Archive for the ‘Persona’ Category

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A Short-ish Review of the Year that Was…

January 8, 2013

Yep, this is a recap post, but since 2012 was as eventful as a mormon’s party planner it hopefully won’t be a stupidly long one!

Meghann and Conor in "Eliza's Persona"

Meghann and Conor in “Eliza’s Persona”

2012 started extremely well with me landing my first gig where someone hired me for my directing ability. This is a landmark moment in a director’s early career and I threw a lot of myself into it. The project was Persona– a soap designed exclusively to stream from a smartphone or tablet app- and it was a chance to direct dramatic material that didn’t have a sci-fi element. It also meant that I was able to work with other skilled crew members such as DoP Phil Moreton, AD Emily Turton and AC Murat Akyildiz. The film looked and great as a result. I was challenged by the show’s producer, Don Allen, to come up with a story with a current events angle so I created one about a soldier returning from Afghanistan with PTSD and how it affects his non-military life. The script was written by the talented Martyn Deakin and the three principal actors- Meghann Marty, Conor Kennedy and Jake Ferretti- really bought it to life. To date, “Eliza’s Persona” has had a very positive response from audiences which is testament to the work of everyone involved and it’s probably the directing work I’m most proud of.

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In April, almost immediately after we’d wrapped on Persona, I was hired to direct the dramatic sequences in a promo video for Snowdance acting classes. The client had arranged for a DoP for me, but it was only when I got to set that I realised that he had limited knowledge of cinematography and lighting… and a Canon 5D mkII. Since he was happy to defer to me, I ended up lighting and operating (with a camera I didn’t know very well) as well as directing in locations that were too modern and austere for the piece. The end result was a mixed bag visually and performances varied from great to stilted- the two actors were excellent given the short scene they had, but the presenter wasn’t confident in his delivery and got too caught up on the exactness of the lines rather than what he was actually saying. I also got roped into editing it- something I wanted to avoid- although it did give me a chance to edit a whole piece in FCPX rather than just bits. Jury’s still out on whether I like the new software or not.

One of the pluses to the gig was I got to meet scriptwriter Ellie Ball– a talented Scottish writer with a sharp wit- and in May/June I asked her to write some viral comedy scripts for me for Enborne River. I decided to make Enborne River specialise in drama, since that was where my track record was, but realised that selling virals was hard when you didn’t have one yourself! She wrote a series of short scripts for me… and I’ve yet to film them due to location issues, so that really needs to be pushed through this year!

Robin March and Sally Rowe, "Jason's Persona"

Robin March and Sally Rowe, “Jason’s Persona”

I was asked to do a second story for Persona and after a series of increasingly contradictory criteria from the production team, writer Keith Storrier and I created Jason’s Persona– a story about a frustrated office worker who finds a new lease of life as a stand up comedian. I was inspired by the story of real-life comic John Bishop, who kept his new career a secret from his mid-divorce wife but reconciled with her when she unexpectedly saw him perform on stage and fell in love with him all over again. For me, that reconciliation and re-falling in love were the real hooks of the story and while we had practical limitations on the shoot getting that scene to work, audience feedback has been very good regarding that payoff.

The Jason’s Persona shoot also almost cost me my day job- that necessary evil that keeps my bank placated- and while I didn’t get fired it did change my attitude to it. I realised that the job was taking up too much of my energy, time and mental real estate. I didn’t have any downtime because I was trying to live two lives (9-to-5-er and director) and cram both (and sleep) into the 168 hours a week allows. I’ve realised this was untenable and have some tricky decisions to make in the coming months regarding the day job. Do I stay, do I go or do I cut down my hours? It might be the most important career decision I ever make…

Mid-summer, I started working with Phill Barron– the lead writer/ script editor on Persona- on a low budget feature. We wanted something time-travelly and over the next few months thrashed out a few treatments, only to put the idea on hold when the plots were getting away from themselves. This too, needs to be resurrected in 2013.

