Wednesday, 17 May 2017

A Lesson Has Been Learned - The Post Production of Pick-Ups

For what I saw as a “simple” film, in terms of cutting and editing opportunities, along with the scale of the film, I presumed an edit of the film would come together pretty sharpish. I can’t remember if I asked Mark to edit, or he offered, but either way for some reason I didn’t feel confident in editing Pick-Ups – I wanted someone “external” who could see the footage objectively and hopefully bring some pizaaz to it which my meat and potatoes editing seemed to sometimes lack.

However, by this time Mark was gearing up for a Kickstarter campaign for his short film School Of 1980, which I’d offered to try and assist on in some capacity, contacting bloggers who had been supportive of my work in the past. This understandably took priority for the time being.

Around this time Nick had produced the photoshopped elements to turn Worthing into the Czech Republic and, if I remember correctly, had worked out some provisional titles for the credits where we knew the roles were already defined, such as casting. However, he was also preparing to leave the country for…well, who knew how long…so he had to get these elements out of the way sharpish. Somewhere along the line the hi-res elements were stuck on an in accessible hard drive somewhere in the UK and we had to go with the lower renders for the film…not the biggest issue and bar one shot I think for the most part they look pretty authentic and seamless. (Nick also put in some graffiti on my request – on a wall is “A chair is a chair” translated into Czech, though I wished it had been huge on the wall like a big tagged slogan.)

So, I wouldn’t actually get my first edit (which was the first 5 minutes of the film) until May – over 4 months since we finished filming. Apparently Mark had problems with the edit as Darren was visible in the lounge footage where Debbie’s large mirror was visible in the background, something we hadn’t spotted at the time. He’d also removed the “magic bead curtain” moment as he said it didn’t fit with the rest of the film…he was also keen to remove the opening sequence of the film with the Czech signage etc for pacing reasons – he felt we needed to get straight to the point, straight to the door of the flat and get in the flat as quickly as possible. My original intention with this sequence was to have some titles appear on it “”Faster Productions presents”, “Terence Drew in” etc but for some reason I decided against that – either I had concerns the titles wouldn’t have been that clear against the backgrounds, or that it was distracting…or perhaps we never really put the titles against it and I got used to how it was.

One issue that had come up as a result of my flopping of the footage (which was unnecessary in the end as we never saw any cars in shot, or at least which have a steering wheel visible on the right hand side of the car) was that Joseph now moved from right to left across the frame, which is what we’d associate more with him leaving somewhere, rather than arriving or travelling to a destination. In a sense this somehow makes it feel like his departure from the end of the film brought to the front – his retreat from Nula – rather than heading towards her. But as the suitcase has those JFL letters emblazoned on the side it was something I couldn’t get around…unless I wanted to cut the whole opening sequence.

Still, by the start of June I had a completed rough edit from Mark – he had cut Terry’s long monologue down to the barest of elements – pretty much the start and the end, with the justification that we didn’t need to hear the whole thing, though it was good to film it for performance…possibly that there was something that he’s got something big to say and we deny him saying it. I really loved Terry’s monologue performance and wasn’t sure about this, but again, one of the reasons for having an external editor was to remove any sentimentality about the edit from me – the “kill your babies” rule which the aforementioned “magic bead curtain” shot was a testament to this – so I let Mark be the guide on this. Yet I did have doubts that somewhere, in an attempt to make the film as lean as possible, we were sacrificing motivation to the detriment of the film. But I decided to bow to Mark’s wisdom, as he has a far greater knowledge of film theory than myself.

Several other elements had been excised – as with the opening sequence, he felt the key was to get Joseph to the flat and IN the flat as quickly as possible. So the opening sequence as Joseph knocks on the door of the flat, shines his shoes, caresses the Nula nameplate all went so after the opening walk we were straight to seeing Nula open the door. He also wanted to remove the final sequence of Joseph sat on the stairs while the credits rolled – he felt it was better to end on the full stop downer image of Joseph walking down the stair forlornly. This in the end was something that I “fought” for – I felt the image of Joseph shuffling down the stairs was quite a downer image, whereas seeing him sat on the stairs, muttering to himself, looking at his phone seemed to add an awkwardly painful albeit sadistically comedic finale to his situation. I didn’t manage to get the copy of Gasoline Alley in as the final image, as the cut of it was really awkward, but I did get Joseph on the stairs.

And then…not much really happened.

Mark was busy over the summer with a tourism film and somehow, somewhere, time just slipped away and we never managed to get together to discuss the edit. So it wasn’t until November when we finally managed to pick it up, talk about it and then very very quickly Mark’s final edit was done. It seemed a long wait for a swift tweak and finish off. I really don’t know why it took us both so long to get together again.

