Sunday, 12 December 2010

scAIRcrows Is In Rough Cut

Today I finished the first pass at the scAIRcrows edit. It currently runs for 27 mins and 40 secs without credits. And the script was 27 pages long so that page per minute theory isn't far off!

It's a fairly frustrating victory though as it still feels as though there's a bit of work to go yet. Everything that's in the cut that I wanted to tidy up, I now have to go and do that. I also have to start laying over the separately recorded audio and start trying to get the image consistent across changing weathers etc. Some effects and additional shots need to carried out too.

So yeah, I feel like I've finished when really, I haven't. I'm going to try and ignore that for the moment though and just take some satisfaction, if only for tonight, knowing that a cut, however loose and rough around the edges, exists.

The main thing for me though is that this film does exist. From a silly idea first discussed over a year ago to the cut that sits on my computer today, I'm in a mild state of disbelief and I don't know how we pulled this off either! But we did. And it's coming.

To give you some idea of when you can expect to see this - luckily, Christmas is coming up which means I can devote large blocks of time to sorting out the audio and colour grading. I don't think it's too optimistic to think that we're probably not much more than a month away from a final cut.

Thanks for reading - 'til next time!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Frank Henenlotter

I may have touched on this before but my favourite ever film is Brain Damage, a film written and directed by Frank Henenlotter. I can remember exactly when I first came across this film. It was in the summer holidays of 2001, really late at night and I was just flicking through all the channels on Sky as I did most nights, never really finding anything of interest. And as I flicked across the channels, this film was starting (I watch no TV these days but when I did, if something had already started, I wouldn't watch it). It was on the Sc-Fi channel (I don't know about now but it used to be a very good source of 80s horror despite being called Sci-Fi) and I was just drawn in straight away.

I immediately ordered it (it only had a UK DVD release in recent years and I have no idea about the quality of the release) and watched it millions of times.

It was/is a film that truly spoke to me. It told me that films don't have to play by convention but also don't need to take that ideal to the extreme. And that's the thing that permeates all Frank's films and the one thing that's informed scAIRcrows and no doubt anything else I ever make. He creates worlds and characters that are 100% real but then throws in some sort of off kilter aspect. Brain Damage is a very hard hitting film about drug addiction - there's a very tough segment of the film involving the lead trying (and failing) to rid himself of this addiction. It is played deadly serious and you can feel it. At the same time, it is a film where the other lead is a talking slug/worm thing. It sounds completely stupid but because everything else around the worm (and the worm itself) is played straight, you accept this thing as a reality.

scAIRcrows definitely follows this line of thought. We have a bunch of real people with real concerns and lives that are simply playing out. And then flying scarecrows appear. I will happily admit that scAIRcrows is a much less intelligent film but I'm not trying to remake or even copy Brain Damage. I cite Henenlotter and Brain Damage as an inspiration but they're only such because they agree with something that was already within me. They said to me that there's other people that see things just slightly off reality. They match the way that I think.

Basket Case is Frank's first film and I'm guessing the one he probably loves and hates in equal doses. Loves because it got him noticed, hates because instead of giving him money to make original projects, producers just wanted more sequels to this.

It's about Siamese twins who are separated. One brother is little more than a head and two arms attached to the torso of the other brother. Upon separation, the deformed brother (Belial) is thrown away but surprisingly, isn't dead. It picks up a few years later when both brothers head to Manhattan and seek out those doctors involved in the operation with Belial exacting revenge in a savage manner.

It clearly has the sensibilities that all of Henenlotter's films share but this one takes itself more seriously than the rest and, as much as it can be, is the most conventional of Henenlotter's films. It's a brilliant film that you can tell was crafted with a true love - it feels like a truly independent film but in a good way.

Henenlotter followed up Basket Case 6 years later with Brain Damage. Unfortunately the cover there gives away the very last shot of the film which isn't particularly clever. I have a French poster for this film (signed by Henenlotter when he attended Frightfest 2008 with Bad Biology) which is a similar image but is much cooler as it also features the worm, Aylmer, and a brain with a cocktail cherry and a straw sticking out of it.

I've probably said as much as I should say about this film. I totally worship this film and something very special would have to come along to knock it off my top spot. Check it out, it's available on UK DVD (as I believe all of his films are now).
Basket Case 2 was a film that was made purely so that the film Henenlotter really wanted to make (Frankenhooker) could be funded. He entered into a deal with a company that enabled him to make Frankenhooker if he delivered a Basket Case sequel first (that's an important thing to remember).

He never wanted to make this film and the cynics may call him a hack for making these sequels but his intentions for making them were honorable but more importantly, he didn't hash these films out. With Basket Case, Henenlotter had made a film with a certain tone and a definitive, inevitable ending. You could imagine how easily it could have been to cook up a sequel if forced. But Henenlotter actually gave it some thought and approached it with a tone that was far removed from the first and creating a world which is hard to imagine co-existing in the same timeline that the original happened.

Basically, Belial and his brother Duane are kidnapped from the hospital and taken to their aunt's (Granny Ruth) mansion where they discover she is caring for numerous deformed people - all exaggerated to comical degree. It turns the story of the original upside down (where Belial was the odd brother, Duane is now the one that doesn't fit in). There is a plot line of reporters tracking down Belial and Duane after the events of part one but this is secondary to the conflicts occurring between the brothers in Granny Ruth's mansion. The characters have little similarity between the two films but again, it just speaks of Henenlotter trying to make something of a situation that wasn't ideal.

Frankenhooker was the film that Henenlotter made Basket Case 2 to produce. I'd say that this and Basket Case 3 are more comedy than anything else. It's a lot more tongue in cheek and the furthest Henenlotter got in tone to Brain Damage. It tells the story of a man whose girlfriend/fiance is accidentally killed by a lawnmower. Said man also happens to be an underground scientist (with a brain for a pet and feeling a constant need to drill holes in his head to help him overcome problems). He decides that he will bring her back to life but doesn't have enough parts after the lawnmower incident. So he develops a drug he calls Supercrack, distributes it to prostitutes who consequently explode upon taking this drug. He then goes around, collecting the parts and reconstructs his girlfriend. The only side effect is that she resurrects with the memories of these hookers and heads straight to their haunts looking for business.

It is every bit as good as it sounds. You could clearly see that Henenlotter was not content doing the same thing over and over and it's a shame his career effectively ended after this film.
So, Basket Case 3 followed Frankenhooker. This, like Basket Case 2, was made as part of a two film deal. If Henenlotter made this, he would get to shoot the film he actually wanted to do. Only this time around, the company supposedly had no money left over to make his original film. So he basically dropped out of the business. Fed up with being asked to just make more sequels to Basket Case he went on to be a curator of old cult films, working with Something Weird (they're a bigger company in the US, they've released some films in the UK but they're very basic versions of their US releases).

Basket Case 3 is a more straightforward sequel to Basket Case 2 than 2 was to 1. Only just though. It continues the story of 2 and takes a lot of the silliness that's in Frankenhooker. It does deal with some real world themes though, culminating in what I think is an amazingly messed up ending where the 'freaks' led by Granny Ruth finally rise up against the world that shuns them. I think it was clear that Henenlotter really didn't want to make any more of these films and so ended it in such a way that any continuation would have been so far removed from the original film that no-one would even recognise it. I think that's where he was slowly taking the Basket Case series in part 2 - delivering films that fans of the original probably wouldn't really appreciate.

We then skip forward sixteen years when Henenlotter came out of a self imposed retirement to co-write and direct Bad Biology. There's been a few false starts as far as new Henenlotter films go. A film, Sick In The Head, was announced in partnership just a couple of years before Bad Biology that seemed to just fizzle out. There's been many other titles that Henenlotter has discussed that get mentioned and never appear again. This time, a rap star in the US, R A The Rugged Man, put money up for Henenlotter to direct this film that he would co-write with R A. R A seems to be a massive fan of Henenlotter's, one with enough money to enable Henenlotter to make whatever the hell he wanted with absolutely no interference.

As the tag line says, A God Awful Love Story. It's about two people with glaring sexual abnormalities who eventually meet, producing the strangest looking baby you'll ever see. This film feels like it could've followed Brain Damage, the silliness of the later films is mostly dropped but still lacking the harder edge of his first two films. It was amazing to see Henenlotter return so effortlessly after so many years but slightly marred for me in that a few years prior to this being made, I'd written a feature script that now seems fairly similar (that observation has been made by someone else too). Not in content but in theme and it's something I've wanted to make one day but would just feel like I was aping this film (despite the fact that it'd been written before Bad Biology was at least announced).

And as of now, that's all that he's made. I'm unsure as to whether we'll ever see another film from him, despite claims to the contrary. But I think that after making a film 16 years after his last one, he's proven to be a wild card and the next one may just appear out of the blue one day.

