Protected: Reflections on Documentary Production (A03 T04)
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.
Term 1 Reflections
End of the first term, Xmas is here and so are the mad ramblings of an HND film student 🙂
Hi, I’m Jon Morby and I’m on the HND in Moving Image Programme with Raindance
So far this year, we have started covering the role of the Producer, what they need to do, and how they work with the rest of their team to produce a film.
Producing is, in a way, like party planning or event planning … Lots of coordination, lots of project management and lots of hurry up and wait as you assign tasks and wait for them to be completed … pushing deadlines as the subordinates/team fail to deliver on time (yes, pessimistic I know)
Geneticide is a sci-fi thriller based in a dystopian future where the state controls freedoms which we take for granted today, whilst ignoring others which we have fought so hard for in the past.
This is a World view future …. influenced by everything from the Apple Watch (influencing the implants) through to China with their policies on procreation.
The biggest challenges will be in post production, the VFX elements especially.
Term 2 promises great things, working on the film, focussing on documentary and more! Bring it on!!
Geneticide – Producers Pitch
Due to re-arranged classes and prior travel commitments, it wasn’t possible to pitch to the class before I flew off for Xmas with the family.
To ensure potential Directors get a chance to find out more about my planned short film, I have put together a short piece to camera and a slide deck which hopefully outlines the idea and will be enough for potential Directors to come forward and put their hat in the ring.
Now you’ve watched it, care to share your thoughts and provide some feedback?
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 scène, chiaroscuro and French new wave. Next year we have more of the same, plus documentary filmmaking and sound design. So lots to look forward to!
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.
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.
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.
Dating Dilemmas – Through the Looking Glass
Or in other words, my reflections on the “process” …
First Edit. See bottom of blog post for the Second / Final Edit
The initial concept was dreamt up in response to a(nother) lousy Tinder date the week earlier, where I had met a girl, we got on well, she confided in me her passions and fancies and we really seemed to hit it off. We met again for dinner, at a restaurant of her choosing in Hatfield, which is when things started to go south.
It wasn’t until the main course arrived and her (over) reaction to every mouthful of food (steak fajitas) I ate, that it became clear that not only was she a vegan, but she intended that anyone in her bubble should also become a vegan and that every mouthful was tantamount to committing murder, not to mention the fact that my “rare” steak was making her physically gag at each mouthful.
Needless to say, we didn’t make it to a third date.
This escapade reminded me of something we men have often encountered, all be it usually with more subtlety … the “perfect girl” who we wish would never change, who spends most of the relationship slowly chipping away at the man and moulding him into her idea of the “perfect boyfriend”.
So often we see the girl taking her man shopping in the first weeks of their relationship so they can get him some new clothes, a new haircut, new shoes, a new more trendy style .. until suddenly the guy looks in the mirror and simply doesn’t recognise the face staring back at them.
In desperate need of a script which I could shoot in February (as my original story was set on a warm summers evening in August), with time running out and deadlines looming, this idea morphed into “Dating Dilemmas”.
This was my first attempt at a narrative film, let alone a comedy (or more specifically an ironic/satirical commentary on life, and generally how pathetic we can be as a species). As with my humour, I am fairly convinced the film will have a certain “marmite” effect .. You will either love it or loathe it.
Hopefully few will watch it and simply go “meh”! Personally, I want people to watch my films and have an opinion, whether they like it or hate it, just that it makes them experience some feeling at the end.
The shoot itself was quite a fun affair, despite having had issues with my first location (lost due to the change in shooting date/scheduling conflicts) and second choice location (a burst pipe/water leak turning the London flat into a health and safety nightmare), resulting in an emergency third choice location being pulled out of the bag (very much at the 11th hour) and despite some grumblings in the morning between the DP and the Camera Operator due to artistic differences, plus, nightmare traffic getting south of the river to the location (one of the cars had technical issues which meant I had to double up as a mechanic at 6 am), the day actually went almost entirely to plan.
