Monsters trailer shoot wrapped!

My knee hurts.

Somehow in all the running to and fro between the location and our “trailer” (Steve’s house) I did something to it, and now it’s a bit swollen and painful to bend it. It’s particularly ironic since our volunteer stunt team spent two solid hours hurling each other into walls, kicking each other, lying in freezing puddles and – in one case – getting kicked in the head. And they all went home unscathed, I hope. They were fantastic, and we have some really brutal-looking footage for our fight scene. So much so that we’re planning to re-edit the mini-pilot to include this fight, because it won’t all fit in the trailer and it would be a travesty for no-one to see the whole choreographed sequence.

Our make-up artist Donna did an amazing job, travelling from London on short notice to do fairly extensive facial prosthetics. These were required for very brief shots, but ones which were wholly dependent on makeup for their impact. She had obviously spent some time working on these before the shoot and had even prepared some additional pieces just in case we needed them!

Our Director of Photography was forced to pull out a week before the shoot (one of the hazards of expenses-only projects) but we were saved by John, who stepped in with about 48 hours notice. I’m very glad he did, as his eye was invaluable, and his camerawork far better than mine.

So a big thank you to the entire cast and crew – everyone was enthusiastic, even though some spent most of their time waiting for something to do. And finally…thanks to Steve for producing this shoot himself.

Time to get cracking on the edit…

Fun and games with the Canon 5D

I’ve just spent half-an-hour going through the settings on the 5D we’ve hired for our Monsters pickup shoot. I had hoped to use the lenses from my wife’s 350D, but they don’t fit – the 5D has a monster mirror to go with the monster sensor, and EFS lenses are too deep to allow it to flip up!

So I had to hire a lens from their limited selection – most of the primes were out. I’ve got a 16-35, which goes from awesomely wide to…still pretty wide. I’ll have to get within a foot of the cast to get any close-ups, but the centrepiece of today’s shoot is a fight scene, which I’ll be shooting handheld, so the wide lens will minimise wobble. DSLRs are notoriously hard to hold still, but I’m used to a camcorder that weighs even less, so I have a few tricks that will help. I’m gonna be holding it out in front of me all day though, so by tonight my arms are going to be screaming. How I suffer for my art!

It’s a great camera though. Just tinkering indoors I can get a lovely soft bokeh behind the cats…if only they’d keep still. Looking forward to blocking out today’s shots. Spotted a couple of nice wide angles I want to use in an X-Files repeat last night, which was serendipitous.

I’d hoped to catch up with my making-of posts by now – particularly the previous Monsters shoot – but what the hell. I’ll post a report and some stills tomorrow anyway.

More Monsters shooting…

Under a week now to our Monsters pickup shoot on Saturday, and we’ve just lost our DoP, which is unfortunate. We’re just filming a handful of action scenes and dramatic reveals of characters who didn’t make the mini-pilot, which I’m looking forward to – should have time to experiment a bit with the blocking and framing, which is a nice luxury.

I’ll post more regularly in the run-up to and aftermath of this shoot. Not long to the deadline for the Trailer Festival!

Finding a Niche

I’ve been trying to learn Blender on and off for a few days. Sadly I’m too busy at work and prepping for next week’s Monsters pickups to really get into it, but there’s certainly a wealth of tutorial material, and lots of inspiring examples.

I’ve also recently followed a bunch of other filmmakers on Twitter, to the extent that my feed is swamped with examples of low-to-no budget films. It’s motivating to know what other people are doing, but also slightly intimidating. How will I get anyone to notice my work amongst so many?

But the conjuction of these two preoccupations made me think – I can stand out by playing to my strengths. My fascination with VFX and experience with CG in video games puts me a rung or two above many professional directors (in that field, at least), let alone film school graduates. Rather than playing safe with simple contemporary dramas, like everyone else, I should be working on more ambitious effects films – because in that niche, I will stand out.

I could be wrong, of course. Time will tell. But the Monsters pickups will require some effects work to properly convey the full scope of the story, so we’ll soon see if a few VFX help a project stand out…

Green Screen Technique

I’ve just been doing some research on getting a good green screen, which will be essential for a future project. Normally you’d be stuck between a rock (expensive and powerful professional solutions) and a hard place (cheap and nasty consumer software). Fortunately I’m pretty technical, which means I’m going for the third way: Blender, which is awesomely powerful and completely free…but an absolute bitch to learn. The interface design is entirely geared towards power-users and makes no compromises for newbies. I’ve been meaning to get to grips with it for years, but never had the time to tackle it. I still don’t really – but if I can get over the initial hurdle there’s a wealth of wonderful features I’ll be able to use. To begin with…the node-based compositor, which will let me generate multiple mattes and recombine them to create very specific keys for particular shots. I don’t trust one-button magic solutions, I’ll take the toolbox thanks.

I also discovered an excellent site selling green screen training DVDs: Hollywood Camerawork. Not only does their training look pretty exhaustive, they have a whole stack of test green screen shots for you to experiment on. In some ways they’re TOO good – I’d prefer to do my tests on less pristine footage, but I suppose I can always shoot my own BAD test shots 🙂

Doctor Who pitch for Big Finish

Big Finish make Doctor Who audio dramas, and recently issued an open invite for new writers to submit pitches for a standalone story. I procrastinated for a couple of weeks because I didn’t have a strong story idea. Then I summarized what I’d come up with do far to my wife, who immediately joined the dots for me.

Unfortunately, this was about 12 hours before the deadline. Still, it was too good an opportunity to miss, so I wrote an outline, pruned it ruthlessly to get it under the 500 word limit, and scrawled a sample scene. Audio drama is a different beast to TV and film, and not one I’m used to writing for – it was hard to resist putting visual elements in. Even simple physical actions are hard to convey in an audio format, so the plot has to turn entirely on character interactions and sound effects.

By this time it was 4am, but at least I delivered it on time. Big Finish received over a thousand pitches, so I doubt my rushed effort will get very far, but if nothing else it was a fascinating exercise.