30 November 2007

Fringe Friday


While not totally applicable to us, we attended a Fringe Friday meeting tonight. The Fringe festival in Wellington consists mostly of theatre, concerts, exhibitions and other performance based events, but as it turned out we learnt lost of interesting stuff about where to get money from. There were people there from the Cuba Street Carnival, Wellington Council, someone from a new fund called EAT (Emerging Artists Trust), and the usual rabble of artists.

 Since the Fringe events lend themselves to this, there was a lot of talk of finding private sponsors and branding. This made me think that it could be applied to film funding, too, if only in the shape of asking for favours and promising logos in the credits. But even a short film could include branding, if it is appropriate. this started me thinking that at least the boat scene and the bookshop, as well as other businesses in the background could be hit up for sponsorship for product placement. Why not? 

There is a lot of work to be done before any sponsors can be approached, more probably than if we just applied for straight funding: research audience and target market, consider the aims and content of the film to find sponsors who match them. Researching potential sponsors mission statements would help to connect with them and their brand. One other interesting statement made was that when writing a budget, we should always put in proper wages for all crew and cast, even if we can’t pay this in the end, since this is a more professional approach to budgeting and gives a clearer picture what this production would actually cost.

23 November 2007


I just finished a commercial short for NZX's passive sharedealing product smartshares. They had contacted me a while ago with a script for a short viral film to be posted to their new blog-based website and to YouTube. They were looking for something that was provocative, but work-safe at the same time, and would promote the idea that passive equals cool.

We filmed the script with a small crew and one actor, and Ben Parsons provided the cheesy music. We did a neat trick where we shot two dolly shots into the same room, one going left to right and one right to left. In Final Cut Pro I flopped the second shot and with a cross fade it looks like one continuous shot from one room to another.

16 November 2007

Script to Screen@SPADA conference

I couldn’t attend the whole conference, but made it to Script to Screen’s lunchtime talk with Scott Meek, Jeremy Nathan and Derek Fox. The specifically New Zealand theme was: Creating a National Cinema and a Unique Voice on the World Stage. Scott Meek, formerly managing director of Zenith in the UK, now living in Australia, made some interesting comments on the subject from the British perspective.

He pointed out that Truffaut said that the words ‘cinema’ and ‘England’ should not be mentioned in the same sentence. Meek pointed out that the UK film industry is a permanent film school for Hollywood. He also compared Robert McKee’s approach to film as laid out in his book Story to L Ron Hubbard’s Scientology teachings, refusing the need for films that meander, films that have no structure. He also said that he prefers making films with few people over a longer period of time than with lots of people very quickly.

Jeremy Nathan, who has been making films in South Africa for almost 2 decades told an instructional story of the Nigerian film industry, which receives no government funding whatsoever and still produces 800 feature films per year for the Africa-wide market. Budgets are in the region of $40k, with one week pre-production, one week shoot and one week post-production. They are generally love stories, voodoo films or historical epics with an average length of 3 hours. Eight years ago there were no Nigerian films on TV, now some of those film makers are being picked up as a reaction to this surge and make - presumably - classier fare for TV. He talked of the uphill struggle of making films in South Africa, with a distribution model of 400 cinemas for 40 million people. The whole of Africa has only 600 screens for 900 million people, so new distribution methods are developing, where mobile phone users can subscribe to 30 minute episodes, or businesses screen DVDs to a paying audience on their TVs. He called it a post-theatrical model of distribution.

07 November 2007


A break in the shooting schedule today: We are invited to the AnimeFX NZ conference student day, held at the Film Archive. The Film School has kindly arranged free entry for us, and since we are not filming today due to scheduling issues on Ice, I figured I might as well see what happens in the world of animation. you never know when you need an animator for a film.

The first thing I noticed was how every lecturer was using a Powerbook, except for the BBC Children’s TV presenter, who was running a very inadequate Windows PC, which had trouble playing his PR films. This is probably part of their Windows-only policies.

Most of the attendees were from Massey University’s animation course, so the questions were very job-seeking oriented and I could feel the atmosphere of wanting to look professional in the room.

There were some pretty cool speakers, but none so popular as Matt Aitken from Weta Digital, who gave an interesting talk on the workflow of animated shots through from pre-production to post.

My favourite speaker was Rita Street, a producer from Radar Cartoons. She told us to “Try the impossible, there’s less competition.” A brilliant conceit, and she was a very inspiring speaker. Her approach is to just contact people, not being afraid of them if they are famous or very senior in the industry or busy. “Swimming in the Impossible pond”, she called it.

The first speaker of the day, Tim Johnson from Dreamworks, probably had the most useful things to say to students, his talk was entitled “Mistakes Student's make and How to Avoid Them”.

These included:
 • Not showing work until it is finished,
 • bad sound,
• Tired themes: ninjas, suicide
• not following up on contacts
• Not being able to communicate your ideas,
• Being too focussed. Get a life outside animation.
• Demo reels that are too long and don’t put the best stuff first.
• Not finishing work. Better a short finished than a feature that never gets done.

The coolest guy there, in the end, was Dan Curry, Star Trek Visual Effects Producer for 18 years, including Deep Space Nine, The Next Generation and Enterprise. Wow. He told us all sorts of cool stories about low-tech effects he made. He used to live in Thailand and learnt about shadow puppets there, so when he had an episode where giant insects take over the Enterprise, he made movable puppets out of foam board; he spoke very fondly of a glitter-dispensing pompom which he used to create star clusters. Apparently he used it in every single episode of Next Generation. His favourite special effects films are: Sindbad the Sailor Forbidden Planet Quo Vadis - for matte painting King Kong - the original The Thief of Baghdad

03 November 2007

Ghost Story - Second meeting

Another pre-pre-production meeting before Amelia goes off on her adventures to Cambodia. Still no script in sight. But there is a beginning and an end, a boat at night and a perilous fall at the edge of the water. And questions: What’s it like being a ghost? What does a ghost look, talk, move like? How do you interact with a ghost? What happens when you lose someone and they just disappear, you don’t know if they live or are dead? How does it work when all around you think they have gone, but there are still there with you?

