HND – Day 3 – Nic & Sam Scene

Today’s practical exercise was to plan and shoot a scene based in a school corridor with dialogue between Nic & Sam (two characters) written by Patricia Hetherington.  Due to diary clashes, I attended the Group A class instead of my usual Group B.

The planning exercise went well and Leanna (camera) realised exactly what we wanted almost immediately and then drew up some amazing storyboards which we shared with the rest of the team.

Elena and Jonny agreed to be the “talent” for this exercise whilst I directed.

The exercise was fun and we managed to shoot the whole sequence in less than 25 minutes, almost exactly as we had planned it – with the exception of two shots which we agreed would be better as a single “medium two-shot” instead.

I then edited the whole piece together in Final Cut Pro (which took another 30 minutes) and as a homage to Grange Hill found a copy of Phil Redmond’s theme tune online to finish off the clip.

As before, several ways this could have been improved by enhancing the sound (use of proper sound equipment), and lighting (rather than relying just on practical lighting).

The team worked well and it was a pleasure to shoot.  Even Jonny’s acting skills improved as we ran through rehearsal and then filming.

Without a slate to mark the scenes I used a book to split takes where we kept the camera rolling to help the (none professional) actors be more relaxed.

Jonny and Yelena took directions well and we worked together as a cohesive unit quite well.

We also decided to challenge ourselves and try to use every lens in the box, which is why the PoV shots look a bit weird, we experimented with the 24mm lens … probably should have stuck with the 35mm but then this was an experimental shoot as much as anything!

The finished video (at least my edit of it) is below … Leanne will hopefully be putting her version online in the next couple of days

 

 

Planning went well as did the rehearsals (one or two rehearsals before each shot/segment)

Yelena said that she would have preferred more interaction / rehearsal with the Director to see what I wanted from the actor which I have taken on board for next time

Considering we’re using the onboard microphones on the cameras, the sound didn’t come out too badly.

Things to improve / remember for next time

  • Buzz track
  • Better sound equipment
  • Better lighting
  • Continuity 🙂
  • Foley

 

HND – Day 3 – SWOT Analysis and Personality Types

Today was much more of an introspective day.

We performed a SWOT analysis on our skills which we then discussed in class, and completed questionnaires to identify our character types

 

The SWOT analysis highlighted that I feel I have a number of strengths (not surprising as one of them was confidence, and a few weaknesses including over confidence) .. but as a film maker you need to be confident, especially when all those around you are tutting and saying “it will never work”.

 

The results of the personality tests highlighted that I am a Kinaesthetic learner (heavily kinaesthetic) – which means I’m hands on .. no surprises there. I am also fairly balanced between a reflector and pragmatist, although pragmatist won through at the end of the day.

I found that through all my strengths and weaknesses, the ideal way to address them is to simply get out there and start working on film projects.  Practice, Practice, Practice!

Goals

We were tasked with setting ourselves 3 SMART Goals.  

 

SMART Goals

S – specific, significant, stretching.

M – measurable, meaningful, motivational.

A – agreed upon, attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented.

R – Realistic (Relevant)

T – Time Based

 

Short term – by 15th October 2017

Medium term – by 15th December 2017

Long term – 1st June 2018

 

Short term – sign up for a Raindance short class

Medium term – produce a short video blog about my holiday

Long Term – Make a short film of at least 5 minutes duration

 

This will help develop my video editing, screenwriting and story telling skills .. will have me working with actors (improve my patience/tolerance levels), require me to plan, develop, edit and publish a video .. and use the skills learned on the course(s) I’ve attended

 

 

Digging out old Projects (Steve’s Birthday 2009)

I had long promised to take Steve (one of my life long friends from Round Table) up for a flight.

In 2009 I finally delivered on that promise, and we went for a bimble for his Birthday.

Earlier today I was digging through some old footage on one of my backup drives when I stumbled across this video “birthday card” I made for him, and thought it worth uploading for prosperity.

 

Whilst the camera is a bit shaky, you have to remember that the person holding the camera was not a professional videographer, and they were using what can best be described as a “Box Brownie” (Panasonic Lumix TZ10 if memory serves) to film things from the back seat whilst I sat in the Captain’s seat as “Pilot Flying”

Still, it was a fun day and I think (hope!) that Steve enjoyed the trip!

