Stop/Eject: The Schedule

Georgina Sherrington as Kate in Sophie's living room set
Georgina Sherrington as Kate in Sophie’s living room set

Everyone on the cast and crew probably wanted to kill me because of the schedule. The days were too long and the turnaround times were too short. But let’s look at how the schedule developed in pre-production and how it turned out in practice.

Before we begin, some basic info. The script is 19 pages long, so theoretically 19 minutes. There are 31 scenes, 11 story days and 14 locations. Yeah, in a nutshell, ridiculous for a short film.

Six of the locations we found in one building: Magpie, in Matlock. Most of the remaining ones were in Belper, 11 miles down the road.

When we were going to shoot last October, it was a four-and-a-half day schedule. The first half day we would have been without the lead actress (who is in almost every scene) and the last half day we would have been without anyone except a skeleton crew, for shooting close-ups of the tape recorder.

When the project got up and running again this year, I immediately increased the schedule to five days. I had been really freaked out in October about getting it all shot in essentially just four.

Initially I wanted to shoot Monday-Friday, since weekdays seemed most convenient for the locations, but the two lead actors we had at the time both temped during the week and wanted to do as much as possible at the weekend, so I went with Saturday-Wednesday. (Ironically, it would have better suited Georgie, who ultimately played the lead role, if we had shot Monday-Friday.)

Remember that the first and foremost goal of your schedule is to minimise the number of location moves, because they waste phenomenal amounts of time. (A common mistake is to consider only the driving time between locations and overlook the time it takes to derig all the equipment, pack it into the vehicles, unpack it and set it up again at the other end. And don’t forget that at least one of your vehicles will probably get lost during the location move, so budget in time for that as well.)

Magpie. Photo: Paul Bednall
Magpie. Photo: Paul Bednall

I knew that those of us who weren’t local to the area could stay at Magpie, and that we could also stay at Sophie’s in Belper from the third day onwards. So the most logical schedule was to shoot all the Magpie stuff Saturday-Monday, then move to Belper on Monday night and shoot everything there on Tuesday and Wednesday.

This was all well and good until Georgie was cast a week before the shoot, and she had a prior commitment in London on Sunday morning. This meant we would lose her at 7pm on Saturday and not get her back for 24 hours.

There was approximately a day’s worth of material that could be shot without her, but half of that consisted of tape recorder close-ups that couldn’t be filmed until we had her master shots to match them to, master shots from various locations that couldn’t possibly all be shot on Saturday. So it was clear that Sunday’s schedule would be pretty sparse until Georgie returned at 7pm, shooting just the Businessman scenes in Belper. The half-day of tape recorder close-ups would have to wait until Thursday, extending the schedule.

Filming in the basement of Strutt's North Mill, Belper. Photo: Paul Bednall
Filming in the basement of Strutt’s North Mill, Belper. Photo: Paul Bednall

The other fixed point I was working around was the basement location (in Belper), which was only available on the Tuesday. This prevented me from simply flipping the schedule and doing all the Belper stuff first, then the Magpie stuff.

Two full days of shooting would take place on the shop floor of Magpie, and it was essential that those were consecutive so that we wouldn’t have to restore the shop and then redress it again later. Given the availability of Georgie and the basement, the only solid two-day stretch was from Sunday evening through to Tuesday lunchtime, which even then isn’t a full two days. So that’s where the shop floor had to go, and the rest of the schedule just had to fit around it.

Since many of us would be staying at Magpie over the weekend, I was keen to do as much filming there as possible during that time, so I scheduled in the living room, bedroom and nursing home scenes for Saturday. But then I realised that this left the major exterior scenes nowhere to go except Wednesday – the last day of the shoot. If the weather was bad, we would have nowhere left to postpone them to.

So the living room, bedroom and nursing home got moved to Wednesday and the exteriors slotted in on Saturday, with the proviso that they would be swapped back if Saturday was rainy.

I had arrived at a final schedule, which looked like this:

Stop/Eject schedule download (.PDF, 157kb)

As you can see, there are some tight turnarounds, particularly during the shop floor stuff in the middle of the schedule. This was partly a result of squeezing two days of shop floor material into one full day, one morning and one evening. It was also difficult to balance conflicting things like the need to wait for it to get dark at the end of the day to shoot some scenes, but also needing to get up early enough in the morning to film exteriors outside the shop when the road wasn’t too busy.

