Stop/Eject: Production Design

In this featurette, Sophie Black takes us through her production design process on Stop/Eject, from themes and concepts through to execution.

There are just five Blu-ray copies of Stop/Eject still available on the Kickstarter page. Get yours before the campaign ends on Sunday! (Online “rental” of the film is also available.)

Stop/Eject: Production Design

Stop/Eject: Script to Screen

Following my personal observations on the shot planning process the other day, here’s a look at that process in action and a record of some of the thoughts that go through my head as a director when I’m choosing camera angles.

Everything begins with the script, and here is the extract for the Stop/Eject sequence I’m going to break down:

14. INT. ALCOVE/EXT. RIVER GARDENS – DAY – INTERCUT
KATE stands behind the alcove’s curtain with an armful of tapes.
She pushes one into the recorder – “JULY 16th 2007, 5-6:30pm” - 
and hits PLAY. Warm summer sunshine steals in through the crack
in the curtain. She pulls it back to reveal the river, sunlight
dancing and sparkling in the water of the weir.
COPY-KATE cycles through the gardens on a creaky old bicycle
with a custom paint job and various doodads hanging off,
oblivious to her other self and the alcove stood in the middle
of a Victorian bandstand.
Copy-Kate spots a strange figure on the riverbank, wearing
closed-back headphones and waving a big, fluffy microphone at
the running water.  She looks ahead – she’s about to run over
TWO YOUNG GIRLS.  She grips the brakes tightly and the bike
screeches to a stop with a noise like a small army of warring
cats.  She catches her breath as the older girl scowls and drags
her sister away.

Sophie drew the following storyboards for this sequence, based on my rough sketches:

I don’t like starting scenes with establishing shots; I prefer to reveal them gradually. So when I conceived the first shot (top left) – setting up Kate in the alcove in the shop – I suspected I would probably end up cutting it, and sure enough I never even filmed it. The audience would know by now where the tape recorder alcove was, I figured.

The next shot (top right) follows Kate as she puts down the stack of tapes. This is fairly basic visual storytelling. The audience already knows that the tapes contain recordings of Kate’s life. When we see her come in with an armful of cassettes, we anticipate her nostalgia trip.

As this was the first time Kate was to travel back in time more than a few hours, I felt it important to show the action of the tape going into the recorder in close-up (bottom), to ensure the audience understood the connection between the tapes, the machine and the time travelling.

storyboards_scan10

We then return (top left) to the previous angle, following Kate as she stands back up and opens the curtain. One of my regrets with Stop/Eject was that I never shot over Kate’s shoulder as she looked out of the alcove. I can only think this is because I was trying to avoid doing “the obvious thing”. In this scene I chose instead to tease what she’s seeing, revealing first the sunlight on her face, and then (top right) an abstract close-up of a spinning bike wheel, part of the visual theme of circles I had smart-arsedly developed for the film. My thinking was that time travel was a big and unbelievable concept for Kate to take in, so it needed to be broken to her (and therefore us) gradually.

Finally the scene is revealed (bottom left) in a high wide shot to establish the geography, which then cranes down to draw us into the action. On the day, there was a bush in the foreground, which began to obscure the action as we craned down, so we decided to crane up instead, rising up over the bush to reveal the action.

Next it was necessary to show the place of Kate and the alcove in the geography. I wanted to echo the formality and symmetry of the bandstand’s architecture by framing it flat-on, dead centre (bottom right).

storyboards_scan11Then Copy-Kate sees Dan, her future husband, for the very first time. I wanted to show an immediate connection using an over-the-shoulder shot-reverse. Since Copy-Kate was on a moving bike, this meant panning with her for her angle (top) and then tracking with her for Dan’s angle (bottom) in order to keep her shoulder in frame. I left Dan’s shoulder out of Kate’s shot since he hasn’t seen her yet and so hasn’t made a connection.

The editing podcast below from summer 2012 explains the various iterations I went through with this sequence. (I later brought Miguel Ferros on board to re-edit the film, and his final version is far superior to all of my attempts.) You can see in the podcast some of the problems that my linear shot planning approach caused, notably my failure to cover the whole scene in the crane shot, and the restrictions which that placed on me in the edit.

