Dating Dilemmas – Production Notes

This is going to be a living document detailing thoughts and issues as the pre-production and production phases get underway

Initial version 3rd Feb 2018

Updated 15th Feb 2018

Reflections on the Production Process

Dating Dilemmas is a comedy short, part of my year 1 HND assessment.  The requirement of the HND is that the short be 5 minutes or less in length, written, produced and directed by myself, be a low to no budget film, and it must include at least two HND students in some capacity.  We are required to document the whole process, ensure we get relevant permissions, waivers and contracts signed by those taking part, and we need to deliver the finished article no later than April 20th.  There will be a screening later in the year (hopefully) to exhibit all the HND student’s films.

Script

Developing scripts is something I have always been weak at since even before failing my English O Level,  I have struggled with fictional writing – however, this is one of the skills I wanted to strengthen, so the game is afoot! (to steal a saying)

I have been working on trying to build some form of association with the characters, making the viewer almost put themselves in the shoes of the hero – so I have tried to (intentionally) leave them a little 2 dimensional, rather than fleshing out a huge backstory (plus this is a 5 minute short, and it would take 30 minutes just to design and show a true character arc for anyone)

This was also not my first choice, as the original script was written to take place in the middle of summer, and requires warm nights and dry days for the film to work.  Having discovered we need to shoot in Feb/March I had to rewrite and come up with a new topic that worked within the resources available.  The original idea was based on a storyline from a detective drama I have been working on, and I chose the “inciting incident” for one of the characters in my drama – the problem here is that this is a 2 hour pilot episode, and requires the viewer to learn details about several of the victims first, their backgrounds, their families, and to put a face to an otherwise anonymous victim.  This simply cannot be done in 5 minutes and I think it was a bad idea to even try, however with some additional tweaks I think the story could still stand on its own, and I intend to shoot some of the scenes for this storyline at the same time as shooting Dating Dilemmas, on the basis that the actors, locations and crew are the same and the additional scenes will take maybe 2 hours to shoot.

Script Breakdown

This is something I am in the process of doing currently … an interesting (and time-consuming) process

Crew

Finding the right people for each role is proving more time consuming than anything.  Just as one person agrees, another drops out due to clashes or work commitments.  Yes we’re all doing this for free and yes this is only a hobby for most, and yes we’re calling in favours from everyone, but it is still stressful! 🙂

I totally understand that paid work has to come first, I just wish I could afford to pay everyone for their time.  One day I will, one day we will have proper budgets and be able to pay scale .. but not today sadly, so people drop out.  That said, people will drop out of paid work just as readily if a higher paid job comes along, or they are ill or have a family issue .. Just like running any business, your workforce is your biggest asset and your biggest headache! 🙂

Storyboard

Being graphically challenged, and totally unable to even draw believable stick men, I have been struggling with the Storyboard aspect of the project.  Whilst I have a vision in my head, getting it down onto paper has been difficult.

Then I discovered Storyboarder by Wunderunit.  This tool works on MacOS and Windows (with an iPad version “in the works”) and it has helped make my life considerably easier.  I have been working with clipart/stock images to portray the look/feel of what I want from a scene.  Not perfect, but a great start – and I can annotate the images, draw lines and diagrams on top, and generally start to get my vision across.  I can also add camera shots/angles/etc to the Storyboard and even lines of dialogue to flesh out the story and help communicate it to my colleagues.

Pre-Production

Historically I would have just run and gun, perhaps with a second person to help with sound.  The Raindance way seems to be “do it like Hollywood” with a crew of 20+ and every little job split 4 ways, so even the clapper loader has an assistant to hold their pen.  I’m finding this frustrating, and even more so trying to schedule the shoot with HND students (as is the requirement for the module).  I have 8-10 actors/extras, camera equipment, location, insurance, permits, everything organised, but I can’t get two HND students to commit to a shoot date.  This is “frustrating” to say the least!

