Sunday, 6 November 2016

WorkshopCraig: INDIE FILM TIP - Is your Location Limiting you?

WorkshopCraig: INDIE FILM TIP - Is your Location Limiting you?: As an indie film maker it is a fair bet that you will not have the money to hire a studio such as Pinewood or Shepperton and build that pe...

INDIE FILM TIP - Is your Location Limiting you?

As an indie film maker it is a fair bet that you will not have the money to hire a studio such as Pinewood or Shepperton and build that perfect set where your characters can play out that perfect script you’ve written.

As a poor indie the truth is you will have to use real actual places to make your film and most likely as a result you will be limited to what you can beg, borrow or steal to create the world of your film.

Now sometimes this can feel like a hindrance but really it’s nothing of the sort. Like everything else about film making it really is only a matter of compromise and adaptation. And actually sometimes these perceived limitations can actually lead to creating a much more truthful world than a studio ever would have.

On my first film THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS for example I needed an attic room to double as an artist’s studio and living space. Although we were shooting the whole film in one location, a massive stately home called Compton House in Dorset, ironically all of the attic rooms were far too small (being servant rooms) to accommodate everything that we needed in the film space. This created something of a dilemma; should we make do and settle for a smaller space or should we try and find a different location? However, we didn’t have the money for another location so we were stuck with our small cramped attic room and that was that.

After much head scratching there was an alternative to trying to fit everything in one small cramped attic room – why not fit it all into 3 small cramped attic rooms and pretend it was one big space.

By filming in 3 different rooms, one as the art studio area, one as the bedroom area and one as the kitchen area we managed to convincingly portray a single space and yet never show an establishing shot of the entire space and the funny thing is you never ever miss that shot. Because of the way the film is edited by our amazing editor Claire Pringle the audience are encouraged to feel a sense of claustrophobia and disorientation. This is a great example of not being constricted by your location but actually enhancing the film thanks to the location limitations.

Now admittedly we were helped by the style of the film here as we were creating a sense of disorientation in the audience by never having big establishing shots of the place so that you couldn’t quite get a grip on the location. This was to unsettle the audience by taking away one of the things that we grab hold of while watching a film, namely a sense of place. By denying this the audience would feel disorientated, on edge and that is just what we wanted them to feel.

Due to the nature of the shoot we had many shots where The Artist would walk out of shot in one room and then walk into shot in another room and it still meant to be the same space. Logistically this meant a lot more thought had to go into each shot and how this part of the room would fit together with that part of the room. We even had one room that needed to be completely flopped in post so that the layout felt right but all of this was planned so there were no problems.

We had to think about where the camera would need to be so we didn’t cross the line from room to room, how to keep consistency of lighting, movement, wallpaper and a myriad of things to help make the space convincing. We even had a painting hanging on the wall creeping into shot in separate rooms, on different sides of the camera frame to help make it seem the same room. Everything was storyboarded and rehearsed beforehand and all the shots worked out on a camcorder before the shoot. It also meant a lot of moving furniture from one room to another which at 3 o’clock in the morning you can probably do without but those are the joys on indie film making on a budget. It is the attention to small details like having the end of the bed creeping into shot even though you’re in another room that helps tie the space together and ‘sell’ that it’s all one big room.

Using multiple location to convincingly seem like one space is not a new trick but it is a great one to have in your back pocket if you don’t have the money to build a set. You will often see it used with exteriors of buildings being shot at different locations to the interiors. The principle is the same but you are just using several rooms to create one.  It allows you to lose bits of a location that do not look good while keeping the bits that look great and helps you create the sense of a place that looks fantastic within your film world.

I hope this helps you with your film. Let me know.



Thursday, 6 October 2016

INDIE FILM TIP - To Track or Not To Track?


These days it's fairly easy to hire a glide track or even buy a Pico Table top dolly for less than £100. These are relatively small pieces of kit that will easily fit in the back of your car and in the case of the table top dolly it'll fit in the front pouch of your camera bag. These will help give your production 'that' professional look we all want and provided there is a reason for the movement within the shot can pack a real emotional punch right when you need it. Of course they can also make your film feel like a music video if overused.

It wasn't that long ago that to achieve any kind of decent tracking shot you'd have a to rent an expensive kit of track, stabiliser blocks, a full size dolly that took a couple of you to lift, a grip worth his salt and a transit van with enough room for all this and the rest of the kit to fit into.

On my second feature THE LONG ROAD, I have managed to get all the kit I need down to the size where I can actually fit it all in a back pack and still have room for change and most importantly I haven't needed to skip on quality one bit. In fact I can get amazing looking, sounding and beautifully lit shots as good if not better with this smaller kit than I could a decade ago.

But sometimes you can still do things the old fashion way and get brilliant results. Take for example one of the scenes we shot for the film. We had two hours in a church to get a pretty pivotal scene in the can. That's two hours to get in, set up, rehearse, de-rig and get the hell out of dodge. That's pretty tight but thanks to the DSLR we used I didn't need to worry too much about lighting so that meant I could spend more time on the composition of each shot and the type of shot it should be.

This was to be a big emotional scene with lots of static shots holding on our lead character. Everything was pretty still so that nothing would detract from the moment that the character is going through and the great performance being given by our lead actor Paul Mundell. However, I really wanted to end the scene with a tracking shot pulling slowly away from this sad, desperate figure, small and vulnerable in this large church space. As is always the way we were up against the clock and didn't have time to start rigging for a tracking shot. I had known this going in so I was prepared not to get the shot but as always there's always a way to get that extra shot.

The answer presented itself in a rather unusual place. Sat in the corner was a wheelchair. I remember my old film school days where anything and everything would be used to create shots and I remember a shoot where we hired a wheelchair from the Red Cross for our tracking shots. It was a damn sight cheaper than a full dolly kit and the results were pretty good.

I took that experience onto my first feature THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS where we again hired a wheelchair and used a 10 foot long kitchen worktop as our track. The camera operator would sit in the chair on the board with the camera resting on a mini bean bag to give it stability and yet still be manoeuvrable. It was not the most sophisticated solution but budget meant we had little choice and with a bit of practice we got very good at getting the tracking shots we needed.

So it was a bit of a surprise in this day and age with all the new wonderful toys we have at our disposal to find myself using a wheelchair again but we got the shot beautifully which added to the emotional punch of the scene. Best of all we got it with no fuss, no mad dash to get the equipment set up and no extra cost. It just goes to show you that as a film maker you need to be open to everything and anything on hand to get 'that' shot and not be afraid to do it the old school way sometimes.

In fact an old film school friend of mine once got the most amazing crane shot using two long poles tied together to form a triangle contraption but that's another story...

Thanks to that wheelchair we not only got the shot I wanted but the emotional pay off for this crucial scene in less than two hours. Everyone on the crew earned their lunch that day.

You can find out more about THE LONG ROAD on our twitter account @LongRoadMovie


I'm going to try and post regular experiences and tips but you know what I'm like. It might be a while but come back and check soon.

Catch you soon