I definitely felt like I was fighting the clock throughout the shoot.

We wrapped more or less on time on Saturday, but had dropped the sun GVs and a crucial wide shot for the weir scene.

On Sunday things kept to schedule until the evening, when we overran and wrapped about 75 minutes late.

We wrapped most of the cast and crew slightly later than the anticipated time of 10:30pm on Monday, but Colin and I cracked through the cutaways and wrapped the day overall a few minutes early.

On Tuesday we finished at Magpie at noon, not 11am, but made up some of the time on the location move (which almost never happens) and got to the basement only half an hour late. We wrapped there still about 30 minutes behind, but made up the time at the cemetery. Then we got ahead of schedule by changing the bridge shot (scene 15) from night to day, thus saving an hour of setting up lights, and were able to retire to Sophie’s and get the kitchen scene in a very relaxed fashion.

Filming a living room scene. Photo: Sophie Black
Filming a living room scene. Photo: Sophie Black

Wednesday was without a doubt the toughest day. Although the living room, the bedroom, the nursing home and the alcove set were all in the same building, moving between them still took time, and since we were all fatigued it was like wading through treacle. By lunchtime we were two hours behind and this only got worse as we moved onto the critical alcove scenes after dinner. It must have been getting on for 3am by the time we wrapped.

Thursday turned out very differently to what we’d planned. Fortunately Georgie and Ollie were both available to pick up the weir wide shots. We started late because everyone was so knackered, and couldn’t shoot at the first location we visited (due to heavy rainfall swelling the river), so had to move to another one. We finally got the two shots in the can by about 3pm, and decided to leave most of the planned tape recorder close-ups to another time. (I’ll be shooting them here in Hereford next week.)

I’ll discuss why we kept falling behind schedule in a future post, but I’d like to end on a cautionary note. Not allowing sufficient turnaround time is a vicious circle. I hated the mornings on the shoot because I could see that people weren’t getting up fast enough to get out of the door at the necessary time. I couldn’t hassle them because they’d been up late the previous night and were understandably very tired, but I knew that by starting late we would end up finishing late again and the cycle would continue.

The only way to lengthen the turnaround time would have been to have added another day to the schedule, and this of course brings its own problems in the form of increased costs and people’s availability. This is why making unpaid short films will always be a messy, unpleasant business and if you’re at all rational you’d do well to avoid such shoots like the plague.

But where’s the fun in that?

Rewind
Rewind
Stop/Eject: The Schedule

Retro Librarian

Katie on The Dark Side of the Earth
Katie on The Dark Side of the Earth

Today we have a special guest blog from Stop/Eject‘s costume designer, Katie Lake. She’s going to explain how the costume vision for Alice, a.k.a. The Shopkeeper, has changed since we originally geared up for shooting last October.

The shopkeeper for Stop/Eject has changed pretty drastically since the first draft. Originally an old man, the character is now being played by a woman. To get across the idea of her being old, Neil (the director) originally liked the idea of Victorian costumes after the actress wore Victorian-esc clothes to the auditions. It probably also had to do with the fact we filmed a pilot set in the Victorian era and hashed through enough costume options together to have the Victorian era etched permanently into our brains. But having a little extra time to mull over the character and how to portray Neil’s imagining of the character through costume, I became fixated on the idea of a 40s/50s librarian look.

Tiles in the shop location that we wanted Alice's costume to match with
Tiles in the shop location that we wanted Alice’s costume to match with

Neil wanted her to look like a shop keeper for a charity (thrift) shop, and so many of the women who volunteer at them seem to be themselves stuck in the 40s and 50s clothing wise. I also felt it fit better with the overall retro theme, and didn’t give too much away about the shopkeepers background (no spoilers so I’ll leave it at that!). After discussing it with Neil, we decided to go for the idea, and came up with a color palette as well. Neil was eager to have the costumes fit into the color scheme we’ve already picked for the film, as well as with these beautiful art nouveau tiles that line the shop we’re using as a set. Which were mustard yellow and olivey green. I knew I wanted to add browns, cream, tan, and maybe a splash of maroon to the palette. To get the 40s/50s look I knew I wanted wool plaid skirts, blouses and cardigans, short pearls, rounded-toe 1-2″ heels, and retro glasses would be a bonus.

