Saturday, 28 November 2009

Despite the weather...

I just scraped my entry for the 60 second film contest in at the 11th hour. I was much more organised this time, but I still found myself pulling an all-night session trying to get the last tweaks done in time to submit the film.

The contest ran for a month and I got organised pretty quickly, I had a short script prepared and I even used an ancient version of John Badhams FrameForge program to put together some 3d storyboards which I edited together in premiere to create an animatic version of the film. So I knew exactly which shots I needed and from what angles, and all I needed to do on the day was set them up and hit record.

I wanted to have a location that looked like a main road, so I used a section of narrow road out near the M25, it's beside a bridge over the motorway, and the road is a narrow single lane track which opens out to two lane highway for a short distance over the bridge before becoming single track again. By staging the shots carefully, I was able to make it look like the scene was taking place at the side of a main road.

The main problem was finding actors, I had planned to use the same actor as in my previous short, but he is rehearsing a play and was only available on a single sunday morning, and on that weekend it was forecast for gale force winds and rain!

So in the end I managed to find two friends who would come out early last weekend, only a week before the submission date, to help me shoot the film. Of course it rained heavily that day too.

But, despite heavy rain and hail, and the attentions of a passing policecar, we managed to get pretty much all of the shots, and just about enough audio to edit with.

I needed to produce several effects shots for the film, to show a car bursting into flames from various angles, and I had these pretty much done ahead of the actual shoot, using stills from my location recce as plate footage. The two shots I completed looked great, but unfortunately I couldn't match the angles exactly on the real shoot, and the difference in weather also made the shots difficult to use, which meant I had to do all of the effects shots and edit and grade and lay the sound all in five days, plus I was working long hours in the office all last week too.

The sound was the biggest problem area, the wind was blowing hard on the day, and even with a hairy dog on the mic it picked up a lot of wind noise. The final film has really patchy audio, and this really hurts the end result. The levels and background noise changes really lower the quality of the piece, and there are also a couple of soft shots and some grain issues caused by the gloomy weather conditions and the lack of light.

But, perfectionism aside. I got it done, and the film made the deadline just in time. Now it's time to see how it compares to the rest of the entries, and it'll be interesting to see what kind of feedback I get this time.

Next project should be the two-men-in-a-room interview film I have been writing.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Mattebox Time

So my prize from the short film competition finally arrived. My first ever follow-focus, and very cool it is too. This particular model is the latest version of a budget gear set designed by a one man outfit over in the States.

I got it up and running pretty quick, fitted to my shrigg-rig and it certainly makes my HV outfit look a lot more complicated and impressive!

Now all I need is a mattebox to complete the set-up. Probably an indirails product as their rails turned out to be pretty good, although I do see a lot of cheaper matteboxes coming out of India and China on ebay. Might be worth taking a chance on one of those.

My Cokin filters are smaller than the standard 4x4 filter size used in most matteboxes, so I will also need to upgrade to their pro series filters, which will be a bit more expensive and will mean fewer filters in the short term as I'm not about to go replacing all of them in one go.

In the meantime, my follow-focus should get it's first outing soon as I am shooting an entry for a 60 second film contest, and I plan to use the HV for that.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Revised Script Ahoy!

I've spent every morning this week working on reducing the script down from 15 pages towards 10, but it's been tough going. I still have two pages to go, and that will mean dropping a lot of good stuff. I'm far too attached to my dialogue.

In the meantime I have a couple of writer friends both taking a look at reducing the script, and one of them has just sent me his draft. It's really pared back, and loses some of my favourite lines of dialogue, but its 10 pages, and he came up with some really great ideas, including altering the opening sequence (which has no dialogue) to have the dialogue from the next scen playing as voiceover, so an entire page worth of dialogue is condensed without losing any of the mood setting opening montage.

Great stuff.

I'm really excited about the way the script is coming together, it's been so long since I have really been working to something I can actually make, too many feature script projects have kept me busy despite being too ambitious to actually shoot on a shoestring budget.

So, this project continues to gather momentum. This weekend I have to shoot at least a couple of stills out in the street as a VFX test for the flash-cut footage. This is something I have been planning to do for the past couple of weeks, but now I have set a deadline for the middle of next week, and I will need to get moving if i'm going to hit the date.

I will be using After Effects to comp in the high-production cost elements, such as bullet damaged windows and multiple police cars. I want to have the flash-cut sequences really heavily stylised, with short depth of field and rack focus effects, but I plan to add these in post.

So first port of call, is to take a few still images out in the street. Then comes the hard work of making the rack focus effect actually work.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Script Editing

So it's been a couple of months, I have been working on the 'Two Blokes in a Room' project, mainly trying to get the page count down from 15 to 10 pages. The film is structured as a briefing between two secret government types, with flash-cuts giving glimpses of the events they are discussing.