Despite these minor quibbles, I’m very proud of Stop/Eject and its visual storytelling. It’s recently received a couple of glowing reviews on Unsung Films and The London Film Review, the latter praising its visuals, and both quite rightly lauding Georgina Sherrington’s brilliant lead performance.

 

 

Stop/Eject: Script to Screen

Stop/Eject Hat Auction

Georgina Sherrington wears the hat as Kate in Stop/Eject.
Georgina Sherrington as Kate in Stop/Eject, wearing a hat that is now up for auction.

We’re auctioning off the hat worn by Georgina Sherrington in a scene in Stop/Eject, with all proceeds going towards finishing this short fantasy-drama. To bid, comment on the photo on our Facebook page (click here), stating the amount in UK pounds.* The auction ends at 7pm GMT on Thursday December 6th.

The hat appears in a winter scene in Stop/Eject, as Kate (played by Georgina Sherrington of The Worst Witch fame) enters the mysterious charity shop on a cold December day to once again use the time-travelling tape recorder. Behind-the-scenes footage of Georgie wearing the hat can be seen in this podcast from day two of the shoot:

A continuity photo from the shoot by costume designer Katie Lake
A continuity photo from the shoot by costume designer Katie Lake

“I had discussed colours with Neil,” explains Katie Lake, Stop/Eject’s costume designer, “and we liked the idea of yellow and blue for Kate – more yellow when she was happy, and more blue when she was sad. For the winter scene, as it was set in the darkest days of Kate’s emotional journey, I knew I needed to dress her in dark or drab colors. I had chosen a navy dress, but wanted to avoid making her look like she was dressed for a funeral, so when I found an off-white coat, I knew a light or medium grey hat would be perfect. The lighter colours wash out pale skin, like Georgie has, making her look even more drab and depressed.”

The hat was handmade especially for the production by Kerryblueknits, a New England-based crafter. “I have knit many a custom hat, but this was my first for a film,” says Kerry. “It was really exciting! Katie wanted a small hat, in light or medium grey, and something that an artsy person would have. At first she was thinking something slouchy, but that can be hard for petite women to pull off. We decided in the end on this beautiful lacy pattern – something that a young professional might have gone for, but in a subtle color.”

Kerry knitted the hat with an 85% wool/15% alpaca yarn. It is a size small and should be hand-washed and lain flat to dry.

Click here to place your bid, and be sure to check out Kerryblueknits on Etsy, where Kerry has a range of lovely hats, scarves and cowls perfect for any men or women in your life who need warming up this winter. She’s also more than happy to knit you a custom hat; prices start at $35.

* Shipping/postage will be charged at £2 (UK) or £4 (rest of world) on top. The winning bidder will be instructed how to pay via the Stop/Eject website. If he/she doesn’t pay within 48 hours of the auction ending, the hat will be offered to the next highest bidder. Bids received after the closing time will not count. Direct message the Stop/Eject Facebook page to bid anonymously.

Stop/Eject Hat Auction

Bhasker Patel Wastes My Time

Bhasker Patel
Bhasker Patel

This is Bhasker Patel. Yes, he’s that guy from off of Eastenders.

Last autumn, when I posted the first casting call for Stop/Eject, Bhasker applied. At the time I envisaged the Shopkeeper as a little old man, so Bhasker fit the bill and I invited him to audition. He said he couldn’t make it because he was needed on the set of Eastenders.

Later I put out a call for Dan, aged 25-35. Bhasker applied again.

Then I put out a call for Old Kate, an elderly woman. Once again, Bhasker applied.

In fact, every casting call I put out for Stop/Eject (and I put out a lot, because as you know we had horrendous trouble getting – and keeping – a cast) Bhasker applied to.

This is a waste of my time and his. You apply for a role, it turns out you can’t make the audition – fine, could happen to anyone. You apply for a role you’re clearly unsuitable for – definitely comes across as desperate, but worse things have happened. You apply multiple times to the same film for roles you don’t fit when you know you probably don’t have time to audition anyway – clearly you’re not actually reading the breakdowns.

And he’s not the only one. Don’t even get me started on composers, many of whom seem to spend far more time writing spam than music. (Sorry to those composers I actually work with. You are lovely. Don’t ever change.)

