Sound Recording and Design (A04 T03)

April 11th, after several weeks of planning, it was time to record sound for Sammy’s “The Night We Opened for the New Ed Sheeran” (or Jesus Wept as it has become known).

Whilst there was little I would be able to record the actual band’s performance due to the amplified volumes and sensitivity range of the available equipment, I would still be able to record dialogue, ambient sound and other diegetic sounds and effects, such as a beer can being opened, the sound of guitar and drums as the band enters stage and connects with their instruments,

The sound design itself was relatively simple. Take a studio recording of the band playing the song, add some effects to make the music sound as though it was a real, live performance in a club, add some ambient sounds to mimic a busy night club at the request of the Director, including some effects as the band walk on stage (guitar riff, sounds of tumbleweed and crickets) and other comedy effects.

Additionally, I tuned volume levels to suit the performance, ducking sound samples under dialogue and ensuring that audio levels were kept within bounds.

Adobe Audition – Editing Sounds for “Jesus Wept”

Having received a project file with some basic sound effects and sounds mixed up across multiple tracks (with music, dialogue and sound effects all intermixed) my first job was to split the tracks out so that dialogue was on one track, the band’s music was on another and so forth.

I then added ambient sounds, effects including reverb on the band’s music, I tidied up and removed background noise from the dialogue tracks, and worked with the Director (Josh) to get the effects and Foley in as he wanted them in order to tell the story through sound as well as visually.

I then bounced the audio file out and sent them the finished mixdown, along with the project file and copies of all of the samples I had used.

Several changes and tweaks were fed back by both Producer and Director and were included in the final mixdown. The finished bounce was completed and uploaded before the final deadline.

Were I to do this again, I would want to make sure that the equipment being used would be more suited to the task, the ability to record directly from the mixing desk would be good for example. It would have also been nice if we had been able to use Lavalier microphones, however, these weren’t available and so the only option was to record with the boom mic.

I have yet to see (hear?) the “finished” (merged) product in public, however, the work I submitted to Sammy for inclusion was very close to what I had wanted to achieve. I did feel that some of Josh’s notes conflicted with my wish to deliver the best possible mix, that said, Josh was the Director, and as such has the final say as it was his artistic vision. There are some areas of silence (for example) which I think should have been filled with band noises, and there was a “riff” section which no-one could agree on in the time we had, so Sammy was tasked with doing his own version ahead of the tight deadline for final submission. I think if we add in a decent guitar riff (or put back the sounds of a guitar being tuned) as well as smoothing out the silence and mixing in a little more backing track then the impact will be quite positive.

Sammy has since said to me that he wants to do an enhanced final mix, taking on board some of my original suggestions – once the HND Showcase is out of the way – and he looks to promote the film around the festival circuit. He has said that on reflection he agrees with my original comments on the sound effects, and especially the momentary gaps/silence.

I think one major problem with this project was that at no point were Sammy, Josh and I all in the same room listening to the mix at the same time. This was due to a number of scheduling conflicts and work commitments coupled with the incredibly tight deadline and the fact that Josh and Sammy were working on multiple films at the same time.

That said, given the limited time I had to work on the final product, I think it worked quite well. Contrary to my usual workflow of DaVinci Resolve and Fairlight, I worked entirely in Adobe Audition in order to meet the requirements of the project. Adobe Audition was relatively easy to use and the change had minimal impact on my workflow or ability to deliver the project on time. Obviously there is always room for small improvements, and it is rare for anyone to be completely happy with their work. That said, on the whole, I am proud of the sound design, and flattered by the fact that Sammy has since been in touch asking me how I made certain sounds and effects as they were just what he wanted and he needed to do similar on Priscilla’s sound design to make the room effects sound more realistic.

I would certainly have liked more time to work on the crowd effects and the guitar solo riff, but on the whole, I think the project went well and I really enjoyed the task. A future version would include a 5.1 (or maybe even 7.1) surround sound mix, and I regret not having been given enough time to do that on this project. (This is something I can do easily and quickly in Fairlight, and I was keen to experiment and work out how to do the same in Audition).

Reflections on Directing A02 T01

For the purpose of this assignment, we were tasked with a 4-hour film challenge.

The Rules

  1. Minimum 8, Maximum 12 shots.
  2. One line of dialogue “I Knew this would happen”.
  3. One compulsory prop: An item of confectionary.
  4. 90 secs maximum finished film.
  5. Story must have beginning, middle end.
  6. Story must have distinct genre.
  7. Only two lights may be used.
  8. At least one member of each team must appear in film

Chessie, Santiago and I were put into a team and told to come up with an idea and to write, shoot and edit the finished product within 4 hours.

