Saturday 10 December 2011

The Screening

Okay – so scAIRcrows has finally played on a cinema screen. And I look back at the first blog I wrote on scAIRcrows (on my birthday no less!) and think, it’s f-ing weird that we actually took it through to the end! I don’t know why I never thought that it would happen but I didn’t. I guess you don’t really – it’s quite a big undertaking when you break it all down. But anyway, it happened and it got an amazing reception.

For no reason but my own creative insecurities – I didn’t think it’d go down anywhere near as well as it did. Don’t ask me why – I can see what’s good about it (and what isn’t) but it’s all just so tailored to what I’d actually watch, you know – like you wouldn’t expect people to get private jokes…

I’m glad though – I guess for me but more so for the cast that were present – I’m really happy that together we were able to create something that people responded and that your hard work was appreciated by others. It could’ve been a really awkward hour and I was really worried that it could’ve been (hence my almost apologetic intro to the film) but turns out there was nothing to worry about! The atmosphere definitely changed my attitude when we came back for the Q & A afterwards. I really enjoyed it up there with you guys once it was clear we’d done good!

Honestly, I really can’t put into words just how happy I am that everything worked out. When making scAIRcrows – I didn’t want to change the world. I’m by NO means an artistic writer/director – it was never the intention to make a beautifully crafted, challenging film. I just wanted flying scarecrows and ambitious gore effects for the budget we had. To put things in perspective – just found this cool little body count poster for the three big slasher franchises – we have a count of 8 in our 27 mins which is a pretty impressive statistic!

So it was crafted to be an entertaining half an hour and nothing more than that. I watch a lot of stuff and over the years, my patience has grown thin for a lot of stuff simply because it’s boring! The amount of things I watch where literally the entire running time of scAIRcrows can go by without a spot happening… So the mission statement with scAIRcrows was to keep things moving but try and anchor it with real characters at the same time so that certain events carry more impact when they happen. And it provides a nice contrast to flying scarecrows! So yeah, the intent with it was nothing more than fun – but played straight (unlike Troma movies for example).

So I also forgot to mention we were also playing my second film that night – txt msg. We played txt msg first because it’s a lot shorter so a bit of a starter before the main course!

Because there’s been no blogs or no word at all about txt msg – I even forgot to mention it in the intro!! – I’ll explain a bit of background on it.

I’d written the script before we started choosing who we would see for the auditions on scAIRcrows. So yeah, before we’d even auditioned people for scAIRcrows, I was already thinking ahead to the next one! It was written as the antidote to scAIRcrows. By all accounts, scAIRcrows is a HUGE film for what it is. If I’d realised just how big, we may never have actually made it! But in following it up (and I was always going to follow it up), it kinda seemed like there was literally nowhere I could go after scAIRcrows other than in the complete opposite direction. Sure, I could’ve knocked up something similar to scAIRcrows but that just wouldn’t have been creatively satisfying. So everything scAIRcrows is, txt msg isn’t. And that’s the main force behind it.

For those that’ve seen it – I was trying to be slightly clever with it, injecting a bit of social commentary into the film. It ISN’T a film set up for that twist in the end. The parallel between the character switching phones as well as boyfriends is intentional in the sense that these days, especially with iPhone, iPad etc, there seems to be this really disposable attitude to things in life. Something newer and better is mere months away and my intention with txt msg was to transpose that material attitude to our social interactions. To that character, everything is probably three or four months away from being replaced by something else – possessions, relationships and everything in-between. And then I just take that idea to its logical (to me) conclusion. So there was a bit of subtext to that one but one I didn’t want to be heavy handed about – it just helps me write something if I have a reason as to why I’m writing.

So quickly – because I’ve been asked a few times this week - scAIRcrows 2? No intention at this moment in time to revisit this on the screen. Because I had a few loose ends and scenes I lost either before writing or shooting and I also had ideas as to what happened next, I have written a sequel script. It’s feature length and takes place about 4 months on from what happens in scAIRcrows. It’s a very different beast but I think it’s actually better because of this. If someone rocked up with the cash we needed one day, I’d be interested in doing it BUT as long as it’s on me to raise the funds for it, I’m not interested just because I’d rather pursue original things. Things might change once we see how scAIRcrows fares on the festival circuit but right now short answer is – there’s a script that I love but no desire on my part to take it any further than that at the moment.

