One of the key things this week’s Stop/Eject publicity surge has done for us is to enlarge our online community of fans and followers. I’m sure there are loads of creative and talented people in this community, and now I want you to prove me right. To that end, we’re launching a competition to design the film’s poster.
To tell you all about it, here is some bloke we dragged in off the street.
Like three buses coming at once, this week has been a manic one for Stop/Eject publicity.
On Monday afternoon I was interviewed and photographed for the The Hereford Times. (I’m not sure when this will be published. Probably not this week.)
A few hours later and 100 miles away, Sophie was interviewed by BBC East Midlands Today. The report was broadcast that same evening (just after a piece about The Dark Knight Rises filming in Nottingham), featuring huge swathes of the trailer, the web address on screen for ages and of course Sophie brilliantly talking the whole thing up. If you missed it, a friend filmed it off his TV screen…
On Tuesday, the Herefordshire Media Network held their regular meeting, at which they kindly allowed me to screen the trailer and pitch video for Stop/Eject and to say a few words about my experiences of crowd-funding. It went down very well, with many people saying complimentary things afterwards.
Huge thanks to Indy Mogul for this exposure, which has almost doubled my number of subscribers. If any IM viewers have found their way to this blog – welcome! I hope you enjoy the heady mix of filmmaking trials and tribulations, breakdowns, evaluations, “how to”s and occasional self-indulgent rants.
In what must rank as one of the smoothest-running and most enjoyable shoots I’ve ever helmed, my Virgin Media Shorts entry Ghost-trainspotting was filmed yesterday.
With an entirely exterior script, weather was the biggest concern, but it rained for less than five minutes all day and was generally quite lovely. The camera started rolling earlier than planned, we moved at a good pace all day and we wrapped early. What’s not to like?
Actors Rob Ashman and George McCluskey got on like a house on fire. Rob in particular looked brilliant in his trainspotter outfit, as you can see from this photo which Katie took:
I’ve already started editing the film, and like last year it’s going to be challenging to get it down to the required length of 140 seconds. Unlike last year, there are model shots to film, which I hope to do this weekend. Stay tuned.
Col constantly ribs me about the lack of a first assistant director on Stop/Eject, and the consequent lack of adherence to the schedule. But as I edit the film, I’m appreciating more and more the other duties of a first AD and the consequences of those duties going undischarged.
Because part of the first’s job is to literally assist the director – to help them keep track of things which can easily get forgotten amidst the chaos of filming. Things like crossing the line, getting enough coverage and not missing out bits of the script. (Two other crew members that a big budget production will have who will also be looking out for those things are the script supervisor and the editor – because the editor will be cutting the material the day after you shoot it, and may be able to tell you before you leave a location that you need an extra shot.)
So here are some examples of the moronic cock-ups I made, which might well have been avoided if I’d had a first and/or a script supervisor looking out for me:
Tommy Draper wrote a great stage direction in one scene: “She opens the fridge. It’s as empty as her life.” Unfortunately I chose to shoot it in a way that made it impossible to tell the fridge was empty, because I didn’t pay close enough attention to the script during filming.
In another scene, I wrote that the cellophane is torn off an object before it is used. I included that detail in the script because, as a writer, I knew that otherwise the audience would not necessarily understand the important point that the object was brand new and unused. Somehow this got dropped from the scene during rehearsals, and it wasn’t until I saw the film edited together that I realised how crucial the cellophane was.
In scene seven, the most complex of the film, we decided during rehearsals to alter the timing of an incident. One side effect of this – which again I didn’t notice until I saw the edit – was that the shots I had storyboarded (and thus the shots that I filmed) no longer established satisfactorily the whereabouts of one of the characters at a critical moment.
In scene 24 I crossed the line. You can see this at the very end of the trailer.
The omission of things in the script are particularly annoying (a) because I co-wrote the bloody thing and should have noticed, and (b) because any good writer takes care to be economical with words and only put in things which are important.
Some of these things can be fixed with pick-ups. For example, I filmed a close-up of my wife’s hands unwrapping the cellophane in our flat recently. But others have no solution beyond a major reshoot, which would be very hard to justify. So what you end up with is a subtle erosion of the quality of the film, and this is one of the reasons that a more expensive film looks more expensive. A bigger crew does mean more attention to detail and thus higher production values in every respect.