We also have two characters: Isabella and Francesca. Isabella is sensible and a little fearful of the world. She is at the mercy of her sister who appears and disappears at the most inconvenient times or important moments in her life. Her family is influential for her, but her dream life and time with her sister is somehow more colourful and intense than the rest of her world. After Bella’s disappearance she set up a bookshop called Bella’s Book. Francesca disappears one night during a sailing trip and since then is always a bit wet. She is also upset that the only person she can talk to is her big sister Isabella, who is a stick in the mud and boring. Unfortunately she has little control over the time and place she appears and disappears, although Isabella seems to think she is showing up at inappropriate moments just to spite her.

To keep the water theme we are thinking of locations, like a boat, bathtub, kitchen sink, pool, beach. waterfront, pier, dam or lake; objects like fish tanks, water bottles, fountains, sprinkler. I think I’ll be starting to write things down soon.

18 October 2007

Grad Films: things that can go wrong

First day of shooting. It should have been our second day, but we had a major problem on Tuesday, just as we were starting to get ready to go home to get some sleep before the first day. I am currently reading Mike Figgis’s book Digital Film-Making where he says that on every shoot he makes a list of Things That Can And Will Go Wrong On A Shoot, so that he can learn from them and avoid making the same mistake.

On Tuesday afternoon we found out that our main actor for F-Stop had suddenly become unavailable. As there was no backup, Hayden and Mark called every single male actor on the list and a few that weren’t to find a replacement. Since they only succeeded in the evening, the decision was made to give the director a day to rehearse with the new actor and start shooting on Thursday, today.

So, in Honour of Mike Figgis, here is today’s List of Things That Can And Will Go Wrong On A Shoot:

• Actors drop out - specially when they are not paid and get offered a paid gig
• Pinning down locations too early: “ We will only need it on one day.” Expectations are set and the owners are reluctant when scheduling requires changes
• Putting off making decisions. Sometimes people don’t feel empowered to make them, or just hope they go away, but they will have to be dealt with eventually, and shoot day is a really bad time for them.
• Expecting the weather to be good. It won’t be.
• Leaving visual style decisions too late, requiring wholesale changes for wardrobe and art department.
• Practical events - untying someone, lying in a bathtub of ice, opening a locked suitcase - need to be tested in advance so that a good shooting sequence can be worked out and practical issues addressed early: find a rope that doesn’t tangle, arrange a way to transport fake ice, get a suitcase with a snap lock...
• Always remember to colour balance the camera, saving hours in post-production.
• Communication on set has to be clear. After a block through spend enough time with the heads of departments so that the crew is clear on what needs to be done.
• Spending too much time on setups. Get as much coverage out of a shot as possible. That means having a clear idea in your head about the shots needed, and how to achieve them from the fewest setups possible.

13 October 2007

Ghost Story - First meeting

First meeting with Sara and Amelia to talk about our short film project, temporarily named Ghost Story. Since working with Amelia on the 5 minute drama I’ve wanted to direct her again in a film, and Sara and I have been talking about doing a project together for ages.

So I am taking one of my script ideas from those short films to work out a short film with those two. It’s all pretty busy at the moment with the grad films going on, but we have managed to squeeze in some time on the weekend to have preliminary talks.

There is no script yet, and I am keen to talk through themes and ideas with my actors, rather than presenting them with a finished script. So we sat at Sweet Mama’s, talked about inspiration, made up a reading list:

• Greek Tragedies, specially Electra, Iphigenia and Antigone, stories of sisters
• Ian McEwan’s Atonement for it’s minute description of an afternoon

...and a movie list:
 • Alejandro González Iñárritu, 21 Grams - disjointed story telling, jumping back and forth
• Lukas Moodysson, Lilja 4-ever - a slow and seemingly non-eventful story that builds so gradually that it is unnoticeable, creating character and lives rather than relying on activity to set the scene
• M. Night Shyamalan, The Village - One kind of story turns into another kind, mixing directions and confusing expectations
• David Fincher, Fight Club - how to show a person that is only alive in one person’s head.

Sara and Amelia talked about what it is like to be a sister (since I only have brother-type sibling experiences), we considered the nature of ghosts and possible locations, shot angles and equipment needed. I like the freedom of thinking about the themes and the practicalities all at the same time. I don’t think I’ll be writing a script for a while yet.

12 October 2007

Grad Films: Location recce

We had a long and drawn out scene by scene meeting yesterday, followed by a location recce today. We start shooting F-Stop on Wednesday, so now is the time to iron out last-minute problems. In the meeting we went through the script locating any items of wardrobe, props, set and special lighting, grip or location equipment.

One scene for example is going to be shot at Makara Beach high on the top of the cliffs, so we know we are going to need special safety arrangements, warm coats and a generator for the lighting. Another scene is set during a house move, so there will be a lot of boxes and packing material as well as reasonable amount of time to re-set the set between setups. When we went to the locations at Greta Point, which serve as Adam and Lilith’s flat, we realised that there is a lot of dressing to do and that we have to be extremely careful of the space, white walls and carpets, expensive furniture, etc.

