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!
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!
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.
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)
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.
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.
I have now performed sound supervisor functions on at least two HND student films, plus a number of student exercises in the classroom. Responsibility for levels and ensuring that we had clean and usable audio at the end of the shoot. This was with a mixture of Zoom H4N and H6N recorders.
This is quite an important role in any film production as if the sound is poor then you either need to re-shoot, do a lot of ADR (Additional Dialogue Recording), or risk people abandoning your film due to the poor sound quality.
In addition to the sound levels and recording, there is also the boom and microphone position … ideally, boom from above, ensure that the microphone is pointing at the talent’s mouth and that you follow the dialogue and keep the shotgun mic pointing at the talent’s mouth throughout the scene. Booming from below may be an option, especially if you are trying to avoid boom shadow, however in doing so you may well pick up sounds from above including birds or leaves rustling (if outdoors) and other sounds from overhead.
You can use lavalier mics instead of (or as well as) a boom. Lav placement takes additional time, especially if you want to keep them hidden from the camera, and there can be a lot of noise from clothing and your talent moving (which takes additional precautions, and more time to deal with in the setup phases).
On my own films, I have experienced several issues with the sound being unusable due to noise transferring through the boom, levels being incorrectly set and/or background noise (people talking loudly in the next room, aeroplanes flying overhead, police cars zooming past with sirens blaring, and more).
In my role as sound supervisor, I wanted to make sure that none of these problems impacted the productions I was working on, and in doing so it did mean that I had to repeatedly talk to the boom operator and address issues with the way they were holding the boom (every slight hand adjustment would transmit through the boom pole and cause parts of the dialogue to be unusable).
Monitoring levels and ensuring that adjustments were made promptly to account for any raised voices or whispered words so that we were able to use the recordings. The last thing you want is the audio to clip/peak and to lose the higher frequencies, or for it to be too quiet and miss the low frequencies.
One issue we had on location was trying to get everyone into the room, but not in the shot. This required some ingenuity and a certain amount of contortionism as can be seen from this photograph of the boom operator squeezing into a small gap and then trying to position the microphone just outside of the wide shot.
Other issues included the hum of fridges, ticking clocks, mobile phones going off or just simply hunting for signal leaving a bzzt bzzt bzzt on the audio track. On one shoot we had to hunt high and low before eventually finding an errant Windows Mobile on a desk which belonged to a parent .. We then had to try and work out how to put the phone into Airplane mode as no-one was quite sure how the Windows mobile actually worked! (we ended up just turning it off).
In this photo, we see a slightly more spacious location with better separation between the talent and crew. The trick here was to ensure that the boom was pointing at the talent as they spoke and keeping the mic pointing towards the mouths of the talent as they moved in shot.
There will always be challenges when filming on location, the trick is to work around them and to try to get to know your environment before the shoot starts, in order to minimise any wasted time during the actual shoot. Locating analogue clocks and ensuring they’re removed from the room, making sure that mobile phones are turned off before shooting starts are all good pointers.
One additional issue we had on one of the shoots, which took a while to locate, was a 50hz hum on the audio in certain rooms. We eventually tracked this down to an XLR cable being routed alongside a power cable (I had carefully ensured that the power cables were down one side of the room and the XLR cables were around the other side, even through doorways to ensure the maximum separation), however someone had very kindly decided to tidy and thought it would be a good idea to bundle the cables together, which resulted in a hum when the lights were on.
Lesson learned – just because you have painstakingly taken the time to keep power and audio lines apart all the way around the location, someone may quite happily come along and “tidy” and mix all the cables together without you noticing.
If I were to do this on a more regular basis, I think I would definitely buy a “GaffGun” and use it to tape down all cables, making it a lot harder for busybodies to come along and move the cables when you’re not looking.
This is definitely on my Christmas list, Santa please take note!
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.
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.
