Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Things I Learned On scAIRcrows - Part One

When we were looking for actors and especially when casting the leads, I was very clear about what the project was.

The casting advert that went out:

Actors wanted for short film

Soon to be shooting (in the next month) in London, scAIRcrows will (probably) be the first ever film made about killer scarecrows that fly.

It goes without saying that this is a low budget production so all parts are unpaid but travel will be covered and lunch supplied. Also, a copy of the finished film will be provided to everyone on the production as well as an invitation to the premiere screening (whenever and wherever that may be).

Whilst the film itself may sound silly, we’re very serious about producing something worthwhile though a sense of fun and the absurd will probably go a long way!

For those still reading, the synopsis is as follows:

Four friends are idling a day away in the park, unaware that a pack of flying scarecrows are picking off others around the park, rapidly making their way towards the friends.

Who will survive the onslaught and is it even possible to escape from the scAIRcrows?

We’re basically looking to cast the entire film. The four main parts are as follows:


Mid 20s. A quiet, sensitive girl dreaming of marriage and living happily ever after suddenly forced into trying to make sense of an impossible situation. She is secretly strong but hides it well, only revealing her somewhat stoic nature when the stakes are raised.


Mid 20s. Emma’s boyfriend and almost fiancee. Level headed and unshakable but also very down to earth and very easy going. Devoted to Emma.


Mid 20s. Best friend of Mike’s. The joker of the pack. He has a good heart but is absent minded and seems to be tumbling through life.


Mid 20s. Max’s girlfriend. Laid back and a good match to Max as his silliness is just absorbed by her carefree attitude.

In addition to the four mains, there are eight smaller roles. All roles have at least one line of dialogue though their main presence is to provide a body count – perfect for those wanting to dip their toes into acting and/or dreaming of being killed onscreen.
Clothing will be provided, in case there were concerns about the splatter! Also note, that with the exception of the four leads, the remaining roles aren’t necessarily ‘gender locked’ so specific deaths can be swapped around to those that absolutely must die a certain way!

The hope would be to see people for at least the four leads on the 17th July though details will be confirmed upon application.

This will be a very easy going production so a similar frame of mind is best suited.

Please send applications to:

In the application, please state the role that you are applying for, a headshot if possible and any questions you might have (they’re encouraged). Whilst some experience is beneficial – it absolutely is not a requirement.

That was the ad as it went except that I removed the information regarding the smaller roles for two reasons - I don't want to spoil too much and a lot changed from that original ad so some of it just isn't relevant to the final film now.
Once we filtered through the applications for the leads, we sent out an email to every we wanted to see that looked like this:

Thanks again for your application.

We’ve now been through all the applications and have decided that we would be interested in seeing you for one of the leads.

We would like it if you would read for both roles of Emma and Julie.

We would like to see you at xxx on Saturday 17th July.

We will be recording the auditions but will not being using them for any other purpose than for review. There will also be three people present with me who are all working on this project alongside me.

They will be held here:

On confirmation, we will provide the relevant sides.

Because we don’t want to waste anyone’s time, I’d like to give a more detailed overview of the project and what can realistically be expected from it.

This film is being produced purely from my own funds and has no other backing so it is literally as independent as it can get. I have very slight experience in filmmaking, I’ve written and directed three short films when I was at college but nothing beyond that.

We will be shooting on the JVC GZ HD7 of which I own a pair and the crew will be at most, four people.

We will meet the ambitions of the script (in terms of special effects etc) using a bit of creativity and resourcefulness but are well aware that we can’t possibly meet Hollywood standards.

The main ambition with this project is to create something unique and fun that we can send to film festivals and just have a completed film that we fully own. It is also a learning opportunity for me as this is the first time I am launching a project fully by myself.

Again, the work will be unpaid but food etc will be provided and any reasonable cost that you incur will be covered.

If you’re still enthusiastic about this project – brilliant, and we look forward to seeing you.

The aim would be to shoot everything with the four leads the 14/15th August.

Please accept/decline this audition offer by the end of Tuesday as we are reviewing final details on Wednesday.

Further to this - in the auditions I tried as much as I could to put actors off. It wasn't that I didn't want them (obviously) - I just wanted everyone to be absolutely certain of what we were doing and what they could expect from it.

