Reflections on my first year as a born again student!

So the first year of study has completed on the BTEC Higher National Diploma in Creative Moving Media Production I’m studying with the Raindance Film Trust.

 

At the end of my first year, I have mixed emotions.  By all accounts, it looks as though I’ve completed the year with a Distinction, it has taken the tutors longer than anticipated to mark all the assignments, more than five of them had been completed before the first was returned – which made it difficult to know if all the right boxes were being ticked in respect to the format and layout, writing style and so on.  With a few small adjustments and exceptions, it seems that the style was acceptable (thankfully!).

The first year of study has been a mixed bag.  I’ve had to learn some humility and to learn that there is more than one way to do things.  For the last 20 years I have pretty much been the one everyone came to for the answers and I had to know, or at least seem to know, the answers – often having to invent a solution as we went along putting out fires or coming up with a bit of code to overcome whatever the issues were.  No matter what the problem, the buck stopped with me – and if the business was to continue and the customers were to be happy, I could not just say “I don’t know” or “ask someone else”.

Filmmaking is much more of a collaborative affair, there are many ways to deliver the finished project and there is rarely a “wrong” way, everything is much more subjective – so long as you get the take and you have a finished project at the end.  There are often times when you think (or say) “we could have done that better” or “if only we had more time / xyz resources / etc” .. However, each experience is a chance to learn and to find a better way of doing the same thing next time (and/or not to repeat the same mistake twice!)

We are working out who has strengths and weaknesses in various areas, and unlike “the real world” where we cut the chaff from the wheat or focus on the strengths, being a learning environment we get to focus much more on the weaknesses too, making them stronger (hopefully).

From my perspective, I feel as though a certain part of the “magic” of film has died, I am now pretty much unable to look at a scene in a TV programme or film without thinking “what was the Director’s instruction to the cast” or “their motivation” … I look at a scene and think “why on earth did they light it like that” … or “I can see the camera reflected in that window ” .. or similar.

Sometimes I despair at what I’m watching, mainly because the film cost $5m to make, grossed $20m and is still a mediocre piece of work (in my humble opinion) .. that does, however, fire me up to think that I could certainly do better.

I confess I was disappointed that my first narrative short film didn’t make the selection grade for screening at RDFF26, however, I take responsibility for that; in not taking along anyone from the cast/crew/family/friends/etc (well apart from Miky) so there was little chance of winning the popular vote.  That said, the competition was tough and the quality of the films that were made was incredibly high, and I did find myself voting for other student’s work as well as my own, and I’m sure other students and visitors ended up doing the same.  

Only 12 of the 23 short films were selected in the end, I would have liked to think that my film was somewhere in the top 10 however this ended up not being the case.  On the plus side, everyone in the room laughed at the right places and seemed to get the joke.  There were other films that I thought were just as good (if not better) than mine which were also not selected.  This however just fires me up to go out and produce a better film, and I have already started work on a horror genre script, as well as an idea for another comedy.  

Juggling a full-time job as well as a full-time course has been taxing at times, however as they often say, if you want something doing quickly then give it to a busy person, and on the whole that has worked.  I have been able to adequately segment my time between Fido and HND assignments and only had to request an extension on a couple of tasks due to conflicts with pesky things such as VAT returns and such like.

On the whole, I am looking forward to year 2.  The first year covered the theory of film in much more detail than I would have been able to do on my own, giving pointers towards topics for additional research as well as helping me better understand concepts such as mise en scΓ¨nechiaroscuro and French new wave.  Next year we have more of the same, plus documentary filmmaking and sound design.  So lots to look forward to!

 

 

Dan Harmon Story Circle

Dan Harmon on storytelling

Draw a circle and split it into 8 parts

Credit: StudioBinder

You, Need, Go, Search, Find, Take, Return, Change

 

Cyclical, a character often starts in one place and ends in a similar place but they go on a journey.

