Portfolio Panic!

So just recently I learned that the hand in for my FMP is to be done using a portfolio of paperwork. I knew the hand-in was physical, but I had no idea that I was being graded on how ‘official’ the shoot had been. Having been working with lecturers and industry professionals throughout the course of the last year, I know that in practice they are just a formality that are often buried at the bottom of the ‘important stuff’ and not really used.

However, if my grade is going to suffer through having not done paperwork, this puts me at a disadvantage. To clarify:

  1. This was a two-actor film, predominantly focused on two main characters. The three recruited for the flashbacks were paid £10 each, and the two main actors were paid according to hours spent and makeup used. To ensure they could not accuse me of not paying them, I had all actors sign a release form, allowing me to use a film that had them acting in, and confirming they had received payment.
  2. All locations were public-access areas. There were only three locations in the film – Wainbody Wood, Priory Place, and my house at Starley Road. My house is what I am living in for this academic year, I therefore have the right to film on my own property. Wainbody Wood was owned by the council, and therefore I asked for permission from the council to film there (which I got upon producing Public Liability Insurance from the university and my risk assessment). Priory Place is located in Coventry city centre, and is open to the public. I did not include anyone other than my actress in the shot framing, and therefore as far as I’m aware no paperwork regarding this location was needed.
  3. Public Liability Insurance was needed to confirm the legality of shooting in Wainbody Wood. I am covered by university insurance, as I am a ‘media producer in training’. I have this documentation and will hand it in as part of the portfolio.
  4. The flashback sequences required little in the way of crew or gear, and were much more informal than the main shoots in Wainbody Wood. A risk assessment was carried out in the wood as this was the most dangerous location of the three, featuring the most crew, the most equipment, and the longest working hours. The two flashback sequences did not have risk assessments, as they were shot within thirty minutes each time. Both the bench in front of the waterfall and my own living room were deemed safe areas where no additional crew other than myself and my camera were needed to finish the shoot successfully.
  5. A call sheet ‘thing’ was made and handed to the crew via Facebook. This was not printed out on the day, as I wanted to remain largely flexible regarding how the script progressed (and a good job I did too!). This call sheet was rendered useless in the final production – it was based upon a principal of shooting fourteen pages of script in a day, which I have since realised was quite a tall order!
  6. No log sheet was used during the filming. This made my job more difficult in the editing suite, and having been on projects since my shoot that have used them, I can understand their importance and will use them in future. However, critically, the lack of a log sheet has not affected the final cut of my film in any way.
  7. Storyboards were completed by the storyboard artist and handed to me mere hours before the shoot. They were largely incorrect (but we had no time to change them), and as a result we could not use them on the day. Again, I will include these storyboards in the portfolio, and again, the lack of storyboards did not affect the quality of the final piece.

Out of all the things missing, I think the log sheet and the call sheet are perhaps what need to be acknowledged. What I am wondering about is whether to make this ‘post-dated’ paperwork as I would have originally done them (i.e. based on one day), or how I would do them now (i.e. probably based over three days). I may do both, if only purely to demonstrate what I have learned from this project.

Call The Shots – Where Have All The B’zzs Gone?

Since joining Call The Shots back in February, I have been extensively networking and getting to know all the various film makers in the group (as I’m sure such knowledge will come in handy post-graduation!). It was only a matter of time before I was able to get on board with one of the many projects that the independent film group were developing, and I got my chance in April over the Easter break.

‘Where Have All The B’zzs Gone?’ (that’s pronounced ‘bees’) is a quaint little tale about a woman reflecting on her past youth. Whether these memories were the real memories of director Rita was something we never really worked out – it added to the mystery! The relatively simple construction on the screenplay involved a woman walking around various locales in Coventry and Kenilworth, talking to herself as she remarked upon her past experiences at different places. The script was rather cryptic however, sometimes referring to romance, whilst at other times referring to satellite emissions and light beams (Twin Peaks, anyone?) The shoot took place over one weekend, with only two and a half pages being shot on day one, and the other four and a half pages on day two.

Day Two – I took photos on the first day, so typically I wasn’t in any of them! On day two I was the sound engineer, and here I am (far right) with the DoP and the actress (middle) and director Rita (far left)

The first day of filming had several problems arising early on. Rita had mentioned when pitching the idea that she had wanted to film the audio on set, meaning despite the film’s narrative premise, she wanted the audio captured on the day of the shoot with a rifle mic, and not captured separately in post-production (which would make this film styled with a voice-over narration). This was my initial idea upon reading the script, as I know from experience that voice-overs can work well, and often the sound is better. However, I also know the importance of ambience, and considering the cryptic script, I didn’t want to challenge a style I didn’t fully understand.