Rant over.

Actually, those puppy-dog eyes staring out at me from Bhasker’s headshot make me feel like quite an arse for bashing him. Sorry dude. You’re probably quite a nice guy. Maybe someone hacked your email account? You should look into that.

Bhasker Patel Wastes My Time

Stop/Eject: The Schedule

Georgina Sherrington as Kate in Sophie's living room set
Georgina Sherrington as Kate in Sophie’s living room set

Everyone on the cast and crew probably wanted to kill me because of the schedule. The days were too long and the turnaround times were too short. But let’s look at how the schedule developed in pre-production and how it turned out in practice.

Before we begin, some basic info. The script is 19 pages long, so theoretically 19 minutes. There are 31 scenes, 11 story days and 14 locations. Yeah, in a nutshell, ridiculous for a short film.

Six of the locations we found in one building: Magpie, in Matlock. Most of the remaining ones were in Belper, 11 miles down the road.

When we were going to shoot last October, it was a four-and-a-half day schedule. The first half day we would have been without the lead actress (who is in almost every scene) and the last half day we would have been without anyone except a skeleton crew, for shooting close-ups of the tape recorder.

When the project got up and running again this year, I immediately increased the schedule to five days. I had been really freaked out in October about getting it all shot in essentially just four.

Initially I wanted to shoot Monday-Friday, since weekdays seemed most convenient for the locations, but the two lead actors we had at the time both temped during the week and wanted to do as much as possible at the weekend, so I went with Saturday-Wednesday. (Ironically, it would have better suited Georgie, who ultimately played the lead role, if we had shot Monday-Friday.)

Remember that the first and foremost goal of your schedule is to minimise the number of location moves, because they waste phenomenal amounts of time. (A common mistake is to consider only the driving time between locations and overlook the time it takes to derig all the equipment, pack it into the vehicles, unpack it and set it up again at the other end. And don’t forget that at least one of your vehicles will probably get lost during the location move, so budget in time for that as well.)

Magpie. Photo: Paul Bednall
Magpie. Photo: Paul Bednall

I knew that those of us who weren’t local to the area could stay at Magpie, and that we could also stay at Sophie’s in Belper from the third day onwards. So the most logical schedule was to shoot all the Magpie stuff Saturday-Monday, then move to Belper on Monday night and shoot everything there on Tuesday and Wednesday.

This was all well and good until Georgie was cast a week before the shoot, and she had a prior commitment in London on Sunday morning. This meant we would lose her at 7pm on Saturday and not get her back for 24 hours.

There was approximately a day’s worth of material that could be shot without her, but half of that consisted of tape recorder close-ups that couldn’t be filmed until we had her master shots to match them to, master shots from various locations that couldn’t possibly all be shot on Saturday. So it was clear that Sunday’s schedule would be pretty sparse until Georgie returned at 7pm, shooting just the Businessman scenes in Belper. The half-day of tape recorder close-ups would have to wait until Thursday, extending the schedule.

Filming in the basement of Strutt's North Mill, Belper. Photo: Paul Bednall
Filming in the basement of Strutt’s North Mill, Belper. Photo: Paul Bednall

The other fixed point I was working around was the basement location (in Belper), which was only available on the Tuesday. This prevented me from simply flipping the schedule and doing all the Belper stuff first, then the Magpie stuff.

Two full days of shooting would take place on the shop floor of Magpie, and it was essential that those were consecutive so that we wouldn’t have to restore the shop and then redress it again later. Given the availability of Georgie and the basement, the only solid two-day stretch was from Sunday evening through to Tuesday lunchtime, which even then isn’t a full two days. So that’s where the shop floor had to go, and the rest of the schedule just had to fit around it.

Since many of us would be staying at Magpie over the weekend, I was keen to do as much filming there as possible during that time, so I scheduled in the living room, bedroom and nursing home scenes for Saturday. But then I realised that this left the major exterior scenes nowhere to go except Wednesday – the last day of the shoot. If the weather was bad, we would have nowhere left to postpone them to.

So the living room, bedroom and nursing home got moved to Wednesday and the exteriors slotted in on Saturday, with the proviso that they would be swapped back if Saturday was rainy.

