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Take One - Diary of a Shoot (2)

In this issue we continue with the diary of the shoot of the film Return Ticket to illustrate the many problems which are typically encountered on location.

After shoot one, we were left with only two and a bit pages of script to film. However, as you may remember from the last issue, I had written an extra scene for the end of the film, which had now added one more page to the script. As the first session took an average of one hour per page to shoot, the theory was, that the second session should take no more than three and a half hours to “get it all in the can!”

Well, that was the theory!


Wednesday 2nd June 2004

A few telephone calls confirm that the shoot is still to go ahead today. As this is a workday for most of the group, we are now reduced to a cast and crew of four. As both Paul and myself work shifts, this enables us to arrange an afternoon filming session which includes my wife Carol, who is taking a half day's holiday and Keith, who is self employed.

We meet at our location, Denby Dale railway station. Unfortunately, the weather is not as sunny as it was on the first shoot, which needs to be considered for continuity.

We begin to set up the first shot arranging everything to match the set up from 10 days ago. Immediately it becomes apparent that the adjacent builders' merchants which previously had been an oasis of peace and tranquillity, is now bustling with activity, as fork lift trucks feverishly fill large sacks with sand and gravel! Recording sound under such conditions will prove to be an impossibility if the noise continues. We press on hopefully and rehearse the scene.

The actors walk in an arc around the camera continuing their dialogue from shoot 1. We have to pace it carefully, as they are drifting beyond the range of the (stationary) microphone by the time they are finished.

Paul and Keith feel as though they are walking too slowly, but to the cameras “eye” the shot looks fine. This is the criteria by which we must work.

Progress is slow as we shoot between the movements of the trucks in the builders' yard.

Although Denby Dale is an unmanned rural station, we soon realise that it is very busy. It occurs to me that this week is a school holiday week and many parents are taking their children on day trips.

At this point, the driver of a fork-lift calls out to Keith (Pottage) and asks him if he was on TV the night before. Keith enjoys this attention and recognition because it is true. Keith is a keen quiz show contestant and has been on many TV shows and won prizes. This time, he was on ITVs The Vault the previous evening and won over £18,000! Despite his “star” status, I ask if we can continue with the next shot. Time is moving on and we still have 3 pages to film, which now includes the extra scene.

Interruptions have slowed us to a crawl. Keith suggests we think about postponing the shoot until a later date. This would pose many problems. Apart from the normal difficulties in getting everyone together at the same time, Paul is due to fly to Greece on holiday next week. This would add a fairly long delay and most likely it would mean that he would return with an obvious suntan which wouldn't match previously shot footage.

Paul is keen to continue despite the problems and I agree.

At this point the camera begins acting up. I am trying to review the last section when the panel of controls for playback, fast forward and rewind refuses to operate correctly. This has been an intermittent problem for a while now, but this time it is much worse. The camera goes into rewind mode and can only be stopped by switching off the power. Several minutes are lost as I try to correct the problem. The camera itself is working fine, but not the player. As I cannot wind, play or rewind the tape to check where we are, the only solution seems to be to remove the tape and insert a new one. We press on.

The noise from the builders yard becomes much louder and we decide to move to later shots in the sequence which can be done away from the platform and return here later.

The skies look threatening as we gather up all the equipment and props and re-locate a few hundred yards away over the bridge away from the noise.

Most fiction film-makers reading this will now have that smile of recognition as they identify with a familiar situation. Sound recording in the modern world has become a huge problem and it seems that quiet locations are increasingly hard to find, if not impossible!

To add interest and a challenge (?) our next shot is a complex hand-held moving dialogue scene along a tarmac path through the trees. As we rehearse, the actors voice their opinions that the speed of their walk seems painfully slow. Once again I tell them that through the camera viewfinder, it looks very fast and needs to be even slower. Unconvinced, they go for take one.

Part way through, a line is fluffed and we go for take two.

I am walking backwards with the camera and stumble into the bushes.

Take three…No!

By the time we reach take nine, I am beginning to think that this shot is impossible when lo and behold, at take ten we seem to have got it.

Commonly, a master shot will be done first and will be repeated until we have as near to a perfect take as possible. After this we will shoot additional angles, cutaways and close-ups of each actor. This will often produce 10 or 12 versions of the same piece of dialogue. With the constantly moving shot described above, these additional angles were this time omitted.

We return to the platform to complete the missing sections that we were unable to film due to the noise. The builders yard is now shut for the evening and it is quite easy to fill in the missing sections. Unfortunately, a light aircraft directly overhead chooses this moment to practice aerial manoeuvres, possibly for a forthcoming display. The noise is obtrusive and we again waste time as we wait for the pilot to move on.

After some minutes delay, we continue and at last finish the last scenes with Keith. He leaves us at the location discussing Paul's final (solo) scene and sets off home.

As it turns out, this is the week of the local drama festival at the theatre and we are due to be there at 7.30. Between now and then we need to eat and get washed and changed. Do we have time to shoot the last scene? This involves a 10 minute drive to the next location, but we decide to press on now that we are so near to the end.

At Sandal Castle, a famous historical landmark on the fringes of the City of Wakefield, we set up for the last shot. I have chosen this site as the location due to it's height above the surrounding area.

Paul has used the travelling time to memorise the dialogue and we get three perfect takes from different angles. At last, luck is on our side and the normally very windy Castle is calm and still. Paul though, gets a mild attack of vertigo and wobbles unsteadily. However, all is well and the film is shot in a total of 10 hours.

There is now only the simple matter of editing and all other post-production detail, which we will discuss in the next issue.

- By Ken Wilson (first published in FVM)

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