The Night Edit
The night previously had been spent accumulating and sifting through the footage – there were over one hundred audio files to get through from one of the engineer’s audio recordings. I wiped the cards clean of everything, and fully charged all batteries ready for the Sunday shoot. The reason for going through the footage was simple – to find out if anything needed re-shooting.
The Sunday shoot was (in want of a better phrase) a pain in the ass, but it was also an opportunity to re-shoot anything we hadn’t got in the first day. To my HORROR, in the editing suite it transpired that one of the Canon 5D cameras (not mentioning any names here) had not recorded any audio, and had subsequently had the audio-record function disengaged. We were recording audio separately, so you may think this was not a big issue. It was a monumental (almost ‘biblical’) issue. When sound is captured separately, you synchronize the sound using a ‘synchronicity event’ in the timeline (a clap usually – you find the ‘clap’ on the video audio, and the same ‘clap’ on the professional audio, then delete the video audio after lining the two up.) As the video was filmed silently, that no longer made this approach an option.
But I did not even humour the idea of re-shooting all the log sequence again from the first scene – we had all on getting the seven pages left done. Thus, I’d got the audio and visual elements, but just no way of setting them up in the editing suites… well, I’d landed the job as the editor now for better or for worse, and I knew that I would synchronize the audio to the visuals one way or another (I’ve done so before without ‘claps’ – it’s almost impossible to do, and not for the impatient… but semantics. ‘Almost impossible’.)
This night edit was a really good idea – the point of view shot of Amy walking like a shadow was done through some trees, but was too static to be a P.O.V as it was on a tripod. Equals = Reshoot. Peter walks off the camera frame quickly, but then we quickly cut to him sneaking through the woods slowly. His speed didn’t match up in continuity. Equals = Reshoot. The quality of the finished product was enhanced quite a bit by just looking over the footage and making the best of the bad situation.
The Shoot Begins… Again
I woke up bright and early having done my utmost to get plenty of sleep. And I have to say, even by my own admission, I was ready to kick ass on this morning. I knew full well my degree depended on the shoot today, and the weather forecast had also cut one hour off by predicting a huge rain cloud over Coventry by 3:00pm (I know I’ve been critical of these forecasts, but you know when there’s a rain cloud so big that even the weather forecast could not possibly get it wrong to that degree… yeah, it was one of those!)
My 1st AD gave me a miniature heart attack by being five minutes late, but ultimately everyone turned up on time again. We got in a taxi again, and hit the wood… again. This time though, there was a definite change in the air – and it certainly wasn’t one of worry. For me, the saving grace was actually having a camera in my hands… it felt like I had a purpose other than to just boss people about now. I’d also ditched the clapper board I’d used in the first day of the shoot (the thing was half broken anyway!). To synchronize the sound this time around, I got the actors to simply clap in front of their faces once before the shooting began. Arguably less professional, but infinitely more practical!
I got the few re-shoots I wanted from the edit done in about five minutes, and then went straight into it. The shoot started at half past nine – by midday, the chase sequence had to be done – end of story.
The Director’s Hat – When it goes on, films go down!
Now, I’ve always argued throughout my four years in Media Studies that storyboards are a none-entity anyway. This FMP has finally started to provoke a challenge to my theorem – storyboards are essential… but only if the DoP is different from the person who imagined the film in the first place. I have never needed storyboards, but this is mainly because my work has always been my own. I knew the script inside and out, and I knew every shot in sequence. Providing we shot in sequence, storyboards were superfluous to demand. In this instance, the shot list kept things chronological, and the storyboards were in my head. At least now I understood the purpose of storyboards in action – they could have made things simpler. However, I have found in my experience that the majority of the time (this project and my previous film being no exception) that storyboards are very rarely completed any to any great beneficial degree. Thus, I am used to operating without storyboards – though if I was filming someone else’s movie, I now understand why they’d be essential.
However, this was my film, so this was just another day at the office for me as far as storyboards were concerned.