05 October 2007

Grad Films: Pre-production

Pre-production is the possibly the longest and most crucial period of film making. Sometimes it's hard to tell when it starts, as it can involve script writing and finalising as well as the usual work of location scouting, casting and art direction.

My role in pre-production for the grad films is scheduling. As we are shooting three films back to back in a specific time period there are a lot of changes when we finally decide on a location, cast an actor and find out their availability, and make script changes. Everything was up in the air until the last minute, even scenes were re-shaped and actors re-cast.

I found myself working a lot with the location manager, as there were the most restrictions on availability. Some people only wanted us to use their flat when they were out, others when they were home, then there were public places we could only access at certain times such as a public square or a cafe. Working round the requirements for Ice, which is set mostly at night, proved to be specially difficult. The actress was not available after 6pm, and the cafe was not available until the end of the day after it closed to the public. So at last we got another location (Imbibe), which was more of a bar and only opened late, to shoot the cafe scenes and blocked out the windows to shoot day for night. 

Knowing how long to schedule a scene for is another challenge, as it requires detailed information from the director and DoP as to how much coverage they want to shoot, how complex the lighting setups are and how much time the director needs on set with the actors. As with everything else, it turns out that preparation is everything. I remember siting in the theatre for 4 hours while thinking about the blocking and possible shots for Othello, Too. It just seemed easier to work it out while I was actually physically present in the space rather than deluding myself that something can be done and finding out on the day that it doesn’t fit.

Also, since we were working with a 16mm camera, which is unwieldy and requires a lot of care in lighting and setup, it was important to think realistically about the number of setups that can be done in a given time with the inexperienced crew that we are. I learnt that art direction is hugely important and really needs to be thought through and tested in pre-production, so that everyone is clear on how the practicalities are going to work, how the locations are going to be dressed so that they look great and appropriate and so that there is no last-minute panic over items that were not thought about before.

22 September 2007

Grad Films: the scripts

After a drawn-out process of pitching, writing treatments, first drafts and meetings three scripts have been chosen for the grad films: Ice, written by Katy Wedde; F-Stop, written by Mark Hershenson, and Jeanie, written by Corey Matthews.

In the end, despite a list of pitches of 50 or so initial ideas, only 5 made it to draft script stage. At one point there was even talk of only two films being made, although that might have trying to put some fire under us. Strangely, although there is some real writing talent in the crew, the people with the funny and interesting ideas didn’t produce anything. Ice is a thriller about a woman who falls in love with a serial killer and finds herself threatened by his rejection. Jeanie describes a school reunion with a twist, 5 friends waiting for their long-lost companion to join them. F-Stop describes a love triangle between Adam, married to Eve, and his ex-girlfriend Lilith. Very Biblical.

13 September 2007

5 Minute drama screenings

NZBlogPhoto49-2007-09-13-03-35.jpeg Tonight we screened our 5 minute drama films at City Gallery. Some surprises, some disappointments. See my final film below or here (bigger, downloadable versions).

11 September 2007

16 mm post production


Park Road Post is our local post-production facility, where we went on Tuesday to view our footage. At the same time we had a look around the editing suites. It's always a pleasure turning up at Park Road Post, the building itself and the entrance hall are so stylish, you feel like you are in a hotel.

We met Andy Wickens, who is lab liaison, dealing with clients who come in to have their film processed. First we took a look at the mixing theatre, a huge space with a big screen and a time code counter below it. There were a few mixing desks, one of which had 280 inputs, i.e. could handle 280 individual tracks.

As John Boswell, the re-recording mixer explained, most of the sync sound from a shoot usually gets thrown away and only used as a guide track, and once the dialogue has been ADR'd there may be up to 21 separate dialogue tracks alone. Then come the foley tracks for all the sounds like foot steps and clothing and other sounds, on top of the music and such. NZBlogPhoto70-2007-09-11-03-30.jpeg
John then took us through to the foley room, which was really in two parts: One side had the mixing desk, and through a window was a soundproofed room with lots of stuff on the floor for recording footsteps, such as epsom salt for snow crunch (for ”30 Days of Night”), leaves, gravel and sand. All around were stands with objects that could be used to make a sound as well as the motor bike they used to make foley sounds for "World Fastest Indian". Cool.

The next stop was the dark room and processing room where our film reels would have been checked in total darkness for faulty perforation or rips before being stapled together into a long reel and spooled into the developer. The developing machine is fully automated and even replenishes its dev chemicals automatically so that only occasional tests have to be made to ensure everything is on track. This is also where copies are made off the master print for distribution to cinemas. For a mayor NZ release like King Kong 100 to 150 copies may be struck.


After developing the print goes to the contact printer to make a positive. This is done in safe light, as the positive film is so slow (about 5 ASA) that it won't get fogged under low red light. A big machine runs through the film one frame at a time and contact prints onto the positive material.

We took a short visit with the digital intermediate guy, who ran us through a quick description of the process of DI, where the film is scanned into the computer one frame at a time for post processing such as colour grading and addition of special effects.

The whole film processing areas looked like a hospital wing, all the corridors were super-white and clean, the operators wearing lab coats, a total contrast to the warm cosiness of the front of house areas, where soft sofas and dark wood prevails.

The last stop was the screening room, where we settled down in deep leather sofas to watch our footage from last week. The film had been exposed to a standard setting, although the grader had put on some extra lights on to some film to make it come up better.

Watching the footage we made last week was a sobering experience. A lot of shots had soft focus, and many were badly framed. Fortunately the exposure was pretty good, but then again, there are often only 6 setups per shoot, so they will be difficult to cut together.