"Bitter Parents" Robin March and Jo Hughes

“Bitter Parents” Robin March and Jo Hughes

I got offered a gig directing a comedy sketch for the Cold Cuts comedy group called “Bitter Parents.” It was pretty much a one-extended-joke scene but it was going to add a bit of comedy to my otherwise drama and scifi-heavy showreel. Due to the difficulties in securing the location, extras and the child performer, the scene didn’t get lensed til November and over the course of two sunday mornings- meaning actors weren’t all in the same place at the same time. Miraculously, it seems to have come out okay though.

In an effort to get a new short film off the ground (and then get some festival exposure) I started looking at all the old scripts I have floating about. A couple of old The Collector’s Room scripts looked like they could work with a bit of a rewrite. I asked TCR’s co-creator and writer, Luke, if he’d do a rewrite on them, but it seems he’s given up screenwriting because I’ve heard nothing more from him. Collaboration is always a problem in this industry which is why it’s worth having some degree of skill in all areas- if necessary, you could do the job yourself! Sadly, I’m not the greatest writer and my rewrite is still at treatment stage. I need to find a local collaborator to write with or else so many projects will go unmade.

Another script that is undergoing the rewrite treatment is a noir-esque action movie. The idea had been in script limbo on my old mac for years, but it was a renewed interest in action movies that prompted me to dig it out, dust it off and start reworking it. If all goes well, I should be shooting my own John Woo-esque gunplay action short in the first half of 2013. Hollywood will beckon!

October was a bit of a bump in the road in my personal life- my Dad passed away at the early age of 60. Quick and painless for him, complete surprise for us. It made me think about what I was doing with my life, how short time can be and rather than make me lower my expectations, instead it’s made me determined to get my career going. Just a belief in yourself isn’t enough- you have to strive for it and take risks if necessary. I’ve started to realise that and have some brave choices to make in 2013 if I want this to happen.

MiMedia

At the tail end of the year my illustrator friend, Mark Stroud and I got involved with fledgling media design group Mi-Media, headed by local entrepreneur Tony Charles. It sounds like a project that’s got legs and a good chance for giving me future work and so far, things have been going well. Hopefully in the next few weeks, the company will go live and we should start seeing the work roll in.

So that wraps up the mixed bag o’ shite that was 2012. Seems more happened than I thought since this post is anything but “short!” Some things got off to a fine start, but many crashed and burned before they got very far.

I think a concerted effort is needed if I’m to make 2013 the year 2012 was supposed to be.

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Location, Location, Location

October 12, 2012

If you’re working in the low budget arena, you frequently have issues getting stuff for cheap or free. Kit, production design, cast and crew… But for me, the biggest arse-ache of the moment is locations.

You rarely have the option of using a set on a budget of sweet Fanny Adams , so you have to find good/serviceable/not-shit locations for the ever-so-reasonable rate of nowt. Which can be tricky. Locations often have their own business to attend to- whether it be customers coming in or people living there- and frequently this means timing limits, noise problems or (worse still for the broke filmmaker) having to pay to film there. There are also some locations that are practically impossible to get without your chequebook because the location owners know how much they’re worth.

When I was at uni we were filming a short film in an Indian restaurant. We found one with a function room they’d let us film in and were happy for us to do so. For free, it seemed. Halfway through the shoot (we were there a week overall), the manager changed his mind and started talking money. You see, several years before, the restaurant had been used in a scene for the TV series “Soldier, Soldier” and as a result, he had been paid the standard rate for a half day location shoot. He knew we were students. He knew we had no money. He knew that the money he got from the TV production company that one time was more than four times the total budget of our little project. Yet he asked anyway because he knew his location was worth something.

I can’t really blame him. He wasn’t a filmmaker and no interest in the whole process. He ran a restaurant business. The use of his function room was becoming a business decision for him and thus he was looking for some reimbursement.

On the flip side of things, more recently we’ve been very lucky with locations. My friend Kelly let us film “Persona” in her house all weekend and The Gardner’s Arms in Emmer Green let us have their function room and bar for free all day. Neither had any real interest in filmmaking, both had no reason to give access to their places for larkin. But they did and we’re grateful and the shows look great as a result.

But I’ve got a few small shoots on the cards now that need locations. Some of which I’m having a real problem sourcing.

