The First Musketeer: Join the Thunderclap

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In September 2013 I was lucky enough to serve as the director of photography on The First Musketeer, an action-adventure web series based on the famous novels of Alexandre Dumas. Telling the story of how Athos, Porthos and Aramis first meet and become the heroes we know and love, the show was shot in castles and chateaus in the Lot and Dordogne regions of southern France.

On Monday June 1st, at 8pm BST, the series will be released free on YouTube at www.youtube.com/TheFirstMusketeerWeb

A web series, more than any other medium, lives and dies by its viewing figures. You can help the show succeed and go forward into future seasons by sharing that link or better still by joining our Thunderclap campaign. Thunderclap is a service which automatically posts a one-off message to your Facebook, Twitter and/or Tumblr accounts at a prearranged time, so at 8pm on June 1st a huge number of people will all hear about The First Musketeer simultaneously. Follow this link to join the Thunderclap.

The other exciting news is that both The First Musketeer and Ren will be part of the New British Web Series panel at London ComicCon tomorrow, Friday May 22nd. I’ll be joining actress Jessica Preddy on the panel to represent The First Musketeer. I hope to see some of you there!

The First Musketeer: Join the Thunderclap

How to Cut a Behind-the-Scenes Featurette

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Cameras roll on the set of Kate Madison’s web series, Ren. Photo: Richard Unger

Despite my big plan to quit editing last year, I somehow ended up cutting nearly all the behind-the-scenes material for Ren, including a dozen YouTube videos and 30-odd exclusive set diaries which have just been released for sale. Guess I just have a fondness for BTS stuff.

Brett Chapman shoots B roll on Stop/Eject as Hadrian Cawthorne looks on. Photo: Paul Bednall
Brett Chapman shoots B-roll on Stop/Eject as Hadrian Cawthorne looks on. Photo: Paul Bednall

So here are some tips for editing BTS videos for the web. Many of these apply equally to any talking-head-based documentary.

  • Plan for it before the shoot by lining up a competent BTS camera crew and being clear about the kind of material you need. Here are some tips for shooting B-roll.
  • Start the edit by creating a new timeline and putting in some text generators with category headings you think you’ll want to cover, e.g. “plot”, “characters”, “casting”, “action scenes”, “concluding remarks”.
  • Watch through all the interview material. Every time you hear something you think you can use, dump it on the timeline after the relevant text.
  • Play back your timeline. You’ll immediately see that some of the material you’ve included is dull or repetitious. Whittle down the material until your timeline is only a little longer than you intend the finished piece to be. (I suggest 2-3 minutes should be your target length for a web piece.)
  • Pay attention to your in and out points. Don’t cut while someone is drawing breath – cut before or after. Beware of breathing time if you’re hacking someone’s sentences around. If your editing makes a couple of words sound unnaturally close together, interpose a few frames of atmos or silence. If you cut someone off in the middle of a sentence, firstly be sure the intonation doesn’t make it sound cut off, then add in some silence or atmos before the next clip, and paper over the edit with B-roll as the interviewee’s face will often give away that they’re not finished speaking.
  • Speaking of papering over the talking heads with B-roll, it’s time to do that now. I often start with the obvious stuff. Clearly shots of the fight scenes being rehearsed need to go over the actors talking about fight scenes. Then I’ll move onto the less obvious stuff – an actor talking about their character might go with almost any shot of that actor on set, so I’ll see what’s left at the end.
  • Avoid cutting in the middle of quick movements – an arm going up, a head turning- unless that action will be continued in the next shot. This goes for the talking heads too – don’t cut on or close to a blink. Also avoid cutting on an emphasised or particularly loud syllable, because this too will jar.
  • Take out the text generators and replace them with a few seconds of B-roll that doesn’t have any interview sound under it. This gives you dividers between topics without blatantly signposting them, and allows the audience a breather. You could bring up the audio on the B-roll, or put in a bit of music. Usually it’s best for this B-roll to serve as an introduction to the topic that’s up next. For example, if the next topic is “what it was like working with the director”, kick it off with B-roll of the director explaining the next scene to the actors. After hearing him or her talk for a sentence or so, fade down the audio and bring in the interview sound.
  • Get some music from somewhere like incompetech.com, if your composer hasn’t started work yet, and cut opening and closing montages of B-roll to it.
  • Put in your lower thirds and opening and closing titles. If the video’s going on You Tube, it’s a good idea to allow for annotations linking viewers to other videos on your channel. Do not put in credits – sorry, but no-one cares who made this.
  • Watch the whole thing through and try to take out another 10-30 seconds. Remember, pace is everything. Do not give people the slightest excuse to stop watching.
  • Do a colour correction pass so everything matches.
  • Go through again balancing the audio. People start their sentences loudly and get quieter as their lungs deflate, so counter this by ramping the audio up over the course of the sentence. Use EQ filters if necessary to counter tinny or boomy sound, or reduce hiss or wind noise. See this Nofilmschool article for some handy audio tips. If any of the audio cuts are popping or clicking, put on a 1 frame cross fade. If you don’t have decent speakers, do this on every cut because you won’t know which ones are dodgy.
  • If any of the speech is still hard to make out – and remember that your viewers haven’t heard it a million times like you have – then subtitle it.
  • Watch it one last time to check everything’s smooth, then compress and upload it. You’re done!

