Reminiscing

Scrolling through Facebook this morning, as you do, I was greeted by an image reminding me it was Zoran‘s birthday today. This made me think back over the various DoP’s I’ve known, worked with and/or studied under and I thought now would be a good time to locate and collate all those “crew” photos from ages past.

We have the birthday boy himself – Zoran with credits ranging from Raindance Film Festival trailers through to features such as “Love is Thicker than Water”, Deadly Virtues, Dangerous Parking and more

Cinematography with Raindance

Tony Pierce-Roberts who worked on films such as Disclosure, Underworld and Vampire Academy

Tony Pierce-Roberts masterclass in cinematography 2016

And then my own films and crew photos including

The Night We Opened for the New Ed Sheeran

The Night We Opened for the new Ed Sheeran (2019)

Geneticide – my first Sci Fi short

Geneticide (2019)

behind the scenes / unofficial crew shot from Dating Dilemmas
– a satirical look at love in the naughties

Dating Dilemmas (2018)

There are a number of other films I’ve worked on in the last 2 years however I’m struggling to find crew shots for them currently – which I think highlights the need to make sure that they happen, and that they’re kept archived somewhere useful like this post 🙂

They include

Under Duress

Damellette

Lenore

Momentum

The Power of Max

Britain’s Little Broadway

Coping With Lockdown

It’s (almost) November 2020, and the UK is heading back into a series of local lockdowns or “Tier 3”. COVID is rife and the much anticipated second wave is starting to take hold. 

This is my personal story on how COVID has impacted me to date, and how I’ve coped with lockdown and the associated isolation. 

When all of this started, I was single, 48 years old and living one of my childhood dreams; preparing to sail around the world on a yacht. 

You join me in Gibraltar with a bunch of guys who I’d met only a couple of weeks earlier and hardly knew. We were training for the RYA Yachtmaster ticket, improving our skills and building miles.

I had been travelling in one guise or another since October the year before. October, my mother and I had gone to Zante for 2 weeks as a chance to get away and spend some quality time together.  My mum lives in the Isle of Man, so I don’t see her nowhere near as often as I’d like. 

December we went to Lanzarote for 3 weeks, again to spend some time together and get away from the cold and wet British weather.

Yes, you may have noticed i seem to have spent most of my time scuba diving and no, at 74 my mother doesn’t scuba dive … in fact she doesn’t even swim! But we did still spend at least half of each day together! 

Towards the end of February we are starting to hear reports of COVID and by March it was evident things were going to get worse. 

Through local contacts, I had heard that Spain was about to close her borders and I decided it was time to head home, I could always come back later this year to finish the course.

I arrived home on March 15th.  Oddly this would have been my Dad’s birthday.  It was also the day we said goodbye to him in 2013 following a brief battle with lung cancer.

David Morby, 1946-2013

March 17th, a group of about 20 of us got together for a last supper, I went home, closed my door and pretty much didn’t emerge again until September.


During the next 6 months of self imposed solitary confinement, the UK saw more than 918,000 cases of COVID and experienced more than 45,000 deaths.  We were told to stay home if we could, save lives, save the NHS.

source uk.gov Oct 28th 2020

Having spent the previous 2 months on an 11 meter (37 foot) yacht co-existing with 4 other blokes, coming home to my 2 bed terrace in Watford felt like a palace! Friends had been cat sitting for me while I was away, but it was evident I had been missed and for the next few weeks and months Vesta barely left my side.  Eventually she realised I wasn’t going anywhere and started getting back into her old routines though.

Initially the solitude really didn’t bother me.  I was really enjoying the space, my own company and not tripping over everyone on the tiny 3 metre wide boat.  I was also mentally prepared for the solitude as I had known I would experience this as I sailed for weeks at a time between countries, with no one to talk to but the birds and the fishes…

I had a long bucket list of things to do while I was away, dozens of books to read, finally learn to play the guitar, write that killer screenplay which I would sell on my return to civilisation – or shoot myself being a budding director and cinematographer.

I sat down and started working on my now 8 year old Mac Pro.  It may have been old, but it was still the only Pro computer Apple sold and it was still one of the most powerful ⎌in their product range. The only problem was, it was slow. It couldn’t cope with rendering even some of the most basic 4K film projects, and to be honest I had become quite disillusioned with Apple and OS X over the last couple of years anyway.  I decided that as I was going to be stuck here for the next few months, and as the purchase of my boat had fallen through thanks to COVID, I had some spare cash and it was tie to buy a new computer.  So, I bit the bullet and decided it was time to build myself a new PC. 

