Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

h1

Fests, Bests and all the Rests

April 7, 2018

So… an update!

A few things have happened, so I thought I’d scribble down a few poorly-thought-out thoughts.

Dead Meet Awards Poster S

The last time I’d talked about Dead Meet it had been shown at Birmingham Film Festival and I had kinda drawn a line under the project. But I guess I shouldn’t have written the film off so easily because out of all the festivals I’d submitted to, it got accepted into two I thought were out of the film’s league- Starburst Media City Festival and Artemis -Women in Action festival.
Starburst, from the magazine of the same name, is a fairly high-profile festival focusing on scifi and other genre films. I submitted “Dead Meet” to them but didn’t hold out much hope of getting a screening- partly because the flick had had a few knockbacks by this point and partly because I didn’t know if it was what Starburst were looking for. But it got accepted (although FilmFreeway originally told be it had been rejected!) and even more surprisingly, it won an award! Or more accurately, Francesca, our lead actress, won the Best Performance award for her role in the film- which was well-deserved, given how much time and energy she put into the role, especially the fight scenes. And, if I’m honest, I think the latter was a lot to do with why she won- audiences and critics respect things that are difficult and performing that sort of action, particularly when you’re not a professional stunt-person, is extremely hard and demonstrates a lot of skill and effort.

28699194_1805884279463458_1611271314193130730_o

Francesca with her Performance Award from Starburst Media City Festival

But the surprises weren’t over. “Dead Meet” also got into Artemis, which as its name might imply, is all about female empowerment. Artemis was a festival we had in mind when making the film, but I had no idea it would actually get accepted. But it’s something of a double-edged sword for me. On the plus side, Artemis is quite high profile. On the down side, it takes place in LA. And I’m in the UK. And broke. And my passport’s out of date. So, yeah, sadly I won’t be attending the film’s first international screening later this month, which is a shame because Francesca went and won another award: Best Actress – Short (the film, not Francesca!)! Again, it’s well-deserved and hopefully she’ll be able to attend the gala and pick up her award in person.

So if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from all this, it’s never write a project off- you never know if it’ll go the distance!

MaK Poster 2 v2

The next update is about my other directorial effort, “Making a Killing.” It’s finished and it too is being submitted to festivals. I’m pleased with how it’s turned out- it’s a very different film to “Dead Meet” so it should show another side to me as a director. I reckon it’ll do well at a number of festivals and it’ll probably pick up a lot of views when we start pushing it online. Will it win any awards? Time will tell… but it’s already through to the semi finals of the Los Angeles Cinefest, so it’s doing well so far!
To complete my hat trick of directing credits this year, I’ve also been writing a short ghost story with the aim of directing it at some point. The aim for this one is to focus more on visual storytelling and have a film that really lends itself to striking images, something that I feel my previous work lacks a bit. There are also a number of microshorts I have planned so this could be an interesting few months… Hopefully, I should have enough new material to redo my directing showreel and then, all being well, I can start getting actual directing gigs.

Hopefully.

Advertisements
h1

Movies That Made Me #1- “Hard Target”

January 26, 2018

In what I hope will be a repeated, if not entirely regular, series, I thought I’d look at some of the films that have influenced me as a filmmaker. Now before people get all commenty in the comments section (best place to do it other than a toilet wall somewhere), most of these are not going to be undisputed classics. In fact most of these films would prompt an expression of confused disgust from many filmmakers and movie aficionados. But, good or bad, they have had an effect on me and the way I perceive and make films to this day.

These are the movies that made me.

First up to bat, it’s the slow motion Jean Claude Van Damme action vehicle and mullet enthusiast’s propaganda film, “Hard Target.”

8792195

For a teenage boy growing up in the early 90s, the local video rental shop was a godsend. I’ve mentioned it before, but my Dad knew a good deal when he saw it and for £10 a month, we could rent any three tapes we wanted, for as long as we wanted and swap them out as and when we felt like it. This meant that I saw pretty much every action movie ever made in the early years of that decade and for a boy who’d developed something of a fascination with martial arts (even before he took his first karate class), that was a lot of small screen inspiration.

I’d been a fan of Van Damme ever since I saw the first Universal Soldier, but it was Hard Target that really cemented him as an action star for me. It was also the film that introduced me to one of my greatest directorial influences, John Woo Yu Seng. It’s only in recent years that I can look back on Hard Target and see how profound an effect it had on me as a filmmaker.

jeanclaude_vandamme

Don’t eat all your snake, Van Damme, or you won’t have room for your scorpion tortillas.

If you haven’t seen the flick, it’s John Woo’s first American movie and while it’s a mixed bag compared to his previous Hong Kong outings like The Killer and Hard Boiled, it was a tour de force for a thirteen year old boy who had never seen anything like Woo’s flavour of balletic action before. The remarkably thin plot is about a group of mercenaries turned entrepreneurs hunting homeless veterans for sport in New Orleans, with Van Damme playing one such vet trying to help a young woman find her previously hunted father. And while that might be an awkwardly long sentence, it does pretty much sum up the story of the movie in one breath.