So next was something that was very briefly mentioned – the next thing that’s a definite for me is a feature. scAIRcrows was always seen as a training ground to see if we could actually pull a 30 min film off, working with professional actors, effects etc. Now that we’ve managed that, we know what can be done, what needs to be done differently etc etc! So, now I’m free for the first time in a year and a half, my attentions are turning to the things I’ve REALLY wanted to do. There’s stuff that’s very precious to me that I wouldn’t want to screw up so scAIRcrows and txt msg have paved the way for that.

So I’m dusting off a script that I’d written when I was 22. I only dug it out last week and I think 5 years separation from it has done me the world of good! I brought it up to the fourth draft very quickly back then but then left it alone and reading it now – I have that distance that any creative really wants from their work. And I still LOVE it! It was always written so that it could be pulled off on a low budget and now, with the experience of scAIRcrows behind me, I know that this can be pulled off really well. It’s a love story but I wouldn’t say a wholly conventional one given my two previous films! It’s very different to scAIRcrows and txt msg which, again, is what I need to do. I have plenty of things I want to do and revisiting old territory and themes is something I won’t be doing for a long time! I tentatively plan to shoot between July and September but then, thinking about the Olympics, the price of things like locations might be driven up so it could be a bit earlier but, more realistically, September onwards.

The crucial thing about this feature is that we’re going to shoot with a crew this time and high end cameras – as I say, I’m too in love with this project to want to cut any corners with it!

I’m pretty sure that I’ll sneak another short in sometime between now and then. I’ve recently been flicking through all my old scripts. I have some really cool ideas and plenty of them – it’s just about finding something that’s easy to do and cheap because I don’t want to take any money away from the feature (which is already collecting money in a separate bank account!).

For those that’ve asked about buying scAIRcrows – I’ve always said that scAIRcrows weren’t made for the purposes of generating revenue. We’re now entering it onto the festival circuit so I don’t want to hurt its chances by having it be readily available. I do have an idea about distribution that came to me about a week or two ago – I stand by what I say, I won’t be selling it but I will make it available at some point in 2012.

So – thanks to the cast that were there – massive apologies for not introducing you up there! Everything that happened on that stage after was a bit of a blur! For those that sent their apologies – it’s a shame that you missed it! We did good and I wished you could’ve all shared in that!

Thanks to everyone that came down! I hope you all had a good time! It was a fun night!! Anyone that donated any money at the end – HUGE thank you and I REALLY mean that – it’s all going straight towards the feature and every penny makes it that bit better!

And Jenny and Wayne – without you none of this would have ever happened – what more is there to say, it’s that simple…

Now that scAIRcrows is finished, I can't see the updates being as frequent as they once were. So, that being the case, if anyone is interested in what happens next - 'like' the Zombee Video Facebook page (!/pages/Zombee-Video/223962000984664) or follow Zombee Video on Twitter (!/ZombeeVideo). Any word on new projects etc are going to come via those two sources now. The scAIRcrows Twitter and Facebook pages will still be updated whenever anything happens such as festival play etc so still worth keeping on the radar!

As ever - there's a lot of words here and I have no energy to draft it so forgive any typos and the like!

Thanks again and we'll see you around, somewhere, somehow...

Sunday 8 May 2011

'Just', HD and the future

'Just' is my least favourite word of the moment. Everyone hates 'but' but I think 'just' is worse. 'But' precludes a negative statement (or sometimes positive depending on which way around it has been delivered!), 'just' is deceitful.

How many times have you heard 'just' and then were let down but it's promise? Or maybe that's only my 'justs'...

Anyway, scAIRcrows was just a thirty minute. It would just take two weekends to shoot. It would just take a month to edit. There's just a few more weeks to go.

Thing is, my 'justs' are living on borrowed time. This weekend has just left one more scene to be cleaned up. I finally got my own back on those 'justs'...

I'm feeling like I did when we got to the end of shooting, when the tasks remaining were dwindling and all the hardships were becoming distant memories. I've saved the biggest one until last though but I did that when editing too.

