Stop/Eject DVD and Blu-ray Features

I can at last reveal the full list of bonus features that will grace the DVD and Blu-ray editions of Stop/Eject. Please note these discs are for sponsors, cast and crew only. It is likely to be 18 months or so before the film is available to the general public, other than at festivals.

DVD Special Features menu
DVD Special Features menu

DVD edition

  • The film with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound (17 mins)
  • Cast commentary with Georgina Sherrington (Kate), Oliver Park (Dan) and Therese Collins (Alice)
  • Filmmakers commentary with producer Sophie Black and the director, Yours Truly
  • Record & Play: The Making of Stop/Eject – brand new behind-the-scenes documentary featuring interviews with all the cast and crew (30 mins)
  • Crowd-funding Stop/Eject – Sophie and I relate the ups and downs of financing the film, the many ways we promoted the campaign and the lessons we learnt from it all. (10 mins)
  • Filming in Belper – visual essay by Sophie about Stop/Eject’s north Derbyshire locations, featuring clips from other independent productions shot in the town and interviews with Stop/Eject’s cast (5 mins)
  • Superior Sound Reproduction – a unique look at the little-understood area of postproduction sound, from Additional Dialogue Recording (ADR) through sound effects and music to the final mix, featuring interviews with re-recording mixer Jose Pereira, sound designer Henning Knoepfel, composer Scott Benzie, Georgina Sherrington and Oliver Park (10 mins)
  • Deleted scenes (5 mins)
  • Visual effects breakdown – revealing the layers of work that went into Stop/Eject’s visual effects shots (3 mins)
  • Photo gallery
Blu-ray Special Features menu page 2
Blu-ray Special Features menu page 2

Blu-ray edition

  • All of the DVD features except for the deleted scenes
  • Extended rough cut with optional director’s commentary – an early edit of the film containing dialogue, moments and entire scenes excised from the final version (22 mins)
  • Memoirs of the Worst Witch – exclusive interview with Georgina Sherrington, looking back on her time playing Mildred Hubble in the popular ITV series (20 mins)
  • Bonus film: The Picnic – starring Therese Collins. When a gentleman arrives for a romantic picnic with his girlfriend, he is enraged to find her in the arms of another man. (2 mins)
  • Bonus film: Ghost-trainspotting –  Norman sets out to spot the fabled Flying Welshman, the spectre of an ill-fated steam train. (2 mins)
  • All content in full HD (1080P)

Stop/Eject DVD and Blu-ray Features

Things I Learnt (Again) from Cannes 2013

Fireworks and Jaws on the beach
Fireworks and Jaws on the beach

My recent trip to the Cannes Film Festival was my fourth, but I still learnt several new things and re-learnt old things that I’d forgotten since my last trip:

  • The Market Guide – a sort of Cannes bible containing contact details for everyone attending – is available Argos-style at the back of the Riviera Building by the escalators. Getting a copy of this book was always a big advantage of having an expensive market badge rather than a free festival pass, so having free access to it is very handy. The staff at the UK Pavilion are usually happy to look stuff up for you in their copy too.
  • There is a free left luggage service to the right of the casino in the corner of the Palais des Festivals.
  • Antibes, ten miles out of Cannes, is a popular place to stay because it’s cheap yet easily accessible by train. A weekly rail pass is only 8 Euros.
  • Wifi at the festival is awful, so save any screeners, photos etc. to your mobile device before leaving home/your hotel.
  • When networking, show your trailer/screener/photos as soon as possible to prove that you are (a) a doer, not just a talker and (b) a filmmaker who delivers high production values. From the response our Stop/Eject and Ashes materials have got, we can only assume that most people’s materials don’t look as good as ours. Showing trailers/screeners also gets the attention of other people nearby or even across the room, which can lead to further networking opportunities.
  • Also when networking, it is not cheating to talk to people you already know. Often they will introduce you to people you don’t.
  • Delices Yang, the Chinese Restaurant I mentioned in a previous post as a good place to eat cheaply, has had a makeover and is now more expensive, but is still competitive – especially as it’s all-you-can-eat.

Things I Learnt (Again) from Cannes 2013

Grading Stop/Eject

Grading Stop/Eject at Whitecross Post Production
Grading Stop/Eject at Whitecross Post Production

On Monday, Stop/Eject entered the final phase of postproduction: grading. In the optical days, this process involved adjusting the cocktail of chemicals and the length of time the film would be bathed in those chemicals to make basic adjustments to the amount of red, green and blue in each shot and the brightness.

The reason for this can be most readily appreciated if you imagine a scene shot outdoors, in which one camera angle may have been recorded under warm, direct sunlight, whereas another which is cut to immediately after may have been recorded when the sun was behind a cloud and the light was cooler in colour. But even artificially lit scenes will need a little work to match up each shot to the next; the human eye is quite sensitive to changes in colour and brightness.