07 September 2007

16 mm film intensive week

Since this week was pretty intense, I am going to make one entry out of the whole week, even though I was doing different things every day. Well, I was 1st AD overall for my group (we were split into a morning and an afternoon group) for the week as well, but since that just consisted of organising the transport schedule from hell - why does everyone’s car break down at once? - I shall concentrate on talking about the experience of shooting film and my roles.

To be upfront, I still don’t see the point of shooting film in this day and age for the work that I want to do and see myself doing in the near future. So there. Unless you have access to a professional crew and a lot of money there is really no point.

Shooting film is expensive, and that makes it limiting to creativity, when you have to think all the time how much footage you have already used and whether it’s worth it to shoot another take. Then comes the worry about whether the focus was right, the exposure, the camera movements, etc. There is no way of knowing until you get into the screening room, because frankly it’s pretty hard to see anything properly on that monitor or the eye piece and there is no rewind button.

Next comes the issue of having an experienced crew. We are not experienced, which means we fog film by accident, we are not good at keeping the actor in frame, we take a long time to light a scene, not even to talk of trying to keep focus.

So unless you have a crew that you can rely on to produce great technical results you know that you will lose a lot of shots because they are soft, or badly framed, or poorly lit. And you wont know that you have lost these shots until it is too late to re-shoot. If film was all there was, fine, but it isn’t the only medium anymore.

And yes, film still beats digital in terms of quality - i.e. resolution, exposure latitude, colour fidelity - but that is just a matter of time. Like in all areas of technological advances there will come a time when the new technology overtakes the old in all areas from accessibility to quality. And film making is always a balancing of options a compromise between what we want to do in our dreamshoot and what we can do in this reality of financial restraints.

But the one thing that we can always maximise is story and character, and there it almost doesn’t matter what the picture quality is. As far as I am concerned I’d rather watch “The Remains of the Day” shot on a cellphone than “Die Hard 4.0” shot in 70mm. And as a new film maker without funding story and character is all I have.

I want to make the best possible pictures, create to most beautiful visuals, because that is how a story is told in a movie, but when that impinges on my ability to be creative on set because I see the money running through the mag or have to cut scenes because it takes to long to set up the beast of a cast-iron film camera, then I know that digital is the way to go for me. Phew, what a rant. And I haven’t even talked about my roles this week, which were camera operator, director, gaffer and clapper loader.

But I guess my observations above really describe the essence of the week for me, where we did have a fogging accident that lost us enough footage to shoot all afternoon; where 2 of 3 mags were broken which meant waiting for the loader to re-load the mag; where we physically couldn’t do shots because of the weight of the camera when it was hand-held; where shots were soft and badly framed. It was a frustrating and sobering experience.

06 September 2007

Hello Dubai screening

Amazing, but true: ‘Hello Dubai’ has finally had a screening in a festival. After a year of work and submission to many documentary, women’s and Middle Eastern film festivals it was accepted at the Date Palm festival here in Wellington. The first screening took place tonight. There will be a second screening on Tuesday and another in Christchurch in the following week. This is the first time I am attending a festival screening and it feels like a huge privilege to be present when an audience chooses to see a film I made.

Seeing it on such a big screen is a sobering experience, mistakes show up a lot more than on the small computer screen. I was surprised how well it holds up, since it was shot on such a simple and small camera. It shows that even relatively cheap cameras can produce decent pictures that can be screened in a cinema. I have been saying this for a while, but I guess now that I have seen my own film make it there I really believe it. Thanks to all the people who came to be there with me at the first screening!

03 September 2007


This is not strictly a film school posting, but I had such a good time, I needed to let it out somewhere: Last weekend Stuart and I went to the Queensland rainforest, to Lamington National Park. He had been at a conference in Brisbane and I caught up with him to have a wekend away. We drove the hire car into the hills and ended up at O’Reilly’s guesthouse, a lodge in the mountains Stuart used to visit when he lived in Brisbane a long time ago.

So for him it was a re-discovery, for me it was a pleasant surprise. Apparently it has got a lot more comfortable in the interim, Stuart kept pointing out how bad the roads used to be, how he used to have to camp for lack of places to stay, how empty it was before the tourists arrived. Our room had an incredible view across the valley towards the volcanic plugs left over by erosion, and in the morning we took a bird walk and discovered a lot of colourful local birds as well as a bunch of kind of grey looking ones.

They all had cool names, though, like Scrub Wren, Black Faced Monarchs and Golden Bowerbird, Lewin’s Honey Eaters and Superb Fairy Wrens. And then there were Crimson Rosellas and Cockatoos and bush turkeys (which are apparently pretty tough to eat, otherwise they would surely be extinct by now), and the smaller version of a wallaby, the pademelon. First we thought it might be Paddymelon, something insulting towards the Irish settlers, but it turned out to just be the Aboriginal word. Since we had come to chill and the view from the balcony was so incredible, we took just a small hike, instead of the two day trek Stuart was hoping for (two days one way, that is).

It was still stunning, even just a small distance from the lodge we came across the humungous Moran Falls, total silence in the shadows of tall trees and a blubbering stream with clear water. So, check out the view from the balcony:

30 August 2007

Grip exercise

So far the most complicated grip situation was when Freddie wanted to shoot into a toilet cubicle from the top during his 5 minute drama. Luckily we had Hamish McIntyre at hand, a cool grip who works with FilmTec, where we went today to try out different grip equipment. FilmTec is based in Seaview and run by Dion Hartley, who has been key grip on big NZ productions such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Van Helsing, King Kong and X Men 3. He was also recently grip on Peter Jackson’s test shoot of the new digital Red camera.

