Archive for August, 2010

Making ‘Get Well Soon’ Part 7.

Posted in Uncategorized on August 31, 2010 by michaelwoodman

APRIL 2010: Makeup Test, Locking down location.

It was difficult to predict the total budget, as BRAG were managing to procure a lot of services and equipment very much at the last minute for a drastically reduced price. Although BRAG were overseeing the production, Ian and I were in control of the overall spend; we had some difficult decsions to make. The most difficult scenario was posed by location, or rather, the lack thereof.

Almost at the last post, Greg had identified a contact who was happy to move out of his flat for two weekends. The cost to us would be £1200, including time for a camera test and shooting dates. It was certainly the best offer we’d had, and at this late stage, we knew we needed to commit. The flat was great, although the bathroom was rather small. There were some worries about shooting here. Even with the luxury of using a tiny camera, the shoot would be busy; so many people were involved with so much equipment. Additionally, there was no real storage space, plus it was high up in a block of flats. Loading in and out would be difficult.

This was a tense period. Purely in the context of the project, it seemed to me to be a godsend. It was cheaper than anywhere else we had found, plus we seemed to have more flexibility as far as time was concerned – there were no other bookings to contend with because this was somebody’s living space.

Ian felt differently – his perspective was informed by how much he felt this resource should cost, and how much spending this amount of money might skew the overall budget. But after a brief period of heated emails flying back and forth, we all agreed to go ahead with the booking.

Then something unexpected came up. While we were gearing up for the make-up test, Ian was approached by Jack Burnford – the original director for the project. Months previously, Ian had asked whether we might be able to shoot in his home. Understandably, Jack had been worried about this. He knew what this would entail – having your living space taken over for 4, 10 hour camera days, heavy equipment maneuvering past paint work, 20 sets of feet tramping endlessly through your house, etc. However, now he could see we had production backing, Jack volunteered to let us film in his flat in exchange for the opportunity to come back on board as a co-director. His house was perfect. The bathroom was large and had bags of personality. There was an enormous garage for storing all the equipment.

Realistically, it was an offer we couldn’t refuse. Before we knew it, the make-up test and location reconnoitre was diverted to Jack’s house in Barnes. If this had not happened, I doubt we would have been able to finish the film – in hindsight we were very lucky things turned out the way they did.

So – on a bright, fresh day in April, we all turned up at Jack’s house. It was strange to see people who had been email contacts up to this point  now buzzing round the flat; measuring things (actors as well as furniture), checking for reflections, taking photographs, working through make-up and costume changes. In a sense it was all very obvious what needed to take place, but it was a strange psychological departure for me. It was now apparent that all the ideas from the script had been filtered down, broken up into schedules, modules, units of meaning, practical physical directions. It wasn’t just in our heads any more.

In the following days leading up to the shoot, Ian and I joyously tested everyone’s patience by high-balling new script revisions back and forth. Again, very much at the last minute, we ended up with scene list – but due to chaos of trying to finalise our creative ideas, we didn’t have the practical backup – a shot list. While we had a list of the scenes we wanted to film, (we started by doing everything in the bathroom first), the storyboard was still something to give shape to the whole process as opposed to a shot by shot breakdown of what we wanted.

As we geared up for the first weekend of filming, it soon became apparent why this was so important…

APRIL 16: Makeup Test, Location reconnoiter.

By mid April, we had settled on a location. Almost at the last post, Greg had identified a contact who was happy to move out of his flat for two weekends. The photos of the place looked pretty good.

 

The environment was interesting, although the bathroom was rather small. The cost to us would be £1200, including time for a camera test and shooting dates. The location we had was the best that we could get, although it was still far from ideal. Even with the luxury of using a tiny camera, the shoot would be busy; so many people were involved with so much equipment. There was no real storage space, plus it was high up in a block of flats which would have been physically nightmarish for loading and unloading, as well as time consuming. By this point the budget was really getting out of hand, (and we still had no real idea of the costs to come), but we knew we just needed to commit.

 

And then, at the last minute, (the day before the make-up test), Ian was contacted by Jack Burnford, the original director for the project. Ian had asked whether we might be able to shoot in his home months previously, but understandably, Jack had been worried about this. As a director, he knew realistically what this would entail – having your living space taken over for 4, 10 hour camera days, heavy equipment maneuvering past paintwork, 20 sets of feet tramping endlessly through your house.

 

Ian and Jack discussed the predicament – and Jack unexpectedly volunteered to let us film in his flat for nothing in exchange for coming back on board as co-director. It was perfect. The bathroom in his house was large – the bath had bags of personality. There was an enormous garage for storing all the equipment. Before we knew it, the make-up test was diversted to Jack’s house in Barnes.