With the digital revolution came an exponentially expanded toolset for grading. Individual colours can be isolated and changed, shadows and highlights can be adjusted independently, and feathered masks can be applied to highlight or shade just one part of the frame – with the software even able to track elements if they move around so that the mask always stayed lock to that element. (Watch the Digital Intermediate featurette on the Fellowship of the Ring DVD to get a glimpse into what’s possible.)

Colourist Michael Stirling
Colourist Michael Stirling

Stop/Eject was graded by Michael Stirling at the company he runs in East London, White Cross Post Production. He very kindly put in a lot of hours, including two evenings, to make sure we got the best out of the film’s images. Even at this late stage in the game we were still telling the story: drawing the viewer’s eye to critical elements in the frame, enhancing lighting transitions when time stops and starts, making the happy past sequences warm and inviting, and contrasting those with cooler, darker scenes in the present.

Given that we shot in 16:9 (standard widescreen) but were cropping to 2:35:1 (cinemascope), we had the opportunity to move the images up or down behind the widescreen mask to reframe shots slightly; this is known as re-racking. We also added some subtle 35mm grain to the whole film.

The grade was the first time – and perhaps the last – that I was able to see the film on a really high quality, properly calibrated projector. It really exposed the quality of the camera and glass that were used. And while the Canon 600D and relatively cheap lenses look great on every other screen I’ve watched it on, on Whitecross’ projector I could really see the value of investing in high-end lenses. Even the difference between the Canon 50mm/f1.8 (£60) and the more expensive Sigma 20mm and 105mm lenses was apparent.

But I digress. The important things are: the grade looks great, and Stop/Eject is now finished. Hooray!

Sophie and I are off to Cannes this weekend – subscribe to my YouTube channel to get our daily video blogs. And when we get back it’s film festival submissions, DVD/Blu-ray authoring, and premiere arranging all the way.

Grading Stop/Eject

Things I’ve Learnt in Cannes

Attending the Cannes Film Festival and Market for the first time can be a big shock; it certainly was for me back in 2005. Here are some of the things I learnt from that first trip.

  • Filmmaking is a business, not an art. Films are bought and sold like tins of beans, and profit – or the reliable promise of profit – is the driving force behind it, just like every other business.
  • Many more films get made every year than you could possibly imagine, and crucially many more films turn a profit than you might expect. The industry does not consist of only Hollywood blockbusters and micro-budget indie fare. There are also hundreds of formulaic low budget films that most of us will never see, but nevertheless find an audience and make money, typically on straight-to-DVD release or in foreign territories (even if they were made in English). There is a living to be made if you can get into this section of the industry, though it may not be exactly what you always dreamt of.
  • Name actors are everything. When I went around the market in 2005 asking all the distributors if they were interested in buying a fantasy action movie (Soul Searcher), the first question was always: “Who’s in it?” It is almost impossible for a film to make a profit unless it has elements (a name actor, a name director or it’s based on a successful book, game, etc.). For the same reason you won’t get a film financed without one of these things attached.
  • Don’t believe anything they tell you. Cannes is home to more horseshit than Biff Tannen’s car. Most meetings you have, no matter how positive they seem, will ultimately come to nothing.
  • There are many, many talkers but not so many doers. If you go to Cannes having actually made a film, particularly a feature, you will immediately command some respect.

Of course, it is one thing to read this stuff in a blog, but another entirely to learn it firsthand. If you want to be a filmmaker, I strongly suggest you attend the festival at least once so you can truly understand the industry you’re getting into.

Things I’ve Learnt in Cannes

Ben Lewis Interview

Ben Lewis shoots an interview for Who Do You Love
Ben Lewis shoots an interview for Who Do You Love

I recently attended a talk by filmmaker and motion graphics designer Ben Lewis about the making of his music documentary Who Do You Love: The King Adora Story. With candid interviews and access to the band’s own camcorder footage, Who Do You Love tells the story of not just King Adora but a whole industry in transition. Ben kindly agreed to answer some questions about the making of the film, how it was financed and how it was distributed.

Why did you feel that the story of King Adora was one that needed to be told?

In all honesty my initial reasoning behind the project was to document a chapter in my friend’s life. I had been working at Apple as a creative trainer and I wanted to get back into making films; as opposed to teaching others to do so. I’ve known Martyn, the lead guitarist from the band, since secondary school and I was aware he had this experience so I really wanted to delve deeper. It was initially simply a gift to him to document that time in his life. Once I had begun producing the film I came to the realisation that I could produce a piece of work that not only appealed to King Adora fans but a wider audience.

Checking the shot
Checking the shot

What advantages did knowing band members personally give you? Were there any disadvantages?