Maybe it’s me. I’ve never been very good at finding these places- in part because I tend to believe that people are going to be resistant to letting a small group of filmmakers traipse through their location, getting underfoot and making requests like turning off air-con or roping in customers/residents/workers as “background artists.”

Yet I also subscribe to the idea that if you don’t ask you don’t get. The old “the worst that could happen is they could say no” idea. Which is weird because I rarely actually act on said belief- like the teenager who fancies a girl but can’t even speak to her in case she turns him down.

(Actually, I think that might be more than just an analogy…)

(I think I’m going to go now and listen to some Coldplay, write terrible emo poetry and dwell on my own inadequacies. Nobody loves me etc etc…)

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The Lesson of Creative Coverage

September 9, 2012

Depending on where, how or if you learnt your film and video trade, the word “coverage” is either a mantra to be chanted at all times or a boring, uninspired term on a par with talking insurance premiums (no disrespect to anyone who works in the insurance trade, but by fuck is your world dull!). For those who are not au fait with filmmaking terminology- and why the hell are you reading this blog?- “coverage” is a way of shooting scenes that allows for choices in the edit. The standard “Hollywood” approach for a two character dialogue is the five shot master style- a wide master, two over-the-shoulder close-up reverses and two big close-up singles.

(If the previous terms meant nothing to you, you’re either a curious blog-reader lost in a strange area of interest or a maverick filmmaker who calls his shots whatever the fuck he wants to- and if the latter, I salute you because you’re likely going to get further in this game than me by being an arrogant wunderkind!) The five shot master style looks a little like this:

But while it gives you nice, easily-cuttable-between-each-other shots that “cover” the whole scene, coverage isn’t sexy. It’s like a Flemish bond in bricklaying- its the common foundation of the whole skillset but it’s not creative, exciting or flamboyant. It gets the job done.

For most directors and DoPs, it’s always more interesting to use creative masters such as dolly moves or motivated tracks and pans or add a variation to the standard formula with either handheld, focus pulling or push-in/pull-backs… Sadly though, these sorts of shots take time- particularly dolly shots- because of the extra set-up for the grip gear, the knock-on effect on lighting and sound and the level of rehearsal needed. A director on a budget with a tight schedule has to weigh up whether it’s worth doing a dramatic master and possibly having to ditch the standard singles etc or sticking with the safety of the coverage and running the risk of having something as cinematically exciting as a rich tea biscuit.

I suffer from this scenario all the time.

On every shoot in fact.

I always have a tight schedule and a low budget so I’m always torn between shooting something with creative merit that I can be proud of and shooting stuff that stands a chance of being edited properly. As is predictable, I try to achieve both and frequently wind up with a real mix of scenes. Some with dramatically motivated shots and compositions, some that cut together well and some that fail somewhat on both counts.

For instance on Jason’s Persona, as mentioned previously on this blog, we had 18 scenes to shoot in three days. Or, as it panned out due to actors’ and locations’ availability, 18 scenes in one whole and two half-days. Which meant that we wouldn’t have the time to shoot the standard minimum five setups per scene (the vast majority of them were two-handers). In order to cut down on our time, we stripped some scenes down to a single set of reverses- a close up or over-the-shoulder for each character. Which, while serviceable and allows for a little flexibility in editing for timing and pauses, lacks any variety or emphasis. So much so that since I’ve been editing it these last few weeks, I have started to regret some of those non-coverage decisions. The same thing happened with the previous story, Eliza’s Persona, although in that case it was usually a no-coverage crafted master shot affair.

A dolly shot set-up from Jason’s Persona

And so, I have come up with a couple of rules (that I will no doubt forget when I next arrive on set) that hopefully should give me more coverage options, regardless of how dull/cinematic my approach is.

1) Shoot an interesting opener. This could be an establishing shot of the location, a miscellaneous cutaway or an insert of something in the scene- like a glass on the table of a pub scene. All this saves you having to open the scene with the standard wide or a close up.