Funny story there actually. For those familiar with these blogs there was a shoot day where I flagged a little. It was the second consecutive day of shooting and it was one of the two big action scenes in the film. I HATE shooting action. It's such a complicated mess. When you're writing, you can write it how you see it but then when you shoot, you've actually gotta make this thing make sense. And on this morning, I just couldn't do it. Or so it seemed. I was running on about 4 hours sleep and it's a bit pressured when you have about eight people dependant on you and it did my head in a bit. We were running out of time and I had no idea how to pull all this together.

When it came to editing, I left this scene until last because I was convinced that all the good work won in the rest of the film was going to be pissed away in this pivotal scene. And, I have absolutely no idea how this happened but it cut together PERFECTLY. I think, in a creative world, everyone suffers from self doubt but what I think I learnt that day and by seeing the edit of that scene was that you can have a tendency to over think things. I was too preoccupied with whether what I was doing would or wouldn't work that I ignored instinct. I'm no master filmmaker, hopefully, each time around, I'll get a bit better but I can't claim to be a savant in the world of film making. But, I think being an out and out film lover means I've absorbed enough, good and bad, to know generally how to put something together. And that subconscious knowledge was driving that second day and I was doing my damnedest to ignore it!

But yeah, I feared I'd destroyed the entire film with that scene and then it comes out the way it did and I had renewed confidence.  Now, I'm back at it again because of the audio. I've left it until last because it's the most complicated - lots of fairly quick edits means changing things around is a much more precise job.

But, it's just that to go now!

I do want to say this in a public forum - thanks so much to each and everyone of the cast for the patience you have here! I owe you all a movie and the number one driving factor for me in finishing this is getting you all a copy. You absolutely deserve it, you've been stars throughout this entire process. It has dragged on but that's due to mistakes I know better not to make next time around and without you all giving your time for this film, I'd never have been able to make them! Whatever you get from this film, know that you've given me so much more - I've had an invaluable crash course in this and whatever happens next for me, you've all had a part in it. I'll never forget it and hopefully, we'll work together again someday!

Another thing that I've come to terms with in the last two days - HD. I've had a HD TV for about 6 years now, I have a Blu Ray player and get all my stuff on Blu Ray these days. HD is awesome but I've learnt new things about this weekend.

I'll preface this by saying that scAIRcrows is shot in HDV and I've hated some of the sharpness about it which I've treated slightly in the colour correcting.

This weekend, bought a new TV and as part of this, upgraded the Sky to HD (could've done this before but didn't). And suddenly, I'm thinking, HD ain't as great as it seems. I've not noticed this on the Blu Rays I have but the HD TV is pretty awful in the sense that it's made EVERYTHING look like video. I watched Congo (it's a good B Movie) in HD and it had the same aesthetic that Eastenders and Coronation Street have. It stopped looking like a film and looked more like a TV show. It became way more obvious (than it already was) that 70% of the film was shot on a set and it just looked, for lack of a better word, shit. So then I tried it on other things and got that same video look. It's too clean, too sharp. It's a bit of a worrying thing if everything's going to look like that. Maybe it's a more accurate representation of what was actually shot but I don't like it. I like the more ethereal look of film compared to the super realistic look of HD and I've made pains in scAIRcrows to get away from that HD look as much as possible. And now I'm finding that that's going to be the accepted?

I'm sure it's like everything - switching from vinyl to cassette to CD to mp3 etc... And it'll move on, with or without me. The only reason I'm mentioning it here is because it's pertinent to scAIRcrows. One or two blogs back I evidenced how I've tampered with the image to give it a more film like look and I'm wondering now if people do just want the super clean, video look? I hate it and you'll never see it from me and anything I do (as much as I can help it), sorry! I've mentioned this probably more than once but my heart is in the 80s to the extent that I got the poster specially commissioned by an artist who is well known for doing that style of artwork so this super clean digital stuff goes against my being. But, at the same time, I am limited by the tech I have - I can't afford film so will always shoot on video but with an eye to tampering with it as much as poss in post.