I guess by 2019 I need to take Steve up for another flight, and we should actually land away somewhere .. perhaps Le Touquet for lunch .. or maybe somewhere further afield like Nice or Malta!

Casablanca – Rick Blaine

 

Casablanca (1942) is one of Hollywood’s all time great movies.  Written by Epstein and Koch (Epstein being the Epstein twins Julius and Philip – the first twins to be awarded Oscars, which they won for Casablanca), it is a tale about an American ex-pat who has tried to get away from it all by moving to Casablanca.  As the story unfolds during the early stages of World War II, we learn Rick (Humphrey Bogart) is “world weary”, tired of  authority and has had his heart broken by the love of his life Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman).

Rick has opened a bar (Rick’s Place) which has become a haven of sorts for refugees, and a home for black marketeers selling papers of transit (forged and real) which they hope will allow them to escape to America.

Sam (Dooley Wilson), the piano player, is the heart of Rick’s – playing music every night on an upright piano.  He will play any song you care to request, save one – one which has special meaning for Rick (and Ilsa) – which Rick has banned from ever being playing again.

Cue Ilsa Lund (Bergman) who asks Sam to play the song (As Time Goes By) and one of the most immortal (and mis quoted) lines from the film “Play it again Sam”.

The lines are actually “Play it once Sam, for old time’s sake, Play it Sam” spoken by Bergman and Bogart (Rick) play “As Time Goes By,” saying, “You played it for her, you can play it for me… If she can stand it, I can! Play it!” Bogart’s line is often misquoted as, “Play it again, Sam!”.

The return of Ilsa brings all the emotions flooding back to Rick and the one hard exterior melts and the true man emerges.  We see Rick surprise the Police Chief (as close to a friend as Rick can get in these shark infested waters) and develop a conscience, eventually letting go the love of his life and helping her escape the Nazis with her husband as they fly to America.

The character progression for Rick is revealing, as we discover that he isn’t the hard businessman we met at the beginning of the film and that he had once loved, had his heart broken, only to then meet the woman who broke his heart and to realise that she did the only honourable thing in leaving him when she learned that her husband was still alive and had not been killed in a concentration camp as she had been lead to believe.  Rick in turn, initially conflicted by his love for her, and also his wish to return to America, results eventually in true gallantry and plot twist after plot twist until we reach the movie’s end where the freedom fighter (Victor Lazlo) and his wife (Ilsa Lund) escape into the sunset.

Casablanca has been famous for a number of sayings, some of which have (allegedly) even spun off into films of their own.

Classic lines such as

  • “Of all the Gin joints in all of the world, you had to walk into this one”,
  • “Round up the usual suspects” (which eventually lead to a film called “The Usual Suspects
  • and of course “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”

American Beauty – Lester Burnham

American Beauty at first seems like a modern day Lolita in which we meet Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), a sexually frustrated middle aged man, going through marital issues, separated from his wife (whilst still living under the same roof).  As the story progresses we discover it is less a Lolita and more the simple search for a better,  more fulfilling life.

Burnham is a sexually frustrated, lonely man who’s only highlight in the day is masturbation in the shower.  Depressed, repressed and subjugated by his wife and daughter, he tries to find ways to turn his life around.  Sadly, Lester only seems to be competent at making enemies and we are introduced to several characters who would willingly kill him it seems given the right opportunity.

Burnham blackmails his supervisor into providing a healthy severance package.  Working as a teller in a drive through burger restaurant, Burnham finds his wife is cheating on him and jokingly, even his daughter hires a drug dealer to kill Burnham!  At the same time, the next door neighbour thinks that Burnham is corrupting his son into prostitution.

All the way through, Burnham is trying to break free of the depression, the mid life crisis, and to improve his inner happiness. 

Burnham’s moral challenges are numerous.  Does he “de-flower” his daughter’s best friend, does he indulge in drugs and potentially corrupt the neighbour’s son, does he blackmail his boss or walk away quietly from a job he hates?

In the end we see a vulnerable man to whom fate or circumstance has dealt a bad hand to, and there but for the grace of god could go you or I.  A bad marriage, a bad job, a beautiful girl .. all of these “challenges” could befall any one of us through our life. Like any human being he craves love and friendship.  He wants to be happy, and wishes to be young again / experience life through young eyes just once more.

 

HND Day 2 – Lenses

Today was another great team building day as we got to know each other and discovered more about our fellow class mates over lunch and “high tea” at a variety of sandwich shops around London.

