Sunday 22 August 2010

The Shoot - Day Two - 15.08.2010

Now, as mentioned in the previous blog, between viewing all the footage shot that day as well as charging all the batteries, I only managed to get to sleep at 4.30am Sunday morning, getting up at 7am. The fact that I was up and about since 7am the morning before really didn't help either.

The reason I mention this is because the closest thing we had to a problem resulted from this I think.

We met the actors at the same time and went down to the set and prepared. Now, we left scene 6 partly shot the day before. We took it as far as the action comes in. So that's where we started. With the help of the actors, we'd roughly blocked how this was all going to work but then we came to shoot it and I really lost focus of it all. I'm my own worst enemy as I wrote it all into the script!

The problem I faced that morning, apart from the obvious lack of sleep, was the fact that there's four characters involved in the action, all in very different places and simply stuff like figuring out where someone should be, how they get there, how long it takes to get there - it all became very technical very quickly. I knew this going in but then actually running through it, the size of the task presented itself.

The other main problem I had was that up until this whole point, I'd been running a second camera so every single scene I've shot is well covered (I have about 8 or 9 options to choose in editing for any particular line of dialogue/event). And I realised I had to divorce myself from that as having two cameras moving around, one that I couldn't monitor too, was way too awkward. If we'd had more time, we would have been find but we didn't - an end time of 2pm was set in order to allow for enough time to get the final two scenes shot, plus we also had to re shoot for the shot we weren't happy with the day before.

So we shot the action with one camera and broke it down shot by shot. We got everything we needed in the end, we were over schedule by an hour but we at least managed to finish the scene - something that, at 10am that morning, I really didn't think was going to happen.

Something to mention and I will make no attempt to hide this either - there are a couple of instances where I simply didn't direct. Wayne, our sound man, played the 'live' scAIRcrow and amongst all the chaos, I simply hadn't really talked about what we were doing in the scene. It was part forgetting and part assuming that he knew what I was thinking, simply because he was on the crew. It makes no sense but that's where my head was that morning. It made for some very funny outtakes though - two of which will be posted before the day is out. I obviously got it together but I'm appreciative of the fact that everyone put up with me for what I think were three or four ropey hours.

Two key things - action is fine as long as it is very well prepared for and get enough sleep! We've structured the rest of shooting schedule so we don't work consecutive days now. The reason for this is, all we have left is action scenes now!

Because of how tight we were for time, I never got to incorporate any blood into the two death scenes we do have. They were always planned to be shot with effects later on but it would have been nice to have some on set blood and something I wish we could have done. But you live and learn. It won't hurt the scenes at all as they were always scripted and tested to be done separately from the shoot.

So, we finished scene 6, said goodbye to two of our actors and moved location for two of the final three scenes.

I'm loathe to say too much about the final two scenes though there is something that happens that I hope people will remember. There's a very tender moment (played perfectly by our leads Damien and Victoria) that ends abruptly and from far out left and hopefully ends up being something that sticks with people.

One thing about those last two scenes from a technical point of view - the sound was a challenge. We needed a very enclosed, wooded area. Somewhere where it'd be difficult for the scAIRcrows to fly through. We found it but it was right at the back of a pub and by a main road and whilst you can't see any of it - you can hear it! Kids, ice cream vans - the lot. We were obviously very careful about recording this and we'll have sound that we can use but it was another of those moments where I was far too focused on the actual film to notice the ambient sound. It's worth keeping an eye on because, if our characters can hear ice cream vans - they'd by inclined to run towards them for help, not stand there having a very deep conversation.

The good news is, we managed to finish ahead of schedule. We only had half an hour spare so half an hour anywhere along the shoot could have put us back but we did it!

Twenty pages of script for scAIRcrows was shot over two days and now sits on the hard drive. I begin editing next week - just waiting on delivery of software.

So, with that done would like to say the biggest thanks to my actors - Victoria Smith, Damien Warren-Smith, Elisa Armstrong and Gareth Halfpenny. I really hope you guys realise just how important you were to making this work - it will never be forgotten.

And my crew - Jenny and Wayne Diamond and Lindsey Dean. We've all still got a bit of a ways to go but we're that far along because of you all. This film would not have happened without you and that's the honest truth.