I had arrived at a final schedule, which looked like this:

Stop/Eject schedule download (.PDF, 157kb)

As you can see, there are some tight turnarounds, particularly during the shop floor stuff in the middle of the schedule. This was partly a result of squeezing two days of shop floor material into one full day, one morning and one evening. It was also difficult to balance conflicting things like the need to wait for it to get dark at the end of the day to shoot some scenes, but also needing to get up early enough in the morning to film exteriors outside the shop when the road wasn’t too busy.

I definitely felt like I was fighting the clock throughout the shoot.

We wrapped more or less on time on Saturday, but had dropped the sun GVs and a crucial wide shot for the weir scene.

On Sunday things kept to schedule until the evening, when we overran and wrapped about 75 minutes late.

We wrapped most of the cast and crew slightly later than the anticipated time of 10:30pm on Monday, but Colin and I cracked through the cutaways and wrapped the day overall a few minutes early.

On Tuesday we finished at Magpie at noon, not 11am, but made up some of the time on the location move (which almost never happens) and got to the basement only half an hour late. We wrapped there still about 30 minutes behind, but made up the time at the cemetery. Then we got ahead of schedule by changing the bridge shot (scene 15) from night to day, thus saving an hour of setting up lights, and were able to retire to Sophie’s and get the kitchen scene in a very relaxed fashion.

Filming a living room scene. Photo: Sophie Black
Filming a living room scene. Photo: Sophie Black

Wednesday was without a doubt the toughest day. Although the living room, the bedroom, the nursing home and the alcove set were all in the same building, moving between them still took time, and since we were all fatigued it was like wading through treacle. By lunchtime we were two hours behind and this only got worse as we moved onto the critical alcove scenes after dinner. It must have been getting on for 3am by the time we wrapped.

Thursday turned out very differently to what we’d planned. Fortunately Georgie and Ollie were both available to pick up the weir wide shots. We started late because everyone was so knackered, and couldn’t shoot at the first location we visited (due to heavy rainfall swelling the river), so had to move to another one. We finally got the two shots in the can by about 3pm, and decided to leave most of the planned tape recorder close-ups to another time. (I’ll be shooting them here in Hereford next week.)

I’ll discuss why we kept falling behind schedule in a future post, but I’d like to end on a cautionary note. Not allowing sufficient turnaround time is a vicious circle. I hated the mornings on the shoot because I could see that people weren’t getting up fast enough to get out of the door at the necessary time. I couldn’t hassle them because they’d been up late the previous night and were understandably very tired, but I knew that by starting late we would end up finishing late again and the cycle would continue.

The only way to lengthen the turnaround time would have been to have added another day to the schedule, and this of course brings its own problems in the form of increased costs and people’s availability. This is why making unpaid short films will always be a messy, unpleasant business and if you’re at all rational you’d do well to avoid such shoots like the plague.

But where’s the fun in that?

Rewind
Rewind

Stop/Eject: The Schedule

Sophie Black Guest Blog: “Somebody has to do it.”

It’s high time we heard from producer and production designer Sophie Black on this blog, so here are her thoughts on the pre-production of Stop/Eject.

Four days ago we wrapped on Stop/Eject after a six day shoot that felt like a month. There were stressful bits, and no one got much sleep. But it was also one of the best shoots of my life!

The footage is looking amazing (keep checking the Stop/Eject Facebook Page for all the stills as they come online) and I can’t wait for the trailer. This shoot, without a second’s thought, goes straight into my top two, and not just because I finally got to stay at home and film on my doorstep. My only problem now is that I’ve gone from working all day every day for about two months to an empty house and nothing on my immediate schedule. Cold turkey. So I’ve promised director Neil Oseman that I would start doing a series of guest blogs, and I hope that these will cure me of my Stop/Eject withdrawal symptoms.

Today I’m talking about pre-production in the Art Department, and for that I need to take us back to this time two weeks ago. Now, with all independent films – and particularly with short films – it’s to be expected that tasks will have to be shared out, and that job boundaries will get blurred as it’s all hands on deck. It is for that reason that two of the main set builders on all Light Films projects are the director and the writer, and that the catering on Stop/Eject was covered by the costume designer and the make-up artist.