However, when the 1st AD turned up, he said exactly the same thing, and regardless of capturing the voice on set or not, audio capture on Kenilworth Road (one of the main roads into Coventry, and a pivotal part of the screenplay) was going to be a disaster. I was actually in the area of where I’d filmed my own FMP – I had ventured deep into one of the nearby woods specifically to avoid the noise of the freeway. The road is one of the busiest links to Coventry’s ring road – as Rita had lived in the area a long time, she must have known this.

We cancelled the Kenilworth Road shoot, and moved at nearby lane called ‘The Spinney’, where most of the day’s shoot took place. We got shots of Kenilworth Road, and captured the audio separately further down the lane, away from the traffic. We did some shots in my own FMP location Wainbody Wood, and also did a scene with a local person who was just walking her dog (we got her to sign a release form as well).

Rita and her 1st AD were suffering from creative differences throughout however, and this became more apparent as the day went on. I was brought in as a focus-puller, but the DoP was too professional to need one (if there is such a thing as that!) Much like him, I figure it best to focus your own camera on shoots – after all, ‘if you want a job doing right’

However, this left me on photography duty, and since the location of ‘The Spinney’ didn’t change, my work was done in roughly one hour. Food and drink were in the backs of the cars, so catering was handled well (there was another team member driving supplies back and forth from the set). But at one point in the day I found myself just eating Dairylea Dunkers and sitting in the car whilst the rest got on with the film making. I know that it wasn’t any good standing around on set – I’d just be in the way and distracting people. I guess the few people who had had to stand around for ages on my own film production can consider that karma repaid the debt in full!

I did get the job of ‘lighting engineer’ a few times, using a reflector to illuminate the face of the actress. Lighting has never been my forte, but I think I did okay under the circumstances. We ended the shoot at five o clock, and finalised meeting arrangements for the next day. I was originally going to be a camera operator for this film, but was not able to do the role as I had no camera (the university is pretty much fully-booked until hand-in dates at this point). The lesson was that if I want to be a camera operator after graduation, I am going to need a camera, and a good one at that. It is now time to start thinking of investments!

Another Rainy Wood – Rita was not as lucky with the weather as I had been. Still, it was nothing that an umbrella couldn’t solve!

The second day of the shoot was a lot more productive. I switched roles with a crew member who couldn’t make it and got the role of sound engineer. This was the first project I’d used an ‘Ediroll’ on before, and I could understand how they were loads better than the Marantz 660 model which I usually used. I set the kit up and recorded the sound to the best of my ability, which shouldn’t have turned out too bad as I’ve often been complemented on my hearing as well as my sharp eye.

The shoot mostly took place in Crackley Wood, although we barely went into the area and shot most of the footage in and around the entrance. The shoot lasted several hours, with constant interference from cars, the nearby road, and people walking around (this wood was more popular than Wainbody). I did wonder why the location of Crackley Wood had been chosen instead of Wainbody Wood – I think it was to do with meadows of bluebells that should have been in bloom. On a return trip to Wainbody the very next day for my FMP ambience, I actually found lots of bluebells in Wainbody as well – unfortunate!

The weather also came into play half way through the second day – namely, it threw it down, and we only just managed to get out the woods before the storm fell on us. Rita altered the script in parts to adapt to the conditions, but luckily the sun came out not long after the rain to dry everything up (at least giving the illusion of a dry day!) Breaks were more scarce on the second day, but it was no big issue – we soldiered through, eventually grabbing the four pages of script that we needed to get done. The shoot ended at Rita’s own house in her backyard, and we finished just in time for the actress to get back home. I was given a pack of Dairylea Dunkers in the wrap party, apparently due to my large appetite!

Backyard Shoot – With less than an hour to go, and a whole page to shoot, the final shoot in Rita’s back yard had to go right first time with minor, if any, hiccups. It did.

Overall, the shoot went well. Everything got filmed, everything was done to a high degree, and a high level of professionalism was maintained throughout. I think there was a certain level of personal self-expression in the script belonging to the director, which meant the meaning of the script was lost on some of us. Better explanations and summaries of the scenes could have simplified shooting some scenes, as well as guided the actress better in her role.

Despite some tense moments on the first day, there was no major quarreling or awkward moments, meaning this was also a project that was executed smoothly. It may be ironic that the director tried to capture dialogue audio on a busy road, or that we filmed in a wood on a day littered with rain on the weather forecast (though they’re unreliable anyway), but every problem that arose was met and overcome, even at times when I was sure the shoot was going to be postponed!

I am curious to see how the finished piece turns out – it should clock in at around five minutes, and will feature our actress walking, talking, and interacting with a few things in the environment. My only worry is the script, as in a film like this it needs to be good. Any self-indulgence could be problematic – if the crew had difficulty understanding some scenes, then an audience definitely will (and I am aware that this, although unlikely, could also be a problem in my own FMP). Much like the film I made in Iceland, this film could sit better in the more ‘avant-garde’ circles of the media showcasing industry! It is, however, another key moment in my overall professional experience gained at university – the first film I’ve assisted in being a part of with an independent film group!

