Posts Tagged ‘drama’

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Shooting “Bless of an Angel” Part 2

April 10, 2014

Note: I wrote this one a while ago, but because I’m generally crap at this, never bothered posting it. But since time is moving on and this post might soon cease to be relevant, I thought I should put it up asap. Really long post, this one, so strap yourself in…

Shokamo CD Cover Art v1

A few weeks ago, we wrapped on the “Bless of an Angel” music video shoot. As I write this, the final cut of the video is doing the rounds on YouTube and we seem to be getting good feedback on it, which pleases me because of how much time and effort everyone put into it. I’ll probably write another post on the editing process, but for now I thought I’d write about the shoot itself and the decisions leading up to it.

For those who don’t know, “Bless of an Angel” was inspired by the story of a lady called Heya who, despite slowly dying from cancer, was determined to help a young struggling musician get his career off the ground. JP was deeply affected by her story and wrote the song as a tribute to her to be played at her funeral. After he put on his website, fans reacted very positively to it, so he decided to go the whole hog and record it professionally and do a music video for it.

I took on the project because I wanted to get some music video directing credits and this seemed perfect for me. A cinematic music video with dramatic story sequences and the chance of good exposure? It ticked all my boxes, save the one about lots of money and free pizza.

The original idea for the video wasn’t that different from what we ended up shooting. JP didn’t want the video to be about him- like the song, he wanted it to be about Heya and the story- so we concentrated on a narrative that would capture the main points and convey them visually and simply. This is harder than it sounds. Even visual films need some kind of set up or exposition to convey complex ideas, but without dialogue or any significant screen time to try and get this across, the story needed to be distilled into things that could be communicated simply. Emotions, simple ideas and cues were ideal. Complex relationships and back-stories were going to be nearly impossible. I also didn’t want to just create a literal re-telling of Heya’s story. Even if I’d wanted to, conveying the relationship she had with the struggling musician she was trying to help and all the backstory that goes with it was going to be impossible to get across visually. So I chose to focus on the things I felt would work for any audience, whether they knew Heya or not- a story about a woman who’s dying of cancer, trying to do good deeds with her final times because she has a selfless goal she’s working towards.

Actors Robin March and Yvonne Wan.

Actors Robin March and Yvonne Wan.

The deathbed bookend structure with the flashback in the middle was there from the beginning, but originally our character (who I’d called Mai to make things easier and less legally-problematic) was going to be in a hospital ward where she would have an out-of-body experience upon death which would lead into the flashbacks. Aside from the tricky effects shots required to get two Mais in one dolly shot (very tricky if you don’t have motion control or match work equipment) and the difficulty of getting a hospital location (actually not as difficult as you’d think, just expensive), the big problem with this was that it just wasn’t emotionally fulfilling. Mai would come back from her flashback, realise her job was done and let herself go, leaving with JP (who in this version was some kind of guardian angel) into the light. While that worked from a character arc point of view, it left Luke (the husband character) without any closure and gave JP a role which didn’t really fit his image as a metal musician.

There were also issues with what her good deeds would be. She would be helping her neighbours, the elderly caretaker in her apartment building, a music student, her husband… but none of it really worked. Some of it was also going to be difficult to convey visually because there needed to be some form of exposition. It also added to our cast list, which was getting a bit too big for the budget we had.

So I stripped the story down to its essentials. Mai would be at home on her deathbed rather than in hospital which would help establish her better as well as her husband and the situation. Cut to flashbacks, in which we’d see her finding out that she has cancer, trying to not let it affect her life and continuing to teach her student so she could get accepted into a prestigious music school. We see that this is the thing she’s pushing for and trying to achieve before she goes. I also decided to give a bit of screen time to the husband character, show how she is unintentionally pushing him away because she’s so driven and how this affects him. I felt these were the things that would come across visually and through the actors’ performances (although I had to stretch realism a little by having her find out about her cancer via a somewhat impersonal hospital letter- no dialogue and no access to a doctor’s office remember?).

