Stop/Eject Fully Funded

Hooray! We’ve smashed through our crowd-funding target for post-production of Stop/Eject!

Fully funded
Fully funded

Huge thanks to everyone who’s contributed since we launched our first campaign back in November 2011. Across the two campaigns you’ve given us almost £4,200. Without it, Stop/Eject could never have been made.

As well as reaching our grand total we’ve passed two public reward targets. The first one, the sound design podcast, you’ll have to wait a little while for, as work on this aspect of post-production has yet to begin. The second one is the People’s Choice Reward, so leave us a comment on the Stop/Eject Facebook page with your suggestion of what we can create and upload as a thank you for all your donations.

If you’ve been meaning to donate but haven’t got around to it yet, we’re keeping the rewards open for one more week. That means you’ve got until midnight on February 7th to secure yourself an invite to the premiere, a copy of the DVD or Bluray, an illustrated script book or any of the other lovely goodies. After this date these gifts will never be available again. (We hope the film will be available to buy in some form or another after its festival run, but that’s a couple of years away at least.)

The other big Stop/Eject news this week is that we’ve locked the edit, which is a watershed moment in the post-production of any film. Stay tuned for more info on that soon.

Stop/Eject Fully Funded

Tapering Lines and Milky Shadows

Recently I was hired by Astute Graphics to direct an advert-like promotional film for the launch of their new product, an Adobe Illustrator plug-in called WidthScribe. Here is the result:

Laura gets to grips with WidthScribe on a Cintiq touchscreen. Photo: Sophie Black
Laura gets to grips with WidthScribe on a Cintiq touchscreen. Photo: Sophie Black

It was a really fun and creative project, working with a great bunch of people including gaffer and GlideCam operator Colin Smith, designer and make-up artist Sophie Black, actress Laura Markham, and Nick van der Walle from Astute Graphics.

I have noticed a recent trend in adverts for a milky, low-contrast look, and I felt this would be an appropriate project for such a look. I knew that we would be featuring crisp, contrasty vector graphics throughout the film, so it made sense to counterpoint these with live action that was organic, soft and diffuse.

In preparation I set up a picture profile on my Canon 600D with minimum contrast and sharpness, and slightly reduced colour saturation.

On set the front light came from softboxes, reflectors and natural bounce, though always with a strong backlight to prevent the image from looking completely flat. The backlight also produced lens flare which further reduced the contrast of the image by lifting the shadows. In fact, I decided that almost every shot should have a lens flare, to enhance that organic look. Often this meant that Col would stand next to the camera and shine a 100W reporter light into the lens.

Fake sun
The “sun” here is actually a 1,000W Arrilite in the garden. Lens flare and smoke soften the image, while a fluorescent lamp in a softbox provides fill from out of the top right of frame.

Smoke was used in the kitchen scene, again to lift the shadows and diffuse the light. By a stroke of luck, the direct, wintery sunlight I faked in this scene with a 1,000W Arrilite pretending to be the sun was replicated almost exactly by the real sun when we filmed the office scene the following day.

In a future post I’ll reveal the secrets of the driving shots.

Tapering Lines and Milky Shadows

Music Cue Sheet

If your film gets picked up by a distributor, one of the many delivery materials they’ll ask for is a music cue sheet. If you’re unsure what one is or how to lay one out, take a look at Soul Searcher‘s as an example. See the Guerilla Filmmakers Handbook by Chris Jones and Genevieve Joliffe for more information on music cue sheets. For more on distribution and delivery materials, read this post about what to look for in a distribution contract.

Download Soul Searcher’s music cue sheet (.doc, 84kb)

Music Cue Sheet

Scott Benzie: Composer Extraordinaire

Scott Benzie conducts the Worcestershire Symphony Orchestra as they perform his score for Soul Searcher.
Scott Benzie conducts the Worcestershire Symphony Orchestra as they perform his score for Soul Searcher.

Today’s post is an introduction to Scott Benzie, composer of Soul Searcher, The Dark Side of the Earth and now Stop/Eject. (The series on VFX planning will continue next week.)