The morning was spent discussing types of films and why they’re made. We discussed Arthouse Films, Film Noir, and more.

We learned the sad fact that Hollywood are only interested in making big money spinners whilst smaller “avante garde” films tend to be the arena of independent film makers.

A sad and shocking statistic that over 7,000 films are made in the USA each year and yet less than 10% of them ever really make it to distribution, and even fewer actually make money or break even.

On the plus side, due to the numbers involved, there is more chance of a low budget film being profitable and with self distribution as a real option these days there is even more chance of the indie film maker being successful and with success comes bigger chances and the hope of a bigger budget and so on.

Kate Shenton started small, made a short (Send in the Clowns) for a few hundred, a niche / fetish documentary (On Tender Hooks) and then a feature for £5,000 (Egomaniac) and is now working on a £750k budget film (Bloody Burrito) as a result.  Living proof that your work is a calling card, which if good enough will lead to bigger and better work!  Kate’s genre is horror, and from what I’ve seen of it – somewhat fetish horror at that .. but again proof that catering for a niche audience can be quite profitable.

We discussed High and Low Concept films (high – premise can be described in less than 3 short sentences, low requires a lot more foundation)

We discussed films such as Cars, Logan, Lego: The Batman Movie, Snakes on a Great Plane, IT, Spiderman: Homecoming, and more.

We also learned of the Raindance HND Challenge. A competition for all the students across all the groups. Make a film with £5000. Prove your worth, pitch your idea and be “hired” to make the film. Fail or don’t deliver and risk being cut, just as if you were in Hollywood!

 

We broke for lunch after a brief visit to the BFI Reuben Library, an amazing repository of all things film related!  I can’t wait to get my teeth into their research materials over the next 2+ years.

The afternoon was another practical class where we learned about lens compression and (touched on) field of view seeing first hand the differences between a shot with a 14mm wide-angle lens through to a 135mm lens using Raindance’s new box of 6 prime lenses. (14,24,35,50,85,135 mm primes).  Next week is the other half of the conundrum – depth of field 

Again, best practices on lens handling were reinforced as we took turns to be continuity, camera, 1st AC and model in our group of 4.

Today’s lesson is probably best demonstrated by this image from BokehSharp which I’ve referenced in other blog posts previously.

 It clearly shows how the wider angle the lens the more detail is visible in the background, whilst the longer the lens, the more compressed the background is, coupled with this image below which demonstrates how items in the foreground can be elongated / made to look much larger than they are.

This video on “dolly zoom” (the Vertigo effect) demonstrates how the effect is used effectively in films to create a feeling of unease in the viewer

 

 

Working with Adobe Premiere – HND Day 1 – Epilogue

Today is the first day, since roughly 2007, that I have had to use Adobe Premiere to edit a video project.  Since Apple bought FCP from Macromedia and ported it to the Mac, the first release of Final Cut Pro (since Adobe snubbed Apple) I have been using Final Cut.

For those who don’t know (and probably don’t care), Apple bought Final Cut Pro from Macromedia as a result of Adobe’s short sighted (imho – since proven true) view to split Mac and Windows licensing models, requiring users to purchase a new license key if they wanted to move from Premiere for Windows to Premiere for Mac – then only to find that Adobe was effectively mothballing Premiere for Mac.  At the time Apple was nearly bankrupt, and losing the video editing market would have been the final nail in the coffin.  Steve Jobs took a huge gamble, and on the whole, it paid huge dividends. 

Apple released Final Cut Pro X in 2011 and I for one was quick to adopt, even though it was missing a number of “Broadcast” features that were present in Final Cut Studio, and since the introduction of the magnetic timeline and FCP’s redefinition of NLE (Non Linear Editing) my workflows have become slick, and I am able to edit relatively complex pieces (including compositing) seamlessly and quickly.  I can cut, splice, insert, move and generally weave my creative magic over hundreds of clips (including multiple angle video, multiple audio tracks, special effects, and more) effortlessly.

With hindsight, the lack of certain features and the retirement of Final Cut Studio / replacement with the totally new Final Cut Pro package was probably premature.  The industry choked on the lack of ability to import/export XML, amongst a number of more Pro features. They did however redefine the desktop editing experience and almost single handedly introduced the vlogger to the world which YouTube were quick to capitalise on!