Main problem I am having is that I just can't seem to find a satisfying way to cut it down, I don't want it to run more than 10mins when finished, I don't think the web audience will stick around for that long, and i'm using the standard 'filmfestival' rules for length.

The fact is, i'm too close to the script, I don't want to lose any of my dialogue, and I don't want the story to be misconstrued, so as usual, i'm trying to cover all the bases and explain everything.

I need to reduce the sheer amount of talking. There are probably plenty of areas where I can show instead of tell, I just need to be able to look at it objectively.

So, I've got a couple of different writer friends looking at the script. Only snag is how long they are taking. I want to shoot this before christmas, and that means being ready within the next month.

I also need to get out and shoot some test footage for the flash cut sequences, which will be short shots, many of them requiring cg effects. I need elements like forensics photographs, bullet riddled buses, spent bullet casings and so on, all of which will need to be photoshopped.

Instead of doing that today, I'm distracted with another ongoing project, an homage to the classic sci-fi movies of the late seventies and early eighties, and a remake/sequel to a 25min Sci-Fi horror epic I made during my college days.

I guess it's easier to stay in the office and work alone on an effects shot, than it is to go out into the chilly autumn afternoon to shoot test footage. I need to work on ridding myself of that tendancy for procrastination more! Time to get ON with it.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

How many pages?

So after plugging away for about half an hour a day on my train journey to work, I have finally finished the latest attempt at writing a script which mainly features 'Two blokes in a room'. The thinking is that any more than two actors and one main location is a bit unwieldy, so I have made several attempts to write something simple and this latest one has perhaps turned out more useable than the rest.

Every time I sit down to write a script, I seem to end up rapidly escalating the amount of stunts/vfx/locations/characters to the point where it is prohibitively time-consuming or expensive to make the project.

Even on this one, there is a fair amount of effects work required, but the central characters are at least, in a room, and free of anything more complicatd than a load of dialogue. The script was ten pages, but once properly formatted it's hitting 15 pages, so it'll need some trimming to hit my self-imposed maximum of 10mins duration.

Next step will be to run it past a couple of writer friends and get the dialogue whipped into shape, then begins the process of planning the shoot, storyboarding and possibly animating a rough previz version of the project.

More soon.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Stiff Competition

Another competition entered, this time to try and win a hd field monitor.

Lots of different entries in competition, and it looks like mine could be a bit too simple compared to the other contestants.

I really need to try and put more time into these small projects, instead of leaving it to the last minute.

I am still writing the script for my next project, although it is difficult to avoid the temptation to write something longer. My ideas keep turning into 90min projects instead of shorts.

Still, it's good to be writing again, and who knows? The hd monitor competition could work out! If not, I will need to buy a monitor because the 35mm adaptor is tricky to focus using only the built in screen.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

And the winner is...!

A few weeks ago I stumbled across a forum dedicated to the Canon HV camera range, the same model as my camcorder that I've been using with my completed 35mm adaptor. The forum runs a fairly regular competition for films created with these cameras and their latest competition was just being announced.
I joined the forum specifically to enter the competition, thinking it would be a good chance to try out my adaptor and also might give me the push that I needed to actually get rolling on making fims instead of procrastinating!
I left it until very late to get started, I was working on a music video for a local musician, a project that is eating up a lot of time but not really getting anywhere yet, and also the actor that I intended to use for the competition entry had a broken leg which was still in plaster.
With the actors leg mended, and only a week to go until the deadline for the competition, we spent a day out in the countryside grabbing the footage and then I spent the rest of the weekend editing, followed by every evening that week and even a full day off work, very much leaving it down to the wire as I had to do two effects shots, lay in foley sound for the entire film (camera mic was unusable due to the vibrating adaptor noise) and create titles.
In the end, I had to apply for an extension as the vimeo upload failed due to codec problems, and even when I did finally get it uploaded, the picture quality was pretty patchy due to H264 quicktime compression altering the contrast/saturation balance and making some camera grain much more noticeable than during the edit preview. Also one of my effects shots had some noticable tracking issues as I'd overlaid elements by hand over a moving shot because I was out of time and couldn't spend any more time on trying out tracking software.
Still, I made it within the extended deadline and was finally 'done' with my first proper short film for over a dozen years, and entered into my first ever film competition.
The public voting took place over a week, and my entry came second place in the public vote, which was pretty exciting, although I really expected that the codec and grain issues would really lower my score from the private judges voting.
But as it turned out I recieved the highest marks, and my film has won, beating out the rest of the other entries and winning my first ever short film competition. It was a small competition, but it's amazing to win all the same.
My prize is a follow focus, which will go nicely with my newly completed 35mm adaptor. It's been a really great learning experience, and I can't wait to get started on my next short project... this next one will have some sync sound and probably some lighting setups as well.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Back in the Saddle

I finally received permission from to use one of the moby tracks from the website as backing soundtrack for my short art experiment.

