Here are some of the assorted things I’ve been doing on Stop/Eject lately.
On Wednesday I returned to the Hereford cemetery where, almost a decade ago, in the small hours of a cold and rainy October night, I shot a scene from Soul Searcher. This time I was just there to photograph gravestones for a VFX shot.
On the same day compositing/rotoscoping artist David Robinson delivered the first offical VFX shot, a run-of-the-mill wire removal but extremely well done.
On Friday I recorded this thank you message for everyone who sponsored the project:
Apologies to anyone whose name I’ve mispronounced.
Yesterday Scott Benzie delivered a demo of his beautiful theme for Kate. Much as I liked the first piece he wrote – listen to it here – I felt it emphasised the film’s fantasy aspects too much, and this new piece instead concentrates solely on drama and emotions.
This morning I filmed the tape recorder for probably the last time – not for Stop/Eject itself, but for the DVD/Bluray menus. Tomorrow the recorder gets sent off to Henning Knoepfel so he can record some new foley effects with it (that’s with it, not on it). Henning and I had a great conversation about the direction the sound should take and I’m very excited about how it will turn out. More on that on this blog in due course.
Last week Miguel Ferros and I locked the edit of my short fantasy-drama Stop/Eject. This project represents the first time in seventeen years of filmmaking that I’ve worked with an editor, rather than doing it myself. I found it an extremely positive experience and I wonder why I’ve never done it before.
Miguel’s cut makes the story clearer, the characters more consistent and the emotions more real. Not to mention the fact that it’s paced much better, coming in a good minute shorter than my tightest cut.
Filmmakers are always told that they shouldn’t edit their own material. I liked to think I was an exception to the rule, that I could put the baggage of preproduction and production aside and cut with fresh eyes. Perhaps you’re thinking the same as you read this, just like I did when I read things like this in the past. Then like me you’ll only discover how wrong you are when you finally try working with an editor.
If I was to compare my cut to Miguel’s side by side, I have no doubt that where he has made a different decision to me, in most cases I made my decision at least in part because it looked pretty, or it was a shot I had had in my head since I first started writing the script, or it was a shot that had been particularly difficult or time-consuming to get, or because I somehow felt like it had to be that way because it had always been that way. Miguel simply chose the best material to advance the plot and characters.
It was a real joy to finally see some of the film’s key moments working in a way they never quite have before. I now look forward to what I’m sure will be equally positive experiences as the film splits off in three directions:
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.
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.)
It’s high time for an update on the progress of Stop/Eject, my magical and moving fantasy-drama about a tape recorder that can stop and rewind time.
First up, thanks to the auctioning-off of a hat worn by lead actress Georgina Sherrington (The Worst Witch), our fundraising total has crossed the £1,200 mark. That means we’re over 80% of the way to our £1,500 target. It also means that the last in our series of behind-the-scenes podcasts from the set of Stop/Eject has been released.
Down in Hay-on-Wye, editor Miguel Ferros is hard at work cutting Stop/Eject itself. I went down there on Tuesday and had a sneak peek at the first few minutes, which is already streets ahead of the version I edited. A fresh pair of eyes is indeed a very valuable thing at this stage in a film’s creation.
Meanwhile, I’ve also been editing – editing Record & Play: The Making of Stop/Eject, a 30 minute documentary which will form the centrepiece of the DVD and Bluray’s bonus features. Several brand-new interviews have been filmed for this, including one with Georgina. At the same time we interviewed her on another subject, and we hope to be revealing this soon as an exciting new reward for sponsors.
Alain Bossuyt, who won our poster design competition earlier in the year, has adapted and expanded his eye-catching design into a folder for the press kits. Although it will probably be quite a while before these kits are needed, it’s always useful to have them around just in case. You can find out more about Alain and his work (with the help of Google Translate) at leplanb.fr
Another designer, Andy Roberts, who did all the graphics for the Worcestershire Film Festival, is busy laying out the illustrated script book for those sponsors who selected the Unit Publicist reward. I’m looking forward to seeing what he comes up; I’m sure it will be a fantastic souvenir. Andy’s website is at speakersfive.co.uk
This afternoon I was interviewed by Toni McDonald on BBC Radio Hereford & Worcester. If you missed it, you can listen to it online. My part is about 2 hrs 45 mins into the programme.
And on Tuesday, Stop/Eject’s trailer will be screened at the Underwire networking event in Wolverhampton, along with the trailer for producer Sophie Black’s own short film, Ashes. Tickets can be bought online for £5.
Remember – apart from the hat, which was of course a one-off – all of the sponsor rewards mentioned above are still available. So if you want to secure yourself a copy of the DVD or Bluray, bag a ticket to the premiere or get one of the illustrated script books, head on over to stopejectmovie.com/donate and make your contribution.
