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

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