Saturday, 31 July 2010

Post Production

I've had a few questions about post on scAIRcrows and I've always answered the question from an effects point of view and no-one's stopped me or pushed me further so I presume that when people ask about post, they're asking about the effects.

Whilst I may have touched on this previously, scAIRcrows will be entirely practical. It helps me not knowing the first thing about CGI on a low budget but also, I honestly wouldn't want to use it. I'll try and not be a purist about this as I know it has it's uses and if done well, can really look good (I was convinced that only the tentacles on Davy Jones' face were CGI in the Pirates of the Caribbean films - honestly didn't think the whole thing was animated). But most of the time it completely takes me out of a film - I've never understood why CG blood is used, it stands out a mile.

So yes, practical 100% of the way - I know why the question comes up though. For anyone that reads the script, it reads like it should be really expensive. You have scarecrows that fly and then people dying in fairly elaborate ways.

As the YouTube channel (quite low on content at the moment - I know, it's something I will address!) demonstrates, things that I've written into the script that sound impossible can actually be pulled off - fairly well I think too as well. We're not going to rival commercial productions but I wouldn't want to - I think this adds to the charm and tone of the project - being hands on with absolutely everything.

We have a lot of time to get each of those shots right and because the bulk of the effects shots will be performed off set - if I spend a whole day just putting together one shot, then so be it.

So yeah, as far as post goes - not a single spot will be digitally added. We'll colour grade and that but no effects will be performed inside the computer. If, for whatever reason, I can't get the shot physically, I'd rather not include it. And I say that with confidence of knowing that everything I've written can be pulled off, one way or another.

I hope this has actually answered the question re. post and that I am actually referring to the correct intention of the question - if not, if someone is genuinely interested to know more, throw the question at me!

And, if you want to know why, above all else, I wouldn't touch low budget CGI - check out the trailer to Birdemic and look at the shots with the birds. Truly, having plastic birds on strings, to me, would look better and the option that I would have gone for.

Friday, 30 July 2010


I'm taking a break from talking about production because we're neck deep in casting and I'd rather talk about that process once we've finished it but it's been great. This being my first non student production, it's a brilliant thing to have your work taken seriously and listening to people simply elevate it. Logistically though, it's been a nightmare, organising dates and times etc but, as with this entire thing, it's a learning experience and I already know how I could make things so much easier the next time around (though I'm definitely not thinking 'next time' at this very moment!).

So anyway, I'm calling this blog 'Inspirations' but I don't want to give the impression that I'm just name checking a bunch of films I've ripped off. I would hope that people don't see too much of the following films in scAIRcrows but they are definitely films that pushed me in this direction.

Firstly, Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight. I've loved this film ever since it came out and have watched it more times than anything else listed here. It's hard to say what I really like about this - it really just comes down to the fact that it's just a fun film. That's all I ever want from a film - to not get bored. And with this, the characters are all so quirky that the film keeps moving even if nothing particularly interesting is happening at the time. But it rarely does slow down and it's the one thing that I wanted to bring to scAIRcrows - a pace that means you're not more than a couple of minutes away from the next action sequence. scAIRcrows has it's character moments (more on that in a second) but it still moves. And the casting is too good - Billy Zane and William Sadler as opposing forces - whilst I still think it would be good with other actors, the cast really do raise the script up a level.