The following post has been created and released because you lovely people out there have between you contributed over £900 to the post-production funding of my fantasy-drama Stop/Eject. Visit stopejectmovie.com to become part of the project if you haven’t already.
Since Stop/Eject is still being edited, work has not yet begun on the visual effects for the film itself, but the trailer we released in May features three representative FX shots and it’s these that I’m now going to take you through. First, watch the trailer if you haven’t already.
And here’s the breakdown video. A full explanation of the steps involved can be found below.
This is a key shot and was carefully planned. I wanted it to be in slow motion, but the Canon 600D we used can only over-crank to 50 frames per second if the resolution is lowered from 1080P (full HD) to 720P. I built this limitation into the VFX design.
Firstly a wide shot of the shop facade was recorded at 1080P25. This was deliberately done in the morning, when the shop was in the sun and the opposite side of the street was in the shade, in order to minimise the genuine reflections. Then Kate (Georgina Sherrington) was shot emerging from the shop at 720P50, with the camera mounted on its side and framed solely on the doorway. This slow motion element could then be placed within the larger 1080P25 frame recorded earlier, maintaining the image resolution.
Dan (Oliver Park) and the car were shot in a car park with a locked-off camera, the former at 720P50 to ensure his movements matched the slow motion of Kate’s, and the latter at 1080P25 with the car driving at half the speed it should have been. These two elements were combined with a simple feathered crop. The collision will never be seen, so he simply vanishes at the critical moment. I figured the lower resolution of Dan would not be noticeable once this element was composited as a reflection.
In Photoshop, I created an alpha matte of the shop’s windows and door. I applied this to the Dan/car composite, then layered it on top of the Georgina/shop composite with an opacity of about 50% to give the impression of a reflection.
The door’s alpha matte was key-framed to distort as Kate opens it. The final step was to animate this part of the reflection to pan sideways with motion blur and fade out as the door opens.
Kate and Dan were shot separately for this, with the camera locked off. For both elements I created a difference matte in Final Cut, whereby the computer compares the element with a base image, in this case the same locked-off shot without either character present. I could then important these mattes into Shake and clean them up using rotoshapes and Quickpaint nodes.
Further use of these tools was made to animate the intersection of the two characters, revealing Kate little by little as she passes through Dan, all the time striving to give the impression that both bodies are three-dimensional. (Here I drew on many über-geeky teenage hours spent watching VFX shots in Quantum Leap and Red Dwarf frame by frame on my VCR, admiring the artistry and trying to figure out the technical trickery.)
After subtracting one matte from the other, I imported the result back into Final Cut and applied it to the original Dan element, placing the Kate element beneath to generate the final composite. A separate, static matte for the foreground records was used to layer them back on top, and an artificial camera move was applied to the whole thing to take the curse off the locked-off look. This move was possible without loss of image quality since we had shot 16:9 but were masking to 2.35:1, so we had surplus material at the top and bottom of frame.
Hopefully you didn’t even spot that this was a VFX shot. Sophie spent many sleepless nights labelling hundreds of cassette cases for the basement scene, but even these represented only a small fraction of the number required to fill the master shot. Therefore it was always planned to lock off the camera and fill in the missing tapes digitally.
I started by exporting a single frame to Photoshop, where I used primarily good old copy-and-paste, plus a bit of airbrushing and a lot of distorting and resizing, to clone the real tapes many times over. I then imported this layered file into Final Cut.
Next came the most time-consuming part. Hold-out mattes had to be generated for Kate and Alice (Therese Collins) to keep them in front of the cloned tapes. These were created in Shake as rotoshapes and key-framed every few frames to follow the characters’ movements. Once applied back in Final Cut, the foreground characters and falling tapes appear to occlude the digital tapes in the background as you would expect.
That’s all, folks. Please keep the donations coming. We’re just £43 away from the £1,000 mark and the next public reward – the podcast covering day four of the shoot.
Since I’m about to hand over the Stop/Eject editing reigns to Miguel Ferros, now seemed as good a time as any to share a little insight into some of the kinds of things an editor has to think about while shaping a sequence.
This is the £700 public reward for Stop/Eject. (If you haven’t got a clue what that means, visit stopejectmovie.com to find out.) The total is actually up to £906 now, so there are two more public rewards coming your way: a podcast covering the third day of the shoot, and a breakdown of how the visual effects shots in the trailer were accomplished.
Here’s a little about Miguel, the man who will be taking my edit and polishing it up into a final cut. Miguel is the technical director of the Hay Film School, and indeed organised the Stop/Eject talk I gave in Hay last weekend. He’s also the director of Digital Film and Post, a consultancy company that advises on post-production workflows, helping to navigate the ever-changing landscape of tapeless acquisition formats, ingesting, off- and on-lining, distribution and archiving. His experience includes editing, VFX, producing and directing, mainly in the genres of documentaries, promos and commercials.
