Final Pre-Production Processes
The day of the shoot seemed to take forever to arrive, but when it did, I was quick to ensure that all final preparations had been made. By now, I had successfully recruited two actors through face-to-face auditions – one named Will, who supplied his own ‘costume’ of a grey hooded top to show his character’s bland persona; and Catherine, whose fully-adjustable costume I had purchased from Camden Town markets several weeks before for just over £100.
The script had been finalised and checked over by various professionals, lecturers and students, and feedback had been overwhelmingly positive. All locations were open-access with the exception of the forest Wainbody Wood, which was now officially approved for use by the local council. All equipment was booked out over a month in advance. Everything was in check – I now just needed a crew.
When I booked the equipment, I’d also hired my crew – it initially started out that one of my student friends would be on camera, and my DoP would be on the other camera. This left my 1st AD to keep check on everything I couldn’t, and two other student pals to be on audio capture. I was simply left scouting for a photographer. Leave it to university students to all suddenly back out a week before the shoot!
My 1st AD and my DoP remained consistent throughout, though the latter had a problem arising in the form of storyboards – namely, my storyboard artist had still not delivered them to me, and it was a week before the shoot. Without these sheets, my DoP’s job was going to be a lot more difficult (and in turn, so was mine). I was left scrambling for two audio operators and a new cameraman. I luckily managed to secure a crew out of a class of seventy, and even managed to get a photographer on board as well (to help with marketing, behind-the-scenes shots and so on).
I was aware also, however, that the shoot was going to take all day, and we were in the middle of nowhere. The day before the shoot, I batch-purchase thirty baguettes from a local store (at just £1 each). Added to this were several cases of Capri-Sun drinks and McCain crisps, all from the local Pound Shop. I got all the food ready, but was aware I couldn’t do anything about toilet utilities. Guys would be alright – girls were a little worse off!
The Baguettes – My housemate had quite a surprise the following morning!
As a final note, I double-checked parking locations around Wainbody Wood a few days before – a memory had me spooked, and the memory was correct – there was no place to park for a mile in every direction of the wood due to single yellow lines everywhere! This meant the initial plan of getting actors and crew members to drive us to the location was out – I was now funding two return taxis now at my own expense. Luckily I had spare money saved up for such issues!
The Shoot Begins
The storyboards came through roughly six hours before the shoot. This was of great annoyance to me – the artist had been given plenty of forewarning to get them to me, and now they had been delivered, it turned out (lo and behold) half of them were wrong anyway. This was one of a succession of let-downs that had come from the Graphic Design area of the university during my second term of this final year (maybe I just don’t ‘gel’ with them or something?). Either way, I would now have my work cut out relaying the exact shots to the DoP throughout the day.
Welcome To Wainbody Wood – You’ll never leave!
I had scripts printed out for everyone anyway, and also shot lists and a running order. The opening chase sequence was to be filmed by midday, and all the ‘log shots’ were to be finished roughly three or four hours later. We had the whole day to get through fourteen pages of script – to me, this was achievable. The weather forecast changed by the hour (literally), and this just gave me the incentive to run out into the wilderness and get this FMP over with. I never knew how unpredictable and unreliable weather forecasts could actually be – they didn’t even accurately predict weather three hours in the future!
I printed the storyboards I had out as well – what little there was, as I’d only asked for a few scenes to be story-boarded anyway. Then, on the morning of the shoot, I got up early and grabbed a shower and a hefty breakfast before the first of the actors arrived. Catherine slipped into her costume, and the adjustable workings allowed her to make it comfortable to just the right fit. The freshly-painted black angel wings went on next, and I was really happy with how she looked. I originally had a costume designer for this area, but later opted for Catherine to do her own make-up herself. This saved a student having to get up in the morning and do make-up, only be left at the door when we headed off for the shoot (or indeed, saved me the additional hassle of a crew member I didn’t need… but read on.)
The manic atmosphere kicked off from the word go – all actors and crew members turned up, but the taxi number I’d taken from the internet didn’t work. They’d changed their number – luckily, the 1st AD knew their new number, and sent some taxis our way. They turned up within minutes – actually earlier than planned. The DoP was one of the last members to turn up at quarter past nine, and we all bundled into the cabs.
Practice Dialogue – Will and Catherine rehearsing the script one last time before the shoots began for real.
I don’t normally name people out individually on these blogs, so I just have to apologize again whole-heartedly to my poor old photographer. She was a student friend of mine (again, recruited during the week leading up the shoot), but even though several of the crew knew of her attendance, we all realised after departure that we’d set off without her! Luckily I had the money to pay for a separate cab for her (thus no additional expenses for anyone other than me), but needless to say this put my ‘photography and marketing’ crew member in a bad mood before the shoot had even begun!
We finally all congregated outside the woods at roughly half past nine. I decided to ‘capture’ the log area, and stake the location as our own before heading off for an hour or two with some of the crew to film the opening chase sequence. We had two and a half hours to get it done. We left a camera operator and a sound engineer to look over the kit (along with the food) and headed off in earnest to get the shots we needed.
Without any accurate storyboards to go by, this is when the shot lists came into play (sort of a ‘text version’ of a storyboard). However it became apparent rather soon on that going through the lists shot by shot was taking an exceptional amount of time. Due to set-up, pack-down and secure shooting, the opening shot with the jib took around twenty minutes alone (yes, that was for just one shot of the film!) It was one I wanted to get right, so I took care in this opening scene. After we hid the partially-completed jib in some nearby undergrowth, we filmed Will walking along. We were capturing audio separately, so we needed walking, running, and ‘mud-splat’ sounds to be captured. The sound engineer with us excelled during this initial shoot.