Alice's watch and glasses
Alice’s watch and glasses

After gathering some reference photos on pinterest, I headed out to charity shops looking to see what I could find. After a few different searching days, I’d come up with a couple skirts, a pair of 40s looking trousers, a couple blouses and cardigans, a broach, some pearls, and a coat. After every shopping trip I’d lay the pieces out on the floor and mix and match them. The more things I found, the more the outfits would come together until there were just a few pieces missing. At that point I was able to figure out exactly what I was looking for to finish off the 4 looks. When you have specific items on your list, it’s much harder to find what you are looking for than when you had a general idea and color palette. Instead of looking for any wool skirt size 12 or larger (as long as it can be taken in) in greens, golden yellows, brown, tan or cream, I was now looking for a tan or light-medium brown colored wool skirt in a solid or subtle pattern. I was also getting pretty desperate for shoes. After realizing I am the same size as the actress (shoe sizes are different in the US and UK) and looking through my collection I found a suitable maroon pair, leaving me with only a saddle tan or navy pair to find. After searching numerous charity shops while paying a visit to the actress for fittings, we found the last skirt and navy shoes. A couple days later my ebay finds arrived- a nurses watch and retro glasses- finishing off my list.

Here are the photos from the fitting – the skirts have been pinned so I know where to shorten them too, and each has to be pulled in (that’s why they are looking a bit bulky)- so the look will be more streamlined once the alterations are done. I’ll also add the details, like nude stockings, the nurses watch, glasses hanging around her neck, and HMU will do wondrous things with her hair.

Next up I’ll do the alterations, organizing/cleaning/iron or steaming the costumes, and breaking down the costumes on paper (in an xls file) so I (or the actress) don’t have to remember what goes with what on the day (and in case I get sick or injured someone else will be able to fill in).

I’m also still working on the male lead’s costumes- as all but 3 of his costume pieces were returned last year, and with the additional costs of all the shopkeepers outfits, I now have to dress him with half the budget. Did I mention he was a hard-to-find size as well?

Visit Katie’s costume blog at www.katiedidonline/costumes for more on Stop/Eject and other projects.

Retro Librarian

Soul Searcher Previz

Back in 2003 when I was developing Soul Searcher, I tried my hand at making a videomatic for the first time. A videomatic is a kind of previsualisation, like a moving storyboard that shows not only the camera angles but the pacing as well, and often gives an idea of how the music and sound effects will work with the scene and what the VFX requirements will be.

Jurassic Park animatic
Jurassic Park animatic

Nowadays previz is usually CGI, but back in the day it was not uncommon to build crude miniatures of the props and people in a scene and film the previz in the form of a videomatic using a camcorder or lipstick camera. Pat McClung and co, when prepping James Cameron’s Aliens, made Drop Ships and APCs out of cardboard boxes and pulled them on strings through landscapes formed from rumpled paper and blankets. A decade later, when planning his deep dives to the Titanic wreck, Cameron had his team build a model of the ship and like-scaled models of the submersibles, so he could previz the shots they needed to get on the ocean floor. Phil Tippett went to the trouble of animating Jurassic Park’s previz in beautiful stop motion, demonstrating not only the angles and movement Spielberg wanted for the real scenes, but the lighting as well. Even Peter Jackson’s cutting edge Lord of the Rings trilogy employed cardboard mock-ups and a video camera to previz the flooding of Isengard.

In that fine tradition I attempted this videomatic for Soul Searcher:

Shooting a videomatic for The Dark Side of the Earth. Photo: Ian Tomlinson
Shooting a videomatic for The Dark Side of the Earth. Photo: Ian Tomlinson

Looking back on it now, it was quite a lazy attempt and suffered greatly from the poorly drawn storyboards, which are very hard to interpret, especially when bits of them are cut out and pasted onto the live action footage. Although I found making this videomatic very useful for my own process as director, and many of the Lego train shots were cut into the film during post-production until the final miniature shots were ready, it wasn’t much use for showing other crew members what work needed to be done. In fact, when I brought the model-makers on board in 2004, I decided to draw a new set of nice, neat storyboards rather than show them the videomatic.

My videomatic skills improved, however, and by 2006 I was shooting a series of them for my new feature project, The Dark Side of the Earth. You can view some of them here.

Soul Searcher Previz

Homemade Sandbags

Recently Colin suggested I talk my wife Katie into making some sandbags to weigh down lighting stands on set. One of us also had the idea of making them out of canvas shopping bags. Like me, I think Colin envisaged Katie simply filling a canvas bag with sand and sewing up the top.

