Category Archives: Pre-Production

All things related to pre-production of a film project

The Red Wine Editing Technique

Give your edit a fighting chance – step back and let it breathe!

FIRST YORKSHIREMAN:

Aye, very passable, that, very passable bit of risotto.

SECOND YORKSHIREMAN:

Nothing like a good glass of Château de Chasselas, eh, Josiah?

THIRD YORKSHIREMAN:

You’re right there, Obadiah.

Now that’s the opening few lines to one of my all time favourite sketches but until recently I hadn’t made any connection between The Four Yorkshiremen and the editing process; do you know why that glass of Château de Chasselas wine was so passable?? It’s highly likely that they let it breathe!

Stay with me.

"We have the technology"
“We have the technology”

After Time Lapse wrapped, I was very close to editing the whole film myself: I knew the material, I understood (better than anyone) the project, like a certain top secret government agency “I have the technology” to edit the film but after much deliberation… I decided the abdicate and let someone else take on that all-important role – with only 4 weeks away to the premiere, I wanted to share why it’s important for filmmakers to allow their film to breathe before becoming the butcher in the edit suite!

1. You’re not fit enough

If you’re anything like me, you created the concept, wrote your script, spent many months in pre-production and slaved away during the shoot to ensure your success; by the time I’d wrapped I remember being mentally, physically and emotionally spent – how could I have considered jumping into post?! Was I mad? Probably. By the end of production you’re running on empty; ask yourself, would you trust yourself to do a good job? I know it’s tempting but try to resist, find an editor to take it on because you won’t be at your creative best. As an independent filmmaker you may be quite capable at all areas of production and well versed in a plethora of softwares but that’s not the issue.  Instead, exercise your right to take a break, step back and let the edit breathe! Even if you end up editing yourself after a break, let the edit breathe because then you’ll…

2. Regained your objectivity

If you don’t breathe, you suffocate; you’ll do the same thing to your film if you don’t step back. You need to separate yourself from your work, “But I’m in the zone man!” you cry – I get that, but that’s the problem, your ego is high on accomplishment and adrenaline and “buzzing your tits off” (that’s a technical term) about all your artsy dutch angles and smokey, silhouette shots won’t give you a certain “edge” in the edit suite.

all your artsy dutch angles and smokey, silhouette shots won't give you a certain "edge" in the edit suite.
all your artsy dutch angles and smokey, silhouette shots won’t give you a certain “edge” in the edit suite.

Gaining objectivity of your film can be tough, especially when you’re in the middle of it – but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll pick the best shots, that you won’t indulge on a few scenes because they were difficult to shoot and linger for a few extra frames here and there: all of that adds up to a mediocre edit at best, which will get you an underwhelming “meh” from audiences everywhere! Well done, you fucked it up, shit the bed…you blew it.

3. Distance makes the heart grow fonder

Last October, I received an unexpected e-mail from Dave, my editor: he’d edited 3 important scenes together and I’d not seen the footage in weeks. I was starting to feel a little detached from the project…but then I watched the cut…

The Excitement, the euphoria, the creative energy surging through me was electric. I was elated “Thank heavens it works, the film actually works!” In that moment I fell in love with my film all over again. Distancing myself from the film had not only allowed me to become objective, from then on my involvement in the edit was driven by creating “meaning” and crafting the best possible version of the film. Distance certainly made the heart grow fonder.

The film is currently with the sound designer and composer and I couldn’t be more excited. I am genuinely proud and grateful for the film we have and part of that is because I stepped back from it all and trusted other people. Trusting other people with my film was a huge step for me, it wasn’t easy but it taught me so much about myself, my work and about the creative process. So if you’re coming up to the post production stage – take a moment, recharge your batteries and let your edit breathe before you take that next important step!

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7 Deadly Sins of Bad Filmmakers

meh, maybe it's not that bad, give it a watch yourself.
meh, maybe it’s not that bad, give it a watch yourself.

For those of you looking for tips on how to avoid eternal damnation then you’ll be disappointed.  The only Armageddon scenario I could paint would be of Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck flying off into space; In fact that would be a good way to simulate ‘eternal damnation’ – just watch Armageddon.

Yes watching bad films can be excruciatingly painful and even worse when they are our own. Some filmmakers continue to make the same mistakes and take no time to look internally. From personal experience, mistakes made, lessons learned and some unfortunate people I know here are the most 7 deadly sins a bad filmmaker makes on a regular basis.