Also - another mention never hurt anyone! Biggest thanks to Emily Rudge for the catering - I'm sure some (maybe all) saw it as the high point of the shoot!

Now - we look ahead to the remaining 7 pages where the scAIRcrows do some damage!

The pictures from the shoot are on Facebook and also can be found here:

The Shoot - Day One - 14.08.2010

So somehow, scAIRcrows became a reality on the 14th August.

We met the actors at 9am Saturday morning and proceeded to the location where we just about managed to set everything down before it rained.

Rain is a massive problem for scAIRcrows as it is set entirely outside and even if we were all prepared to work through it - it wouldn't have made any sense. If a bunch of friends are hanging out and it starts raining, they're going to pack up and leave. You just don't sit there in the rain when you don't need to.

So rain could have actually killed the production off instantly. The forecast up until a few days before looked good and then it suddenly changed. Problem I had was that I'd paid for a permit to film and a requirement of the permit was that I also possess public liability insurance. I won't disclose how much it cost me but it was a decent chunk of money. So I had no option but to carry on, scAIRcrows simply couldn't afford to pay that again for the same scenes.

I don't know what happened to me but the second we got the location I became incredibly focused on things, to my detriment. I couldn't see things that were obvious and Victoria, the actress playing Emma, the lead in scAIRcrows, suggested we just shoot under this huge tree that stood alone in the field we were at. It never struck me as an option and I think the reason for this was that I'd had this script in my head for too long and had the film already assembled. And a tree didn't feature anywhere in the film I'd envisaged.

But it made sense. Because even if it was hot, you would still want shade and not to be sat out in the sun all day. It worked better than what I'd been living with for the past two months. I don't know if it's the right approach to film making but I'm 100% open to suggestions because I absolutely recognise that sometimes, I can't see what's right in front of me. This was basically the approach I took to the entire shoot - to just let things play out as they naturally do and only then trying to steer things if they don't work. I don't know if it was weird for the actors to not be asked to do things again but in a different way but I felt happier behind the camera when the scenes were developing organically rather than being geared mechanically a certain way (more about that in the blog relating to the next day's shoot!).

So, with that suggestion taken on board, we started setting up and were shooting in about half an hour. scAIRcrows shot on two JCV HD7 cameras - they look small but for anyone that doubts their quality - do a search for it on YouTube and check the quality of the videos achieved by it. Obviously, a lot of that is also down to whoever is operating the camera but I'm happy with how the footage looks. Sound was taken separately due to the incident mentioned in an earlier blog and it's probably the one thing that's going to give me the biggest headache when editing scAIRcrows. We did the whole clapperboard (though it wasn't actually a clapperboard) picture and sound sync thing so it should be easier I hear there is software that can help do this too if the camera's recording sound - which they were.

We managed to rattle through the first scene fairly easily, it's mostly dialogue taken in one place - I hate to think how many times we read those lines and I'll suffer for asking it to be done over and over when I have to listen to it all in editing! I was probably more cautious about everything we shot, we shot until we nailed it and then a couple more times after it for security. It's probably par for the course but I felt I was starting to get a bit annoying asking for it again and again!

I messed up quite comically in one part of this scene. Basically, there's a part where there's just the two girls talking and I actually cut the scene early, whilst the actresses were still performing. Again, it goes back to being intensely focused. The scene ends with a single word but there's a very similar word further up the script that's all said on it's own and in one take, I took that to be the end scene word and stopped the cameras. Yes I wrote it but I was so fixated on everything else (and also absorbed by the performances) that I was operating instinctively, listening out for certain beats and words rather than actually following the script! It's one thing I'll need to work on, whilst it is obviously no bad thing to be intently watching the scene, you do need some awareness of what's going around. I was stopped a few times because actors said there were planes flying overhead. I didn't hear them until they mentioned it.

We had part of that scene where two characters are throwing a ball back and forth and it was fairly easy to shoot but one of the biggest lessons was learnt that weekend - if you have the actors returning the next day - play back ALL your footage from the previous day's shoot. That way, if something hasn't worked for whatever reason, you can pick up on it and re shoot whilst you still have the actors there. We had one shot in that little scene which stood out from the rest and it happened because of how specific I am about framing things.

