Space … the final frontier … or is it?!

So, over the last year, I have been working more and more on video editing and producing 4K content as part of my in depth exploration of my childhood dream to become a film maker (insert mid life crisis jokes here!) 🙂

 

One of the biggest problems I’ve had to date has been storage space, finding enough space to keep all the video I have been creating, the B-Roll, the content libraries and more.

Having bought a Promise2 R8 Raid array with 8 x 3TB drives and Thunderbolt 2, this quest for storage has been satiated for quite some time, however as the 18TB (usable) space is being eaten up rapidly (now I am filming in 4K and 6K ProRes RAW) and I am creating more and more content on an almost daily basis, I needed something bigger …. and FASTER.

 

Promise2 RAID via Thunderbolt 2

 

A new problem has arisen, one which I had previously not anticipated, and that is that I need storage which is also fast enough to be able to edit 4K/6K footage on.  The project files are generally too large to work on my local 1TB m.2 SSD in the iBin (Mac Pro Late 2013) as that only ever seems to have 200GB-300GB of space free, and that can be the size of the cache for a single project these days.  The Promise RAID solution has been good, but I’m only really seeing 180MB/sec out of the array, which is proving not to be enough as I start to render complex projects with multiple layers and effects.  I’m also sometimes working on two computers simultaneously (my MacBook Pro 2017 with discrete GPU is now faster than my desktop, so sometimes I move to work on this) … I have been syncing the project file between the Promise RAID and an m.2 SSD drive, which is giving me nearly 500Mb/sec over USB-C to the MacBook … but it is only 1TB … so only really good enough for a single project at a time, and I don’t have access to the library of B-Roll I’m building … so I need to copy that from the library, which means duplicate files everywhere eating more disk space.

m.2 SSD Internal drive

 

In my dayjob we’ve been using 10GB networks and wide area storage arrays (ceph) for years.  They’re fast, efficient, infinitely scalable and relatively “cheap” compared to other SAN solutions on the market … we have 200TB+ of storage and we can grow that daily just by adding more drives / chassis into the network.  This however is overkill for a domestic / SoHo solution (with 80+ drives and 20 servers and counting, this is definitely a “carrier grade” solution!

 

 

So I thought it was now time to merge my expertise in Enterprise storage and networking with my hobby and need for something which is “better” all round.

 

Historically, the secret to faster storage has always been “more spindles“.  The more disks you have in your array, the faster the data access is.  This is still true, to a degree, but you’re still going to hit bottle necks with the storage, namely the 6GB/sec (now 12GB/sec) speeds of the SATA/SAS interface, 7200RPM speeds of the disks (yes you can get 15K RPM drives, but they’re either ludicrously expensive, or small, or both).  

 

SSDs were always a “nice” option, but they were small and still suffered from the 6GB/sec bottle neck of the SATA interface.  Add to that reliability issues of MLC storage and the costs of SLC storage (article: SLC vs MLC) which made NAND flash storage devices impractical.  I have had many SSDs fail, some after just a few days of use, some after many months.  Spending $500 on something which might only last you 2 weeks is not good business sense).

 

Today, we have a new generation of V-NAND and NVMe hybrid flash drives which have up to seven (7) times the speed and much higher levels of reliability that interface directly to the PCIe interface and bypass previous bottle necks like the SAS/SATA interface.  And they’re (relatively) affordable and come in much larger capacities (up to 2TB at the time of writing, although I’m told “petabyte” sizes are just around the corner).

So, the question now is how do I put all of this knowledge together to deliver a faster overall solution?

 

From the networking perspective, I started off looking at 10 Gig capable switches.  I found a few options on eBay including 24 port Juniper EX2500 switches for £600 each (now end of life, but they’ll do the job) however I ended up choosing a brand new Ubiquiti EdgeSwitch 16-XG for £450, which has a mix of 10GBase-T and 10G Base-X interfaces (SFP+ and RJ45) so that I could connect a mix of devices regardless of whether they were via copper or fibre.

 

Ubiquiti Edge Switch 16 XG

 

For the MacBook Pro, I bought a Sonnet Solo 10 Gig (Thunderbolt 3 interface) for £185, and for the MacPro (iBin) I bought a Sonnet Dual 10 Gig Thunderbolt 2 interface for £385.