ENVY

Do you know what I’d like to see more than your crappy homage to a Quentin Tarantino film? A Quentin Tarantino film. Envying your favourite filmmaking and films is easily done, it’s what inspires us, but don’t let it stunt your development. Don’t covet filmmakers so much that you forget you’re not actually Christopher Nolan or Scorsese or whoever. There may be no such thing as an original idea anymore but YOU certainly are original. What would you like to explore and what part of your personality are you going to inject into your film that Tarantino couldn’t? You’ll have much more success if you’re clever about how you introduce YOUR audience to YOUR inspiration, not ram it down their throats.

SLOTH

Laziness is a terrible thing and what’s worse it can hit you at any stage of the production! This is important, the buck stops with you. If you fail, look to the person who knew the most about the film- i’ll give you a clue, he or she lives in the mirror. You don’t have to be working all of the time but when you do, work in this order –

STEP 1 –

Things I can do right now – Could be anything from a ‘to-do list’ to calling your DOP for a chat. Usually things that fall into this category usually result in-

STEP 2 –

Information Acquisition & Distribution – Now this is a lot more simple than it sounds. Completing tasks usually gives you new info to work with and you should distribute that info into more tasks, the more tasks you complete, the closer you are to finishing your film.

STEP 3 – Repeat steps 1 & 2

LUST

I actually can’t think of anything for Lust, errr, don’t sleep with the cast and or crew.

GLUTTONY

When you’re starting out and even long after, don’t be greedy of people’s time, creativity and effort. If you’ve got a cast and crew working for the minimum you have to acknowledge the commitment they’ve made to YOU and YOUR film. They are your most valuable asset and you’ll only earn respect if you respect that they have lives outside the film. Scheduling is key to making sure you’re planning is proficient enough to keep your film moving forward.

AVARICE

Most damaging long term. I see this so many times, filmmakers wanting to be recognised for everything they’ve created “I’m the brains behind the operation” said Dummy. Humility goes a long way, don’t feign being humble, you did work very hard after all but give credit where it’s due. When you’re promoting your film you’re also promoting yourself. No one wants to work with a selfish, glory hogging, avarice director!

PRIDE

I want to specifically write about festivals and distribution. There’s always a buzz around finishing a film because it’s the culmination of months of hard work but don’t let your pride cloud your judgement. Pride is the reason why you don’t enter the right film festivals because your film is sooo good it’ll win them all. This is your time to speak to filmmakers for feedback, research how you can distribute it and which festivals will be welcoming to your masterpiece.

WRATH

Surprise surprise, after making 6 of the deadliest sins known to filmmakers you feel WRATH! “How could we have not won, those Raindance judges are idiots!” No, you are the idiot. Take the hits, the criticisms, it’s all adding to your arsenal,

‘Successful filmmakers build over their failures, they don’t replicate them’. Me, I said that.

Personally, I think it’s natural to make these mistakes, we’re all guilty of it every now and again. I’d like to think that if you’re mindful enough you can tackle just enough sinning so that your film and your career stay in tact – long enough for you to make a better film at any rate! So go forth, make mistakes, learn those hard lessons and I have no doubt that your next film will be heavenly!

God2-Sistine_Chapel

Creating… “The Entity”

ENTITY is dressed in a worn, scorched checkered suit. His eyes are completely black and his face is disfigured, layers of skin cover his mouth almost looking naturally stitched over. – Time Lapse script draft 4

That was my first description of the monster in one of my earlier versions of the script. I remember originally wanting this creature to be more than his ‘image’ I wanted him to be a presence, a void from the darkness consuming life and when full fading into nothing- a lot like a black hole. A Nothing. A Void. A Fear.

They say ‘write what you know’…well thankfully I don’t have any black hole type people in my life but I do spend a lot of my time alone late at work, editing in a dark room. It usually creeps the life out of me; the ‘fear’ would sometimes get the better of me and start to become stronger than my reality until it became as real as my reality. That’s how The Entity was conceived.

Working with a concept artist

Concept Artists can be fantastic collaborators, especially when you’re at the script development stage because they can really shape your imagination, they can take your words or your characters and really breathe life into them. I placed an add on peopleperhour.com eventually meeting Brooke Langton. Brooke was brilliant to work with and after a few initial drafts she sent me the final design…It was exactly what I had envision. The first phase of The Entity was complete.

Original artwork based on 4th draft of the script Designed by Brooke Langton
Original artwork based on 4th draft of the script Designed by Brooke Langton

Working with a Costume Designer

ENTITY is dressed in a worn, scorched checkered suit….