His workshop is an Aladdin’s cave of gear, cars, rigging and tools to make more useful bits. As we are now gearing up for using the 16mm camera for our grad films, we tried out laying dolly tracks and rigging car mounts for shooting moving scenes. We will be back at this location for our 16mm film intensive week next week, when we are each shooting a short scenario for a half day.

19 August 2007

Serial Killer Shoot

Check ouNZBlogPhoto43-2007-08-19-08-10.jpegt that camera! Sara and I spent the afternoon being extras - or featured background artists - on a short film being shot at Wellington airport. The directors are former film school students from Belgium who have shipped over their crew, DoP and a very fancy new Sony F-23. They needed a bunch of people to be travellers, so we arrived with suitcases and change of tops to stand at the luggage carousel next to the real actors. I loved being on set again, even as just an extra, and to see how other sets are run and how everyone does their jobs. Took a load of photos, which are up here.

16 August 2007


NZBlogPhoto42-2007-08-16-08-08.jpeg This week, while writing the first drafts of our grad scripts, we were given a fun project to keep us entertained: animation. Make a 30 second animation using any technique. I took the opportunity to get into Motion, Apple’s animation program, which is part of Final Cut Studio. Oh, and I used copious amounts of iLife sound effects. See it below or on YouTube (or here).

10 August 2007


NZBlogPhoto41-2007-08-10-08-07.jpeg Easier said than done. I was overjoyed to see the quality of images we managed to create during the shoot, but working as a director with an editor is hard. For me, since I edit a lot myself, not being able to touch the keyboard and make changes as I see fit has been frustrating, but having a new view on the footage from someone who wasn’t at the shoot has been extremely helpful, too. So there are two sides to this. I have been editing Jake’s shoot, and it has been a complete pleasure. Instead of finding it simplistic, as I did when I was editing fiction footage before, instead I find it a whole new challenge, frame accurate editing to make a smooth flow of the shots one into another.

29 July 2007

It’s Done

NZBlogPhoto39-2007-07-29-08-04.jpeg Today I directed my script. Wow. After 8 days of working in all the various roles in the crew today I got to direct my own. It was a whole new experience. After all this time thinking I am not interested in being a director, specially of fiction I have now totally changed my mind. I loved the way the story came alive, the work the actors put in, the crew backing me up and getting my film made, all that was possible, and a supervisor who helped me keep my head on straight. Here are a few of the stills: NZBlogPhoto40-2007-07-29-08-04.jpeg Update: See the final film here.

27 July 2007

5 minute dramas Day 8: Clapper/Loader

NZBlogPhoto38-2007-07-27-08-03.jpeg Today was a lot more fun than I expected, being clapper is a cool job that gets you into everybody’s business. Combined as it is with the job of grip on this shoot it involves a lot of running round at the same time as trying to keep on top of the camera sheets, but at least it’s never a dull moment. Today I learnt that shooting in the street is harder than it looks. Continuity is a huge issue, as are pedestrians who can’t stop looking into the camera.

5 minute drama photos

NZBlogPhoto37-2007-07-27-08-02.jpeg A few photos from the shoot are now on Flickr. I have less time than I expected to take pictures as we were working, every day was so hectic and intense.

5 minute dramas Day 7: Camera Operator

NZBlogPhoto36-2007-07-27-08-01.jpeg Today we are outside. The only person in our crew who was brave enough to write a script set entirely outside, and in a park at that, is Jordan. His chase and betrayal story means that we are running through the woods, the actors are getting muddy and we are spending the day chasing the dappled light falling through the branches. It’s a whole other experience after a week of being cooped up in one house or another. Our kit is laid out on a tarp on the ground, we are praying for sunshine, and we are spread out so much that the 1st is going hoarse with shouting. Today I learnt that I want to be a steadicam operator.

26 July 2007

5 minute dramas Day 6: Continuity

NZBlogPhoto35-2007-07-26-08-01.jpeg I was looking forward to Freddie’s shoot, he is keen on the visual art of film making like I am. So when we arrived at the location, a beautiful huge hall in Massey University, I was excited to see what he would do. And it was pretty amazing. Freddie’s story is of a young boy who commits suicide in a toilet and goes to heaven, only to be thrown out for not belonging. The shoot was all cool angles and totally blown-out images, which made this hall really look like heaven. The black and the white angel really helped, too. Today was one of the first times all the actors were used, so that made them happy. As I was continuity today, my main focus was the monitor and my note pad. Unfortunately, despite reading up on the tasks required of continuity I did a terrible job. I spent so much time concentrating on keeping track of where things were on the screen that I totally forgot to write down shot descriptions and information useful to the editor. I felt really flustered most of the time, although I thought I would be organised enough to do a decent job. Today I learnt that gaffer tape can save the day.

24 July 2007

5 minute dramas Day 5: 1st AD

So there I was thinking that I’d be good at being 1st Assistant Director, the person who keeps the show on the road and everything running like a well-oiled machine. Pah. As it turns out being 1st is like herding kittens, talking to everyone, but no-one doing what they said they would. Very frustrating.

 Anyway, Adrian’s film today, and we are at the house of a friend of a friend of his, so we have to be out by 5.30. Since we only finished at 9pm last night due to the late start of Corey’s shoot, we couldn’t get going till 8 this morning. Something about 10 hours turnaround for crew, John told us. As if we were getting enough sleep anyway... The story is simple, a hostage situation that turns into a backgammon game that turns into something altogether kinkier.