I think Darren was pretty quick on the grade front – though several people had for some reason suggested keeping the film in colour I had always wanted this film to be in black and white, smudgy, grainy black and white, perhaps almost a bit French New Wave looking. It perhaps never got to that level of grain (and one element was we never really got that shallow depth of field I really wanted for the look, especially with Joseph in front of those fairy lights) but it still looked good. Darren added some fake shake to the opening, which is perhaps a tad unconvincing in retrospect (and some people remarked was distracting) and apart from a frame rate issue with Nick’s titles the grade seemed to come together pretty swiftly.

Following our collaboration on Black Spot I asked Mik Holowko if he’d compose the score again, with a possible view to also doing the sound design. I had some specific ideas for the opening – I wanted a cross between the finger clicking, rhythmic sound of…hmmm…the Addams Family theme tune, with a particular track from Ennio Morricone’s score to A Fistful of Dynamite (which sounds like a frog croaking “Juan, Juan, Juan”) as it had a really particular comedic effect. Or it did to my ears. I also wanted a zither sound, probably to give a nod to the Eastern European setting of The Third Man.

So Mik got to work on the soundtrack and by the start of December he’d already got a score for me – much like my original intention for Black Spot, he seemed to have disregarded my ideas and request and given me a completely different score. His first score was VERY dramatic, sounding almost from a Hitchcock film – choral pieces, man on a mission style. A great piece of music, but really hard for me to hear fitting this film. We went back and forth on this with me requesting changes. He’d also put in wall to wall music throughout the whole film, whereas I felt there were parts that really needed silence, or just let the dialogue happen without accompaniment (especially the coughing fit and what remained of the monologue.)

Eventually I think we found a midpoint for us both. Although the final score did remain “man on a mission” I grew warmer to it – it seemed to fit the opening walk very well, the swell of the main piece and the way it pulled back towards the end worked very well. The smaller cues that Mik put in worked a treat and he did an absolute perfect deep rumble and farting brass or bassoon sound for Milo’s strut into the room. It always made me laugh when I watched that moment back.

By now we were a year since the film was shot. With the score out of the way I was hoping Mik would also be able to work on the sound design, but we ran into several issues – one was a technical issue, where he seemed to suggest all the sound was screwed up, in particular due to the burbling sound of Debbie’s fish tank, which made cutting the sound very difficult. I was worried that I had yet another film with difficult sound which may require ADRing and being over a year into post production something I was heavily reluctant to do. But the second issue was Mik had some personal issue and then couldn’t commit the time to the sound design, so he had to bow out.

I did have to do one piece of ADR though – as I was still unhappy with Dick’s delivery of the “Rodddddd Stewart!?” line I contacted him to try and dub that line and his laughter. I went over to his flat one evening where we re-recorded the line, but in retrospect we never nailed that coarsely inflected accent that I really wanted – some people remarked that it sounded more Welsh in the final film, which probably adds to other confusing aspects in the finished film.

With the sound design I luckily I had a slight back up plan – I knew of Kirstie at Elephant Sounds, a Brighton based sound recordist and sound designer whom I had originally contacted via Darren with a view to doing the sound design for Goodnight, Halloween – my fantasy thriller short which was in a stalled production position. I dropped her a line and luckily she was happy to work on the sound design and didn’t seem to have the same issues or concerns over the fish tank noise.

Finally in May – nearly 18 months since shooting the film – I had the finished film. After all this time of making it I didn’t have the desire to keep it locked online, so I put it up available to view for all straight away.  I got a nice response back from some people – one work acquaintance described it as a mixture of Jacques Tati and 60 kitchen sink drama – a comparison I was very happy with. I’ve never seen any Jacques Tati films, but I know both Mark and Terry are huge fans, so I’m sure they were happy with such a complement.

I submitted it to a bunch of festivals.  In June it played two festivals – a Troma related film festival (which being a fan of Troma as a teenage was kinda cool) and then it also played in my home city of Nottingham, at Short Stack, the film making event my film making chum David Lilley runs. I couldn’t make the screening but if I remember correctly I did submit a brief video introducing the film and talking about the difficulties I had making the film…it received a nice write up in a local magazine even if they misinterpreted the original setting for the film with the finished one - "a charming, funny and beautifully shot short film about an English man travelling to Copenhagen to meet a Danish girl"  

In September it was screened at Moviebar in Brighton, the film night that Terry and I ran for two years. I can’t remember anything particular about the screening, I think it was warmly received…I must have gone to the screening and spoke about it afterwards. Then in October it was screened at the Visionaria film festival in Italy…it seemed like there was a nice momentum running on the film and with this positive response so far I had hoped it boded well for the film being accepted into more festivals – especially European festivals and hoped East European film festivals may have responded positively to my attempt to recreate their geography in my back yard.

Unfortunately, the Visionaria film festival was the only other screening it received despite a LOT of submissions to film festivals.