Example

When we think about the recent Domestic Abuse awareness advert which played during the super bowl, we see this in detail

 

A 911 call is received (You)

The need is to solve the emergency

Go – ask some questions

Search

  • the woman tries to order a pizza
  • Operator: Maam, this is 911, you need to have an emergency
  • Find, the 911 operator realises that she does have an emergency and can’t talk about it
  • Take – Do you have an emergency? Yes, are you unable to talk about it? Yes .. The take is that this is actually a dire emergency

Return – he helps her and is hopefully able to implement the Change

 

Discounts at Artlist.io

As many of you know, I get most of the music for my videos and vLog posts from Artlist.io

Using this referral code you can get 2 whole months free to try out their service and download as many tunes and effects as you need for your project.

 

Definitely worth checking out if you ask me – I have been a subscriber there now for nearly 2 years, and I definitely recommend them.

Discounts at CreativeLive.com

I recently signed up at CreativeLive.com and bought two of their courses for a ludicrously low $14 .. 

I’m not sure how long their sale will be on for, however, it is definitely worth checking them out – and if you use this referral link, you’ll get a $15 credit towards your first course(s) .. 

I’m adding this to the list of resources and offer codes I maintain so that you can benefit from the credit .. and I also earn a little something out of it too.

 

Go check them out, and if they have a course or two that you like then sign up and maybe get the course for free with your $15 credit if you’re lucky!

Dating Dilemmas is now on Amazon Prime

It took some tinkering, but after jumping through a number of hoops and making changes as requested by Amazon’s systems, Dating Dilemmas is now officially viewable online as part of your Amazon Prime subscription, and if you don’t have a subscription then you can buy / rent the film too!

 

 

I have mixed feelings about this, yes this is my first ever short film and I’m quite pleased that it has been so well accepted, but also this is my first short film and I know I can do better .. much better!

So, enjoy … hopefully it will make you laugh … but don’t take it too seriously .. and watch this space for the next short film .. which will hopefully be considerably better in both story and technique!

 

Research Process Reflections

In class today we were each set a topic to research, and given 40 minutes to research.  Fundamentally this wasn’t long enough to actually research the topic, however, it was an initial sprint to gain a basis for further research.  The result was that we had sufficient time to scratch the surface, and this leads to several strands to follow towards the complete research process.

Topic: Celebrity and Stardom

Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.

– William Shakespeare (1601)

I started by referencing written works on the subject including Stardom and Celebrity (Redmond and Holmes, 2007), Framing and Celebrity (Holmes and Redmond, 2006) and used chapter headings and selected sections as source material for further investigation through Google and Wikipedia, as well as personal knowledge, which I researched and verified through the above sources.

Specifically, I searched for individuals to use as effective case studies in order to prove/disprove the theory being posited by those authors, and my own prior knowledge/beliefs.

It (1927)
(Paramount Studios, 1927)

During my research, I discovered that “IT” girls actually originated from the 1920’s and were first brought into the public consciousness in the film IT starring Clara Bow which debunked my original belief that Tara Palmer Tomkinson was one of the first IT girls!

 

 

 

Conclusions and Learning

This was a useful exercise to highlight the “sprint process” which is part of the SCRUM Framework technique when applied to research.  Take a brief window of time and force yourself to work within the finite timeframe, and then reflect on it.  There is a wealth of information out there, especially these days with the advent of search engines such as Google/Bing/YouTube/etc.  Refining this information into usable streams efficiently can be a challenge, and as with all processes, practice makes perfect.  

My usual process is to sprint for between 45 minutes and an hour, make notes and bullet points as conversational references and then assign a sprint to each set of notes to drill down and reference them further.  I then take a break and allow my subconscious to absorb the data, and then return to the subject matter a little later to further research.  I will often digest the information and then sleep on it to allow my mind to process and understand the information in more detail, sometimes finding a quiet room to simply sit in and think through how I would write up my notes.  I feel this is a sensible way to undertake research, and would strongly recommend attacking future research projects in a similar way, assuming deadlines permit.

One thing I did find was the distractions and noise from the room next door (Rocky Horror “The Musical” auditions) were very distracting, and it made concentrating much more difficult.  I do sometimes use noise-cancelling headphones to drown out noises, or sit outside (if the weather permits) to get away from noises and other distractions, however, this wasn’t possible in the classroom setting as there was the possibility of additional instruction/guidance being provided during the research window.  I personally find that a quiet, distraction-free, environment is usually a must for effective research and writing.