New Orleans makes for an interesting backdrop, even if it’s usually just used as a generic “small town America” and the Deep South references are relegated to soundtrack cues and architecture, but it makes a change from the usual L.A/New York setting most 90s action flicks find themselves in. It helps give the film a bit of character- something most of its contemporaries on the straight to video shelves lacked.

720full-hard-target-screenshot

The acting itself is exactly what you’d expect from a 90s actioner directed by a man who didn’t speak English all that well- it’s pretty pish. Lance Henricksen and Arnold Vosloo are the best performers in the flick, Yancy Butler is alright but has very little to work with and JCVD… well, dialogue was never his strong suit, certainly not at this point in his career. Kicking people in the face, however, was, and while the movie isn’t overflowing with Van Damme’s usual bootwork, there are enough kicks mixed in with the gunplay to showcase what he can do.

Which brings me on to the action…

Still_hardtarget2_758_426_81_s_c1

Wide angle spinning split kick- the best moment in the film and possibly in JCVD’s entire career.

As a 14 year old boy, this film blew me away. I’d seen action films before obviously, but this was refreshingly different, high energy and balletic compared to the Schwarzenegger-style flicks I’d seen previously. Bad guys flew through the air when shot, guns held about seventy rounds per clip, everything exploded when hit and diving sideways while doves flew past was the preferred mode of locomotion. I fucking loved it. And looking back on it, it had a huge effect on me as a filmmaker.

What made this film stand out for me at the time was the way it’s shot and edited. Woo’s style uses double cuts, replays and changing film speed (in particular, his often-cited slow motion) to enhance the feeling of an action sequence, making them a thing of beauty as well as a visceral experience. But he also uses frequent big close-ups, smooth dolly shots and mirrored compositions to tell a story- such as when Van Damme and Vosloo have a mid-gunfight conversation back-to-back against a wall. A lot of the story is told visually- characters don’t explain their feelings in dialogue, they show it in their eyes and the way they react to the things around them. This is one of the things that I notice a lot in my own work- a story told through when and how characters react to events in the scene. Little looks and gestures given decent screen time to highlight them. Obviously, Woo wasn’t the first to do this- it’s kinda filmmaking 101- but for a kid who was only just starting to notice movies for the craft involved, Woo’s work was a revelation.

hard-target-lg

So this is a “face.” But can it come “off?”

But probably the biggest takeaway for me was how Woo shoots and edits action. Action sequences rely on audiences understanding the geography of the location and having certain elements set up and paid off within the scene. For instance, the big finale takes place in this abandoned warehouse full of carnival floats, providing both a nice nod to the New Orleans setting and an interesting splash of colour to what could’ve been a drab and dingy location. The warehouse is a maze, full of all this junk and Woo sets up the size and creepy chaos with a suspenseful sequence where the bag guys led by Henricksen and Vosloo hunt for JCVD before all hell breaks loose. And it’s this suspense-release pattern that stood out amongst all the straight-to-VHS action films I’d been used to.

So, yes, it’s not the greatest film in the world and its not the greatest film in Woo’s catalogue, but Hard Target will always be the film that taught me how action design and editing worked. If you get a chance, it’s worth a look!

h1

2017 Part 3 – Director for Hire: “Making a Killing”

January 22, 2018
IMG-20170831-WA0005

One of these things is more necessary on set than the other…

One of the sad facts about the career of a director is that you’ll spend longer doing collaboration projects and working for free than pretty much anyone else on set. And when you think about it, this makes sense. Partly because everyone else can be hired by several people (the producer, the director or their head of department) whereas you are only ever hired by a producer; but also because directing has a high degree of responsibility- producers are only going to hire directors that they’re confident in and usually that means having worked with them before. Plus, directing is a very desirable position and there are a lot of people who want that chair so it’s a very competitive but very closed market.

Most of your early directing “jobs” will be self-produced. You’re the one leading the project, you’re the one footing the bill, you’re the one with your vision on screen. Effectively, you hire yourself. But there’s a lot to be said for those projects where you’re hired as a director, even if there’s no real pay to speak of. I’ve done a few of these gigs over the years and, if you pick the right projects, they can be great for your reel and a great way to network. Plus, you get to feel like you’ve been hired, which gives your ego a bit of a massage.

Making a Killing ScreenGrab1

Darrel Draper (Jarad) and Amelia Vernede (Claudia) get a bit messy in “Making a Killing”

Early last year I spotted a directing job on mandy.com, helming a short film called “Making a Killing.” It was a script written by actor Darrell Draper and co-produced by him and another actor, Amelia Vernede. They’d come up with the film as a chance to showcase themselves and hopefully push their acting careers forward. What made this film different from all the other no-budget shorts kicking around though was the script.

It was a comedy that was actually funny.