After becoming interested in music at a relatively late age, thanks to a synthesizer Christmas present and the inspiration of James Horner’s Krull soundtrack, Scott majored in music at Notthingham Trent University. In 2002 he wrote an impressive orchestral score for Jim Groom’s noir feature Room 36, conducting the Westminster Philharmonic Orchestra and recording all 50 minutes of music in a single day. Scott repeated this feat for Soul Searcher three years later, after responding to an advert I posted on Shooting People for a fully orchestral John Williams-style score – a goal which many people mocked as naïve or over-ambitious, but not Scott.

The composer’s other feature film credits include Ten Dead Men (dir. Ross Boyask), Fear Eats the Seoul (dir. Nick Calder), and Dinner with my Sisters (dir. Michael Hapeshis) which was released in UK cinemas last November. Several of Scott’s soundtracks have been released in their own right, including Room 36 which is available on CD from KeepMoving Records.

Scott recently took his first crack at some music for Stop/Eject and this is the result:

This is rough, unmixed and all done with samples. The finished version will, I hope, be recorded with live players. On Soul Searcher  we were able to persuade a choir and a symphony orchestra to perform Scott’s score for us. Here’s a clip from Going to Hell: The Making of Soul Searcher covering the music recording, one of the few things that didn’t go horribly wrong during Soul Searcher’s creation. (Remember that you can watch Going to Hell in full for a small charge at neiloseman.com/soulsearcher and Soul Searcher itself completely free on the same site.)

Visit Scott’s website at www.scottbenzie.co.uk

Scott Benzie: Composer Extraordinaire

Planning VFX: Computer Generated Imagery

Following on from last week’s thoughts on planning VFX shots, I’m now going to look at the issue of CGI vs. miniatures. In this post I’ll cover some of the advantages of choosing computer generated imagery, and next time I’ll look at the advantages of miniatures. As any regular readers will know, I much prefer miniatures, but I aim to be completely impartial in what follows.

To start off with let’s go back 20 years to Jurassic Park, the movie that really started the CGI revolution, and find out why Steven Spielberg chose this emerging technology over traditional techniques. (Skip to 13:12.)

So Spielberg favoured CGI because it produced more realistic motion. In fact, watching Jurassic Park these days I find the CG dinosaurs are easily differentiated from Stan Winston’s full size animatronics by the fact that the former move much more fluidly. Even when miniatures move “live”, i.e. without stop motion animation – vehicles powered by motors or pulled on hidden wires, for example – the motion is often less realistic than a CGI equivalent because the laws of physics dictate a small thing will always move differently from a large thing.

Next up, here’s a clip from Going to Hell: The Making of Soul Searcher, in which I discuss how I arrived at CGI as the best method of creating the spectral umbilical cords the script required. (You can watch the whole of this feature-length documentary at neiloseman.com/soulsearcher.)

So control was the key thing there. There were 80 shots, many with camera moves, and the umbilical cords had to be locked to the characters. Trying to achieve this with string and cables was just not realistic, or would have required so much manipulation in post as to make shooting a real element pointless. CGI can be controlled completely and adjusted quickly, without the need for reshoots.

Here are some other pros of CGI over traditional techniques:

  • No shooting required, so no crew to pay, feed, transport, etc. On a micro-budget where the crew are unpaid, CGI is completely free, whereas any kind of miniature shoot will always have costs.
  • CG elements can be tracked to moving plates without the need for expensive motion control cameras.
  • There are far more talented and experienced CG artists out there than model-makers.
  • You can create anything you can imagine, without any practical or logistical restrictions.

Can you think of any others? Let me know. Next time I’ll look at the advantages of traditional techniques.

Planning VFX: Computer Generated Imagery

Shooting in the Snow

Chris Newman films the bandstand at Belper River Gardens. Photo: Sophie Black
Chris Newman films the bandstand at Belper River Gardens. Photo: Sophie Black

Flip-top gloves
Flip-top gloves, or “fittens” as they have become known amongst my crew.