So you expect to have to do work out of your job description. What you don’t always predict, however, is the workload that’s caused by drop-outs.

Two weeks before the Stop/Eject shoot, I had a pretty long list of work left to do. I was juggling the Ashes prep with last minute S/E casting, two rooms to paint and dress, a couple of props to finish, and over 400 tape cassettes to do calligraphy on (urgh!). Not an ideal amount of work with two weeks left to go, but achievable.

The first task was re-doing part of a gravestone set piece. Many things were rushed the first time we went to make Stop/Eject, and I’d had to make do with my first attempt, which was decent but a little untidy (first image below). The good thing about having to push back the shoot – although it was disappointing at the time – was the fact that we got to do everything a hundred times better. The gravestone was certainly one of those things.

To help me improve it, Neil got in contact with professional production designer Ian Tomlinson, who told me that I could get a neater finish on the lettering if I printed out a stencil then engraved it into foamboard. (I’d used polystyrene for the rest, which still made good stone).

After I stuck the foamboard over the original lettering, I spray-painted it with the same stone effect spray as before, left it to dry in my downstairs loo (there was nowhere else to put it!) then used a dry-brush in a darker colour to add ageing and definition to the lettering.

That went smoothly, and I managed to get the location painting done in one afternoon thanks to the help of a volunteer called Ellie Ragdale:

So, with all those jobs done, and the days counting down fast, I thought that I could sit down and really crack on with the cassette tapes. I’d managed to get the time down to 5 minutes per tape inlay, so there wasn’t any reason to panic yet.It was at that point that people really started dropping out of the project…

When you’re doing a job which isn’t paid, no matter how great the project, there’s always going to be someone who abandons it in favour of a wage. You can expect one or two at least. And when this happens, no matter how much you have on or how last minute it is, you can’t just turn round to the director on the day and say, “such and such isn’t here because the person dropped out,” or, “it wasn’t my job so I decided to put my feet up and ignore it”. Particularly when it’s part of your department (I was head of Production Design so anything to do with the decoration was supposed to be in my control). It can’t just be abandoned when the film needs it. Someone has to do it. And, much as I dreaded it, I knew it would have to be me. There was less than a week until the crew arrived and everyone was already juggling more than their fair share of jobs. I just had to crack on.

My finished sign for the Shop Set, in my living room
My finished sign for the shop set, in my living room

The first extra job I took on was the shop sign for the film’s main location. Because of the nature of my job I find it hard to trust helpers, and I rarely delegate on smaller tasks, but I knew a local craftswoman who made beautiful vintage signs so I asked her to do it. She would be paid, but she offered to do it for next to nothing, and I knew she would do a great job. Then I got a call saying that she’d had to go into hospital and wasn’t taking on anymore work.

This one certainly wasn’t anyone’s fault, and it wasn’t too huge a task, so I grabbed by brother’s old warhammer board and a paintbrush and made the sign. It was easy but it was frustrating because I knew that I wasn’t the best person for the job and, due to the other woman’s calibre, what I turned out could only be second-rate.

The Shop Sign on location in Matlock. Photo: Paul Bednall
The shop sign on location in Matlock. Photo: Paul Bednall

The next problem came when it was time to build the film’s all-important alcove set. We’d advertised for a builder and had a decent amount of replies, but some weren’t qualified, some didn’t respond to our replies, and others showed genuine interest in the job and sent us a couple of emails, then changed their minds. I managed to contact a few local people I knew and had a few offer to build it with my help, but out of them a few were busy on the day and a couple became oddly aloof and stopped replying to me. The only person left to help managed to stay long enough to help me fetch the materials I needed (thanks Steve!) but had to go at lunchtime due to a prior commitment.This left me, alone in my Dad’s cramped garage (moving into the kitchen for space when needed), with his power tools at hand but no will or clue. I’d only ever decorated a set before; I was trained to design them, even technically, but I’d never wielded an electric saw in my life!

But what I’ve learnt is that it’s amazing what you can do when you try. Luckily I only had to build a wooden box-type thing – albeit ones with panels made out of antique doors – and it wasn’t anything more complicated than that. Plus my Dad helped speed things up by cutting a few pieces after I’d measured and marked them.

