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!