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, and at one point they even 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. 

 

On completion of day 2’s shoot  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. 

 

 

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?