Packing for Cannes

Business cards are exchanged at a prodigious rate in Cannes.
Business cards are exchanged at a prodigious rate in Cannes.

With Cannes approaching fast, here are some things you definitely shouldn’t leave out of your suitcase:

  1. Comfy shoes. Because of the way the festival and market are laid out, you do a HELL of a lot of walking in Cannes. Yes, the festival has glamour after dark, but during the daytime you want your most comfortable walking shoes on. Even so, pack plasters too, because you will get blisters.
  2. Sunglasses and sunblock. Most meetings take place on the sun-decks of the pavilions on the seafront. It’s a hard life in Cannes, it really is.
  3. Business cards. Cannes is the biggest filmmakers’ networking event on the planet. You will collect a massive stack of business cards and you should be prepared to hand a lot out.
  4. French phrase book. Although everyone speaks English at the festival, this may not be the case at your hotel, in restaurants, etc.
  5. Materials. Take something to show people, be it a press kit, a one sheet, or the film itself on your smartphone. If it’s the latter, a pair of headphones and some sort of hood to keep glare off the screen are strongly advised. Again, most meetings will be in bright sunlight and with plenty of chatter going on around.

 

Packing for Cannes

Stop/Eject DVD Sneak Peek

It would be nice to be able to hand out DVDs and Blu-rays to the cast, crew and sponsors at the premiere of Stop/Eject. That means finishing the discs pretty sharpish after the movie is done. I’ve been working on the discs on and off for a while, and yesterday I shot the menus. Yes, you read that right. I shot the menus.

I feel that DVD/BR menus should be an extension of the world of the movie, and I figure: what better way to do that than to use footage from the film combined with new shots that appear to be in the same locations? So, for example, the Special Features menu is a shelf in the charity shop, where each item of junk represents one of the special features. Some of these were found in real charity shops, some of them were made by Sophie, and others were borrowed from friends (thanks to Colin, and Joel at the Rural Media Company). Before long I hope to officially announce the DVD and Blu-ray bonus features, but for now I’ll leave you to guess what each item might represent.

Special Features part 1
Special Features part 1
Special Features part 2 (Blu-ray only)
Special Features part 2 (Blu-ray only)

 

Stop/Eject DVD Sneak Peek

Back to the Future

The first day of shooting on Stop/Eject. Photo: Paul Bednall
The first day of shooting on Stop/Eject. Photo: Paul Bednall

Like Janus I’m looking forwards and backwards today, the first anniversary of Stop/Eject‘s shoot beginning. First of all, here are a few key things I’ve learnt from making Stop/Eject:

With the project drawing near to completion, my thoughts are turning towards my next films. As regular readers will know, writer Tommy Draper has been working on a feature-length version of Stop/Eject for some time.

However, I feel that trying to get a feature financed with me as director right now wouldn’t be much easier than it was a couple of years ago when I was trying to get The Dark Side of the Earth made. So I intend to make another short film first. It’s too early to reveal any details, but I can tell you that after advertising on Shooting People I’ve teamed up with a writer called Kevin O’Connor who is currently working on a third draft script based on a one-line idea of mine.

I’ll also be entering Virgin Media Shorts again this year, and my wife Katie is hard at work on a puppet for that. Intrigued? You ought to be.

Stay tuned for the latest news on all of these projects, and I’ll leave you with a reminder of what we were up to this time last year.

Back to the Future

5 Tips for Doing Cannes on a Budget

The Palais des Festivals in Cannes, 2010
The Palais des Festivals in Cannes, 2010

I’ve recently booked my flight and hotel for this year’s Cannes Film Festival and Market. This will be my fourth Cannes, and I’ve been trying to get the cost down every year. Here are my top five tips for saving cash on the Côte d’Azur:

  1. Get free festival accreditation by applying as soon as registration opens (usually the start of February). Make sure your IMDb page is up-to-date to prove you’re active in the industry.
  2. Book early to get the best hotel deals. Adam Hale tipped me off about an extremely cheap campsite with mobile homes – Parc Belle Vue – but it was already full by the time I decided I was going to Cannes this year.
  3. Stay somewhere on a bus route (timetables and maps here). Relying on taxis can quickly destroy your budget, but the buses in the Cannes area are only one Euro for a single ticket and run until about midnight.
  4. Slash your food and drink budget by living off canapés at parties and carrying a water bottle which you can continually refill from the cooler downstairs in the Palais des Festivals. If canapés don’t fill you up, Delices Yang on Rue Emile Negrin is cheap and cheerful if you can handle all the MSG.
  5. Save around ten Euros each way by taking the train from Nice airport to Cannes, rather than the tourist-baiting 210 bus. Board the free airport shuttle bus, alight at L’Arénas and from there Nice St. Augustine railway station is just a five minute walk (map here).

5 Tips for Doing Cannes on a Budget

Brendan O’Neill on his 48hr Film Challenge Entry, “Fled”

I recently served as DP and postproduction supervisor on Fled, writer-director-producer Brendan O’Neill’s 2013 entry to the SciFi London 48hr Film Challenge. I asked him to share what he’s learnt from this and other film challenges he’s entered.

Brendan, this is not your first 48 hour film challenge. How many have you done before and what are the biggest things you learnt from them that you applied to this latest one?

Gillian Twaite in The Black Widow
Gillian Twaite in The Black Widow

I’ve done several now, 3 straight 48’s and 2 London Sci-Fi Society 48’s plus a time limited music video competition. My first ever film Black Widow was made for a local Birmingham competition called Film Dash in 2008. My second film What Goes Up Must Come Down was shot over a weekend for a non time limited competition run by Filmaka in the USA. I did a lot of ringing around and pre-production for this one as I wanted to really push the number of locations I could fit in. I found that by getting through to the right people, explaining who you are and what you want help with in a structured way can be very successful.

I made another 48 hour film Seconds Out for the same Film Dash competition in 2009 which placed 3rd out of 24 entries. I achieved some good production value by piggy backing a real event – a boxing contest held in a Birmingham hotel – with the help of the promoter who is also a local filmmaker.

Internalised
Internalised

The first really big production I put together was for Internalised – our first attempt at the London Sci-Fi Society’s 48 hour filmmaking competition in 2011. I spent 6 weeks pre-producing, location scouting, auditioning etc. and assembled a cast and crew of 50 to help us make the film. I also fed them all via an in-kind deal with local vegetarian catering company ChangeKitchen.

I suppose the first lesson I learnt on that was to not try to do it all on your own. The second being to be very careful who you take on board to help you and define clear roles and responsibilities for those involved. It can be difficult when you are working with volunteers but if you can convey the ambition and vision of what you are trying to do and have some previous track record then you can build feature size crews to help.

The shoot went very well but we were let down in post-production by not getting all the VFX/CGI we wanted into the competition version. You need to have your VFX/CGI team in the same place as your editors as it’s asking too much to render and then transmit the large files involved from remote locations when time is at a premium.

Around Again
Around Again

Our second attempt at the London Sci-Fi society 48 hour competition in 2012 was a World War II themed film called Around Again. We were looking for unusual locations with built-in production value and had identified a Midlands WWII era tunnel complex as a good location. We then found out that the person who controlled access to the tunnels also owned an extensive WWII costume wardrobe that had been used on Atonement and Band of Brothers so we dropped the tunnels location idea and went for battle/bunker scenes. The production value that all the great uniforms and replica / decommissioned firearms gave us was superb.

We were also very fortunate that our friend with the costume wardrobe Craig Leonard and his pyrotechnics colleague Matt Harley of Trinity VFX knew lots of German army / SS re-enactors who were more than happy to appear in the film. It shows the value of networking and being pro-active as that one contact expanded in all sorts of interesting ways to help us make a great looking film. I’m still reaping the benefits as Matt supplied the SWAT team outfits and arms for Fled as well as the GCHQ-esque second main location.

We were very surprised that the film didn’t shortlist but I think as producer if we’d had more clearly defined sci-fi elements in it then that would have helped.