I know, go figure… It was also well-written in general and this is something of a rarity at the lower rungs of the industry ladder (to be honest, it isn’t that much less rarefied at the professional six-figure-budget rungs either). Less than stellar scripts were something that had deterred me from accepting many other directing gigs over the years. The last thing I wanted was to jump in to the directing chair on a project where the script or story was lacking, because no matter what you do, you can’t turn it into something amazing. As many have said, you can’t polish a turd (even if you can cover it in glitter and pretend it’s gold!) and who wants a turd on their resume?

But “Making a Killing” wasn’t a turd and in fact, had a lot of potential to be a cool little film. The story was a simple, if comically absurd one: Jarad is a wannabe serial killer, but he doesn’t really know anything about it or how to get started so he enlists the help of Claudia, a marketing agent, to help him. The film follows Jarad’s attempts to join the Bundys and Mansons of the world and takes an explorative and satirical poke at people’s fascination with murder and the morality of fame and it’s less savoury cousin infamy. There’s a lot of black humour, a touch of drama and a bit of social commentary- things I wanted a bit more of in my directing career because I believe a good director needs to be versatile with both style and subject matter.

24883415_1475880735867757_3955439855538995864_o

A couple of weeks before the shoot, I went to London to see the locations we had access to. Most of the action was set in a flat in Hackney and a few exteriors in the surrounding area. The flat was owned by a friend of the actors and although we had free reign there, we had a limited window to shoot in. We had access from 9am to 5pm over two days, which wasn’t too bad, but since it takes a while to get in and set up and almost as long to break everything down at the end of the day, it was going to be a little tight to get everything done. So I decided to plan and storyboard things as best I could. In that regard, the recce was really helpful since I could work out my coverage based on the location. And since the actors were there, we were also able to block out some of the scenes in the flat as well, which helped with picking shots.

I like to think of a film breaking down into scenes and sequences. Scenes are the same as what they are in the script- a chunk of (primarily) dialogue and action set in one location and happening concurrently. They are usually shot using coverage so they can be edited in a variety of ways, although you could use a one-shot if the scene lends itself to that (and you don’t mind incurring the wrath of an editor!). Sequences have to be considered as what they are- a series of shots that narratively progress in one direction and are more of a montage in nature. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to use coverage to get these shots because they’re often specific to each beat of the story, so you’ll need to see it edited together in your head and shoot what you need- which is where storyboards can really come into their own.

DSC00801

Adam Hudson (DP) and Joe Nichols (AC) set up for the first shot of the film with Amelia Vernede (Claudia)

In the case of “Making a Killing” most of the film was comprised of scenes- usually two characters talking- so storyboarding wasn’t really necessary for those, but I did draw a few just to get the camera placements in my head. But there were two sequences in the film- a musical montage where Jarad’s trying out different serial killer “identities” complete with costume changes and a sequence with Jarad pursuing his first victim.

The former proved problematic even up to the day of the shoot, partly because we still didn’t know the specifics of what was going to happen in the scene costume/character-wise but also because I was unsure how to shoot it. I knew where we would have to stage the scene- in the hallway because it was the only area in the flat big enough- but I didn’t know how I wanted it to go together. Originally, I had the idea of using a time-lapse between costume changes, but this would have been too complex and ultimately too limiting for the sequence. But once we knew what elements were going to make up the sequence (Jarad’s entrances and exits in each costume with a bit of action inbetween, Claudia’s reactions before, during and after each costume reveal and the notebook of possible identities getting crossed out and doodled over), we were able to get the footage we needed so it could be cut together into a narratively valid music-backed montage.

Making a Killing Screen2

Darrel Draper gets his stalk(er) on…

The other sequence, where Jarad stalks his first victim, was envisaged as a tense, horror movie-like moment and I planned out a bunch of shots to capitalise on this part of the story. There was also a comic twist at the end of this sequence leading into a dialogue scene, so setting things up right would make that much stronger. Sadly, time was against us. You see, we needed to shoot this sequence and the scene that followed when it was dark and unfortunately, we were filming in August, where night doesn’t fall til gone 9pm. Which meant a long shoot day was going to get longer and we didn’t have the luxury of picking the shots up the next day.

21231063_1374676479321517_7799298972754571201_n

So we filmed the important bit- the dialogue scene – first and then had to grab a few set-up shots afterwards as we walked back to the main location. As an aside, we were filming on a Sony A7S II and holy hell, that thing can see in the dark! We were filming on a path beside a church and the only practical lights were streetlamps thirty-odd feet away on the main road. We had a few battery-powered LED panels to get a bit of key lighting in there, but it was pretty damn dark and I doubt there were many cameras that could’ve produced a usable result in those conditions. In fact, I think the only reason we got a bit of noise in the footage was because we were shooting S-Log3 (Log modes don’t tend to work so well in low light scenarios and you often can’t adjust the ISO either) but it’s nothing a bit of de-noising in post won’t clear up!

