The Making of Henry

Guest blogger Katie Lake tells the story of how Henry Otto, the marionette star of The One That Got Away, came into this world. Click here to watch the film and please tweet about it to help us make the competition shortlist.

1. The head
1. The head

It started as a whim, a crazy idea. I have wanted to do a puppet film with Neil for a while. But if I couldn’t make a puppet, there would be no puppet film. No pressure.

I started with his head. I wound newspaper around metal wire that would become his controls, then covered the newspaper ball with a layer of air-drying clay, shaping his head, and face. I did a test with lights to see if I liked the shape I got (1). 

2. Body, hands, arms and legs
2. Body, hands, arms and legs

I then made his body. This started out as a toilet roll tube, covered in papier-mâché, and his arms and legs were rolled up newspaper “beads”. I then painted them beige, and sculpted hands using more clay over wire. I fit the legs and arms with wire, and before I put him together this was how he was looking (2). I liked the big head, spindly legs and long arms. So together he went. 

I made the start of a neck, and then painted his face. He now had an expression, a look, a character. I (hesitantly) fell in love with Henry when I first sculpted his head and face, but was really worried that I wouldn’t be able to do him justice with paint. Thankfully I was pleased with the results. And this is when I knew the name swirling around in my head, was the name he was going to be. There is something about him that reminds me of my maternal grandfather’s side of the family, so Henry is sort of an homage.

3. Strung up, with trousers
3. Strung up, with trousers

He then needed some clothes. Despite, or maybe because of my costume background, deciding what clothes to make for him was by far the hardest bit. In the end we decided jeans were a good place to start. I drafted a pattern in cloth, then altered it, and cut them out of an old charity shop skirt. I also gave him some hand stitched details around the waist. I temporarily strung him up, and tested out what we could get him to do. This was also his first camera test (3).

4. Hat
4. Hat and sweater

It was now that we realised he needed lateral head controls (one on either side of his head so we could make him look left and right). Oops. I attached lateral controls to the outside of his head as I didn’t want to risk drilling, so he now needed a hat or wisps of hair to hide the wire. He also needed a top, and boots.

4. Boots
5. Boots

Enter Jo Henshaw, who kindly offered to come and help out. She helped finalize costume design decisions, and made him his cute beanie (out of an old sleeve) and started his sweater (out of an old sweater) (4).

I made boots (out of more toilet roll tubes cut and bent, glued into shape and then papier-mâchéd, and then painted black) (5). I should also mention stop-motion animator Emily Currie, another helpful volunteer, who used her expertise to ensure the lateral controls stayed put.

6. The finished puppet
6. The finished puppet

Henry’s sweater was then sewn onto him, covering the multiple pieces. I kept the arms separate for greater movement. I finished him off with braces made out of old shoe laces, made buttons out of clay which I painted brown, sewed a patch onto his arm from an old scrap and aged his costume with some brown and black paint.

Lastly I strung him up using extra strong navy thread. The T bar I made using a piece of flat doweling, some screw eyes (upcycled from old curtain rings) and nails to make the cross bars removable. And Henry was ready for his debut (6).

You can visit Katie’s blog at www.katiedidonline.com. To find out what Henry’s up to, why not befriend him on Facebook?

Tomorrow I’ll look at the camera and lighting techniques used to shoot the film.

The Making of Henry

Microwave Shot

Blue Peter microwave
Blue Peter microwave

Shot 104 on my Stop/Eject storyboards has been loitering for a long time. Originally slated for the last day of principal photography, it got dropped and has been bothering the back of my mind ever since. It’s a bird’s eye view of a ready meal turning slowly in a microwave… if the hypothetical bird flew into the microwave before Kate shut it, and survived long enough to look down on anything. (The shot is part of the circles theme that runs throughout the film, which I blogged about earlier in the year.)

Back in the autumn we bought an old microwave, my intention being to rip the top off for the shot. Even though I was clearly not planning to turn the thing on after dismembering it so, safety concerns were voiced and thoughts turned to mocking up a microwave interior.

I finally filmed the shot this morning, and I don’t think anyone – including me – expected it to be achieved in the incredibly low-tech fashion it was. I folded up a piece of old foam board and punched a hole in the middle of it, and gaffer-taped an allen key to the bottom of the circular plate so I could rotate it through the hole from underneath.

So that’s another shot ticked off the list.

Final shot
The final shot

If you’re in Hereford, come along to the test screening tomorrow (Wednesday June 20th) at 3pm. It’s in the downstairs lecture theatre at Hereford College of Art’s Media Centre on Bath Street. Non-students are welcome; just sign is as visiting Christabel Gingell. I need all the feedback I can get to finesse the edit.