Now, a little update on the general world of scAIRcrows right now. We have a venue in mind for the screening and I will approach them as soon as I know the film's in a presentable state. I have a wider plan for this screening now which I'll need to discuss with the venue but I feel like I should do something with this that is true to my passions. It'll be cool. Again, for anyone getting fed up with the wait - do know that there is no-one in the world who wants to get this thing out there more than I do! And it'll be worth it!

A few people have seen the current cut of the film - with the understanding that glaring issues in it are still being worked on and I have to say, the reaction's been pretty good. Common themes are appearing as far as favourite scenes go. I think and hope that when people see this, they realise they're watching a film called scAIRcrows featuring flying scarecrows. And if you embrace that in the knowledge that its a small film (though with some quite ambitious things going on), you should come away with at least something you enjoyed! It's a fun little piece and I say fun because I don't want this to really be labelled horror, comedy or comedy-horror. I don't think it's outside a genre but I don't like the polarising effects the word comedy and horror have. I compare it to something like Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight. When it wants to be, it's quite hardcore horror but then at other times, its excessively silly and it's a very hard contrast unlike something like Shaun Of The Dead which is blatantly comedy-horror. I don't know what I'd called Demon Knight either - I think I'll just let the people decide!

One thing I've had very consistent comments on, even to this day, are these blogs. People do enjoy reading them and I realise that they're a mix of everything - my interests, diary of events, somewhat of a instructional thing but still fairly consistent around the theme of the film. What I've decided to do then, is to collect all these blogs together to form the framework of an ebook. I can put something together and self publish and I have all the material here so once the film's finished - I will be compiling a 'making of scAIRcrows' book. It won't be these blogs copied and pasted - I will just use those as a springboard. I'm going to attack it like a book on film making so will go through every little thing I did right and wrong, why it was write and wrong etc as well as providing a diary of all the events. Think I'll spilt it in the three sections of pre-production, production and post-production. But hopefully, people will see it as an informative little piece and it'll probably sell on Amazon for something like 70p! There's a lot of material here and properly edited and proofed, I'm sure I can put something out that's informative and entertaining. Again, something I'm doing more for the love of it than any financial reward but I do genuinely believe there's a certain amount of value in organising all of this into a proper volume.

It's exciting to think that in the next couple of blogs, one of these is going to say 'all done!'. Have your glasses ready to raise when that one comes in!

Sunday 1 May 2011

Things I Learned On scAIRcrows - Part Two


I'm doing the final clean up on the picture cut of scAIRcrows now. Seven of eleven scenes now are locked and won't change anymore. This might contradict things I said in the past re. number of scenes being locked but reason for that is, I thought scenes were locked when they weren't because the audio was so crap that I had no choice but to recut.

And as I'm doing these fixes, I realise how important coverage is. This kinda goes back to a previous blog where I mentioned that I was a much more confident writer than a director. You watch films and you notice (or don't) all the edits that happen in a scene - I've paying a lot more attention to this since deciding to start making films. But one thing I have trouble understanding is the need to have so many edits.

Most of the scenes on scAIRcrows were fairly well covered considering the time restraints we had- in most cases we shot between 5 and 7 angles per line of dialogue. Not as much as I think features shoot, looking at the variations in shots they have, but enough to give myself options. Despite doing that, I'd say about 40% of the film uses the wide, everyone in shot, angles. Because when I did jump around for close ups, a lot of it felt forced, it really did feel like I'd just been given this editing software and just wanted to make cuts for the pure hell of it. So I scaled back on that and there's three shots in the film that I can recall that last a good 35-40 seconds which doesn't sound too long but watch a random film and see how often shots hold for more than say, 10 seconds... But I thought it was much more interesting and natural to just leave the shot running. I don't know whether people are so used to seeing cuts all over the place that these moments might seem jarring - I hope not. But they felt right.

But, coverage has presented another use for me and that is to fix errors! If someone trips over a line, cut to a different angle, cut back when they've gotten over it. If there's an unwelcome noise (kids, sirens, rugby players) - cut away from the noise, come back when it's gone. Continuity error? Cut away from it, cut back when it's less prominent.