I knew all the band but Martyn was a close friend. All of the band were at a different stage in their lives and I explained to them from the outset although I had an attachment to the them, I would not let that affect me in the filmmaking process. I wanted to tell a truthful story of their journey. I did feel protective of the band but I just had to put that aside and remember that original credo. So in a sense it was a double-edged sword in that they knew me so that allowed for a more relaxed interview environment but they also knew I wasn’t going to pull any punches. I had a free reign to ask what I wanted and use that in the story I wanted to tell.

How was the film financed?

It was self-funded. During my last few months at Apple I was spending my wages on hiring the Red One and lenses. It’s certainly not the best way to get a project made but I felt I didn’t want to wait and seeing as it was such a personal project I felt why shouldn’t I pay to get it made? I was using the currency of friends too; so, I calculated that it would cost about £6K in total for kit hire and travel etc. However, had I been paying them a day rate it would have been a lot more.

Take 1
Take 1

What are the biggest things you learnt along the way about crowd-funding?

I was totally new to crowd-funding. I loved the idea of it and it fit in with the other aspects of the democratisation of the creative industries that excited me. I love the idea you can circumvent the traditional funding platforms and have a direct link to your audience. The film was in the can and ready to go so I was purely looking for distribution costs for the DVD. That clearly helped as prospective backers knew the product was ready. That said, like the entire project, I was working on the promotion of the crowd-funding whilst working full time. I learnt that to raise the funding target is a full time job in itself. I had help from a friend but I feel that the most successful campaigns require constant updates and communication with your potential backers. I raised enough for the distribution of the DVD but not my full target amount.

How long did it take to shoot and how many crew were you working with?

It made over the course of a couple of years as we were all making it around our day jobs. In terms of days it’s hard to calculate. It took us a while to get in touch with certain members of the band. Robbie (bass player) was living in New York and we had to wait for him to get back to the UK for the interview; though I had considered going over to interview him. There was also a lot of archive footage that needed logging and various other production logistics such as clearance and filming the live gigs.

The crew was very small: myself, Laura the DOP and Ash who edited the project. On certain interviews we called in help from others too but really it was the three of us who got the project made.

Red
Red

What cameras did you use and did you encounter any technical problems?

I knew from the outset that I wanted the interviews to have a very intimate look with a shallow depth of field and to look nicely lit to contrast the grainy archive footage. I’d recently been on a Red One training course with my DOP, Laura. I thought that the image these cameras gave would be ideal for the look and feel I was trying to achieve. We shot the first three interviews with the Red but it became too cost prohibitive and we moved to the Canon 5D MKII. Laura did a great job lighting the interview but unfortunately she wasn’t available to shoot Dan’s interview so I shot that interview after getting advice from her.

Once we got to the edit stage we had mastered all the Red content to 1920×1080 Prores files as I wasn’t sure my machine could handle the R3Ds. When it came to the grade we relinked to the original Red files. Shooting with the 5D was great but the Prores conversions took some time. I’ve recently moved to Premiere CS6 and love how you can use H.264 natively. This saves a lot of time… and space!

What problems did you have with licensing the music?

Well this was a whole new world to me. I had lots of issues with the clearance of the music. I initially had to clear a couple of tracks and clips from one of the band’s videos for use in the first trailer I released. I had contacted Universal for international sync rights for online distribution which would allow me to use the songs and footage for six months but the initial cost was too steep. I managed to negotiate a lower rate as I was an independent but when it came to the rights for the entire film I just couldn’t afford the figure the record company were asking so I had to look into other options.

The music was intrinsic to the story and I had to think of another way to use the tracks. I contacted Dan (drummer) and asked if he had access to live tracks that had been recorded that didn’t have copyright. It turned out that he had lots of tracks available from various gigs over the years so we ended up using those. Having the audience noise actually added something. The extra ambiance gave it an additional energy which worked really well.

In the cutting room
In the cutting room

Do you feel Who Do You Love has helped your career, and what will your next project be?

Yeah, the film’s helped me many ways. It has given me a lot more confidence as a producer/director and it is a calling card that I’m incredibly proud of.

It’s a film that a lot of people have thought had a large crew and a budget that was far more than it actually cost to produce. It was really the three of us that made the film in our spare time, around our day jobs and on an ultra-low budget. After completing the film I honestly didn’t want to go near a long-form project again. I was looking to do a music promo and was in preproduction to do a video for a local band which unfortunately didn’t work out. I had been looking for examples of Brutalist architecture and was on a tour of Birmingham City Library when it dawned on me how many great stories that place holds. The gentleman who was escorting us around spoke with such passion about the place that I was re-energised to make another documentary. It’s still at an embryonic stage but the ball’s rolling and I’m looking forward to it.

Good luck with that, Ben. And finally, where can people buy or view the film?

The film is available to buy at www.kingadora.com. The DVD contains the feature, full interviews with Steve Lamacq and John Cornfield and a vox pops feature.

