Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Botch-ups = brilliance (eventually): Pete's reflection on the process of making 'Where will it all stop'


This reflection post was originally written as a part of a communal blog - Making a Film 2011 - a blog that is no longer online - and this is the third assignment I contributed to that blog in week 11 of the module. This was done for the Planning and Making a Film module I undertook in the penultimate year of my BA (Hons). The module's practice was undertaken between October 2011 to June 2012 and it provided me with a hugely enriching experience. For a more detailed over of the module and the projects I undertook as a part of it, see Planning and Making a Film: The student filmmaking experience.


Where will it all stop

Where will it all stop was the practice film - sourced from a script from the previous year  - that we made in 6 groups of 4 or 5 students; as such, there were six versions of the Where will it all stop script produced.

My group's version of Where will it all stop

The first 4-and-a-half minutes is comprised of footage shot by my group; with the remainder being shot by the group with which we were paired. 

The idea behind this arrangement being that 2 groups would be paired together - 6 groups = 3 pairs - in order to reduce the amount each group would shoot and, therefore, save time so that the module's overall timetable of teaching would not be compromised. 

Ultimately, each group of a pair shot one half of the script and then produced their own final cut from the combined footage.

Like myself, it is fair to say that nobody in the module liked the Where will it all stop script However, the process of making the film did serve its purpose, it provided an opportunity to perform a number of filmmaking botch-ups, so that we would learn from them and not repeat them when we made the second short film of the module, the one we were marked on...



The Prospect

Did I like the story? No. But, for something that was going to be made by a group of people who had not made a film before, I thought it provided a lot of technical and logistical challenges which, therefore, made the script a very good subject to use!

The script aside, the prospect of going through the whole process of producing a short film before Christmas was, in my mind, incredibly daunting. Therefore, right from the get go, even when we were making The Eager Student, I’ve tried to get in the habit of being as organised as I possibly can. 

Getting organised early on was vital! 



Delegating Roles

Jenny - Director / Co-Producer
Sally - Production Manager / Co-Producer / Art Department
Emily - Sound / Lead Editor
Me – Cinematographer

Delegating the roles proved to be surprisingly simple, Sally had already stated that she wanted to be the production manager and we were all happy to let her have that role. Jenny said that she was quite keen to direct, but said she was happy to flip a coin with myself since I had directed our version of The Eager Student. I declined, explaining that I was keen to get to grips with either sound/editing or cinematography. Emily said she fancied doing sound because it also meant she could be lead editor and this had been something she had enjoyed doing on The Eager Student. Therefore, I took the role of Director of Photography which I actually preferred to editing, because I had done quite a bit of editing in the past and being the cinematographer allowed me to acquire a new skill. 



Locations

As the second half of the script promised to be less problematic in terms of location and would allow more creative freedom through the very vague montage at the end of the script, it was the half that was favoured both by my group and by the other (Tom, Sanne, Danny and Flo). We avoided an argument by flipping a coin and the result dictated that my group would shoot the pub half of the script. 

Finding a pub we could use didn’t actually prove to be all that problematic as Sally had been talking with the manager of The Royal Oak, who said he was happy for us to use the pub.  The great thing about The Royal Oak is that it quite easily lended itself to what the script required. 



Casting

Not counting Chuck, finding actors proved to be relatively easy. We sent out a casting call email, put up posters on campus and received sixteen replies relatively soon. We organised a three hour rehearsal session to which only two actors turned up! But we were able to sort out other things in those three hours and we received emails from performers who wanted us to consider them for parts. While only two people actually turned up to the session, by the end of it we actually managed to have cast all the parts except for Chuck. 

With Chuck we had email various amateur dramatic societies to see if there were any mature male actors who would be interested, but we received zero replies. It was me who suggested that we should think about casting a twenty-something actor in the role of Chuck. My reasoning was simple: we were running out of time and the only actors we had available to us were twenty-somethings. 

In my mind the only way we could pull this off was to adjust the script to give it a more supernatural edge. Therefore, with our version we are suggesting that Chuck is an old supernatural being who inhabits the bodies of others, hence why he is Joe at the end of our version. Saying this, though, it is a plot device that isn’t entirely made clear in our version. 



Storyboarding

This was something that I was keen to do, because it would mean that I would know exactly what I needed to shoot and where I needed to shoot it, without stressing out on the day of filming. Therefore, Jenny and myself went to the The Royal Oak and spent about two hours creating a photo storyboard from the shot list. 



This was incredibly useful in allowing us to see how feasible it would be to do the shots that were in the shot list. Some of the shots we had to adjust because we either realised it would be physically difficult to film or because we came up with a better shot. With the shot where the couples leave the pub and it is raining, we came up with a plan B; this was in case it wasn’t raining on the day of shooting. 

I was very pleased with all the time and effort which Jenny and myself had put into the storyboard. This Is why I was scathingly negative about the experience of the pub room change right before we started shooting. I was negative because all of that hard work and planning was now made redundant! Certainly, a plan B and a bit of positivity would have helped here. 



Rehearsals

Rehearsals were an aspect of pre-production that I felt were incredibly underused. It wasn’t that we didn’t try to make the most of them, but organising a time when everyone was available was proving be problematic; even more because we were running out of time! 

We did manage to arrange one rehearsal session on the Friday morning before filming; in which we managed one read though and one rehearsal. Jenny rearranged the room to reflect the layout of The Royal Oak so that the actors would know where they needed to be on set. However, only the male actors were able to attend this session so this session was only half effective as a rehearsal. It was not ideal but, at least, we were able to get one rehearsal in and having half the cast knowing what is required is better than none of the cast. 