The script didn’t really do it justice, I didn’t just want worn and scorched I wanted dank, dirty and oozing from the pits in hell. In short, not something I could pick up at the local Primark (INSERT APPROPRIATE JOKE HERE). A Costume Designer was the only option. I’d worked with Liz Burton (not that one) on a period shoot through work at The Rural Media Company and I remember feeling a little silly asking Liz to design me what is, essentially, a dirty suit. Liz totally understood and I was prepared, I had my script and the concept art!

IMG_1122We first shopped around the charity shops, looking for the best fit. We wanted a light suit because the colour grade in post would automatically take a lot of detail away from the suit. It also needed to look old and slightly out of fashion and although you can find some absolute gems in charity shops, you can also find some fashion rejects!

 

This is what the jacket actually looked like before Liz started working on it.

The Entity suit before any work started on it.

Weeks went by and Liz eventually produced this monstrously decayed suit. Phase two of The Entity’s look was complete!

Working with a Make Up Artist

I’d worked with Maz Leyden twice before, once on a short film recreating a road side bomb and once running a Half-Term Horror School…so I knew she was perfect for creating the third phase of The Entity, the head.

brow and jaw pieceMaz was great, she gave me loads of advice about different textures and styles, different SFX providers. I was completely out of my depth so it’s always always always the best idea to seek advice from someone who knows exactly what they’re doing.  The best place by far online was http://www.nimbacreations.com, the wait can be a little excruciating because they make everything to order…in Scotland. The products do not disappoint but if you’re ordering, order well in advance (possible a month before)!

Our first photoshoot and make up test took nearly 3 hours to transform Jack into The Entity. If you’re making a film with any SFX, always have a test day first and see what the quality looks like on camera and then in the edit, with a colour grade.

TL_29

Finally, after a lot of writing, sketching, stitching, and painting…we had our Entity, the lovely looking face of The Fear. Now to the final phase…

Working with the Actor

At the beginning of this blog I wrote that I wanted The Entity to have a presence. Jack did a wonderful job with the physicality and menace of the character and that brought it to life just as much as the costume, the wig and the make up. Always take time to include your actors and let them shape the characters themselves because it will come from a more natural place, a more believable place.

That’s how the Entity was created, it took a lot of planning and care and I had to surround myself with some talented people but with dedication and team work we got in to a position to start shooting. So if you’re embarking on a massive SFX challenge or any challenge for that matter, take it one step at a time and whatever you do, just take it in your stride!

TL_32

The Importance of Storyboarding

neil-buchananWARNING: This blog will not give you the ability to draw, Neil Buchanan-esq magic will not flow through your finger tips to your HB pencil after reading this – SORRY! Hopefully what this blog will do is to draw your attention (see what I did there) to the benefits of storyboarding, regardless of ability or confidence.

1. Storyboarding makes you concentrate on the visuals.

“But film is a predominately a visual medium so aren’t I doing that already?” I hear you ask. No, you may not, or at least, not as much as you think you are. It’s exactly because film relies so heavily on visuals that you should do all you can to focus your attention on it. Storyboarding shows you how a film flows from shot to shot.

TL - panel 36

2. It can help Cinematographer/Director relationships

I’ve had the pleasure of working with some fantastic DOPs but none of them (and I think they’d agree with me) are mind readers. Don’t assume your DOP will just pluck the shots out of your head. Remember that they are bringing a lot of creativity to the set too and they may see the scene and/or shot in a slightly different way to you; don’t make your jobs more difficult than it already is. Storyboards can make sure you’re on the same page and help start some stimulating discussions about how to shoot a scene.

3. Storyboards can give you confidence

The same goes for any amount of planning you put into your film. As soon as I was happy with the script, I started storyboarding my film Time Lapse. I did it because I wanted people to see what I saw when they thought about the film. It gave me confidence and more importantly, it showed people I had put the time in, I was willing to agonise over the visuals.

IMG_1455

It took me 3 months and over 100 panels but it was worth it, the whole thing was incredibly empowering. Storyboarding made me understand my film inside and out and I was confident. If you’re confident about you’re work, other people are willing to be confident about you, and that can get you a long way!

4. Storyboards highlight mistakes

As soon as I finished my 100 panels I was able to share my vision with the DOP, Make Up Artist, Costume Designer and with it there was a lot of discussion about which shots/scenes could be improved or altered. The ink had dried but the storyboards were forever changing; it was only from seeing it before shooting it I could save myself a MASSIVE headache and improve my film before we even picked up a camera. This brings me on to my final point.