Microwave Shot

Stop/Eject: Shoot Day 6 Podcast

A look at the unscheduled sixth day of principal photography on Stop/Eject

For Stop/Eject’s post-production crowd-funding campaign, we’ve introduced a new idea. As well as individual rewards for everyone who sponsors – anything from a ticket to the premiere to a voice role in the film, depending on how much you contribute – there are public rewards too. The way these work is that every time the total raised passes one of the hundred pound marks, we release a little treat online – like podcasts or special blog posts.

When the campaign was launched yesterday, we received an amazing £240 in just a few hours, smashing through the first two public reward targets.

Accordingly, Sophie has published a special, detailed blog breaking down the design and creation of the living room set, and a video podcast about the final day of shooting. Why the final day? Well, because the podcasts about the other days aren’t ready yet; we weren’t expecting the total to get past £200 so quickly!

Read Sophie’s blog here.

And you can watch the podcast above.

You can make your contribution to Stop/Eject at stopejectmovie.com and help us reach the next target, £300, for an in-depth breakdown of how I lit the shop scenes, what with and why.

Stop/Eject: Shoot Day 6 Podcast

Sophie Black Guest Blog: “Somebody has to do it.”

It’s high time we heard from producer and production designer Sophie Black on this blog, so here are her thoughts on the pre-production of Stop/Eject.

Four days ago we wrapped on Stop/Eject after a six day shoot that felt like a month. There were stressful bits, and no one got much sleep. But it was also one of the best shoots of my life!

The footage is looking amazing (keep checking the Stop/Eject Facebook Page for all the stills as they come online) and I can’t wait for the trailer. This shoot, without a second’s thought, goes straight into my top two, and not just because I finally got to stay at home and film on my doorstep. My only problem now is that I’ve gone from working all day every day for about two months to an empty house and nothing on my immediate schedule. Cold turkey. So I’ve promised director Neil Oseman that I would start doing a series of guest blogs, and I hope that these will cure me of my Stop/Eject withdrawal symptoms.

Today I’m talking about pre-production in the Art Department, and for that I need to take us back to this time two weeks ago. Now, with all independent films – and particularly with short films – it’s to be expected that tasks will have to be shared out, and that job boundaries will get blurred as it’s all hands on deck. It is for that reason that two of the main set builders on all Light Films projects are the director and the writer, and that the catering on Stop/Eject was covered by the costume designer and the make-up artist.

So you expect to have to do work out of your job description. What you don’t always predict, however, is the workload that’s caused by drop-outs.

Two weeks before the Stop/Eject shoot, I had a pretty long list of work left to do. I was juggling the Ashes prep with last minute S/E casting, two rooms to paint and dress, a couple of props to finish, and over 400 tape cassettes to do calligraphy on (urgh!). Not an ideal amount of work with two weeks left to go, but achievable.

The first task was re-doing part of a gravestone set piece. Many things were rushed the first time we went to make Stop/Eject, and I’d had to make do with my first attempt, which was decent but a little untidy (first image below). The good thing about having to push back the shoot – although it was disappointing at the time – was the fact that we got to do everything a hundred times better. The gravestone was certainly one of those things.

To help me improve it, Neil got in contact with professional production designer Ian Tomlinson, who told me that I could get a neater finish on the lettering if I printed out a stencil then engraved it into foamboard. (I’d used polystyrene for the rest, which still made good stone).

After I stuck the foamboard over the original lettering, I spray-painted it with the same stone effect spray as before, left it to dry in my downstairs loo (there was nowhere else to put it!) then used a dry-brush in a darker colour to add ageing and definition to the lettering.

That went smoothly, and I managed to get the location painting done in one afternoon thanks to the help of a volunteer called Ellie Ragdale:

So, with all those jobs done, and the days counting down fast, I thought that I could sit down and really crack on with the cassette tapes. I’d managed to get the time down to 5 minutes per tape inlay, so there wasn’t any reason to panic yet.It was at that point that people really started dropping out of the project…

When you’re doing a job which isn’t paid, no matter how great the project, there’s always going to be someone who abandons it in favour of a wage. You can expect one or two at least. And when this happens, no matter how much you have on or how last minute it is, you can’t just turn round to the director on the day and say, “such and such isn’t here because the person dropped out,” or, “it wasn’t my job so I decided to put my feet up and ignore it”. Particularly when it’s part of your department (I was head of Production Design so anything to do with the decoration was supposed to be in my control). It can’t just be abandoned when the film needs it. Someone has to do it. And, much as I dreaded it, I knew it would have to be me. There was less than a week until the crew arrived and everyone was already juggling more than their fair share of jobs. I just had to crack on.

My finished sign for the Shop Set, in my living room
My finished sign for the shop set, in my living room

The first extra job I took on was the shop sign for the film’s main location. Because of the nature of my job I find it hard to trust helpers, and I rarely delegate on smaller tasks, but I knew a local craftswoman who made beautiful vintage signs so I asked her to do it. She would be paid, but she offered to do it for next to nothing, and I knew she would do a great job. Then I got a call saying that she’d had to go into hospital and wasn’t taking on anymore work.