Adrian concentrated on his actors, a good example to watch, and we revolved around him. The room we shoot in is spacious, which is good, as we have to fill with a lot of light, and he wants a lot of funky dolly shots.

Merryl is DoP and has spent a lot of time thinking about the shots, although they always seem to change on the day anyway. But knowing what you want in advance is the key, I think, so that it’s possible to adapt if something isn’t quite right.

Today I learnt that there should always be vegetables for lunch. And sunshine. We spend all day indoors, because there we can control the light and surroundings. It wold be easy to become anaemic.

23 July 2007

5 minute dramas Day 4: Gaffer


Corey’s shoot today, at his house in Newtown, and pretty crowded it is, too. It seems as if all the furniture is in the hallway, and the rooms are still pretty full. As gaffer I am responsible for lighting, but since we are still a few bulbs shot of a full set of lamps, there is little scope for me except to black out all the windows.

Unfortunately the house is in a bit of a state, being inhabited by three male students, and in order to tape up the windows I have to clean the frames first to make sure the tape sticks. Yuk! Our supervisor today was Charles Edwards, which was lucky, because it gave me an opportunity to learn about how to do much with few lights. The most impressive setup was a scene in the bedroom, at night in the dark. With a reflector board underneath the actor and a redhead pointing into the corner of the ceiling, heavily gelled with blue, the room really looked like it was in the dark, without losing the image of the face. Magic, and something I can’t take credit for.

 Today I learnt that I am more interested in performance than clever shots. Watching the actors work with a difficult script - they were basically speaking their sub-text rather than any real lines - I figured out how important it is to put performances in front of the camera that go beyond cliché.

22 July 2007


NZBlogPhoto32-2007-07-22-07-45.jpeg Got most of the storyboard done today. The work on other people’s film has really helped to understand what kind of shots I can expect to get. I decided to choose nothing to fancy and to tell the story through shot size rather than complicated dolly or hand held shots.

21 July 2007

5 minute dramas Day 3: Unit

NZBlogPhoto31-2007-07-21-07-44.jpeg Unit day, and Harry Potter day, of course. A perfect combination. Derek’s shoot takes place around the train station, so I am parked up nearby and spend my time shuttling between the Landy and the shoot with tea, coffee and snacks. Well, actually nothing much happened until the crew arrived after an hour shooting on a bus Derek has managed to procure (sausage rolls were involved, apparently). Then there was a lot of going up and down the escalators with varying traffic in the background ( I fear for continuity) until lunch. Stuart was a dear and brought leek and potato soup at 1.30 exactly and then dashed off to get our copies of Harry Potter. All in all the day was pretty peaceful. I spent it looking after everyone and enjoyed that a lot. If it’s not my project I think I would be very happy to be unit, everyone loves you when you bring them food and snacks. Plus, the Landy is the perfect setup for unit, as if built for it. With the canopy and the gas cooker, the tables and chairs, extra crockery - why is it impossible for people to remember to bring a bowl and a spoon? - and lot of storage space it’s our favourite unit van. Today I learnt the importance of having a working phone on set, even if it is set to silence.

20 July 2007

5 minute dramas Day 2: Sound

NZBlogPhoto30-2007-07-20-07-43.jpeg Second day, and we are still - again - shooting at my house. Caleb’s story is a love triangle with deadly results, taking place in our living room. Today I am responsible for sound. Thanks to Carl, who did it yesterday and is a bit of a wiz I am all set up with my little mixer, headphones and connection to camera. Phil is booming for me, such fun. As the sound person I am in my own little world, watching and listening for any stray noises that don’t belong there. after the take I write everything down and start again. Simple. It makes me a little separate from the rest of the shoot, but it is relaxing, too. Today I learnt that when you are on a long shoot in a small room with lights on, make sure you bring deodorant.

19 July 2007

5 minute dramas Day 1: DoP


First day, and everyone has been really on their toes. We are all nervous and trying to get it all right. Luckily our supervisor today is Ken Saville, sound man extraordinaire and all round calm guy. The first day’s shoot is Merryl’s, a simple story of two sisters and their reunion, family turmoil included. We are shooting at my house, which makes some things easier, as it’s just up the road from film school and we know what we can and can’t do. Plus, since Merryl has been staying with us, she knows the location really well and we have already spent a lot of time talking through the setups, camera locations, shots we want to get, etc.

 If there is one thing I learnt today it is the importance of checking all kit before you get to the shoot. The tripod head is pretty worn and so can only be set to either very stiff or totally loose. Freddie, the camera operator, did what he could with it, but it was hard just doing a simple following pan. The boom is also in a bad way, so that we have had to tape up the extensions to stop it from sliding down during the shoot. Then we found we didn’t have enough gels to gel up all the lights, luckily we shot all the angles against the kitchen windows first so that we were not so reliant on the lighting.

 It’s been interesting to see the crew get together even though we don’t really know what we are doing. Everyone is very concerned with sticking to their task, although there is a lot of mutual helping out, too. We have a whole bunch of actors with us, too. The first-years from Toi Whakaari, the drama school up the road, were assigned to us as actors, but also to help out on the days when they have no acting roles. We are already grateful for the help with boom swinging, unit and general running we have had from them.

13 July 2007

5 minute drama pre-production

NZBlogPhoto28-2007-07-13-07-34.jpeg I found a location! Vic Uni has two theatre spaces, and one of them is available to use for the day.

08 July 2007

Othello, Too - The script

NZBlogPhoto27-2007-07-8-07-32.jpeg I didn’t think I would enjoy script writing quite so much. But I am pleased with the result, a simple story, something for actors to work with and something that can easily be shot in a day with our resources - i.e. a bunch of film students.