I share these thoughts with you not because I’m any less proud of Stop/Eject or feel like I need to make excuses for it, but simply to pass on a lesson the project has taught me. It’s very easy to think of a first assistant director as merely a time-keeper, but if you work without one you should appreciate that there are other strings to their bow, and your project may suffer more lasting effects than just a tired cast and crew.
This year I’ve written a script called Ghost-trainspotting, after wracking my brains to think of a location as convenient as the ruins over the road we shot The Picnic in, and finally hitting on the disused railway line a couple of blocks away. We’re shooting this Sunday with actors Rob Ashman (last seen in a Neil Oseman film as the prime minister in The Beacon) and George McCluskey, Colin Smith as DP, Sophie Black as designer, Ian Preece on sound and Katie Lake ADing and catering.
Shot 104 on my Stop/Eject storyboards has been loitering for a long time. Originally slated for the last day of principal photography, it got dropped and has been bothering the back of my mind ever since. It’s a bird’s eye view of a ready meal turning slowly in a microwave… if the hypothetical bird flew into the microwave before Kate shut it, and survived long enough to look down on anything. (The shot is part of the circles theme that runs throughout the film, which I blogged about earlier in the year.)
Back in the autumn we bought an old microwave, my intention being to rip the top off for the shot. Even though I was clearly not planning to turn the thing on after dismembering it so, safety concerns were voiced and thoughts turned to mocking up a microwave interior.
I finally filmed the shot this morning, and I don’t think anyone – including me – expected it to be achieved in the incredibly low-tech fashion it was. I folded up a piece of old foam board and punched a hole in the middle of it, and gaffer-taped an allen key to the bottom of the circular plate so I could rotate it through the hole from underneath.
So that’s another shot ticked off the list.
If you’re in Hereford, come along to the test screening tomorrow (Wednesday June 20th) at 3pm. It’s in the downstairs lecture theatre at Hereford College of Art’s Media Centre on Bath Street. Non-students are welcome; just sign is as visiting Christabel Gingell. I need all the feedback I can get to finesse the edit.
Several weeks ago I evaluated Stop/Eject’s shooting schedule. As noted in that post, we got behind schedule more than once during production. Today I want to look at the reasons why, so I can remind myself next time I draw up a schedule, and so that you lovely readers can perhaps pre-empt similar problems on your own projects.
Lack of a First Assistant Director. The key role of this crew member is to keep things running to schedule, and we didn’t have one. Two people were lined up and then dropped out due to paying work, and no other applicants were forthcoming. Difficult to see what could have been done to avoid this, other than raising more money to pay everyone.
Lack of a separate Director of Photography and Camera Operator. I chose to act as my own DP on Stop/Eject and, when operator Rick Goldsmith was only able to do half of the shoot, chose not to find a replacement for the remainder and fill that role myself as well. This is something I’ve done on many of my previous productions, so I knew full well that it wasn’t a good idea; it slows things down and it reduces the time I can spend working with the actors. But I did it anyway because I figured any DP worth their salt would balk at the pathetic equipment we had available.
Lack of other skilled crew. There were only two people on the crew who were really handy with power tools, Col and Steve Giller, and Steve was only around for a couple of days. So when we arrived at a new location and had to assemble the alcove set and rig lights from the ceiling, there were only one or two people doing these two most time-consuming tasks. Solution: ask around in pre-production for DIYers who fancy helping out on a film.
Large number of costume changes. With eleven story days and a lead actress playing two different versions of her character, there was a lot of costume swapping, each one accompanied by a hair and make-up change too. I’d advise you to always try to minimise the number of story days in your script, and to carefully schedule your shoot to reduce the number of switches.
Large number of locations. Even though we found several locations in one building, there was still a lot of moving around, which wastes huge amounts of time. Ideally you should shoot in only one location each day.
Fatigue. As mentioned in my earlier post, scheduling long days and/or wrapping late gets you into a destructive cycle because your cast and crew work slower the next day due to lack of sleep.
Composition issues. This is an odd one which nobody foresaw. We shot in the Cinemascope aspect ratio, 2:35:1, which is a very wide frame, but we had many scenes set in the alcove, which was a tall, narrow set. Think about how wide a 2.35:1 shot has to be to see the head of a standing actress and a tape recorder on a two foot high table at the same time, and how much will be revealed at the sides of frame. Combine this with the fact that some alcove scenes were shot in a corridor at the back of the shop location that was only half the width the alcove was meant to be, so one wall always had to be out of frame. And then factor in that you can’t compress the vertical space by going for a high angle shot because then you won’t see the face of the actress as she looks down at the recorder, and you can’t compress it with a low angle shot because you’ll reveal the lights hanging from the ceiling. Yes, it was a nightmare shooting in that little alcove. There was a lot of time wasted in scratching my head over how to cover the scenes effectively while framing out the wall and the lights. This might seem like a very esoteric problem, but I can derive three points of good general advice from it:
Think carefully when choosing the aspect ratio for your film. Consider the shape and size of your key locations and props. When making The Dark Side of the Earth‘s pilot, DP Oliver Downey pointed out that the tall, spindly Swordsman puppet and the tall training room set were not well suited to the 2.35:1 anamorphic ratio we were shooting.