I like space, I like keeping things at the edge of the screen if there's nothing else in shot, I don't like things being centred. And this one shot, as it was taken by someone else, was framed centrally and it just clearly didn't work alongside all the other video we had of that scene. We had back ups - two shots etc but because we had the opportunity to spot and re shoot, we did and gave the actor the shot he deserved.

So, always watch the footage back the same day if you have the opportunity to fix it the following day. Now, it isn't the best advice because it physically killed me. We got through watching all the footage at 1am (two cameras shooting - there was probably about 5 hours of footage all in). I then had to go back home and recharge all the cameras batteries. This is something that I didn't get finished until 4.30am at which point I went to sleep before waking up at 7am for the next day's shoot.

It was madness and made for a slightly more hairy Sunday but being able to fix a shot I was going to forever be unhappy with made it worthwhile. And I've caught up on the sleep now!

We had catering provided by Emily Rudge - she made amazing food that kept everyone happy both days of the shoot. It was another thing that I learnt that weekend, the little things count for something. Just having decent food on set kept everyone happy and in turn, kept me happy. Being an unpaid production (how I wished scAIRcrows had more money so that I could've paid everyone - they were more than worth it!) I knew I had to at least make sure my actors were comfortable and weren't out of pocket. If anyone is considering launching a film, paid or unpaid, don't disregard how important something small like food can be! And Emily is a great place to start as I, as well as all the other people working on the film, will testify.

The food also brought about an uninvited visitor to the set - Poppy the dog. There are pictures of her on the flickr/Facebook pages and, as much of a blur as that weekend was, I do remember the invasion distracted me (in a good way) from trying to co-ordinate the rest of the shoot. Poppy, you're welcome back anytime!

The next scene to shoot was an even simpler dialogue scene, one that takes place entirely in one spot and so was a nice thing to work on as it didn't require intense concentration on all the elements!

That scene came and went without incident and this is where I probably had the biggest smile that weekend - we were ahead of schedule. It was always a worry that shooting 20 pages over two days was slightly ambitious but the good thing was - it was mostly dialogue. The leads are the 'interest' characters. They're the ones we spend a bit more time with and there's only one action scene with them - scene 6. Two words I can't say together without inducing nightmares.

But I had that in my favour so with a couple of hours to spare, we went ahead and shot scene 6 up until the point where the action happens. We wrapped on time that night and went straight back to review all the footage.

I would say that Saturday was fairly uneventful - everything worked exactly like it should have done once we'd worked around the rain and had definitely left me confident that this film will actually work. I've probably said it so many times that they're sick of it (so sorry if any of you are reading this!) but the actors were amazing and totally kept the film moving. I would definitely keep an eye on the cast of scAIRcrows and again, if anyone's thinking of putting a film together, I truly doubt you could do better than this talented, committed bunch of people.

Same goes for the crew. No-one was paid and no-one had to put up with the long days but they all did - people like that are worth more than anything.

If scAIRcrows becomes a success - I can't take credit for it. The film is a team effort and the absence of anyone that was present would have hurt it.

Pressure is on to continue in that manner. I will put together a blog re. Sunday hopefully tonight too - it was definitely the more challenging day.

Pictures from the shoot are on the scAIRcrows Facebook page and flickr here:

Wednesday 18 August 2010

An Update

Whilst I still don't really feel I have the time to do a proper blog around the weekend's shoot, I figure I'll drop a quick update in.

Twenty pages of a twenty seven page script have now been shot and this video is currently sat on a new external hard drive that I bought purely for scAIRcrows. We're shooting at full HDV so the files are pretty big - we've got 100GB of footage. I don't know how many hours that translates to but it's probably a lot for twenty pages of script.

I've deliberately kept a distance from the video for this week - the events of the weekend are still fairly fresh in my mind and I need to approach this with a clear head.

I'm happier than anything though - for me, this was an idea I had over a year ago and bit by bit, this thing slowly formed in my head and I eventually wrote it down in May. And it's weird to think that the script now actually lives. That something I'd created in my head now has an audiovisual presence. It truly is like dreaming something and then having it come to life and it's truly bizarre. I've been through this process before but with others quite heavily involved - scAIRcrows, I can safely say is 100% my vision.

