Project Santana – Post mortem

And so ends a rather hectic couple of weeks as I work on the final edit of Dating Dilemmas, part of my trilogy of short films as part of the Raindance HND and associated projects.

 

Day One

  • Director Jon Morby
  • DP Julian Deane Mihaela Obreja
  • Camera Mihaela Obreja
  • 1st AD Orlando Bryant
  • Script Supervisor Josh Farrell
  • Runner Fillipa Sebom
  • Photographer Tomas MH 

Extras

  • Anette Martensen
  • Angela Prince
  • Ian Macnaughton
  • Tomas MH
  • Fillipa Sebom

Lead Actors

  • Gin Mar
  • Dima Sol

 

  • Location 1: The Crusting Pipe
  • Locaton 2: Covent Garden Market

 

Day One was a shoot in Covent Garden Market.  I wanted this location for the bar scene (Dating Dilemmas) and also an engagement scene (Guardian Angel and the Raindance Valentines short film competition), and had written the scripts with these locations in mind.   I also (mistakenly it seems) thought that choosing a Central London location would have meant everyone could get there easily and without too much hassle on a Monday morning).

During the peer review phase at the end of last year, I had been told in no uncertain terms that my ideas were far too ambitious and that my script (Loves Tragedy – which since became Guardian Angel – 1/3 of the total project) was a £20,000 – £30,000 budget needing a huge cast of extras and multiple days to shoot.  I had always felt that this was, in fact, a relatively simple shoot which could be accomplished in the main with some basic “run and gun” techniques .. and after being told how impossible it was all going to be, I was left motivated to prove everyone wrong.  I knew there would be certain challenges, but at the end of the day, what is the point in doing something if it doesn’t help you grow.  If I wanted to spend the day in a daze, almost half asleep and bored, then I would have stayed in the office! 🙂

Permissions were obtained with relative ease from The Crusting Pipe (one phone call, “You want to film? When? How many? Sure, not a problem.  Just be aware that CapCo can be funny.” … and CapCo (Capital and Counties) who simply needed a RAMS (Risk Assessment and Method Statement), copies of the shooting schedule, a floor plan and copies of my Public Liability insurance.  The latter took the longest to arrange as we believed Raindance were going to cover the insurance, only to find out (after 4 months of asking) that we were, in fact, going to need to arrange our own – which I did through BECTU with the minimum of fuss.  The only problem ended up being that CapCo wanted £500/hour for film shoots with a crew of more than 5.  As a result, I had to do some creative juggling and ended up with a skeleton crew when in “CapCo Territory” and a large crew within the Crusting Pipe (as there were multiple permissions/domains).

Finding actors was relatively easy as I had already half written the script with a couple of friends (professional actors) in mind and when they read the script(s) they jumped at the role.  Finding the extras was a little harder, however, Anette Martinsen (professional actor and producer by day) soon made light work by roping in her son (Tomas MH – also a professional actor) and his girlfriend Filippa Sebom (yet another actor) to fill the gaps and she also volunteered as a runner for the day.  Tomas is also a photographer so he doubled up by providing BTS coverage over the two days.

 

The 1st AD was really busy planning their own shoot, so I ended up doing all of the scheduling and call sheets myself.   To this end, I found an online application called StudioBinder which for about $40/mo gives me all I need for planning and script breakdowns.  

My DoP / Camera Operator emailed me Sunday night  (11 hours before the shoot) to say that he was going to be unable to attend, and was terribly sorry for letting me down at the last minute.  I had to act quickly and managed to find a friend who, whilst having limited camera experience, was willing to take on the job and who wasn’t working the following morning as she was a school teacher, and it was half term.

What I hadn’t planned for was my leading actors turning up over an hour late due to problems with the trains.  The extras were all early, the crew (except for the 1st AD who was also delayed due to trains) were early, and we were sat around for some time waiting with the clock ticking.  When the leading actors did finally arrive, the 90-minute window we had to shoot all the dialogue scenes had become 20 minutes (we were against the clock as there are scheduled musical performances every 45 minutes from 10 am in the public areas which meant we would lose sound).  I knew of this, had planned for it, and as we only needed to record 5 lines of dialogue in total, it should not have been a problem.  Famous last words!

The crew worked quite well, however the 1st AD really didn’t seem to know what his role entailed and rather than being my right hand, dealing with queries and organising things as per the schedule, they were rarely there when needed, managed to actually pick up the sound recorder and walked around with it recording in their pocket for an hour rather than having it hidden on set for backup audio/ambience.