The first hour was spent coming up with a suitable idea, we all pitched our ideas and then decided upon the best one. After some deliberation, it was decided that my “Raiders” idea was worthy and we set about preparing to film. Chessie was one of the actors and also responsible for costume and set design, Santiago doubled as gaffer and the lead character in the story.

Whilst neither Chessie nor Santiago are professional actors, they took my direction well and we had the shots we needed within 2 hours, despite numerous interruptions and distractions (we were filming in the middle of Raindance, with limited control over the set)

We worked on the premise of a master shot technique with 3 main shots, and then a number of cut-ins to add to the pacing and story.

During my pitch, I described this elaborate scene where Santiago triggers a trap and in true “Indiana Jones” style he is swept away to his doom. This was achieved with the help of a table cloth and two strong bodies we managed to co-opt from passers-by who were trying to use the area we were filming in as a meeting space.

Whilst neither Chessie or Santiago could visualise my idea for the “stunt”, they were soon on board and were impressed with the finished result. Using a sheet (and not just pulling Santiago across the floor) was key to making the effect work smoothly and without any injury to the actors.

Reflections on Directing (A02 T02)

We undertook a 4-hour film challenge in class. Split into teams of 3, we spent the lunch hour devising a story and then came back to shoot.

Due to the small size of the team, and the fact that of the story ideas we came up with it being my story which was selected (and the fact that I do not wish to be in front of the camera!) I was appointed as the shooting director (DoP/Director combined)

Chessie and Santiago were the characters in the story, and set about sorting the set design, costume and setting up lights and other equipment.

Brainstorming ideas for the story

Having scratched out a script, and having an idea for some in-camera special effects to add to the drama, we set about shooting the short.

The usual problems of trying to film anything at Raindance (people walking through the shot, picking up and moving the sweets, picking up tripods you were using because they weren’t bolted down, faulty kit, the list is exhaustive!) 🙂 were addressed as they came up and whilst we lost nearly an hour due to interruptions and walkthroughs, we were still able to complete the shooting part of the exercise in just over 2 hours 30 minutes, which technically left us 30 minutes for the edit. Below is the final edit which admittedly took slightly longer than 30 minutes to grade, do some basic sound design on, render and upload – but the spirit of the exercise was adhered to.

final draft edit of our 4-hour film challenge short

The Rules

  1. Minimum 8, Maximum 12 shots.
  2. One line of dialogue “I Knew this would happen”.
  3. One compulsory prop: An item of confectionary.
  4. 90 secs maximum finished film.
  5. Story must have beginning, middle end.
  6. Story must have distinct genre.
  7. Only two lights may be used.
  8. At least one member of each team must appear in film

Reflections

There is much that is wrong with this short film, the focus is soft in a number of places, the image is shakey through being handheld with no stabilisation, the packshot (pack of M&Ms) could be better …. I had spent an age smoothing the packet out and then one of the first years came through, picked them up and pretended to open them … this resulted in the packaging being creased and there was no time to get another packet, and whilst I had originally managed to get some symmetry in reflection from the tray, this was all lost as we rushed to get the next shot …

One of the things I have noticed from all of my shoots at Raindance to date is that there always seems to be a sense of urgency and rush to the shots, everyone is in a rush to get to the next shot and what we have “will have to do” .. This is against my programming and not something I am used to. Whilst I appreciate that “time is money”, I also strongly believe that rushing to deliver a mediocre product is a huge waste of time and money as the resultant product will not be the best you could have done.

If I take away one thing from this exercise, and the last two years on the HND course, it will be “less haste more speed” and to try and find a way to keep everyone around me calm whilst working to get the shot/scene/etc and to avoid panic and uncertainty where ever possible. (Most often, I feel this can be achieved through simple communication)

a less than perfect packshot before grading

The challenge was to use between 8 and 12 shots, no more and no less. Whilst I had originally thought of shooting the whole film as a one-shot, these rules made it harder. We did still manage to shoot the main part in 3 shots, and then used a total of 8 additional cut-ins to add to the story and effect.

The finished edit

Moving on to the in-camera effects, I had the idea of putting Santiago on a table cloth and getting a couple of people to pull him across the floor as though he was being pulled by the rope that sprung around his leg. This took a few attempts and tests to get right, but the final shot is almost exactly what I had hoped for (minus the vape which appears in his hand “as if by magic” that wasn’t spotted until checking the rushes).

Santiago and his continuity challenging vape

Continuity, set design, lighting, camera, director, gaffer, actors, crew (not to mention post-production teams, editors, sound design, vfx, foley, etc, etc) all need to work together in a seamless and rhythmical fashion in order to deliver a polished film. If one single member of the team isn’t a good fit then the whole project can suffer.

Thankfully, on the whole, I’ve been fortunate to work with a number of professional and dedicated HND students over the last two years, and together I believe we have learned a great deal about the machinery required to make a GOOD film.