I am currently experimenting with various tools to make the project management and line production roles easier.  I started with Trello, found a Gantt chart module which didn’t work too well, found another Gantt chart module which worked better (TeamGantt) but it still isn’t quite right.

I have now moved on to StudioBinder, and this seems quite powerful, however, at $49/mo for the “Pro” version (which includes Production Calendars, etc) this is a little out of my budget currently.  Their “free” version only allows you to import 50% of your script and to have 1 project on the go at a time, and whilst I could circumvent these restrictions with cunning, I would rather not start out having to game the system just to see if the product is usable.  If it is, then I’ll be using it for the next 20 years (if they stay in business that long) and would be more than happy to pay for the service once I start to earn some money from this new skill I am developing.

Production

Permit requests have gone in and have not, so far at least, been that troublesome.  Locations have agreed to allow filming on site, and again the “Raindance” way is to get releases signed for the locations.  Whilst I can see the benefits of this, in the long run, trying to get some of these places to sign a waiver is going to scare them off more than bring them on-side, however, waivers it is – and yes I do see the wisdom in doing so.

Colour Design

I have been trying to decide a colour design for the short.  This is a comedy sketch, so it needs to be bright and fun, I am a student of action/thriller/sci-fi genre films, so coming up with a palette that embraces comedy and fun is proving challenging – especially when I don’t control the actual locations, and can’t do anything to change what we have when we get there.  The locations are grey/yellow, with cobblestones.  I am going to try and work within this.

I have stumbled across an Adobe tool to help with the Colour Palette design, which may prove useful going forwards – Adobe Color CC

 

Publicity

We have had a couple of classroom exercises on designing posters and a basic introduction to SEO and metadata.  Thankfully this is something I have some additional experience with from my day job.

We recorded an interview video about the upcoming film, my thoughts on that can be found in another post.

So far, the video has been viewed over 100 times and has definitely brought in some interest from 3rd parties.  One even stopped me at BSC Expo this week to ask how the production was going!  The power of marketing! *shudder* 🙂

What Went Wrong on the day

12th Feb was day 1 of the shoot

Josh and I were on location before 8 am.  The official call time was 08:30 for crew and 8:45 for actors, the intention was to start shooting at 09:15 as we had to have all the dialogue in the can before 10 am when the Opera and Classical Music started.  There should have been ample time to get set up, mic the actors and get started.  Everyone knew we only had 2 hours at this location and that every minute counted.

This lead to the first problem as due to train problems, the two lead actors and half the crew were late.  The extras, however, were all on location ahead of their call times.

There was then a delay while costumes were sorted and actors revisited their lines (more on this below).  The long and short of it was we didn’t start filming until 9:45 which meant we didn’t get much if any of the dialogue that we needed – which is why this is now a silent movie! 🙂 (yes I could ADR, but I quite like the idea of it being almost entirely without dialogue)

Everyone had been provided with copies of the “final” script at least a week in advance and were all told that there was a rewrite happening over the weekend as we were changing the ending to better tell the story.  The final script was sent out on Saturday night with the call sheets.  Unfortunately, the lead actor managed to ignore this and printed out the original draft script he had been sent a month earlier (v1.05) and not the v2.01 that he had received by email 24 hours earlier .. so he wasn’t aware of the additional lines, or the scene changes.  

I did have plenty of copies of the latest script on hand, however, that meant we burned one take when we discovered he didn’t have the lines, and then lost 10 minutes while he learned the extra scene.  Not the end of the world, but a lesson to learn.

Other issues included the script supervisor putting his script and shotlist down and them disappearing, so we ended up without an accurate shot list.  

Post Production

  • Editing
  • Foley
  • Mistakes Made?

 

Thoughts on the process

  • What have I learned?  lessons, skills, etc
  • What would I do differently if anything?