Think twice before rigging lights to the ceiling. This is very much a double-edged sword. Although it takes a long time to hang lamps from the ceiling, once they’re up there you will find it relatively quick to light each of your set-ups. But if you then realise that the ceiling’s going to be in shot, taking those lamps down or altering your composition to frame them out could be a big time-waster.
Small locations will slow you down. Working in a confined space with lots of lamps, grip and mics is slow, hot and unpleasant. Avoid it wherever possible. More space means lights can be quickly set up on stands further away, rather than having to be rigged time-consumingly to walls or furniture.
So those are the main things that slowed down Stop/Eject, and of course there are many, many other things that can hold you up when shooting. And although many of these are impossible to foresee or prevent, a little thinking time in pre-production can identify a lot of these issues and help you plan accordingly.
Another guest blog from Stop/Eject‘s producer Sophie Black today. She’s been hard at work creating the Electronic Press Kit, to promote the post-production crowd-funding campaign, and I asked her to share her thoughts on what makes a good EPK.
The Electronic Press Kit is an important part of post-production because we use it to send to regional news programmes and television shows, in the hope that they will do a feature on our film. There’s a lot of things which can be put into it – and in some cases it’s down to choice and what you think will best promote your film – but I got my checklist from Chris Gore’s Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide, which I’ve been using as a guidebook. Actually it’s a corking book, and very useful, so I recommend that you get a copy. But, in the meantime, here is his checklist for EPK assemblage, and my notes on each:
Two Trailers – one with music and one without. This is mainly in case they want to show the trailer but are fearful of copyright infringement with the music. We included just the one copy of the trailer, with music, because the sound track (not the score) is still in early days and it might feel seem somewhat exposed without the music. If you have the same concerns then you can do what we did and include a copy of the license agreement for your music, so that they feel safe to use it. If you haven’t got clearance for your music – what are you doing? Go and get some at once! And if you can’t, you lose all chance of having your trailer played anywhere that gets attention, and you’re wasting valuable promotional opportunities. Another reason to only include one trailer is that ours came with a swanky little pitch video, so there’s two videos included in the package already!
Selected Scenes – basically this is an opportunity for you to put in the best scenes of the film to show how great your film is, or to show the general style and tone of your film (if your trailer hasn’t done this enough for you). But of course, you do run the risk of giving away too much too soon. We didn’t include any scenes in our EPK because ours is to promote the trailer and the final funding campaign, rather than a finished film (yes, this does mean there may be a second EPK at a later date).
A Making-Of Featurette – Gore says that this is optional but I LOVE behind the scenes footage. No news room is going to want to show a full making-of in a small report, but including a snippet of one can entice them in (a person at a planning desk is still ‘your audience’, after all) and make them want to do their own piece on the film. Particularly when targeting local news, clips of their best scenery with film crews working on them – and looking all professional – will basically spell out the story for them. So we didn’t include a full Making-of, but I did include a happy little montage of the crew assembling the alcove and equipment in the Rivergardens, taken straight from the first podcast. Lovely Belper Scenery: check. Crew looking professional and hard at work: check.
B-roll Footage – again, optional, but I recommend it more than anything. If you weren’t lucky enough to have a news crew capturing your activity whilst you were still on set (and, let’s be honest, you’d have to have quite a name for yourself for that to happen, and in that case you probably wouldn’t want them there), then sending your own behind-the-scenes footage is the only way for that to be featured in the report. News stories about films being made, particularly by independent filmmakers in local areas, are often character-driven and at least half made-up by behind the scenes footage. In conclusion, don’t submit clips of the director looking thoughtful and saying ‘action’, or the actors rehearsing a scene in front of a nice camera, and you probably won’t get a story! Again, any clips you do send should be relevant to the people you’re sending it too, so the majority of ours showed the Belper/Matlock streets and landmarks being used.