Feast is pretty much the same film as Demon Knight - again, there's a pace to this film that masks over some of the lesser aspects. I don't like this as much as Demon Knight as I don't think the cast and the characters are anywhere near as interesting which means Feast relies more on the action than Demon Knight does. But I still think it's great and again, you won't be bored watching this which is definitely the mission statement for scAIRcrows. If your mind wanders for even a second, I'll feel like I failed.
Right, so, moving on from the action/pace aspect of scAIRcrows, the following two films have a really nice set of characters and atmosphere that I'd like to capture in scAIRcrows.
Cabin Fever is a good film to mention here as it's tonally a bit 'off'. You have the serious side of things contrasted with some quite silly and OTT situations that should be jarring but somehow aren't. scAIRcrows has the same sort of tone I think where the film is fairly straight whenever we're with the leads but then deviates slightly when we move over to our secondary characters.
But scAIRcrows isn't really anything like Cabin Fever, though hopefully it shares a similar sense of doom as far as our leads go.
I really love the scene with Rider Strong and Jordan Ladd on the raft - it plays really innocently and you get a sense of history between these two characters but at the same time, you feel sorry for them because you just know it isn't going to end well. It's really great because bubbling under the surface is this great feeling of dread - I think the score in this instance really helps inject that.
Roman is a really slow burning character film. Really slow. It isn't even that nice to look at but something about it just works. I think again, between the acting and the writing, this is something that just sounds like it should be terrible but isn't because it has the right people behind it.
Like Cabin Fever, there's this feeling of hopelessness running throughout the entire film. As strangely likeable as Roman might be, he is capable of bad things and when he meets someone with a similar outlook on life to him - well, it's doomed before it's even started.
And the last film I mention here is Final Destination 2. One of the characters in the film shares a very similar death to the guy that's impaled by the ladder. I just thought that particular way of killing someone is very easy for a scarecrow to deliver (they're typically fixed to large wooden posts that could do some damage if brought down on someone's face) so I had to include it.
What the Final Destination films also share with scAIRcrows is inventive death scenes. I'd watched pretty much every scarecrow film possible AFTER I'd written the script for scAIRcrows and I didn't feel like any of them really capitalised on the fact that they had scarecrows as their killers. I wanted the deaths in scAIRcrows to be something that was relevant to scarecrows or they might as well be anything/anyone. So there's the straw death previously discussed, a crucifix death and the post through the eye death as just mentioned as well as others.
Being a full on horror fan, there's probably millions of other films that've influenced me and scAIRcrows in some way but those are the ones that really stand out as being guiding forces in writing the script.
The next blog will probably go back to the production itself - we've gone back and tested a few other things here and there. Some things look really cool for what they are and I genuinely think, if we keep at this level, we could end up with something we're actually quite proud of. Tomorrow will be the first day in a few weeks where I take a complete break from the film before diving back into auditions for our final lead on Sunday.
'Til next time...

Monday, 26 July 2010

More Tests

Tests continued on Sunday. Again, everything we did was focused on that first weekend's shoot - I'm trying not to think any further than that at the moment!

There's two death scenes in the first weekend. We covered the first one yesterday. The other unlucky character dies by being ripped in half.

It's a fairly simple one compared to the straw death but a lot more awkward due to the fact that we can't reset this easily if it doesn't work.

Anyway, very simply, I bought a mannequin off eBay (pretty much where everything for this film has come from). I paid £40 for it and it's fairly good apart from the fact that it has no head and two right hands. It separates at the waist so was perfect for us - it already comes apart so we just need to dress it right.

So, we took it apart.

You can see both halves in this picture (wasn't intentional), all we needed to do was get a flesh like substance in there and then pull it apart and the effect would be done.

We took a load of cotton wool, dipped it in poster paint and glued it to the body with PVA glue. On the final build for the shoot, we'll dip the cotton wool in stage blood and fix that to the mannequin. But the poster paint looked okay.

We did the same for the top half of the mannequin and then held them together as close as we could. There was a bit of a gap still that we'll need to address in doing the final build - we managed to mask it somewhat by layering liquid latex over the join.

It looks a bit messy but it sealed the gap. It is still noticeable but again, for a test that's purpose is to see if the effect is physically possible, it works. And also, this mannequin will obviously be clothed which will help in masking any imperfections.
We didn't paint this one either which again, doesn't help as far as realism goes but again, fine for the test.

Video of the test is up on YouTube -

Then we took what's becoming our signature scAIRcrow down to where we're shooting. This one is called Nuffara. We took him down for pictures and also the opportunity to test their ability to fly. Video of the flights is also on YouTube.

What amazed me was that after being thrown about twenty times, he was still intact. They're tough, these scAIRcrows.