Was that the last of the drop-outs? Of course not. We were supposed to have someone build us an ornate, carved wooden arch to go at the front of the alcove set. I’d given the guy the job then he’d sent me a quick concept sketch and I’d even spoken to him on the phone, where he sounded enthusiastic. With less than a week before the shoot, I called him twice to three times a day. every day, and even left him messages, but I never heard from him again. Although it was disappointing, this was one part of the set we decided we could do without.

Instead of two days, the set ended up taking five, during all of which I was thinking about the looming tape cassettes, and wondering when on earth I was going to get them done. My morale was also starting to get pretty low – the garage was cold and I was up until 1am every morning with only Soul Searcher and American Beauty on my laptop to keep me going.

In spite of the odds, by the time the crew arrived there were three completed sides for the alcove, all of which featured heavily-screwed wooden frames, antique doors, and stained hardboard surfaces. Just like that, I’d built my first set.

From that point onwards, I wasn’t alone anymore. The chivalrous Gaffer-turned-handyman Colin Smith built the roof for me, and made sure I had all the pieces I needed to make a basic wooden arch for the front. Then the lead actor Oliver Park joined in too, by staying up with me and helping me paint the last couple of pieces. He even played Aerosmith on his phone to keep me happy. It may be an old-fashioned sentiment, but I think that men are wonderful things!!

By the time the shoot was underway, I’d only managed to do 100 tape cassette inlays. I tried to fit in more where I could but I was needed on set most of the time (and loved being there), so I had to pull an all-nighter to finish them off. I was already shattered by this point and I even blacked out a couple of times, but it was worth it for the satisfaction of getting my work done. However, I never want to look at another tape cassette for as long as I live. Not even my Jimmy Nail one!

Thanks Sophie. I’m off to polish my crocodile shoes, but you can read more about Sophie’s work on her website.

Sophie Black Guest Blog: “Somebody has to do it.”

T minus two days

Sophie's partly dressed living room. Well, not her living room. The living room she designed.
Sophie’s partly dressed living room. Well, not her living room. The living room she designed.

Hooray, I’m finally looking forward to the shoot! On Tuesday I cast a new Dan – Oliver Park – which was the last major hurdle to overcome before production. Our crew is all in place, all the minor roles are cast but one, all the locations and props are lined up, and the costumes and set are nearly finished.

So it’s looking good. It has been a real struggle getting to this point though. More than half the original cast and crew have had to be replaced – mostly due to them getting booked in the last couple of weeks for paying jobs that clash, though in a couple of cases due to hospitalisation! If you’re a veteran Neil Oseman blog reader you’ll have heard of The Curse of Soul Searcher. This is The Curse of Stop/Eject.

Painting the bedroom
Painting the bedroom

In all seriousness, I don’t think I’ll ever make another film (except simple ones like The Picnic) unless there’s money to pay everyone. It just isn’t worth the stress and hassle caused by having to re-cast and re-crew when people pull out. It’s actually got easier to find people the closer we’ve got to the shoot, presumably because people can be more sure that they won’t be doing any paid work on the shooting dates, but aside from anything else it’s a nightmare for the costume department when they don’t know their lead actors’ sizes until a few days before the shoot.

Staining the alcove
Staining the alcove

Sophie has been very busy this week, building the alcove set and painting and dressing some of the upstairs rooms at Magpie, not to mention doing calligraphy on 600 cassette inlays.

Katie has been running around the charity shops of Hereford, looking for the last few bits and pieces, and dying and altering things here at home.

I’ve been drawing up the schedule, going through storyboards with Rick (the camera op), chasing things up, getting paperwork in order and talking to the actors about their characters.

Weather forecast
Weather forecast

I’m so glad we didn’t shoot Stop/Eject last October. We are a million times better prepared now. The only thing that doesn’t look like it’s going to co-operate is the weather.

This will probably be my last post until after the shoot. We’ll try to update the Facebook page at least once a day, internet connection permitting, and rest assured we’ll be building up a tasty backlog of behind-the-scenes podcasts and blogs.

I want to start shooting tomorrow. I can’t wait two days. That’s how good I’m feeling about it right now.