5. Be prepared for change

You can imagine after 3 months of hand drawing each character, every background and photoshopping each panel, I was very precious over my work. I soon realised however that If I wasn’t adaptable, all of the hard work spent would be wasted because I’d be making the process about me and not about making a good film. Film is a very organic process; remember, you’re not the Messiah, you’re a very naughty boy (Monty Python). And by that I mean remember you’re constantly learning and your storyboard is just a step along the way, not the destination itself. Change your storyboard where possible because it will develop in some surprising ways if you keep your mind open…especially to criticism.

A Filmmaker’s Execution: Advice on originality

I think I was seeing double at that point, night shoots are a killer!
I think I was seeing double at that point, night shoots are a killer!

I was in a meeting a few weeks ago and someone asked “What makes the difference between a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ film?” Luckily someone jumped in as I paused for thought too long, trying and simultaneously failing to find the best Aristotle quote on good vs bad. My mind runs on Windows 98 on the best of days. To put the question in to context, it was in relation to the ‘process vs product’ debate; do filmmakers find virtue and meaning by simply making regardless of standard of film produced? Of course they do. Process vs Product is quite an interesting topic and I will write about it in the near future i’m sure. ANYWAY… We meandered  around the conversation until we arrived at the subheading ‘Originality’ to which someone said

I always find that originality comes from the execution, not the idea

Think about that. Isn’t that a wonderful way of looking at your work? With nearly every story done to death how is it that original work keeps emerging? It has to be from the individuals involved hasn’t it? When I think about it it’s quite naive to think a killer script is all that will launch you into the upper echelons of the film elite.

emperorFurthermore, I can imagine that most filmmakers can liken one of their screenings to a form of execution, I know I have. You wait until the credits role, the ‘Good Standards’ Emperor in the Gods gives you a thumbs up or thumbs down depending on the crowd’s reaction. The thumbs by the way in modern times now look remarkably like the You Tube ‘thumb’ icons.

Yes the guillotine and hang rope have been replaced with dislikes and trolling; the only notable difference it seems is that with the former you’re out of your misery, if you get the latter then you’ll really have to suffer!

So how do you create original work?

1. YOU are original.

Nevermind the camera, the software or even the story, it’s YOU that has to be the winning feature. If you can’t shoot on a RED, fine shoot on another camera. Can’t use FCP X? Edit on something else. If you’re at a point where you can be replaced then you’re in trouble. Don’t for a minute assume you know it all but recognise that your take on the film is unique.

My latest film Time Lapse uses the ‘found footage’ device, a technique that’s common in the Horror genre. I use it because I know  it’s crucial to my storytelling and I know that because I understand what my story is really about. This brings me to my next point…

2. Know the truth behind your story

I learnt this lesson from BAFTA award winning writer Geoff Thompson. I was fortunate enough to meet him last year and he spoke about the search for truth and how to identify it in your work. OK, my film has recognisable traits to the horror genre but it’s not a film about found footage it’s really a film about fear and I use to explore my thoughts of the effects of fear on the human psyche. The Shawshank Redemption isn’t about prison it’s about hope. There’s a single truth to most films, you just have to look a little deeper.

3. Plan to be original

Don’t confuse ‘Originality’ with ‘Spontaneity’. Sure, spontaneity can conjure some highly creative solutions however to rely on it to always be the ‘ace up your sleeve’ is just plain stupid. Planning actually highlights all the un-original areas of your film just as much as the original areas.

IMG_1340For Time Lapse, I storyboarded the entire film because I wanted to see how the film would flow on paper before I picked up a camera, it was a great starting point for my camera crew and I to work from and it gave me heaps of confidence!

So let’s recap…

Relise that you have an original take on the world that no one else does. Know what your story is really about and consider how you’ll stay true to that knowledge. Plan as much as you can because it makes being original more achievable.

“A poor original is better than a good imitation.”
― Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Time Lapse Wrapped

That’s it, 16 months of pre-production and filming and it’s in the can…or rather on the hard drive. In efforts to regain my sanity I took a break between the end of shooting and the start of post-production so I could create this website. I’ve been saving blogs, behind the scenes photos and videos so I can share my journey so please check out the site so you can see how we got to this point and how much further we need to go! I’d like to thank my family for their unshakable faith in me, my girlfriend for her tireless love and support. I’d like to thank all of the people who have helped shape my thoughts, beliefs and ideas throughout this process and thank The Rural Media Company for their generosity and support. Finally, I’d like to thank my crew, they’ve given me so much and I continue to learn from their insight and passion for filmmaking.