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...