So, as far as influential directors go - Henenlotter is the one director I admire above all else and the one that made me realise that films like the ones I would like to make are out there, so why not give it a shot. I should also note that each of these films he has written or co-written.

* One very general comment about all of these blogs - I don't reread them. I spell check but that's it. So if there's weird instances where words appear where they shouldn't and sentences run on, I apologise. I could spend all my time making each sentence sparkle but then I would never get any of these out there and to me, it's more important that I get the content out there than how it is presented!

Saturday, 27 November 2010

On Writing and Directing

A good question to ask me would be, why did you decide to make this film?

It's a good question because you'd probably expect me to say that I had a passion for film or to make money or raise a profile. The profile thing, partially. Money, nope. Passion, maybe.

I mean I am an absolute die hard horror fan - I can talk to you about Saw and Scream but also about Blood Car, Bad Biology and Flesh Eating Mothers. I like Orca as much as Jaws and also think The Last Shark is nearly a contender for its brazenness (if you're interested - read up on it. It's a film that's banned not because of content but because it came out alongside Jaws 2 (I think) and was deemed a carbon copy of Jaws to the extent that Universal managed to get an injunction against it). I watch it all - good, bad and ugly. And there's usually something that I can take away from each experience.

So an element of that obviously informed the decision to jump into scAIRcrows but I have to say, it wasn't the ultimate decider.

The driving reason to get scAIRcrows made was my writing. Writing's always been my love and talent (if I have one). My creative writing was always awarded top marks at school and also in external exams. All my English teachers said the same thing about it. And I loved doing it so it worked out.

I have pages and pages of short stories written but there's nowhere to really go with them. I considered pursuing small press and fiction magazines and maybe if I was fully committed to it, I would have done that. But that side of it, the 'business' side, just wasn't interesting to me. Whilst it might have been a necessary evil, I really had no desire to scour books on publishers and send out millions of submissions. I could've done it and still could I suppose but I feel the need to create more than I desire going through the arduous process of getting it out there. And weirdly, it doesn't really bother me that hardly anyone will ever read this stuff. For me, the second I'd finished the last draft, I was satisfied and moved on.

Also, I did research this and getting short stuff published is a lot harder than full length work. I guess much in the same way as film is.

You may see where I'm going with this. Making scAIRcrows was effectively a way of self publishing my writing. scAIRcrows was a new story - not based on any of the short stories I've already written (though I have considered resurrecting some of them for future projects). Making it into a film myself ensured that I didn't have to endure countless rejection letters from publishers etc.

Also, the allure of being able to make something my way obviously factored into it but primarily, it's about the writing. It always has been. For example, amongst other things, I'm about halfway through a feature length script of scAIRcrows that takes place the second after the short finishes. I am not writing this to make it, I have no desire to make another scAIRcrows film independently (if someone wanted to fund it - sure) but whilst I really have no immediate urge to produce another scAIRcrows film - I had this niggle at the back of my head that was telling me that I weren't finished with the story. And so, again, I'm writing something simply for the love of it. It's there if people want to read it and, again, put money into doing it justice but right now - I'm just writing it because I want to bring a definitive resolution to the storyline. And I'm just having a great time putting it together - it takes place in several locales and primarily deals with how people who have survived the scAIRcrow attacks (it's established that whatever happened in the short isn't an isolated incident) cope with the aftermath. It's a completely different beast to the short and that is what is, creatively, keeping me interested.

The thing about writing for me is that once you find that seed of an idea, you put it on the page and let it grow. I can honestly say that when I'm writing something, once I get past the fifth or so page, the thing starts writing itself. I'll bring the scAIRcrows feature back as an example here. For a few months I've had this idea as to how a feature would play out and it isn't what I'm currently writing. Once I'd written the first two scenes I realised that there were much more interesting things going on so I gave the blank page over to the characters and just let them speak. And they're taking me on a much different journey than the one I'd planned but it's absolutely the right way for this story to go.

Which brings me to directing. Directing is the anti thesis to the above. Maybe it's because it's a craft that I'm less familiar with but I find in film making that you're very bound. When I'm writing, if I want a character that dies to suddenly live, I go back and rewrite their fate. When I'm there on the day with actors, that character is doomed because there is no way I could change the entire film whilst in progress. I'm sure it has been done to great expense on bigger productions but are changes that late in the game dangerous to the rest of the story? I think once you get to the stage at which you're shooting - you surrender a lot of your creativity (remember, I speak as a writer who can do whatever he pleases at any point).

And I think that's maybe why I find directing a lot more difficult than writing. Don't get me wrong, there is still a lot of room for creativity and certain scenes in scAIRcrows are testament to that. I really enjoyed talking to the actors about how they, as the characters, would react in these situations. I don't know if everyone expected that and if I even came across as someone who knew what they were doing because of this constant discussion. As the director, should I have been asking the actors if they were happy with the takes when I was? I think so. I know it might have given the impression that I didn't have a feel for what I wanted but - and this is the biggest thing I learnt on scAIRcrows - actors can have as much as a feel for the characters as you do. I will keep saying it but I was amazed at how the actors in the auditions nailed the characters that I'd written. I valued their input and trusted it. And the worst thing that I think you can do as a director is deny them the creativity simply for the sake of looking like you're directing. There were two scenes in particular that I had to very mechanically direct and that was the right approach to take as they really work because of the precision but everything else - I wanted this creativity that, as a writer, is the only thing I understand.

And sometimes that backfired. People coming up with things and playing things certain ways worked a  lot of the time. But then, it also didn't. And I think this comes back to film making being more of a technical exercise than writing. When I'm writing, I don't have to worry about where a prop is. I don't need to worry about where the character's hands are at any given point. I don't need to worry about where they're looking. Don't need to worry about another character moving their hair or adjusting their clothing.

But I do when I'm making a film. Now, I know that on a massive film production, there will be people there for continuity and the like but that's not what scAIRcrows is. Nor will anything else I do for the foreseeable future. So I have to pay attention to how much freedom we exercise whilst shooting. I have to constantly question how things factor into the bigger picture. Will the way something happens in one scene, contradict the next? I've hit certain points in editing where I can only use half of the takes that we shot as something changes that means the rest can't be used.

At the same time, I do like directing. It's the collaboration and the process that I enjoy. I love seeing other people connect with my writing and then bring it to life. And then to see these characters travel the path that I've put them on. But it was always primarily a means for me to get my writing out there and making a film that I would actually enjoy watching.

Writing is something that I may still improve at but I don't think there's much else for me to actually learn there. Directing is something I look forward to giving another go (little tease - in the next few months!) and learning more about the process and craft and getting a feel for how far I can take the approach I have in writing to directing and how much I have to surrender to the technical aspect.

I'm sure this is just the beginning of a long journey.

Still Alive

Okay, so it's been fairly quiet recently but that's because there hasn't been a great deal to report. We're at a stage now where the only activity at the moment is editing. We've watched through all the footage - we've got an edit list for every line of dialogue and all I'm doing is mechanically following this list.

However, if it was that easy - the film'd be done by now. Picking takes for each line of dialogue works great when you're just paying attention to those lines but it needs to be a cohesive product and the edit list fails me on a fairly regular basis because of this. Shots can't be used because of glaring continuity (there's some continuity problems that won't be picked up on - some, I'm only noticing after watching a scene for the 500th - probably not far off - time), the tone in which the line's said may be slightly off with the rest of the conversation and just silly little things like that which force me to reassess what we thought we wanted.

And that's why it's taking forever. For example, right now - I've half cut a scene and just realised that an actor stumbles over a word, again, it's not too noticeable but everyone wants it looking its best so I'll have to go in and swap that one out. A consequence of that is the following stuff may not sit with the new take and then I have to reevaluate that too. And before you know it, half of what I spent ages editing has to be replaced.

It happened a couple of weeks back - I'd cut a 30 second sequence together only to realise something didn't work and the chain reaction was so great that I just deleted the entire sequence to start from scratch. Not the best way to spend 3/4 hours.

And this is what I'm up against with editing. It seems to be this snowballing monster that just eats more and more of my time the deeper that I get with it.

I do need to stress though that I am totally enjoying the experience. It's a mess of frustration but that only makes it much more sweeter when I eventually export the edited scene and view it away from the editing software. There is such a sense of satisfaction when you watch this product that you've pieced together from multiple sources and see it work as a single piece rather than the Frankenstein's monster that it technically is.

So where are we then? I would hope to be done with the rough edit by midnight Sunday. Hope. It can be done. I guess it comes down to what gets thrown my way in the edit. It's definitely a case of the finishing line being just out of reach. Once we have this rough edit, we're about 70% done with the film. I want to show the film to a few people that are completely alien to it and just gauge reactions. Not that I could or would change it if something thought it was rubbish but just to get an idea of how it plays - is there an issue with playing certain scenes out a certain way, should there be greater gaps between things or shorter ones? Are there things that aren't so clear that I'm able to sort? All these little things. That'll happen before we colour grade and master the audio.