Moving on to Fled, how much work had you put into writing and producing it before the challenge began on 10am on Saturday?

I spent about 6 weeks in pre-production. I hadn’t directed for a while so the first thing I did was do a smaller 48 hour competition which was running as part of the Stoke Your Fires festival.

[The next thing] I did was launch a crowd funding campaign via Indiegogo. I raised about £850 after fees so it helped a lot but it was a very labour intensive way of doing it with limited results. I didn’t have any donors who weren’t already linked to me in some way – mostly through Facebook.

Fortunately an established writer who I’d met twice at the Screenwriters Festival helped me a lot with an early and substantial individual donation. I think he likes my DIY attitude to getting films made. The previous year I also received a substantial donation via a Twitter relationship I had developed so it demonstrates that both traditional and social media based networking can’t be ignored.

Once the Indiegogo campaign was out of the way I worked on getting everything together. I had hoped for some substantial co-producer support but this didn’t really happen and the fact that I had to produce it nearly all myself definitely affected the amount of time I was able to spend on developing the script with my pal Dominic Carver as script editor. That said certain people such as Ella Carman, Matt Harley and stand in make-up artist Kerris Charles helped restore my battered faith in people.

The cast and crew of Fled
The cast and crew of Fled

I was surprised at how large the crew was (around 20). Do many hands make light work on a time-pressured project like this? Was there a degree of over-crewing in case some people didn’t turn up?

I’ve been on shoots where I haven’t had enough production assistants and runner/drivers so I tend to have some over-capacity just in case. The nature of the competition also means that it’s better to have more people to help in case the criteria you are given by the organisers are particularly difficult to handle. You are given a title, a line of dialogue and a prop/action by the organizers on the morning of the competition.

Although I did have some crew drop out prior to the competition I was able to replace them. My regular sound person dropped out with a foot injury so it was fortunate that Nicola Dale who was going to be post sound runner assisting Matt Katz and Joe Harper on the Sunday was able to step up to the mark and deliver great production sound with the help of Chantal Feliu Gurri on boom. Fortunately I’d met Nicola at a networking event a few weeks earlier and offered her the chance to come and work with some more experienced talent.

I do wish I had had some actor back-up however as someone dropped out on the Sunday morning pleading illness. It’s difficult to ask actors to turn up unpaid for what might only be extra type roles in a 5 minute film but it’s also VERY damaging when those who say they’ll do it drop out at short notice. It was especially galling as I’d written a role especially for this young man.

The consequence was that I had to bump someone who was only meant to be an extra into a role with lines which in my opinion definitely affected the quality of the film. For me Quality is King – with so many people having access to great technology you really have to try to ensure production values are as high as possible across the board in order to make your film stand out.

How did you approach integrating the challenge criteria (line of dialogue, prop and optional theme) into the film?

I try to build mechanisms into the script to deal with those things i.e. the wireless in the bunker scene in Around Again. That was there to help us field any difficult lines of dialogue we were given. Unfortunately last year we were given a very modern day line about the SEIS investment scheme so it was a bit clunky which is ironic given that it is a scheme that can help filmmakers raise finance!

We were lucky in that the criteria [this year] were very easy to integrate into the script.

Title: Fled

Prop: A key. A single key is put on a key ring with three near identical keys.

Roger the Controller
Roger the Controller

The initial idea was that [the entity] was an alien civilization that had had to flee some dying star millennia ago and had lain dormant on Mars until the first manned landings. This fitted the FLED title well. The key scene in the church echoes this when you can just make out the ethereal voices saying, “We can’t go back, we can’t go back.”

I was able to fit in the compulsory dialogue line as part of the NASA controllers trying to contact the Mars Explorer. The key on to keyring action/prop was easy and was the same one we got last year!

What was the schedule for the 48 hours in terms of when you started and finished filming, when the edit was locked, etc.?

At 10.00am DoP Neil Oseman and his gaffer Colin Smith went to the church location to pre-light and set up ready for filming whilst I awaited the criteria from the organisers. That way we could hit the ground running once we had a script finalized. The criteria arrived by text at about 11.15.