I placed the 1st AD on audio – my FMP had almost made today’s shoot personal. I was taking the video aspects ‘out’ myself – no communicating with anybody this time. Just a point-and-shoot strategy. We picked up where we’d left off the day before, and continued to get Will running around the woods, before eventually collapsing in front of Amy’s towering gothic shadow. At this point, ‘Sunday League’ erupted from a nearby field, meaning we had to change the location of this scene not once, or twice, but three times. However, the use of shot / reverse shot was going better than expected despite only using one camera. I was told during second year that professionals in the industry only used one camera to film such conversation scenes usually (something to for me to research, yes?). Actually, with one camera and one audio, only capturing one person’s voice, it was actually easier focusing on one thing at a time, than focusing on two things simultaneously. I don’t mean to state the obvious, it’s just I figured that two cameras on two people having a conversation sped things up… apparently not (it’s that notion of ‘less is more’ – more on that in the conclusion).
After successfully surviving two Sunday League matches, an army of loud tweeting birds and several laden cargo trains passing nearby, the audio finally got captured and we quickly converged on the log. I was tempted to film the final sequence, but I chose not to in favour of chronology. We’d caught up with the start of the log shots, but I was not going to re-shoot the whole sequence (even though the audio had not been captured from half of yesterday’s shoot). We went straight to the aftermath of Amy and Peter’s romantic entanglement argument, and just got filming. As aforementioned, the shot / reverse shot with one camera went smoother (and faster) than I’d anticipated. We managed to get the entire log shoot done within two hours – actively shorter than it took to film the first half of the opening sequence the day before!
At this point though, we ran into an unforeseen (but accounted for) problem. The DoP had used a 32GB memory card in her camera – the one we had today was only 16GB. As we had used only the one Canon 5D today, and it had filled up twice as fast, meaning we now needed to export the footage. I luckily had a spare battery as well, so I swapped them over for the final push. I was aware the rain cloud was looming somewhere nearby, and needed the last few shots to effectively tie the ending up. The upload time started at forty minutes to upload the whole card – fifteen minutes later, it had fully uploaded everything successfully. (?)
Umbrellas – I told everyone to bring one, in case of rain, and also to help protect the kit from the sun / wind. This one kept the old Mac dry during the upload!
This gave us the go-ahead for the final push – the ‘white feather’ sequence at the log, and then the repeat-jib shot to mimic the opening shot we filmed yesterday morning (which now seemed like a very long time ago). A light ‘drizzle’ broke out just after the final shot was complete, and ‘IT’S A WRAP’ echoed out across the forest… but not before I ventured back to the log for a sneaky extra shot of a few of Amy’s monologues, and an additional shot of her looking off towards the log.
The heavens opened as we returned to the street for our pick-up by taxi. For me, the film was not over. Uploading successfully was crucial (not to mention the epic amount of kit I’d be returning to the university single-handedly the following morning). I am pleased to say everything was captured – and uploaded – successfully. The actors were paid (complete with receipts), and all my forms were signed. The main shoot was now over – I shook hands with all concerned with the Sunday shoot and bid them farewell – that was it, from now on, it was a post-production project, where I would mostly have to make do with what I’d got.
Reflections And Conclusions Of The Main Shoot
I was kicking myself when I got back home – the shoot was done, but alas since my photographer had not been around at the closure, marketing had gone completely amiss. Luckily, the 1st AD had also done the photography role on the second day as well, meaning I had some photographs to (thankfully) work with. Considering such, I think most of my imagery will be screen-pulls from the actual film itself. I don’t usually use screen-pulled photos – this will be a first!
And speaking of ‘firsts’… I mean, wow. What a project. The Final Major Project of university (nay, my academic career) did not disappoint! I have rarely been under this much stress in my entire life, and yet in the heat of it all, it seemed like nothing more than an all-or-nothing game of will power.
The was the first time I’d ever had a DoP. I was thankful for the experience, but is unlikely I will use one for my own productions again. I have been told by industry professionals that I have the creative eye and a talent for the visual medium – why then did I get a crew member (talented though she was) to film my own film for me? What the heck was that all about?