 

HND – Assignment 1 / Task 1 / Milestone 2 – Pre-production Update

Risks

  • Still waiting for proof of insurance.  We are required to demonstrate £10m of liability insurance in order to film on location.
  • Most locations are subject to permits and insurance.
  • One private location has not yet responded to my request, I am working on contingencies just in case

Notes

  • Pre-production planning goes apace, and permit requests have been submitted – however, approval is on hold until insurance documentation can be provided.  I first asked Raindance to provide this in November 2017, and have chased periodically since then. 
  • I have found Trello with TeamGantt to be a viable project planning tool and have used this to lay out the basics of my shooting schedule.
  • The script rewrites are ongoing, I am close to a finished script at which stage I can start planning the shots
  • My lead actors have accepted and are currently learning v 1.05 of the script whilst on holiday in Madeira at a family birthday

Reflections

I am sure I must be doing something wrong … people (other students at Raindance)  keep telling me my plans are ambitious and that my shoot is complicated.  At the same time, I look at the plan and the shoot and figure I could probably do the whole thing in an afternoon, but I’ve scheduled two whole days to do the shoot along with a bunch of contingency.  Where I think an outdoor shoot will take 5 to 10 minutes I have allowed 2 hours.  The one thing I have absolutely no control over, however, is the weather.  We need a sunny day for the outdoor scenes.  If the heavens open then we fall back to plan B and we may have to shoot some of the transit scenes either another day (I have actors booked for 12th and 13th Feb, they are also available on the 14th if necessary) – so lets just hope we don’t get downfall of biblical proportions, if it rains at all 🙂

What would people think/say if I told them that for one of the scenes I have an idea to shoot in front of a green screen – now this I do think is ambitious, and may not (probably won’t) work – however I am factoring this in as my contingency and not as a must have for the story/film.  If I don’t do at least one thing a day that challenges and scares me then I am not pushing myself and I start to become complacent.

Worst case, the whole thing can be shot in my local pub’s beer garden (weather permitting), it won’t be quite as “swanky” as I would like, but I have that “rewrite” in the back of my mind if the permits either don’t come through or the cost of the permits is prohibitive.

Thankfully I have been able to secure a small amount of sponsorship/funding for this exercise, should it be necessary, however, I am keeping the powder dry on this option and holding the offer(s) in reserve for future projects.

Most of my cast has been secured, although I may need a few younger actresses for the disco scene,  I can film that with whatever talent turns up on the day (night).  Lighting day for night is something I haven’t done for a while, it shouldn’t be too difficult though – mental note, I need to try and book out the lights from Raindance … there has however been some debate about whether or not the Raindance kit is available for students to use off-site.  (At least three HND students have so far said that the kit can’t be used).  If this is the case, I can see a quick trip to a rental outlet or a last minute Amazon Prime purchase to supplement the LED lights I have currently.

My budgets are on the high side, but that’s usually how I operate.  If I put in a stupidly low figure and it is accepted then delivering is impossible.  I find it always much better to under promise and over deliver, as with budgets, always leave a surplus for next time when you can.

 

 

 

 

HND Term 2 SWOT Analysis Update

This week we had to record interviews around our upcoming short films, my no holds barred reflective blog post on that process has just been uploaded.

We have been tasked with updating our SWOT and SMART goals

 

My original SMART goals were

Short – By 15th Oct – sign up for a Raindance short class

Medium – By 15th Dec – produce a short video blog about my holiday

Long – By 1st June  – Make a short film of at least 5 minutes duration

My short term goal was easily achieved as I had signed up for several courses that week and I have now completed all of those courses (I do need to attend the foundation course on Visual FX as this clashed with Mexico). 

My medium term goal is a little behind schedule, mainly because I ended up taking two holidays, and the first holiday included 3 days of illness, coupled with an admission to hospital in Mexico with food poisoning.  I am hoping to have that blog post completed within the next few weeks now that I am back from a month of R&R in South Africa.  On a positive note, it was nice to be able to spend some quality time with my mum.  I don’t see her anywhere near as often as I should, and having lost my father unexpectedly to cancer in 2013 (having seen him and mum a total of roughly 15 days in the previous 10 years) I want to try to make sure I don’t miss the chance and opportunity to re-connect / spend my entire life buried in work.