25073498_1477158175740013_6855751413211023137_o

For the camera geeks amongst you, this was what the A7S II can see post-grade with minimal light, shooting SLog3 in UHD. For everyone else, this is Gemma Tubbs (Rebecca).

Day two was finishing up the flat scenes and it was then that we hit what I like to call the “iceberg scene.” Iceberg scenes are scenes that don’t look that problematic on paper but when you get to shoot them, you realise there’s a massive problem with them that threatens to sink the proverbial ship. The bit you can see is just the tip of the iceberg, but if you don’t take action quickly, that’s going to spiral into a huge chunk of delays, stress and lost goodwill. Mixed metaphors aside, they happen on most shoots and in my experience they usually come from poor planning. In this case, the fault was largely mine…

24831397_1472779002844597_6802652423965790921_o

Giving actors a sharp prop during an “iceberg scene” is just asking for trouble…

We had quite a chunky scene set in the lounge- an argument scene- and I knew where it was going to take place, but I hadn’t blocked anything out with the actors. And what’s rule number one? Always block scenes out with actors first before picking your camera angles…

But I hadn’t.

So when we started setting up for the master shot, that was when I tried to find business for the actors to do- in this case, Claudia would be sat on the sofa using her laptop and Jarad would be hurriedly fussing around her trying to tidy things up. It was a good idea for the scene- it showed how complacent Claudia had become in Jarad’s home and how Jarad had changed as a person by wanting things to be tidy and impress his new girlfriend. And, had I had the chance (or made the time) to work through the action with the actors, we could’ve staged a very funny scene where Jarad is always tidying where Claudia wants to be and so there’d be this great visual game of musical chairs, stressing both of them out. But instead, the action itself was a little flat and that caused some problems when it came to covering the scene: Claudia’s close up needed to pan to the side in line with her looking space when Jarad crossed the shot, we needed two close ups of Jarad for the different lines of action (both of which needed to be in awkward places within the location) and continuity needed to be super tight as a result of the business the actors were doing.

On their own, these things weren’t enough to derail the shoot, but as I’ve said before, directing is largely about people management and if you don’t have good answers for how a scene needs to be shot, the crew and cast can become stressed, argumentative and worse still, defensive. If they get to this last stage, teamwork can suffer as each member of the cast and crew starts to do whatever they think is best for them, their reel and their career- actors direct themselves, DPs fuss over getting the perfect shot and many others just want to go home. Fortunately, we never got to that stage, but people did start to get stressed. I struggle with these situations because when I find myself with an iceberg scene, I tend to become very pragmatic, fall back on simple shots and coverage and try to get through the scene without pissing people off. The downside to this approach is that although the atmosphere and people’s goodwill is maintained, the scene comes out a bit by-the-numbers. I’ll often see the scene in the finished film and think if only I’d planned this one out better, I could’ve had a much better scene in the can.

21106637_1374676242654874_9149553250962539590_n

Filming on a busy intersection in Hackney, twenty feet from an all-night Tesco was… problematic to say the least.

So over the last couple of projects, I’ve been trying to push a little for what I want when I get an iceberg scene, even if that means taking a few minutes break to think things through (ADs hate falling behind schedule, but they tend to hate bungled scenes more, so they’re usually on board with this request!). Because once I know what I’m doing, I’m able to lead everyone else again. Directing is frequently a balancing act between pushing for your vision and being open enough to accept input from others- do too much of either at the wrong time and the film can very easily fall apart. An iceberg scene is always the wrong time, so taking a few minutes to get your shit together, come up with a plan (possibly with your strongest on-set collaborator) and communicate it to everyone can get things back on track.

The trailer went up over Christmas and we’ve been giving it a strong push on social media. It’ll be interesting to see how much traction the finished film has- both online and in festivals- but having seen a rough cut, I’m quite happy with how things look and think it’ll do quite well. I also think it’ll be a great addition to my body of work- something I’d like to expand more in 2018. “Making a Killing” isn’t something I could’ve ever written myself, so the underlying voice of the film isn’t mine (much like on any director-for-hire gig) but I helped bring it to life, which ultimately is what a director does.

What was really nice about directing “Making a Killing” was that I was just that, a director. I wasn’t the writer, I wasn’t the producer, I wasn’t the editor, I wasn’t wearing multiple hats. I could just concentrate on the job of directing and let the production worries fall on someone else for a change.

21150062_1376280155827816_7157295673195518835_n

Some of the cast and crew of “Making a Killing” (from Left to Right: Adam Hudson (DoP), Joe Nichols (AC), me (Director), Amelia Vernede (Claudia), Sophie Marchant (Sound Recordist) and Darrel Draper (Jarad). Absent from the shot are Cal Brown (AD) and Gemma Tubbs (Rebecca).

h1

2017 Part 2 – RFVM and the Value of Microshorts

December 29, 2017

As mentioned in the previous post, I started 2017 feeling kind of disheartened about directing and filmmaking in general thanks in part to the laboured post-production of a recent short film.