The team at the venue (The Crusting Pipe) were amazing, and even provided a boardroom/large dining room for our exclusive use throughout the day, so we had somewhere secure to locate the kit, for actors to chill in between takes, change, do makeup, etc.

The morning’s shoot overran by an hour, due to the late start, and we then decamped to Pizza Express for lunch.  This was the most costly part of the entire day (in fact the only cost) and lunch for the cast/crew of 12 came in at £122 after a healthy discount thanks to the NUS discount of 40%.

In the afternoon we based ourselves at Raindance HQ and filmed a short “scene of crime” incident near Charing Cross Station as part of my second short (Guardian Angel).  This was the most “fluid” part of the day as this scene was still being rewritten over the weekend and wasn’t finalised until early Monday morning.  

Again there was some confusion, the 1st AD seemed more interested in being in the crowd scenes than co-ordinating the extras, the cyclist, as a result, kept missing his queues (or going early) and each time we had to reset there was a 9-minute wait for traffic flows to be “perfect”. 

During the CPR scene, several passers-by stopped, some thinking it was real, some realising that we were in fact filming – I did have some members of the crew with High Viz jackets (which resulted in some reflections in glass that the camera op didn’t spot), and we had put up some signs to say “Filming” – although they weren’t the most visible of signs I will admit.

The entire shoot wrapped at 4:30pm, some 2 hours ahead of schedule, which meant we had made up a lot of time in the afternoon.  Unfortunately, there were some issues with one of the final shots (high vis jacket reflections in phone boxes, etc), and I may have to go back and shoot some pickup shots when the weather improves (so far on the two occasions we have planned to do this so far, snow has been forecast for the Sunday/Monday).

 

We then decamped back to my car, which had been parked in the NCP at Covent Garden, only to find that someone had smashed the rear window and stolen my laptop, LED lights and a number of other essentials which were going to be needed for the following day’s shoot.

Problems on the day included the script supervisor losing their copy of the script and all of his notes, the 1st AD being sidetracked performing the duties of the runner, despite our actually having a runner on set, and issues with the viability of sound due to the late start, plus of course the theft from my car  in the evening.

Another major issue was with the release forms.  I specifically tasked the 1st AD with getting every single person on set to sign a release form.  Of the 11 people who should have signed a form, only 4 release forms were actually signed/returned.  This left me running around for a week trying to locate the various cast and crew members and getting them to sign forms after the fact.

 

Day 2 was therefore postponed while I dealt with the theft.  

 

Day 2 – second attempt.

  • DP Julian Deane 
  • Camera Mihaela Obreja
  • 1st AD Josh Farrell
  • 2nd AD Orlando Bryant
  • Script Supervisor Josh Farrell
  • Photographer Tomas MH
  • Boom Operator Bamba Diop

The guys at Production Gear – www.productiongear.co.uk – were amazing.  When they heard about the theft of my lighting kit, they stepped in and offered me free use of anything I needed from their showroom.  This meant that we ended up having considerably better quality lights on set than were originally stolen.  They also loaned Rode microphones, batteries and other assorted tech.  My hat is off to these guys, they are absolute diamonds!

Day 2 was set aside to shoot the internal scenes for “Dating Dilemmas”.  This was my backup script, written when everyone dumped on me saying how “Loves Tragedy” wouldn’t work, couldn’t work and was generally worse than anything created by Tommy Wiseau.  It also plays nicely into an extended/alternative edit for Project Santana, which I am hoping to put together in due course.

The final location we shot in was not my first (or even second) choice, however, we had lost the primary location due to concerns over how the landlord might react to a film crew turning up, the secondary location had a water leak and the builders were in, and a third location pulled at the last minute when they read the script (turns out she was a vegan!) 🙂  The lead actors volunteered their apartment, and whilst it wasn’t perfect, I knew we could make it work – even if it was south of the water and a nightmare to get to by car.

This time it was my turn to be late to set, stuck in traffic, and having to deal with mechanical issues with one of the cars we were using to transport the lights, camera, props, etc.