Sonnet 10G Solo Thunderbolt 3

 

 

 

 

 

Connecting the devices together with CAT7 cables bought on Amazon for £15 and 10GTek Direct Attach cables to link the SFP+ devices (see below) to the switch.  In my dayjob we have been using Mellanox DirectAttach cables, however my UK suppliers seem have had a falling out with Mellanox as despite trying to buy supplies of these for work through both Hammer and Boston (both of whom have promised faithfully to always carry stock of essential items such as these) have been unable to supply any to me despite my attempts to order them repeatedly over the previous 6 months.  The 10Gtek ones work, and come in at about the same price … and ordering is a lot less painless than having to raise purchase orders and deal with wholesalers on the phone.  Plus, I wanted to try and do this using only items I could buy today as a “consumer”.

 

Next, I looked at off the shelf NAS solutions .. the two lead contenders in the space appear to be Synology and QNAP.  I placed orders for a number of different units, not all turned up, some are (still) on back order with the suppliers, and at least one supplier (Ingram Micro) cancelled my order and told me to re-apply for an account as they’d changed systems and I hadn’t ordered anything in their new system yet – despite having just ordered something in their new system .. Go figure! 🙁

My original plan had been to compare Thunderbolt 3 networked devices to 10 Gig networked devices, however as QNAP are the only manufacturer (currently) to have a TB3 equipped unit, and as Ingram failed to supply the device (and nowhere else had stock) I have yet to complete that test.

As far as drives go, despite their bad rep, we’ve had fairly positive results with Seagate drives at Fido, so I opted for a batch of the ST12000NE0007 IronWolf Pro 12TB drives at £340 each

The chassis ordered for testing 

 

Synology DS2415+ (10 Gig an optional expansion card)

Synology 1817 (10 Gig built in)

QNAP TS-932X (10 Gig built in)

QNAP TS-1282T3 (10 Gig built in and Thunderbolt 3)

 

On paper, the 1282 T3 looks like the winner (if only I could get hold of one!).  The TS-932X looks like it might be ok, but the CPU worries me.

The Synology 1817 has the same CPU as the TS-932X, QNAP has QTier as well as SSD caching

 

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 scènechiaroscuro and French new wave.  Next year we have more of the same, plus documentary filmmaking and sound design.  So lots to look forward to!

 

 

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!

 

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. 🙂

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.

Reflections on being a camera operator

This is a strange one in a way, I need to reflect on being a camera operator since starting the HND course and note challenges faced, lessons learned and basically identify learning opportunities, however, I have been a relatively keen (hobbyist) photographer (and cinematographer) for many years so most of this is not new to me.

That said, working in teams with other students (some of whom this is completely new to) has helped me appreciate the knowledge gained over the last 35+ years of being a photographer, and many of the things that I otherwise take for granted such as the Exposure Triangle.

 

Credit: michaelpyoung.com

 

I have seen many students simply increase the ISO because the scene was too dark, without giving any thought to the aperture or shutter speed, let alone the available light (practical, natural or otherwise) in a scene.  Where possible I have tried to share that knowledge and help the other students remember early classroom lessons, and demonstrated the impact of changing one setting (such as increasing the ISO to 12,800 and the associated noise that this brings to the image) or reducing the shutter speed, and so on.

 

First of all, some basics.  The responsibilities of the camera operator are simple, but important.  To ensure that whatever you’re filming is in focus.  That you are capturing the scene as envisaged by the Director/DoP and that every frame you capture tells the story.  You’re responsible for making sure that the camera settings are kept how the DoP has specified (ie don’t randomly change the ISO, shutter speed or aperture without first discussing it with the DoP).  You are responsible for ensuring that whatever you’re filming is properly exposed (see above comments about working with the DoP), and that whenever you frame the shot that you’re only getting the set and not the lights, reflections, gaffer, grip, boom operator, or any other “non scene” related ingredients in the shot.

I recently helped one of my fellow classmates (Josh) film his Public Service Announcement (PSA) video on littering, he had not had the best of luck with the weather and crew resources, so when the weather improved and with the submission deadline looming, I volunteered by help (and camera equipment) to help him shoot his video in a local orchard.

This also gave me the opportunity to experiment with a new toy I had just acquired with a hefty discount and some Amazon gift vouchers from a supplier, namely a DJI Ronin-M.

This was the first time I had used the Ronin, having previously battled with a Zihyun Crane gimbal and had issues with the GH5 being slightly too large in the body to use the gimbal efficiently.

Josh had decided that he wanted to shoot in 1080p, and not 4k, which was fine, I had chosen to deliver 1920×1080 @ 25fps in ProRes 422, shooting at 180 degrees, with the original content recorded as H.264 on the GH5, so his laptop and editing software should be able to keep up with things. As it was, he was able to use the original H.264 material without needing the converted footage.  We also shot in VLOG-L which meant Josh needed to do a bit of colour grading – I supplied a basic LUT to give Josh a head start, and as you’ll see from the above footage, the results are quite nice.