So, my hope that we’d made something fun, light and short which would find a home at more general festival wasn’t to be.

My previous horror films had been easier to promote online through the large network of active horror bloggers, but with this not falling into any particular genre there wasn’t anywhere I could really have a flow of promotional opportunities to help the audience and viewing figures for the film grow.

I received some feedback from Mark (who’s life in Copenhagen was the instigating inspiration for the whole film) who suggested that it was never clear Joseph had gone to another country, possibly compounded by Milo’s almost Welsh accent. With an influx of people from the Eastern Bloc over the last two decades, it could in a sense be easily set in the UK. Mark had suggested I add a couple of shots to the opening – perhaps a plane flying overhead, or landing – something to establish we are somewhere else. I did mull over going to Gatwick and trying to surreptitiously film some footage of Terry walking through arrivals (with some CG signage changing it to an Eastern European airport) but frankly, in my usual pig-headedness, I couldn’t bare to go back and revisit aspects of the film even though these changes perhaps could have helped the film. I sent him a longer, original cut of the film and he felt the cutting of the monologue down to the simple elements did rob us of not only Joseph’s motivation, but also the high stakes he had gambled.

In retrospect, did we sacrifice audience comprehension, understanding and empathy of the story and characters for a running time so as not to bore the audience, to keep the film short and sweet? I was hoping the short running time would have helped with film festivals, but perhaps another minute of running time wouldn’t have been detrimental to selection at a festival. Who can tell?
Did putting the film online immediately hamper chances of it being shown at a film festival? The next films I’m due to finish, despite taking equally painful lengths of time as Pick-Ups are going to be held back from online screening until I’ve given them all a crack at the film festivals – at least then I’ll know that general availability hasn’t been a factor against the film being selected for screening.

Perhaps, quite simply – though it is hard to admit – it just wasn’t good enough to be screened, despite thinking it is.

Overall, I still like what we achieved with Pick-Ups. I think it does have a charm, fun performances, a nice look, a good soundtrack – I think it’s a strong little package of a film. However, I do have misgivings about the disproportionate amount of time spent on basically 3 people in the same room. I look at those teams who participate in those 48 hour sci fi challenges (Anthony and Jenny who I have worked with in the past have been involved in some of these) and see how slick and accomplished they are – perhaps sometimes as equally flawed or half baked as the premise of Pick-Ups can be – yet they have taken a fraction of the amount of time I spent on getting Pick-Ups made. The response online and from festivals doesn’t seem like much of a return on nearly 4 years of struggles to get it made.

It’s perhaps informed me to try and stick with genre films, even though it’s an equally crowded area to work in, but at least there is a market afterwards to where you can push the films if the festivals aren’t interested. The long term experience of trying to get this made, along with the similar lengthy amounts of time the 3 films I’m currently working on are taking, have brought me to a conclusion that my desire to never not finish a film, despite endless tribulations, is perhaps a misguided use of energy. As such it seems to be telling me that I need to create a cut off for a film – if it hasn’t reached a certain stage by a particular time, then I should be prepared to cut it loose, even at the risk of discarding footage that has already been shot, rather than wasting more time and energy on something which is perhaps not meant to be.

So perhaps in a way Pick-Ups didn’t break me. But it has taught me a lesson.

You can watch it HERE

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Words of advice for a young (female) film maker

Through my day job I met a couple who became aware of my film making endeavours and mentioned that their teenage daughter was wanting to become a film maker. They asked if I had any advice for her.

Obvious answer was "DON'T" or "LEARN A PROPER SKILL" but you can't stop the enthusiasm of youth...

In retrospect I think actually her parents were hoping I had contacts to help her get some actual work experience as part of her school module, when obviously I don't move in such circles (can someone get ME some proper work experience? :) )

However, I wrote the below for her...which harkened back to a period several years ago when an acquaintance was head of media at a secondary school and we were always planning on me going in to chat to them, so a lot of what I have to say below is what I think I would have said...or still would say if I was in that situation.

(I never did hear anything back apart from a brief thanks from the parents, so lord knows what their daughter thought of it...)


So, you want to make films?




Because a) you have youth on your side, you wee whippersnapper. But also b) it is SO much easier to get making films than ever before (obviously there is a downside to this, which is c) More people are making films, so you just have to work that bit harder or have more determination to stay the course when others give up!)

You probably hold in your hand a piece of technology which completely pisses over pretty much the first 20 years of me making films.

Look at what you can do on your phone - you can use a free web based scriptwriting piece of software (such as Celtx) to write your script in the industry formatted manner, write collaboratively if you want then once finished you can instantly distribute this script to people.

You can probably get some free art package, use a stylus and draw storyboards on your phone, which you can also distribute, save down or even collate together to create an animatic of the film you want to make.

You can cast your film, looking at actor profiles on line, watch their showreels, contact cast and crew instantaneously and at the same time via email and messaging services.