Neck It – Once the wrap had been called, we hit the champers. I drank a little bit more, as unbeknown to most, it was actually my 22nd birthday on this day!

Another FMP – ‘Grandoise’

There has been a strange atmosphere coming over the course as the weeks head ever-onward towards the date of the final hand-in. I made all my plans back at Christmas and placed it all in a timeline, and that was the timeline that I stuck to. It was important to do this, what with trips to Iceland and the like, and this was the reasoning behind not doing a second day of auditions (the first was hampered by snowy weather), doing the shoot over one weekend, and keeping the idea simple from the start. All paperwork was done weeks before the shoot, and this allowed things to run smoother. However, not everyone is in the same situation as me.

Asking around, it appears that actually most students have finished their projects in recent weeks, or are just about to finish filming and are moving on into editing. My own film is lacking in sound design, now with only a little extra editing and a few music tracks to be added. I was sympathetic to others who were still trying to get their projects filmed, and with my camera operating (and newfound DoP) knowledge, I decided to help out as many as I could.

Most of my hands into these projects dwindled due to my own commitments – meetings were missed. However, some suffered from lack of communication – some projects never happened, and I have no idea what took place in their stead. But one project that seemed to need help was that of my previous camera operator’s film about the music industry. He was originally lined up to help me out with mine, but was one of the crew that pulled out before the shoot to film his own. Four weeks later, he was still filming it, so since I had a few days spare I figured I’d lend a hand.

Myself (right) and the director (left) on the set of ‘Grandoise’ (working title). Note the snacks he bought for us on the table – hospitality of cast and crew is always essential.

I had no idea what the film was about, other than it was based around music. I had no idea of the script, the locations, or the actors involved. It turned out it was a story about a man, who’s relationship struggles because of his ambition to become a rock star (at least, that’s what I deduced). The shoot for the day was to take place in a house belonging to a student friend of ours. We did the majority of the shoot in the kitchen.

It was a two-actor production for the day, and the filming set-up generally mirrored my own – one main camera, and one main audio operator. What I was interested to see was the log sheet – I didn’t use one in my own FMP. It recorded the ‘file number’ of every video taken, and what it was of, and then did the same with the audio (this sheet would have saved me a lot of time in my own editing suite). The log sheet did, however, add more time to the filming schedule.

I also noted the storyboards had been done by the director, not to any great artistic degree. Only he would be able to testify as whether they were any use or not – in my own productions, I know I wouldn’t have even given them a second glance! Communication with actors was good, and breaks were scheduled complete with food and drink ‘on the house’.

If anything, this project suffered exactly the same way my own did – I think there were too many people. The two cameras were actually both used more frequently this time around, but again it was probably best for the director himself to be behind one of the cameras, as he knew his own visual style the best, and he didn’t have much else to do other than make some decisions on the script and shout ‘action’ every so often (and to his credit, he didn’t use the broken clapper board!) Although I was pretty busy throughout the day, towards the end I handed my camera over to the other camera operator, as we’d switched to one of his own personal lenses, and I felt I should diversify the workload more. In the end, everyone had chipped in equally, meaning nobody felt at a loose end (like I’m sure some people did at some points on mine!) Interestingly though, we spent the whole day venturing through only two or three pages of script. In comparison, I had done seven pages each on my own day shoots (even the 1st AD seemed impressed at that tally!). Was this project better planned, and if so will that make it a better movie? All will be laid bare soon enough!

Further Research 3 – More Short Films!

In the following blog post I am going to examine some further short films – some of these films are even more removed from my FMP than the previous ones, however are still relevant to the module and the media industry as a whole. One short film I have always wanted to see is ‘A Trip To The Moon’ – a film made in 1902 that has little relevance to the media production of today, but contextualises the evolution of the industry. In this current year, ‘Kony 2012’ has been one of the most relevant short films, and perhaps has the title as one of the most relevant shorts of this decade so far. I have also found a locally-produced short film in a similar style to my own film, and it’s interesting to see some of the similarities.

But before I examine these, I first want to highlight something that caught my eye in a recent episode of The Nostalgia Critic. 