Yvonne Wan making a dramatic shortcut believable.

Yvonne Wan making a dramatic shortcut believable.

All this would be for bugger all though if the story didn’t fit with the music- not just rhythmically (which most videos try to do in the editing) but also with the lyrics. The performances are dramatic and have no dialogue so the lyrics become more important in the video than they would if it were just a musician performance piece because the audience will focus more on them as a substitute for dialogue or voice over. Fortunately, JP likes to tell a story with his songs rather than just say words that fit the music, which meant that all the lyrics were pertinent to the story and the characters but this also gave me the chance to tie certain parts of the video to certain lyrics. For example, the lyric “she knows that she is running out of time” was matched to the sequence where Mai first discovers the extent of her illness by coughing up a little blood.

This was done by using a timing script- something used a lot in broadcast TV and live studio work. Unlike a normally formatted script which has scene headings, stage directions, dialogue blocks and, if you’re a really dictatorial tosspot of a screenwriter, transition and camera cues, a timing script will separate the audio and the visual elements into two columns with a runtime down the margin. It’s so that the studio can check their show timings with what the performers are saying and what the pictures are. For “Bless of an Angel” this was the audio runtime and song lyrics matched to the story and shot elements in the other column. It helped me break down what shots were going to be needed where to tell the story properly, as well as give me an idea how long theses sequences need to be.

The rest of the video was JP’s performance segments, the shooting of which I mentioned in a previous post, just to show the face behind the song and allow for visual and tonal contrast with the story scenes. I kept them mainly to the chorus and bridge sections, partly because that’s where I felt they worked best, but also because it allowed the story segments to flow easier and more naturally in the verses if they weren’t intercut with JP singing.

ShokBW

These performance shots were filmed back in October at Readipop and we intended to shoot the dramatic parts in November/December. Due to all manner of scheduling issues and other practical things, however, we wouldn’t get everyone in the same place at the same time til three months later. In that time, both lead roles were recast, a new make-up artist was found and there was a lot of panic to find supporting artists for the roles of Student and Doctor (the latter of which eventually wound up being me and so found it’s way to the cutting room floor before we even got to the cutting room!). Fortunately, we found a new lead in the lovely Yvonne Wan and a new male lead in the always awesome Robin March, which made me exit panic mode and slip back into my directing hat.

It was a good shoot.

In fact, it was the most relaxed shoot I’ve ever been on. I’m used to being on a very tight schedule, making compromises and having to rush. For example, the Persona shoots were twenty minute projects that were shot in two days. Two long, fast-paced, headless chicken-like days. But this was a four minute music video and although we were technically shooting a drama, we didn’t need to worry about dialogue or even coverage, since the narrative sequences had a specific method of assembly and there was little wiggle room for editing options.

Emily the AD and I were constantly checking to see how we were doing compared to the schedule and each time it surprised us when we realised we were on or ahead of time and we had plenty of room to fine-tune lighting and performances.

DoP Ashley Duckerin and myself checking playback.

DoP Ashley Duckerin and myself checking playback.

This was where our DoP, Ashley Duckerin, really pulled it out of the bag. I mentioned before how tightly storyboarded the project was. Well, Ashley managed to take those storyboards and make them alive and in colour. We shot the video on a Canon 5D mkIII and the full-frame sensor, while not ideal for most shooting situations, was great for this one- the wafer thin depth of field helped create the slightly oneiric feel and emotional focus we were after. We shot in a CinemaScope aspect ratio as well- Ashley’s recommendation- to add to the cinematic feel and composition and used the Technicolor flat profile, partly so we had some flexibility in post but also because I didn’t have a clear vision on the sort of grade I was looking for.

I don’t have much experience with grading and while I know what I want to see, hear and feel from a film, the alchemy of the grading process somewhat eludes me. The great thing about shooting flat though is that, to an extent, you’re not tied all that much to a specific look if you get things right on set. Knowing that this was going to be the post-production path, I made sure to control the production design on set- white bed-linen, costumes weren’t too bold or bright, subtle hues, mainly cool blues and earth tones (since I thought that might be a possible look for the bedroom scenes).