2) If you want to open with the wide or the close up, is there a way to move into it? So dolly in to the final framing, pan up from the book the character’s reading or focus pull from an informative piece of production design. it might take a little longer than a static shot, but it’ll be a bit more cinematic.

3) Shoot inserts and cutaways. If the characters’ blocking includes using props, shoot inserts of the props being picked up/used/put down etc. This can be used to add emphasis to those actions, cover dodgy edit points and line crossings or they can be used as openers or enders for the scene.

4) Over the Shoulders are a favourite pattern because they add depth to the frame- put a long-ish lens on there and it’ll look great- but they are a continuity problem if performances don’t match with the reverse. Hence close-ups in the classic coverage. If you can’t shoot anything else, get the close-ups. That’s where the drama is after all.

5) Don’t forget sound. Remember to get room tone and any natural sounds like chairs being pulled out, glasses being put down etc. If an annoying background sound is present on some takes- fridges, air-con…- make sure you get a track of that too.

The Persona shoots have been fast, condensed, cheap and full of scheduling obstacles- like filming different actors’ close-ups in a single scene at different times because of their availability or having to film day for night and night for day. By working on these shoots I’ve learnt a few lessons I might otherwise have missed (and that some of my fellow directors have not learnt at all). Whether these lessons will prove useful or detrimental is unclear, but the more varied experiences you have, the more likely you are to learn something that will later prove useful and possibly save a future project where it might otherwise fall apart around your ears

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Directing Emotions

August 23, 2012

Being a director is all about emotions. Finding the emotional beats in the story, getting the actors to the right emotional place for the scene and iliciting the desired emotional response in the audience. These things are somewhat obvious. But there is another feelings-based element to consider- that of keeping on top of the emotional state of the cast and crew.

When you’re actually there on set, particularly on the low budget side of things, its easy to forget that everyone there has an investment in the film you’re making- whether it be doing good enough work to justify their day rates or wanting to creatively exel themselves. Cast and crew alike, they all have practical, creative, reputational and emotional concerns about this project- is this going to look good on their reel, could they be doing something better today, is the money worth it, will this be their big break, will they regret this? And every decision you make as a director changes their feelings on this shoot a little bit, giving them confidence or cause to worry.

Once you realise this and tap into it, your job as a director becomes at once more complicated but also so much easier. On the one hand, you now have one more thing to worry about- one more thing that has a high chance of destroying the shoot if mishandled. But on the other you have a way of keeping everyone happy, productive and creative- if only you notice the signs and play things intelligently.

To give a few examples…

Kayleigh Lawrence in “The Collector’s Room: The Last Serenade”

On one of the Collector’s Room shoots, I was working with a lovely actress called Kayleigh Lawrence. The script called for a scene where she had to wear a nightie and be ignored by her boyfriend played by Chris LeHec. Now this wasn’t an exploitative scene (it was more for character and comic effect) nor was it going to be shot in a titillating manner (it was a lying-down over-the-shoulder shot and some singles) but it was obviously a concern for her. I knew I needed to make her feel more comfortable but I also knew that if I made a big deal of this it could make her more insecure. So I asked some of my crew- the male half of my crew- to start setting up the next scene downstairs. This left only Kate the AD, Bethan the Producer and Lindsey the Make Up Artist in the room. Since I was my own DoP, I had Kate jump on audio and we shot the scene quickly and Kayleigh was put at ease. Reducing the number of (male) eyes in the room was obviously the easiest course of action, but if I had drawn attention to what I was doing and why, it would’ve made Kayleigh feel even more self-conscious and possibly made things difficult for her for the rest of the shoot. By sending the others out under the “pretence” of setting up the next scene, I not only made her feel better but also saved some time on the schedule!