If you require extras, you could create an event on social media and help people spread the word. If you're looking for props or other things, again you can use social media to get the message out for free.

You can shoot the film on your phone, in HD, in some cases in 4K, with cheaply available app software which also allows you to colour tint and grade the footage afterwards. You can also get lens adaptors for some smart phones opening up the look even further.

There are CG SFX apps which can add some basic templates of effects, but which could be used creatively to look less obviously generic.

There is probably some very basic editing software that you can then edit this footage on.

No doubt there is also some basic sound design software to at least add some simple sound effects and overlay some music.

Once you've got something finished, you can upload to Youtube or Vimeo and distribute it freely and instantly to the whole world, then share and promote your film on social media. You can enter film festivals via your phone.

Quite frankly, this is absolutely remarkable.

Here's my comparison.

Typing scripts out on a type writer and going to the newsagents on the 5p photocopier copying the script, which you then have to arrange to meet people to distribute. Putting adverts up around town in the hope of finding some cast. Spending a night phoning people - some people are home, some people you leave messages on answer machines - after which you're no closer to having a shooting date. Shooting on clunky video tape...your phone probably shoots as high end, if not higher, than my Canon DSLR which I'm currently using. Editing on two video machines, losing quality with each copy...posting heavy video tapes to places to show them....

Oh, I could go on, but basically you have so much in your hands.

So with this, what should you do?

Shoot something.

Shoot anything.

Make something.

Make anything.

And afterwards...

Do the same again.

And keep doing it.

Really, the only way to get better is to keep doing it. I'm probably up to around 20 films now (I'm a bit slow, not because I'm a perfectionist) for over 20 years of making films and I'm still learning.

Have some friends act in something, Write something for them to recite, or if you can't think of anything to write, ask a friend. Think of something that appeals to you, or that your friends would want to be involved in and watch. What speaks to your generation?

Keep it short - asking anyone to watch something longer than 5 minutes is a big ask. Doesn't sound it, but believe me, unless it's 30 seconds of a cat playing a Theremin (search it on Youtube, it's amazing) people don't really want to give much time for your films (sadly speaking from experience) so getting them to watch a 20 minute epic is going to be a hard sell. At this stage, the shorter it is, the quicker it's finished, the quicker you can move on to the next film.

Make each film different - try doing a silent film. Try doing a dance routine. Try doing a chase. A fight. A one take film. A film that goes backwards. A film that skips in time. A documentary. A music video of a band at school/ college. An animation - do it with Playdoh. Then mix all these up - do a Playdoh dance routine music video. Keep trying different things while you have time on your side.

Don't get hung up on one film. Really. I spent 14 years making one film. REALLY. Was it worth it? Perhaps if it had been finished when originally it was planned to be, I may have got some attention for an ambitious no budget drama. Ironically, I got a tiny bit of attention due to the stupid amount of time it took. But the majority of that 14 years was spent waiting on other people to deliver something (sound design, grade) which never happened and with each passing year it was harder to get someone involved in a feature length film shot on dv tape in 1999 with frankly abysmally recorded sound. By the time you're editing you're probably learnt what you can from that film to some degree, so get it finished off and get on with the next idea.

Which kinda leads me to - SOUND. The eye will forgive a lot and watch something on crappy CCTV if it's compelling. But if the sound is bad, it ruins everything. You can get a pretty good Rode mic for about £150 and a Tascam digital recorder for £100 - that's my set up - I don't want my own sound equipment, but unfortunately sound designers are a rarity and much in demand to fix broken films, so I can't rely on getting one every time. If you record bad sound, have a go at dubbing the whole thing (another regret from my feature film.)

CAMERA - you will come across people who can bamboozle you with 4K Magic Red Eye Sony ASLR lowlight blahblahblah horseshit. Yes, a nice camera is great. But basically if you shoot a load of rubbish on a great camera, you just have nice looking rubbish (and I've sat through one from a similar obsessed techwhore.) Your phone is good enough - if the story is good, the direction is good, the sound is consistent (SEE ABOVE) that will be a better, more memorable film that Mr I've upgraded to a new £5000 camera while still paying off my previous £4000 camera which does anyone want to buy? `Most of these people are also male, which probably means they're compensating for something :)

Unfortunately MEN seem to be obsessed with technology and all this stuff - don't let them intimidate you. Brush up on enough basics of technical aspects, but you don't need to know everything, nor are you an idiot for not knowing everything - when you get to the point of having a camera operator they need to know their bit, same with the sound designer, lighting etc - as long as you can convey what you want clearly. Loads of tutorials online - hell, I'm still struggling to get my head around lenses and things like that, but there are some brilliant videos online that explain the difference that the width of a lens makes to a location, creating space or claustrophobia. That's a good one to know.