I'm aware of the film's limitations - we aren't going to change the face of cinema with this but I want to put out the best possible version of the film. I've seen way too many films, commercially available where no care's been given to the film in post. Things like the audio not being smoothed out so where there's a cut to a different angle, the audio changes too. It's one thing that I refuse to let happen with scAIRcrows because your eyes follow your ears and it makes each cut as subtle as a sledgehammer. I will get this film right as far as I possibly can as I have a responsibility not only to myself but the producers, the cast and the audience to put out something that at the very least is technically competent.

At the same time, I'm not going to be forever tweaking it - there's some battles I've already lost and I've accepted that it's better to go with them than fight them as I won't win. A line will be drawn but I have to reach that point where I realise there's nothing else that can be done.

I'll try and get a few more blogs up in the next week or so about things somewhat related to the film - it's actually nice to get this all out there so everyone knows where we are - I don't feel as though I'm suffering alone this way!

Sunday, 14 November 2010


Okay, so there hasn't been one of these in a while but with good reason - I'm now just madly trying to get the film cut in rough so we can move on to the next steps - slotting in the effects, mastering the audio, grading the image etc.

And it's taking a long time. Well, hopefully it won't be like this for the rest of the edit but I blocked out last weekend with the express intent of getting three whole scenes cut. I just about managed one. There's a very good reason for that which I won't go into just yet but it harks back to scAIRcrows being an educational experience. Something happened during one of the shoot days that I should have seen would turn out to be a problem but didn't and my weekend suffered for it.

I'm happy to say though that I cut around the problem - the scene was so well covered that if I never told you what was the problem with it, you would never guess. And, it's even turned out to be my favourite of the four scenes that we have in a cut form. But it was the most painful to put together.

It got me thinking though that once the film's finished I'll write quite a detailed post mortem on the film. What went wrong, what went right and all of that. I think it's a useful exercise and anyone that was involved in the production may take something from it. For example, I can now tell actors exactly why sometimes their best takes aren't used in the finished film. It never made sense to me that directors/editors would choose instances where the performance weren't as good as in other takes. I now understand why that happens because I've had to do it myself (anyone that's in the film, don't worry - I haven't put anything in the film that I'm unhappy with, I've just sometimes lost my preferred shots). I now realise more than I did just how collaborative film is to the point that everything everyone does is reliant on the next person doing everything that they're supposed to do. It's actually a real eye opening experience.

I also think another thing that I need to do for the next film is not stand behind the camera. I think I was too focused in making sure that the image looked okay that in some cases, I didn't notice things in the scene that I should have done. I think next time around, I set the cameras up how I want them but let someone else actually stand behind them to make sure nothing happens. I need to be watching the scene, not the shot.

If all of this sounds overly negative, it isn't. I'm more than happy with what we have but as we get deeper into the cut I'm just noticing tiny little things that if I had a second chance, I would change.

And, as I mentioned earlier, the thing that's caused me the most bother so far - I challenge anyone (Jenny and Wayne - not you because you know what it is!) to actually tell me what it is. You won't notice it and that's a cast iron guarantee. As I say, once the film's out there and people have seen it, I'll go into detail into these little quirks but right now - I don't want them to distract from the film.

Another attempt at editing the film is happening today - this time my focus is just on getting the two scenes that I was also supposed to cut last week done. I think it's achievable as I recall them being a lot simpler in setup. I hope.

It's coming together though and quite nicely too, I've now created a 'workprint' project - as I cut the scenes chronologically, each finished scene gets dropped into this project so we're now getting a feel for the film playing in sequence rather than in isolated scenes. So we have the first 7 minutes running and there are changes to make within those 7 minutes but at the moment, it's just about getting the skeleton built as quickly as possible and then returning to make the refinements rather than getting caught up in relatively minor details.

Back to the edit I go.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Film Scores

I tried to resist writing this - I've been wanting to for the last hour but really held off - now I know that if I don't I won't stop thinking about it until I do so I figured I'd stop fighting it.

I won't say much about it because it isn't much at the moment and I don't wanna throw undue pressure on him but I got the first bit of the score for scAIRcrows today and it's a beautiful throwback (I think) to 70s/80s Italian movies.

It basically set me off on an evening of rediscovering scores from that era. To me, the score is such an important part of a film - I couldn't tell you how many I own. I think scores can give the film an identity like nothing else can - they're the most solid way of setting the tone/feel of a film. I know there's the argument that you're telling people what to think, influencing them by music. Which is true but I just think, for me, you're creating a piece of art and this work needs to have its own atmosphere/ambiance. And one way of infusing that is via music. I even honestly think that there's some films out there that I like more than I should because I think the music fits so well.

So, if you have a spare 20 or so mins - check out these tracks I've picked from a few films:


The Church:




The Beyond:

I do want to make it clear that the score for scAIRcrows doesn't necessarily sound like above, nor is that what I'm angling for - Wayne's come up with something that I think's perfect without any interference from me so I think we should keep it that way. But it did get me thinking about the above and resulted in enjoyable revisiting of original music - how many horror scores these days do you find that sound as original as the above? And before anyone thinks it - I'm not looking through a window of nostalgia here, at 26 years old, it is absolutely impossible for any of these films to be that nostalgic to me... I just appreciate it when people try and do things a bit differently.

As an aside, I finished the rough cut on scene 4 - of all the rough cut footage so far - this is definitely the roughest and I can see myself spending a lot of time tweaking this but it's nice to see it sat there almost fully formed. A few trims here and there and it'll be sorted. It brings us to eight minutes of the film in rough so we're slowly creeping up there! As I mentioned before, expect things to move a bit more quickly now that production is finished.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Shoot - Day Eight - 17.10.2010 - Final Day

Last day! It doesn't feel like we're anywhere near the end of this thing though - however, I've now fully kitted up the hardware, I have the software and more importantly, I'm feeling well again so hopefully we should start rocketing through the editing.

So, last Sunday, we shot the final scene - not final in the film mind, that had been shot the week prior. In terms of the original script, this was scene 3. So quite close to the beginning of the film considering we have 12 scenes in total.

By my count, this scene is the one that got shifted around the most and I had actually reached the point where, if it didn't happen on Sunday for whatever reason, I was going to cut it from the film. Probably not the best decision to make but it we'd changed dates 4 times on this one - it did just seem like it was the scene that didn't want to be shot.

However, I always like things going wrong because they get you thinking in ways you just wouldn't if you were able to follow the preplanned path. For example, the best thing about this scene was that, coming last, I had plenty of time to think about it and where it sat in the film. Originally, it involved a couple who  were engaging in some friendly banter. In a way, I am a bit sad that we lost it because it was quite fun but the way things had worked elsewhere, it just seemed like the film was going to be full of couples. And that to me was extremely boring and worth losing the dialogue that I liked for. So I did a very soft rewrite to make the pair same sex friends. I say soft because whilst the banter is mostly gone, everything that's said is just a tweak of the original lines so the essence of the scene is very much there.

Also, there was something that I'd bullishly resisted whilst one of the characters was a man that I decided worked when the character became a woman - it's basically connecting these two characters to other characters in the film. It was something I didn't want to do before but it works and I feel makes the film feel less segmented.

Let it be said that problems are to be invited - truly the best things usually come from things that don't work out. Everything's an opportunity if you're open to change...

The two actresses that starred in this scene, Esther Eden and Hayley Gilbert, we knew previously from the auditions and had really liked them so were pleased when the opportunity to work with them presented itself. Now that the film's shot, when I look back at everyone in the film - the only person who caused us any trouble now was the one person that we didn't see at the auditions or get a video audition from. More on that here:

We shot in a slightly different area to the other locations we'd used - the reason for this being, I want the film to look as big in scope as is physically possible and having scenery that looks varied helps that along. I definitely think that this location was the busiest one we encountered across the whole shoot. The leads were opposite a rugby/football pitch but no-one there actually walked through into our area. One brilliantly random moment was when a man and a dog appeared from a cluster of trees - the man was holding a baseball bat and looked at us holding bloody implements and probably gripped that baseball bat a bit tighter! I also noticed (either forgot or was oblivious due to co-ordinating the shoot) when cutting together the trailer that Esther got chased by a dog. It's not the first time that dogs have wanted in on the production, I guess people running and rolling around are just too much for them to resist!

This shoot was remarkably easy - we were playing a bit of a fighting game with the sun which kept moving, throwing shadows into shots that we didn't want. But other than that really, it went without a hitch.

I do have to say separately - the actresses were fantastic. We'd given them new lines Monday morning before a Sunday shoot and they knew the thing better than I did, cues and all! It honestly makes things a million times easier if the actors know what they're supposed to be doing and I was expecting this one to be a bit more difficult, purely because I'd thrown the script changes on them pretty much last minute. It's not something I'd want to make a habit of doing but these creative whims must be obeyed....