The Long Term goal is still on track, although the HND submission deadline is April 20th … hopefully I won’t miss this one! 🙂

Updated goals have been requested as follows

short term 13 Jan
medium term 9 Feb
long term 30 Mar

 

On the basis of limited time, and practicality, I can only really say that my short-term goal will be to have this blog post completed (it is already the 14th Jan at 5 am, so I’m behind on that one) – however as I only have Wed/Thu and Sunday scheduled to work on HND topics, due to “real world” pressures of a day job and running 3 companies, I am still within my own timeframes.

 

Medium Term I will again aim for a completed blog post on my travel exploits.  The footage is finally downloading from cameras and storage devices, and I am starting to think about a script which will tell the story of the trip(s) in a light-hearted and fun way.

 

Long Term, 30th March does not feel like long term, to be honest, and had I not written down the dates from Patricia’s presentation, I would have been certain that I had, in fact, got these dates wrong and that 9th Feb should be short term, 30th March medium term and September long term .. but hey ho.

 

By 30th March I will have hopefully worked out what my short film is going to be about, will have shot the whole thing, and be in the final throws of an edit ready to submit the finished work before the April 20th deadline.

I do already have a project plan, shooting schedule and I have actors lined up (2 leading actors and 5-6 extras) based on my original script(s), however, most of this revolves around locations – which includes some ambitious permit requests – these are being submitted to Westminster Council and the managing agents for Covent Garden.  If the permits aren’t approved (I will find out in another 2-3 weeks) or come back with any financial implications/requirements, then I am definitely on the back foot and working on a plan C (plan B already having been initiated due to the confusion over script design and shooting schedules – First off we’re told to write a script and don’t worry about any restrictions or limitations; then when we’ve done that we’re told we have to film it in Jan/Feb despite my script being set outdoors in the summer – because no-one thought to say “write a script that you can film in Jan/Feb 2018”, and despite the whole issue of the locations the script is set in being heavily permitted locations).

I personally think the initial script writing exercise could have been better explained.  However, it is what it is (and the rest of this paragraph has been redacted).

My SWOT Analysis hasn’t changed much (although I have added more threats), I don’t feel as though I have (as yet) developed any new skills, and as yet I have not really managed to resolve any of my weaknesses, although I do feel I am mellowing a little (learning to vent here rather than bottling up my frustrations) towards other people’s lack of planning/forethought and am taking that more in my stride and just getting on regardless, so maybe I am growing after all? 🙂

 

 

HND – Reflections – Short Film Interviews

Jon talks about Dating Dilemmas, his new short film

 

Term two and we were once again tasked with filming interviews with fellow classmates about our upcoming short films.

This is the second interview task, and we have been asked to reflect on how things went compared to the interviews we conducted in week one of the HND course.

The lighting and setup phase went quite smoothly, and we worked reasonably well as a team.  The initial setup had myself flagged as DP which made life a lot easier as I was able to guide set style and design, and we were also now able (allowed) to use lights and also sound equipment – which meant there was a chance for better production quality.

However, despite my repeated appeals, we were not allowed to record reverses, so the audio production quality is only roughly 50% better than it was before.  The consensus was that we were going to film over the shoulder – although when that decision was made and the lighting designed, we had not appreciated that Patricia was going to deny us the option of shooting the interviewer asking the questions; either with a second camera (which whilst being available was then allocated to behind the scenes shots) or using the single camera as pickup shots.  Not the end of the world, however I still found it frustrating as we were again hampered and limited for the sake of “simplicity”.  We were also instructed very specifically to film the interviews in black and white – something I double checked and asked for clarification on, as again that instruction wasn’t in the written brief, it was casually mentioned at the last second as we were heading out to collect the equipment.  Thankfully I caught this instruction, as when shooting in black and white, you need to light for black and white – you can’t (shouldn’t) “fix it in post” as some people would try to do (something I picked up from Zoran Veljkovic on the Cinematography course last year).