Actors Robin March and Lily Beck larking about on the set of “Jason’s Persona”

More recently, on the Jason’s Persona shoot, we were filming in a pub function room. We had the pub to ourselves all day but we had a cubic fuckton of material to get lensed. To make matters worse, it was a very hot (for Britain anyway) summer day and we had blacked out the windows because we were filming day-for-night. We were quickly shooting some open-mic-night stand-up comedy sequences for one of the film’s scenes and we were having issues with where we could place the camera so we got a good close-up. I wanted to cheat Robin’s eyeline and place the camera further round so we got a more traditional 3/4 CU. David, the DoP, had the shot in near-profile and didn’t understand what I was getting at and why the current framing wouldn’t work. Obviously, neither did Robin or Lily, his co-star who was providing his eyeline. In fact, no one got what I was going on about- as far as they were all concerned I was being nitpicky and awkward when we were short on time and everyone was short on patience. Knowing that I had to strive for the right shot and knowing that if I pushed too far everyone would get pissed off, unhappy and less productive (working for free, remember) I asked David and Robin to humour me and told Emily my AD to call a break after this shot. Even though the ten minute break would set back the already back logged schedule, it was necessary for everyone to have a breather so the stress would be forgotten and good spirits bought back.

I’ve also seen things go the other way.

I was DoP-ing on a short film last year where the director was pretty inexperienced and didn’t really communicate well with the cast or crew. The leading lady wasn’t particularly confident in his directing so when he blocked her movements a certain way to set up his shot, she objected saying it felt wrong. In these situations, it’s all about knowing what you want. If you want a good performance and need the blocking to work a certain way, then you need to let the actor know you understand where they’re coming from, assure them that on camera the blocking will work better than it feels on set and between you try to find a playable direction that she can use to justify the blocking. I often get the actors to walk the blocking with the camera rolling and then show them the footage so they can see where I’m coming from. That way it builds mutual trust in each other’s skills an opinions and you start working together on the problem.

This guy didn’t.

In fact, he got very flustered and couldn’t explain or justify his thinking. The actress, sensing his loss of direction turned to what I call “actor’s self-preservation” where she decided the film didn’t matter anymore- only how she was going to look and how bearable the rest of the shoot was going to be. She flat out refused any direction, preferring to do it her way, made diva-like requests and at the end of the shoot demanded higher expenses than previously agreed. While all this was going on, the other actors and crew started to get restless- some saw her behaviour as holding up the shoot and some started to side with her. The director never recovered that situation or the shoot. The AD and I managed to get through the last few scenes but the performances from everyone suffered because of that single loss of goodwill. And as a post-note, the film has never been finished to my knowledge.

These incidents all go to prove that directing is a lot tougher than many filmmakers assume. For a lot of aspiring directors it’s about being in charge, telling your story and getting your own way when in fact, directing is usually about deferring to and filtering opinions and ideas, telling the story and often letting others think they’re getting their way while finding out what your way actually is.

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A Director’s Priorities

August 16, 2012

Some of the cast and crew from “Jason’s Persona”

So the second Persona shoot is finished and in the can and I can’t help but wonder how we got everything done.

While I’ve not been the frequent blogger I intended or promised to be over the period of this project’s development, I have made a few mentions to the difficulty of doing the Persona shoots- particularly in the areas of pre-production time, tight schedule and self-imposed standards of story and performance. You see, the average Persona story has a turnaround time so tight it could open a strategically-placed beer bottle with a cough- many are turned from vague plot idea to finished product within six weeks. And, with a timescale like that, something has to give and that something is usually quality. Quality of writing. Quality of casting. Quality of performance. Quality of cinematography.

On the two shoots I’ve directed, we’ve tried to not let that happen, but obviously compromises have to be made somewhere. But we’ve tried to put the hours and effort in where we can make the most difference and let the least important areas slide instead. And the areas we’ve let slide aren’t what a lot of emerging (hate that term- sounds like you’re a badger or something coming out of hibernation!) filmmakers would choose to scrimp on. So here I’m going to share our approach to achieving better results with less- picking your battles carefully and putting the effort and money in where it matters most.

The single most important thing is the story. If this doesn’t make immediate sense to you then you are either not a director (and instead likely an unprofessional wannabe-DoP douchebag) or you’re a fucking idiot.

