Monday 25 October 2010

Film Scores

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

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

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

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


The Church:




The Beyond:

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

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

Sunday 24 October 2010

The Shoot - Day Eight - 17.10.2010 - Final Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 21 October 2010

What Happens Next Could Go Horribly Wrong...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 19 October 2010

The Shoot - Day Seven - 16.10.2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Shoot - Day Six - 10.10.2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday 17 October 2010

scAIRcrows Is Wrapped

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

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

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

And I just helped it along where necessary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 16 October 2010

Nearly There...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Based On True Events

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

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

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

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

The links to the story:

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

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

Sunday 3 October 2010

Where We Are...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 1 October 2010

On Acting...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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