Scroll forward to October 2017, as part of the Raindance HND, the software of “choice” to which Raindance (and to be fair most of the industry) has settled on is Adobe Premiere Pro.   To this end, I had to edit my first simple project in Premiere.  Something which would have taken me 5-10 minutes to do in FCPX has so far taken me 2 hours in Premiere, and the experience has been painful.  On occasion I have felt as though I am quite literally gouging my eyes out with a spoon .. and at this stage, I think that this may have been more pleasurable than my time spent wrestling with Premiere.

I fear this is going to be a painful, uphill struggle.  Whilst there are more and more creators “breaking the mould” and moving to FCPX (and Davinci Resolve), I can understand why we need to learn and use Premiere…. It is after all what everyone else uses, and it is “professional”, whilst FCPX is considered “Mickey Mouse” (note, that’s what teachers at Met Film School have said previously and not my own words/thoughts).  Personally I find FCPX to be forward thinking, incredibly flexible and efficient, and uber fast when it comes to rendering (I’ve seen a 15 minute video render in 30 seconds on FCPX and 45 minutes on Premiere – all on identical hardware).  FCPX may well be the way of the future, however I guess we have to learn editing the hard way first and only once we’ve done that can we then find more efficient ways to progress!

Sadly the video project has not yet been completed.  I am going to continue to slog away with the antiquated track editing system and see if I can (eventually) pull some form of rabbit out of the hat.  Wish me luck!

References:

  • Ryan Koo, 2011 No Film School [Online] [url]
  • John Buck, A History of Editing
  • Wikipedia [Online] [url]

Day 1 – HND Course

Today was the first day of the HND course.  We spent the morning discussing the structure of the course and the afternoon shooting “getting to know you”  interviews with fellow classmates and planning / discussing the format of the shots.

Our group drew the short straw and had to film outside, without the benefit of any sound equipment – just the on camera microphones.  This lead to a number of challenges which we tried to work with, although the resultant video clips are pretty much unusable sadly without ADR.

The exercise was fun however and valuable for some of the candidates who really hadn’t had a chance to shoot much video previously.

I spent most of the time wishing I had a boom mic / dead cat (or even lav mics) … and cutting / waiting for pedestrians to walk past 🙂

The original plan was to conduct the interviews seated with a wide establishing shot and then a medium closeup of the interviewee/interviewer on one of the sofas / seated on chairs.  This was quickly scuppered when we found the only place we could shoot due to the other disruptions / auditions / etc was going to be on Craven Street (but at least we had natural light!)

Problems encountered included

  • Frequent interruptions from people walking past / wanting to get into Raindance HQ (we were shooting on the “private Raindance property” to overcome the issue of a lack of permit/etc (plus the whole lack of microphone problem) as well as people standing in the street watching us whilst talking loudly on their mobile phones or just arguing with their spouse.
  • Lots of background noise including police sirens (armed police apparently attending an incident in Trafalgar Square)
  • We had planned to get B-Roll of the interviewer “nodding” and re-asking the questions, however with the audio challenges we figured this was relatively pointless for this exercise.
  • There were a number of auditions at Raindance HQ which meant we couldn’t use the common areas or room 1 (plus the noise from the dehumidifiers meant we couldn’t easily film in the reception area either).
  • Soft focus.  Some of the clips aren’t as clearly focussed as I first thought when viewed on a larger screen.  Some of this was due to movement in the shot and the inability to focus peak whilst recording (something the GH5 lets me do), and some of it is down to talent/camera movements after the initial setup was framed. (Note .. always always always check and double check focus and positioning before/during recording)

How could we have improved things?

  • The use of lav mics or possibly a even a boom mic would have helped greatly. (As would the use of a “dead cat” to muffle the wind noise).
  • Closing the street to pedestrians would have limited the disruption from passers by.
  • Choosing a better location (we were told not to wander too far from Raindance and have previously been warned about the issues of filming on private land – such as the passage nearby – without permission)
  • ADR – we could just re-record the audio later on (I’m sure this will be an exercise in the coming months) 🙂
  • Watching the recordings back, they’re all very dry.  The interview techniques are minimal, there’s little or no energy and I fear that trying to find ways to cut the 2 minute clips into anything that doesn’t immediately send the viewer to sleep or running for the “thumbs down button” is going to be a challenge 🙂 (but we do thrive on challenges … don’t we?) 🙂

At the end of the day, this was simply an exercise to get everyone out and playing with a camera … It’s great that we were filming something on the first day – no matter what it was … Much better than spending weeks in a classroom learning the theory of everything before we ever get to see the light of day on a sensor.