My original script was written as no more than an exercise in script writing, set in the warm summer months, in a complex location in Westminster, without any thought as to how it would be filmed. This was primarily due to a misunderstanding with regards the original assignment. I had attempted to develop a scene from a Detective Drama I had in mind, the scene’s goal being to explain the motivation or inciting incident behind a serial killer, a “Jack the Ripper” of modern day London.
Once it became clear that we were meant to be writing a script that could be shot in January-March 2018, and that we were shooting this as our first short for the HND track, I had to go back to the drawing board and start again. My second script was written quickly, with “resource-based filmmaking” in mind, rather than “just write anything” and being overly creative. I think a few students fell into this trap, writing scripts set in Space or on a cruise liner at sea. By the time this had become apparent and the need for an alternative script was understood, I had lost more than six weeks of development time, and had to act quickly. Dating Dilemmas was a parody I had in mind based on my experiences of internet dating over the previous year or so. As a result of the lack of development time, I think the script suffered from a lack of depth and I certainly did not have as much time as I would have liked to think through the idea and craft any subplots. The best I could do was to introduce the “sexy smoothy” as the protagonist in the whole affair.
What we did have were the atypical huntress, out on the prowl with her friends, along with the typical lothario looking for a good time, every time, without any consequences, and we have the geeky flatmate who’s more interested in playing games on his console and drinking with his friends than with finding a woman.
As part of the assignment, we were required to arrange a table read with actors as part of the script development process.
We had a table read prior to filming, using the same actors who ended up performing in the short film. Their feedback was invaluable and a number of modifications were made to the final script, bringing the language into “the modern day”, correcting technical terms and adding some levels of intention. It also helped the actors develop their character traits and personalities.
I learned and benefited a great deal from the process, hearing others read my words aloud. It brought the words to life, they were no longer just mutterings and sounds in my head or words on a bit of paper/computer screen. Hearing them spoken aloud by a 3rd party also helped me to shape and develop the tone of the conversations, to try and make them seem more natural. It didn’t always work in practice, and in certain cases the actor’s delivery was so wooden on the day, despite rehearsals and direction .. but by this time I think everyone was fatigued and just wanted to get the final scenes wrapped so we could go home. Another lesson learned – make the shooting schedule less hectic and allow your actors more time to rest between scenes – if possible.
The process of writing the script, with my limited knowledge or experience of scriptwriting and without any knowledge of “the tools” (Truby’s 22 steps, script form or structure, etc) was challenging, and I think my next script will certainly be better having since covered the basics of these tools, and having been introduced to development ideas. The initial process was very much akin to being put on a boat, taken out to the two-mile marker, thrown into the ocean and then told to swim back to shore – when you’ve never actually been in more than 3 inches of water in your life. It was very much a “sink or swim” affair.
As a result of the table read, it became apparent that in 20 years since WAN gaming was invented, the terminology has changed and been simplified .. now it’s just “a party” rather than WAN party or raid / etc … we live and learn 🙂
Some of the actions and interactions between the couple were softened and/or expanded, and it became clear early on that the actress wanted to do more “nude” and risque scenes than I had originally planned (I hadn’t planned or written any) .. these added to the believability of the short and were welcomed.
Thankfully, being resource based, we were able to implement the film fairly easily – even though we had three locations fall through in the days/weeks leading up to the shoot (due to leaks/water damage, shooting dates changing due to the theft of lights/etc from my car, and so on) … we were still able to shoot the scenes relatively easily and adjusted (on the day) the final location when it became available. The only downside was the presence of a mirrored fitted wardrobe which extended the full length of the one bedroom wall which meant we were unable to shoot one of the scenes exactly as we had intended.
From a visualisation standpoint, I had already chosen the colour palette to use for the film, we then chose costumes to match this palette.
The shot design leaned heavily on screen grammar, positioning the female character to the right of the screen (the more dominant position) in every shot where she was “in control”, and the male character on the left being “lead” by the lead character. There’s a final point where he regains control and becomes centre stage once more (having started in the dominant position at the beginning of the film).