Filming at "GCHQ"
Filming at “GCHQ”

Fortunately the criteria given were very easy to integrate into my script so I arrived on set around 12.30 – 13.00 having picked up the VFX team at their hotel on the way. We needed to shoot the scenes they needed first in order to give them as much time as possible to work their magic.

I had planned to try and finish by 8pm so that the crew would be reasonably fresh for an early start the next day. I think we finished at around 21.15 and had a quick drink together before heading home. The next day we were all on set for 8.00am and set up for the first scenes quickly. I intended for us to finish around 2pm but there was a bit of creep to 3pm even though we trimmed and dropped some non essential scenes on the way. At both locations Neil and his regular gaffer Colin Smith, who was well assisted by Jay Somerville, did a brilliant job with the lighting.

Brendan directing
Brendan directing

Any plans to take part in future 48 hour challenges?

No. I don’t think so. I think I’ve done enough of them now. I want to either do some really high quality, well planned and developed festival oriented shorts or hopefully a first feature. I think 48 hour contests are a good discipline for young or emerging filmmakers as it gives you a focus and stress tests some of the relationships you might be developing. All a bit frantic but I’ve learnt a lot from them and come out a stronger and hopefully better filmmaker.

I think for this year’s contest just doing one high production value location per day and insisting that the VFX team were at the same post-production site as the edit team really made a difference. I was really fortunate to have really strong post-production edit and sound team and a great composer in Hans Hess who was at the ready to do the score. Hopefully people can see the difference those elements made in the quality of the competition version of the film.

Lastly I couldn’t have done it without Neil Oseman and a great international team of volunteer cast and crew. I hope that I’ll be able to work with them all again at some point. I’d particularly like to thank “King of the Indies” actor Michael Parle who came all the way from Ireland.

Thanks Brendan. You can visit Brendan’s blog at www.sticklebackproductions.co.uk. Scroll back to the top to see the film or click here to watch it on Vimeo.

Fled photography by Ian Jones – www.logic-media.co.uk – and Oliver Charles Woolley – www.facebook.com/olivercharlesphotography.

Brendan O’Neill on his 48hr Film Challenge Entry, “Fled”

Recording Stop/Eject’s Music

Lorna Davies on cello. Photo: Owain Uylet
Lorna Davies on cello. Photo: Owain Uylet

Heather License on violin. Photo: Owain Uylet
Heather License on violin. Photo: Owain Uylet

Yesterday saw the recording of Stop/Eject‘s score at Worcester College of Technology with four members of the Film Orchestra.

Recording music is similar in some ways to shooting a film. Time is precious, and the composer (or director) is constantly having to make judgement calls: do we record another take, or do we live with what we’ve got and move on? Shall I play that take back to check it’s okay or is it quicker just to record another one? Do we go from the top again or pick it up part way through? Can I fix it in post? Am I giving the performers what they need in order to do their best work? Is what we’re doing going to work with the other elements it will be combined with later?

As is often the case, recording started very slowly and gradually sped up (out of necessity!) as the day went on, eventually finishing just in time before the caretaker locked up the building. It was fantastic to hear the score come to life and, as with our first collaboration (Soul Searcher), Scott provided more than one musical moment that made me all tingly. He will now mix the live violin, cello, flute and clarinet with a sample-based piano and other instruments to create the final music tracks.

You can see a very brief video clip of the music being performed on Stop/Eject’s Facebook page (Facebook account not required to view).

Engineers Kurt Teale (left) and Billy Craythorne in the control room. Photo: Owain Uylet
Engineers Kurt Teale (left) and Billy Craythorne in the control room. Photo: Owain Uylet

Big thanks to everyone who made yesterday possible: composer/conductor Scott Benzie, cellist Lorna Davies, violinist Heather License, flautist Sue Salsbury, clarinettist Jack Suttie, WCT staff Max Alexandre, Billy Craythorne and Craig Ward, student Kurt Teale, behind-the-scenes camera op Owain Uylet, and Jane Whittle, Simon Munn, Paul Bellamy and David Staiger for helping me get in touch with the right people to arrange everything.