Interviews – and here is where the second half of a character-driven news report comes from. Companies like the BBC will always shoot their own interviews, as a rule, but submitting your own interview clips will show them the type of thing the cast/crew would say in an interview, and suggests that they are in fact worth interviewing! Even better, get a clip of them saying something along the lines of “the local area is brilliant etc.” then it shows the crew will have relevant things to say for the local news channels, and that we might even make them look good – it gives them a sample sound bite and hopefully shows that the programme will get some good publicity in return. I put the interview clips in order of relevance to who I was sending to, assuming that the news crew will lose interest towards the end – that’s a good rule with anything like this, actually. Put your best stuff first – these people are very busy and might not even have chance to see all of it, even if they want to, so you have to snare them quick. So the clip of Neil talking about how lovely it was to film in the East Midlands went right towards the top. The majority of the interview snippets came from Neil and Georgina, being our main attractions, but I also included a clip of myself from an early podcast, purely because I was talking about the locations and showing how beautiful they looked.
Promotional Images – just as with a regular press kit, it is important to include your poster, logo, website screenshot etc., only in this case in a digital format. If you’re lucky, your logo may even be used in the background when the newsreader headlines your story, so make sure it’s in a high resolution! I also included a scan of our Belper News feature – the way I see it, that showed that we were already ‘news worthy’ and hope that it encourages further publicity.
Yes, that is a big list, but put it all together and you’ll have yourself a bonafide, well-researched-looking EPK!
At the start of the DVD, you should also include your company logo, and a disclaimer which is well-worded to discourage people from spreading your material willy-nilly without putting them off promoting it at all.
Before EVERY clip on the EPK, make sure you include the title of the film, the director’s name, a brief description of what the clip is, and a total running time of said clip. This makes the whole thing look very corporate but is helpful for the people researching and compiling your story on the other side.
You also have to silence the creative editor inside you, which is the part I found hardest. The clips you submit should be snappy and interesting, cutting straight to the relevant shots of people working and the local scenery looking great, or a one-sentence answer (if possible) in your interview clips. There’s no room for elegant pacing here.
One area where you can be creative, however, is in the presentation of the package itself. Don’t just put the clips onto a basic disk with a note – here is an opportunity for you to show how professional and interesting your film is before they’ve even watched the disk, which will make them want to do so. I created the disks using Lightscribe, featuring the film’s logo, and the covering letter/DVD contents sheet were made using our original posters as backgrounds. This kept everything in our colour scheme and made it looks as though everything was designed specifically for the EPK. It’s also important to ring up the news companies in advance to make initial contact; you can get addresses and numbers on the internet but you have to track down the name of the person to send the EPK directly to, to avoid it going unsorted in a forgotten pile. Plus it gets your names into the reporters’ heads before the EPK arrives, and they will (hopefully) know to look out for it.
Cheers, Sophie. Let’s hope this gets us some local news coverage.
The first month after the shoot was spent recovering, catching up on non-Stop/Eject stuff and getting everything ready for the launch of the second crowd-funding campaign – building the website, editing the trailer (and doing some VFX shots for it), filming the pitch video and creating the first public rewards. So it wasn’t until about five weeks after wrapping that I had a first assembly. This ran to about 24 minutes and was very slow and clunky, as first assemblies usually are.
Since then I’ve been gradually making the film more watchable, tightening it up, adding temporary music and sound effects. Yesterday I reached the stage where I was ready to get some feedback on it, so I showed it to my wife Katie and to the producer, Sophie Black. They had some good suggestions which will inform how I proceed as I try to get it to a stage where it can be shown to some people not involved in the project, who can watch it with fresh eyes and really tell me whether the story and character arcs are working.
My list of pick-ups to shoot is being added to faster than I can cross them off, and every time I show the edit to a new viewer there is potential for more to be suggested. Luckily most of these can easily be shot in my living room with Katie’s hands and existing props. (I’ve never been a big fan of insert shots, but they were unavoidable when so much of the film is about pressing buttons, and they’ve proven extremely useful when it comes to pick-ups.)
Eventually I’ll be able to lock the picture, meaning that no further changes are made to the picture edit from then on (theoretically). It will then be down to the composer, the sound designer, the mixer, the visual effects artists and the colourist to put the flesh on the skeleton and complete the movie. Needless to say, you will hear plenty about who these people are and what they get up to right here on this blog.
P.S. Don’t forget to spread the word about our crowd-funding campaign at stopejectmovie.com