I can't exactly stop working as there's still plenty to do but I'm focusing on other aspects of the film to break it up. And right now, that's the website. It isn't going to be overly spectacular as I do just want it to be one central point where people can go and then link to this blog, YouTube, flickr etc... I think the more basic it is, the better. So, hopefully by Saturday that will be live.

In the next few days, the first proper meeting re. the second block of shooting should take place. All actors we've offered the parts to have accepted but we haven't really progressed details there as we've been focused on the first shoot (which, at twenty pages, was the bulk of the film).

I will also write detailed blogs on the two days of shooting as well as posting pictures from the shoot - I will probably hold back on any video for the moment - as much as I want to get more video on the YouTube channel, it has to be right.

So, that's basically where the next week of scAIRcrows will be - it's getting really interesting now!

Wednesday 11 August 2010


We held rehearsals for the leads in scAIRcrows tonight.

I called rehearsals after realising that whilst I might have the film in mind - it was probably handy for the actors involved to run through the script and work off each other ahead of the actual day.

I'll admit that the way I work in life generally is to just go for it and worry about what goes wrong when it happens - so I would've been quite happy to just show up on the day of the shoot and just start shooting. Clearly, it's the wrong approach to take and after confessing to the actors that I didn't really have much of an idea as to what we were going to do in rehearsals, I was promptly shown.

And again, this is what's great about scAIRcrows - I am genuinely learning from every part of this project. Having run through the script with the actors - I know exactly how rehearsals should be handled and what the actors and myself need from them. I'm sorry that the four that worked with me tonight were the guinea pigs but they've given me so much that already, I'm much more confident about doing this in the future.

Which is handy because we'll need to do rehearsals for the other parts later in the month or early September. And I will come across a lot better there than I did tonight because I know what to expect and how to gear it now.

As for how the evening went - I felt like I should have offered more comment but to be totally truthful, they took the script beyond what I'd imagined and I think any comment I could've brought in would have been redundant. I'm really excited for people to see this now because it became clear to me tonight that there's four great people carrying this film, turning what I'd written into something that flows and sounds 'right'. I know now that scAIRcrows will be a film to be proud of - I honestly cannot wait to be in a position to get it out there.

And that's the other thing - it's given me confidence. I'm always doubting myself. It's something that I'm told by family, friends, school reports and work appraisals. And so, whilst I wrote scAIRcrows as something I would love to watch, I really didn't think anyone else would be interested. But tonight's showed me that yes, people will be interested and that the right people can give credence to something that, on paper, doesn't look like it'd work. So I'm not worried about Saturday at all. I should be nervous about it but I'm really not because I know that this will end up being good.

It's hard to explain but I wrote this about two or three months ago now and have lived with it in my head for that long but to see it actually turn into something real and be EXACTLY what I'd written - it's something else. Obviously, we're not 100% there - there's still a few things on the technical side to clear up but as far as what happens in front of the camera goes - I've no worries and it's such a good thing to be able to say that.

scAIRcrows will definitely be something to look forward to now!

Sunday 8 August 2010


Today was a really good day for scAIRcrows - things went a bit wrong. I'm really glad that things went wrong though because there's such a thing as too easy and whilst the pre-production so far has been tiring (mentally more than anything else), it's been fairly straight forward.

What was supposed to be a day of testing a bunch of things in the run up to the shoot ended up being spent trying to resolve two things.

The first thing was that I bought a Steadicam style device for one of the cameras (didn't buy two because I wanted to see how I'd get on with one first). The equipment cost £80 (I supplemented this with a further £20 for additional weights) and is supposed to keep the camera still whilst being supported in the hands. No matter what we did, we could not get this thing as steady as it is in the tutorial videos and a good hour or two was spent balancing the weights, counteracting the weight of the camera and we almost got there but not quite - if the thing takes this long to set up, its impractical for the shoot and so is effectively £100 unnecessarily spent.

It gets better.

I'd bought a Rode NTG-2 microphone for this shoot. Despite it being low budget - I want to get the best equipment I can afford and £180 for a microphone seemed like a worthy investment. It was bought on eBay however so I cannot claim I spent £180 on it - it cost me £140 with postage. Still a considerable amount when you're counting every penny.