Yvonne, Katrina, Ashley and I go through the piano scene.

Yvonne, Katrina, Ashley and I go through the piano scene.

Everyone did a sterling job- the actors especially. Yvonne and Robin had to pull off the difficult task of acting and establishing a relationship without the luxury of dialogue, or rehearsal come to think of it, and Katrina had to jump in at the last minute as a piano student! I think it’s the actors that really sell the video- the story and the characters are engaging and that’s the thing the audience respond to. Certainly, much of the feedback we’ve been getting is how emotional the video is, how it makes you cry- and I’m all about provoking an emotional response in an audience, tears, laughter, that sort of thing so this is good feedback for me.

I’m hoping that this is the first of many collaborations with JP and the first of many more dramatic music videos. I think I’ve found something good here, a high quality niche that not only allows me to do what I know and what I’m good at, but also gives me the necessary credits to move my career up a notch.

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Drama isn’t a Genre. It’s a Necessary Ingredient.

May 27, 2013

As the three people who read this blog will know, I’ve been trying to put together another short film. It’s been way too long since I last directed drama that I’m starting to wonder if my directing hat will biodegrade through lack of use. One of the projects I’m trying to push is an action film, another a ghost story- both have their own obstacles to getting off the ground (not least of all that the scripts aren’t finished!). Part of the reason I’m pushing for these genre pieces is because it’s nice to be doing something with its own stylistic conventions and set-pieces rather than just straight drama.

But a recent conversation with a fellow director made me think about that definition. He was also doing a genre piece- a horror flick- and was glad to be “getting away from plain, boring drama.” Now obviously, he meant “drama” as a genre- domestic environments, people arguing/crying, contemporary setting, kitchen sink… In the days of video rental shops there were many genres- colour-coded stickers and cheaply printed signs in Impact proclaiming “Comedy” “Horror” and “Action & Adventure” (a catch-all title if ever there was one), usually with some terrible clipart next to it.

Shit like this

Shit like this

“Drama” was one of these genre pidgeon-holes.

But why is “drama” a genre? It seems that the films shoved unceremoniously into this category are the ones that didn’t fit anywhere else, like the misfit kids who sat in the corner of the classroom, unified only in their social apartheid. Polar opposites David Lynch and Jane Austen would sit next to each other on the shelves- except in our old video shop where the owner’s OCD meant shit was always alphabetical (this also meant that the Adult section was near the front of the shop, which wasn’t a popular decision either…).

Drama isn’t a genre. It’s an ingredient. And as it happens, it’s a necessary one for a film to work.

Every film needs drama. Drama is the conflict and subsequent resolution between characters that forms the backbone of a story’s plot. Without drama and conflict, the audience won’t care about Arnie’s struggle to take down Robert Patrick and save the ever-annoying Eddie Furlong. Without drama (and the inevitable tragedy that a film called “Titanic” hints not-so-subtly at), the romance between Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet wouldn’t work. Without drama, audiences won’t care if Jamie Lee Curtis survives Michael Myers’ killing spree.

Drama.

Drama.

All these genre classics that filmmakers like to call “not-drama” are in fact… well… “drama.” With a coat of arse-kicky, boat-sinky, hacky-slashy genre paint but still… At their core, they’re drama.

Which is why I wonder why there’s so much opposition towards drama among filmmakers. Maybe it’s because drama is frequently forced upon you at film school in “History of Cinema” screenings. Maybe it’s because drama isn’t as “big-budget” feeling as action or horror. But a lot of the time, I think it’s because drama is hard.