Equipment Training

I didn’t want to be that person who had to use a complicated piece of equipment and not know how to use it on the day! Therefore, I made of point getting as much practice with the Sony Z1 as possible. When I went to do my demo with Richard, opposed to just watching and nodding, I filmed it on my camcorder. This proved incredibly useful when I booked the Z1 out for a weekend, because I could play Richard’s demo back and get to know the Z1 at my pace, which is what I did and which saved me from a lot of stress on the day of filming. 

As I was interested in finding out how all the equipment worked, I also went along to a sound demo; which, again I recorded on my camcorder. This proved to be useful because Emily, our sound operator, was unable to attend a sound demo, so I gave her a copy of my video recording to look at. My going to a sound demo would have proved invaluable if Emily had not been able to come the shooting, because someone else would have known to operate the sound equipment. 



Filming

Naturally, it was at this point in production that everything really started to go wrong! The first problem we encountered was one that we should have seen coming – casting. The first issue was with the character of Lolly. The actress we had cast to play Lolly did manage to film all of her material for the Saturday, but was unable to shoot on the Sunday. Jenny managed to sort this by getting her housemate to take on the role. But this meant that there would be two actors playing Lolly in our cut of the film and I am amazed how nobody noticed this when watching our version!

The second casting problem was with the role of the Bartender and again the actor we had scheduled to do this had to drop out because of work. At least, the character didn’t appear in both halves of the script, so we wouldn’t have another character played by two actors. But it did still leave us without an actor to play the role and on the night before we had to shoot it. I suggested that we swap the roles of the Bartender with the role of the Barmaid, so the Barmaid would speak all the lines of the Bartender. Therefore, all we would need to do would be to get a male actor to film the one shot in which the Barmaid was originally to have appeared in. 

The casting problems aside, it was when we were setting up to film in The Royal Oak that we received the biggest blow. We were told that, because of customers, we would not be able to use the main part of the pub - the part which we had planned for. The only part that we would be allowed to use would be the back room, which was a completely different layout, had different lighting and was a smaller space than what we had planned for. Our shot list, floor plan and storyboard went straight out of the window; this really, really annoyed me!

We were half an hour late getting started because Jenny had to completely redo the shot list and storyboard; the disarray this had created with our planning rubbed on to the actors as well, so that a lot of the people on set didn’t know what it was they were supposed to be doing. However, it did give me and Emily a good amount of time to set up the camera and sound equipment; while also giving the cast, once they had been guided to do so, an opportunity to rehearse their lines outside. When we did start shooting we were very much aware that we would need to pull our socks up if we wanted to shoot everything in the time we had left!

In my mind, the three hours that we spent shooting were incredibly frustrating and stressful. It was frustrating because all of our careful planning had to be scrapped and it was stressful because everything became order deteriorated into a terrible rush. Saying this, we did manage to shoot everything that was needed; maybe not to the quality we had hoped for, but certainly to a “useable” quality.


Editing 

I tried to be present at all the editing sessions; this I achieved for the editing of our footage but I didn’t manage for the editing of the other groups footage. Although, this was just as well because it was Emily and Jenny who had to actually edit the film and, really, the only reason I was present was so I could look at the footage to see if anything needed to be fixed.

I had noticed that there were some problems with exposure and framing, but is was exposure that was in desperate need of fixing! The problem was that in some of the shots I had played around with settings in an effort to reduce the light coming through the windows and all this had achieved was to darken the shot as a whole. Therefore, I needed to brighten these shots so it was actually possible to see what was happening in them and so that they would match up with the lighting of the other shots. 

On YouTube I found a video that showed me how to fix the brightness. It would have been better for me to do this before Jenny and Emily started editing as I would have been able to fix the shots as a whole and not as separate cuts; because of this it ended up taking me nearly an hour! However, once I had brightened the shots I found that it de-colourised them and made it look as if they had a faint smog across them. Therefore, I needed to put some colour back in to them which I did after finding another tutorial video on YouTube and which took up another hour! 

While the shots now look a lot better they are still far from perfect and colour correction is something that I would like to learn how to use properly. 


Our Group’s Cut

The seminar screening was the first time I had seen our group’s completed cut and was I very impressed at how good it was! I know that Emily and Jenny were concerned that they would not get the other groups footage in time and that Emily’s friend would not have enough time to score the film. But the fact that they devoted so much of their own to time to achieve this is testament to their commitment to the project. I was also amazed at the high standard they had edited the second half of the film and, especially, with what little time they had available in which to do it!

However, I do agree with Mike in regards to tightening up the edits after Christmas. I don’t know where Emily and Jenny stand on how final they view our group’s cut but there are still a few exposure and colouring issues that I would like to fix. 


Final Thoughts

I’m thankful for how willing all the members of my group were towards meeting up outside of seminar time to get things organised. In my mind, there is nothing worse than working with people who are disorganised! I know that with our production we encountered problems because we had not considered certain factors when we were organising, but it would have been even worse if we hadn’t been as organised as we were.

This has been the most intensive practice run of anything I have done and the experience of which, I’m sure, will rub off on the second film. Certainly, I have learnt many new things about the production process and I am grateful for the technical and logistical knowledge that the experience has provide me with. But the three main points I am taking from this experience are: 

To remain constantly positive!

To plan ahead!

And to have a plan B!


The Other Versions

You can view all of the different versions of Where will it all stop in the playlist below. One version, the alternate cut using some of our version's footage, is missing. However, the five that are present, offer an interesting insight into how a single piece of material can be re-interpreted in number of different ways...




With the conclusion of Where will it all stop and the practice filmmaking period we moved onto developing our own short scripts that formed another assessed component for the module and provided the script material that would be adapted into our final assessed short films. You can read about the development process of my script here: Developing a Script, Part 1: Outline

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