I may end up bringing my own camera gear in sooner rather than later though as 2 x 700D’s between 9 people (3 groups of 3) was a bit frustrating – however I’d prefer Raindance’s kit experienced the effects of slippery fingers and gravity rather than my own equipment if truth be told 🙂

Place holder for a first cut of the interviews / edited video / etc once the content has been uploaded and I’ve had a chance to import into Adobe Premiere

Raindance 25th Film Festival

October is upon us, and the 25th annual Raindance Film Festival has come to an end.  They say you never forget your first festival, and this will be no exception.  Well presented at the newly refurbished Vue cinema on Leicester Square, RDFF was an amazing experience with over 200 films being celebrated (long and short).  Numerous industry forums, amazing networking events and more.

Highlights of the Festival included Oh Lucy! (a Japanese / American drama) which opened the Festival and Michael Berry’s Musical – Stuck – a story about 6 people who are forced together when their subway train is which closed the Festival – both were great fun!

My personal favourites included

 

Documentary Features Bluefin

and RiverBlue

which were both eco-documentaries, as well as  Calamity – a French short film which touches on Transgender issues, as well as the main stream features – Black Butterfly (based on Papillon Noir) starring Antonio Banderas as a struggling screen writer / author who has lost his muse and of course Ate de Jong’s “Love is Thicker Than Water” which shows what can be done with a limited ($150k) budget and a 2 week shoot – when you know what you’re doing.  One of the entrants spent $200k to produce a 12 minute short … and whilst it had some mainstream actors, I felt that whilst beautifully shot, it could have really been completed for 1-2% of the actual budget.

The opening night after party at Cafe de Paris was an absolute blast with over 500 film makers descending and enjoying the party – with “Guilty Pleasures” on stage for the entire evening dancing and showing off their amazing figures (pictures below).

 

Raindance HND – Prologue

Not long now until the start of the Raindance HND.  I suspect I will be the oldest person on the course by far, certainly in my group (Group B) although I have now met some of Group A and they seem like some really nice guys (especially Simon and Orlando!)

People are asking me why I’m doing this, as well as what is going to happen to my business(es) while I’m working on the course.  Well the answers to that are somewhat multi dimensional, but I will endeavour to clear up any potential misunderstandings or just dampen the FUD 🙂

The future of websites and the internet is most certainly video.  YouTube is already the world’s second largest search engine, only eclipsed by Google – who oddly enough now own YouTube.

I think it is wise to invest in the future of the internet and future technologies early, and as such I am working to re-skill and re-tool before the flood gates open.  Now of course this is slightly selfish as video and film has been a passion of mine for many years (I think I made my first short movie when I was 8 years old on super 16mm film) … So a tad indulgent maybe, but I still maintain that it will be beneficial to the business(es) and our customers as a whole going forwards.

As for what is going to happen to the business(es) I run now (Fido/etc) – they will continue to operate just as they have done for the last 16+ years.  I am not leaving the planet, I will still be in contact daily, however I am going to be in pre-arranged “meetings” Wednesday and Thursday for most weeks until 2020.  This isn’t much different to how things have operated in the past.  I’ve operated the business whilst being in South Africa, America, France, Germany, Spain and many other Countries.  I have holidayed and the walls haven’t come tumbling down. In fact, on the whole, I’ve found the business has thrived and has hardly missed me on a day to day basis. 

Staff well being is key to a successful business.  I have been struggling to find things to keep me happy for a while now (especially since the divorce), and refocussing my energies on an HND and MA will (I think) be good for me, and as a result will be good for the company as a whole – which also means good news for customers.

I will be in London a lot more, if anything I will be closer to a number of our customers and potentially able to make meetings or perform out of hours maintenance more easily.

In summary I see this as good for Fido, good for my own mental well being and good for the future of our endeavours as just when everyone starts to say “do you think we should be doing something with video on our websites, we seem to be slipping behind the competition because they have lots of video explainers / they have a slick marketing campaign with video / etc” – I will be able to say “Don’t worry, we’ve got your back!”

So don’t worry!  The Future is Bright.  The Future is still Fido! 

(and yes, I have formed a production company called “JFDI” … and yes, I do hope that it will do exactly what it says on the tin!)