Day two of Stop/Eject‘s shoot and we move into the main location: the shop.
(We actually spent half of day two filming Dan’s death scene at the River Gardens in Belper, but sadly the B-roll from this was corrupt, possibly due to being recorded on a dodgy card.)
Thanks to a generous contribution from filmmaker Barend Kruger, Stop/Eject‘s post-production crowd-funding total has jumped up to £856, smashing through no less than three public reward targets. We’re going to stagger the release of these rewards over the next couple of weeks, but the above video was the first one.
In return for his contribution, I’ll be DPing Barend’s short film next month, a psychological thriller called Mary, Mary. I think this is a fantastic example of filmmakers collaborating to help each other’s projects succeed, and I’m really grateful to Barend for approaching me with the idea. I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about his film on this blog, and the trailer for it will ultimately feature on Stop/Eject’s DVD.
Regular readers may (but probably won’t) remember that almost a year ago I interviewed indie filmmaker Kate Madison as part of a documentary I planned to make under the working title of “Living in a Fantasy World”. I should have realised that shooting a doc about people trying to make incredibly ambitious fantasy films on shoestring budgets was going to be a long, slow process, but I didn’t think it would be eleven months before I did my next bit of filming.
Yesterday I went up to Manchester to document the first day of shooting on Dan Rowbottom’s Dark Crystal-esque fantasy adventure Raven Waiting. In due course I will be sharing some of this footage with you, but today I want to share my thoughts on behind-the-scenes, or “B roll”, filming. Here are my top tips:
Pace yourself. It’s tempting to film non-stop in the morning, generating far more shots of people unpacking equipment than the editor will ever need, and to neglect things later in the day. Try to cover the whole day evenly.
Don’t get in the way and don’t film people if they ask you not to, but don’t be afraid to record the difficult conversations when things start to go pear-shaped.
Like anyone crewing, remember your on-set etiquette. Say “crossing” when you pass in front of the A camera, and when it’s rolling stay silent, don’t cast shadows and don’t distract the talent.
Remember that although you have a job to do, so does the main unit and theirs is much more important. Help them if they need it.
Think about what people have said or might say in the interviews and capture appropriate shots for the editor to paste over these.
If you can’t find a good angle to shoot from, don’t bother. There will be plenty of opportunities later in the day.
Unless something particularly interesting is happening, ten seconds is long enough to hold a shot for. Don’t shoot long conversations unless you’re miking them properly; they won’t be useable.
Pack fast lenses, f1.8 at least. Film sets are incredibly dark away from the lit area.
Remember to cover the action away from the set – hair, make-up and wardrobe.
Here are some shots you definitely shouldn’t go home without: the clapperboard clapping; the director calling “cut” and “action”; a cutaway of the camera being operated; the director pointing/looking thoughtfully at the monitor/giving an actor notes or otherwise demonstrably directing; actors preparing or mucking around between takes; an establishing shot of the location.
Like three buses coming at once, this week has been a manic one for Stop/Eject publicity.
On Monday afternoon I was interviewed and photographed for the The Hereford Times. (I’m not sure when this will be published. Probably not this week.)
A few hours later and 100 miles away, Sophie was interviewed by BBC East Midlands Today. The report was broadcast that same evening (just after a piece about The Dark Knight Rises filming in Nottingham), featuring huge swathes of the trailer, the web address on screen for ages and of course Sophie brilliantly talking the whole thing up. If you missed it, a friend filmed it off his TV screen…
On Tuesday, the Herefordshire Media Network held their regular meeting, at which they kindly allowed me to screen the trailer and pitch video for Stop/Eject and to say a few words about my experiences of crowd-funding. It went down very well, with many people saying complimentary things afterwards.
Huge thanks to Indy Mogul for this exposure, which has almost doubled my number of subscribers. If any IM viewers have found their way to this blog – welcome! I hope you enjoy the heady mix of filmmaking trials and tribulations, breakdowns, evaluations, “how to”s and occasional self-indulgent rants.
In what must rank as one of the smoothest-running and most enjoyable shoots I’ve ever helmed, my Virgin Media Shorts entry Ghost-trainspotting was filmed yesterday.
With an entirely exterior script, weather was the biggest concern, but it rained for less than five minutes all day and was generally quite lovely. The camera started rolling earlier than planned, we moved at a good pace all day and we wrapped early. What’s not to like?