T minus two days

T Minus One Week

Soul Searcher talk at Ort Cafe
Soul Searcher talk at Ort Cafe

Quite a manic, stressful week….

Tuesday afternoon’s auditions were enjoyable, but unfortunately I didn’t find anyone who was quite right for either of the roles. The threat of having to postpone the shoot started lurking around again. This is something I really wanted to avoid, because I didn’t want to mess everyone around again. And indeed we have avoided it, as I will shortly explain. (Just to be absolutely clear for any cast and crew who are reading, we are NOT postponing the shoot.)

On Wednesday I travelled to Birmingham for the final fundraising lecture. A small but interested audience listened to my ramblings and placed coinage in the sacred flashing bucket at the end of the night. Thanks to Ort Cafe for hosting the event, and to Brendan O’Neill for hosting me overnight.

Sophie and Therese (who’s playing Alice, the shopkeeper) put me in touch with some other possible actors and I met a couple in Birmingham on Thursday morning. Sophie also decided to try calling a more established actress to see if she was interested in the role…

…and she was, so I’m pleased to announce the casting of Georgina Sherrington, best known as the eponymous Worst Witch in ITV’s late nineties children’s TV series. I look forward to working with her.

As casting has been the main theme of my week, I thought I’d dedicate the rest of this post to answering the question: what am I looking for in an audition? Someone that will make my job as easy as possible. It sounds incredibly lazy now I’ve just written it, but it’s true.

Assuming a person is a competent actor with decent range, with some rehearsal time you should be able to mould them into any character. But rehearsal time is something you often don’t have on a micro-budget short, and you certainly haven’t got time to do a lot of experimenting with the actors on set. So if only for practical reasons, you want to cast someone who requires minimal direction.

Random photo of a cassette
Random photo of a cassette

I also tend to find that people who have the right look for a role are more likely to have the right personality and thus require less direction too.

Intelligence is also part of it. I always look very favourably on actors whose audition readings show they have fully understood the words they are saying. For example, when casting the lead role in Soul Searcher, there was a line in the audition sides that went: “I could count them all on the fingers of one hand.” Ray Bullock Jnr, who got the part, was the only auditionee who held up his hand when reading that line. A small thing, you might say, but I say it’s very telling.

Similarly, when Benedict Cumberbatch auditioned for Max in The Dark Side of the Earth‘s pilot, he was the only actor who read the word “galley” (meaning a kitchen on a ship) correctly, instead of assuming it was a typo for “gallery” like everyone else.

There are other things I’m looking for too, like screen presence, charisma (if appropriate, and it usually is in some form or another) and a personality that will be pleasant to work with, but essentially the ideal actor is the one who requires the least guidance to portray the character in my head and imbue the dialogue with the meaning I intended.

T Minus One Week

Retro Librarian

Katie on The Dark Side of the Earth
Katie on The Dark Side of the Earth

Today we have a special guest blog from Stop/Eject‘s costume designer, Katie Lake. She’s going to explain how the costume vision for Alice, a.k.a. The Shopkeeper, has changed since we originally geared up for shooting last October.

The shopkeeper for Stop/Eject has changed pretty drastically since the first draft. Originally an old man, the character is now being played by a woman. To get across the idea of her being old, Neil (the director) originally liked the idea of Victorian costumes after the actress wore Victorian-esc clothes to the auditions. It probably also had to do with the fact we filmed a pilot set in the Victorian era and hashed through enough costume options together to have the Victorian era etched permanently into our brains. But having a little extra time to mull over the character and how to portray Neil’s imagining of the character through costume, I became fixated on the idea of a 40s/50s librarian look.

Tiles in the shop location that we wanted Alice's costume to match with
Tiles in the shop location that we wanted Alice’s costume to match with

Neil wanted her to look like a shop keeper for a charity (thrift) shop, and so many of the women who volunteer at them seem to be themselves stuck in the 40s and 50s clothing wise. I also felt it fit better with the overall retro theme, and didn’t give too much away about the shopkeepers background (no spoilers so I’ll leave it at that!). After discussing it with Neil, we decided to go for the idea, and came up with a color palette as well. Neil was eager to have the costumes fit into the color scheme we’ve already picked for the film, as well as with these beautiful art nouveau tiles that line the shop we’re using as a set. Which were mustard yellow and olivey green. I knew I wanted to add browns, cream, tan, and maybe a splash of maroon to the palette. To get the 40s/50s look I knew I wanted wool plaid skirts, blouses and cardigans, short pearls, rounded-toe 1-2″ heels, and retro glasses would be a bonus.