As a director, you are the ombudsman for the audience- you care about about what they care about. And, as a rule, they don’t give a toss about pretty bokeh porn or picture grading or anamorphic lens flares (that means you, JJ Abrams…). All they care about is the story- what it is, how it’s told, who the characters are and what happens. These are the important things- the things you need to focus on. If you have limited resources, then they all need to be thrown at things that enhance the storytelling process first. And sadly for a lot of filmmakers and DoPs, that actually doesn’t include the camera at the top of the list.

In fact, the list (in descending order) goes:

1. The script.

2. The cast and crew.

3. The performances.

4. The world.

5. The presentation.

The script is the single most important thing for a fiction film to work. While it’s not exactly the metaphorical blueprint frequently referred to (blueprints are supposed to be definitive and unchangeable, unlike a script which is more akin to a sketch with rough measurements), it is the creative product that the rest of the show is based on. Rushing or compromising this can only lead to a less than stellar film. Certainly one which is inferior to it’s potential. Don’t go into production until the script is great.

The cast and crew is second. And by cast I don’t mean the executive style of casting where they try to find a household name to pin the project on- I mean choose the right cast for the roles and the project. Choose actors that you think/know you can work with, that trust you and know that you can rely on them to “get” the story and the characters. Cast a difficult actor or one that you can’t direct and pay the price- no matter how talented they are, if you can’t get them where you need them, the show will suffer. Choose your crew with similar care- their creativity and knowledge are what you hire them for. Make sure they work well with you, then you can trust them and their imput. Remember, filmmaking is not a solo activity- you need the people with the skills that you don’t have to make a film that pools your creative skills.

On the set of “Jason’s Persona”

The acting performances follow naturally on from the cast. Choose the right cast and they can deliver the right performances. Why separate cast from performance though and place the former above the latter? Because while the performances are extremely important, if you have limited time and resources you might not be able to give the attention that you’d like to performances on the day. Cast the right actors, trust their judgement and allow them to create the roles- if you make the right decisions in casting, you’ll make your job a lot easier on set. But obviously, there’s more to it than that. You can’t just hope the actors will deliver fried gold on take one without any imput from you. They will still need direction. And it’s this direction that will help mold their performances into the sort of on-screen drama and characterisation you’re looking for.

Now, the first three are somewhat self-explanatory. They are the things an audience actually notice and respond directly to. Ask for the average Joe’s movie review and he’ll talk about the story, how believable the actors are and whether or not the script sucked. Everything else is a bit more abstract or subtle for people to register. The world is one such element and essentially, a lot of it’s about the art department and production design. A good story creates a believable world but if this world cannot be created, insinuated or shown on screen, the audience’s faith and immersion won’t be as powerful. This doesn’t always mean great matte paintings or detailed craft workshops- an effective world can be created with a complete design and attention to detail with key props, costumes and location choices. Don’t just settle for what you find- make the world the audience sees.

But where, I hear you cry, in this list is the cinematography, the look, the style, the editing? Actually, they all come under point five- presentation. Along with pretty much every other facet of the filmmaking production process. Yes, camera department, that means that the writer (script), the actors (cast and performances) and the production designer (the world) are more important to the film than you are. Galling though this sounds, it’s because from an audience’s perspective, the cinematography isn’t something they register on any conscious level. I’ll admit, they register it subconsciously- different colour palettes and lighting and shot choices all affect the mood and the story conveyed, there’s no denying that- but an audience notices a bad script, a poor performance and an unbelievable world before they realise that the bleach bypass look made the film feel gritty. This isn’t to degrade the cinematographer or their work- far from it- but the common camera department opinion that theirs is the most important and medium-defining role on set is bullshit.

I suppose what I’m getting at here is that what you as a filmmaker might think is the most important thing to focus your money and creativity on, probably isn’t to your audience and as a director, you need to refocus. With a budget of nothing and resources of next to nothing, focus your attention on the script, the people you’re working with and the actors’ performances because these things are both cost-effective and best for the story.

Because after all, the story should be a director’s primary concern.

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All Change, All Panic, All Part of the Job

July 3, 2012

Originally this post was going to be entitled “Two Weeks Til I Shit Myself” because the shoot dates for the new Persona story are looming and while we’re confident in the story and the script, all the other ingredients in this cinematic cake are still sat on the shelves in ASDA. Three elements in particular worry me:

1) None of the locations have been tied down.