But it wasn’t just “Dead Meet” that had me feeling lower than a python’s posing pouch- I was running out of collaborators. When you’re young, unfettered and recently-graduated, collaborators are all around you. But as the years go by, people start to lose interest in the dreams of their youth, they find careers, sign mortgages, marry people and have kids… and when you’ve done that, swanning about on a film set (often for very little money) sounds like a fool’s game. Those that don’t quit the industry often move on with their careers into far more lucrative areas of the market and no longer want or need to work on the sort of projects that I still want and need to do.

Projects like “Dead Meet” were a lot to shoulder solo, even with the talented cast and crew I had on that shoot. I felt I needed a small group of people to collaborate with on our smaller self-produced projects, people who were preferably local, capable and enthusiastic. People who could keep me motivated.

And I thought I knew where I might find them…

RFVMlogoRGB

Reading Film and Video Makers is a a filmmaking club that has been running in my home town for sixty years. I’d actually known about the club for a while- I screened “The Collector’s Room” for them a few years ago– but I’d never joined the club. If I’m honest, it was pride. I considered myself a professional filmmaker and didn’t want to join what I felt was an amateur club. But in February this year I swallowed what was left of my pride, went along and found I had judged the club unfairly.

You see, like a lot of these sorts of clubs, RFVM has quite a diverse membership. Some of the people there are amateurs, but many are professionals or ex-professionals. Some are completely new to filmmaking, some have decades of experience. And they all have enthusiasm- something that I was in short supply of at the time. But the thing that really surprised me was that there were young people at the club. Now, granted, I’m 36 and thus don’t really qualify as “young” anymore (despite my behaviour and penchant for leather jackets), but it was nice to see a few people under the age of 30 because they might be in a similar position to me- wanting to get into the industry and wanting to prove themselves.

IMG_20170729_135115

Sophie Marchant, Dave Gregory and Eric Garson shooting Sophie’s short film “Shade.”

And they were. Over the summer, a small group of us went out and filmed a few things. Sometimes it was just a short test shot or sequence, sometimes it was something more substantial. And it was these microshorts that I found the most useful and enjoyable. After my last few films being 20-30 minutes in length, the challenge (and greatly reduced stress) of shooting something under three minutes was something I relished. YouTuber and filmmaker Darius Britt has stated the value of microshorts many a time on his channel, and I’ve come to agree with him. Microshorts are great because you get to try new things without having to bankroll lots of time, effort and money and you get to have a few extra films on your resume as well! It also gave me a bit more writing practice, which is always beneficial.

“Diamond Dogs” started out as an entry for the club’s diamond anniversary film competition. There were two rules: the film can’t be longer than 60 seconds and it must feature a diamond at some point. The more astute among you may have noticed that the above video is quite a bit more than a minute long. That’s because a) I can never write something and keep it in time and b) we added things like the montage while we were shooting.

22291444_10154792906496583_4025116674766976624_o

Rick Hanley in full-on cinematographer mode

So I wrote it, Rick Hanley shot it, Sophie Marchant was on sound and Leon Silavant directed it (and edited the version above). Since we were short on actors, Eric Garson and I took on acting duties and we all pitched in with locations, props, costumes and kit. It’s fair to say that Buster the jack russell stole the show though with his treat-fuelled performance.

22291488_10154792911246583_2669217633207285137_o

Our leading man

We shot it on my JVC LS300 in log mode, lit everything with LED panel lights and recorded sync audio via shotgun mic. Leon hadn’t directed much before but did a great job of getting the shots he wanted- particularly the Edgar Wright-style smash montage.

We edited two versions of the scene- a sixty second version and a longer edit that paced better. The sixty second version ultimately won the club competition as well, which was cool!

“The Shotgun Wedding” was another potential entry for the 60 second diamond competition and just like “Diamond Dogs” it was going to run over the time limit! Unlike “Diamond Dogs” though, we figured this out before we shot it and so resigned ourselves to the fact.

The script originally ended with the sound of the robbery happening, but it always felt like a weak punchline since it happens off-screen and isn’t visual. Sophie suggested that the criminal couple could’ve kidnapped a priest and had him trussed up in the back- which prompted me to add the wedding list and the line about the dress to the end of the script, hopefully making the ending stronger. It does stretch belief a bit with the continuity change- Eric being there for the final shot, but not being visible beforehand- but it was necessary for the gag to work.

This time, I was directing and Rick was on camera- again we used the JVC, although this time we shot in DCI 2K and a 4:2:2 colour space just to see how that worked out. Because we were filming outside, the Aputure VS-1 HD monitor and it’s daft Bo Peep style sunshade became something of a necessity so we could see what we were doing. For some shots, particularly the two shot through the windshield, we had to use the low budget trick of hanging a black drape over the car to block the light since we didn’t have a polariser. Sound was a mixture of an omnidirectional mic in the front of the car and Eric holding a rifle mic from the back seats to pick up reflected audio within the cabin. Lighting was done with reflectors since there was nowhere to plug in lights- we were filming on a street after all!