We spent a great deal of time on the bedroom scenes in the morning, these felt quite important during the writing process, and were certainly the most challenging (due to the mirrored wardrobe, and the DoP’s insistence that we could get some great shots by using the reflections – something that after 2 hours of him trying to prove was then shelved in favour of my original shot list) – I did, however, welcome the creative input and was keen to see if there was a better way of capturing my vision, however as we were unable to rewrite the laws of physics, and the amount of light that was lost (damn you inverse square law) coupled with the fact that the entire crew ended up in almost every attempted shot through the mirror, it proved too complex for the schedule and equipment we had to hand.
I went out of my way to ensure that we had women on the crew, so that the actress would feel as though she was in a safe environment, trying to make sure that there was the absolute minimum number of males in the room during the shoot and that her modesty was kept intact at all times. In the end, it turned out that the male talent was the one who felt the most threatened, by the presence of the women in the room, and the one who struggled most. It should be noted that the actor/actress are a couple in real life and that we were actually shooting in their own bedroom.
The shooting schedule was tight, we spent (wasted?) a lot of time trying to get the scenes right in the bedroom, trying to get the pacing right and generally trying to get everyone on the same page (this was the second student shoot and everyone was incredibly green). With hindsight I might have waited until the crew had worked on a few more films and had a better idea of what their roles should be, or I should have brought in more external “professionals” for the key roles (DP, AD, etc), however I took the view that this was a student project, and we were all there to learn, and I wanted to make sure that I had a six week window for post-production, just in case of any issues.
The script was 5 pages long, theory dictates that one page, with minimal dialogue, is roughly one minute of film. It turned out, however, that the 5 pages actually equated to 15 minutes with the visuals, and the slower delivery of the actors on the day, compared to the rapid pace of the table reads. Trying to get the actors to deliver the lines quickly proved nigh on impossible, they wanted to act, they wanted to perform, and it didn’t help that English wasn’t their first language. That said, I was quite happy with the performance at the end of the day, and it was great to see the actress take on board the notes she was given and adjust her performance accordingly. There was an epiphany moment when we were finally on the same page for the kitchen scene, the actress understood the “switch” in character, and delivered the “militant vegan” in a way that sent shivers down my spine on the day.
Being honest, most of the work has been spent in the editing phase, trying to find the best way to tell the story based on the usable audio/video files, the time taken to process/render the 10-bit 4K files (made much better once I converted everything to ProRess 422 HQ using Kyno). The initial edit came in at just over 7’45” and the pace was slow, the story dull and boring. After editing out most of the bedroom scenes (visuals and minimal dialogue) the edit came in at 4’30”. This still lacked some pace but was much better.
There were issues with the sound, partly due to the XLR adapter not being correctly installed in the camera, and partly due to noise interference from the boom (vibrations, creaks, cable rattle and more). We also had some issues
with the boom appearing in the shot, as you experience on pretty much every shoot. We also had a cameo appearance from the actor’s pet beagle who wanted to get in on the action .. at one point I thought I might have to write a part for the dog, however we were able to keep it under control for most of the shoot and only lost a couple of takes due to the dog wanting a toilet break.
Several screenings were arranged (online viewings through Vimeo with some 45 plays over a 10 day period), the feedback was generally favourable, many saw the funny side of the story, some empathised, and only two or three were offended by the joke.
After submitting the video to the “client” (Raindance HND Tutors) more feedback was received and taken on board, and I am currently working on a further edit to improve the pace and timing some more, implementing the client’s wishes and suggestions. The final version is looking like it will be approx 3 minutes plus credits, which is about 25% shorter, and hopefully a little punchier.
Additional thoughts and comments
One of the questions I am asked is, who do you think your target audience is for this film? To which I reply, I believe it will appeal to a wide audience, certainly any man who has been in this situation, they should be able to see the funny side of it, the “yup, I’ve been there” empathy. Many a vegan will also see and understand the subtext, and many vegans/vegetarians who have seen the film in screenings have said they find the idea humorous and not offensive.