I’m looking forward to working with several of these people on upcoming films over the next year or two as we all begin to find our feet and our own areas of expertise.

Sadly, due to the time frame and limited crew, it wasn’t possible to get much in the way of BTS during filming. I will, however, sign off with this picture we took of Justin checking in on us and making sure we were still alive.

Justin checking in on us

Sound Recording

On 11th April, I recorded sounds for the short film “The Night We Opened for the New Ed Sheeran”. This was a comedy Directed by Josh Farrell and produced by Sammy OA

There was minimal preparation time, and whilst we did undertake a location visit before the shoot, and I had made several recommendations for sound recording options, none of these seemed to have been taken into consideration on the day, so I was left with little to do other than to record some dialogue and to do my best to record the ambient sounds and room tone on the day. Everything else was just a recording of a loud noise as the microphones supplied (Rode NTG2/NTG3) were totally unsuitable for recording “gig” noises, and whilst I had recommended that we hook into the professional soundboard at the venue in order to record a mixdown for editing later, this was rejected by both Josh and Sammy, as it would have been too complicated and too time consuming to get the venue to assist, and all they really wanted was some dialogue… they didn’t care about the crowd scenes too much or any of the other sounds as they just wanted me to dub those in post …

Jon and Ana discussing audio from one of the takes

During the day I experimented as much as I could with the levels, however the recording equipment itself wasn’t really suitable for the job at hand and we experienced a large amount of clipping even with the input levels set as low as possible

Sound design has been fairly basic. Adding reverb to the recording of the band playing so that they sound as though they’re in a large room rather than a recording studio, some noise reduction on one piece of dialog that was recorded with the microphone hidden out of shot on a wide (because again, we weren’t allowed to hook into the physical mics which were on stage)

Jon and Santi preparing to record sound on a scene

The edit I received also had 3 different sets of dialogue plus random bits of music all on one track, so this needed to be edited and split into multiple tracks. Bouncing the mix down from Premiere into Audition and then back again seemed to introduce some timing issues with clips, partly because many of the clips don’t seem to have in/out markers, they’re just “compound” clips that stretch to the exact length required .. there were also some gaps that were apparently intentional, but other gaps which weren’t. With deadlines looming I tried my best to discuss these with the Director by email, however that didn’t seem to work, so I now have an 11th hour meeting scheduled after class on Wednesday to review the final mixdown before passing it to Sammy to add to his render and then submit on Friday ahead of the cut off for Raindance submissions. We’ve already missed submissions for the London Short Film Festival sadly (although I suspect Sammy has submitted an earlier edit to meet their deadline)

I received instructions along the lines of “can you try some tumbleweed sounds on the crowd scene” and “add some club sounds on the tracking shot” … despite asking for more detailed descriptions with timecodes. We are currently playing with “guitar riff” sound effects to try and find “the right one” and at this stage I’m waiting on Sammy to produce something himself (or from the band) that would fit the requirement as the 4 versions I’ve submitted so far have all been rejected as not quite right for the shot/scene.

Sample log sheet taken by Arabella

We kept a combined shot and audio log which was maintained by Arabella. These were then written up and stored as a spreadsheet for reference during the post-production process.

With hindsight, the workload for all concerned was high, we had limited time to plan and even less time to post produce. If I were doing this in the real world, I would have hoped that the production team would have spent more time planning and rehearsing and that we would have been able to utilise better equipment, including the venue’s own mixing desk, in order to record better quality sound. The sound design process has been stressful too as I have effectively only had a week in which to review the film, identify key moments that require additional sound, work on cleaning up the various clips which had noise and adding in effects to make the film more believable. The Director has not been available to review the changes due to other commitments, which again means that the finished project is further delayed, and at this stage, I don’t know if it will actually be finished to everyone’s satisfaction, by the hard submission deadline. All quite frustrating considering the amount of effort put in by all concerned, but I believe this is just how the industry works!

Reflections on the writing brief

We were tasked with coming up with a brief for a story idea, finding a writer and then working with that writer to develop a screenplay.

The process of coming up with the brief was pretty fluid and I came up with a fairly simple outline for s Science Fiction story to be set in a dark, dystopian future. I had the idea of taking fairly innocuous current day technology and seeing how the Government could subvert that technology and use it for bad. To this end, I mixed the concept of body augmentation and digital assistants (such as the Apple Watch) coupled with China’s state control of procreation, coupled it with ideas of genetic manipulation and looked at ways that personal freedoms could be curtailed.

Having previously posted briefs on Facebook groups, and being a member of several writing forums, which I read regularly and know many of the writers, I knew that posting this brief online would not elicit a suitable candidate within the timeframe and budget available (<£10), plus I was keen to work with other Raindance students either from the MA course or evening classes and Raindance writing courses.