STORYBOARD - don't worry if you can't draw. STILL STORYBOARD. My style has not come on for 20 years. Look up Scorsese's storyboards for Taxi Driver - they're laughable, but who cares - it's a guide for you to remember what you want to shoot. Put the storyboards together in an animatic - it's very easy now and seeing the flow of shots can suddenly make you realise something important you MUST get on the shoot. But as always, don't be precious - something looks better on the day, go with that...remain fluid, but have your storyboard as a back up plan as well as a roadmap for what you're doing next. (On a shoot people want to know what's next, so know the order you're doing things in and what comes next rather than erring and arring - arring only allowed if you're wearing an eye patch and have a wooden leg.)

PREP PREP PREP - write down a list of everything that you'll need, from crew, actors, clothing, props, where you're shooting, how to get there, what you'll do if you can film there due to weather or pushy security guards who didn't get the memo that you have permission to shoot there but didn't print the email out as proof. Make notes on your script, all over your script - no one has to decipher what CAN FLS GEL HR except you.

ACTORS - don't be intimidated again. I've worked with some much older actors, paranoid that I'm being a complete youthful (well, back then) numpty, but they're there - they believe in the script, want to be part of it and want to make it work. I've worked with younger actors who have been a pain in the arse and delivered terrible performances. Don't be afraid to punch above your weight - if you have access to some older/ mature actors (maybe local drama group) and there are roles for them then I'm sure they'd love to be involved in a film made by a young person. There's a good book called Directing Actors (authoress escapes me) which talks about words which can be used to direct (as opposed to George Lucas' "faster, more intense" piss poor direction on Star Wars) If the actor has a suggestion, let them have their go - it may work. If not, ask them to do it your way too. Democracy and negotiation and appeasement skills required by a director!

SHOOT AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE - you're not paying for tape anymore and you never know when the gold dust is hidden between the takes. Case in point on one of my films - at one point we used footage of the actor waiting for us to shout action, as it was better than his actual performance when we did say action :)

DON'T BE PRECIOUS - made this point above, but if the dialogue ends up sounding bad when spoke out loud, find a way to snip it back there and then. You'll be surprised how much can be conveyed by a look, or gesture...or equally a lack of a look or lack of gesture! I'm guilty of overwriting at the script stage, perhaps wanting to make sure the actors fully get the emotion they're going through, but on camera this can be compressed down to something far more effective. Again, above point - my actor was so bad and delivered the dialogue SO badly that my editor and I took the painful decision to cut as much of his dialogue as possible. As a result we created a far more mysterious, sullen character...and which audiences responded to far better than if I'd left in his frankly laughable delivery.

On the over writing stage - I wrote some howlers in the past, but was so determined that my "VISION" had to be seen through. If you start getting obsessed about vision, prod yourself in the eyes. That vision has made some of the most painful viewing of my humble filmic career because I couldn't imagine the film without them. Again, if it sounds bad on "set", or in the edit, find a way to get rid of it or slim it down.

STORY - many ways to tell a story...tone poems are one arty way, but I'm not a fan. For you at this stage, story needs to be very clearly defined and we need to get it asap. Where possible avoid twist endings - it's all a dream is not acceptable these days. If you think your twist is clever, most people see it coming way off. For the Future Shock stories in the comic 2000ad they used to say show the twist first and how that affects the story and world, as that's far more effective to see the twist this puts on the familiar. Watch a lot of short films - search "Best short films" online - there's a cracking one called Black Hole...also Lights Out got a lot of attention in recent years, even though I think it doesn't make much sense, but it's effective (and kinda pisses over my similar film Creak which came out beforehand and takes twice as long to tell a similar story not as well...)

YOUTH - darn you and your youth. But mega advantage - there are so many schemes/ competitions etc aimed at 16-21 or 16-25 or 18-21 etc that you can participate in. Enter EVERYTHING. Deadline is tomorrow night? Quickly come up with an idea. If it gets rejected, you may find that idea is actually a pretty smart idea that you want to pursue even without the support of the competition. Deadlines can sharpen the skills and mind (yes, sensei) There are quite a few schemes aimed to encourage female film makers too, so look for them - that's a double advantage and there's a big drive to see more female directors telling stories.

TUTORIALS - as above, so many tutorials online. Try and have a basic knowledge of everything, just to have some grounding. Key thing right now - some degree of awareness of After Effects/ digital imaging software - most people who seem to break through now are people doing effects ridden showreel shorts from their bedrooms (look at the Spanish guy who did - I think it was called Panico - and got to direct the remake of Evil Dead) Not suggesting you should do the same, but at this stage when you're most likely going to be doing the majority of things yourself then good to be able to add some polish by yourself.