We were a 3 person crew, including Josh and his girlfriend Sarah who were going to be in front of the camera (Sarah was hiding in, and animating, the bushes), and myself behind the camera.  A small crew which helped get things done quickly.  We had the odd issue with passers-by (and their dogs) wanting to get in on the action, but otherwise, the shoot was pretty painless.

There were a few handheld shots which required Josh and myself to effectively climb into the undergrowth/trees, and a couple of shots ended up with more than we bargained for, with bits of me in the shot as I tried to hold the camera far enough into the bush without the benefit of a monopod.

 

 

In the above (ungraded raw) image, we see part of my fleece on the left-hand side, as well as Josh being eaten by the bush.  Easily cropped out, but missed in the first rough cut (Josh said he’d thought it was just part of the bush!) 🙂

Through the exercise I learned the most optimum way to handle and use the Ronin, smoothing out movement with the “crab walk” as much as possible.  

For this shoot all of the sound effects were going to be done in post, so whilst we had sound recording equipment with us, we chose not to use it.  I think Josh may have used some of the on-camera sound for the rustling of the trees, but the rest of the effects were foley.

In a perfect world, we would have probably had an extra body on hand to help with lens changes and swapping equipment around.  There were a couple of occasions where I needed to remove the camera from the Ronin, and the only place to put the Ronin was on the muddy ground.

For the shoot, I primarily used a wide angle Leica 8mm-14mm (16mm-28mm equivalent full frame) lens, this provided a good balance between focal length and available aperture (f/2.8-f/4) to provide clear images on an overcast day, a handful of shots were taken with a Leica 42.5mm Nocticron f/1.2 lens (MFT) which gives an equivalent full frame focal length of 85mm.  This introduced some nice portrait imagery as well as depth-of-field, enhanced by a 35-100mm (70mm-200mm equivalent full frame) for certain shots to make some of the shots seem more compressed and give the feeling of the space being tighter than it actually was.

The whole shoot lasted little more than an hour and was efficient.  Josh had outlined what he needed and I constructed the actual shots on the fly, working with Josh to ensure that he got what he needed as Director and delivered the performance he needed to do as the talent. 

What would I have done differently?  I guess it would have helped to have seen the location before we started shooting, and if I had thought about it ahead of time, I would have brought a blanket or similar to rest the equipment on rather than dumping bags on the muddy grass (a few days earlier the grass had been covered in snow which meant it was now quite damp and slightly boggy in places).

Getting the content to Josh after the shoot was a little problematic.  I had originally said I would simply upload the content to a Google Drive and send him the link.  Unfortunately, Google somehow managed to munge the 11GB of video so the file(s) he received via download were unusable.  In the end, I just copied the whole lot onto an SD card and delivered it by hand to his house on the Saturday morning as that was by far the quickest and easiest method of getting the data to him.

Word Count: 1180

Charity Beer Festival Promo Video

 

The assignment was to produce a promotional video for a client, either Raindance or an agreed alternative which needs to be approved by the tutor in advance.

 

After discussions with the tutor, it was agreed I could create a promotional video for Bushey and Oxhey Round Table’s (BORT) Charity Beer Festival.  I have long had an association with BORT, and have been involved with their beer festival since the inception in 2007 and it seemed right that a charity should benefit if possible.

Traditionally, being charity affairs, Beer Festivals rarely have the funding for professional promotional efforts and are instead at the mercy of the best efforts provided by volunteers.   As can be seen, by the examples below, these are not always the most professional (or stabilised) of productions.  It also seems that, apart from North Leeds, Harrogate and Chester – there are barely any promotional videos out there.

 

BORT is no different, and to date has only been able to make use of posters and word of mouth marketing.  It has been my goal to change this, and in both 2016 and 2017, I attended the festivals, with camera in hand, to record some footage to use for promotional videos.  Sadly, time and resources meant that, until today, I have been unable to actually complete the task.

The traditional format appears to be to create the video much like a TV news segment, with lower thirds and reporter style commentary.

And sometimes, the festivals do make local news channels – such as “StaffsLive” – Staffordshire University’s media channel created by their BA and MA students.

 

 

The videos seem to be, on the whole, considerably longer than the 1-minute segment requested for this assignment.  North Leeds Festival have posted 30+ minute videos showing the festivities including live music, drinking, competitions and more.  Several of the videos I’ve seen were incredibly shaky, handheld, iPhone footage filmed from the back of a crowd.  The few things they all have in common are Live Music, Beer and of course “fun” whilst emphasising the charity nature of the festival.