I’ll be doing a digital release at some point too either via Vimeo Pay per View or Distrify.

Ben Lewis Interview

Mixing Stop/Eject

Mixing Stop/Eject at Alchemea College in Islington
Mixing Stop/Eject at Alchemea College in Islington

Yesterday I travelled down to London to sit in on the final mix for Stop/Eject. This is the last part of the filmmaking process as far as the audio is concerned. All of the disparate elements – dialogue recorded on set, dubbed dialogue (ADR), ambience, footsteps, effects and music – must be combined into one seamless whole.

Guiding the audience’s ears through the soundtrack of Stop/Eject was Jose Pereira, re-recording mixer. Alchemea, the college in north London where he works, very kindly gave us the use of their postproduction room, a very nice little studio with a big screen, cinema seating, surround sound monitoring and more knobs than Nobby the Nobber’s Knob Emporium.

The film sounded great already, thanks to the talents of sound designer Henning Knoepfel and Jose’s diligent pre-mixing. It was a very painless process to do the necessary surround sound positioning, adjust a few levels here and there and arrive at a final mix.

It was a world away from Soul Searcher, my first real mixing experience. Yes, Soul Searcher was a feature and yes, it had a lot of action, but looking back I can’t help but think it would have been much easier to mix if I knew then what I know now. Back then I was doing my own sound design, and I was convinced that quantity was quality, creating layer upon layer of noise which took an age to sort through and balance in the mix. I obstinately foleyed every footstep even when it had no hope of being heard under the music and gunfire. I believed logic was the key to every decision, that the same location had to have the same ambience every time we returned to it, even if the story and emotions would have been better served by something a little different. And I was determined to make as much use of the rear speakers as possible, even at the risk of confusing or distracting the viewer.

Now I know that less is more, that a few well-chosen sounds trump fifteen tracks of poor ones, that the rear speakers should be use sparingly and that you don’t always need to hear every clothing rustle and every footstep.

Anyway, with Stop/Eject’s sound mix in the bag, it only remains to grade the images, and I hope to have a date set up for that soon.

Mixing Stop/Eject

The One That Got Away

Meet the star of my next film, a Virgin Media Shorts entry called The One That Got Away.

Say hello to Henry
Say hello to Henry

He’s being made by my wife Katie, on whose idea the film is based. As usual, you can follow the making of this project right here at neiloseman.com

Meanwhile Stop/Eject is within reaching distance of completion. All the music, sound and VFX are in place. This weekend the final credits roller will go on, and on Monday Jose Pereira and I will do the final 5.1 surround sound mix at Alchemea College near Islington.

Work is gathering pace on my next major production too, the title of which I’m still keeping secret. Currently the script is at fourth draft stage, and I hope to reveal some of the behind-the-scenes talent attached soon. Stay tuned.

The One That Got Away

Shooting Against a White Backdrop

Earlier this year I was hired to DP some promotional spots for Onstage in London. Onstage produces content for the web, hotel TV channels and the growing number of TVs in London taxi cabs, on the subject of West End theatre. The brief was to shoot interviews with actors and creatives against a white backdrop, to be intercut with EPK (Electronic Press Kit) footage of the shows or edited into montages like this one:

I’ve always been a bit wary of shooting against white screens. The danger can be that you have to pump in so much light to make the screen blow out on camera (meaning it turns to complete, uniform white) that the whole image becomes flat and you’re left with no shape to your talent’s face.

Further complicating matters was that, on the first day of shooting, we were travelling to the talent, rather than vice versa, so we were often setting up the backdrop, lights and camera in cramped dressing rooms.

Here is the set-up I came up with:

Set-up 1
Set-up 1

Yes, just one light. That one light does four things:

  1. Its direct light blows out the white backdrop.
  2. Its direct light through the diffuser serves as the talent’s key.
  3. Its bounce light creates a little edging on the talent. (I initially set up a dedicated backlight, but found that this bounce was doing a better job. Besides, if you put in too much backlight the talent starts to blend into the white screen.)
  4. The level of ambient light it created in the room served as fill. Sometimes there was too much fill, in which case I would have Colin hold up a black card near the talent’s down side (i.e. the side not lit by the key) to block some of the ambience and restore some shape and contrast to the image.

The next time we shot for this project we were in just one room, with significantly more space than we’d had before, so I plumped for a different set-up:

Set-up 2
Set-up 2

This time there was enough room to place the talent well away from the backdrop and light them separately. Two Arrilites blow out the backdrop while the fluorescent lamp serves as the talent’s key. Fill is provided by a reflector and a touch of edge light is serendipitously provided by spill from the cooling vents on the side of one Arrilite.

Has anyone else out there shot against a white screen recently? I’m interested to hear what your approach to lighting it was.

Visit Onstage’s website at www.onstageinlondon.com

Shooting Against a White Backdrop