Though this leads to COLLABORATORS - use the talent pool of your friends, colleagues, family, education establishment to find people to fill roles and give them an incentive for how it will benefit them. Find some fabulous writer on an English class or Drama class that can write a script, find actors in drama groups, find people on fashion courses and ask them to create off the shelf/ charity shop/ freecycled costumes for you, find a music student who will write a soundtrack, or may do your sound recording or sound design, look for artists who may be able to create interesting props or specific elements for you, an illustrator to make you a great poster image that you can share on social media. Help promote them and their own work to help promote your own - things like costumes (just some thought about colour schemes, maybe a quirky hat or something) can add some additional value to a short film, as opposed to some mates wearing their own clothes. You're probably surrounded by a bunch of creative talented people, so use your films as a glue to pull everything together and showcase everyone.

There's probably so much more I could say, but really, the best advice is to get on with it and start making films, There are loads of books you could read, classes you could take, expensive intensive film making courses you could pay an extortionate amount to do...but the best teacher is yourself, doing it, learning to problem solve on a shoot when it all goes wrong (personal case study - previously used actor fails to turn up as down the pub and decides tough luck to me, previous shoot with him included a fantasy element of girl imaging said actor as a Liam Gallagher geezer we recast him as the for no particular reason this group of male friends have a friend who is a puppet, which turned out quite memorable), dealing with the public, dealing with people who don't turn up, people will look to you for direction - decide what's next.

Also, don't be afraid to show your work. I think this is really important. It's REALLY nerve wracking showing your films in a room that you're in. I still get the quickening heartbeat and shakes even now. But it's so rewarding to watch it with people and get a feel for the genuine response. (I have very fond memories of showing my horror short Creak at an event and seeing a girl in the seat in front of me jump at one of the shock moments...very satisfying!) It's far far too easy to stick something up on the internet and hide away from it. Films need to be shown, they need to be seen. There are lots of film nights, amateur film nights in pubs, colleges etc. Get involved, don't be intimidated by your film not being shot on XXXXX and with funding from XXXXX - everyone has to start somewhere. I used to run a film night and it would frustrate me when I'd meet people who said they made films, but when I asked if I could show any of them they'd be like "Aw no, they're not as good as the stuff you've shown tonight" not realising I was bloody desperate as rarely had enough films to show :)

I've got very extensive makings of from some of my films on my blog, ironically which all take much longer to read than watching the damn films, but I think they could give you a good insight into the madness, horror, frustrations but (some) joy of no budget film making....though my experiences are very different, trying to fit it in around work, family etc and the same for many of my other collaborators. But you maybe able to garner some additional advice from them (hopefully)

Some books I'd recommend...

Robert Rodriguez's Rebel Without A Crew - bit out of date in the digital dslr age, but he's still inspiring and encourages you to write and create at a no budget level around things you have access to (like, say a record shop :) )

Judith Weston - Directing Actors - wish I could follow this more, but did find it really good.

Writer's Block - some daft little book but if you're stuck for inspiration at the writing stage have a look at this

Lloyd Kaufman - Make Your Own Damn Movie - ridiculous fun, but again low budget inspiration

Also have a look at websites like Raindance and Shooting People - they're usually trying to flog you membership or a course but at this stage worth following. Plenty of Facebook pages of film making groups (UK Film Network and Filmmakers...Generation Next spring to mind), just do a search for film and movie and see what pops up.

Good luck with it all and don't forget to thank me in your Oscar speech :)

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

You Still Will Not Break Me - Shooting Pick-Ups

Finally, the blessed slate..

The day didn’t start well. If I remember rightly it was a bit of a trek driving out of Brighton to get Toby (sound recorder), into Brighton to get Darren (camera), Nick (assistant, stills amongst other things) and Terry (actor.) It always seems to take longer to get to Peacehaven than I remember…so by the time we got there I think Joanne was already there with Debbie having a coffee and her make up done.

My plan for the interior of the flat was to have a load of my own family photos covering the walls, a wall of fairy lights on one side (for Joseph to stand in front of for his speech) and then I’d also scanned some hi res images of East European sci fi posters which I printed out large(r) scale and put them in frames - turning Nula into a bit of a sci fi buff.  I thought having a poster for Solaris, a film about obsession with the memory of a loved one, was a wink at the audience for the theme of Pick-Ups…not sure if anyone picked up on it or cared. I’d already left Debbie the stack of photos and the fairy lights with the hope that she’d put them before we arrived in the morning, so we’d be all up and at ‘em ready for shooting. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case, so not only were we late to arrive due to my bad estimations of driving times, but now also had to dress the set before we could start shooting.

Between us all we had a slight shuffle of furniture, removed some pictures, blu tacked up the photos of my family (getting my cameo in somehow) and hung the fairy lights. The fairy light effect looked a bit limp really – both in real life and on camera – and wasn’t quite the out of focus spJots of light that I wanted. After shooting I’d see a fairy light net, which was really what I needed for this effect but had no idea they existed…

JFL - on the move in Peacehaven...