The brief was described as above, with the requirement for a “mind fuck” ending that would get the audience thinking.

Jon Morby

I went through an informal interview process with several writers, discussing ideas and obtaining story submissions from several candidates. One writer seemed keen, although seemed less able to follow the exact brief and then totally unwilling to actually sign the idea and rights across as part of the process – so they were easily discounted. Several other writers showed potential but were too busy to work on the project or within the available timescales.

The brief was described as above, with the requirement for a “mind fuck” ending that would get the audience thinking.

Eventually, I settled on working with Sierra Callaghan. Someone who seemed to understand what I wanted from the project, someone who was willing to operate within the confines of the project and someone who seemed genuinely excited to work on the story. Working with Sierra we developed the idea to include an LGBTQA+ angle, where the state was perfectly happy with people choosing their own sexuality and was only focussed on eradicating diseases such as Cancer, Alzheimer’s, ALS, MS and similar genetically linked diseases, only to be further subverted and abused to the point that even a boring personality or the prospect of criminal activity was grounds to fail and a pregnancy not to be sanctioned.

This was very much a commentary on how the State will always subvert and abuse a power it is given, whether RIPA in 2000 or selective gene manipulation and full-blown genetic engineering.

We worked quickly through the first few drafts, Sierra’s weaknesses as a new writer (she is, after all, studying writing on the Raindance MA course) became apparent, and we worked on improving those at the same time as improving the script. By January, we had a story which I was happy with, it had the nuances I wanted for a Science Fiction morality play, and had sufficient depth to (I felt) warrant being made into a story that would make the audience think, and not just have a boring, 2 dimensional story thrust into their laps with the ending neatly wrapped in a bow.

We then passed the story to the Director, who had pitched and initially seemed to understand where we were coming from and convinced me that they would deliver on the story as we had defined it. Sadly, this didn’t really happen and the Director then went and removed several of the nuances we had carefully injected because he felt that they were irrelevant, confusing or just unnecessary to tell the story. It quickly became apparent that the Director really did not share my (or the writer’s) vision, and that they perhaps did not share the same beliefs or vision, and had already bitten off more than they could chew by being involved in several other projects at the same time. By this stage, however, it was too late to replace them if we were to stand a chance of delivering within the prescribed Raindance timeframes.

Whilst I was generally happy with the process up to and including appointing the Director, the subsequent rewrites and changes to the story are things I am less than happy with, and were I to follow this process again (rather than Writing/Directing myself) I would most likely have removed the Director and found one who was more willing to deal with the nuances and subtleties of the script and story idea, and less interested in making something which is effectively dumbed down, with no thought for the intellect of the viewer.

The finished film will hopefully be submitted to the Raindance Film Festival and will be available to view online, you can then make up your own mind as to whether or not the finished film does justice to my original idea.

Frustrating day

Today was supposed to have been a day full of development and marketing skills .. instead, 2.5 hours were spent focussed on “building a website” which was basically everyone trying to work out what domain name they should register (and who they should register it with) and then what software / service they should use for their website.

I extolled the virtues of FidoNet (my old company) and showed everyone how easy it is to find and register a domain .. and two of us said how great and easy WordPress is to use and then showed how to set things up / etc.

After an hour of everyone faffing with WordPress.com (as someone said, it’s free and you can always move it later), everyone basically gave up and started using WIX saying how much easier WIX was to use than WordPress.

Just about sums up my life and why I need to move on from the hosting business. Everyone a) wants it for free and b) wants it to be so simple they don’t have to think about it. They don’t care that they’re tied into a provider who will bill them after a trial period, or seemingly care what it costs .. once they’ve built it … yet everyone still wants it for free … what an oxymoron.

Happy to pay for something that’s a black box, but break it down as services and it’s all too confusing. What a world we live in! 🙁

Coming Home

Another week and another short film put to bed!

This week we were shooting a “house style” comedy / show reel piece for Marianna Graf called Coming Home.

We had a small crew, perfectly sized and formed, shooting in Croxley at Josh’s house.

Santi acted as operator / DoP with Chessie as 1st AD, Sammie on sound, Ana as 1st AC/Gaffer/Grip & Continuity and with myself Directing whilst being assisted and audited by Justin (lecturer and Exec Producer) and Josh as co producer and Arabella dealing with set design.

Justin was also working with / tutoring Marianna and John (actors), so my main responsibilities were shot choices, with a bit of lighting / camera training for Santi and some continuity … as well as blocking and DiT and a little bit of camera operating when Santi switched into his role as “the lover”

The shoot went well, we started late as there were problems with the underground which meant some of the crew didn’t arrive until nearly 11 .. so we finished an hour late (6pm) …

Josh provided a fantastic lunch, Justin also bought drinks and sweets which was a nice touch.