In this episode, the film critic reviews Jungle 2 Jungle in his usual sarcastic manner. However, a little way into it, he mentions how angels have never really fitted in with cinema as an art form (08:15 into the review). I usually agree with what the Nostalgia Critic has to say about films, so this came as quite a surprise. According to this man, perhaps the theme of angels, demons and religion are best kept in books or in paintings. I can quote a couple of films based around this mythology that – arguably – did not do all that well at the cinema, such as Constantine or Angels And Demons (the latter based on a mega-successful book franchise I might add). Although I have little plans to feature any angels in future films, fairies, demons, monsters, and the comparisons of these mythical beings to the dark side of humanity, all come into play. But as for my own FMP now, it will be interesting to see how the finished piece will be received. There are two things to note regarding the Nostalgia Critic’s remark:

1) His main criticism is using the term ‘angel’ to relate to a beautiful woman (which is indeed cheesy in any context). In the case of my FMP, there is an actual angel in the story; moreover, she is not a metaphor for something beautiful or pure!

2) The films quoted in the review – and the films I have quoted alongside – are all feature films. Indeed, Constantine was also based on a comic book which shared greater success than the film (this is also ignoring the film’s arguable ‘cult status’). Will my film fare better being a short film? I was quick to keep religion out of the script as much as possibly early on in the development – will this affect how the audience receives the finished product?

…I watched Jungle 2 Jungle a while back, and it looks every bit as bad as I remember! However, speaking of past times, something I have always wanted to see, but never actually got around to watching – was Georges Melies’s film A Trip To The Moon ( / ‘Le Voyage Dans La Lune’). It was made in 1902, and was the first science fiction film ever made (effectively inventing the genre!). It was also the first film to use any sort of animation or special effects. Of course, at this point in time, the way the film is constructed is ground breaking on just about every level. I wanted to watch it though, just to clear up this long-awaited viewing. It’s always interesting to see what your current media production skills are based upon – something I’ve already found whilst watching films like ‘Rescued By Rover’ back at A-Level.

It’s interesting to know that the above film was considered a feature film back when it was made, yet today my own ‘short film’ actually clocks in a five minute-longer running time. Of course the special effects have come a long way since 1902 (though importantly, I can understand every film trick used here). This was a film that mapped out film production for the next two decades… maybe even longer. It’s usefulness of influencing modern media production is more limited, though it is still important to ‘K.I.S.S’ – something done to an almost painful degree in this film (I’m sure I’m not the only one thinking that the narration sounded like a children’s book). But back then they were more innocent times, and the movie making industry barely even existed – it was exciting times for film makers the world over!

In contrast to a film made over 100 years ago (which means everybody directly associated with it is most likely dead – a sobering thought accompanying Beethoven’s quote: ‘life is short, art eternal’), a film that’s grabbed a lot of press recently is the Kony 2012 documentary, designed to be a film that utilizes the power of what is now commonly referred to as ‘the social network’ to get free distribution between the masses, uniting them to share a common goal in assisting in the downfall of an African warlord named Joseph Kony. This in an odd – but nonetheless amazing – comparison of two differing media productions created over a whole century apart.

Kony 2012

Indeed, ‘back in the day’, movies were made primarily to entertain. It’s not until the creation of the television and ‘mass broadcasting’ that the genre of documentary (or indeed general journalism outside of the newspapers) had any real place in media production. Once people were able to widely access various channels of media, documentaries grew in popularity for showing the ‘normal’ and the real. The invention and utilization of the internet has expanded mass access even more broadly, but films such as this (and ‘Life In A Day’) are bridging the gap between the simple idea of ‘mass distribution’, and the more interesting ideas of ‘viewer interaction’ and ‘user-generated content’. You could argue these factors will greatly influence the genre of documentary, which are after all about getting people’s stories out to the masses in the first place.

However, in the realms of short film, where elements of fantasy play a much greater role, aside from mass distribution it’s hard to say how the internet will affect the creation of movies any further than increased piracy, or using the audience to advise in your promotional material. Of course, we have 3D to contend with nowadays, as well as all the ‘remixing’ going on. A few films have had a lot of their success owed to the internet (e.g Snakes On A Plane, Cloverfield), but the films were still released at the cinemas, and people still paid to see them. I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon – it’s a tradition that people still value. As with the said piracy controversies, if people stop paying to see films (and effectively fund them), then there simply wont be any to watch any more.

Audience participation will not likely affect the future of short films in my mind, as people watch films to be entertained and relaxed (their views possibly challenged, but the discussion is to be done outside the medium). It is still interesting to see how Kony 2012 created a huge debate across almost every platform of social media however. In fact, as I write this post, we are only days away from ‘April 20th, 2012’, when the ‘big movement’ encouraged in the film is going to take place across the world. It will be interesting to see how successful it is – although it made almost the whole world aware of Joseph Kony, it also brought about several anti-propaganda posters such as this:

What with all the left-wing lectures last term, it’s interesting to wonder how dangerous ‘free distribution’ through social networking really is. If we re-wind the clock ten years, and applied the internet there, would we see a video doing the rounds about weapons of mass destruction in the middle east, and joining the campaign to support the soldiers going out there to find them? In context, that is a historical extreme, but the point is still there. My problem with ‘Kony 2012’ is that I am unsure where the message is coming from. It is supposed to appeal to your good nature of not wanting children in armies (hence the use of the film makers own son – something I think was done in rather bad taste myself. If the message is strong enough by it’s own merits, you shouldn’t need to include family – It also made me think of that kitchen scene from Kill Bill, where the assassin brings out a picture of her daughter to stop The Bride killing her. You remember that?). But all I could think about was the motives behind the film – if you take it on face value, everything is great. Sadly, call me paranoid, but I never take things on face value. Stopping Joseph Kony should do more good than harm, and indeed it is only one step, but a step in the right direction. Needless to say though, he is reportedly one of many warlords in that region – for some reason he’s public enemy number one, and I just found myself wondering why. (You could argue it was down to the film maker’s personal experiences, but when you start bringing the government’s most wanted list in, and the political implications of allowing a video to spread virally universally as it has done, I again find myself back in those lectures about ‘spectacle’ and distracting the masses with the trivial. Like I said – call me paranoid.)

Before we start to descend into left-wing politics again, lets bring it back to short films and take a look at a more traditional form of entertainment – comedy shorts. This locally-made film from someone at Call The Shots was something I found on my Vimeo feed last week, and I’ve put it on here.

Unlucky Actor

I drew comparisons with this and my own film because they both feature a conversation between two characters. Although the genre is different (this is a ‘cringe-comedy’), the set-up is generally the same. The setting doesn’t change, and nor the do the two main characters. The film is about the vocal exchange between the two leads – whereas mine played more for finding out the mysteries of the characters, this film played more for the cringe-inducing laughs.

I have to say I was rather critical with my reception to this film. The bottom of the stairs – semiotically – I imagine was there to show that the ‘unlucky actor’ of the title is rather low-ranking in society. However, the background was primarily white for the majority of the film – something I was warned never to do in first year, as it doesn’t say anything about the setting or the characters (other than it’s bland, but we can deduce that from the events of the film!)

The film should have started with the cork popping straight out of the bottle, as this would have started the film with a bang… well, a ‘pop’. I noticed that it is also a decent way into the film (well over three minutes) before the two lead characters actually meet, and I found that the joke that ‘the woman is really successful and the man is not’ was not a strong enough set-up to keep the audience interested for a ten minute duration. Of course, comparisons to my own film can be made all over with this film though – it’s hard for me to edit mine at this point (it’s been cut to seventeen minutes so far), but if I can learn from errors made here, it should allow me to see fault in my own production.

My film is set in a forest, and also not in one location (there are two locations in the film – the path, and the log, excluding flashbacks). The characters have a degree of mystery – the angel more than the student, but the audience should wonder if the student will ever change at the end. The topic and themes also change – recession era-Britain, murder, sexuality, redemption and romance are all themes explored in the script (more or less in that order).  I think basing the conversation on a single joke may have needed more editing – keep the most cringe-inducing moments in the script and cut the rest (for me, the second half of the conversation and the scene with the couple on the couch). It was important to get good actors for this film, and this was true with mine also. The talent here pulls it off, and I like to think matches my own film, though the age range differs a bit!

Regarding my own editing, I consulted a lecturer about how to cut it down more. I was advised that the shots of ‘lingering faces’ never work in cinema (which I would argue with, were I not so hard pressed to cut my running time!), and also to ‘be brutal’. That last phrase made an impression. At this point, the film runs great. Every scene cut at this point is a whole scene in and of itself. An event in the script that had a purpose, just not a major one. I am being very selective about which parts are going, but at this stage, I must remove whole scenes instead of just shots and lines. The second rough cut was essentially the complete package – this is the first project I’ve ever done where I can make an official ‘Director’s Cut’! I’m still aiming for fifteen minutes – the sound will be finalized next!

Further Research 2 – Everything Is A Remix

Ever since starting my academic career into the arts, I have been (rather stubbornly) set in my ways with the idea that the best art is purely original, and that pure originality can be achieved if you’re talented enough. You may look back at one of my first-ever blog posts, my ‘Cabinet Of Curiosities’, where I state that one of the reasons I went to university to make films in the first place is because of the inundation of remakes and covers in the cinemas and multiplexes nowadays.

However, over the last year I have been introduced to this idea that nothing is original anymore, and that everything we create – no matter how unique we think it is – is purely a re-interpretation or remixing of something that has gone before. The notion is that ‘everything is a remix’. An online documentary project explored this idea (and probably coined the term), stating that remixing first started out around the times of Led Zeppelin. The first episode can be found here.