This time, Leon was in front of the camera, acting alongside Silvia Calatayud Gil, an actress Eric and Sophie had worked with before. One of the nice things about microshorts is that they don’t require much in the way of rehearsal due to their length. I like to rehearse with actors, but with really short material there isn’t much to rehearse and you can actually get a more spontaneous performance by just tweaking things between takes.

22382532_10154792907426583_1783150438816868682_o

The aftermath of any good shoot- the nearest pub!

The big exercise for me though, was in post. I’ve never really been one for grading- I started out with DV and that had less colour diversity than a 90s boy band. But the new camera can shoot in a 4:2:2 colour space and has a log profile, so I now had a chance to play around with the grade. I started out with a log to cine LUT and applied it to the two shot so I could nail the look I was going for- warmed skin tones, deep blacks and a bit of blue in the shadows. I then went back to the close ups and tried to match the tones as best I could. In retrospect, we should’ve shot a colour reference using an x-rite or something, it would’ve made things a bit easier, but I think the end result isn’t too bad.

Thirteen

Video coming soon!

“Thirteen” was meant to be an entry for an online competition, but we didn’t actually finish it in time.  The remit was to make a short film, no longer than 90 seconds in length, that was scored by using a promoted bit of music software. We bounced around a number of ideas, but the one we settled on as do-able was an idea I’d had based on a joke I’d heard. After all, jokes are essentially distilled stories and work quite well within a very short film structure.

22459192_10154808738231583_6856287539338237896_o

This time, Rick was in the directing chair, with Leon operating Rick’s “Magic Lantern” hacked Canon 7D. We chose the 7D from our pooled cameras because we needed something small and light that could fit on a stabiliser. My Aputure VS-1 HD monitor came in useful again because of the bright sunlight we were filming in and aside from a few reflector shots, everything was lit with sunlight alone. “Thirteen” also gave me a chance to play around with filters.

I’d bought a matte box (the Fotga DP3000) earlier in the summer and a cheap pack of resin filters to use with it. Unfortunately, the Amazon listing for the filter set was vague and a little misleading, stating the filters were “standard size” and “square.” This lead me to believe they were 100mm x 100mm which is the standard square format and the kind that would fit in my matte box. They weren’t- which would’ve made them useless, were it not for the fact that they came with a filter holder and ring set to enable them to screw on to the front of a lens. I decided to keep them anyway since they only cost £20 and it’s always handy to have a lightweight solution rather than having to bring out the matte box and rails each time. It was the Grad ND filters I wanted to play around with and “Thirteen” with its landscape long shots gave us the opportunity to create more dramatic skies with the filters.

22528642_10154808739906583_1849884430236480369_o

Eric and our canine performer, Buster, starred and Sophie recorded the audio. Since the film had no dialogue and didn’t need sync sound, Sophie recorded atmos, footsteps and other sounds to a Tascam portable recorder. The rest of the sound design, such as the voices, would be created in post.

22467523_10154808741301583_734271471564661425_o

Note Rick’s “directing the shot” hand position

These were just a few of the microshorts we shot over the summer. We also shot a bunch of scenes and sequences (mainly as shooting exercises for the less experienced among us) that didn’t really come out as stand-alone shorts. But it kept me busy and it kept me making films. Over the last couple of years, my expectations of my work have grown and with it, the length, budget, production time and size of the projects have all increased- which means I don’t produce as many films as I used to because each one is an increasingly bigger endeavour. It’s like trying to eat your own body weight in Pringles- it’s a challenge that continually raises its own bar as you attempt it. But microshorts have given me a break from that, allowing me to try out different things and do so with minimum expenditure- something I wholeheartedly intend to continue doing through 2018 (although how that’ll work with my 7 day a week work pattern, I have no idea!).

So if you’re a filmmaker in a bit of a rut and want to keep yourself motivated while bigger projects take their time, get some people together and make a microshort or two!

[All but one of the stills in this post courtesy of Eric Garson]

h1

Why the new ghostbusters film needs to be a success…

July 10, 2016
What did he just say?

What did he just say?

Yeah, you read that right. I’m actually encouraging people to buy a ticket for the new Ghostbusters movie.

Not “go to see it” necessarily, just to buy a ticket. And, if you’ll bear with me, here’s why…

Hollywood is a business. If you think the film industry is about creativity and artistic integrity, then firstly, you’re pretty naive and secondly, I’ve got some magic beans to sell you… Hollywood cares about money and primarily, they measure this by box office returns. Specifically, the opening weekend. So if a movie sells a lot of tickets and makes a lot of dough, it’s considered a success and Hollywood then starts to commission similar movies, sequels and films that contain similar elements in the hope of milking that cash cow til its nipples run dry. This is the reason we get the films we do- because we’ve spent money on this shit previously. After the first Star Wars came out, we got loads of scifi movies and after The Matrix we got loads of slick action films with wire-fu fight scenes and leather trousers. But in recent years we’ve had movies based on childhood properties- stuff you’d spend your pocket money on back in the 80s and 90s that studios hoped you spend your nostalgia dollars on now. And we did. Why the fuck else have we had four Transformers movies? Four predictably shit Transformers movies!