Now that we've tested this all out - it's on to the more boring aspects of the preproduction...

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Special Effects

Yesterday we did the first effects tests. We have two death scenes in the first weekend's shooting and needed to start figuring out if doing them was possible as I'd have to change it somehow before shooting otherwise. Of the two deaths, one reads as being a lot more complicated and so this was the one that we mainly focused on.

The character that gets killed dies by having straw from a scAIRcrow stuffed into his mouth until his eyes are pushed out by straw. Yes, it probably isn't medically accurate or even possible (I haven't researched) but I just know it'll look cool and people won't care about small details.

As outlandish as some of the death scenes in the script may sound, I've ensured they're all achievable (and on a budget) by watching tutorials here:

Armed with the knowledge that the effects are possible, I bought 10 polystyrene heads on eBay. They cost £30 and unfortunately, I weren't at home when these were delivered and so, had to pick them up from the local sorting office. I got on the bus carrying a very big box adorned with the following label:

I bought female heads as they were slightly cheaper and these were never going to be the final build, just something for me to test on and be confident that what I wrote could actually be pulled off.

Unpacking them was slightly creepy:

I then took three of these heads over to my producers' house and the testing started!

Out of the bubble wrap, the head looked like this:

We then put a couple of coats of liquid latex over it to try and smooth out the skin. This didn't go as well as we had hoped and we realised that it was because we were leaving the latex we were painting with out in the air and it was drying up just being in the pot. Consequently, the skin flaked quite a bit and didn't really look how it should have. We're glad that happened though - it was the whole reason for testing this effect and we know now not to leave the latex out.

Anyway, we then spray painted it with a colour that was way too pale and this is what it looked like:

We then painted some very crude cotton ball eyes:

Before anyone thinks that this is the quality we're achieving - these were just tests. We will be getting glass eyes that match the actor's eyes for the final effect and obviously, the skin texture and tone will be sorted out so that it will look a lot more convincing though Hollywood won't have anything to worry about!

Anyway, the aftermath of the effect:

Video footage was taken which will be going up on YouTube shortly.

For a first attempt without the proper materials, I'm really pleased with the results. It's important for me that the effects are in full view in scAIRcrows. I'm bored with seeing half hearted horror where the people are killed in mundane ways. A little creativity and fun never hurt anyone! I understand the value of having understated or off screen deaths (scAIRcrows has one character die off screen) but that only works if it matches the tone of the film.

And in testing, we thought up new ways to kill characters which may replace some of the deaths as they are written. It was a very creative day and I think a milestone in the scAIRcrows project - with a bit of work, we can definitely meet the ambitions of the script and that's a very encouraging thought!

We're not going to reveal all of the scAIRcrow designs as I'm aware that, at points, this blog may reveal too much so I'm keeping one eye on retaining some level of surprise for the final product. However, this is the nearly finished build (we haven't sorted out the face on the head yet) of our second scAIRcrow. If you read the previous blog, you can see that it bears some resemblance to one of the sketches. His name is Espantalho:

As I mentioned, YouTube video will be going up shortly and the best way to keep track of that is to follow the scAIRcrows twitter page - redirects to it.

Friday, 23 July 2010

The scAIRcrows

When this whole thing came about, I knew I didn’t want ‘traditional’ looking scarecrows. I wanted scarecrows that, whilst, still looking like scarecrows, came across as fairly unique.

I sketched up quite a few. Some looked more normal, some weren’t scarecrows in any sense of the word. What we’ve ended up with is a mix of some of the original sketches and some new ideas that really only happened once we started physically putting the scarecrows together.
There’s four in the script and I really wanted each of them to be unique, you’ll be able to tell them apart and maybe even have a favourite! They’re all going to be named because to me, they’re characters in the film and as such, deserve names. They haven’t been decided yet though.
I think all in, the scarecrows cost £50 in total to make. They’re made from two sticks of bamboo, forming the classic cross shape. Our scarecrows, they aren’t tied to the wood – the frame is their skeleton. I bought about four bags of clothes from FARA – not much thought was put into the choice of clothes either. The way I’ve always approached these scarecrows is that they’re homemade. Someone somewhere has been building these things and they’re going to put them together with what they’ve got. And I’m sure whoever really does build scarecrows doesn’t think too much about them beyond their resemblance to the human form.
The bags of clothes cost £30 and then it was just about making their faces different – each of them has a unique head and again, save one for one, they aren’t terribly typical. And believe me, scarecrows look like they should be a lot easier to build than they actually are! This is our first fully built scAIRcrow:One down, three to go! Hopefully after this weekend there should be some new pictures.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