And by 3pm, scAIRcrows had wrapped. And I was glad to see the back of it. I hate hearing the word scarecrow now - it's just a word now to which I think I'll forever be linked to. But I had fun doing all the shoots, working with all the different actors. It was a great experience and something I'm totally glad that I did. But I won't miss the early mornings, the time spent after work trying to organise things when I really weren't in the mood. I'm glad that's all done and behind us now and so we look forward to the edit which is where my focus now is. In my head, I'd like to get the film picture locked in the next fortnight - I don't think that's impossible save for the effects shots etc. Then audio and mastering the image is what'll probably take the most amount of time. But that's another story for another day.

Esther and Hayley - I'm glad we got you into the scAIRcrows family, it was a great way to go out, stress free... Thanks for dealing with the last minute rewrites and the occasional waiting as we had to reassess how things were going to be shot. I hope me being sick didn't affect how I came across - if I didn't say much at all, it was because I genuinely couldn't speak!

Jenny and Wayne - all done - I'll see you on editing nights!

Thanks everyone for helping us get to the end of scAIRcrows and we'll see you back here shortly!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

What Happens Next Could Go Horribly Wrong...

Right, so we wrapped nearly a week ago. Consequently, there isn't anything left to do production wise at the moment. Once we have an edit together, we'll know what effects shots etc we need to get to insert and finally put this film to bed.

But to get to that point, we need a picture edit. Throughout the last two months, you've heard me pipe up about having this or that cut. We're up to 6 minutes of rough cut footage, some of the cast have been lucky (?) enough to see some of this footage but to everyone that has seen it, I've stressed that it is rough cut and it truly is. Some shots last too long, some are too short, some jump (we do have coverage for these jumps, just haven't incorporated them yet). The reason we've been sat with this rough cut footage, knowing there's stuff wrong with it, is that we simply haven't had the time to go back and tweak it all. Now that production's finished, getting a picture cut is now the sole concern.

To that end, I've had to invest in some editing software. I previously owned Pinnacle Studio - I've used Pinnacle to cut all the YouTube videos. I like Pinnacle, it's simple and I know my way around it - I can get what I want out of it (within limit, it's not incredibly powerful) fairly quickly and pain free. I also use it to create the rushes DVDs that we use to build edit lists for each scene.

However, I knew that what we were doing here needed something powerful, something that could give the film a professional look or as close as... For me, the only option really was Adobe Premiere. I've touched this program before and I know how incredibly complex it is so I thought that I could break myself in by buying Adobe Premiere Elements first. Elements to me, seems a lot more serious than Pinnacle - it looks 'proper' and you do get the feeling that your video would go a lot further on Elements. However, it's just not as easy to use and there's a bunch of things that are fiddly beyond reason. I've struggled on with it though because I know that's nothing to what Premiere is. All the rough cut footage is cut on Elements.

Now that we've finished shooting (and the budget got a refresh) I decided to just jump into it and buy the Adobe CS5 Production suite. I know within this package is everything I could possibly need to get scAIRcrows looking the absolute best it can. However, I know that it's also going to take forever and a day to learn how to use! I've bought the first training book and will begin battling through that this weekend.

But more importantly, and this is where the title of the blog comes into it, I'm upgrading the hardware too so that the program runs as smoothly as it can because it does stutter at the moment. I'm not massively 'techie' but I know what I need to know - this is basically what I'm doing to the computer this Saturday:

2GB of RAM is the minimum that Adobe needs to run - I have 4GB (the recommended amount) so I'm above spec already but I'm adding another 4GB to bring the computer to 8GB.

A graphics card with 256MB VRAM as minimum is required to run. I have 512MB but am replacing it with a 1GB model.

I'm fitting a 1TB hard drive solely for the video footage.

And here's the toolkit I bought to do it all. Again, I don't massively know what I'm doing, I don't know all that much about computers - I knew I needed this stuff by buying a few computer magazines and reading a few websites.
So, if I get it wrong, scAIRcrows could be offline from Saturday onwards! That is actually a possibility too. I'd say it's about 30% likely to happen but it's still something that could happen. But, if I get it all in there and working, the editing will hopefully be a very smooth process.

As long as I learn how to use the software! Anyways, so that's what's happening with scAIRcrows this weekend - a major hardware overhaul to facilitate the editing process - once we get this going, we should hopefully start burning through the editing. The good thing is, there's nothing in the way now but myself so we're getting that much closer to the film seeing the light of day!

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The Shoot - Day Seven - 16.10.2010

This will be a very short one as we don't really want to give anything away on this one - it's another scene that doesn't appear in the script. The idea for it came about whilst we were at a film festival a few weeks back and we had nothing to lose by giving it a go.

Really, all I want to say about this scene without giving anything away is that there's a dog in it and myself in a cameo that isn't anywhere near as intrusive as it might sound.

This really is one that will need to just been seen - there's Facebook pictures up now but of the 60 plus that we had, only those nine were suitable for publication.

For the actor that was in this scene - thanks a bunch. We had a brilliant time working with you and really hope you enjoyed working with us - we know people will love this scene. Apologies for not mentioning names but we do want to keep this scene secret from absolutely everyone.

Jenny and Wayne - I guess I should thank you for sowing the seeds of this idea but I think you're starting to realise that putting ideas anywhere near me is a bad idea as I just run with them!

Sorry for the cop out blog everybody but you'll appreciate knowing absolutely nothing at all about this one!

The Shoot - Day Six - 10.10.2010

Bit weird writing these now that the film's all shot and finished but was too busy trying to get it done to catch up with these blogs!

It's difficult to talk about this scene without giving too much away but I'll try...

Firstly, this scene was something that was debated about between me and the producers. Once we'd put this script out there to actors and I realised we were actually going to have to make this film - I panicked. For anyone that's read the script, you can understand why and I wonder just how many people that applied to be in the film did so thinking it was never going to materialise...

So my first inclination was to go back through the script and review every scene - just to see what I could scale back and even cut in its entirety. And this scene was the one that I wanted to cut the most. And this is where I met resistance from the producers.

My thoughts (at the time - believe me, I don't feel this way now) were that it was the only scene that took place outside of the main story and necessitated bringing the lead actress back. Because it happened outside the rest of the film, was it that important? And, I've always been paranoid about getting people back once they've gone - there's no obligation to come back and if the experience shooting was less than great last time, why the hell would someone come back?

As it was argued to me, this scene brings relevance to the true story angle which, as I mentioned a blog or two back, helped me build the entire plot. To me, I was happy to lose the 'based on a true story' title card for the sake of an easier, more manageable shoot. Reluctantly, I left it in though I was never enthusiastic about it and would have called quits on it had it been a bit of a pain to shoot.

That was until we'd shot with the leads that first weekend. After that, and viewing the first rough cut of the footage we shot with them, I realised how important this scene was. I needed the context to realise it but I got there eventually!

And I now think it's a brilliant scene that absolutely had to be in the film. There's a handful of scenes in the film that are going to 'jump' out and this is definitely one of them.

I had hoped that this was the final scene that we would shoot on scAIRcrows not just because of where it sits but also because it involved two actors I'd met previously. Everyone we video auditioned was great but there's a certain comfort you can take going into a scene when you're already familiar with the people you're going to be working with (look what happened on day 5 of the shoot for example!). So we brought back Victoria Smith who plays the lead in this film and had been through the toughest part of the shoot - that first weekend. Also in this scene was Dan McSherry, someone that we'd met in the auditions and really liked so was pleased to be working with him.

This scene, at a page long, took a lot longer to shoot than I originally expected but then it is light on dialogue with a slant towards action... I think we were done in about four hours which seems to be the magic number for all of these shoots. It was a really fun scene to shoot though because, excepting the scAIRcrows, this is really the only scene that I can think of that involved quite a few props - this was the one scene where I was adamant that a character had to look a certain way.

Which is actually something that I should mention - we didn't give anyone on this film a dress code - we said come as you see fit and we only had to interfere when the clothes would get messy in some way - in those instances, we provided clothing. But here, I did want a specific look and when you watch the finished film, you'll understand why. I do just love how this scene will play against the rest - if any scene took my sensibilities to the hilt, it's this one.

Again, I don't really want to say much on this scene and it's quite short so difficult to say too much so I'll wrap it up here.

Victoria - as I mentioned earlier, getting someone back was always something I was scared about doing, especially since the previous shoot was affected by the guy no showing - thanks for being so dependable and enthusiastic about the shoot! You were also right on the way a line should be read - I'm always happy to listen! You played this scene a lot better than I'd written it - it's the little things that add the texture to the characters and sometimes I think I focus on just the delivery too much - there's a couple of things that you did that weren't written that just breathe life into the character. And just thanks for the whole thing really, as you've been there since the beginning - it'll be worth it for sure.