 

If this had not happened, I doubt we would have been able to finish the film. Having the cost of location totally removed was one thing, but as the shoot progressed, we quickly found herself over the projected budget without the cost of location factored in. In future, I would anticipate that on a low budget, location will hold the same weight as actors before moving ahead with a production schedule. Without money, you need to be calling in favours for locations before you even think about moving ahead with the production schedule.

 

And then – on a bright, fresh day in April,moving from a load of people who had never met temailing each other, to ‘stuff happpening’ peole taking photos, trying makeup,

 

After five or ten minutes, the house was suddenly filled with people measuring things, (actors as well as furniture) checking for reflections, moving stuff about, clambering on furniture and taking photographs. In a sense it was all very obvious what needed to take place, but it was a huge, and strange psychological departure for me.

 

This was the first inkling I had that being a writer on set was quite an unusual thing to happen. At this juncture, it was now apparent that all the ideas from the scrip had been filtered down, broken up into schedules, modules, units of meaning, practical physical directions. As much as I thought the piece was inside my own head, it became totally clear that it was not, that the best thing I could do was sit back and let things happen. For the first time in the whole of the process, it looked like the thing was actually going to happen.

 

In the interim between the makeup test and the first days of shooting, Ian and I joyously tested everyone’s patience by hiballing new script revisions back and forth. Again, very much at the last minute, we ended up with scene list – but due to chaos of trying to finalise our creative ideas, we didn’t have the practical backup – a shotlist. While we had a list of the scenes we wanted to film, (we started by doing everything in the bathroom first), the storyboard was still an admubration – something to give shape to the whole process. It soon became apparent why this was so important. (CAREFUL: NOW)

Advertisements

Making ‘Get Well Soon’: Part 6.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 17, 2010 by michaelwoodman

April 2009:

By April, a lot of stuff was organised. Shoot dates were now locked at 24-25 April and 1-2 May. BRAG had managed to get key crew on board. The crew, in turn, had worked wonders in pulling in favours for equipment, and thus slashing our projected budget. We had actors locked in to shoot dates, and a leaner script – but we still didn’t have a location, and this fact was starting to weigh heavily on Ian and I.

The Low Fidelity Disconnect had been great for the test shoot, but without a the kind of bathroom we were looking for it presented too many logistical issues. The effort and cost associated with engaging a production designer / carpenter to build a fake bathroom would be counterproductive. We didn’t (at that stage), have anybody on board with that kind of skill. We needed somewhere that had much of the required visual quality we were looking for to start with.

Ian and I spent one frustrating afternoon ringing round agencies, pining for deals on warehouse and flat spaces that we could film in. We didn’t get very far. The confusion in the voices of the people we phoned was palpable. It wasn’t so much that they were dismissive, it was just that we were so far off with our maximum pitched budget that they felt they were missing something fundamental about what we were asking.

In the end, we kept the very understanding crew at the Low Fidelity Disconnect on standby in case we had no other options but to shoot there, despite not being totally in love with the bathroom as a space to film in. We’d just have to dress it as best we could if it came to it.

By this stage, emails were flying back and forth, referencing equipment for the shoot that I didn’t really understand. Ian was booking a van for the equipment hire pickups; lights and miscellaneous stuff from Panalux, (everything from ND filters, to a bazooka camera stand), Nikon prime lenses for our 5D body from Feral, dolly and track from Take 2, radio mics from Richmond Film Services, and a Fig Rig from The Flash Centre, (am I the last person in the world who still sniggers at the word Manfrotto?).

 

Gresby Nash being strapped on to the Fig Rig - or is it the other way around?

 

It wasn’t until we were seriously thinking about buying large quantities of blankets and bubble wrap to protect equipment and floor surfaces, that I began to realise the scale of the project. It had grown from a practice run into something much bigger. Although it was still relatively tiny in filmmaking terms, it had taken on an enormous significance to me.

At this very late stage, we still didn’t have a locked version of the script. Ian’s storyboards were informing the text, and vice versa. New ideas were still being added to the pot, and vitally, practical issues and constraints were starting to inform the narrative, to force us to simplify.

Not having had any experience making a film, it was only in the final stages that it became clear some ideas wouldn’t work. Some things would need to me modified, some rethought completely. This was hard work, as I was still trying to construct a list of script days and costume changes to inform continuity, but by necessity, the final draft was still quite fluid. We had to be fluid and adaptable. Luckily, the actors didn’t seem too fazed by this, as the script was very dialogue light. It was great having actors who didn’t feel uncomfortable about minimal rehearsal time. They understood the energy and dynamic of the piece and this seemed enough for them. It also helped us, because it meant we could make quite last-minute decisions based on issues that naturally arose.

Making ‘Get Well Soon’ Part 5.