It's a bit strange reading back those things though as when I watch the film now - it looks a great deal better than the communications to the actors would suggest. Does make me wonder if people believe in me more than I believe in myself!

This is a really roundabout way of saying that I told people at every possible opportunity that really, I was doing this because I love film - I have no financial aspirations for it and I want the opportunity to learn so that I can make the next movie a million times better.

So - what did I learn? A lot, a hell of a lot - hence 'Part One'.

One of the main things was that you need a really good general awareness of the set. I'll be the first to admit that I fell afoul of this many times across the eight days of shooting. Truth is, a lot, if not all, of the time, I just got so wrapped up in watching the actors and paying attention to what they were doing and framing them that I didn't see things that I should have done.

I was talking to one of the cast about this who told me that they'd not had much luck in these films as the filmmakers had always opted for their worst takes. And at the time, I couldn't understand why they would do that and it wasn't a case of the actor only having bad takes - having worked with them, I know that not to be the case.

So why did this always happen? Surely it weren't a conspiracy. And why would people deliberately drive their projects into the ground using the worst of their available footage? It didn't make sense to me and I'm sure it doesn't to you reading this. But now, having completed the picture cut of the film - I can totally see why it happens. I want to be clear that I'm happy with everything that's in the film but at the same time, I've had to lose my absolute favourite takes for all manner of reasons.

Most recent example is that I had a take where the noise of the plane flying over at the time was so pervasive that there was literally no way around that take. Either with the properly recorded audio. It sounded like it was about five feet above us and after a while I realised that whatever I did, I'd lost that take. So, pay attention to planes! Your ears are damn good at filtering them out but the microphone, not so much. Plus, what makes it worse for me, and this is something that I'm only beginning to realise - I live fairly close to Heathrow Airport and under a flightpath - I've lived in this area my entire life and so I think I just stopped hearing planes many years ago. The times when we did catch them - it was always the actors that pointed it out to me - I just weren't hearing them! Honestly, nothing will kill a take quicker than a plane.

The other thing is continuity. Continuity's been a massive headache for me - objects jumping around etc. And sometimes, I've had to automatically dismiss takes because of the jarring continuity errors in that take. And they can come from anywhere. I think the one thing I didn't really think about was that actors switching up performances in takes can be a really frustrating one. I've lost some really good bits because, however the actor was playing it, clashed with everything around it. And it can be anything from actions to tone. The problem I had is that I wanted the actors to be flexible with it and I'm glad I stuck by that. I think I still would be too because I think mechanically performing a scene robs it of life. But, at the same time, I'd pay more attention to anything that could be considered veering too far off. Because film is quite a technical exercise and I think sometimes my whimsical ideas about free and flowing performances clash with the technical aspect of what film actually is. It's finding that middle ground really.

Props are another problem. If someone has something in their hand, you can guarantee that it won't be in that exact same position in the next take. Pay attention to it - don't bring anything into a scene that isn't necessary to the film. And even if it is - how necessary is it? Can it appear so that we know it's there and then be put down, out of the camera's sight for the rest of the scene? Giving objects free reign will come back to haunt you. There is one instance in the film where an actor brought a prop into the scene and I didn't think about how this could be problematic but, in editing, it was clear they knew what they were doing. I even spent a lot of time in the editing just trying to deliberately create a continuity error (not to go in the film - just so I could catch them out!). Wasn't possible. It's insane that they managed to track what they were doing with such precision. But don't rely on actors like this - better to be safe than sorry I say - unless you're a much bigger production with one specific person monitoring continuity...

The other thing that can affect takes is other actors. A bit of a weird one but you can be absolutely spot on every time, delivering a performance that's identical across 5/6/7 takes but if the person appearing in the shot with you is doing different things each take - it immediately limits what I can use. It happened a few times in editing.

It's worth thinking about everything that can possibly change in front of the camera - make a list if needs be but they all need to be paid close attention to.

And that's about enough for this. There will be a second part (this time without the massive back story about how I stressed to everyone that this was a learning experience) but it may not be the next blog that I write.

Thanks for reading!

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