 

Whilst I usually find a 60-90 minute “sprint” gives me ample time to research, highlight and categorise research, allowing for subtle distractions which always crop up, the 40 minute window we had, coupled with the external distractions and battle for reference materials (not to mention the lack of searchability with traditional printed books) means that the 40 minutes we had felt more like 10 minutes “real time”.  Modern search methods including Google, Bing, Quora and similar coupled with iBooks/Kindle, PDF and other electronic documents which are searchable mean that usually, I can be considerably more productive in much less time finding reading topics.

Frankly, whilst a useful introduction to SCRUM, I felt the way it was introduced and the time allowed really didn’t give anyone a chance to experience the process.  In industry, a typical sprint is usually 2-4 weeks, not 30-40 minutes.

 

My outcomes from the exercise were limited,  I don’t feel I had sufficient time to identify any targets properly for further research and I felt unsettled by the end of the process; which I’m sure was not the object of the exercise.  The exercise felt like a high energy competition, “running” to an undefined (not clearly defined) goal, seeing who could get the most useless data to present for a Q&A at the end rather than focus on quality and accuracy of the data presented at the end of the period.

 

References

Auslander, P. (2009). From acting to performance. Abingdon: Routledge, p.vii-x.

Holmes, S. and Redmond, S. (2012). Framing Celebrity. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis, pp.355-369.

IMDb. (n.d.). It (1927). [online] Available at: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0018033/ [Accessed 23 May 2018].

Redmond, S. and Holmes, S. (2007). Stardom and Celebrity A Reader. London: SAGE Publications Inc, US, pp.v-viii,219-228,126–131.

Shakespeare, W. (n.d.). Twelfth night. 1st ed. London: John Bell, British Library, p.Act II, Scene v.

Thoughts on my first narrative short

Nabokov once wrote that reality is one of the few words which means nothing without quotation marks. This probably applies well to film.

With my first short I had attempted to parody”reality”, or at least my perception of it, and highlight (all be it in a slightly exaggerated fashion) the fickle nature of some human beings and their choices.

The vegans who still eat fish, the vegetarians who still eat bacon, man’s quest for a woman who ticks all the boxes, and so on.

Through the process I have taken on board criticism of the script, criticism of my ideas and I have listened to other people’s opinion of what my film means to them.

Everything from “what genre were you going for, this isn’t really a comedy” to “this annoyed me because it was saying Vegans can’t get dates”.

It seems pretty much everyone missed the social commentary aspects, the subtle dig at “fashionable” veganism and the like … the statement that women can be as predatory as men when it comes to one night stands and simply using someone for sex/money/etc.

Perhaps I have been simply unfortunate in my dealings with people over the last 20 years, or maybe I’m simply more perceptive (cynical?) and see the negatives in people more easily / am not simply blinded by the first impressions and facades everyone puts on in their daily lives.

As for my short film, the general feedback has been that the tempo undulates and that for a short film it should just build and build until climax. I guess I had looked at this more of a mini feature and built in lulls and troughs as well as peaks, although on rewatching, I agree that there is a central section which is way too long and dull. With this in mind I am working on a new edit which is looking to be roughly 2 minutes shorter. This should make the whole film snappier and punchier.

The edit does away with some of the character design, it’s hard enough to introduce a subtle character type in 5 minutes, let alone 2-3 minutes …

This whole process accentuates the whole “death of the auteur” theory, which basically postulates that the work is what ever the viewer interprets and decides, and rarely ever that which the auteur intended.

Am I pandering to the lowest common denominator? Yes. Am I dumbing down so that more people “enjoy” the film? Yes.

I once said, I want to make films for me, not for anyone else. I’m making films to make statements, social, political, ecological … not to become rich, successful or “famous”. Am I selling out, and if so why so early on?! Well no, this is a further social experiment. Dumbed down, yes, but hopefully it still gets some of the message across, and in a way which reaches more people … maybe.

Besides which, this was always more of a technical exercise to show that “we” know how to make a film, can produce, direct, wrote, etc and to highlight our weaknesses where they exist.