Dan - you were great. I can think of one part of this scene where people are going to be laughing - I had to cut once because I was laughing behind the camera! It's going to look great and really going to add to the wackiness of the scene. I can write whatever but it takes actors that 'get' what we're trying to do to really make this work and you totally did that! I hope you'll be as happy with what we've shot as I am.

Jenny and Wayne - obviously, thanks for the use of the property. Hope we didn't freak the neighbours out too much - to outsiders I imagine at times it seemed like shit was really going down! And just thanks for everything else really - audio, second camera operation, stills etc etc.

Will try and get the rest of the shoot blogs written up and posted tonight as well as the pictures - at least that way, everything shoot related is done!

Sunday, 17 October 2010

scAIRcrows Is Wrapped

You honestly have no idea how much I've been dying to write the above. Production on the film dragged out way too long - not anyone's fault, it's the problem you have when working full time and also trying to organise and shoot a plus half hour long film.

It has seemed like forever since we first sat in those auditions in July and first put scAIRcrows out to 'strangers'. Did I honestly think I'd ever be writing this? No. The script is far too ambitious for a no budget film. But others clearly believed in the project enough to turn up and audition and right there and then, the film became very real.

Suddenly people outside of the small circle that I'd shared this idea with were embracing this thing and helping create it in front of me. I think the auditions told me that this film could be pulled off - it took on a life of its own once people started bringing their own take to it and bringing the characters to life.

And I just helped it along where necessary.

I've made films in the past, in college, and for some reason, it always fell to me to write these projects and sort've see them through. So, there's five films out there somewhere that I've written and I'd say very loosely directed. Problem with doing the student films were that they were group projects and whilst people were happy to let me go away and write these things - when it came to filming them, everyone had a say and it became impossible to wrangle. I don't own any of them and don't want to - they're not mine. They're not anyone's - they're contorted, lifeless things that've been pulled apart by people moving in different directions. The one thing that will always stand out to me, the one scene we shot for a college film that made me realise I was never going to get anything worthwhile done with the people I'd been thrown together with was a suicide scene.

At the age of 16 I'd written this quite warped script about infatuation and how someone lives with unrequited love. The ending I'd originally written and planned simply put was NEVER going to happen. It was the ending that I'd wanted and it was the ending that would've made the film stand out. My friend and I didn't even bother running past the rest of the group, we knew they wouldn't go for it and we potentially had another year and a half of working with these people - we didn't want them to think we were that twisted. So I changed it before we put it to them, the character now killed himself. Bit more conventional but I thought that the rest of the group whose sensibilities were way more mainstream, would be happy with that.

Nope. So we got to the scene where the suicide should've been and instead we shot a massive fight scene for absolutely no reason. And because I just didn't give a shit about it, it was all one shot and completely all over the place. Half the 'characters' in the fight scene weren't in the script - mostly this happened because people who hadn't been involved in the film but were there that day wanted something to do.

Thing is, I'd already compromised on the original ending and replaced it with the suicide and the rest of the group, when we get to shooting claimed it wasn't realistic enough for that to happen. And I agree to an extent because I didn't want suicide either but if they weren't buying suicide, they weren't buying the original ending. So the fight scene happened. The film was shoddily cut together with equipment appearing in shots etc and the film got ridiculed when screened. And for some reason, I still felt embarrassed by that. And I have no idea why. I think it's because, through all the mess, I could see remnants of the script that I actually thought was pretty neat. But utterly destroyed by a bunch of people who had no unified vision for this thing. Everyone knew that I was 'behind' it and by that point, there was little to be gained by telling the true story. So I sat there whilst people laughed quite openly, smugly knowing that their group's film was much better. And it was. But it wouldn't have been if we'd shot what I'd wanted to - original ending or the revised one.

Which brings me to scAIRcrows. This really, if we're being technical, should be my sixth film. But as far as I'm concerned, it's the first. For once, my script has actually transferred to the screen intact. Every little thing I wanted is in there. Over the past two months, I've finally been shooting something that I will quite happily stand behind. And to suffer through as many as 5 false starts, you have to appreciate what a sense of relief I'm feeling now to know that it's all there. Flying scarecrows, magicians, eye patches and more. Everything I imagined and put to paper is in there. No-one to interfere, for better or worse - my vision has finally found its way to film!

Of course, it's only the principal shooting that's done - we need to go back for effects shots and maybe some establishing shots of the area but the script is now fully shot, we're finished with all our actors.

I'm three shoot day blogs behind but as you might appreciate, we've been on a bit of a sprint finish here! Expect those and pictures in the next few days as well as a website update and a few other things in the next fortnight. I'm not feeling terribly well at the moment so there might be a bit of a lag but I'm on it.

Before I go though, I wanted to say to absolutely everyone involved, from the actors to the producers to the caterer - if you were involved in scAIRcrows in any way, shape or form -

Thank you so f-ing much! I have no film without each and every last one of you and don't ever forget that!

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Nearly There...

So scAIRcrows is in the final weekend of production. This time tomorrow, we'll be wrapped. It's going to be a brilliant thing to be able to say that.

The experience making scAIRcrows has been awesome - we've met an amazing bunch of people and I say that with complete sincerity. We've had a few minor hiccups but we're reaching this finishing line relatively unscathed.

I'll do a proper post mortem on the entire production process when we're officially wrapped but jumping into such a big, ambitious production has definitely been a baptism of fire. We've pulled it off though and whilst production finishes tomorrow, post begins.

There's obviously still the editing to go, a lot of the effects now need to be shot to match what we already have from the principal shoot, the scoring begins and I suspect, an all round clean up job will happen depedning on what we see in the edit.

Then we're also pushing the promotional aspect of it with the website to launch proper Halloween weekend. We'll also then start creating awareness of the film on the indie/horror circuit so whilst it seems like we're nearly finished, we're really about halfway there. However, the good thing about this is that I'm not reliant on anyone but myself for 95% of the post work - we don't have to arrange schedules with groups of people and worry about some people backing out and throwing out our plans. It can be worked on at any point with no real dependency so it should move a lot faster than the production phase did.

It won't be long now until the finished film can be viewed!

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Based On True Events

The above might be the first thing you see when watching scAIRcrows. In a way, it's a reaction to just about every film beginning with that sentence these days - does it hold any meaning anymore? But also, I want to put it there because people will probably laugh it off without realising, it is actually a true statement.

The film is very much based on true events and I'll explain why. I mentioned in a previous blog that scAIRcrows basically originated from the title and that really, I just wanted to see flying scarecrows depicted onscreen. The only problem with that was, what do I actually do with them? There (don't laugh) needed to be some sort of story, something to give me an excuse to throw around some scarecrows. And believe it or not, I did do research.

I forget how much of this may have already been said but on deciding to do this I watched as many scarecrow films as I could find, including resorting to buying a VHS on eBay! I'd only seen one killer scarecrow film before coming up with this idea - there aren't many in the sub genre - I can tell you that having scoured IMDB etc looking for them. But yeah, in the last two or three months I've watched Scarecrow, Scarecrow Slayer, Scarecrow Goes Wild, Messengers 2 - The Scarecrow, Rise Of the Scarecrows, Dark Night Of The Scarecrow, Night Of The Scarecrow, Scarecrows & Urban Harvest 3 - The Scarecrow to name as many as I can recall right now... Most of them are indie affairs, some I would say are more enjoyable than others. I can happily say though that within the killer scarecrow sub genre, scAIRcrows is fairly unique.

Point is, I immersed myself in all things scarecrow - bought books on how to make them, books on their history (that's how we came up with the names for the scAIRcrows). And, in doing this research, I somehow came across the one link that dictated to me what the story of scAIRcrows would be.

The links to the story:

Now, I won't give anything away here by saying this but that news story is what I knew would pull together my script and give me the skeleton that I'd build upon. Is it an act of revenge against scarecrows? Is it the final straw that makes the scarecrows snap? These are the questions I asked myself whilst trying to build the framework of the story. How this factors into the story won't be much of a surprise - it's revealed in the opening scene (not yet shot). I'd say that discovering that news story greatly informed the final product - without it certain scenes and even entire characters would not exist.

And however it factors into the script, it did influence the story so it is absolutely no lie when I claim that a film about killer flying scarecrows was based on true events...

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Where We Are...

We're at the tail end of the shoot now. Two of the three of us made a judgement call today to call off today's planned shoot. I stress two of us - hopefully we won't have made the wrong decision but it wasn't a unanimous vote and I'll feel a bit stupid and annoyed if I end up being the one that's wrong because we really needed to shoot today. However, at the time of the call, heavy rain was forecast until 1pm with light rain thereafter until 7pm. We're an outdoors shoot so a current forecast is something that we have to put our faith in. Besides the fact that the scene wouldn't match the rest of the film in rain, I couldn't ask people who are being paid to put up with that anyway. So the call was made. So far, no rain and there's even been a tiny bit of sun. It's the one time I think I've ever actually wished for rain, just to assure me that I made the right decision. I hate making choices like this because they can either be right or wrong! But I guess you have to make those decisions and stand by them... The justification for cancelling's solid. I mean, do you drag people across London, at least an hour, if not two, on the chance that the Met Office and BBC got it wrong? It's a big risk to play with other people's time...