Also, this time, we worked as a single team (with a single set), as opposed to being split into three teams and sent to the arse end of Raindance to try and find a location to film with a mix of iPhones and a D700 (which for my group meant being sent up onto the street in term one and having to contend with a lot of passers by walking through shots and in/out of Raindance HQ mid sequence. (although at least we had half decent/natural light to play with) 🙂

It was nice to see how the group as a whole has developed, and how we were able to work together and not get under each other’s feet, we all knew and understood our roles (which rotated for each of the 6 recordings), and we all had a lot of fun in the process.

Personally, I didn’t overly enjoy being interviewed .. partly because I had not really had any time to prepare or rehearse (while others were thinking about how to answer the questions, I was working on set dressing, lighting and framing for the shots), and partly because even at this stage, I’m not all that sure what the film is going to be about, having had to change my story/script at the last minute to fit in with the shooting and submission schedule (my original idea is set in July/August and revolves heavily around it being summer .. with mild evenings and early sunshine)

My finished interview (shot in one take) will appear below once editing has been completed

Having watched the recordings and edited the above video, I am reminded about how totally exhausted and ill-prepared I was by the time it came to be my turn in front of the camera, having been running around dressing and designing the set, then acting as DP, Director and interviewer before suddenly finding myself in the hot seat, and conscious that we were already 25 minutes behind schedule when it came time to record my piece.  I hadn’t had a chance to run through the answers to the questions or even really think about them, beyond the 5 minutes that morning where I had to come up with answers for a new film, not being the one I have been working on for the last 3 months, but one I have spent about 20 minutes designing.

One of the questions was “why do you feel the film should be made NOW” … My honest answer to that was “because we need to have something to hand in for the assignment” … No real social motivation or desire, despite my attempts at saying something about “a social commentary of the time”.

 

Oh and the sound quality (recorded with a boom mic) is actually almost as bad as the audio from the camera 🙁

 

… It is what it is … or rather it was what it was will probably end up on my gravestone (a la Spike Milligan’s “I told you I was ill”) … uneventful and mediocre (hopefully just the film, and not my contribution to society as a whole!) 🙂

 

Oh and I tried to create closed captions in Premiere .. that didn’t go quite to plan as the srt file Premiere generated had a lot of HTML style markup in, which YouTube did not appreciate … so I had to export the whole thing as a text file, search and replace all the HTML and then re-upload.

I did not enjoy the captioning process … that I found decidedly tedious 🙁

 

Update – We spent the afternoon on Wednesday learning about “click bait” .. and I have now set up a second (more professionally edited) video with an array of subtitles and a “sexy” thumbnail image, optimised SEO.  Lets see how that does over the next few weeks/months.  Final version below

Jon talks about Dating Dilemmas, his new short film

 

I have also setup a website for the film and started working on the poster / artwork – click the image below to be taken to the new website – although I definitely need to work on the WordPress layout / presentation before this goes “public”

 

HND – Day 5 – Film Roles

Wednesdays  lesson with Patricia is apparently about roles in the film industry.  I’m on holiday in Mexico which was a previously arranged trip booked before Raindance accepted me into the HND course 

 

My understanding of today’s lesson is that it will be spent describing the various roles in the industry and then the afternoon spent in role play so the class starts to get a better understanding of the various roles.

Speaking to group A, it sounds like it was an amazing lesson and I’m sad that I won’t be able to join in with Group B this week.