My DP (Julian) was this time able to make the shoot (he lived 6 miles down the road in Wimbledon, so didn’t have far to travel), however as we were a) shooting a number of bedroom scenes with a half-naked female actress and b) I still wasn’t 100% certain we would see Julian on this shoot either, I had asked my friend Mihaela (who has attended the Raindance Cinematography course and was keen to flex the muscles while the course is still fresh in her head) to be Camera Op and help with lighting if Julian was again awol.  This, I think, was the precursor to the problems which ensued later on.

Julian did make it, as did Mihaela, and unbeknown to me (initially) there was some friction between the two.  I was, at this stage, more focussed on the fact that I needed the room to be dressed in a certain way, and that I wanted the whole thing shot with the mirrored wardrobe out of shot.  Julian, on the other hand, was insistent that he could shoot the whole thing through the reflection in the mirror.  The Camera Operator also felt that this was a bad idea, and demonstrated repeatedly how the angles were impossible.  I kept saying how the lighting was impossible (we didn’t have enough of it, the dynamic range of the camera wasn’t sufficient, and besides which, it screwed up my entire screen grammar which I had carefully planned out).  We lost just over an hour going through this and the set dressing.

Shortly before lunch, after the issue between the DP and the Camera Operator had been brought to my attention, I stepped in, had a quiet word with both of them, and things seemed to improve in the afternoon.

The shoot went reasonably well, we got all the shots I had planned, although many of them as one-shots rather than 8 short inserts.  I had the inserts planned so I knew we had something to fall back on, and to highlight the coverage we needed, to ensure that we had all the key points covered.  It wasn’t until the following day that I discovered Julian hadn’t properly attached the XLR audio adapter to the camera rig, which meant that the adapter sometimes moved and we ended up picking up audio from the onboard microphones, rather than the boom mic which was plugged into the XLR adapter. 🙁 (and neither the DoP or the camera op were monitoring the sound as they should have been) – the quality of the remote monitor sound was generally bad, so whilst I could hear what was going on through the headphones I couldn’t discern the actual quality.

The kitchen scene was probably the most problematic due to the size of the room, the fact that the fridge/freezer kept making noises, and worse the boiler kept kicking in and we couldn’t turn either of them off.

The Edit

For the purpose of the HND first short assignment, I am submitting Dating Dilemmas, a short (tongue in cheek/satirical) comedy which pokes fun in the direction of vegans.

Editing this has been interesting.  Dealing with the foley, cleaning the audio, trying to do ADR on the missing audio, editing, dealing with bugs in the editing software (the SMS conversations randomly corrupt and the text fails to render) are all eating into what should have been a relatively simple edit process, but it is still quite enjoyable.

 

Lessons Learned

Working with the HND team is great fun, it is wonderful to work with like-minded and spirited individuals that are keen to learn and create.  This does also lead to some problems, however, as whilst I am used to working with professionals who have man management, project management and time management skills in my day job, the students are still quite inexperienced in these areas, and I sometimes forget and expect them to deliver more than they know how to.  I need to step back, allow more time to ensure I can monitor their performance and mentor them where necessary – and as a result, not expect to get as much done in a day as I could potentially do with a more experienced team at my side.

 

As a result, I need to allow more time for the shoot.   I also could have spent more time on set rehearsing with the actors.  We had spent several weeks talking online about the characters and performance, however, most of the focus had been on Guardian Angel rather than Dating Dilemmas, and there were some definite issues with the tempo of the performance on the day, which I didn’t pick up until I viewed the rushes the following day.

I am thinking we could perhaps make a “making of” movie, a little like “Disaster Artist” perhaps.  Certainly, there seems to have been enough drama on set/behind the camera to warrant a short movie!

I am definitely used to working at Mach-1 and have, over the last 20+ years, worked in teams where I am usually one of the slower team members.  I am sure that the guys will learn the roles, and know what is expected of them quickly, and we will be back to that situation in no time.  In the meantime, I need to be a little more patient, a little more observant and be prepared to mentor more.  

 

Other things of note. Whilst I did meet with Josh and discussed the shoot ahead of Day 2 (where he took over as 1st AD), I think additional crew meetings with all “heads of department” before the shoot would have been beneficial.  

 

In addition, we really needed a kit wrangler. One person/team whose sole responsibility is to check the kit in/out and make sure everything ended up in the right box/bag, and that everything we brought to location actually leaves location at the end. 

 

Day 2 we lost (left at the location, so I need to return to collect) a radio alarm clock, a mirror, and a hot shoe cover from the GH5. 

 

 

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