Which leads me on to Ghostbusters. A classic movie and a not entirely terrible sequel that spawned a cartoon series and an Argos catalogue full of toys, costumes, bedsheets and y-fronts. As properties go, it was ripe for the remake machine. Fans wanted more, some of the original stars were interested… then things changed. We got a reboot, which means things could be different. We got a new cast, which meant things were different. And that new cast had vaginas, which meant a particularly internet-vocal femphobic demographic got all-caps typing on message boards. And then the trailer came out and even those who were keen to give it a chance and/or were pro-female characters weren’t altogether willing or able to defend it. It looked like a cash-grab (because, like most films, it is!), it looked hastily-put-together and poorly-made and it… just wasn’t funny.

Very few people saw that trailer and thought, hell yes, I want to go see that. Which means very few people will pay money to see it, which means the studio executives will see a terrible bottom line, which means they’ll assume many of the elements that went into the film are box office poison and avoid using them for a while.
And I think one of those elements cast aside to the filing cabinet labelled “Try Again in 2030” will be a primarily female cast. Women are sorely under-represented in the media, both behind the camera and in front of it and in 2016, that’s something to be ashamed of. (And if you’re still cheering at that, get your immature, butt-hurt feminazi bullshit off my blog page and go back to 4chan!) Nowhere is this more obvious than in the way women are represented on screen. They’re in supporting roles or they’re over-sexualised… or both. Female characters should have a greater range of roles than “male character’s love interest/wife/mother/prostitute- interestingly, all roles defined by the place the male character goes into or comes out from- and if we want that to change, we need to do something.

We need to vote with our wallets. It’s the only thing Hollywood decision-makers really understand. If you want more female starring roles, and a wider range of female characters portrayed on screen, Ghostbusters needs to be something of a success, no matter how bad it looks. I’m not saying go see it if you don’t want to…

…I’m saying buy a ticket.

Executives don’t give a shit if you saw a movie, they only care that you paid for it. You’ve willingly bought tickets to see a movie that you knew was going to be shit before and hated it anyway, but this time you’ll spare yourself two painful hours and instead have voted for something worthwhile. And if you do go to see it, well, it might not be as bad as the trailers or reviews make it out to be (hey, optimism!). Or you might find some entertainment in doing a little Mystery Science Theatre number on it with a friend or two. And you won’t annoy anyone else in the screening because I doubt there’ll be many people watching it with you…

But buy a ticket for the film. If you want more female leading characters in movies, put your money where your mouth is. Besides, it’ll annoy the feminazi brigade and that’s got to be worth doing, right?

h1

Shoddy Blueprints, Shoddy House.

February 25, 2013

In my last post I pointed out that I wasn’t much of a writer, so this post might come off as the words of a hypocrite… but fuck it, it’s my blog and I’ll voice my ill-informed opinions if I want to. Disclaimer over and here’s my issue…

Why are so many scripts shit?

I’m not talking about Hollywood movies- we all know that the industrial movie machine takes its toll on talent and creativity and effectively rapes scripts of them both- I’m talking about the sort of scripts kicking about at this end of the filmmaking world. Scripts that haven’t had a producer/studio/investor altering, diluting, genericising (is that even a word?) and adding more explosions/effects/celebrities/boobs to the film to make it more “commercial.” No, these are scripts by relatively new writers looking to get them made by equally new directors. Like me.

Over the last year I’ve been putting myself forwards for a lot of directing gigs- after all, it’s one thing to direct your own project and another to be hired by someone else. Most of these projects are unpaid but the networking and exposure possibilities are worth it. I’ve been offered a number of these jobs but, for me, they’ve always fallen flat at the first hurdle- once they’ve sent me the script.

Gaston

One of the first examples of this was a short film about an elderly guy who argues with his wife. The dialogue was stilted (but that’s not usually a deal-breaker since you and the actors will adjust that before you film anything anyway) and the film began with one of my pet peeves- the old “guy wakes up and we see his morning routine” bollocks. I hate that- unless routine is key to the story, theme or character, don’t open a story with it. It only goes to show you have little to no imagination as to how to show or infer character through interaction or design. It’s the film equivalent of a large, chunky paragraph on page one of a novel telling you everything you need to know about the main character. It’s shit. But shitty beginnings aside, the script’s big flaw came at the end. While witnessing their long-suffering domestic friction, we see the old boy assembling a noose and stool in the garage. You think he’s going to top himself, but at the end of the 4 page script the wife comes in, he gets her to stand on the stool to change the lightbulb and then kills her with the noose. As he steps outside, smiling, he gets a phone call from someone congratulating him on his retirement. That’s it. The end. I mean, what the fuck? I mean, okay the twist works, but what exactly was the point in all this? It wouldn’t have been so bad if he was attempting the perfect crime and we had several scenes setting up an alibi and him insinuating to third parties that she was suicidal- so that when he kills her he’s made it look like she did it herself. But we didn’t. We just got a bullshit twist with no real purpose behind it.