Posted in Uncategorized on August 9, 2010 by michaelwoodman

Late Feb /March 2010 – Location, funding, crew and camera

Towards the end of February, Ian and I began looking for a Location. In retrospect, this was one of the most difficult parts of the whole project, as we had very limited funding; a lot would depend on luck in finding a place that looked right, and was affordable.  First port of call was friends – we looked at the Low Fidelity Disconnect, an arts space run by members of the band Djevara, (also directors of Genin Records who release Thumpermonkey).

 

Ian at the LFD.

 

It had a really cool aesthetic to it, albeit rather a different one to what we originally envisioned. Originally, we thought of our characters living in quite a sterile environment; a lofty open-plan warehouse flat in docklands. The LFD had a very different personality – lots of quirky details that we thought we might want to exploit rather than dress-out. The walls were covered in art, photos and stencils of band names that had played gigs there. On the second level of the warehouse, Geoff from the LFD appeared to be trying to create a super-brain out of fourteen networked computers – part of me was keen to write this into the plot somehow.

We took some photos for reference, and then did a test shoot on mini DV in March. This featured me, glumly wandering about alongside an actress / comedian friend of ours, Angela Barnes, who travelled up for the day to stand in for Janet. It was really useful to see how the environment would come across on camera, and it also gave us a chance to do a proper reconnoitre from a practical perspective. For instance:

  • Was there essential  3 phase power available, that we could tap into to run the lights? Otherwise we’d have to bring in a generator.
  • When booking and trying to figure out availability, was there space to load in tons of unwieldy equipment the night before, to set up a pre-light, and also to make sure that there weren’t additional space bookings that would affect this?
  • The LFD was up some stairs – where could we store all this stuff? How easy would it be to carry a dolly that needed four people to lift, up into the main shooting space? I remember our grip Louisa Court, describing the dolly, (heavy enough to crush an Irish Wolfhound), as a ‘baby’. I suppose context is everything.
  • The other issue was the bathroom – it was a central part of the story, but it was just too small, (considering the amount of crew we’d need to fit in there). We started entertaining the idea of building a fake bathroom on one of the days; knocking up some walls and bringing in a bath. That presented problems –  filling it up without real plumbing, keeping it warm for an actress who would potentially need to be sitting in it for a while, and of course, the fact that we would need to build a set.

Meanwhile, we’d received a broadscale schedule from BRAG productions showing the level of detail and planning required – with all the scenes arranged out of sequence so that we could capitalize on lighting set ups. We also had a basic budget, which identified a £2296 investment, (roughly breaking down into £1000 on catering, £500 or so for locations, and a few hundred quid for lighting and camera rentals). We knew that various things might shift here – that equipment hire costs could be very variable. What we weren’t prepared for at this point was the scale of which costs could change. As our project continued, things that we thought would be spectacularly expensive became very cheap, but costs we hadn’t anticipated mounted up elsewhere.

By this stage, BRAG were starting to find crew who had worked on some fantastically diverse projects. We also used websites like Shooting People and Talent Circle to source additional crew. Greg’s advice at this stage, was that everything should hinge around the dates actors could commit to before factoring in other people’s involvement. Though totally undesirable, it would be possible to change key crew if their availability changed, but without the actors, we had nothing. Once we had a couple of weekends locked off, we started to think carefully about the camera we were going to use.

We discussed this with our director of photography, Rory Moles who had just finished working on Luther, and had previously worked on Spooks and The Secret Diary of a Call Girl. Originally, we had talked about shooting on the RED camera. Many of the people involved knew crew who had worked with it before; it quickly became a less popular choice.

General opinion seemed to be that the RED might overcomplicate a small, low-budget shoot. A number of the crew had seen them malfunction frequently, and suggested that having a separate technician available would be essential. Greg also suggested that we would reasonably want to be using additional lighting to get the best out of the RED, (which could result in more cramped working conditions, extra work setting up, longer set ups). This is before we even started thinking about the size of the thing, and how instrumental that would be in physically placing shots. This was still somebody’s house we were filming in, not a set.

Rory seemed keen to see how the Canon 5D would work. I couldn’t help noticing the price gap between this camera, and the RED; I was startled that you could shoot footage that looked so beautiful on a machine that was still primarily a digital SLR stills camera. Of course, the 5D’s idiosyncrasies are also well publicised – the internet was awash in solutions to the lack of an efficient focusing system while shooting. One website suggested attaching a huge geared wheel around the lens’s focusing wheel, but in the end Rory’s solution was to have a dedicated and experienced focus puller, a £20,000 remote follow focus system, a decent monitor (Marshall), and lots of focus marks.

“The 5D has very shallow depth of field” explained Rory, ‘Which is what gives us cinematic images, but this means it becomes difficult to follow actors and action around, especially when you are hand held.”

Rory’s experience of using the 5D will be be tackled in more depth in an upcoming interview – watch this space.