I realise that coverage is there for dramatic effect and I guess, in some respects, visual variation but I think it also holds a valuable technical gift that shouldn't be underestimated. It's saved me from a few seemingly dead ends and I actually surprise myself that I got so many angles - I certainly weren't thinking of how badly I might need them later on! And it's the one thing I hate about shooting. Doing things again and again and again, over and over. It's mentally draining and at the time, you just wanna be shot of these angles and just DO SOMETHING ELSE!

But, persevering pays off and I'm thanking my past self now!

Sunday 6 March 2011

The 'Look' of scAIRcrows

I've mentioned the colour correcting thing plenty of times and showed an example of the sort of thing I was trying to work with. I spent a solid two days aligning the colour and lighting of every single shot so there's a more uniform appearance to the film. Once I'd done that, it was always my intention to then tweak the entire film to look a certain way. This may still change slightly before we press the film but this is the process flow:

Originally shot footage

'Aligned' footage

The Final Look

As you can see, I've taken a lot of the 'redness' out of the image and removed a lot of the colour full stop. Also added the softest of blurs to the image just to take the digital sharpness off the image. I'm really happy with how it looks on a preview monitor - on a TV it might look a bit different so as I say, it may change slightly but it gives you an idea of the direction that I'm headed with the film. It probably goes without saying that the footage from the trailer is completely untouched...

'til next time!

Saturday 5 February 2011

Second Thoughts On Editing

By now, I assume everyone reading knows where we are with scAIRcrows. For those that don't, the film is fully cut (in a sense - I'll explain in a sec), the audio is fully synced, more than a third of the score is written, the foley's been recorded and just yesterday I dipped my toes into the world of colour correction.

So after 7 months, we're in the final stages of the film. And when I look back at it - 7 months sounds like a long time but when we consider exactly what we've done, it's probably taken exactly as long as it should have done. Crew of three people (from pre to post production), 2 month shooting period etc.

I would now say that after about 2 or 3 months of not enjoying working on the film - I'm really getting into it. Those 2 or 3 months where I weren't enjoying the process - it was where all the heavy editing was taking place. Watching a day's worth of footage (4-6 hours) and trying to pluck the best minute and a half out of that. It wasn't fun and no-one could say it is. I loved editing the first week that I was doing it because, like all things new, it was a novelty. Then when I realised I still had at least another 28 mins to cut, the enthusiasm quickly dropped off.

There were days when I got back from work, loaded up the software, looked at whatever scene it was at the time and said to myself 'tomorrow' and closed it back down without doing a single edit. I did find that leaving gaps of time between editing each scene helped and also, editing on weekends when I was fresh and able to devote large chunks of time to it made things go a lot quicker. But it was a struggle.

Problem I really had with it is that it truly isn't as straight forward as it seems. I have the script, I know at any given point which character the focus should be on but it never worked like that. I wrote up edit lists after viewing all the available takes and I thought, if I just follow this list, I'll be done in an hour.

No way.

Just because I'd picked out all my favourite takes, it didn't mean that they were necessarily going to work. All sorts of strange things conspire against you in editing. I mentioned the obvious thing in continuity over on the last blog. Things like clashing tones - when I put together my list of favourite takes and watched them back, at points it was painfully clear that the conversation weren't fluid - that characters were reacting or not reacting to other characters when they should/shouldn't have been. You don't think about that when you're watching disembodied takes.

My lowest moment was when I scrapped an entire edit of a scene after all my efforts to get it to work just weren't bringing me any luck. I'd spent about 5 hours on it and just reached a point where I realised I'd just be wasting even more time trying to get it right so deleted the whole thing with a view to starting afresh in a couple of weeks' time. That was a very hard thing to do, to accept defeat and voluntarily destroy 5 hours of effort - I imagine if any job on a film is likely to induce a mental breakdown, it would be editing.

But, it is a brilliant feeling to have spent a good portion of a day on a scene and see it play out in front of you, there's such a sense of achievement from it that it almost makes doing it worthwhile.

My reasons for editing the film were pretty straightforward - there was no money to bring someone in to edit for me. I've spoken to a few people about how I really didn't want to be editing my own film and that, more importantly, I shouldn't be editing it. The general response is that if I let someone else edit, that's a degree of control I've lost, I can't say the the film is fully mine. But I don't agree with that because the film isn't fully mine. The second I decided to make it with other people, to bring actors in, it stopped being fully mine. Obviously, I've got the control over what happens in it and this is the same for the acting, the editing, the score etc. If I don't like something, I don't have to have it. I don't really see any problem in handing the film over to someone else to cut as long I have final say.