Actors Rob Ashman and George McCluskey got on like a house on fire. Rob in particular looked brilliant in his trainspotter outfit, as you can see from this photo which Katie took:
I’ve already started editing the film, and like last year it’s going to be challenging to get it down to the required length of 140 seconds. Unlike last year, there are model shots to film, which I hope to do this weekend. Stay tuned.
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.
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.
Several weeks ago I evaluated Stop/Eject’s shooting schedule. As noted in that post, we got behind schedule more than once during production. Today I want to look at the reasons why, so I can remind myself next time I draw up a schedule, and so that you lovely readers can perhaps pre-empt similar problems on your own projects.
Lack of a First Assistant Director. The key role of this crew member is to keep things running to schedule, and we didn’t have one. Two people were lined up and then dropped out due to paying work, and no other applicants were forthcoming. Difficult to see what could have been done to avoid this, other than raising more money to pay everyone.
Lack of a separate Director of Photography and Camera Operator. I chose to act as my own DP on Stop/Eject and, when operator Rick Goldsmith was only able to do half of the shoot, chose not to find a replacement for the remainder and fill that role myself as well. This is something I’ve done on many of my previous productions, so I knew full well that it wasn’t a good idea; it slows things down and it reduces the time I can spend working with the actors. But I did it anyway because I figured any DP worth their salt would balk at the pathetic equipment we had available.
Lack of other skilled crew. There were only two people on the crew who were really handy with power tools, Col and Steve Giller, and Steve was only around for a couple of days. So when we arrived at a new location and had to assemble the alcove set and rig lights from the ceiling, there were only one or two people doing these two most time-consuming tasks. Solution: ask around in pre-production for DIYers who fancy helping out on a film.
Large number of costume changes. With eleven story days and a lead actress playing two different versions of her character, there was a lot of costume swapping, each one accompanied by a hair and make-up change too. I’d advise you to always try to minimise the number of story days in your script, and to carefully schedule your shoot to reduce the number of switches.
Large number of locations. Even though we found several locations in one building, there was still a lot of moving around, which wastes huge amounts of time. Ideally you should shoot in only one location each day.
Fatigue. As mentioned in my earlier post, scheduling long days and/or wrapping late gets you into a destructive cycle because your cast and crew work slower the next day due to lack of sleep.
Composition issues. This is an odd one which nobody foresaw. We shot in the Cinemascope aspect ratio, 2:35:1, which is a very wide frame, but we had many scenes set in the alcove, which was a tall, narrow set. Think about how wide a 2.35:1 shot has to be to see the head of a standing actress and a tape recorder on a two foot high table at the same time, and how much will be revealed at the sides of frame. Combine this with the fact that some alcove scenes were shot in a corridor at the back of the shop location that was only half the width the alcove was meant to be, so one wall always had to be out of frame. And then factor in that you can’t compress the vertical space by going for a high angle shot because then you won’t see the face of the actress as she looks down at the recorder, and you can’t compress it with a low angle shot because you’ll reveal the lights hanging from the ceiling. Yes, it was a nightmare shooting in that little alcove. There was a lot of time wasted in scratching my head over how to cover the scenes effectively while framing out the wall and the lights. This might seem like a very esoteric problem, but I can derive three points of good general advice from it:
Think carefully when choosing the aspect ratio for your film. Consider the shape and size of your key locations and props. When making The Dark Side of the Earth‘s pilot, DP Oliver Downey pointed out that the tall, spindly Swordsman puppet and the tall training room set were not well suited to the 2.35:1 anamorphic ratio we were shooting.
Think twice before rigging lights to the ceiling. This is very much a double-edged sword. Although it takes a long time to hang lamps from the ceiling, once they’re up there you will find it relatively quick to light each of your set-ups. But if you then realise that the ceiling’s going to be in shot, taking those lamps down or altering your composition to frame them out could be a big time-waster.
Small locations will slow you down. Working in a confined space with lots of lamps, grip and mics is slow, hot and unpleasant. Avoid it wherever possible. More space means lights can be quickly set up on stands further away, rather than having to be rigged time-consumingly to walls or furniture.
So those are the main things that slowed down Stop/Eject, and of course there are many, many other things that can hold you up when shooting. And although many of these are impossible to foresee or prevent, a little thinking time in pre-production can identify a lot of these issues and help you plan accordingly.
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!