The Script

scAIRcrows is truly an independent production. The entire thing is funded by my annual bonus. It was just one of those things where it became time to stop talking about it and actually go ahead and do it.

On a coach trip from Orlando to Miami, I’d pretty much written the script in my head. The idea had been there for about a year but that coach journey gave me the time to piece it together. And a day or so after I landed back in the UK, I just put it to paper. I wrote the first draft in about four or five hours – it seemed to happen really quickly as I already had the entire thing in my head, it was just getting it from there to paper.

And then I spent about a week or so tightening things up, correcting mistakes and reordering scenes. The current draft is basically the same as the first draft with things just happening in a slightly different order, less draggy dialogue and better spelling but fundamentally, there’s no real difference.

Further tweaks may still happen just to tighten up the running time, it's something I've got an eye on. But I need to deliver on the crazy deaths and it needs to carry some sort of weight so it's becoming harder to slim it down without emaciating it.

People seem to like it though which is encouraging but also slightly weird - I wrote this for myself and I thought, with my fairly unique taste, I'd be the only one that enjoyed it
so it's slightly strange to see people responding to it.

But having a script is just the beginning...

Monday, 19 July 2010

About scAIRcrows

It just started with the title. Just a silly little play on words – I have more but I won’t share them here in case I plan to make a habit of it but this was the one that stuck with me the most. There’s just something patently ridiculous about flying scarecrows (hence the ‘AIR’ for those who haven’t caught up yet!) that it just needed to be explored. But yeah, once the title was there, the whole thing arrived fully formed really.

It did go through a few incarnations though. Originally, it would have been a feature and tonally would have been a bit different – not massively but it would have more resembled Texas Chain Saw Massacre with flying scarecrows than it does now. The scarecrows would have been a bit more calculating – the victims would have just been driving through the country when a cow was just dropped onto the car, destroying the car but not harming the people inside but leaving them with no easy way to get out of the area. Problem with the feature is that it would have taken a lot longer to sort out and scAIRcrows isn’t paying anyone (as much as I’d really love to) and I didn’t want to piss on people’s good will with a protracted production schedule. Plus, I don’t think it could have been effectively realised on the budget we currently have.

So then it was just going to become one or two scenes from the feature that we could use as a way of getting interest and hopefully some sort of backing to do the idea justice. That wasn’t really a viable idea however – I weren’t really too comfortable putting my own money into something that was incomplete by design.

So, following along those lines, the best way to do the idea justice was to create a fake trailer. Just something where I would be bound by the loosest of narratives but able to throw in a lot of outlandish stuff in a short space of time. And again, hopefully get that interest in furthering the concept somehow.

That idea I still like but like shooting two scenes from a feature, it didn’t really feel like something that I wanted to be left with if I didn’t hook anyone.

Really, it had to be a short in the end. Which, at the moment, is possibly the best format for flying scarecrows to make their debut – if the worst happens they at least won’t outstay their welcome.

It’s a long short, the script runs at 27 pages which is longer than I would’ve liked but I felt that it needed characters that you follow rather than just scene after scene of scarecrow mayhem. It does feel like there’s more going on than just mindless slaughter which I felt was important – the scarecrows bring a greater sense of threat with them if you (hopefully) care about the people in the film.

And the story in a nutshell – four friends are idling a day away in the park whilst flying scarecrows are making their way across the park, killing everyone in their path. Inevitably, the two groups meet and the results won’t be pretty.