I think it's damaging to the film to have the writer and director also edit. I've been watching a lot of short films recently, trying to gauge whether I'm on the right track or not and a common theme seems to permeate these films - they're all way too long and they're short films! The problem I think comes from the fact that the person that wrote and shot the film is way too close to the project and obviously, it being their baby, is completely in love with it. To the point that they can't see that minutes at a time are passing with absolutely nothing happening. I won't name examples but I saw one recently where we clocked just how long it took before anything resembling a plot kicked in and it happened at the 5 min mark. In a 10 min film. And it wasn't an 'art' film, there was a narrative in there - it was just preceded by 5 mins of the main character watching TV and drinking. On his own. And for an outsider - it's abundantly clear that it is dead air but I'm certain the director has a reason for it being in there. But, with a subjective editor looking at it, the film would be a lot better off.

And that's what my current paranoid obsession is. I don't want this film to be too long. It's 29 mins at the moment and I feel that we're using every second appropriately but I'm now going in and trimming where I think we hang too long on something and even removing shots that I think slow things down.

And this is the part that I'm actually taking a good deal of fun from. Because the film is cut, cleaning it up is a very quick and instantly gratifying process. And in the last 2 days I feel like I've changed more the film more with a few rearranged edits than I had in actually assembling the scenes.

So yeah, I love editing again and am absolutely loving putting all these finishing touches to the film - I do think that the last 5% of work on this film will elevate it 100%.

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!

Monday 31 January 2011


A technical process by which sounds are created or altered for use in a film, video, or other electronically produced work.

Origin: After Jack Foley (1891-1967), pioneering sound effect editor at Universal Studios in the 1930s.
We did the above over the weekend for scAIRcrows. Our foley session consisted of the below materials:
We were doing this because a lot of the effects either didn't produce a sound or they produced the wrong type of sound and this was a way of getting in what you would typically expect to accompany the mayhem that unreels in the film. It's a bit of a weird one because I tried this out the other day, watching Scream. When the killer wields the knife, every single movement is exaggerated with the inclusion of a very audible 'woosh'. And because I was paying attention to the foley work ahead of what we were intending to do, I became very aware that the sound was extremely over the top. Really badly so. But, in the realms of the film world, it isn't. I wouldn't say you expect exaggerated sounds but you do expect any action to have an accompanying sound even if it wouldn't in a real life situation.
It's a fine line.

In a quiet room, we completely obliterated the above products. Now, it was slightly fun to just go mad on this stuff, it was also more technical than it probably looked. Hitting the melon in a certain way, hitting it too hard or too slow, it all resulted in different sounds and we had a specific list of effects we had to record so trying to coax those exact noises out of these objects meant that it wasn't quite the free-for-all that it may have appeared to be.

It was an interesting experience - playing with things in different ways produced sounds that you probably take for granted but when specifically listening out for them, sound quite nifty and should hopefully fit the carnage on the screen very well. I look forward to incorporating these recordings and filling out the audio experience in scAIRcrows. As mentioned in the last blog re. color correcting - whilst we have little means and a tiny production team coming to a grand total of three people, we are still very committed to creating the best possible piece of work that we can with the resources that we have. You may not even notice these sound effects in the final film but you would notice them if they weren't there!

I'll close with a picture from after the session - it's not often you can say you get to do this for professional reasons:

I've had more than a few people mention to me that they're missing the frequency of these blogs - again, it's really because at this point, there's not much else to say as far as our progress on the film goes. However, there's things that I can talk about related to the film so I will try and get a few more up very shortly!

Until then!

Saturday 1 January 2011

Post Production

Okay, so a couple of weeks ago I wrote that scAIRcrows was in rough cut and then everything went quiet.

I haven't stopped working on the project, it's just that as we're getting to the stage where it's just tinkering with the details, it's hard to keep these updates going without being incredibly repetitive.

That said, enough time has passed that I have somewhat of an update.