This one certainly wasn’t anyone’s fault, and it wasn’t too huge a task, so I grabbed by brother’s old warhammer board and a paintbrush and made the sign. It was easy but it was frustrating because I knew that I wasn’t the best person for the job and, due to the other woman’s calibre, what I turned out could only be second-rate.

The Shop Sign on location in Matlock. Photo: Paul Bednall
The shop sign on location in Matlock. Photo: Paul Bednall

The next problem came when it was time to build the film’s all-important alcove set. We’d advertised for a builder and had a decent amount of replies, but some weren’t qualified, some didn’t respond to our replies, and others showed genuine interest in the job and sent us a couple of emails, then changed their minds. I managed to contact a few local people I knew and had a few offer to build it with my help, but out of them a few were busy on the day and a couple became oddly aloof and stopped replying to me. The only person left to help managed to stay long enough to help me fetch the materials I needed (thanks Steve!) but had to go at lunchtime due to a prior commitment.This left me, alone in my Dad’s cramped garage (moving into the kitchen for space when needed), with his power tools at hand but no will or clue. I’d only ever decorated a set before; I was trained to design them, even technically, but I’d never wielded an electric saw in my life!

But what I’ve learnt is that it’s amazing what you can do when you try. Luckily I only had to build a wooden box-type thing – albeit ones with panels made out of antique doors – and it wasn’t anything more complicated than that. Plus my Dad helped speed things up by cutting a few pieces after I’d measured and marked them.

Was that the last of the drop-outs? Of course not. We were supposed to have someone build us an ornate, carved wooden arch to go at the front of the alcove set. I’d given the guy the job then he’d sent me a quick concept sketch and I’d even spoken to him on the phone, where he sounded enthusiastic. With less than a week before the shoot, I called him twice to three times a day. every day, and even left him messages, but I never heard from him again. Although it was disappointing, this was one part of the set we decided we could do without.

Instead of two days, the set ended up taking five, during all of which I was thinking about the looming tape cassettes, and wondering when on earth I was going to get them done. My morale was also starting to get pretty low – the garage was cold and I was up until 1am every morning with only Soul Searcher and American Beauty on my laptop to keep me going.

In spite of the odds, by the time the crew arrived there were three completed sides for the alcove, all of which featured heavily-screwed wooden frames, antique doors, and stained hardboard surfaces. Just like that, I’d built my first set.

From that point onwards, I wasn’t alone anymore. The chivalrous Gaffer-turned-handyman Colin Smith built the roof for me, and made sure I had all the pieces I needed to make a basic wooden arch for the front. Then the lead actor Oliver Park joined in too, by staying up with me and helping me paint the last couple of pieces. He even played Aerosmith on his phone to keep me happy. It may be an old-fashioned sentiment, but I think that men are wonderful things!!

By the time the shoot was underway, I’d only managed to do 100 tape cassette inlays. I tried to fit in more where I could but I was needed on set most of the time (and loved being there), so I had to pull an all-nighter to finish them off. I was already shattered by this point and I even blacked out a couple of times, but it was worth it for the satisfaction of getting my work done. However, I never want to look at another tape cassette for as long as I live. Not even my Jimmy Nail one!

Thanks Sophie. I’m off to polish my crocodile shoes, but you can read more about Sophie’s work on her website.

Sophie Black Guest Blog: “Somebody has to do it.”

T minus two days

Sophie's partly dressed living room. Well, not her living room. The living room she designed.
Sophie’s partly dressed living room. Well, not her living room. The living room she designed.

Hooray, I’m finally looking forward to the shoot! On Tuesday I cast a new Dan – Oliver Park – which was the last major hurdle to overcome before production. Our crew is all in place, all the minor roles are cast but one, all the locations and props are lined up, and the costumes and set are nearly finished.

So it’s looking good. It has been a real struggle getting to this point though. More than half the original cast and crew have had to be replaced – mostly due to them getting booked in the last couple of weeks for paying jobs that clash, though in a couple of cases due to hospitalisation! If you’re a veteran Neil Oseman blog reader you’ll have heard of The Curse of Soul Searcher. This is The Curse of Stop/Eject.

Painting the bedroom
Painting the bedroom

In all seriousness, I don’t think I’ll ever make another film (except simple ones like The Picnic) unless there’s money to pay everyone. It just isn’t worth the stress and hassle caused by having to re-cast and re-crew when people pull out. It’s actually got easier to find people the closer we’ve got to the shoot, presumably because people can be more sure that they won’t be doing any paid work on the shooting dates, but aside from anything else it’s a nightmare for the costume department when they don’t know their lead actors’ sizes until a few days before the shoot.