Anyway, I'll try and forget about that (try being the operative word - it will bug the shit out of me if today ends up being fine).

So we've two days of shooting proper left - with potentially another shoot day added on as there's something we'd like to add. Thoughts are now turning to post.

As I've mentioned now and again, we've got 6 mins in rough cut. Now that I've gained a day here, I'm going to try and bump that up to three finished scenes, if not four.

I don't think I've ever detailed the entire post process that I've adopted so might as well explain now. I'm buying (yes buying, not downloading) the Adobe CS5 Production Suite next month and so, in the meantime have been assembling the rough cut in Adobe Premiere Elements 7 as the Elements projects can be opened in Premiere. I'm investing in this software as this won't be the only film I make and even if it was, I don't want scAIRcrows to be screened in a rough looking state. I see far too many films on YouTube etc where people have just edited the footage from the camera and uploaded it. So there's differences in colour between shots and sound jumps around - I think to myself that these people obviously spend some amount of time filming and editing their work. I mean even if it is a couple of friends knocking something up, editing footage alone is time consuming, let alone scripting, planning and shooting. I don't understand how anyone could be happy putting that time in and then releasing the product in a haphazard manner. Because a lot of it is relatively easy fixes. They might take time but they're easy. And I think it makes the world of difference.

So I'll spend the time getting it right. But anyway, what we've agreed is to watch all the takes from a scene, choose the best ones and then I go away and cut it together. We then watch that and see if that works and from there, decide if it's a final edit. If it is, it just awaits delivery of the editing software so that sound and picture can be tweaked. If not, I go back and tidy it up until we're happy with it. I should note that whilst I am viewing this all with other people, I am making the final decision on this. I just really value other opinions as I'm way too close to it.

At the same time, scoring for the film is now beginning, that should be a very fun and interesting process. It's the one part of this film that I'm fully hands off - I've given the composer the brief of doing whatever he wants and we'll work backwards from there. I keep saying it, about stifling creativity with the acting - it's the same with the music. I don't want to instantly limit the scope of the score by saying it needs to sound like this or that. I have ideas but I'd rather be surprised by this. I think that you can't have a favourite anything. There can't be the perfect film/song/food because unless you've watched every film ever made, every song ever written/performed and every food the world has to offer - you don't really know what your favourite is. Whatever your favourite film is - there's a film even better out there somewhere. You may never discover it but it exists. And that's why you have to be open to trying things and not limiting yourself to what's comfortable. I could tell you exactly how I see the score for scAIRcrows being but I can guarantee you that it wouldn't be the best score for the film because I'm thinking very tunnel visioned about it. In a way, that sort of brief may be seen as a cop out but who, in a creative position, would turn down the opportunity to do exactly what THEY wanted to do? If someone said to me, come up with another script and gave me no spec, all the better for me. I mean it may turn out that, without guidance, I end up creating something that the person doesn't like but what have I lost? I haven't lost any time because I have a script that I can use if I want. So that's my view on scoring the film - we'll see how that goes...

The webpage will become a site very shortly. It's something that I'm going to work on today. I want to start promoting the film but what I have up so far isn't great. Whilst the film's progress is well covered, if you go to the website, you realise that if you're not familiar with the film - there's absolutely nothing there to tell you what it is. Doesn't even indicate that it's a film. That all needs to be sorted out before I can start issuing the link.

And maybe we'll see a trailer soon. I am a bit cautious though as I don't want even the trailer to go out 'unfinished'. Maybe before we dive into the colour correcting/ sound mixing on the film, we'll cut the trailer... I know that something needs to go up soon - I keep talking about the shoots and I put pictures up but none of the footage - I am just very careful about getting it right. Like the Erroll video that we put up - the sound was synced but unmixed and the picture wasn't cleaned up at all and then YouTube totally destroyed the image - just want to make sure that everything that goes out, I'm happy with.

I also mentioned this time last week that I'd unearthed some old stuff relating to scAIRcrows. Now, I totally don't remember this but I can prove that scAIRcrows as a concept was around since at least 22nd July 2009. What I dug up was a trailer that I'd cut together using images pulled off the web etc as a way of communicating the idea - but it never got finished. I'll upload it at some point though, just as a curiosity. The more interesting thing though was that I'd started writing a feature length script for scAIRcrows, I found what I'd written for that. Again, I'll post as a curiosity at some point. It doesn't bear any resemblance to the film as it stands. It's definitely more generic and there's an attempt at explaining what's going on with the scAIRcrows. I'll say this here and now - I am writing a full length scAIRcrows script. Not really with the intent of making it, unless someone put money up for it, but just to have it in case anyone was ever interested. It's a continuation of the story in the short, carrying on a character's journey but it isn't anything like the short - there's separate plot lines running through the script with them inevitably converging at some point. Only one of the three plot lines occurs in the same tone as the short. Whereas this feature script I was writing over a year ago would have very much been like a more stretched out version of the short as far as tone and structure goes. That is the one thing I'd say about anything creative - finish planning/mapping something out and then leave it and create something else. I find that the longer things sit with me, the more they gel. Believe it or not, there's many different ways you can portray flying scarecrows in film (if you don't believe me - ask me what happens in the feature and what I'd do with the sequel to that feature) and where I was heading with it a year ago was the most generic place it could have ended up. There's definitely something to be said about not rushing into things...

Okay, so that's generally the status of the film - there'll probably be another update fairly soonish depending on what I manage to get through today. Until then - keep an eye out for scAIRcrows on the horror-izon.

Friday, 1 October 2010

On Acting...

I've been wanting to write this since last Monday but then I lost interest as I convinced myself that it's a boring thing to talk about and I only wanted to write about it to express my thoughts on the matter.

But then we had one of the three actors in a shoot no-show on Saturday and it brought my desire to write this back to life - it was clearly meant to be written and maybe had I put this up before the shoot - the actor would've turned up!

Anyway, my experience making this film is something I'm finding hard to describe. It isn't weird or normal or anything. Everything's just worked out and, looking back, it doesn't feel as though it was as much work as it actually was. I guess the best word to describe the experience is that it feels right. It doesn't feel like I'm pretending and the footage that's slowly coming out so far demonstrates that.

But my main concern going into scAIRcrows was the acting. You know, I can write whatever I want and I can film whatever I want as long as I have the money to throw at it but at the end of the day, it's effectively a shared piece. Because I can't possibly fill every role behind and in front of the camera. I have to put the film into the hands of others. And yes, ultimately, it's my hand guiding the entire thing but it can never be 100% mine for the fact that there are other people involved.

My approach to this, except in a few circumstances where what I envisaged absolutely had to be shot, is to let the actors bring their own ideas to the table. In what we've shot so far, I could tell everyone exactly how I wanted it to play, could've asked for take after take of lines read differently until they matched that perfect image I had in my head but for me personally, that's not the right way. I stress, for me. It might be accepted that it's generally the wrong way to work with actors, I don't know. What I do know is that every single person we took on 'got' the film. And also beyond that. And rather than restrict that and tunnel it into what I thought it should be, I thought it best to let the actors go with it - knowing that they weren't going to veer off wildly.

If you've been following the blogs and Facebook/Twitter updates, you'll know that 6 mins of the film is in rough cut and I've been showing this footage to people that aren't involved with the film. And the feedback's been fairly positive. There's a few things I recognise still need some work but then I've never said that it was finished footage. But, the one thing that keeps being mentioned is the acting. Everyone is amazed that I managed to work with actors as good as they are and the word 'natural' pops up every time. I'm sketching out a feature with someone for late next year and they said that if we had acting of that caliber for this feature project, we'd be sorted. And I'd like to think a very tiny part of that is down to me not forcing them to play things certain ways, not stifling any life that's present...

My point so far is that I'm more than happy with the acting in the film. I don't need to write this. If I wasn't, I'd just keep quiet. And I'm not even writing it for the benefit of the actors because I genuinely have no idea who is reading these. I'm saying this because it's the truth.

We've found that casting the remaining roles has been trickier than the leads. Initially, we offered them all to the people that came down and auditioned for the leads. Understandably, the majority weren't happy taking smaller parts but a good few were which I think reflects well on them. Because let it be said that we didn't come across anyone in the three days of auditions that we thought was bad. I'd even go as far to say that the majority of them could play lead roles - but they just weren't suited to the leads in my script. And I think that's a key point to make, people weren't turned down because they were bad, they didn't get the part because they just didn't suit it. With the right role, I could see myself working with most of them as a lead. Much like I'll never be chosen to write/direct a romantic comedy. Doesn't make me bad (though that's open for debate!), it's just not an area where I'd fit. And so, for the people that recognised that and saw that we still wanted to work with them - I think it says a lot about their professionalism that they were still happy to be involved and not look down on the project.