My old day job, before I sold the company in June, was running an ISP (or Internet Services provider).  I built and ran Linux based servers all day, every day, so the building of a PC wasn’t scary. Switching to Windows on the other hand, and OS I really hadn’t looked at since the days of Windows XP – well that was something else!

I ran a few tests, just to make sure, and soon became convinced that actually OSX was old hat and what a refreshing change Windows 10 was … Microsoft had finally done something right!

I placed the order for the components and £3,500 and a week later they arrived, and were soon assembled into a shiny new PC.

I needed to test out this beast, and ran a few benchmarks …. yes, this was an awesome bit of kit, so much faster than my old Mac. 

It was at this stage, I remembered an old computer game which I had been a backer of years earlier, but had to stop playing the Mac because the Mac just couldn’t keep up.  No, not Crisis, this was Elite: Dangerous … so I dug out the download, installed it, found my VR headset and resurrected my old account.

That, was my first big mistake. I got so hooked on the game that I played for 2 months straight. 12 hours a day at least! I took my ancient and barely developed account and turned it into a multiple Elite level beast. I increased my credit balance from 100,000 credits to 30 Billion credits in the space of those 2 months and bought a fleet carrier … which got me even more hooked! I then started a 2nd character, and a 3rd! I was playing for hours in bed on my old Xbox, before getting up playing some more on the PC first as one character, then as the other.  All I did for 2 months solid was play this game!

I met a bunch of interesting players online, and even got one of my old friends to install Elite and start playing, much to his wife’s chagrin as apparently the DIY jobs around the house weren’t going to do themselves!

It was now May and my 49th Birthday. We were still heavily in lockdown, and I celebrated the day on my own … well with Vesta. A sad and sobering day, one which would normally be filled with dozens of friends, a BBQ in my garden and more often than not, followed by at least 2 days of clearing up and a recycling bin overflowing with bottles!

June came and went.  My mums 74th birthday, we’d usually spend the time together in London, doing a show or two, dining out and always some window shopping. Instead it was spent briefly on Skype before getting back to more Elite. 

July and August soon blurred into one.  By this time though, my mood had changed. I hadn’t noticed at the time, but May, June and July started to see the depression really set in. I was no longer bothering to do anything around the house, I was ordering take out more and more. Amazon had been delivering my groceries for weeks/months. They were the only place that still had delivery slots and even they weren’t all that easy to get. 

By this stage I had put on 20kg through constant snacking and no exercise. All the weight I had lost since August 2019 had been put back on, and some. I couldn’t even get into clothes that were falling off me in January  … and realising this just made the depression worse. And what do I do when I’m depressed? I comfort eat! Yes, putting on even more weight. 

I decided I needed to do something, and had seen that Raindance were starting a BA(Hons) top up course in film making. 3 years ago, when I had decided I wanted to change the direction my life was going in, I had signed up for a 2 year HND course in film and media studies. I loved the course, met so many amazing people and made a bunch of new friends… we made nearly 50 films in the 2 years, many were experimental, some made it to festivals and a handful were screened at the Vue Cinema in Leicester Square. Life was good!

I graduated with a distinction, and the same year found a buyer for my ailing company. Did a deal and found myself free to explore and experience life.  My mid life crisis was well underway!

Now however I was really beginning to feel lonely, prone to frequent outbursts of tears for no real reason and I was finding it harder and harder to sleep.  

Part 2 follows next week

Reflections on Directing A02 T01

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

The Rules

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections on Directing (A02 T02)

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

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

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

Brainstorming ideas for the story

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

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

final draft edit of our 4-hour film challenge short

The Rules

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

Reflections

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

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

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

a less than perfect packshot before grading

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

The finished edit

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

Santiago and his continuity challenging vape

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

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

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

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

Justin checking in on us

Sound Recording

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

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

Jon and Ana discussing audio from one of the takes

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

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

Jon and Santi preparing to record sound on a scene

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

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

Sample log sheet taken by Arabella

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

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

Reflections on the writing brief

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

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

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

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

Jon Morby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming Home

Another week and another short film put to bed!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!!