A few non-vegans have commented that they think the film is in poor taste, or that it is anti-vegan, which it actually isn’t – I am just highlighting the fact that through online dating – assuming both parties are honest with their profiles, you are able to find a suitable match, which includes searching for prospects who share the same dietary preferences as you, whilst when you meet a girl in a pub (the old fashioned way), go home, spend a weekend locked in carnal pleasure (yes, many people do still have sex on a first date, or even technically before that first date!), only to discover afterwards that the person they have just been incredibly intimate with has political/moral/social beliefs which are completely alien to your own way of thinking (they voted leave when you voted remain for example, or as I discovered with one date, they were a sex worker (high-class escort), and intended to continue their “day job” – which they enjoyed and provided them with a very healthy income) whether I liked it or not. Imagine how that conversation played out if you will! (People wonder why I say I’m just going to become a monk).
I have now written several blog posts in relation to this particular assignment, covering the various steps in the process, the feedback, what went wrong, what could have been done better, and so on .. They are therefore integral and part of this reflection process, and can be found listed below (in no particular order)
- Dating Dilemmas – Reflections on the scriptwriting process
- Dating Dilemmas – Production Notes
- Project Santana – Post Mortem
- HND Assignment 1 – Update
- Thoughts on my first narrative short
- HND Reflections – Short Film Interviews
In addition to the lessons learned post I made immediately after the shoot, upon reflection I have had the following additional thoughts….
On the whole, having participated in more student shoots and seen how others have worked (and the problems others have also experienced), I think planning to bag 5 minutes of usable footage in a day was adventurous at this level. In Hollywood, they will (on average) produce 5 minutes of usable footage from a full days shoot, in Television they might go as high as 8 or 9 minutes of usable footage. These are seasoned professionals with years of experience, not a first-year HND student shooting their first ever narrative short film. Also, shooting a 12-14 hour day (which was an 18 hour day with travel) was incredibly tiring.
Perhaps I should have simplified the shoot, we certainly filmed more than was used, largely due to the slower than realised pace, and the max 5-minute time limit, telling the story needed more focus and less window dressing, the edit proved that the short didn’t work until it was cut down further. On the day, I tried to impose a limit of a maximum of 3 takes on any scene, rather than coaxing the performances until they were perfect, and where possibly combining 4 or 5 shots into a single one-shot that encompassed the key points of each of the planned shots/inserts. I should have spent more time on rehearsals prior to the day, and perhaps had a test shoot … better timings would have highlighted the pace problems much sooner. In the end, we shot a total of 51 minutes of footage (including a number of N/G takes due to boom creep, lines being fluffed, the dog getting in on the act, etc) to produce a film just over 4 minutes in length. A shooting ratio of roughly 10:1 – although this footage has also contributed to a 15 second short, and a second 5 minute short (Guardian Angel) which I want to complete, in addition to the main project – Dating Dilemmas – although I need to shoot a number of external scenes, now that the weather is improving, before I can finish Guardian Angel.
As a filmmaker, I need to work on my script writing. I have been painfully aware of how weak my storytelling/script writing skills are, and this alone was a big motivation for me to join the HND course in the first place; to develop my writing skills. As per my SWOT, my main perceived weaknesses are story writing and a general impatience. I do not expect either of these to miraculously grow overnight, however, I am learning the secrets of story structure, and I am also learning to be more patient and tolerant, and definitely learning to allow more time for the creative process. Hopefully, by the end of year two, I will have developed these skills considerably, in time to start the MA course.
Finally, I should say that whilst I may sound critical of others in some of my reflections, I consider all failings to be my own, at least I take ownership of those.
As the Producer (and as Director) if a member of my crew screws up, if they don’t deliver or generally just have a bad day then that is my responsibility, and any reflection on how things may have gone badly from a 3rd person standpoint are realistically reflections on how I went wrong as much as anything and would usually be followed by thoughts on how I/we (there is, after all, no I in team) could hopefully do better next time.
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.