We lost a few of them en-route. The more it happens, the more I begin to doubt the reasons for not showing. I believed people at the start but now I don't anymore. And that's really bad but that's what it's come down to, people have made me cynical. But we've battled on and I think we're nearly there now with only one particular stand out problem - detailed in the blog on shoot day five:

But, getting to that point is where I had my first unfavourable encounter with an actor. We'd put out an advert to a few places for this part. It was a small part, was in a three page scene with a fairly consistent amount of dialogue. I asked for video auditions and this is where I got slated - by someone who was over 50 and clearly was never going to be considered for the part.

He told me I had gall asking for a video audition, that no actor worthwhile would want to be in the project being unpaid and told me to get real.

Okay, the film's called scAIRcrows and it's about flying scarecrows. Either people are going to get it or they aren't and I totally accept that a lot of people won't. I'm expecting criticism on it. And so, I wouldn't have risen to these bitter rantings had they not gone beyond the film itself.

So I replied in a very polite, well written response explaining exactly why I was writing back and the guy admitted surprise at my response.

The first thing that really got to me and was the only thing he needed to say to get my back up was the comment about worthwhile actors. I thought it was a terrible thing to do, to put down other actors just by their association with this. And every single person that has worked on this thus far has been more than worthwhile. It's whether I make the film worthwhile the only doubt on the horizon. So I had to defend the people that I've worked with - not too sure what the definition of worthwhile is anyway? I think, not even considering acting quality, anyone that bothers showing up is worthwhile. I'm not paying anyone so what can I expect from people? That I got the acting ability too was just a nice bonus. I realise I'm lucky and will be forever grateful to every single one of my 'worthwhile' actors.

The other thing was this resistance to video auditions. I admit that this seems like a slightly more contentious area.

The way I view it is as follows - this may or may not come across as controversial, I don't know - I doubt it but we'll see!

We're now in the day and age where even if you don't own a video camera, you know someone that does. Guaranteed. Whether it's an actual camcorder, a video phone or the video function on a stills camera - everyone has access to video somehow. No-one could tell me that if they don't own any of the above, they don't know anyone that does. So, I don't think it's a problem of sourcing the technology.

Is it a matter then of professionalism? The argument from the actor was that there's showreels to help you decide. But I'm not viewing those showreels and then deciding to audition them, I'm making a final decision on a part and need something. I can't really afford to hold auditions for every bit part in the film (bear in mind that when I say bit part, each role carries across at least two or three pages) nor do I have the time. So why is it such a bad thing to ask for a video audition? I know it may be a relatively new thing (if indeed it is) but technology moves and so everything has to move with it.

And the reason I ask for it for the bit parts is that I've been paying for insurance and permits for these shoots, it costs money. My own money. Not a single penny from anyone else has funded this film. No company involvement or anything. My complete and utter risk. And I think, for that risk, I need some insurance that these actors can be trusted. By asking for a video audition, the very act of them agreeing to it and providing it proves to me that they're interested in the project and prepared to put a little bit of effort in to get the role. I've mentioned it before but it's what made Blue Jigsaw the clear winner for us for the role of Damon, the other guy we were considering refused to do a video audition, believing his showreel to be good enough. It wasn't. But that was beside the point. He expected me to take a risk with my money on him with absolutely no indication of how serious he was about starring in the film. He may well have been the greatest actor in the world but his attitude lost him consideration for the part.

And yes, I do appreciate that these are smaller parts but again, to me they're not. I wrote them into the film for a reason, if they were insignificant, why bother putting them in? So, is it not right for me to seek some assurance that people are serious about the project? That's a fair thing for me to expect surely.

I did get a slight us versus them vibe from it, the evil directors exploiting the poor unpaid actors. I've said it time and time again, I want to pay people and that's no lie. In a smaller production, I will but in something that has over ten speaking parts, the film simply wouldn't get made. And if that was the case, no-one was willing to do it so it didn't get made, so be it. It wouldn't change the fact that I couldn't pay people. At least now, the film has been made and everyone has a bit more working experience with something to show for it at the end. And maybe a little more exposure (guys - I've name dropped you all on this blog whenever I could!). So everyone wins. And if it all somehow goes horribly wrong, the leads lost a weekend of their time, everyone else a day. I've lost months of work and a few thousand pounds. So I can totally empathise with unpaid actors. And this film won't make it's money back unless it somehow wins prizes at festivals, if it gets that far... That's not the intention with making this anyway - it's just to finally create something.

Also, I do unpaid work with no financial benefit to myself - I film all the The Citizen Smiths gigs ( The fact that I'm friends of one of the band members means nothing as far as my reasoning for doing it - I'm doing it for myself to get practice and build up confidence shooting in a very pressured situation (no re-takes!). Of course it's obviously to help them out with content too but I recognise that in a creative environment, every opportunity is just that and sometimes it's worth sacrificing the material benefit for it. But yeah, I sit behind a pair of cameras for the entirety of those gigs, one static, one manned for close ups so I know what it's like to put all your effort into something for nothing more than to see a product that you're hopefully happy with at the end of the day. I can empathise. I understand.

So these video auditions offer some insurance. Not much but it's better than 'no, watch my showreel or get someone else'. The only other problem I can see with video auditions is that you're handing footage of yourself over to someone who could then disseminate it. Which is a fair enough argument but doesn't that also hold true for the person videoing live auditions? I still have all the audition tapes from the scAIRcrows auditions. I wouldn't dream of giving them to ANYONE. Even the producers don't have a copy of them. Likewise, I wouldn't let the video auditions leave my hands. There's one or two I would like to post but that will be after arranging it with the people in question. I guess it's a matter of trust I suppose and I imagine that most filmmakers out there can be trusted as can most actors. There's always going to be an element of untrustworthy people - there is in all walks of life and unfortunately, we'll all encounter them at some point probably, especially in a creative environment where people are vulnerable (actors and filmmakers - I wouldn't want anyone distributing the scAIRcrows script and I have to trust that everyone that has a copy won't do that. Realistically, it probably wouldn't get too far but that's not the point, I've surrendered a piece of work that's personal to me and put it in the hands and trust of strangers). It's just the nature of the beast.

The outcome of this is probably the funniest thing. Though I justified myself to this man, this being my first film, I'm unsure of 'acting etiquette'. Is it rude to ask for video auditions? Unprofessional? Because he sowed the seed of doubt in my mind, we hired someone based on a showreel (turns out it weren't the guy in the showreel too!). And guess what, he didn't turn up and the other two actors, the two that had both video auditioned did! So maybe in this instance, I was right. Might have gone against etiquette (if it exists) but when I did what I wanted to do, I got what I wanted. When I didn't, I didn't.

Last time I ever take a 'professional's' advice.

Goes to show you that I've got a better handle on this thing than it might seem to the outside world!

So those are my thoughts and feelings on the matter of unpaid work and video auditions.

What I would really love and encourage would be for an actor, whether they've worked with me or not, to guest blog on this subject from their point of view. Disagree with me, agree, if you want to do it, write it and I'll post it exactly as it comes in to me. I want to show that I'm open for debate on this and don't want to just give my side of things without the other side sharing theirs. Like I said near the beginning about letting actors do their own thing within reason - I'm open to thoughts and opinions so any actors out there, take this as an invitation to have a go or to agree. I see everything about this project as a learning experience and enjoy seeing different sides of a story.

I've lost sight of how long this piece is but I felt it an interesting break from the relatively update oriented blog this has become in recent weeks.

See you soon for your next slice of sc-aerial terror!

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The Shoot - Day Five - 25.09.2010

I should start by saying that it's a bit strange to still be writing these shoot blogs. The plan, as we'd sold it to everyone that auditioned and in the initial ad, was two weekends of shooting. The 14/15th August and the 4/5th September - with possibly an extra day dropped in there somewhere for the wraparound scenes (the only scenes that don't actually take place in the field/park).

After the first weekend killed the crew, we knew that another weekend, whilst working full time jobs, just wasn't going to happen. The problem wasn't just the shoot but all the things that had to happen around it - the one that will be forever mentioned is the charging of the camera batteries...

So we were going to move one day out of that weekend, to the following one. Which we did. And we stuck to that shoot (well, half of it anyway as an actor pulled out). The day that were going to stick on I believe got moved twice because of pull outs and relative difficulty to recast.

We eventually shot that day's work Saturday just gone.

First off, this blog, as everyone that was there that day will already guess, is going to be quite negative. So, I want to get the positive stuff out of the way first.

The two actors in this scene were great - we were hit by a pretty major problem that I'll get to shortly, and as I told them on the day, I'm so glad we had who we had because they turned the whole experience into a laugh a minute and I really loved every second of working with them.