Answer: I thought that as a director, I would be too busy worrying about the actors, the location, and the overall area in front of the camera regarding framing to have a go at filming myself. This may have been true if this project was an infinitely more complex exercise, but maybe I overestimated how simple I’d actually made my own film. I could have shot this film myself without storyboards (as proven), and thus cut out two crew members straight away. This would have probably made the Saturday shoot a lot simpler and quicker.
And on a similar note, why did I choose the DoP I chose? Well, I chose her because I’d seen her work at festivals and I knew she could operate a camera well. I considered her a professional. Heck, she is a professional. She told me to keep the crew small for this project – not even I know why I didn’t heed the advice to a greater degree than I did!
However, there is also a flip-side to the coin here – going a little deeper into that term ‘creative differences’ basically meant the style of shooting. Looking back on some shots, I utilize a variety of pull-focus and steady-zoom shots that my DoP argued could not be done on a Canon 5D camera. Again, I was inclined to a agree – I consider her more experienced with Canon 5Ds than myself. However, come the second day shoot I found that I achieved several similar shots with little fuss – changing the focus on a Canon 5D whilst moving the camera was not any great issue for me. I had in all honesty just come back from a field trip to Iceland, where I’d taken such shots for an experimental narrative film repeatedly. I guess this is a confidence boost for me – apparently all those years of gently touching the zoom ring whilst firmly turning the tripod as a camera operator have paid off. I have developed skills I do not even know I have!
This was the first time I’d ever made a film longer than three minutes – I actively went five times further in a single step. I wanted to make a fifteen minute film, and moreover, I wanted to make Peter Has An Angel. I wanted to turn one of my short stories of 2006 into a film, and here the dream is realised. To see my own work take a viewable, tangible form (and for the script to receive such lovely feedback – even from Coventry City Council!) is heartwarming indeed. This is the first of my short stories to be turned into a film – it shall not be the last.
This was also the first script I’d done that was longer than three pages. As aforementioned, a big step career-wise. One fundamental flaw – I thought I could do it in one day. Two people on a log. A crew of seven. How hard could that be? Well, actually a lot more difficult than a crew of two, but that’s beside the point. Statistically, the first half of the first page of the script took four and a half hours in total to film. I feel like saying something blasphemous. One cannot predict things like that – however, some research into ‘script-page to film-days’ may have been beneficial here (no, would definitely have been beneficial here!). It will be something I will check out during my post-production process, just to see how far beyond the margin I have gone in filming seven pages of script each over the course of two days – how mammoth of a task is that considered in the industry?
This was the first time I’ve ever actually forgotten anybody at the door – I do acknowledge this as a major error on my own part. But apologies aside, karma more than made up for it by adding another layer of stress onto me throughout the day, by making me think what else I may possibly have forgotten at the house (yikes, did we bring the cameras??) However, one thing I will say is that such things have happened to me during my time as a camera operator. It’s no small stretch to say any director or producer is under a lot of stress at any given time during a shoot – here I was under stress from four different vantage points – writer, producer, director and editor. All four were in play in varying degrees on the day of the shoot – re-writes and ad-libs, organization, creative direction and re-shooting schedules for post-production. A while back, I was filming for Coventry Blaze Ice Hockey, and (again, no names here) I set my tripod up with my Z camera atop a podium next to the director. After I’d set up, white balanced, checked audio, and leveled the shot, the director then told me I was filming down next to the arena, meaning I had to pack all the equipment away and do it all over again downstairs. I wouldn’t have been so annoyed if he hadn’t been standing right next to me for the last five minutes watching me set the darn thing up! But the point is – don’t get mad. It’s not worth it. Just enjoy the experience for what it is, and take what you can out of it. So maybe my photographer was having a bad day or something, I do not know. I refer mostly to sharp quips in front of the actors – it added stress to an already stressful situation, and also made the hap-hazard scene look more chaotic than (believe it or not) it actually was. Again, I cannot apologize enough to her, but things like this will happen from time to time – as long as it’s genuinely accidental (and there’s no financial or professional expense), there’s no real harm done. Things could have been a lot worse – I could have chosen not to bring any food, or it could have started raining heavily ten minutes into the shoot!