The crew roles as I understand them are

 

  • Director
  • Producer
  • Sound Designer
  • First Assistant Director
  • VFX Supervisor
  • Executive Producer
  • Editor
  • Production Assistant
  • Key Grip
  • Post Production Supervisor
  • Line Producer
  • Make Up Artist (MUA)
  • Director Of Photography 
  • Colourist
  • Second Assistant Director
  • Production Designer
  • Gaffer
  • Digital Imaging Technician (DIT)
  • Art Director
  • Best Boy
  • Data Wrangler
  • First Assistant Camera
  • Second Assistant Camera
  • Script Editor
  • Script Supervisor
  • Dolly Grip
  • Spark
  • Stills Photographer

 

Many of these roles are currently a black art to me, and I need to understand more about what they do. To this end, I look forward to reading my classmate’s reports on the roles! 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

HND – Day 3 – Nic & Sam Scene

Today’s practical exercise was to plan and shoot a scene based in a school corridor with dialogue between Nic & Sam (two characters) written by Patricia Hetherington.  Due to diary clashes, I attended the Group A class instead of my usual Group B.

The planning exercise went well and Leanna (camera) realised exactly what we wanted almost immediately and then drew up some amazing storyboards which we shared with the rest of the team.

Elena and Jonny agreed to be the “talent” for this exercise whilst I directed.

The exercise was fun and we managed to shoot the whole sequence in less than 25 minutes, almost exactly as we had planned it – with the exception of two shots which we agreed would be better as a single “medium two-shot” instead.

I then edited the whole piece together in Final Cut Pro (which took another 30 minutes) and as a homage to Grange Hill found a copy of Phil Redmond’s theme tune online to finish off the clip.

As before, several ways this could have been improved by enhancing the sound (use of proper sound equipment), and lighting (rather than relying just on practical lighting).

The team worked well and it was a pleasure to shoot.  Even Jonny’s acting skills improved as we ran through rehearsal and then filming.

Without a slate to mark the scenes I used a book to split takes where we kept the camera rolling to help the (none professional) actors be more relaxed.

Jonny and Yelena took directions well and we worked together as a cohesive unit quite well.

We also decided to challenge ourselves and try to use every lens in the box, which is why the PoV shots look a bit weird, we experimented with the 24mm lens … probably should have stuck with the 35mm but then this was an experimental shoot as much as anything!

The finished video (at least my edit of it) is below … Leanne will hopefully be putting her version online in the next couple of days

 

 

Planning went well as did the rehearsals (one or two rehearsals before each shot/segment)

Yelena said that she would have preferred more interaction / rehearsal with the Director to see what I wanted from the actor which I have taken on board for next time

Considering we’re using the onboard microphones on the cameras, the sound didn’t come out too badly.

Things to improve / remember for next time

  • Buzz track
  • Better sound equipment
  • Better lighting
  • Continuity 🙂
  • Foley

 

HND – Day 3 – SWOT Analysis and Personality Types

Today was much more of an introspective day.

We performed a SWOT analysis on our skills which we then discussed in class, and completed questionnaires to identify our character types

 

The SWOT analysis highlighted that I feel I have a number of strengths (not surprising as one of them was confidence, and a few weaknesses including over confidence) .. but as a film maker you need to be confident, especially when all those around you are tutting and saying “it will never work”.

 

The results of the personality tests highlighted that I am a Kinaesthetic learner (heavily kinaesthetic) – which means I’m hands on .. no surprises there. I am also fairly balanced between a reflector and pragmatist, although pragmatist won through at the end of the day.

I found that through all my strengths and weaknesses, the ideal way to address them is to simply get out there and start working on film projects.  Practice, Practice, Practice!

Goals

We were tasked with setting ourselves 3 SMART Goals.  

 

SMART Goals

S – specific, significant, stretching.

M – measurable, meaningful, motivational.

A – agreed upon, attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented.

R – Realistic (Relevant)

T – Time Based

 

Short term – by 15th October 2017

Medium term – by 15th December 2017

Long term – 1st June 2018

 

Short term – sign up for a Raindance short class

Medium term – produce a short video blog about my holiday

Long Term – Make a short film of at least 5 minutes duration

 

This will help develop my video editing, screenwriting and story telling skills .. will have me working with actors (improve my patience/tolerance levels), require me to plan, develop, edit and publish a video .. and use the skills learned on the course(s) I’ve attended