With the set dressed we decided to shoot sort of sequentially and go out to shoot Joseph’s opening walk across the streets. I had the letters JFL written in tape on Joseph’s suitcase prop, but taped in reverse as a hangover from my intention of flopping the exterior images in case we passed any parked cars (putting the steering wheel on the left, which would then be augmented with photoshopped registration plates.) In the end I perhaps shouldn’t have worried about this, as it made an issue later…We found a high ground against a bland brick wall which we could film him walking against and that’s where we started. We worked our way back along the street, towards our key location, filming Joseph walking in front of various blocks of flat. Nicely the whole area was still quite misty at this point in the day, which I guess added a bit of a dreamlike quality but in retrospect removed my hope of adding the striking Prague TV tower (which looks like some mad rocket ship) as a signal in the background as to where in the world we were.

We had several handfuls of people observing us while we worked and even had a slow drive by from a police car asking what we were doing. I told them we were doing a short film…it could be my memory playing tricks on me, but I’m sure they advised us to watch the camera…

Despite some nervousness of filming all went without a hitch. We swung round the corner and filmed Terry’s standing outside the block of flats where Nula lives. I can’t remember now if we were just going for some further angles of his entering the block – I know Darren had set his camera up on the grass in front of a ground floor flat but we weren’t filming acing towards the windows of the flats (nor could you make out anything inside from when we were filming facing the block) but suddenly this guy came out from the next block and started shouting out as very aggressively, feeling that we were intruding without permission. Not wanting to have a battle with the unhinged of Peacehaven we agreed to move immediately, which didn’t seem to do anything for his mood – it took Darren a brief moment to unbuckle the tripod to lift it up with the camera attached, but this geezer didn’t even seem willing to give us that time, despite it being obvious a) we were moving and b) had agreed to move.

Slightly shaken we returned back to Debbie’s flat, who told us not to worry and she would go and have a word with him later – I think he had a bit of a reputation. She said she’d spoken to the occupants of the downstairs flat and they were fine with us filming – seemed it was somebody taking “the law” into his own hands without checking beforehand….or even communicating without any civility. Still, not a great way to end the initial exterior shoot without getting all the angles I wanted.

On set catering...sugar rush ahoy!

We continued with shooting Joseph’s walk through the hallway of the flat and getting tangled in the bead curtain – Terry put on such a fun and warm performance of awkwardly getting snared in the beads, perfectly done and how I’d hoped it would be. From there we concentrated on the lounge footage for the rest of the day – Joseph making himself comfortable, taking off his coat and scarf – and then having a look around the room while he awaits Nula’s return with the coffee.

There was a particular shot which followed which sadly never made the final cut and one which took quite a bit of time – I wanted a vision of Nula from Joseph’s skewed view, seeing her as a magical, angelic thing. So the bead curtain was to magically part for her entrance with the hot drinks and she would “glide” into the scene.  Sadly the gliding aspect was out, as I hadn’t been able to source some kind of low bed type trolley or skateboard – something to avoid any walking motion. The parting of the curtains proved problematic – Nick was super boy scout and between himself and Toby they’d got some thread pulling mechanism together which off camera could part the beads. Multiple takes followed, where one side of the beads opened and the other didn’t, or they were slightly out of synch…until we hit on the idea of filming the motion backwards and reversing it in post production – the beads were easier to release back into position than pull into position - so we had Joanne step backwards and then we closed the beads on her. I figured if it looked a bit “off” with the reverse motion that might add the “magic” element I hoped to get.

Terry and Joanne did some nice awkward interchanges as they took the hot drinks (with Terry doing a particularly creepy hand stroke of Joanne, which worked a treat) before Joanne took her place on the settee for the rest of the proceedings to follow.

Tea's up!

I have such fond memories of sitting back and watching Terry’s performance during this sequence. After his coughing fit (which if memory recalls was his suggestion, which was a brilliant awkward comic moment) he had to do the monologue explaining in vague terms why he was there. I suggested I wanted him to do it in several ways – super slow, super fast, super nervous, basically riff on it, then we’d cut and chop them all together in one jump cutting tone shifting uncomfortable piece. He played it so well, affable, nerdish, overcome with puppy love, supremely confident…yet papering over any cracks of doubt he had in his decision. Joanne’s reversal, nervously chewing on toast, was equally wonderful in the contrast to the dialogue we were hearing.

Ready for the coughing fit

From here we prepared for the entrance of Milo, Nula’s…well, “friend” but we can presume more than that. There were always supposed to be clues around the flat of something (or someone else) going on, which sadly weren’t as apparent from the final shoot – I’d had an idea of the lounge looking like it had been abandoned in a fit of passion, perhaps loose items of clothing around, a bottle of wine and TWO wine glasses on a table, a full ashtray…and Nula is supposed to be wearing an oversized man’s shirt, the first thing she threw on to answer the door…I didn’t follow through on the clothes thing and I think the wine glasses were pretty discreetly on a table beside Nula, if I did have that detail covered.

