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.