The series examined how remixing everything from music to games to movies gradually evolved over the later years of the 20th century, and how it has come to define the media production of today. Below is an example of a video on Vimeo, explaining the works of one of the most well-known ‘remixers’ in cinema – Quentin Tarantino. He always takes inspiration from previous works, and isn’t afraid to show it. It can make for amusing viewing for those with the cinematic knowledge to understand where his visual styles have been borrowed from:

Although a separate post will explore this later, there are also the memes of today that have started to take over the internet, and find their way into university and workplace social networks, and even advertising (despite most memes starting out as simple film stills or short videos!) Having recently bought Mass Effect 3, I was soon drawn in to the vast controversy of the way this gaming trilogy had officially ended (don’t trilogies always end controversially?).

Below is an example of memes as remixes – Downfall is a 2004 film from Germany charting Hitler’s last days in Berlin – coincidentally controversial in Germany for portraying the dictator as a human being rather than a monster. One of the classic scenes from the film is the moment when Hitler realises his troops can no longer defend his home country or the capital from the enemy, and that the Western troops are closing in from France, along with the Eastern front closing in from Russia. He realises his dream of dominating (/‘uniting’) the world are over, and breaks into rage in his underground bunker meeting room. Over the years though (with this being a subtitled film for anyone who doesn’t speak German), this scene has become an online meme, with the meaning and context behind it changing from Hitler reacting to film reviews, people in the room breaking wind, or – in this instance – finding out about the end of a video game trilogy!

The Original Scene – A powerful scene depicting the emotion of Hitler as he realises he has lost World War Two, and will be remembered as a tyrant of history forever more.

The Remixed Scene – One of many meme remixes. In this case, a powerful scene depicting the emotion of Hitler as he realises that the much-hyped multiple-choice ending of the Mass Effect trilogy has been condensed into only three different endings with relatively similar outcomes. This is by far my favourite rendition of the ‘Downfall’ meme – if you haven’t played the game, I’ll just say that this video is pretty much spot-on and sums up exactly how I felt at the end! (You gotta laugh!)

So put simply – everything could well be a remix, and my own work should be no exception to the rule. Despite this FMP being the one chance to show that true originality can indeed be done, I decided to view my own film from an analytic perspective of cinematography. If I knew of any inspirations that had affected the way my artefact had been constructed, I would place them all in a video. I had the movie-going knowledge to conduct this analysis… and the results were astounding.

Not only could I quote at least several shots from other films, but the amount of influence video games had had on my film also surprised me quite a lot. Not only had cinematography been influenced by previous works, but the script had been as well! I was amazed just where these influences had come from – some from games as far back as the nineties, and some from television adverts for theme park rides! It was interesting once I’d thought about it just who or what I should be thankful to for the inspirations for this piece (and I’m sure I’ve only named a few in the video below!)

The chase was designed to replicate The Matrix, although that scene has now been cut. The ‘twisting tree’ shot was influenced by an advert for the Hex ride at Alton Towers, whilst some lines of dialogue were drawn from the replaying of video games countless times (probably until the game dialogue was etched into my subconscious!) But the important thing is that although I have borrowed these ideas from the past, I have made something new by bringing these old ideas together in a new way. From now on, my idea of ‘true originality’ will be more carefully used – I should be aware of how much work is mine, and how much belongs to previous works. I am pleased to say though, that despite my vast (and ever-increasing) knowledge of cinema I still believe this is the only narrative involving a sad student and a fallen angel and a white feather. Thank goodness for that!

Another Source Of Inspiration – This ‘weeping angel’ tombstone design was brought to my attention through the band Nightwish, after they used it on the front cover of their album ‘Once‘. It is just another example of how the image of a fallen angel hanging her head down can be interpreted. 

The Editing Suite And Rough Cut

After fumbling the way through the feedback, it was time to start working towards a finished piece over the Easter break. The first thing I needed to do was get the opening sequence to an acceptable working level. I cut the majority of the chase sequence out, and after a return trip to Wainbody Wood, managed to also bridge the gap between the initial meeting, and the sitting down on the log. These ‘location shots’ were very basic, but allowed for some interesting photography work from my own visual style.

I roughly pieced together all the separate audio and visual aspects on the timeline, and then rendered all of them in one epic day-long render, and then being able to access them, sorted out which one matched which clip, and re-rendered all the usable clips in a second day-long rendering session. After all clips were on the timeline, it was time to get to work – I went through the film chronologically, meaning I had to flit between Day 1 and Day 2 shoots to create the coherent narrative. Even during this first creation, I was editing parts of the script out that didn’t seem to work. I was aware this film was probably going to end up tallying more than the fifteen minute target, but even with editing the script as I went, I knew it was better to have too much than too little.

