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.