As you can see, she went to a lot more trouble than that…

Some of my new sandbag collection
Some of my new sandbag collection

Considering that you’ll pay the best part of £20 on eBay for one of those, I think £3.55 is a pretty good deal.

Once Katie had started making them, she couldn’t stop. I ended up with five of the one stone saddle bag kind shown in the video, and three smaller ones for counterweighting arms. Thanks Katie!

If you want to see some prettier things Katie has made, be sure to visit her shop at Katiedidonline.

And once again, if you’ve enjoyed this post or found it useful, please do consider clicking the Donate button in the righthand column. All the money goes into making Stop/Eject and you’ll get a credit on the film, an invite to the premiere and access to my super-useful indie film budget exposé How to Make a Fantasy Action Movie for £28,000. (UPDATE: PLEASE NOTE THIS OFFER IS NO LONGER AVAILABLE.)

Homemade Sandbags

Suit You, Sir!

Benedict Cumberbatch as Max
Benedict Cumberbatch as Max (photos by Richard Unger)

As regular readers will know, Sophie Black and I have raised over £2,000 for Stop/Eject through crowd-funding, and we’re doing some filmmaking lectures soon which will serve as fundraising events to increase that budget. (Don’t forget the Hereford one is next week, Tuesday, 7pm at The Rural Media Company.) The third and final piece of the fundraising puzzle is the sale of the “germ suit” worn by Benedict Cumberbatch in the pilot for my in-development fantasy film, The Dark Side of the Earth.

Benedict was playing Maximillian Clarke, a paranoid hypochondriac who’s so afraid of germs that he lives inside a sealed suit that filters all the bacteria out of his air and food. Isabelle Vincey, the heroine, finds him surviving in an igloo on the Dark Side of the Earth and he joins her on her quest to start the world turning again.

The suit was built by FBFX, whose credits include armour and special costumes for such films as Troy, Gladiator, The Phantom Menace and Event Horizon. Here’s the podcast about them building and testing it:

Getting into the suit
Getting into the suit

Benedict was a real trooper on the shoot. He was trailing cables and pipes, carrying all the weight of the suit, blinded by the fogging visor and deafened by the compressor that kept the suit inflated. Every time Katie took his helmet off he was sweating buckets. But he never complained. (By contrast, after he’d left – to go to the BBC for the first read-through of Sherlock – we put crew member AJ Nicol in the suit for five minutes for a wide shot and he came out swearing and cursing and moaning.) Here’s the podcast about shooting with the suit, featuring an interview with Benedict:

Suited and booted
Suited and booted

Since that shoot, in December 2008, the suit has been in a box in my loft. I always hoped one day I would live somewhere with enough space to display it on a mannequin, but there wasn’t much chance of that in the foreseeable future, so this year I figured it was time to trade it in for some filmmaking cash. If The Dark Side of the Earth ever gets off the ground, we can always build another one – an even better one.

Originally I planned to sell the suit on eBay, promoting the auction to Benedict fan sites and the like, but then Sophie put me in touch with David Bidwell, owner of The Monster Company. This Nottingham-based company sells movie props and memorabilia.

David was excited when I told him about the suit and Dark Side in general, and this morning he paid me a visit to check out the suit and watch the pilot. He loved the pilot so much he asked to watch it a second time. He went away with the suit tucked under his arm (alright, draped over his arm and with me following carrying a couple of boxes with the rest of it in) and the Stop/Eject budget looking a little healthier.

Additional: Here’s an interesting article on The Benedict Cumberbatch Situation, which suggests he’s getting quite a following on the other side of the pond.

Suit You, Sir!

DIY Cyclotron

Superglued. Photo: Colin Smith
Superglued. Photo: Colin Smith

Last time I tried to help build something for one of my films, I ended up supergluing my fingers together. (A couple of hours later, after the rest of the construction crew had laughed themselves silly and placed bets on how long it would take me to separate my fingers, I finally parted the digits by sawing through the join with a disposable plastic knife.)

Which is why you may be suspicious to see that in this new Stop/Eject podcast I apparently display perfect competence in woodworking and associated arts, and manage to produce a decent-looking item at the end of it. Is something fishy going on? I couldn’t possibly say.

If you enjoyed this, please consider clicking the Donate button in the sidebar to the right and helping to fund the film.