I chipped away at the central conversation for over a week, some days only doing a few lines of the script. I often had several shots of the same line being delivered, so I had to choose which ones had the best acting, the best framing, or the best delivery of the line. I sequenced all the clips up numerically, and did the same with a separate list of audio clips. This set the clips I was definitely using apart from all the other ones (which were subsequently discarded from the bin). By the end, only the numbered clips remained, and the numbers made each individual clip easier to find on the timeline.

At the start of the editing process, I actually colour-coded the clips depending on when they were done and by whom (a trick I picked up last year). Day 2 was relatively straight forward – there was the first half half of the shoot, and then the second half of the shoot. All audio was captured and uploaded in one go, labelled simple as ‘Day 2’. Day 1, of course, was a lot more complex – camera one was the main camera, camera two was the one with no audio, and then we also had the main audio recorder, and the second audio recorder. Luckily, all four parts were uploaded to four different folders, so it wasn’t that complex to find them in data storage. But by the time they were all in the FCP bins, I had seven different parts of the film to keep separate – this was absolutely paramount, as I would then know which audio was captured at approximately the same time as certain videos, and could thus synchronize the two easier.

The original script was split into three acts, which generally were able to stick to the colour pattern of the bin clips quite well (Act 1 was yellow, Act 2 was red, and Act 3 was green). Below you can see a photo of the timeline in operation:

Red And Yellow And Pink And… – Note the colours and numbers of the clips in the bin (top left), and the graded footage in the top right of the screen. Peter’s hooded top changes for the final scene, but nobody noticed this detail as most of the film was in black and white anyway! You can also see the ambience track along the bottom of the timeline below the pictures – most audio was recorded in mono, meaning only one audio track was used unless I heard that two were needed.

The ambience track was implemented early on, though it took a while to realise that there was a bird song repeated over and over in the background! Later feedback has suggested this is a good thing though, so I may only change the ambience in certain parts to make the repeating bird song less obvious.

Aside from making alterations to the script and the opening chase sequence, I also had fun playing with steady-cam effects on the cut aways (which made some of the rather shaky Canon 5D shots look really amazing!). I also had fun with the grading in response to the film’s mood. Originally, the film just went gradually straight through from black and white to ending up in full saturation. However, one particular scene features Amy loosing her ‘rag’ and grabbing Peter and shouting at him. I felt the colour grading worked better when it responded to the mood of the film – it was designed to symbolize progression as the characters changed. At this point of the film, I feel some ground had been lost between the two, and decided to change the grading back to black and white as this scene unfolded. It worked well visually, so I decided to keep it in – it made the final few shots of the main conversation very fluctuating in saturation levels, but this in turn made the visuals all the more interesting in the final act.

The Argument – This is the shot where the colour, getting richer and richer, suddenly reverts back to black and white as it was at the start. It was to symbolize the mood of the meeting. Anger has taken over Amy, fear has taken over Peter, and it’s not until Amy half-apologizes that the film begins to colour itself in once again. (Note the drop in quality – the picture is in perfect focus, but the quality was affected in the upload. This is the due to the 25p scan most likely – the side effects of using it are something I’m still discovering as a media producer, since I was usually based around 50i scan. 25p should be relatively the same… but there are always differences!)

I used audio faders to bridge and merge the varying audio clips, and the use of the wild track helped a lot too. Eventually I managed to piece all the clips together in the correct order, and after cutting the start and end of each clip to make the narrative tighter, the rough cut was finally starting to take shape. I faded the ambience out during the flashbacks, but more work may be needed to separate Peter’s monologues from the forest background noise (‘tricks’ in Adobe Audition are currently being investigated).

I got the sound and visuals to an acceptable standard (which included not altering the speed of any frames – as found with Peter’s feet in the chase sequence, the footage had interlace issues, and therefore could not be adjusted accurately without altering sample rates. It was considered major fuss for relatively insignificant shots). The final time broke in at roughly nineteen minutes – four minutes longer than it was supposed to be.

Feedback from a few friends and family from this initial rough cut were – interestingly – mostly positive. The grading worked well, the acting was to a high degree, and although the film may have benefitted from being based around the angel rather than the student (as she was more interesting), the film still served it’s purpose of showing a transition of a depressed student to a more confident young man. Because of the grading change during the small argument, the final shots were not so easily discernible in the narrative’s timeline. Although Peter’s hooded top (and indeed his attitude) changes, a strap-line of ‘Three Months Later’ may be beneficial to the audience in the final shots, to show that we are now later on after the events with the angel.

Titles still need to be done, and there are two audio problems at the beginning (running over the wooden bridge), and at the end (just running through the trees in the second jib shot!). Special effects need to be added when Amy first appears in front of him, as well as some additional sound effects in that shot, and when Peter gets a phone call at the end (possibly creaking noises during the ‘location shots’ around the forest as well to build up a level of an ancient, isolated atmosphere).

