A camera operator needs batteries, lenses, cards, filters. A wardrobe supervisor has racks of costumes. A sound recordist carries a dead cat on a stick. But a director needs only his folder. Like Her Majesty’s handbag, the contents of this hallowed portfolio have forever been a mystery. Until now.
Here’s what I kept in my Stop/Eject folder while shooting the film:
The first thing I see on opening the folder is a to-do list. These are all things that need doing the day before the shoot begins, including things that I need to pack in the van for the journey up to Derbyshire.
A copy of the production budget comes next, with highlighted figures like catering and travel being the ones that are still available to spend.
A list of contact details for the cast, crew, locations and people we’re borrowing props and equipment from.
Then we come to the script. The fact that it’s this far back in the folder tells you how many other things a director who is also co-producing and has no AD has on his mind. Ideally the script and the storyboards would be the only things in my folder. You can see that I’ve drawn tram lines. Normally a script supervisor does this during shooting to indicate which part of the scene a shot covers, but I’ve drawn them in advance to remind me which part of the scene I want each shot to cover.
The largest section of my folder is the storyboards. The ones with the pink highlights are shots I felt would make good production photos, the idea being that we would switch the camera to stills mode after the take and snap a few – but we usually forgot.
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.)
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There’s plenty for me to do on the train up there – most importantly going through the storyboards and altering them to fit the revised script.
Staying in Derbyshire, Sophie and I have a packed schedule for Wednesday, with lots of weirs to recce, some crates to measure, props to approve and a GV to shoot.
Meanwhile Katie is off to Smethwick for a costume fitting with Therese Collins, a.k.a. Alice, the character formerly known simply as The Shopkeeper. Expect a guest blog from Katie about that soon.
Remember, even if you can’t get to Derby, you can still contribute to the production by clicking the donate button in the righthand sidebar. And we’re still offering a free sandbag with mainland UK delivery for every £10 you donate. See my earlier post for more info on that.
Alright, so you’ve seen the podcasts on making a wagon light and sandbags, but what else are we doing to specifically prepare for Stop/Eject, now that most of our funding is in place?
Firstly, we’ve pencilled in some shooting dates: April 21st-25th. Hopefully by then the weather will be nice and the trees will have leaves on.
We’ve also been sorting out cast and crew, as much as is practical this far in advance. For the most part this is the same line-up as last year, but the crowd-funding campaign did bring a few extra people to our attention.
(As time slips away and you hurtle towards production on a low budget project, you often wish you had had more time to prepare. But the reality is that when you’re not paying people, you can’t plan too far ahead, because a key person might suddenly get some paying work that clashes with your dates, and then everything’s thrown out of whack. It’s just the nature of the beast.)
Colin has priced up the alcove set which needs to be built. It’s a fairly simple piece, not much bigger than a portaloo, but hopefully more enticing. But it does raise further issues of where to build, who can build, how to transport and where to shoot, all of which we’ll gradually be addressing over the coming weeks.
We’ve already started weighing up the costs of hiring a van, to get the equipment and set around.
Sophie has written off to local food businesses in the hope of getting sponsorship to help feed the cast and crew.
And finally, as the podcasts make clear, I’ve been thinking about the equipment we’ll need. I have some, Colin has some, we’ve built some, we’ll borrow some, and if we can afford it we’ll hire some.
As things progress, there will be detailed blog entries about many of these topics. For example, I’m planning a run-through of all of my equipment and what it does, a look at the ins and outs of scheduling a shoot, spotlights on some of the crew and their roles (if they let me!) and a blow-by-blow account of the set build. And I expect there will be some more podcasts too.
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.
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…
This weekend, eschewing some sleep and new year celebrations, I completed a 20 minute video called How to Make a Fantasy Action Movie for £28,000. Presented by me, disguised as a homeless person who’s just been dragged through a hedge backwards, it’s a completely frank and open breakdown of Soul Searcher’s budget: where the money came from, how it was spent and how much the film made. It’s an invaluable tool for anyone considering making a feature, and since it also looks at the details of the distribution deals I was offered and why I picked the one I did, if you’ve just completed a feature and you’re wondering what you can expect when you sell it then this is definitely something you need to watch too.
And here are the first few minutes of How to Make a Fantasy Action Movie for £28,000….
To see the full programme all you have to do is sponsor Stop/Eject £10 or more before January 18th. There are other great rewards for sponsoring as well, but you’ll get access to this programme straight away, regardless of whether we make our target or not. http://tinyurl.com/stopeject
Here’s the first in what I hope will be a series of podcasts covering the making of my new short film Stop/Eject. This one features producer Tom Wadlow discussing how the project originated, and provides a glimpse of the first pre-production meeting.
These video blogs include discussions about the development of The Dark Side of the Earth with producer Carl Schoenfeld and script editor Quay Chu, plus an interview with some other filmmakers attending the festival.