DIY Cyclotron

Rewards, Distribution and Scheduling

Fresh from the duplicators
Fresh from the duplicators
Signing Video8
Signing Video8

You can say what you like about digital distribution, but nothing beats the feeling of opening a box of DVDs fresh from the duplicators, all packaged with lovely covers and on-disc artwork. The download generation will really miss out on an experience there.

Yes, today the DVD dupes of Video8 and The Dark Side of the Earth: Making the Pilot arrived, so I spent the morning signing them, parcelling them up along with thank you notes and posting them to the Stop/Eject sponsors. If you contributed £50 or more and you haven’t given Sophie your address yet, then please do so because you’re missing out on your well-earned rewards otherwise.

Soul Searcher, signed
Soul Searcher, signed

The other thing that happened today is that Soul Searcher‘s five year distribution deal expired. If you’re interested to know how that worked out for me financially, just click on the donate button to the right and you’ll get access to an in-depth video on the subject.

As for the film’s future, I can now reveal that Soul Searcher will be online to view in full for free from next Monday Februrary 6th. Watch this space for the link.

In the mean time, here’s another DVD extra that never made it to the disc…

Rewards, Distribution and Scheduling

Crowd-Funding Evaluation Part 4: Platform and Rewards

New crowd-funding websites are still popping up, so I’m not going to attempt a comprehensive list of them, but here are the main ones:

Name All or nothing? Currency Fee
Indiegogo No $ 4% if you reach your target, 9% if not. Extra fees apply if you’re not in the US.
Kickstarter Yes $ 5% Note: you need to be a US resident.
We Fund Yes £ 5%? Their website isn’t very clear about this.
We Did This Yes £ 5%
Sponsume No £ 4%
Crowdfunder Yes £ 5%

Note that most if not all of these sites charge sponsors a Paypal/Amazon fee on top of their donations.

Crowdfunding sites fall into two categories: “all or nothing” and “keep it all”. “All or nothing” sites return the money to the sponsors if you don’t reach your target by the deadline.

So why did Sophie and I choose this kind of site? A good question, and one several sponsors asked me during the campaign. Two reasons:

  1. It would have been impossible to make the film for less than £2,000. Even as it is we have to raise further money.
  2. A ticking clock motivates sponsors, particularly towards the end of a campaign. Undoubtedly many of the people who donated at the eleventh hour did so because they didn’t want to see us fail and get none of the money. If we would have got the money regardless, I’m sure some of those people wouldn’t have bothered contributing.
DVD copies of Soul Searcher were amongst the rewards.
DVD copies of Soul Searcher were amongst the rewards.

And why did we choose Crowdfunder over the other “all or nothing” sites? Mainly because Sophie’s successful Jar of Angels campaign had run on there. Also we were keen to use a site that works in sterling, because we knew most of our sponsors would be British and we thought some of them might be put off by a foreign currency.

It was only when the campaign was running that I realised Crowdfunder could be a little more streamlined. Two or three people contacted me to say they wanted to donate but couldn’t figure out how to do it. There’s no “fund now” button unless you’ve set up an account and logged in – and having to set up an account in itself puts some people off, although Crowdfunder has one of the quickest account set-up procedures I’ve ever seen on a website.

I’ve sent this feedback to Crowdfunder and hopefully they will be able to act on it in the future.

A signed print of this artwork by Sophie Black was one of the rewards.
A signed print of this artwork by Sophie Black was one of the rewards.

Finally a word about the rewards. We wanted to be able to send out the rewards pretty quickly after the campaign finished, so we didn’t offer anything tied to Stop/Eject itself except a thank you in the credits and a print of Sophie’s living room artwork. Instead we offered downloads and DVDs of my previous films, signed posters, and even 35mm frames from The Dark Side of the Earth‘s pilot.

Coming up with original and enticing rewards is very difficult. I’m not sure the ones we came up with were anything special, but fortunately people don’t tend to donate for the rewards. Most people just want to be part of something and help out, in which case rewards that involve them in the film – visit the set, be an extra, DVD copy, premiere invite, etc. – are probably the best way to go. I think that’s what I’ll offer next time.

I hope you’ve found these evaluation blogs interesting. Let me know how you get on with your own campaigns. Meanwhile, I’ll be back soon with news of the other fund-raising efforts which will soon kick in for Stop/Eject.

Crowd-Funding Evaluation Part 4: Platform and Rewards