Stop/Eject marks a welcome foray into drama for Miguel, and I’m sure he’ll bring all his eighteen years of post-production experience to bear in fine-tuning the film. I’ll leave you with an award-winning Diesel Jeans commercial he edited.
I can now confirm the details of my Stop/Eject talk at the Hay Festival of British Film this Saturday, September 22nd. In the session, which will take place at Booth’s Bookshop Cinema at 3:30pm, I’ll show clips from Stop/Eject and discuss my experiences of using crowd-funding to finance the project.
This is an exclusive opportunity to get a sneak peek at some footage from the film and some segments of the behind-the-scenes documentary, Record & Play. For anyone considering crowd-funding their next film, this is an unparalleled chance to hear all the mistakes and successes of a filmmaker who’s been through the process. There’s more information on the Hay Film School website.
The festival takes place in the lovely Welsh border town of Hay-on-Wye, famous for its bookshops and its literary festival. Call the cinema’s festival box office on 01497 822629 to book your tickets.
Also screening are a trio of local short films, plus some great feature films old and new, including Dr Strangelove, Oliver Twist (1948), Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Hot Fuzz, Tyrannosaur, An American Werewolf in London and Pirates! In Adventure with Scientists. There’s more info on the festival’s website (although my event for some reason isn’t on there).
A new Stop/Eject behind-the-scenes video has been released, featuring an interview with leading man Oliver Park.
Thanks to Sophie for editing this video. You can visit Oliver’s website at oliverpark.co.uk and remember you can watch the trailer for Stop/Eject and help the film get completed over at stopejectmovie.com
Stop/Eject‘s poster competition closed yesterday, and I’m delighted to reveal the winning design:
This design is by Alain Bossuyt of Le Plan B. Sophie and I felt it would really stand out amongst other movie posters. We loved the retro colour scheme, very similar to that which we used in the movie, and the clever way of combining the romance with cassette-based intrigue.
Alain wins two tickets to the premiere and a signed copy of the DVD. His poster will be used to promote the film from now on.
Choosing the winner was tough, and there was one design which was just pipped to the post by Alain’s. It’s Jesse Peraza’s entry (right). We thought it would make a great DVD cover, so we’ve awarded it second place. Jesse wins a DVD too.
There were other great entries, but we felt these two best represented the tone of the movie. Thanks to everyone who took part.
Although these screenings were all small in scale, none of them having more than a dozen attendees, it’s still a large number of screenings, certainly more than I’ve ever done before for a short or even a feature. That fact reflects the level of difficulty in editing Stop/Eject. It’s probably the toughest thing I’ve ever edited. It has very little in the way of plot, but instead relies on a single character arc to propel the film forward. So the audience is dependent on very subtle cues – facial expressions, shot juxtapositions, music – to follow what’s going on. Get one of those wrong and they won’t follow it, and they won’t engage emotionally.
The Stop/Eject screenings revealed the usual things – which scenes were unnecessary or slow, and which moments were confusing. One thing that caught me completely by surprise is that a few people thought one cameo female character was male, which gave them an utterly incorrect interpretation of that scene.
The passage of time is something else that the test audiences have struggled to pick up on; many people thought the film was set over a few days. It transpired that seasonal costumes, Christmas lights in the background of a scene and a shot of autumn leaves falling into the river were not sufficient cues. With each successive screening I added more and more cues, and people still weren’t getting it. In the end it was clear that I either had to flash up a title card (“Three months later…”) or take the advice of Team America and use a montage.
As this song suggests, montages are pretty cheesy, but to my mind they’re less of a cop-out than a title card. Plus a montage allowed me to incorporate shots from deleted scenes, and I always get a kick out of finding new and unexpected ways to use otherwise discarded footage.
The montage was inserted for the final test screening, and it must have worked, because no-one thought the events of the film happened over too short a time span.
But many of the issues that arose in the screenings were very much foreseen because they came up at script stage. Clearly they weren’t addressed adequately enough back then. One day I’ll learn that you can’t get away with ignoring any problems in your script. They will all come back to bite you in post.
Anyway, the edit as it currently stands is pretty good, and I think all involved in the project would be proud of it if I went ahead and locked it now and turned it over to the sound, music and VFX guys.
But I don’t think it’s reached its full potential. I think it could be even better, and so does Stop/Eject’s brand new executive producer, Carl Schoenfeld (who will be known to my long-term followers as the producer of The Dark Side of the Earth). So we’re now on the hunt for another editor who can take the film to the next level. This means post-production will take longer than anticipated; the film won’t be finished in 2012, but it will be the best it can possibly be, and that’s the most important thing.
Always fade out at the end of a montage /If you fade out it seems likemore time has passed in a montage….