Yesterday Sophie Black and cinematographer Chris Newman braved the snow and ice to get me some wintery shots of Belper and Matlock for Stop/Eject. If you too are tempted to take the opportunity of filming in a winter wonderland, I’ve put together some tips with Chris’s help:

  1. DRESS APPROPRIATELY. I’ve never been able to find full gloves, no matter how thin, that give my fingers enough sensitivity through the fabric to effectively operate a camera. Instead I wear fingerless gloves which have mitten-like attachments that can be slipped over my fingertips when I’m not operating. I am roundly mocked for this, but they work. “Wrap up warm,” Chris adds, “and wear sensible footwear with plenty of grip!”
  2. BEWARE OF FOOTPRINTS. If you’re filming drama in the snow, plan your coverage around the inevitable appearance of footprints as your crew tramples around. Start with wide shots and any other angles that might show the ground, then move on to close-ups when the snow’s been disturbed.
  3. EXPOSE CAREFULLY. (No, this is not advice for winter flashers.) If you’re shooting GVs like Chris was, he suggests over-exposing slightly but being careful not to blow out the snow. If you’re shooting people, chances are you will have to blow out the snow in order to get decent skin tones. Chris says a variable ND filter is particularly useful so that you can keep your depth of field shallow, and they’re “also very handy for shooting around sunset as you can lose the light very quickly and need to adjust the amount of light [coming] into the lens.”
  4. PROTECT THE CAMERA. DSLR advocate and Hollywood DP Shane Hurlbut suggests that ziplock freezer bags are the best way to protect these little cameras from moisture and low temperatures. Arrange the zip at the back, so you can easily access the battery and card compartments when you unzip, and cut a hole for the lens, taping around the edges with electrical tape. Beware that your camera may still need time to acclimatise to the cold before it will function properly.
  5. BATTERIES DON’T LAST AS LONG. Cold temperatures shorten battery life, so take plenty of spares and keep them in your pocket to benefit from your body heat.
  6. BRING A LENS CLEANING KIT. It’s “essential for wiping away those snowflakes from the lens and to prevent smudging,” says Chris.

Find out more about Chris and his work at www.christophernewman.co.uk

Shooting in the Snow

A Window on Oblivion

Last month the lastest Eric Bana movie, Deadfall, was released in US cinemas. The unusual thing is that it had already been out for a month on demand. This is one of the first examples of yet another massive shift that’s occurring in the film industry.

For the first few decades of its life, cinema was unique. Then television came along. The film industry responded by introducing colour and widescreen aspect ratios to the cinema. TV eventually caught up with both of these developments. As we approached and entered the new millennium our home entertainment options were expanding exponentially. TVs are now huge, 5.1 surround sound systems are highly affordable; you can even watch 3D at home if you want.

So why go to the cinema?

Until recently, the answer was “because you have to if you don’t want to wait months for the DVD release”. This is known as the theatrical window, the time within which a film must be exclusive to cinemas, before it becomes available in other media. Many claim this system fosters piracy. After all, if you could buy or watch a film on demand for a reasonable price as soon as it’s first released, why would you pirate it?

Many others claim that without this system, cinemas would go bust. I suspect this may be true.

I will be interested to see what happens as more and films follow Deadfall’s example. Clearly the aim is to create word of mouth with the on-demand release, building the film up to the point where people will be desperate to see it on the big screen. Sorry, I mean the slightly-bigger-than-the-screen-you-have-at-home screen.

35mm projectors - a thing of the past.
35mm projectors – a thing of the past.

Ask yourself this: what happened to phone boxes when the infinitely convenient and flexible mobile phone became affordable? The same fate, I fear, awaits cinemas.

Because we can all have cinemas in our homes now. If we want to ban popcorn from our living rooms and pause the film whenever some weak-bladdered buffoon has to get up, we can. Or (and I’ll never, ever understand this behaviour) if we want to make phone calls and chat to our mates all through the movie, we can do that too without spoiling anyone else’s enjoyment.

The only possible reason to go to the cinema is to watch a movie on 35mm film….. Oh no, hang on… You can’t do that any more either.

Right, I’m off out to see Les Miserables. At the cinema. While I still can. If I could watch it on demand, would I? Given that it’s f**king cold outside and Hereford Odeon only seems to project digitally now, yes, I’d probably stay home and watch it on demand. A sobering thought.

A Window on Oblivion

Planning VFX

A few years back I taught a module on Visual Effects for filmmaking degree students at the SAE Institute in north London. Rather than getting into the nitty gritty of how to actually do VFX, it focused instead on how directors and producers should approach and plan for them.