The key thing now is that the audio that we recorded separate to the camera's audio is now fully synced to the film. The film now comes across a million times better already because there's next to no extraneous sound/noise now. It still needs to be sweetened and tidied up but it's made an incredible difference.

One thing that I don't think I mentioned at the time, the reason why the trailer is what it is is because we hadn't synced up the audio at the time and I didn't want to spend too much time doing it when the film itself was obviously the priority. So, I took the approach of having a trailer that didn't incorporate dialogue, removed the audio completely and put composed music over the top (written & performed by These Native Ways - also scoring the film itself). If you wondered why the trailer was like that, now you know. I may go back and cut another trailer at some point, something more traditional, but right now, I'm happy that the trailer accurately represents the film.

The second big thing is that I've finally started delving into the colour correction aspect of post - the one thing I've been banging on about for quite a while. I'm doing this in Adobe Premiere Pro - I bought this software back in October but only started using it this morning. Main reason for this is that when I first booted it back in October, it looked way too scary to be using at the time. It was always my intention to produce the master of the film from Premiere Pro but I knew that there was no way in Hell that I'd be constructing the entire cut in the program. My video editor of choice before scAIRcrows was Pinnacle Studio. I wasn't doing anything overly complex back then, just cutting simple videos together and nothing more so, in those terms, Pinnacle was brilliant. But because I knew I wanted to make scAIRcrows look as best as it could, it had to be replaced. However, Premiere Pro was too big of a step up so in August, I bought Adobe Premiere Elements which is basically a stripped down version of Premiere Pro. I bought this knowing that anything I did in Elements was transferable to Pro. I cut the whole film in Elements and am now bringing it all into Pro for the picture and audio mastering (audio in Soundbooth).

I think because I've obviously spent a lot of time in Elements (you would when you're cutting a 30 min film) I opened Pro today and everything seemed a lot less bewildering. I've found it fairly easy to navigate now as it is just a bigger version of Elements. It sounds like an unnecessary extra step to work across two different editors but because they're from the same family, there's no hassle at all.

Anyway, I will say that 95% of the footage we shot was fine. There's that 5% though that weren't and unfortunately, I need some of those shots in the film. So I'm targeting those first, stage one of this process is to clean up the shots that need it. Stage two is to get a uniform look across all shots in a scene (outside light is obviously a big variable). And then stage three will be me applying the 'look' that I want. First though, I have to perform the first two stages.

I've nothing to hide on this project, I've been quite open about it being a first time independent thing and so am not going to pretend that mistakes weren't made because they were, loads. The example below is a shot that I somehow didn't see anything wrong with on the day. The originally shot footage is on the left of this picture. I've then performed a very basic clean up to make this shot look, well, visible (this is the picture on the right). Don't ask me how I managed to take such a terrible shot. Throughout the shoot I was constantly resetting the white balance and adjusting the shutter and aperture - not a single frame of this film was shot on 'auto' mode - these cameras were operated completely manually because I wanted to make sure I had total control over the image. So I don't know how the below shot happened but it did and luckily I'm able to clean it up. I think it might've been toward the end of that day's shoot!

Anyway, the screen grab from Premiere Pro - originally shot footage on the left, somewhat tweaked footage on the right:

Again, this is a very basic tweak to the contrast and a smaller one to brightness - there's still a bit more I'd like to do before I'm happy with the shot but this is exactly why I've gone on non-stop about colour correcting. It is an absolutely essential activity.

I've said it countless times before (and this is why I'm trying to only write when I have something to say!) but I've seen way too many films where simple things like the above could have occurred to make the film seem that bit more 'proper'. It strikes me as a very self defeating thing to do - to go to all the effort of organising a film shoot, shooting it and all the rest - to then simply whack it into an editing programme, assemble the shots and spit the thing back out. Yes, it will probably take me a few weeks to finish this process but when there's the possibility of shots like the one above appearing - I simply refuse to not spend that little extra time on it. It is the same with the audio. Just a little time and attention to detail will make a HUGE difference to the finished product.

That's where we currently are with the film. I expect it won't be much longer until the film is fully finished - I would hope to be able to announce details of the first screening of the film within the next month.

Very, very nearly there...

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!