 

Having been involved in the Beer Festival for many years, and in fact having been Chairman of Bushey & Oxhey Round Table for a total of 6 years (6 festivals), I have a fair knowledge of the workings of the festival and the “client requirements” which meant that, apart from running through a basic checklist, I only needed to spend the bare minimum of time in research phase.

My checklist went along the lines of

  • Highlight the charity nature of the festival
  • Make sure Round Table is seen in a good light
  • Ensure the current Round Table branding is utilised
  • Ensure the current Ladies Circle branding is utilised
  • Round Table is a young man’s organisation (18-45), try to ensure that the portrayed demographic includes the younger generation
  • Highlight the live music aspect
  • Highlight the ciders – it is more than just a beer festival
  • Highlight the association with Ladies Circle (this wasn’t possible in the 1-minute time frame, although should be possible in a 90 second or 2-minute promo)
  • Arrange interviews with other stakeholders (this was impractical in the initial time frame due to the loss of 3 weeks with laryngitis).
  • Make something which can be re-used each year
  • Ensure that the venue (The Three Crowns) is seen in a favourable light
  • Highlight that the event is one for all the family, child-friendly beer garden, etc
  • BBQ food on offer throughout the weekend, as well as the usual restaurant menu.

At least for the milestone, I have been unable to arrange interviews with the Ladies Circle Chair/committee.  A mixture of snow and illness (both myself and the ladies) meant that interviews have been cancelled on more than one occasion so far.  I am hoping to be able to conduct the interviews and include them in a longer edit prior to the April 26th submission deadline, however, the 1-minute version is unlikely to change much and is already “packed” so adding content may prove counterproductive.

I will consider doing a Ladies Circle specific version, as well as a joint/co-branded version as the project develops.

 

Stylistic Design

I chose to run a voice over / commentary by the landlord as he talks about the historic nature of the venue, coupled with images of the beer garden, people relaxing and having fun.  We highlight the live music, as well as the large selection of real ales and ciders that are available, without naming any specific brands.  We show young men standing around, laughing, having fun, whilst also showing the older generation in an unhurried an unrushed environment, enjoying a half a cider.  

The festival covers 3 days, and is a joyful, family experience.  Unrushed, unpressured and it was important to encompass this in the visuals.

We show members of Ladies Circle working behind the bar, as well as the young members of Round Table.  We show a local dignitary turning up for a beer, paying for the beer, and then being invited behind to pour his own beer (used for press coverage after the fact).

What would I do differently?

As with all charity productions, you are limited by a volunteer’s available time.  If this were a commercial presentation, being paid for by a company, then the company would be more invested in the production and they would make their staff available (paid and during office hours) to record the necessary interviews or b-roll.  In this instance, we were hampered by the fact people needed to work during the day, were only available on certain evenings, and then these dates having to be postponed at the last minute due to illness.

 

The brief was for a snappy, 1 minute, delivery.  The content itself doesn’t really lend itself well to a 1-minute slot.  The whole idea of the beer festival is to spend a relaxing weekend chilling, not a hectic/frantic visit. 

There are issues to consider regarding the advertisement of alcohol, ensuring that we do not promote over drinking or binge drinking.  There is a voluntary code, as well as legal requirements which need to be adhered to.  In this case, I have erred on the side of caution and steered away from any direct marketing of any alcoholic drinks or brands.

For television, the slots would be 15-seconds or 30-seconds and would follow a simpler, more prescribed format – this said, the 30-second advert slot is now effectively dead [1][2], instead, being replaced by 6-second “bumpers” and skippable infomercials advertising products online (Google, etc).

Feedback and Peer Review

We went through a peer review session in class.  Comments related to the placement of the mic on the talent (done this way to avoid pops that we were experiencing), and about a transition at the end of the video – now covered.

There was also a lot of uncertainty about what is Round Table .. something the organisation as a whole does need to combat, however not something for this brief.  Fortunately, our target audience in Bushey is familiar with Bushey Round Table as we do a lot to promote our presence in the community.  Nationally the organisation really does need to do more to promote itself I agree.

Other than that, the feedback related to poor audio due to the quality of the Raindance speakers, and some confusion about whether this was promoting a beer festival, a music festival, or Round Table.  The answer was _all of the above_ so I guess it had the desired effect and brought in those who would prefer music and those who would prefer beer.  Only one respondent said that they would not attend the beer festival, simply because they do not drink alcohol.

References

  1. Time is running out for the 30-second advert, The Guardian
  2. Time runs out for the 30-second Television ad, The Financial Times

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! 🙂

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! 🙂

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* 🙂

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! 🙂 (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?

 

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!