I’m Only Doing This Once – The rough cut was finally completed during the Easter break. Now in the final few weeks of work, my attention starts to focus on the addition of music and sound effects. Parts of the script need to be cut, though feedback has been loose on this front – people want less of Peter’s dippy character, and more of Amy’s darker character. Based on this I shall try try and cut to a fifteen minute schedule (‘less meat’ in the script is what one person advised). Once audio errors have been sorted, and the running time finalized, credits and titles will be implemented last (usually very basic with me). Marketing will be done in the last two weeks or so after the finished product is ready for distribution.

Further Research 1 – Future Scheduling Revision

It is hard to say at this moment how much my FMP has been affected by any lack of research – personally, I’m with the Kubrick quote:

Perhaps it sounds ridiculous, but the best thing that young filmmakers should do is to get hold of a camera and some film and make a movie of any kind at all.

I have for the past three years in academia been developing a showreel to show potential employers after graduation (as indeed I still am building upon). This FMP has been considered by many of my friends as a means to create something that demonstrated their abilities as well as giving them a foothold in the industry – this meant making something that audiences could understand, relate to, and talk to them about after viewing. My approach (as always) has been a lot more risky.

Peter Has An Angel, without a shadow of a doubt, has an air of self-indulgence about it. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t tried as hard, or that the quality of the film should be affected in any way. It does, however, mean that I came to study this BA degree with filming something like this at the end of the course always in my mind. Theoretically, the audience for it, though specified as gothic lovers and academic undergraduates, is really open to a lot more than just those two groups. It is also however becomes more restricted as well, as you’re less likely to understand it unless you’re ‘arty’ or experimental yourself.

I am currently looking back at the rough cut of the film – so far it is running overtime by approximately four minutes. It is very important I cut parts of the running time out, as for a film primarily based around two people talking in a forest, people’s attention span will definitely not hold for any prolonged period of time.

I can confirm that I am happy with what I am seeing – the visuals and the audio work well together and every shot has been synchronized correctly. The grading and the cut-away shots seem to be working well, and you can see that I am still playing with the visual medium as I create it – but the quality of the produce is to a much higher degree than any gone before (there is no doubt that this film is more interesting than my previous short film – this is my best short film to date).

But what of the post-production research? During filming, two questions arose:

1) How many pages should you shoot per day?

2) How many cameras are commonly used in conversation sequences?

Although the answers to both above questions are really unique to any one individual, I still wanted to know what the industry standards were. Personally, based on my experiences, I would be happier in the future filming six pages or less each day (for a better time budget), and only using one camera for shot and reverse shot sequences.

I revised the script pages first. Below are two links that do not clarify an answer – they basically state that it is down to artistic preference.

http://www.filmmaking.net/FAQ/answers/faq112.asp

http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/the-art-of-scheduling-a-film.html

But then I came across the link below, which surprised me quite a bit!

http://www.dvxuser.com/V6/showthread.php?162228-On-Average-how-many-pages-do-you-shoot-per-day

According to the third link, four pages to the day is most preferable. You don’t waste the day with one shot, and you make sufficient progress, without sacrificing quality by rushing certain scenes. For future reference, I will budget to four pages to the day. On this budget, if I was to film ‘PHAA’ tomorrow, I would now allow for three days instead of one.

Of course, it is down to what the script is about and how you work as a director. With a film based around two people on a log, I thought it could be done in a day. I figured this without the complications of the opening and closing sequence (and ironically, an opening sequence that has more or less been completely cut from the final edit at this point!) On reflection though, I think I did really well to film seven pages of script to a day of filming each – complete with a seven-man crew one day, and a two-man crew the next!

The research into cameras used on a feature film came up pretty quickly – one. The evidence can be found on the link below:

http://directingfilm.net/post/20252578562/how-many-cameras-are-on-a-set-and-what-id-a-good-first

You use one camera unless you need to take a moment in time from several angles simultaneously (e.g. an explosion). This is good news for my future – it basically means I need one video camera and one piece of audio equipment to make a decent film. Then it would just be a crew I’d need to hire, which could probably be obtained from local universities or film ‘networks’ (e.g. the Coventry and Warwickshire Film Network).

From my own experience now, smaller crews are best. Evidently, less equipment is best as well. I took additional equipment if anything went wrong (for example, some equipment from the University can be unreliable. If I’d taken one camera out into the woods and it had jammed, I would have been in serious trouble.) In future projects, I will expect that most equipment will either be my own, or personally owned by someone else (with the exception of rare pieces of kit for single shoots, like a jib crane, to be hired from a local store). I am very good at taking care of my own kit, evident in my tripod. It cost me £30 at the start of university, and since then it has been to Tenerife (twice, including the volcano expeditions) and Iceland. It still works as a solid piece of kit to this day, and I’ve only had to replace the release plate once!