I had another script sent to me- again involving an elderly character and ironic, twisty murder (someone on twitter must’ve said that festivals were looking for that sort of shit and a bunch of writers listened and eagerly started typing…). Old lady is wary of strangers and is being plagued by random door-knockings at tea-time every day. She gets so paranoid that after no less than six of these repetitive occurrences (all of which the audience are needlessly subjected to seeing throughout the first five minutes of a seven minute film), she waits at the door with a shotgun and shoots the caller the next time. When she inspects the teenager’s body she finds a note from her daughter telling the teen to call on his grandma- which the twist implies is our little old dear. So in her fear (and probable senility) she murdered her grandson. Now again, aside from the structural banality of having to sit through essentially the same mundane knock-knock-noone’s-there action again and again for over half the film’s runtime and the unsound internal logic (why would you knock and run if you were visiting your gran?), you also have to deal with an ending that only exists to create a shock twist. It’s not satisfying or poignant or clever or important. It’s just there to prove that what the writer writeth he can taketh away… which is like a DoP using 28 lights in a simple interior scene because he fucking well can!

Cartman

I’m not going to list all the scripts that tumbled with ill-deserved optimism into my inbox, but there’re a few more worth mentioning. And they’re all comedies. Well, they would be… if they satisfied the single simple premise of comedy and were actually funny…

I know comedy is very subjective and what makes one person piss their pants with laughter will make another shit themselves out of unbridled boredom but I think that even if the brand of comedy isn’t your thing, you’re usually able to recognise that it is meant to be funny and that someone else will laugh at it. I struggled with these scripts- a sitcom set in a leisure centre where the writer’s favourite character had all the (supposedly) funny lines and everyone else was pure cardboard and a sketch show predicated around the idea that if you repeat an unfunny joke in several sketches it somehow magically becomes funny- and because the writers were the producers/employers and wouldn’t want to change the script, I had to decline the job.

I suppose that’s the bit that really bugs me. That I had to turn down a job because I didn’t think the script was good enough. No matter what I did, I was tied to the page in front of me and the end result would be, in my opinion at least, sub-par. And if I’m not being paid for it, why would I put out sub-par work? It’ll only make me look bad.

Am I being picky? Or am I expecting too much from writers who are at a similar stage in their career as I am in mine? I mean, I’m relatively inexperienced and don’t have any real professional broadcast or feature credits. I make mistakes all the time- it’s how I learn, how we all learn. Surely writers should be allowed to make mistakes at the same level? And, yes, they should. Yet still it bugs me because my mistakes as a director are frequently filtered through the rest of the cast and crew and its usually only the editor (which is often me anyway) who has to deal with them. A writer’s mistakes affect everything after that last full stop is typed. If the character is written badly, the actor will perform it badly and/or the director will direct it badly. If the structure is poor the whole film is unsteady and even the most talented of editors might struggle to fix such a thing. In all cases, the error will find its way to the audience and blame will often fall on the director and rightfully so because they are the ombudsman for the audience. While I don’t agree entirely with the analogy that the script is a blueprint, the basic premise holds- if the blueprint isn’t well-designed or thought out, the house will likely collapse.

"Don't worry, it's meant to look like that..."

“Don’t worry, it’s meant to look like that, honest…”

Additionally, some writers are precious about their scripts and hate it when directors change things. I can understand that- the script being their creation and them assumedly putting energy and hours of work into it. But the script is there to be made- it’s only the first iteration of the story and one an audience won’t see unless they scour the internet for it. Just as every parent must eventually come to terms with the idea that their children will grow up and you can’t keep them as kids indefinitely (unless they’re Michael Jackson), every serious screenwriter has to realise that a script will inevitably change when it goes through the puberty of a film adaptation.

All that aside, it just means that I’m currently turning down projects because the scripts are either not a good enough starting point or are impractical to work with. Shame I don’t have a prolific and flexible writer living nearby anymore, otherwise I’d probably have a lot more completed projects under my belt…

h1

Okay, so I’ve now got a blog…

March 30, 2010

Yeah, so I resisted this for a while.

I’ve never been one for jotting down my day to day thoughts, but I’ve come to realise that I rant and analyse and comment on everything to my friends anyway and rather than irritate them, I thought I’d irritate the world at large.

But this isn’t going to be just some personal “this morning I ate Frosties” kind of blog. No sir. As the title would imply, this blog is all about film. More specifically, my attempts to forge my way into the film and TV industry in the aftermath of a video production education. Perhaps other students might learn from my experiences (there are a hell of a lot of things I thought or was taught that are, in my experience utter bollocks). Perhaps it’ll prove to be a good way to share experiences and network.

Or perhaps it’ll just be a way for me to get film-related stuff off my chest…