Most new or untested directors will balk at that, but it’s true. Well, sort of. Good drama is hard, shite drama… not so much. With good drama you need to understand the actors and their processes, know about and plot the change in character objectives, super objectives and arc, understand and utilise pacing and timing and subtlety and inflection. With bad drama you just hand the actor a script and say “just do what it says on the page.” Aka the George Lucas style of directing. And like the aforementioned bearded wonder, the films you direct suffer as a result. You only have to look at the turgid excuse for a romance in “Attack of the Clones” to see where I’m going with that.

"No, it's because I'm so in love with you... myeh myeh myeh.." Fuck off.

“No, it’s because I’m so in love with you… myeh myeh myeh..” Fuck off.

“Oh, but it’s a genre film” I hear these directors cry. “It doesn’t matter here!” I call bullshit on that. Think about it- okay, we’re accepting of badly written and performed melodrama in a space opera or a slasher film but isn’t it better when the drama isn’t so ham-fistedly scrawled and portrayed? “Attack of the Clones” is fucking terrible dramatically, but just look at the series’ high point in comparison. “The Empire Strikes Back” is a space opera with special effects and battle scenes, larger than life characters and almost soapy melodrama- but in this case it works. It’s written (or should I say re-written, since Lawrence Kasdan kept throwing out Lucas’ original dialogue) and performed with an appropriate truth and honesty which, regardless of the genre you’re working in, is the sort of dramatic level to aim for.

Shitty drama and its bedfellows, poor writing and turgid acting, are not acceptable even in the straight to video, low-expectations-because-it-stars-Hayden-Christiansen, bargain bucket, 2 for £10 shelves in HMV. Strive for better in your work. You might not always be able to nail it due to budget or decisions outside your control but you owe it to yourself to try.

A director needs to embrace drama in every script and every film, no matter what the genre tropes or set pieces. If all you focus on is the action scenes or the blood-and-guts murders, the film won’t have the dramatic weight to engage your audience properly. So if you’re a director, aspiring or otherwise, don’t neglect the drama.

Unless your work does sit on the “Adult” shelf, in which case drama, the script and the acting are the least of your worries…

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That Self-Improving Second Look

September 27, 2012

I recently screened two episodes of “The Collector’s Room” (a web-series I directed and co-created two years ago) to a local filmmaking club. Now this wasn’t a festival or anything and the series is both abandoned and rough around the edges compared to my current work, but it was a great experience all the same for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the club members were all filmmaking enthusiasts with a range of experience- some had a professional or broadcast background and others were recent devotees learning the ropes. It was great to be able to show work to people who understood what went in to making it- a lot of festivals (and audiences in general for that matter) are full of critics who have never made a film in their lives and only judge the piece on the names attached to it. So playing to a receptive and empathetic audience was a welcome change.

Kayleigh Lawrence in Ep 1 “The Last Serenade”

Secondly, it gave me a chance to see these shows again and watch them play out with an audience. I haven’t watched these episodes properly since Luke and I recorded the commentary tracks for the DVD and the distance time creates meant I was able to watch them as an audience would. As the audience around me did. Hearing them laugh or jump at all the appropriate moments completes the circle in a way and it’s why a live audience can be both a nerve-wracking and highly rewarding experience.

And lastly, was the added bonus of talking about the production of the series and doing a bit of a Q&A. I’d never really done one of these before. When “The Collector’s Room” had its press screening two years ago, I let Luke do a lot of the talking (since the bugger likes waxing lyrical about projects and thanking people!) and pretty much just confined myself to the technical answers about the show. Obviously, at a screening for filmmakers, technical questions were the order of the day so I had a chance to teach and educate- the more positive expressions of “ranting” and “lecturing” which are my normal modes of communication!

Directing Rebecca Hansell on Ep 3 “The Star”

It also made me realise how much I know about filmmaking and all the little things I’ve learnt.  I tend to think more about what I don’t know than what I do know and it’s only when you get a chance to share that knowledge that you really get a sense of perspective. Speaking of perspective, I also got a chance to see all the little mistakes I made, now obvious with hindsight, on a big-ish screen and through good-ish speakers. So there’s also that humbling educational experience…

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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.