The question was raised as to how we power this and I then remembered that it has a battery compartment. We went wrong from the very beginning, unscrewing something that didn't need to be unscrewed. There was one screw that was incorrectly threaded and consequently jammed - it took a good 2-3 hours to get this screw out using all sorts of methods. When we did get it out, we realised it was holding together the part of the microphone we weren't supposed to detach - consequently gutting the mic. We put it back together and can happily confirm that we have destroyed it. It picks up about a second or two of sound before cutting out and back in. So £140 thrown away there too.

Which means, today, we wasted about 10 hours of valuable testing time and also managed to establish that a £100 piece of equipment was impractical for the shoot and destroyed a microphone that retails at £180.

And I'm glad it all happened. Mistakes made and things learned - the back up plan for the microphone will probably work better than the microphone would have (though we'll never know!) and the camera stabiliser - well, I could have bought a pair straight up.

I'll keep saying it but scAIRcrows is a learning experience for me and so I welcome mistakes - it's the way that I learn. If everything worked perfectly throughout production, I would obviously feel happy but I wouldn't feel like I'd learnt anything and would lack that extra confidence I'd get from knowing that certain things will happen in certain ways. As long as you take something from it, nothing that can ever happen to you is a bad thing (99% of the time!).

Monday 2 August 2010


Yesterday (Sunday) we finished auditions for scAIRcrows. From the first weekend we'd cast three of the four leads but needed to go back and cast the remaining fourth character. It was looking slightly tricky as we've pretty much locked our first shoot weekend - everyone involved has set that weekend aside so despite being awfully close to the date, we had to knuckle on and find an actor in time.

By Friday we're sure we'll have confirmed an actor and then we're all set for the first weekend's shoot.

scAIRcrows was initially going to be a more 'friends and family' type thing and it'd been discussed in that manner. The only thing that happened was that I then went and wrote the script. And the second it was finished it became abundantly clear that it needed 'proper' actors. I'd written myself into a corner. The thing was, the script needed to be what it was. It needed to have halfway decent characters and a certain amount of dialogue to give the audience some connection.

The whole thing very nearly died there and then. I weren't confident enough to bring in people who were professional actors - I didn't feel like I could deliver something that was worthy of professional actors. But by that point, the film had been talked up so much that it had to go ahead so I put the ad out not really knowing what to expect. I'll post the ad in it's entirety as a separate blog as it seemed to go down well - it got across the fun of the project.

And we got an unprecedented response. Whilst I didn't really know what to expect, I certainly didn't expect to get over 100 applications.

We slowly whittled it down (which was very tough and time consuming). We decided we wouldn't do in person auditions for what I call the fodder roles (the characters that are in the film just to die) as they only speak a few lines and so we opened up video auditions to them.

For the leads, we did in person auditions. It was really good to see people understanding the script, liking it and also interpreting it in their own way. Some people absolutely nailed the lines and others went beyond that, seeing things that I hadn't written in the script but were so right for the character. Everyone brought something and I am so appreciative of everyone that showed up - it's really encouraging to see other people share an interest in something that started out as a joke but became very serious.

I just wanted to give an idea of the sort've low budget/independent world that scAIRcrows inhabits. We held auditions in a music rehearsal studio. The website for the studio is - I highly recommend this place. The people there are great and it's a nice environment, easily accessible by tube and cheap. This would definitely be my go to place for any future projects - really can't imagine many other places being more suitable.

So on Sunday, we got there and unpacked. I'd forgotten the plate for the tripod as seen:
So, we improvised and rested the camera on a drum - typical low budget creativity at work there...
Then, we had camping chairs as seats:
The actors coming in were given the dearest one (when I first bought them in Argos, I wanted five chairs but they only had four of the cheapest ones so I had to buy the next level up - I hope the actors all appreciated the extra level of comfort!).

And these were our chairs. Funny thing was - the first day of auditioning, I had three other people sit in with me (as I wanted a rounded opinion). On the second day it dropped to two and on the third, there was just one other person with me. Which is why I won't do any more auditions for scAIRcrows as there's a definite trend there!
But, despite how it all looks, it worked - I researched proper casting studios and we managed to get three full days of auditioning in for less than the average price of one day in an actual casting studio. And hopefully none of the actors were put off by the camping chairs and drums doubling as tripods.
In the next couple of days we should have the last of the mundane details sorted and then there's about a week and a half of planning shots ahead of the first weekend's shoot.