14 June 2007

Assembling a 16 mm camera

NZBlogPhoto26-2007-06-14-07-20.jpeg Charles Edwards visited again today to show us how to assemble a 16 mm camera. Man, those things are heavy! The camera has a tactile quality that is completely different from handling a digital camera, even those large Panasonics. I am finding myself strangely drawn to the film process, despite my misgivings of cost and old-fashioned technique, it reminds me of working with my old Pentax 1000 shooting and printing black and white stills. The whole assembly process is so complicated, I took a load of pictures so that come the time we have to do it for real I will remember how it went.

08 June 2007

Art Department Exercise

NZBlogPhoto23-2007-06-8-06-59.jpeg Today we filmed the results of our week-long art department exercise. We worked in groups of 4 with the help of John Girdlestone to produce a short film set in a particular period. The script was pretty simple, intentionally so that it can be interpreted in many ways. Since there were 4 groups in the class, we picked 4 random periods - 2030, stone age, china in the 30’s and post-WWII NZ. Then we went location scouting. Since our group had been assigned the stone age, we went looking for caves. Luckily the coastline is full of them, but we also went for an old gold mine in Karori nature reserve. NZBlogPhoto24-2007-06-8-06-59.jpeg In the end we plumped for an open space in Breaker Bay, where we could light a fire and film without any problems, after getting the ok from Film Wellington. We spent a happy afternoon at the Costume Cave looking for furry bits for costumes. We had done a script breakdown of all the props and set dressing items we needed, but because of our period we had to find a stone age equivalent for them. A clock became a sun dial, the photographs turned into hand prints on rocks, the mirror a rock pool, the paper in the Jayne Eyre book was replaced with the twist in our story, a lighter hidden behind some decorated pebbles: NZBlogPhoto25-2007-06-8-06-59.jpeg We shot today, with Merryl and Corey acting, Jake directing and me as DoP. It was freezing cold, but the actors still managed to act barefoot and wearing very little. We set up early and shot till 3pm with hardly a break. You can see the end result below or here.

04 June 2007


NZBlogPhoto22-2007-06-4-03-48.jpeg I have been making panorama stills for years now, ever since I got my first digital camera. I love the way I can capture everything I see, not just what the camera sees in one frame. Until recently I thought that my panoramas had little to do with film making, apart from being a sort of instant pan, until I came across a tutorial on making moving panoramas. I still can’t figure out how I hadn’t come up with this myself. I mean, I was already using the tools, making little films and even editing them, and making still panoramas. Anyway, they are my latest obsession, and so easy to make with Final Cut. And they are so cool! I’ll put more on the page as I make them. Enjoy! Here is a taste:

25 May 2007

Porter’s Pinot

NZBlogPhoto21-2007-05-25-03-45.jpeg The first sequence of the documentary on wine making in Martinborough is being screened at the film school today. After another great shooting day in Martinborough, with John Porter this time, and an interview with him at his law office in Wellington I had enough material to make a 11 minute film about him. I have also managed to interview Christian from Nga Waka again and film the bottling plant. So next I will put together more on the process of wine making and the problems of the 07 harvest. Hopefully there will be more filming soon, because I now know that despite it being winter there is still a lot going on in the vineyard. See it below or on YouTube.

04 May 2007

Telling Tales - final film

NZBlogPhoto20-2007-05-4-03-28.jpeg The results are in and they are great. The other students in the crew covered the Mt. Vic tunnel, Freyberg pool, cross-strait swimming, Bolton St. cemetery, pub brawls, among other topics. Watch my finished film below, or go to the Museum of City and Sea in Wellington to see all of them from the 15th of May. Or find this film on YouTube.

28 April 2007

Documentary Progress

So I am almost finished with the ‘Telling Tales’ project, after getting up unreasonably early on Thursday to film Molesworth Street without people. Unfortunately I planned without considering the early start times of public sector workers. But I still think I got the footage I need. On Friday I went off to Martinborough again to film the harvest at the vineyards.

Another setback, though, as John Porter was unavailable. But my fabulous production manager Christian arranged for me to visit another vineyard to shoot the last of the picking and pressing of the grapes. I talked to the vineyard and cellar managers about their job and the work they did, so at the moment the doc is going into a different direction than I planned.

I also got up REALLY early again to shoot early morning shots of the countryside, but getting good audio at the same time proved to be very hard. All of Martinborough seems to get up early to drive around in their car and ruin my lovely recordings of bird sounds. I need a sound recordist!

25 April 2007

Telling Tales

NZBlogPhoto18-2007-04-25-03-24.jpeg ANZAC Day today, but I’m working on the Telling Tales piece. I found someone who was at the Anti-Springbok demo in 1981 who is willing to be interviewed about her experiences. Turned out I had all the fabulous quotes I needed after about 5 minutes. We talked a bit more, and afterwards I rushed home to cut the interview down to 1 minute before I forgot everything. I did a quick transcript of the bits I wanted to use so I could rearrange them before cutting them in FCP. That worked really well. Now I need some shots of Molesworth Street when it’s empty, i.e. early in the morning. I just wished I had done this last weekend, as I now have to get into town before the workers arrive tomorrow morning. Oh, well...

20 April 2007

The Truth of the Matter

NZBlogPhoto17-2007-04-20-09-51.jpeg Another trip to Park Road Post (always a pleasure) to a WIFT (Women in Film and Television) event with Phillipa Boyens, Gaylene Preston, Linda Niccol, hosted by Miranda Harcourt entitled “The Truth of the Matter”. It was an inspiring evening, hearing these experienced writers talk about how they get stuff done, how they get over procrastinating (or not) and how they pick a story (the one where you can see the ending, according to Phillipa Boyens).

