Still from Churchyard
Ah, my first short film. This begins a series of posts going behind the scenes of the films and music videos I’ve made.

Churchyard from Chris Payne on Vimeo.

At this time I had been developing a handful of film ideas and educating myself from books and DVD commentaries for over 7 years. I’d also splashed out on a camcorder with a few half-baked manual controls, but had no finished script to film. Enter the DepicT 90-second film competition, which inspired me with a new, simpler idea.

Churchyard was an exercise in getting something done or I’d be forever procrastinating. It went a bit the other way though, as with the deadline fast approaching, I had one weekend to write, shoot and edit it.

The script was written in a day, bouncing ideas off my wife and her mum. In the original version, the final shot was a crane shot up and over the churchyard wall revealing a bustling street full of “ghosts”, which would have looked amazing – if I’d had a motion-control crane, dozens of extras, and closed the street off to get a clean plate. That was the first thing to go. The rest didn’t really change much – it was mostly an exercise in trying to write dialogue that didn’t give the twist away, but was still interesting. I don’t think I really succeeded there.

I made a big mistake on this shoot, allowing the cast far too much time for script tweaks. Not that their input wasn’t useful – we did fix some dodgy dialogue – but we spent so long doing on-the-spot rewrites that we had to rush the shoot itself. That’s why the bulk of it is a single locked-off shot. At least that made the visual effects considerably easier. My wonderful wife ran interference for me, stopping a poor chap who’d come 60 miles to strim his mum’s grave from making noise while we were shooting.

Editing was unexpectedly hard – because of the enormous single take, I had to trim everything else to within an inch of it’s life to get it under the 90 second limit. I managed to chop a couple of lines out of the middle of that big take with no noticeable seam, luckily.

The ghost effect was done fairly simply by layering a clean plate of the churchyard set to 50% transparent over half of the frame. I had to tweak the mask edge as the talent moved slightly, but it was pretty painless. Replacing the name and dates on the gravestone took hours though, because the tripod (standing on thick grass) wobbled during my supposedly locked-off shot. I didn’t have any tracking software so I tried to matchmove it by hand. Never again.

Finally, the music was composed for me by Chris Gunn (who also stars) in a matter of hours. Amazing job.

It didn’t get anywhere in the competition, but I had finally taken a short film from concept to completion and hit the deadline! Best of all…I knew I could do better next time.

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