I always maintained to my producers on this that in casting, I was looking for acting ability as well as looking at whether I could spend a considerable amount of time with these people. Obviously, this was something we could vet in the auditions for the leads (not to worry guys that landed the parts - you were, honestly, my first choice as far as ability went) but not so much in the video auditions that we held for the other parts.

Though we'd only dealt with everyone else via email, it was clear to see that everyone else was really cool and into the project so I had nothing to worry about but without actually meeting them, you can never be 100%.

So yeah, you guys totally made the day for me and if I ever have any more 'trouble' shoots - I hope you're there with me!

Another positive is that the whole thing is starting to work a lot better now - I personally have hit a comfort/confidence level and am feeling extremely proud of what we're pulling off. I'm now confident enough to jump straight in and set up - it's definitely getting easier.

I think one thing we could all agree on was it was freezing! I couldn't believe how cold it was out there - especially as I managed to get sunburned by the end of it! There's a few takes where the camera's wobbling because I'm freezing so bad and I just couldn't wait for the take to end so i could try and warm myself up. Fun little bit of trivia actually - we shoot in the same place that we shot with the leads but you'd never know because of the cut grass and the fact that it's green there now!

And one last funny thing - one of our scAIRcrows lunged towards a passing kid. As this kid walked past, the scAIRcrow fell over, falling towards, but not on, the kid. If he grows up with an irrational fear of scarecrows - we'll know why if the poor child himself doesn't!

Now, I will choose my words carefully here. The day was spoilt by an actor not showing up. Not the shoot or what will end up in the film. We've even thrown in a nice little nod to the actor - when everyone watches the scene, I hope they laugh! We did! It's all about turning something negative into something positive and I love what we've done to address the non appearance of the actor, and, by turn, the character. Remember to keep an eye out for it in the finished film!

I won't name names as it's unprofessional but I will recount the series of events that occurred up to and on the day.

First off, the scene in the script is very big. Very ambitious. When we first experienced drop outs, we rescheduled once I think before we decided to cut the scene back a bit. So between dealing with actors dropping out and rescheduling days, we cut two characters out of the scene, leaving three.

When we analysed the scene, the two parts that we cut were fairly thankless and to be honest, it wasn't much of a surprise that people were having second thoughts about them. So we decided that we could make the scene stronger by concentrating the focus. And with three characters instead of five, that was easier to achieve.

We still had to re advertise the third part after another actor unfortunately couldn't make that day. We did that very quickly with the ad going up exactly a week before shooting. So we knew we had to act fast on this.

Somehow, we managed to pull it together in time with us deciding on an actor based on his apparent enthusiasm.

This is what confuses me the most about this - in the run up, we had various email exchanges, including one crucially stating that I was about to pay for the permit and insurance for the day and I needed solid confirmation because of this. That was fine so I went ahead and dropped £300 to make the shoot official. I will admit that the one thing we did do was change the meeting point the Friday night before the Saturday of the shoot but it was on the same tube line, one stop down. So really, it just necessitated staying on the train another two mins. And even if he had gone to the other tube station, I would have met him there anyway but in interests of full disclosure, should I get contacted by him about this, I want to be fair.

So Saturday morning, the other two get there before the meeting time and so we're just waiting for this third actor, who I'll call Three from now on.

I get a call from Three at the meeting time, expecting him to be looking out for us or, at the worst, at the other station (even though he'd confirmed via email that he'd seen the location change). Instead, I get a question. The question was, what time are we shooting? It's a question I'll never understand because even if it took an hour to start up from the meeting time, I told everyone to meet me at that time - I wasn't being malicious to the other two (they do have names - sorry guys - Richard and Miranda) by making them meet me at ten whilst Three could have another two hours in bed. I said we were planning to shoot straight away but we thought we needed him so I said we could wait if you could let me know how long it'd take to get there. He said two hours and I had to be okay with that.

What bugged the most about this was that Richard and Miranda showed up on time and it was an insult to them who'd given up their Saturday morning lie in to work on this crazy little film. I can live with people not having respect for me but I can't hack it when I've got other people involved with something and, by proxy, I've let them down. I can even let go of the fact that I very nearly wasted £300 but I don't want to waste anyone's time and goodwill. Unlike others I guess who patently don't care.

I must stress that this is not a misunderstanding or, if it is, Three has made no attempt to alleviate my suspicion. I'll get to the reasons why...

So, we make our way to the location and I had a brief word with Rich and Miranda about the scene though I really wanted to read through the scene with everyone so that we had the scene down before shooting as no-one had met each other/rehearsed etc.

About an hour later, I call Three. Or at least I thought I was calling Three. No. Turns out that the phone he called me from didn't even belong to him, it belonged to Dave. Dave told me that he couldn't see Three on the internet (?) so he must be on his way to the shoot. He also let me know that Three wasn't feeling well and gave me Three's actual number. I find it incredibly hard to believe that Dave had no idea where Three was considering Three had used his phone an hour before - they were clearly occupying the same space! I should also mention the whole 'not feeling well' thing - when Three called me from Dave's phone at ten, he didn't sound well but it was clearly through some some afflicted method.

So, at that point, it's starting to look ropey but to us at the time, it still seemed like he was en route so all might be well.

Maybe about 45 mins later, I call Three's number as given to me by Dave. The phone kept going straight to voicemail. Dave had mentioned that Three didn't have any credit - one thing I assumed a 'professional' actor would need was instant access to a phone but what do I know?

But through all of this, we thought, well, he said he could be there at twelve so Wayne left the set to be at the station at the rescheduled time. He returned on his own. My guess? The guy passed out shortly after speaking to me at ten. Again, in the interests of fairness, I should state that all our phones were off for shooting as they were interfering with the audio but I was constantly checking AND we didn't start shooting until Wayne returned at something like half twelve so if Three had arrived later - there wasn't anything we could do about that but when I checked my phone during breaks, I had no voicemails or text messages.

But, for anyone that may think I'm being harsh, what happened next, or didn't happen is the most telling thing. And this is why I can quite confidently say that the guy is a waste of space with no respect for others. I appreciate that things can go wrong, for all the other pull outs we've had - even the ones at 3am the day of the shoot, I've accepted them and not gone into one like this. Things can unfortunately happen. And if his mother got taken ill or something similar, of course I'll understand. And I'd also accept that getting back to me might not be the first thing on your mind. I fully get that and this is the thing that irritates me - if you know me, you'll know I'm the most reasonable guys going. I expect that not everyone's going to be on my page. I expect things to go wrong. But, even if the worst thing in the world happened to you, something that was so devastating that you weren't physically or emotionally able to let someone you'd made commitments with know you couldn't make it - would you let them know as soon as you were able? Or would you go into Facebook and delete the director as a friend and remove the film as a 'like'? Yep. I've yet to hear from Three but he still had time to do those two things. Which speaks volumes. And that's why I KNOW I'm right on this one. If he wants to reply to this and try and justify himself, fine. But I don't think anything can explain how deleting us from Facebook came before a quick note to say you were sick etc. So yes, I call BS and will forever more. Thanks! Funny thing as well - a quick internet search on the dude suggests that I'm not the first person that he's done this to and I'm tempted to contact one of the directors to get their version of their misadventures with Three.

Apologies for the long winded and fairly long piece there but this blog is about sharing everything on the production, good or bad. And as I mentioned earlier, I gave no names, so no foul.

This did spark another thought in my head but I think it deserves a seperate blog - something I will get up quickly whilst this one is still fresh in everyone's minds.

Richard and Miranda - sorry you had to share your blog with a waster - as I said, you guys were awesome, I haven't laughed as much as I did Saturday in ages and I really enjoyed just sitting around with you guys, lamenting the absence of Three. Thank you so much for everything you put in. From dealing with the no show and the subsequent rejig of the scene (I forgot to mention that earlier - the scene was ever so slightly adjusted but not as much as you'd think) to arctic conditions. It should've been the worst shoot day of the entire production but you guys saw to that!

Jenny and Wayne - very, very nearly there! Thanks again!

And an unexpected mention - but a worthy one. A while back, me and a few others met a magician (I'm loathe to say that word as I know he does quite a bit more) who we really liked and met again when we booked him for a party. When I wrote this script, I wanted it to be fun and silly and meeting the magician, Robert Bone, was fresh in mind at the time (I was actually probably about a day or two away from committing the script to paper). So I felt inspired to throw a magician or wannabe magician into the film and have a magic trick somehow be part of his death. Rob, you inspired this scene, character and his demise and for that, you deserve a mention! For more info on Robert Bone, visit his website:

So - photos should be live by the time this goes up - check them out!

And don't forget that we're still running the poll to decide what sandwich a character asks for in the film! Go here to have your say:

I'll be back with a different blog in the next day or two.

Until then remember that if they fly, you die...