If you’re in the Worcester area and you’re a musician who’s into your film scores, check out the Film Orchestra’s Facebook page.

Elsewhere in the world of Stop/Eject, the last of the visual effects shots are being mopped up, I’ve just heard the first draft of the sound design, Andréa Kristina’s song for the end credits is almost finished, and the last two pick-ups have been shot by Chris Newman and Sophie.

Recording Stop/Eject’s Music

Five Tips for a Smooth and Speedy Postproduction

Consulting with editor Adam Hale (left) and director Brendan O'Neill (right). Photo: Anneliese Cherrington
Consulting with editor Adam Hale (left) and director Brendan O’Neill (right). Photo: Anneliese Cherrington

Last weekend I participated in my first 48 hour film challenge, serving as both director of photography and postproduction supervisor. This is the first time I’ve ever done the latter role and I made the huge mistake of failing to prepare for it. This, coupled with the fact that I wasn’t around during the start of the editing process because I was busy DPing, meant that some avoidable errors were made. We got the film finished on time to a good standard, but I learnt several things that will be useful if I ever take on the role of postproduction supervisor again.

Here are the top five things I’d recommend to anyone wishing to have a quick and painless postproduction process:

  1. Sit down with the camera and post departments before the shoot to make sure everyone knows the workflow and what’s expected of them. This includes agreeing on a format and frame rate to shoot, and a format to edit from, and making sure that all hard drives and memory sticks to be used during post are formatted appropriately so they can be read by all the computers being used.
  2. Have a dedicated clapper person on set and make sure they understand the importance of getting the right info on the board. Too often on a low budget the job of slating is given to a crew member with several other responsibilities, increasing the chances of them writing the wrong thing on it and confusing the hell out of the editor. (We got this right on last weekend’s shoot, and it helped enormously.)
  3. Beware of shooting too much footage, particularly if you have a B camera or second unit. We had so much that there simply wasn’t time to view it all in post. Also avoid shooting series (multiple takes without cutting in between) as a time-pressured editor will often miss the fact that there are several takes within the same clip.
  4. Keep logs if at all possible, noting any technical problems with each take and the director’s preferences.
  5. Ideally the DIT (Digital Input Technician) or an assistant editor should do three things once he or she has ingested the material, besides the obvious backing up: 1. Transcode the footage to ProRes or whatever format has been pre-arranged for editing, 2. Sync the sound, 3. Associate information from the logs with the clips, or at least rename the clips with slate and take number. It’s a bad idea to rename the files themselves because it can cause re-linking headaches down the line, but if the DIT has access to the editing software they can rename the clips within the bins.

Watch this space for a forthcoming interview with writer-director-producer Brendan O’Neill on the whole process of making a 48 hour challenge film. Meanwhile, here’s the film:

Five Tips for a Smooth and Speedy Postproduction

The Fundamental Interconnectedness of All Things

Paul Bellamy rehearses Colla Voce ahead of the choral recording for Soul Searcher in January 2005. Photo: Mike Staiger
Paul Bellamy rehearses Colla Voce ahead of the choral recording for Soul Searcher in January 2005. Photo: Mike Staiger

Next week we record the music for Stop/Eject at Worcester College of Technology with players from the Film Orchestra. I think it’s a shame that many low budget filmmakers are content to let the composer create the music in their home studio, often without using any real instruments at all. It’s true that it takes a little more organisation to record a score with live players, but the richness and authenticity of the sound you get is well worth the effort.

Let me explain how I was able to arrange this recording session, because it demonstrates the importance of building your contacts.

Once the score was written, I started with a simple shout-out on Facebook for musicians. This was seen by Simon Munn, who is part of my social media network because I gave a talk at the Worcestershire Film Festival, which he organises, last year. There are many benefits of giving talks, paid or otherwise (which I touched on in a previous post) and making contacts is one.

