Category Archives: Production

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!

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

Gore vs Suspense!

Gore over suspense or vice versa can often lead filmmakers down very different paths. Luckily there are many intersections where the two beautifully collide and tear apart. For my latest short horror Time Lapse I wanted blend the both together but I think I naturally lean towards the ‘suspense’ side of things; for any filmmaking approaching the horror genre, here’s a few things to consider.

Threaten the audience! Not Literally though…

first horror film I remember watching
first horror film I remember watching

I’ll start with a little fable – When I was a little boy, my grandmother went to the Sunday car boot and bought me a life size doll which eventually ended up sitting in the corner of my room. The night before by sheer coincidence I’d been quite naughty and crept downstairs to watch ‘Child’s Play’. Now, you can imagine what these two incidents did to my over-active imagination. Even now I can recall the feeling of lying in bed, staring at it and it staring at me! The threat was terrifying and I guess that feeling stayed with me. It was the constant threat that this doll ‘could’ come alive however more often than not, the tension was dissipated by creaky floorboards or some other weird house noises.

A shock doesn’t have to be explicit.

This is actually called the Lewton Bus Effect, first coined by Val Lewton in his fantastic 1942 horror ‘Cat People’.  Since then filmmakers have been using this technique enrapture their audiences, most notably for me in William Friedkin’s The Exorsist (1973) where Regan’s mum explore the attic! Watch here – http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xrfltb_the-attic-from-the-exorcist-1973_shortfilms

Understand how to represent your characters!

In Time Lapse I really wanted my monster to personify fear so rather than show him explicitly, I wanted his character to be reflected onto his victims so much so that by the end they’re two completely different characters representing the same thing – ‘fear’ ! Joe Berlinger illustrates how effective this can be, especially for any low budget production in The Blair Witch Project.

blair-witch-project-heather-donahuejpg-cc43367e7ecdc67d

Protagonist "Evie" heading into the unknown

 

Omnipotence is scary

When your heroes start to represent fear as well as your monster/vampire/slasher/zombie/ghost/devil  then you get this overwhelming sense of omnipotence. The monster could be anywhere which also creates a sense of claustrophobia. John Carpenter truly gives you that feeling with his portrayal of maniac Micheal Myers in “Halloween“. Omnipotence has been a popular theme throughout horror’s history but really took off in the 70’s. In damien‘The Omen’  (SPOILER ALERT) Richard Donner gets Damien to break the 4th wall at the end of film which is really chilling because it lets the audience know that the devil is watching.

Gore works well when the imagination works out the details…

As an independent filmmaker you may feel forced into choosing suspense over gore due to lack of time or budget or whatever but you shouldn’t let that stop you from using gore in your films. Edgar Ulmar in 1934 made a soon-to-be-cult-classic with “The Black Cat”. In it, you see Bela Lugosi flaying Boris Karloff completely in silhouette. It’s an amazing scene because your imagination does all the hard work. Imagine flaying something and hearing the screams… It’s horrible isn’t it? Now back then it may have been a logistical solution to poor SFX but I think if the modern filmmaker does it, it demonstrates fantastic restraint –

Gore doesn’t have to be seen, just suggested.

Peter Cushing will teach you a thing or two!

cushing03

In the argument for gore vs suspense, neither will matter if you don’t believe the characters, especially the antagonist. In Time Lapse, it was incredibly important to get realism in all of the performances which is why I’m so grateful for my wonderful cast. Peter Cushing was a fantastic actor because however absurd the plot he brought a tremendous amount of gravitas to the performance.

That’s the history lesson over, sorry if I have been a tad bias and not really shown you any gory examples but I hope you’ve enjoy the read. Exploring this genre has been an amazing experience and I would urge any filmmaking to dive deep into Horror drawing from over 100 years of it’s rich history!

 

If you’d really like to learn more I would watch Mark Gatiss’ History of Horror on Youtube, a three part documentary. Extremely interesting!

 

 

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