Beyond that, the set was designed simply and effectively as a standard flat share in London, coke cans and pizza cartons strewn around the “lad pad”.
The kitchen much more “health” focussed with Spirulina bags, bananas and other health foods dotted around the blender.
The bedroom was more minimal, a girl’s bedroom, but with the spoils of a debauched night, condom wrappers all over, an open bottle of lube, etc … to show that she’s in control and means business. (This was “her place” after all). The empowered female huntress, in a world otherwise dominated by men on the prowl for hookups and one night stands.
In summary, I felt the script was weak and could have benefited from considerably more depth. On the day, the acting was too slow paced and a little wooden .. from a Director’s standpoint, I should have timed the performances and worked with the actors more to ensure they knew the timing requirements (as it was, I didn’t really appreciate any of this myself until in the edit suite). During the table read we were consistently under 5 minutes, however on the day, with more visualisation and less verbalisation, the initial recording time with all scenes came in at closer to 7 minutes, and as a result some of the slower scenes were cut to improve the flow of the film an keep the tempo to a certain level.
Personally, I think the title package at the end of the film is possibly the best part of the whole comedy, sadly these have also had to be dropped for the HND submission due to the requirement that the film is under 5 minutes. (I have asked the question can it be longer, and told in no uncertain terms that a) no it can’t, and b) no the 5 minutes includes the entire title sequence / etc.) 1 second over 5 minutes and it is a fail ….
So I have submitted a 4’59”.7 version for the HND course on YouTube, and have a 7’24” version for public consumption on Vimeo.
What would I do differently next time? I would spend more time developing the script, I would get the assignment in writing rather than verbally and try to get the full intent of the assignment prescribed before starting down the wrong road.
How could I have improved this script, knowing what I know now? Within 5 minutes, there is only a limited window to deliver your message. The message in this instance was meant satirically, as a dig against society using online dating like they would use Amazon Prime, to find a hookup for the night and to return it the following morning “used”, but in the original packaging … and of course the fact that no matter what a woman thinks of their conquest, they will always try to remodel and change them if they’re in a relationship with them. A man always dreams the girl will never change, as she is perfect just the first time he met her, whilst the girl wishes her man would change, and she knows she can improve him, given time.
The dialogue could have been snappier, some of the scenes were irrelevant, and the punchline being what it was, perhaps needed a little extra on the end to drill home the message.
The edit was effectively the final rewrite, albeit taking the delivered performance and attempting to reshape it into something humorous and entertaining. To date, responses to screenings have been mixed. The video has been watched roughly 50 times and feedback has been on the whole positive, with a number of people (male and female) getting the nuance, and laughing at the jibe at vegans. Many vegans have themselves found the premise and story funny, although a few were offended, however on balance they seemed to take more offence at the implied sexualisation of the characters (sex on a first date, how unlikely) rather than the swipe at vegans in particular. The younger audience (18-30) found it funnier than the older audience (50+) which isn’t overly surprising at the end of the day as few 50 year olds are (or ever were – obviously the swinging 60’s never happened!) into hookups and meaningless sex, whilst most 18-30 year olds are definitely being more promiscuous (I believe studies do actually show that pre-marital sex is both on the increase and also leads to less stable relationships and an increase in divorce rates in recent years) (Institute for Family Studies)
(Source: Institute for Family Studies)
Institute for Family Studies. (2018). Counterintuitive Trends in the Link Between Premarital Sex and Marital Stability. [online] Available at: https://ifstudies.org/blog/counterintuitive-trends-in-the-link-between-premarital-sex-and-marital-stability [Accessed 10 Apr. 2018].
By Sunday 29 April, I will have submitted by short film for assessment.
By Friday 25 May, I will have started to learn and understand node based compositing software such as Nuke, or more likely Fusion
By Saturday 30 June, I will have started working on a new script with more detail and depth than the previous versions, applying the tools we’ve been introduced to such as Truby’s 22 steps and the 3 act structure.
By 01 October, I will start to plan and shoot scenes from the above script