Simon put me in touch with Jane Whittle at the Film Orchestra, a group of amateur musicians based in Worcester. Several of their members expressed an interest in performing the music, so I knew that I needed to find a recording studio in Worcester to make it as convenient as possible for them.

Recording Colla Voce. David Staiger can be seen at the keyboard (top right). Photo: Mike Staiger
Recording Colla Voce. David Staiger can be seen at the keyboard (top right). Photo: Mike Staiger

Years ago I hung out with some friends while they were recording a demo for their band (King Monkey) at Worcester College of Technology, so I knew there was a studio there. I contacted Paul Bellamy and David Staiger, both Worcester-based musicians who were involved in the recording of Soul Searcher’s score back in 2005. I figured one of them probably had some link to the college and I was right; Paul works there. He put me in touch with the Head of Performing Arts and Music Technology, who was very enthusiastic about the whole idea, and from there it was just a case of working out the details. In return I offered to give a free guest lecture at the college, citing my prior experience at Hereford College of Art, the SAE Institute, etc.

There are two morals to this story. One is the value of networking, making new contacts and maintaining those contacts (which Facebook makes it really easy to do now). The second is, if you’re a young filmmaker struggling to get stuff made, remember that collaboration not only benefits your current project; you could be sowing seeds which will help your future projects too.

The Fundamental Interconnectedness of All Things

ADR Podcast

Here is a video podcast from the ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement / Additional Dialogue Recording) session on March 15th, in which the actors explain some of the challenges of recreating their performances in a studio.

This is a belated public reward for passing the £1,400 mark in Stop/Eject‘s crowd-funding campaign (over two months ago!). See my earlier blog for more info about how the session went.

Thanks to Gerard Giorgi-Coll for filming this and Soundtree Music for the use of their studio.

ADR Podcast

Top Ten Crowd-funding Tips

This little piggy went to Kickstarter…

To finish my look back at the decisions, successes and failures of the Stop/Eject crowd-funding campaigns, here are my ten top tips based on the sum of our experiences on this project:

  1. You need “elements” – aspects of the project which have an existing audience base, such as a name actor or a director with a strong social media following. Sometimes people will donate because the film is being shot in their home town, or maybe it’s about a subject they have an interest in. Whatever it is, figure out where that existing audience base is and what they want, and create your rewards and promotions accordingly.
  2. Work out in advance how much your rewards will cost to produce, and reject any that aren’t cost or time efficient. I suggest they should consume no more than ten percent of your budget.
  3. Make your pitch video professional – tightly edited, well lit, well shot and with broadcast quality sound. No-one will sponsor a filmmaker who can only be bothered posting a five minute ramble shot on a webcam. Your “elements” should appear in the video.
  4. Whether building your own crowd-funding platform or using an existing one, make sure it’s extremely quick and easy to donate, with a minimal number of clicks.
  5. A longer campaign doesn’t necessarily mean more money raised, but it does mean more work for you promoting it.
  6. If you take a day off from promoting your campaign, people will take a day off from donating. You cannot sit back and expect the money to roll in. It doesn’t work that way.
  7. Keep reminding people about your campaign, but do it indirectly by publishing new content like blogs, behind-the-scenes videos or storyboards. Most sponsors will have to see your campaign several times before deciding to donate.
  8. The internet isn’t the only way to promote your campaign. Go to events in the real world and plug it. Take a donations bucket or hand out cards or flyers with the campaign address on.
  9. Make people feel involved in your project, both during and after crowd-funding. Run competitions, invite feedback on things like poster designs, issue updates and answer questions.
  10. The endorsement of a well-recognised person or entity can give your campaign a massive boost. BBC Midlands Today putting a Stop/Eject report on their Facebook page worked for us, but the holy grail is getting a celebrity to retweet your campaign link.

If you’re still hungry to learn more about crowd-funding, check out James J. Heath’s Top 5 Crowd-funding Mistakes and Indiegogo’s Field Guide.

(Links to previous parts of the evaluation: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7.)

Top Ten Crowd-funding Tips