If you’ve found this post useful, please consider supporting Ren by purchasing or sharing the trailer for the Daily Diary videos. Buyers get the first 7 videos now and the remaining 29 when the series is released this summer. They’re all different, some following the above pattern and others being much more candid, fly-on-the-wall affairs. There are plenty of bloopers, interviews and filmmaking tips to be enjoyed throughout. Or check out our free behind-the-scenes videos on YouTube.

How to Cut a Behind-the-Scenes Featurette

How to Make an Electronic Press Kit (EPK)

Lately I’ve been working on the electronic press kit for Kate Madison’s web series, Ren. An EPK is a collection of footage that a broadcaster can use to edit their own piece about your film or series. It should contain:

  • a trailer (optionally with versions without music and without dialogue, so it can be dubbed);
  • clips from the show (again, versions without dialogue are handy if you’re expecting foreign coverage);
  • interviews with the director and principal cast;
  • B-roll, i.e. behind-the-scenes footage.

You may also want to include a short (5 minutes max) ‘making of’ featurette.

The whole thing should be about 20-30 minutes long.

You need to think about your EPK in preproduction. Assign someone with camera and editing experience to film behind-the-scenes material on a few key days of the shoot. This post has lots of tips for shooting good B-roll.

Here’s some B-roll from the Avengers: Age of Ultron EPK.

Personally, I think that putting black slugs between every shot is excessive. With the Ren EPK I loosely edited half a dozen montages and titled them ‘Filming crowd scenes in the village’, ‘Filming fight scenes in Epping Forest’ and so on.

Here’s another example, this time from the Chappie EPK.

When shooting the interviews, encourage people to keep their answers brief. Answers of about 30-45 seconds are ideal. Remember that an EPK is not a finished product: you can’t have jump cuts or paper over edits with B-roll, which means you can’t cut stuff out of the middle of people’s answers; all you can do is trim the beginning and end.

Typical EPK questions are:

  • What’s the film about?
  • Who is your character?
  • What was it like working with the other actors and the director?
  • What was it like filming the action scenes / scary scenes / romantic scenes / scenes where you had to be painted blue from head to toe?
  • Why should people go and see this film?

Put a title card before each answer, giving the question (or a brief description of what the person talks about in their answer), the duration of the clip, and the person’s name and role.

Here’s an example, again from Age of Ultron.

See how the picture kicks in before the sound? That’s to give someone editing the clip into their show more flexibility – they could dissolve into the shot, for example.

Here’s another example, this one from Far from the Madding Crowd.

Once upon a time you would deliver an EPK on Beta SP, but clearly those days are gone. For Ren I’ll probably put the clips up on VHX, a VOD platform we’ve been using for our behind-the-scenes Kickstarter rewards. We can create a package of videos which people can be invited to, with a nice, slick interface, and the videos – one for each interview answer and B-roll segment – will all be downloadable by invitees as 1080P H.264 MP4 files. If anyone wants less compressed versions, they can contact us directly.

If you missed it, check out my post on lighting the Ren EPK interviews.

And for another perspective on making an EPK, you can read Sophie Black’s guest blog from 2012 in which she talks about making the one for Stop/Eject.

Find out more about Ren at rentheseries.com

How to Make an Electronic Press Kit (EPK)

Ren Launch Event

Kate Madison’s live launch event for her web series Ren is happening right now. (See my previous post for more info.)

Update: if you missed the live version you can watch a recording of it by clicking the play button above. I was meant to make a guest appearance in it but they ran out of time.

Visit the website and support the project at www.rentheseries.com/crowdfunding

P.S. My puppet film The One That Got Away is released online on Monday – watch this space.

Ren Launch Event

An Evening of Entertainment from the Makers of Born of Hope

Back in 2008 I helped out briefly on a feature-length Lord of the Rings fan film called Born of Hope. Directing this epic production, producing it, financing most of it, and even acting in it, was the extremely tenacious Kate Madison. “It’s incredible to see what craftsmanship, sensitivity and attention to detail is being brought to bear on this ambitious project,” said Weta Workshop chief Richard Taylor. Check the film out below – it’s an impressive achievement. And it’s had a staggering 23 million views.