I have enjoyed the process, and am not giva no up yet, however I may have to wait a little longer and probably learn a little more subtlety in my story telling before trying to make such a tongue in cheek attack on society again. πŸ™‚

The first edit was scored as a “merit”. Apparently, I need to show more creativity to obtain a distinction. I’m not sure I can, although I am certainly going to try to do something through the edit process. The edit is after all the final place where you can mould and write the story, and as the “auteur” ensure the closest semblance of your “reality” is seen by the widest audience possible.

Hire me to Produce

Tonight was the night of the Raindance Pitch a feature contest for the HND students.

Several students had submitted ideas for a feature, and I paired with Josh to pitch “Airbag”.

Josh did a great job of pitching his story, and I did a mediocre job of pitching myself and my talents as a producer.

With hindsight, I think I should have said this

 

 

What do you think?

Dating Dilemmas – Production Notes

This is going to be a living document detailing thoughts and issues as the pre-production and production phases get underway

Initial version 3rd Feb 2018

Updated 15th Feb 2018

Reflections on the Production Process

Dating Dilemmas is a comedy short, part of my year 1 HND assessment.  The requirement of the HND is that the short be 5 minutes or less in length, written, produced and directed by myself, be a low to no budget film, and it must include at least two HND students in some capacity.  We are required to document the whole process, ensure we get relevant permissions, waivers and contracts signed by those taking part, and we need to deliver the finished article no later than April 20th.  There will be a screening later in the year (hopefully) to exhibit all the HND student’s films.

Script

Developing scripts is something I have always been weak at since even before failing my English O Level,  I have struggled with fictional writing – however, this is one of the skills I wanted to strengthen, so the game is afoot! (to steal a saying)

I have been working on trying to build some form of association with the characters, making the viewer almost put themselves in the shoes of the hero – so I have tried to (intentionally) leave them a little 2 dimensional, rather than fleshing out a huge backstory (plus this is a 5 minute short, and it would take 30 minutes just to design and show a true character arc for anyone)

This was also not my first choice, as the original script was written to take place in the middle of summer, and requires warm nights and dry days for the film to work.  Having discovered we need to shoot in Feb/March I had to rewrite and come up with a new topic that worked within the resources available.  The original idea was based on a storyline from a detective drama I have been working on, and I chose the “inciting incident” for one of the characters in my drama – the problem here is that this is a 2 hour pilot episode, and requires the viewer to learn details about several of the victims first, their backgrounds, their families, and to put a face to an otherwise anonymous victim.  This simply cannot be done in 5 minutes and I think it was a bad idea to even try, however with some additional tweaks I think the story could still stand on its own, and I intend to shoot some of the scenes for this storyline at the same time as shooting Dating Dilemmas, on the basis that the actors, locations and crew are the same and the additional scenes will take maybe 2 hours to shoot.

Script Breakdown

This is something I am in the process of doing currently … an interesting (and time-consuming) process

Crew

Finding the right people for each role is proving more time consuming than anything.  Just as one person agrees, another drops out due to clashes or work commitments.  Yes we’re all doing this for free and yes this is only a hobby for most, and yes we’re calling in favours from everyone, but it is still stressful! πŸ™‚

I totally understand that paid work has to come first, I just wish I could afford to pay everyone for their time.  One day I will, one day we will have proper budgets and be able to pay scale .. but not today sadly, so people drop out.  That said, people will drop out of paid work just as readily if a higher paid job comes along, or they are ill or have a family issue .. Just like running any business, your workforce is your biggest asset and your biggest headache! πŸ™‚

Storyboard

Being graphically challenged, and totally unable to even draw believable stick men, I have been struggling with the Storyboard aspect of the project.  Whilst I have a vision in my head, getting it down onto paper has been difficult.

Then I discovered Storyboarder by Wunderunit.  This tool works on MacOS and Windows (with an iPad version “in the works”) and it has helped make my life considerably easier.  I have been working with clipart/stock images to portray the look/feel of what I want from a scene.  Not perfect, but a great start – and I can annotate the images, draw lines and diagrams on top, and generally start to get my vision across.  I can also add camera shots/angles/etc to the Storyboard and even lines of dialogue to flesh out the story and help communicate it to my colleagues.