2) The DoP isn’t confirmed, neither is the soundo or the make up artist.

3) We’ve started the casting process but not really seen anyone for the roles yet.

About the only tangible progress made has been with the breakdown and storyboarding- more on that in another post- but even that’s debatable now because after a few weeks of exec producer incommunicado we hear that there have been a few changes in Camp Persona:

1) Our broadcast date has been pushed back to September meaning there’s no pressure to shoot everything in two weeks time. This has metaphorically saved me buying plastic pants.

2) The structure of the show has changed- rather than twelve appisodes of 60-90sec, it’s now eighteen episodes of 60sec. This has sent me on an errand back to the metaphorical plastic pants shop, wallet in hand.

Why is this an issue? Because it means some scenes will have to be cut down, new ones added and some deleted altogether. There’s actually a lot you can do in a 90sec time slot. There’s a lot less you can achieve in 60sec. 33% less to be anally exact. Currently, I like the script. The writer likes the script. The potential leading man likes the script. With the restructuring, a lot of the scenes and stylistic choices we were looking at doing become impossible or ineffective. And annoyingly, since I’ve already started storyboarding (using the rather excellent Celtx cloud system I might add), a lot of my work is going to have to be thrown out.

Am I annoyed? A little. Obviously the shoot dates being pushed back is a blessing, but the extra restructuring and redrafting is going to eat into that extra time quite easily. Also, I’m not sure the story’s going to work so well in its new guise. It was hard enough to tell a story in the old pattern- as I found out with the previous story!

But these are the sorts of things you encounter as a gun-for-hire director. Studios and executives change their minds on what the show needs to be, you get asked to shoehorn certain elements or actors or product placements into the piece and you have to field all this stuff while trying desperately to cling on to an ever-changing story that’s wriggling around like a puppy that doesn’t want to be held. Many directors, lured by the idyllic life of the indie filmmaker or the triple A above-the-line Speilbergs of the industry, would probably give up and put all their eggs in the “being discovered” basket when faced with this. But I see this as an opportunity to practice the necessary skills to actually get regular (ish), professional (ish), paid work- these are the working director’s equivalent of dealing with difficult customers or an incompetent boss or dealing with company rules. Sure, they’re a pain in the arse, but you have to deal with them if you want to get paid.

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The First Draft

June 8, 2012

I’m working with writer Keith Storrier on this new Persona story- he’s got a background in comedy writing, something that’s needed with this new storyline. You see, rather than go for hard-hitting, relationship drama like last time, I plumped for a lighter story. One about a marriage in jeopardy, miscommunication and crushed dreams… and a bit of stand-up comedy!

While this storyline was my idea (inspired by something that happened to a real stand-up comedian), I’m secretly quite anxious. While I consider myself to be a witty individual and someone who understands comedy reasonably well as a performer, I’ve never really directed comedy before. And as far as all professional opinions go, comedy is one of the hardest things to direct- just below high-octane action sequences and crime capers where the star is a lovable mongrel dog. I don’t want this to fall flat. I want it to be funny, but still fit within the ethos of Persona as a show. And I especially want the dramatic moments to work.

Without giving away the story, there’s a moment near the end that I’m hoping really works. I want a good chunk of the audience to have to wipe away an embarassed tear when they’re watching the appisode in question and smile through it. When I heard this part of the real-life story, it was the bit that really sold me on it and hit me emotionally. Ultimately, that’s what a director does- tries to recreate the moments that emotionally affected them when they heard/thought of the story and encourage the audience to feel the same way.

My anxiety is also compounded by a turnaround quicker than a nun’s first curry. The airdate is about two months away!

Luckily, the first draft of the script fell (or more accurately appeared) in my inbox yesterday and I’m happy to say that things are looking good. There are a few story bumps and character motivations to iron out, but the major beats and elements are all there. The characters are well-written, there are some funny lines and the moment at the end works pretty well. Keith’s done a great job on the writing. There’s still more work to do, but it’s eased my fears a little knowing that we’re starting from a good place.