Alice's watch and glasses
Alice’s watch and glasses

After gathering some reference photos on pinterest, I headed out to charity shops looking to see what I could find. After a few different searching days, I’d come up with a couple skirts, a pair of 40s looking trousers, a couple blouses and cardigans, a broach, some pearls, and a coat. After every shopping trip I’d lay the pieces out on the floor and mix and match them. The more things I found, the more the outfits would come together until there were just a few pieces missing. At that point I was able to figure out exactly what I was looking for to finish off the 4 looks. When you have specific items on your list, it’s much harder to find what you are looking for than when you had a general idea and color palette. Instead of looking for any wool skirt size 12 or larger (as long as it can be taken in) in greens, golden yellows, brown, tan or cream, I was now looking for a tan or light-medium brown colored wool skirt in a solid or subtle pattern. I was also getting pretty desperate for shoes. After realizing I am the same size as the actress (shoe sizes are different in the US and UK) and looking through my collection I found a suitable maroon pair, leaving me with only a saddle tan or navy pair to find. After searching numerous charity shops while paying a visit to the actress for fittings, we found the last skirt and navy shoes. A couple days later my ebay finds arrived- a nurses watch and retro glasses- finishing off my list.

Here are the photos from the fitting – the skirts have been pinned so I know where to shorten them too, and each has to be pulled in (that’s why they are looking a bit bulky)- so the look will be more streamlined once the alterations are done. I’ll also add the details, like nude stockings, the nurses watch, glasses hanging around her neck, and HMU will do wondrous things with her hair.

Next up I’ll do the alterations, organizing/cleaning/iron or steaming the costumes, and breaking down the costumes on paper (in an xls file) so I (or the actress) don’t have to remember what goes with what on the day (and in case I get sick or injured someone else will be able to fill in).

I’m also still working on the male lead’s costumes- as all but 3 of his costume pieces were returned last year, and with the additional costs of all the shopkeepers outfits, I now have to dress him with half the budget. Did I mention he was a hard-to-find size as well?

Visit Katie’s costume blog at www.katiedidonline/costumes for more on Stop/Eject and other projects.

Retro Librarian

Crowd Sourcing

Dedo, de-e-edo. Dedo come and me want to go home.
Dedo, de-e-edo. Dedo come and me want to go home.

Loyal readers, once again I need your help. Do you own any of the following things? Would you be willing to lend them to us for the Stop/Eject shoot? (In most cases we would need to collect them on April 20th and return them on the 26th or soon after.)

  • A lady’s vintage/retro bike
  • Any empty cassette cases
  • A camera jib (small enough to be used indoors)
  • A mini-spotlight kit (Dedolights or similar)
  • An HMI (any wattage considered)
  • Any fast Canon EF(S) prime lenses 85mm or longer
  • Walkie talkies

Rest assured your items will be well looked after, and in return you’ll be credited on the film, receive an invite to the premiere, a DVD copy, and a free download of my indie feature film budget and sales exposé How to Make a Fantasy Action Movie for £28,000.

Also if there’s anything we can lend you in return, we’d be happy to do it. (I have some Canon DLSR camera kit, shoulder rig, tracking dolly, basic lights and so on.)

Since our travel budget is limited, we could really only borrow things that are located in or near Hereford or North Derbyshire, or somewhere en route between those two places (e.g. Birmingham).

Finally, if there are any unsigned bands out there who have an angry-sounding rock/metal/punk song we could use a little bit of in the film, please get in touch.

Contact me on: neiloseman [at] googlemail.com

By the way, let me assure any of you concerned by the cryptic ending of my last post that no-one has died or been injured or anything terrible like that. But unfortunately we are having to look for a new leading lady. The shoot dates have not been changed.

Crowd Sourcing