The Jib Crane – Me and my 1st AD building the crane (top), and the crane in action (bottom)
However, as (due to our location) we advanced through the wood gradually towards our friends at the log area, it became increasingly more apparent that:
- Time was running out a lot quicker than I’d anticipated
- Half the crew were waiting in the log area – and had now been there almost two hours
- My photographer was not in a forgiving mood
The Shoot Continues
I called a break at midday, as scheduled, but this was one of the first real signs that the shoot of Saturday 17th March was going awry. We had filmed only half of the opening chase sequence (this sequence being half of the first page of the script!) Although everything we had shot so far had looked (and sounded) great, it was becoming more and more obvious that the shoot was not going to get done in one day. My DoP suggested getting the main bulk of the film out the way, so I had the majority of the film. I agreed this was the best plan of action.
If You Go Down In The Woods Today… – What the area behind the cameras actually looked like!
Finally, all crew members got together, but not long into the afternoon shoot, the photographer claimed she wasn’t feeling well and headed off home. I may have encouraged her to stay a little more, if my head were not completely boggled at this point with the epic challenge I now had in front of me. I played the most cliched card I could – “do not panic, carry on as planned, and start to consider a second day of shooting”.
Two hours later, we had more problems. As the locations were not changing any more, this gave little for the 1st AD to do, and the he was entertaining an increasingly restless crew. At this point, I realised something that I still to this day think is quite mind-blowing:
1 1st AD
1 Camera Operator
2 Sound Engineers
= 9 people.
Less the actors, this meant seven crew members. Somehow, in some way, this was five too many (see ‘The Second Day Of The Shoot’). My DoP had advised me to keep numbers down for low-budget media enterprise, but as far as I was aware, I had!
The Director And The Director Of Photography – One camera, two visionaries.
When three o clock arrived and we’d only made page eight of the script, I called upon a second day of shooting (thankfully the very next day, Sunday.) During the pre-production process, I had put in place several fail-safe protocols in case something disastrous like this actually happened. I had first told the actors to keep the dates around March 17th free (due to bad weather canceling this initial date). Thus, both actors were available on the Sunday with no great effect to their timetable. I’d also made allowances to me own timetable, and reserved an additional £100 to pay the extras for an extra day. The crew however were not so available (though given the circumstances at this point, their ‘availability’ is something I could consider ‘understandable’). The 1st AD was the only one free on Sunday, but this was wonderful news. After confirming this, it took a little pressure off (and put it onto tomorrow).
The Shoot Concludes
We shot half of the opening chase sequence, and then started filming the scenes on the log. By day’s end, we’d made it as far as the scene where Amy had snapped at Peter for trying to confess an attraction to her. In English, that was seven pages of the fourteen page script. I could not believe the situation. We had used my DoP’s Canon 5D camera as the primary camera (which had taken me up until a week before the shoot to secure), but as she was in London on the Sunday, we’d now lost her camera and were down to just one. I uploaded the footage from her camera and bid her farewell, before thanking and relieving the crew of a rather long and stressful day of filming.
Cameras – With this much stress, it really separates the men from the boys. If your heart isn’t fully into movie making, you’re in a world of hurt at this stage!
It was sad that my DoP was unavailable for the second day shoot, but at this point I got the feeling life was maybe trying to tell me something. Myself and my DoP had experienced (and for me this was a first) several ‘artistic clashes’ during the day’s shoot. It was nothing serious, but all of a sudden I began to understand why directors and musicians always fell out big time. As the DoP, she was also in charge of directing the visual style of the film. However, this was in part something I considered my own job. This was – truth be told – my first time using anybody as a DoP. Thus, I hadn’t really grasped what the role of a DoP was – in retrospect, probably someone used when a director wants to have visual flare, but doesn’t, and so needs guidance in this area.
…but that’s so not the case with me!!
When I say ‘life was trying to tell me something’… well, I was now down to one camera, two actors, and one 1st AD, who all knew what was now at stake for me, and indeed my final degree. Although the actors were free Sunday, I knew I would not be able to cover their wages into Monday. The second half of the script needed to be done by the end of the next day ‘hook, line and sinker’ – thankfully the weather was (possibly) going to bare with us… and honestly, this FMP would likely have not been completed had the rain not held off on Sunday (a sobering thought indeed).
I went to bed that night feeling – as I remember saying – ‘deflated’. Everything was riding on Sunday now. But there were a few saving graces:
- My crew had been far too big. As far as I was aware, my crew was now far too little. We were now jumping from one extreme to the other, which may nor may not have been beneficial.
- I had been actively training as a camera operator for the last two and a half years. Both camera operators were down, which meant I was now behind the camera. This meant that the storyboard problem was fixed, as were the creative differences with the DoP. This meant the shoot could perhaps go faster, at the expense of no longer having two cameras, which could take the short/reverse shot scenes longer to film.
- After Sunday, that was it for the actors. And that was it.
Too Many Cooks – This is by far my favourite photo of the day. It captures the mood, the production process, and indeed the emotion, all in a single frame. Look closely – some are bored, some are lost, some are stressed. You’ve got the ones up to their eyes in work, you’ve got those with not enough to do… and no clear way to diversify the work load as I had originally intended to do. I think my belief was that a bigger crew equalled a faster shoot. You can see the logic in the statement, but the old adage ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ must be realised here. Smaller crew = faster shoot (dependent on what you’re actually shooting of course)