Kate is now embarking on a new project, a fantasy web series called Ren, and to mark the launch of its crowdfunding campaign she’s hosting a special webcast this Saturday night. The evening of entertainment will start at 8pm with a Born of Hope screening with live commentary from cast members. There will also be a live Q&A where they’ll answer your questions about BoH or Ren or whatever you’d like to ask. There will also be fun giveaways, live link-ups, special guests (including Yours Truly), and much more.

Ren encounters the Masked Man, the leader of the Kah'Nath - Concept art by Max von Vier
Ren encounters the Masked Man, the leader of the Kah’Nath – Concept art by Max von Vier

“I’ve been keen to get another project on the go and have been contemplating various formats,” Kate says. “Web series have become a popular medium for independent filmmakers and I find that the potential for shaping an ongoing storyline for, and with, the fans is very appealing”.

The series is named after its lead character, who lives a quiet life in a small village until dramatic events, involving an ancient powerful spirit and the ruling warrior order of the Ka’Nath, force Ren to leave her safe existence and find the truth behind the web of lies she’s believed in all her life.

“The inspiration for the show is very much rooted in great fantasy stories like The Lord of the Rings, but epic books and TV series like Game of Thrones and the more lighthearted Legend of the Seeker have also influenced me in the creation of Ren,” says Kate. She adds that one of the most important features of Born of Hope was the fan base that helped finance, design and even act in the film and that she is keen to involve the fans even more in this project. “The series is in the very early stages, with only the first season written, so we will look to the online fan community to influence what happens… and yes, even be in it!”

To watch the live event and to support Ren visit www.rentheseries.com/crowdfunding

An Evening of Entertainment from the Makers of Born of Hope

Sophie Black’s Guide to the Cannes Short Film Corner: Part 2

The Short Film Corner at Cannes
The Short Film Corner at Cannes

In part one of this guide, filmmaker Sophie Black explained exactly what you get when you pay your 95 Euros to submit your short to Le Court Métrage at the Cannes Film Festival. Today she takes us through what happens in practice and what you can do to promote your film while attending the festival. Over to you, Sophie…

From the start, as soon as your submission goes through successfully, you are part of the SFC [Short Film Corner] mailing list, and the regular emails not only give you lists of lectures and contact details for the short film buyers, but give you temporary access to Cinando (an online database/catalogue where you can contact many industry professionals who will be useful to your career) along with other tips for a successful Cannes, so use all of these to your advantage if you can. Cannes will also share your details with other related parties, many of whom have clearly paid them to do so, which will result in a little spam.

Amongst this spam are emails from various PR companies wanting to promote your film. But it is a costly £400+ for these services, many of which just involve promoting the film through social networks, and emailing people to tell them to go and watch your film, which you can easily do yourself (although it may sound better coming from a PR firm).

Sophie's Ashes poster (top right) has a brief stint on the SFC banner.
Sophie’s Ashes poster (top right) has a brief stint on the SFC banner.

Due to PR costs, the majority of SFC applicants ignore said emails and choose a DIY approach to marketing their films. This way, however much or little you do is up to you – the minimum being just putting up a poster and hoping people will be inspired to go and watch your film (if your poster is still up and not covered by other peoples’ by the second day). It also means that every time you go to the Corner, you are met by a flurry of bright-eyed young things, all of whom think their film is great and who want you to go and see it. 

The real challenge is to branch out into other areas of the festival, and persuade people with money and power to leave their ritzy pavilion (and free drinks all-day-round, for bearers of certain passes) and come and queue in a hot room underground to view your film. But if you impress them enough, and network well, it can happen, and the results of this will be much more helpful to you in the long run.

It’s also important to think outside the box to get you and your film noticed at Cannes. I hammer on about this all the time, but you really can’t go with the flow. During the much-treasured Jane Campion lecture at the SFC, she encouraged us all to write down a question for her on pieces of paper, and put these into a hat. One clever girl wrote her question on the back of a postcard-sized poster of her film, and handed this in. Cue Jane Campion noticing the poster amongst all the blank white paper, and taking the time to study it. This small gesture is one of the cleverest things I saw at Cannes this year, and it left me with the irritating feeling of “I wish I’d thought of that!”

Although I did promote my film Ashes, and inspired a few people to go and watch it, my main reason for going down to the Corner was to meet with the people who might actually want to distribute it. I learnt something from all of these meetings although they ranged from genuine interest to an actual no-show. (Rule number one about arranging meetings: make sure you actually make contact with the person you’re meeting beforehand, even via email, and not just with their assistant – who isn’t even in Cannes this year!)