Pre-Production

Historically I would have just run and gun, perhaps with a second person to help with sound.  The Raindance way seems to be “do it like Hollywood” with a crew of 20+ and every little job split 4 ways, so even the clapper loader has an assistant to hold their pen.  I’m finding this frustrating, and even more so trying to schedule the shoot with HND students (as is the requirement for the module).  I have 8-10 actors/extras, camera equipment, location, insurance, permits, everything organised, but I can’t get two HND students to commit to a shoot date.  This is “frustrating” to say the least!

I am currently experimenting with various tools to make the project management and line production roles easier.  I started with Trello, found a Gantt chart module which didn’t work too well, found another Gantt chart module which worked better (TeamGantt) but it still isn’t quite right.

I have now moved on to StudioBinder, and this seems quite powerful, however, at $49/mo for the “Pro” version (which includes Production Calendars, etc) this is a little out of my budget currently.  Their “free” version only allows you to import 50% of your script and to have 1 project on the go at a time, and whilst I could circumvent these restrictions with cunning, I would rather not start out having to game the system just to see if the product is usable.  If it is, then I’ll be using it for the next 20 years (if they stay in business that long) and would be more than happy to pay for the service once I start to earn some money from this new skill I am developing.

Production

Permit requests have gone in and have not, so far at least, been that troublesome.  Locations have agreed to allow filming on site, and again the “Raindance” way is to get releases signed for the locations.  Whilst I can see the benefits of this, in the long run, trying to get some of these places to sign a waiver is going to scare them off more than bring them on-side, however, waivers it is – and yes I do see the wisdom in doing so.

Colour Design

I have been trying to decide a colour design for the short.  This is a comedy sketch, so it needs to be bright and fun, I am a student of action/thriller/sci-fi genre films, so coming up with a palette that embraces comedy and fun is proving challenging – especially when I don’t control the actual locations, and can’t do anything to change what we have when we get there.  The locations are grey/yellow, with cobblestones.  I am going to try and work within this.

I have stumbled across an Adobe tool to help with the Colour Palette design, which may prove useful going forwards – Adobe Color CC

 

Publicity

We have had a couple of classroom exercises on designing posters and a basic introduction to SEO and metadata.  Thankfully this is something I have some additional experience with from my day job.

We recorded an interview video about the upcoming film, my thoughts on that can be found in another post.

So far, the video has been viewed over 100 times and has definitely brought in some interest from 3rd parties.  One even stopped me at BSC Expo this week to ask how the production was going!  The power of marketing! *shudder* πŸ™‚

What Went Wrong on the day

12th Feb was day 1 of the shoot

Josh and I were on location before 8 am.  The official call time was 08:30 for crew and 8:45 for actors, the intention was to start shooting at 09:15 as we had to have all the dialogue in the can before 10 am when the Opera and Classical Music started.  There should have been ample time to get set up, mic the actors and get started.  Everyone knew we only had 2 hours at this location and that every minute counted.

This lead to the first problem as due to train problems, the two lead actors and half the crew were late.  The extras, however, were all on location ahead of their call times.

There was then a delay while costumes were sorted and actors revisited their lines (more on this below).  The long and short of it was we didn’t start filming until 9:45 which meant we didn’t get much if any of the dialogue that we needed – which is why this is now a silent movie! πŸ™‚ (yes I could ADR, but I quite like the idea of it being almost entirely without dialogue)

Everyone had been provided with copies of the “final” script at least a week in advance and were all told that there was a rewrite happening over the weekend as we were changing the ending to better tell the story.  The final script was sent out on Saturday night with the call sheets.  Unfortunately, the lead actor managed to ignore this and printed out the original draft script he had been sent a month earlier (v1.05) and not the v2.01 that he had received by email 24 hours earlier .. so he wasn’t aware of the additional lines, or the scene changes.  

I did have plenty of copies of the latest script on hand, however, that meant we burned one take when we discovered he didn’t have the lines, and then lost 10 minutes while he learned the extra scene.  Not the end of the world, but a lesson to learn.

Other issues included the script supervisor putting his script and shotlist down and them disappearing, so we ended up without an accurate shot list.  

Post Production

  • Editing
  • Foley
  • Mistakes Made?

 

Thoughts on the process

  • What have I learned?  lessons, skills, etc
  • What would I do differently if anything?

 

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”