It's a two minute film cobbled together from a selection of shots I got from the first exterior test with my 35mm adaptor. It was a bit of a filmschool flashback editing it together, and playing with the image, I could imagine it going down well if I'd made something like that back in '94. Plenty of "art" in the editing, and although I don't really consider it anything other than a joke, it's kind of fun to do.

Still, at least it's a bona-fide completed project, albeit simply some test footage thrown together! And it counts as pretty much the first personal film project I've made in over a decade.

My equipment roster was boosted this week with the arrival of my 'shrigg rig' a sturdy metal framework and rails set specifically designed for use with smaller camcorders like the HV30 I use with my 35mm adaptor.

The rig has already had it's first outing, as I spent part of this weekend shooting part of a promo video for a local musician.

After doing the moby video, I thought it might be good to try and do some other music video projects, so I responded to a post on 'Shooting People' and got in contact with a local musician who has a couple of great songs he wants videos for.

I got all my equipment out, dragged the lights down from the loft, unboxed the tripod for the first time and headed over to an industrial space in Streatham to spend the morning lighting my first location for over five years.

Nerve wracking, and potentially embarrassing, but in fact it all went pretty well. I had some ideas about what I intended to shoot, but in the end we went with a fairly simple set-up.

This first shoot was really just meant to be a test, but in fact I reckon I got some pretty usable footage out of it. The test will be how well it edits together, and that'll be a task for this week.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Throwing some light on the subject.

I got up early and was treated to a colourful display in the downstairs hallway this morning as the sunlight bounced off the windows across the street at just the right angle to reflect back at our stained glass panels. It was a fantastic display, and I spent a few minutes taking pictures, and enjoying the excuse to get my photography geek on. Which led to me taking the stills camera with me today, and stopping to take a few snaps randomly on the way. Definitely something I should do more of.

Mayday Bank holiday. A whole extra day off, and with the long weekend comes the promise of a little extra time to spend filming, or at least preparing to film.

I've hooked up with a local musician who has a track he needs visuals for, I thought a music promo seemed like the perfect project to use as a springboard, it would suit my abstract shooting style with the 35mm adaptor, and the need for good location audio is removed (handy when I don't have a portable mixer). So after subscribing to the Shooting People music list and replying to one post... my first music video client.

Later today I'll be pulling out the various sets of lights I have in the loft, nothings been touched for at least three years, so it's time to take stock and figure out if I have enough stands, spare bulbs etc. to shoot anything with. It's been over four years since my last 'proper' shoot, and can barely remember what I actually have equipment-wise. I know I don't have enough stands, so I'm definitely going to need to get on ebay for at least a couple of the cheap Indian ones.

Feels very abstract to be thinking about actually getting ready to shoot. This 35mm adaptor build has really helped to inspire me, there's just something exciting about getting such a film-like image out of the video camera, the only snag is that this 35mm adaptor filming means I am exclusively using the smaller HV30 camcorder and leaving the larger XH-A1 in it's flight case.

I suspect I might be better to sell the A1 if it's not going to get any use. It's turning into an expensive white elephant as I've only ever run one tape through it, and the HV30 was supposed to be a playback deck, not an acquisition camera.

The main props for my Virgin Shorts test have arrived, so I can start preparing that in earnest, as well as getting ready for the music promo test. Feels like my energy levels are starting to rise as I get more test shooting under my belt. Next order of business is to get some interior tests shot with the adaptor and the lights, might have to take over the kitchen this evening to try out some different setups.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

First Post - yay!

Blogging. it's for sad, self obsessed losers who have no life and spend all their waking hours in front of their hig-spec pc's. Not that I do anything like that.

This will be a diary, a randomly (sparsely) updated collection of thoughts on filmmaking or something like that, as I finally get around to finishing that script and getting on with shooting something for myself instead of ammassing equipment, lights, microphones and procrastinating endlessly on 'the screenplay' or randomly generating visual effects tests.

The Arriflex is sold on ebay, and the shiny new HDV prosumer camera is a year old yet still languishes in it's flight case with only 1hr on the heads, the lights are in the loft but at least I finally finished assembling the home-built 35mm lens adaptor for my palmcorder.

The future is like a dark highway at night... or at least like a gloomy waiting room full of tattered magazines and threadbare seats. Time to stop waiting and get back out into the daylight.

First order of business is to get shooting. So second order of business is to find something to shoot. Which I think I might just have done.

More soon.