The Buyers Corner
The Buyers Corner

The designated meeting rooms looked a bit like the lobby in an accountant’s office, complete with random film-noir blinds, and the blank walls everywhere left room for your creativity to shine if you let it. During my meetings I not only had mini Ashes posters left, but also a set of promotional stills in my press kit, so I laid all these out before one distributor had arrived, and it gave him a full presentation of the film straight away. I definitely recommend doing this for your meetings if you’re left waiting for any length of time beforehand; what’s even more important is to make sure you have a copy of the film and trailer on you – if you don’t have a tablet or laptop, you should at least have it on your phone! Basically, these people are buyers, and you need to prove that you have a product to sell, and that you’re not just “all talk”.

With my mind clearly fixed on meetings and networking, I chose not to book out the screening room, although I did attend a good screening and recommend you do the same (if nothing else, you get to see what the screening rooms look like, and see if it’s somewhere you’d like to have your films played). The on-demand service gives your film more chances to actually be seen. You also get daily statistics emails saying how many times your film has been watched – along with contact details for who watched them, so you can chase these up for feedback and to create potential collaborations/work. Although, with thousands of other films out there, even having your film played 20 times on the system is not as good as having one screening and shoving 30 people in there (although I suppose it does depend on the viewer).

Also, a big thing to remember whilst you’re soaking in the sights and the sun, is that you’re not just representing yourself out there. Photos and souvenir mementos aren’t just things to make your parents proud – with your film you carry the name of everyone who worked on it with you, and you can’t help but think how much a screening of the film at Cannes would mean to your cast and crew. But, at the same time, a successful distribution deal or further festival acceptances will probably mean a great deal more. In the end, you have to do what is best for your own film, and plan your Cannes strategy around personalised rules, using everyone else’s experiences as your guidelines.

Find out more about Sophie and her work on her blog at triskelle-pictures.blogspot.co.uk and her website www.triskellepictures.co.uk

Sophie Black’s Guide to the Cannes Short Film Corner: Part 2

People’s Choice Reward

You asked the questions and the cast of Stop/Eject have answered them.

Thanks to Gerard Giorgi-Coll for filming this, www.soundtreemusic.com for the studio space and everyone who submitted questions. Sorry there wasn’t time to include them all.

People’s Choice Reward

More Random Updates from the World of Stop/Eject

Here are some more disjointed updates from the post-production of Stop/Eject:

Scott Benzie has written all of the score now. A few cues just need tweaking before we start to think about the logistics of recording it with live players.

The ADR session has been organised for next week. Standing variously for Automated Dialogue Replacement or Additional Dialogue Recording, ADR is the process of dubbing lines because of intrusive background noise or to adjust a performance, or even to add entirely new lines to clarify story points. This will be the first time the principal cast have been reunited since the shoot almost a year ago, and we’ll be taking the opportunity to record some extra bits and pieces for podcasts, DVD extras and sponsor rewards. Lots more news on that to come in the near future.

A VFX shot in progress by Mary Lapena
A VFX shot in progress by Mary Lapena

Work is well underway on visual effects. As expected, there has been a certain amount of attrition amongst the VFX artists, as paying projects understandably take priority. Nonetheless, several key shots involving frozen time and cloned cassette tapes are finished or nearly finished.

The opening and closing titles are being designed by Andy Roberts of speakersfive, who recently laid out the lovely illustrated script books for sponsors.

Two of the main extra features for the DVD and Bluray are near completion, with work on the menus underway and some commentaries to record in the coming weeks. Sophie Black and Chris Newman will soon be shooting another featurette in their part of the world, along with a last couple of pick-ups for Stop/Eject itself.

On Sunday I gave a talk about the whole process of making the film to the lovely folks at CEMRIAC in Worcester, and next Monday The Courtyard in Hereford will screen the trailer as part of Borderlines Film Festival.

In a nutshell, it’s all happening.

More Random Updates from the World of Stop/Eject

Stop/Eject Illustrated Script Books

With Stop/Eject now fully financed, we’re working to create the rewards for the many sponsors who contributed to the project. Most of these rewards – invites to the premiere, DVD copies and so on – can only be completed when Stop/Eject itself is finished, but not all of them.

Sponsors who picked the Unit Publicist reward will receive, among other things, a very nice hardback book of the script with production notes and a full credits list, all lavishly illustrated with photographs from the shoot. This book has been beautifully designed by Worcester-based Andy Roberts of Speakersfive – check out his website at www.speakersfive.co.uk

When your crowd-funding campaign is over, it’s important to show your appreciation to your sponsors by making sure the rewards you create for them are really high quality. And if you ever need to raise money for another project, people will know that they can contribute with confidence that they’ll get something special in return. Here are some sample pages from the book:

Production notes
Production notes introduce the book
Many of the photos haven't been seen anywhere else before.
Some of the photos haven’t been seen anywhere else before.
Andy shot some twisted cassette tape as a motif to tie everything together.
Andy shot some twisted cassette tape as a motif to tie everything together.

Stop/Eject Illustrated Script Books

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