18 April 2007

Documentary Research


The first week of the new term we launch straight into a teeny-tiny documentary project. The Wellington Museum of City and Sea has an exhibition called Telling Tales, which covers one story per year for the last 100 years up to 2000 A.D. using a single exhibit and a short description of the event. These range from the arrival of the lion that caused the foundation of Wellington Zoo to the Anti-Springbok tour demonstrations in 1981, from the burning of the National Archives to the building of the first windmill.

 Last year a group of photography students from Victoria University were asked to create still images in response to one of the year exhibits, and this year it is our turn to create a one-minute movie. For a documentary maker like me it is a heaven-sent assignment. Here is a huge supply of real stories, pre-researched, and all I had to do is react to them. Great! After humming and hawing over the years I was most interested in I was still left with about 20, so I ruthlessly cut them down till I was left with two possibles that I felt I had opportunity and material to tackle considering the tight deadline and the very short duration of the film.

 So far I am loving the research aspect of the assignment, calling contacts to get an interview with someone who was involved with the anti-springbok tour demos and trying to come up with material to illustrate the first Reclaim the Night march in Wellington in 1979. Today I have been at the library recovering my research skills which have disappeared after ten years out of college. I even used a microfiche machine! Despite the joys of the internet I still find it so useful to research in a library, where there is helpful staff even if the storage medium is a little antiquated. Come on Google Books!!!

17 April 2007

Script to Screen

NZBlogPhoto15-2007-04-17-09-45.jpeg This week is turning into a whirlwind of film-related events. Tonight there is a speech organised by ‘script to screen’ by Hollywood writer and professor Tom Abrams talking about the international perspective, after this the crew screening of “The Last Great Snail Race”. Tomorrow we are invited to the premier of “When Night Falls” a thriller set in the ‘30s and on Thurday it’s off to Park Road Post to hear some women writers talk about “The Truth of the Matter”. Busy, busy, busy.

04 April 2007

Crew Exercise


As an end-of-term project we spent the last week writing a script and filming it with the help of a professional director and cinematographer. It was to be the first time we practice working as a crew, covering all the technical roles as well as providing all other roles needed on the set from 1st AD to catering, grips, gaffers, art department, production management and so on. At least that was the theory. It turned out to be the first (and hopefully the last) major disappointment at film school. Due to the difficult relationship the group had with the director the process became one of struggling against bad teaching and un-constructive attitude rather than a combined effort of making the best film possible. The result was general lack of interest in the project - and on the positive side a pulling together of the crew (even though that probably wasn’t the objective of the exercise).

 What began with a really exciting pitching session where we came up with 30 story ideas and only stopped when we ran out of whiteboard space soon deteriorated when the director ripped down ideas with unhelpful (to say the least) comments on the boringness of our ideas. It became quite demoralising as we tried to defend our story concepts. As time went on more and more people dropped out and became frustrated. In the end even the original author of the story that was chosen withdrew and the director ended up writing the final draft. During the re-writes it became apparent that the script as written by the director would not allow any involvement for most of the assigned crew roles.

There was to be little art department requirement, no lighting and the camera work was to be hand-held by the cinematographer, negating a need for grips or a camera operator. In the end the script was changed to allow at least the art department to work, but most of the shoot was still handheld and only the last few hours of the shoot did the lighting and grip department have any work to do. It was unfortunate that what for many of us was the first opportunity to work on a film set ended up with half the crew sitting round with nothing to do all day and learning little to no hands-on skills.

Luckily our cinematographer, the esteemed Richard Bluck of Black Sheep
(a very funny must-see comedy horror, a true New Zealand movie in the best possible sense), was very communicative about the techniques he was using and spent some time answering questions.

23 March 2007

Music Video


It’s been quiet on the blog front this week, since we had a week of ‘self-directed study’ to complete a music video. This was mainly an editing exercise to get all those of us who have never used Final Cut Pro into the editing room and in front of a computer. There were a few days scheduled for pre-production, and a week for shooting, and only two days for editing, but we could divide our time any way we wanted. So I made a decision early on that I wanted to use mostly footage I already had rather than shoot more. I also wanted to make sure that the film, when completed, could be submitted to the local music film festival - ‘Handle the Jandal’. I found Kieran, a part of ‘Mr. Sterile Assembly’, a ska-punk band from Wellington.

I loved the political aspect of their music and thought it would fit well with the footage I shot at the anti-rape demo a few weeks ago. Capturing the demo footage and some concert footage that I managed to get a few days ago was easy. Then came the footage from my gall stone operation 2 years ago, which I was planning to overlay, and that’s where things got a bit trickier. The footage had been captured by the teaching surgeon through the camera he used for the micro surgery and saved to mpg2 format on a DVD. In order to mix this in I had to transcode it into HDV to match the other footage. Luckily there was no audio to deal with, and I was planning to only use the footage as an overlay. One big thing I learnt from this exercise is to make masks in Photoshop to use in FCP.

I wanted to split the screen into three parts, but with ragged edges rather than the straight sharp edges which result from cropping. After a few hits and misses I actually found it quite easy to make a black and white image, import it into FCP, where all the layers show up inside a sequence, and to drop each layer into the Image Mask filter applied to a clip. The other thing I tried as to use different blending modes to layer the footage, specially to make the op footage less gory looking. Anyway, thanks to Kieran and Mr. Sterile Assembly for letting me use their music, enjoy (also available on YouTube):