This was the first major project I’d undertaken outdoors – darn the weather! Well – I say ‘darn’, but actually, I think I got pretty darn lucky. The timing of the weather was actually immaculate – if it had rained any earlier, it would have derailed this project quite drastically. Aside from stop-motioning the sunrise atop Teide in Tenerife, and photographing the Northern Lights in Iceland, this was another project wholly dependent on the weather. It’s a game of chance – place your bet and just go for it. If it’s any consolation, it was sunny weather for the next two weeks straight, after the shoot.
This was the first time I’d managed a crew bigger than five people – I use the term ‘managed’ very loosely here. Three and a half years learning and engaging in the industry, and the fact that two people and two actors can execute the vast majority of a fourteen-page script just absolutely blows my mind (seriously, you have no idea). Okay, so the DoP warned me, but best knowledge is acquired through own experience every time (Good judgement comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgement… I’ve got loads of these sayings, just ask!). I still have difficulty getting my head around it to this day – if two people are talking, it’s actually better to use one camera and repeat the scene over and over again – less mishaps, and somehow a definitively quicker shooting time. Simpler communication, better organization. More intimate shooting set – less of an audience for the cast to act towards. Less distractions. I felt absolutely terrible knowing that people were waiting for me for an excess of two hours on Saturday – that was just ridiculous.
What goes against the above point is that the first film I made (yes, this is actually only my second / ‘third-ish’ serious feature) was actually two people sat over an office desk talking. It took a crew of five, and everybody had a job to do. I directed that film, and I didn’t touch a single camera once (actually I lie – I took some photos at the end for promotional material). But you get the drift – arguably an easier shoot took more people to film than one in a forest using a jib crane. The latter could be done with two people. Maybe we just… got better at media production over the last year? I say it in humour, but there’s a serious point there – so I’ve done the role of the director, the DoP and the camera operator at the same time. My 1st AD did the audio, the 1st AD and the photography roles at the same time. Wow, we’re like multi-media producers. We can do the work of five people each (though whether we can do them well is yet to be attained!)
Happy Faces – There was a lot less crew on the second day (Note Peter’s hooded top is a different colour. This was during the filming of the final shoot – the closing scene. Fourteen hours of straight filming concluded. No wonder they look happy!)
This is also the first serious feature I’ve made where the audio has been captured separately – a sign of the times, and my adaptation to the media industry as it consistently evolves around me. As the industry changes, I will keep learning. At this point, I consider myself a professional student film maker. But I am in no way an industry-level professional (and I think anybody leaving university thinking they are will get laughed at!). I am still learning, but I like to think that I have, during this FMP, shown degrees of organization, communication, patience, ability to work under stress, lead a team, and react quickly to external influences. The last part of that was mostly due to organization beforehand – always have a back up plan.
But then, I must also try to realise just what an undertaking I have achieved. I have written the book, then adapted the book and written (several times over) a script for a film. I found the locations, and I auditioned the actors. I secured the funds and the paperwork to make sure both the actors and the locations were accounted for. I got a team together, I funded a day to the wood for them, and we made my film. I directed the shots, and I’m now putting those shots together in the editing suites. I’m not one to brag to any degree usually, but even I have to admit I’ve done a lot of work this time around. It was my film, and it was up to me to make it a reality. Some say that one man alone cannot make a film, and I seem to have gone a long way towards proving them otherwise.
It’s not about all this ‘stuff’ too much – it is about the end result now. Rough cuts, feedback sessions and sound tracks are all in the works. The production processes are still educational (and will continue to be for the next several feature projects, I’m sure). But the only thing that really matters is the final version of the product – ‘has it been done well’? Time will tell, but I am quite hopeful!
Kubrick – Ah… that’s why he insisted on taking his own shots…