worry that the best performances will be in the rehearsal but the best lighting will be in the final version. I felt that we might have hit some of these problems when we did the Bangers and Mash music video, some of the spontaneity gets lost in repetition. My hope is that by having our rehearsal off-location we can all save ourselves from "going through the motions" and the event can feel fresh. This approach has it's own problems though, the biggie being that I'm not seeing the location (in person) until the day of filming.

I'm currently putting the video together from our rehearsal footage, and straight away I'm seeing lots that I want to change, so I'm happy we have this opportunity to iron out the kinks and to make a better version. I also have a better understanding of the sound issues we might face and continuity/camera movement.

As fun as it is seeing the project come to life, it is also painful because my work is so badly done. We filmed it mostly in one room, so the footage feels repetitive. The room served as several different "sets" depending on which corner we were in, including a toy kitchen that Mark's eldest, Oliver, would use to serve up slices of plastic toast to us as we filmed. He also proved to be a useful AD, and would operate the clapper board and yell "action" before a take. The kid's got a big future! Of course, Frazer looked ridiculous in the toy kitchen and there are only so many camera angles you can use when filming a full grown man on his knees at a toy oven. Hopefully filming in Frazer's actual kitchen will give us a lot more scope for moving around (unless it's as small as my kitchen. Dee and I tried to cook dinner together a few days ago and all those knives and hot saucepans whizzing around in close proximity was pretty risky).

Basically, I'm making a shitty version of the film on purpose just so that I can remake it better. My rehearsal filmings always feel like this.

I would never show ANYONE (not directly involved with the project) the rehearsal footage because I'm not even trying to make it with any standards. It's more important that I get done badly and finished than I get it done well and don't finish it. You can imagine my horror when one of Mark's dinner guests (a video production professional no less) arrived early and dropped in on us while we were filming. I stopped abruptly and my focus shifted quickly from getting the filming finished to doing just about anything else, helping Mark with his PC optimization problems,and standing around reading the script over and over like I'm arranging everything in my head, basically just buying time. I also felt for Frazer, who I'm sure didn't want to act in front of an audience, especially when that audience actually knew more than a thing or two about filmmaking, and we knew a grand total of jackshit. Andy is a nice guy - he even gave me a lift home with all my gear after the filmed rehearsal, but it's like Bruce Lee walking in on your ten-year-old self while you practice crane kicks and kung-fu faces in the mirror. I still can't help feeling like an utter fraud in those situations.

Call it shame, call it paranoia, I knew what I was making was shitty, but I didn't want anyone else to see it in case they think that this is me on any given day, a shitty filmmaker who rushes everything and doesn't even stop to consider what he is doing.

Or maybe that's exactly what I am, and I don't want anyone to know it.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

New Year, New Vids

Well Christmas is over but I'm still on my long break - got one week left and I'm luxuriating... lazy days and long nights! Still waiting on a couple of Christmas presents, with some lost in the post. Working my way through our liquor collection having already sunk all of our Christmas and New Years wine. Tis the season to be pickled.

I made some videos last night, while playing with some footage I captured and listening to Nowa Huta's soundcloud. Quite by accident the two just seemed to fuse together beautifully.

Here's the two videos I impromptuly made (my spell check says that is NOT a word), to go with two songs from the new Nowa Huta release, Real Gold City.

Nowa Huta - Real Gold City 3

Nowa Huta - Real Gold City 1

As you can see they are different treatments of the same footage, the first just uses the basic footage I captured, the second I tried to be a bit more experimental and merged several layers at high contrast and in different colours. I used an additive composite to turn the black backgrounds invisible, so each layer affected each one underneath it with the colours mixing. As it turns out the first video, made from largely raw footage, was a lot more effective and fitting. Funny how that turns out sometimes! Anyway, they were just quick little projects with no planning, but it was nice to be working on something again.

You can probably tell where the footage is from, I have been hypnotised by the lava lamp I bought Dee for Christmas, so I tried to film it, but to get the image big enough to fill the screen so I really needed to zoom right in. Because of this the final footage is blurry but that gives it it's own special kind of weird glow which I really like.

Filming our test run of the new project on Friday! Will have more for you soon. Hope you all had a great Christmas and the new year that you wanted. It always ends up being a little disappointing, doesn't it? That's why I spend my new years getting drunk at home singing karaoke.

Speaking of drinking, I'm off to rustle up more alcohol.... fare thee well!!