My boyfriend's back and there's gonna be trouble...

Dick was a very very good sport “happy” to play the scene as I requested – in a pair of briefs. Terry’s stuttering, spluttering reaction to Milo’s entrance was played wonderfully and Dick’s strutting entrance and his eying of aloofness at Joseph’s presence was great. I also got the ridiculous through the legs shot that I’d envisaged – from behind Dick’s buttocks, between his thighs and pants, staring at Joseph looking up at this man and realising he’d been outgunned. I should have put a huge pair of socks or something down Dick’s pants to make him stupendously endowed to crush Joseph’s spirit further. I loved Dick’s languid look over the Rod Stewart record. Unfortunately I wasn’t too happy with his delivery of the incredulous “ROD STEWART!?!” line – it seemed to be missing that abrasive, strong East European accent I wanted the character to have…but rather than doing multiple takes, I hoped we could dub it at a later stage.

There were a few shots we didn’t get in the lounge, but we decided to move on to the doorway and hall shots. I think we’d decided to do the landing shots last, being that it would be a similar set up to Joseph waiting at the front door in the beginning to waiting at the door at the end (when we needed Milo to hand him the record back.) We concentrated on the extreme close up of Joseph through the gap in the chained door which was slightly problematic due to light, tight framing and tight focussing…it was also a very tight space for actress, camera, sound and lights. Terry once again gave a fun, albeit slightly creepy and unnerving over friendly performance…like opening the door and finding an overbearing politician at your door.

Cramped conditions

From here we went outside on to the landing – after the morning’s verbal abuse, we were very sensitive to Debbie’s warning about the people across the landing who had a new born baby and might not appreciate us noisily opening and closing the door of the flat repeatedly with take after take…so we had to be careful and it made me conscious not to push it with too many takes on the same things. Being this was a January shoot the daylight had long gone by the time we were doing this and Darren was concerned about the low light on the landing - it was impossible to run a cable for a light from Debbie’s flat without it being visible in the frame for any full shots, so we had to concentrate on the door close ups where a cable would be out of frame (hence why there’s a visible spot reflection in this footage as the door opens and closes in the finished film.)

At this point there wasn’t anything else we could get – it was too dark in the landing to get any other shots, but as the missing shots were silent images I was hoping I could come back and…ahem…pick them up at a later date. So I was missing a few elements, but the key footage was there for now…which after all of this time was a considerable relief.

I think it was several weeks later when Terry and I returned to Peacehaven to shoot the missing shots using his camera. Darren had told us the profile setting to use which would hopefully ensure we at least matched the same settings as his dslr, though I was shooting and had never shot with a dslr. We were supposed to try and get a few of those angles we’d missed outside of the flats, but Terry was nervous about a repeat of the situation with the aggressive neighbour, so I had to scrap those shots. We went to the landing and did the same full shots of him stood at the door – I asked him to do a quick shine of his shoes as he waited for Nula to open the door. We also did his strange “caress” of Nula’s name on the outside of the door – an image which didn’t make it into the film. We also shot the final image for the end credits of Joseph sat on the stairs trying to comprehend the awful cock up he’s made of his life and his internal struggle over whether to phone his wife and beg for her forgiveness. The actual final image of the film was supposed to be the copy of Rod Stewart’s Gasoline Alley left on the stairway – in memoriam, as it were.

This was all shot on a very sunny day, evident from the strong sunlight coming through the small window on the landing, but as we’d only seen the outside misty at the beginning of the film (and hadn’t seen any exterior since entering the flat) this thankfully didn’t cause a continuity error.
We went back inside Debbie’s flat to get a couple of shots I wanted to get – in particular I really wanted an overhead shot of Joseph as he opens the suitcase and rummages in the contents. There may have been one or two other simple shots of Joseph there too, all were got pretty quickly and hoping that natural light would cover it with us having no lighting rig.

From there we headed over to my neck of the woods to go to Worthing and the infamous Teville Gate area of Worthing, This is an area which has been earmarked for development for many years, but which has fallen into further decline. Within that simple block I was able to get a variety of closed up shops, boarded up glass, empty units etc for Joseph to rush pass on his mission to Nula’s. I hoped these would augmented with some simple CGI/ photoshopping to turn Worthing into the Czech Republic.

And with that simple shoot, after all that pain, disruption and struggle to shoot the film it was finally shot.

I may have used the words history repeating before when discussing this moment with my other films – if I haven’t, they are the words to keep in mind, as the post production on this would aptly fit with the pre production struggle I had with making this film…and match the same post production issues I always seem to have.