Staining the alcove
Staining the alcove

Sophie has been very busy this week, building the alcove set and painting and dressing some of the upstairs rooms at Magpie, not to mention doing calligraphy on 600 cassette inlays.

Katie has been running around the charity shops of Hereford, looking for the last few bits and pieces, and dying and altering things here at home.

I’ve been drawing up the schedule, going through storyboards with Rick (the camera op), chasing things up, getting paperwork in order and talking to the actors about their characters.

Weather forecast
Weather forecast

I’m so glad we didn’t shoot Stop/Eject last October. We are a million times better prepared now. The only thing that doesn’t look like it’s going to co-operate is the weather.

This will probably be my last post until after the shoot. We’ll try to update the Facebook page at least once a day, internet connection permitting, and rest assured we’ll be building up a tasty backlog of behind-the-scenes podcasts and blogs.

I want to start shooting tomorrow. I can’t wait two days. That’s how good I’m feeling about it right now.

T minus two days

Ups and Downs

The hero tapes, beautifully labelled by Sophie
The hero tapes, beautifully labelled by Sophie

There was a glorious 48 hours about ten days ago when everything was going our way on Stop/Eject. We had all our key cast and crew, all our locations, most of our props and costumes and we seemed well on the way to getting everything we didn’t have in time for the shoot.

Then people started dropping out. First the lead actress, then a sound recordist, then the lead actor. This, unfortunately, is the way it goes when you can’t pay people. You can’t expect them to put the film first. No amount of advance planning can change that.

Alas, poor Daniel
Alas, poor Daniel

So on Tuesday I’m off to London (nine hours round trip on National Express – the closest you can get to hell on earth) to audition a new cast. Exciting, but scary because of the limited time remaining before we shoot.

And on Wednesday it’s up to Birmingham for the final fundraising lecture – 8:30pm at Ort Cafe, 500-506 Moseley Road, B12 9AH. Find out how my feature film Soul Searcher was financed, made and distributed, with plenty of clips, behind-the-scenes footage and amusing anecdotes. As usual entry is free, but donations will be welcomed.

And by the time that’s all over there will be little more than a week before we shoot.

Despite the setbacks I’m feeling pretty positive about the whole thing. Almost every aspect of the production has been improved by the postponement from last autumn – including the props, some of which you can see here. Roll on April 21st!

Ups and Downs

Crowd Sourcing

Dedo, de-e-edo. Dedo come and me want to go home.
Dedo, de-e-edo. Dedo come and me want to go home.

Loyal readers, once again I need your help. Do you own any of the following things? Would you be willing to lend them to us for the Stop/Eject shoot? (In most cases we would need to collect them on April 20th and return them on the 26th or soon after.)

  • A lady’s vintage/retro bike
  • Any empty cassette cases
  • A camera jib (small enough to be used indoors)
  • A mini-spotlight kit (Dedolights or similar)
  • An HMI (any wattage considered)
  • Any fast Canon EF(S) prime lenses 85mm or longer
  • Walkie talkies

Rest assured your items will be well looked after, and in return you’ll be credited on the film, receive an invite to the premiere, a DVD copy, and a free download of my indie feature film budget and sales exposé How to Make a Fantasy Action Movie for £28,000.

Also if there’s anything we can lend you in return, we’d be happy to do it. (I have some Canon DLSR camera kit, shoulder rig, tracking dolly, basic lights and so on.)

Since our travel budget is limited, we could really only borrow things that are located in or near Hereford or North Derbyshire, or somewhere en route between those two places (e.g. Birmingham).

Finally, if there are any unsigned bands out there who have an angry-sounding rock/metal/punk song we could use a little bit of in the film, please get in touch.

Contact me on: neiloseman [at] googlemail.com

By the way, let me assure any of you concerned by the cryptic ending of my last post that no-one has died or been injured or anything terrible like that. But unfortunately we are having to look for a new leading lady. The shoot dates have not been changed.

Crowd Sourcing

Tape Recorder

Mmm, the eighties.
Mmm, the eighties.
Eject
Eject

Thanks to David Bidwell of The Monster Company, we now have our hero tape recorder prop for Stop/Eject. It’s a classic eighties model, very similar to the one I had as a kid, which I had in mind when writing the script.

Last year we bought 400 empty cassette cases for a crucial scene in the film, but we still need more. Do you have some old cassette cases kicking around? Would you be kind enough to donate or lend these cases to the production? If so, please get in touch with me: neiloseman [at] googlemail.com.

Elsewhere in art department land, Sophie tells me that work is underway on the wooden carving for the top of the alcove set. And Katie keeps shopping for the Shopkeeper’s costume, so to speak. And you can’t get quicker than a Kwikfit fitter. And she sells seashells on the seashore. And so on.

Tape Recorder