Picking up the Pieces
Over the years I’ve developed a bad habit of shooting pick-ups. I really wanted to leave Derbyshire on April 26th with the whole of Stop/Eject in the can, but sadly it was not to be. 25 close-ups of the tape recorder which were scheduled for filming with a skeleton crew on that final day were pushed aside to make way for the weir shots dropped earlier in production.
I grabbed three or four of these close-ups while we were packing up at Magpie, but the rest would have to be shot in my living room back in Hereford.
Which is what I spent most of yesterday doing, with my long-suffering wife Katie standing in for the leading lady once again.
Although it took longer than it would have done with a couple of extra crew and a bit more space, it was incredibly useful to have my iMac right there with all the footage from principal photography on it – some of it even roughly assembled – so we could make sure the lighting and hand movements matched perfectly.
Almost every pick-up was shot with a Sigma EX 105mm macro lens which I bought on eBay a few weeks ago. This is a fantastic lens with a huge focusing range which enabled me to get big close-ups of individual buttons on the recorder.
It’s weird shooting things that tight because you start to worry about stuff that’s not normally visible, like tiny bits of dry skin on people’s hands and miniscule dents in things. When you think about what size of screen the film might be projected on at a festival it’s possible to become picky to a crippling degree.
For a few specific shots, where bad things are going on in the story, I switched out the Sigma for a Canon zoom and fitted a cheap macro adapter on the front. This gave me soft focus, blooming on the highlights and colour aberration around the edges of frame. I love to do optical stuff like this in-camera wherever I can, rather than relying on post-production effects which can often look cheesy.
Anyway, the shots were all accomplished successfully, despite the fact that the hero tape recorder had a fault and wouldn’t play for more than a couple of seconds before grinding to a halt. For extreme close-ups on the rotating capstans and the playhead moving into position I used a children’s tape player bought from a charity shop last year (for the opening shots of the Stop/Eject podcasts) from which I’d removed the cassette door.
A couple of shots were storyboarded as being top-down from directly above the table. To save rigging up the camera on a C-stand, I laid the table on its side and blu-tacked the recorder and tapes to it.
Annoying as they are, I advise you to always expect there will be pick-ups to shoot (maybe right after principal photography, maybe only a couple of weeks before the premiere) and plan accordingly, i.e. keep as much stuff from the shoot as you possibly can, particularly…
- any key hand props (like the tape recorder)
- bracelets, bangles, rings and watches so you can film extra shots of characters’ hands (My heart briefly stopped when Katie pointed out yesterday that Georgie wore Sophie’s watch in principal photography, and it was therefore 100 miles away in Belper. Fortunately the one key shot of the watch was amongst those few we grabbed before leaving Magpie.)
- ideally all of the costumes, but at least tops, since you can often film extra hand shots with the character’s torso filling the background of the frame
- any parts of the sets that can be used to fill the background of a close-up or medium close-up (We brought the curtain and the table from the alcove back to Hereford with us. Sorry, Mrs. Briggs!)
Of course pick-ups aren’t always because you dropped stuff during principal photography. Often they’re new material that you realise you need as the edit develops. It’s too early to say whether Stop/Eject will have any of those. Either way, there is still one more storyboarded shot to film – of a microwave. Which sounds simple, but it’s not. More on that another time.
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