Here is one of the examples I gave, using a shot from my 2005 feature Soul Searcher. Joe Fallow (Ray Bullock Jnr.) sprints down the platform of Hereford station as the Hades Express departs, bearing away the villain of the piece and the kidnapped love interest.

Finished shot from Soul Searcher
Finished shot from Soul Searcher

The train was a 1:18 scale miniature and was dropped into the live action plate by means of a simple, static matte drawn in Photoshop – essentially a splitscreen effect.

But what if I, as director, had chosen a different camera angle?

Alternate angle 1

To achieve this version, the model train would have needed to have been shot against a green screen to make it appear in front of Joe and the platform. This would have complicated shooting the miniature slightly, as lighting for a green screen can be quite time-consuming.

Alternate angle 2

Here we have the opposite; now Joe is in the foreground, so he’s the one that needs to be shot against a green screen. Since he and the station are full size, the green screen would need to be much bigger and would require much more light. And remember we’re now talking about an impact on the main unit’s time on a location, rather than a small model unit in a studio, so the cost implications are magnified.

Alternate angle 3

Finally, what if I’d gone for a camera move? Now we’re into motion control rigs, to record the camera’s movement on location and applied a scaled-down version of that same move to the camera shooting the miniature. Either that or the live action plate has to be 3D-tracked in post-production, and that tracking data fed into the motion control rig that shoots the miniature. More time, more people, more equipment, more money.

This is the first step in planning for VFX: understanding how your choice of shots influences the techniques required to achieve them and therefore impacts on the schedule and the budget. Stay tuned for more on this topic, and remember you can watch Soul Searcher in full for free at neiloseman.com/soulsearcher

Planning VFX

Press Kit Tips

Stop/Eject press kit
Stop/Eject press kit

This week the lovely press kit folders for Stop/Eject arrived. Although we probably won’t need these for a while, you never know when something might come up; I wish I’d had one of these for the FilmWorks finale last month. The folders were designed by Alain Bossuyt of Le Plan B, who won the poster competition last summer, and printed by Sign Link Graphics.

For Soul Searcher I had the press kits printed as brochures. The disadvantage with this is that you have to reprint the whole thing if you want to make changes or add things, which might well happen as reviews come in and your festival run develops. With folders it will be easy to remove sheets and add new or revised ones.

Stop/Eject press kit
Stop/Eject press kit

So what will be on those sheets? What should a press kit contain?

First up you need a SYNOPSIS. For a feature film you should include a short one, similar to the blurb you’d get on the back of a DVD cover, and a longer one, somewhere between 500 and 1,000 words. If you read Sight & Sound magazine you’ll see that they reprint these synopses verbatim.

Then you need biographies of the key CAST AND CREW. Sometimes these are included as extras on vanilla DVD releases.

Next come the PRODUCTION NOTES – behind-the-scenes anecdotes about the origins and making of the film. In the early days of DVDs you could often find these reproduced like liner notes in a little leaflet inside the case.

Stop/Eject press kit
Stop/Eject press kit

Next you need a BONUS SECTION, for want of a better name. This is where you provide some extra material for a journalist to fill out their article with. Commonly this will be something related to the subject of the film. For example, the press kit for The Fast and the Furious might have included some facts and figures about illegal street racing. For Stop/Eject we might put in some info about cassette tapes and their history. For Soul Searcher I took a slightly different tack and included some extracts from my production diary.

Finally you need to include the complete CREDITS. Again, Sight & Sound reproduces these in full.

(If you’re supplying publicity photos on CD, which is unusual in these days of ubiquitous broadband, you shoud also include a sheet of thumbnails with accompanying filenames and photographer credits.)

Stop/Eject press kit
Stop/Eject press kit

Remember when you’re writing all this that you’re trying to give a journalist a story on a plate. You need to give them all the exciting elements they need to effortlessly put an interesting article together. The bonus section in particular gives you a chance to provide them with an angle – a hook which convinces them this is a story worth telling.

Why print all this, rather than emailing a PDF? Because a nice glossy folder on a journalist’s desk is more likely to get read than yet another attachment in the inbox. And if you meet someone unexpectedly at a festival or other event, it’s far better than to give them a hardcopy to take away than to rely on them reading an email you send later.

Press Kit Tips