The world of non-commercial film and A-V
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Borderline Shorts are Bob Vine and Graeme Webb. Based in South East London, they have been making short films together for two years. Bob works for an international organisation in graphic design and Graeme is a media consultant. They use high end DV and HDV cameras and Apple post-production kit. Their film Car Park won a Gold and a sponsor's prize at BIAFF 2006. Last Drop won 4 stars at BIAFF 2008.
|This was the first major film project for us - but not our last! Graeme's
initial idea for Last Drop also allowed us to finally flush
out the characters from Car
Park and see the world they moved around in.
Many evenings were spent mind mapping the story - basically breaking it down into a flowchart form which allowed us to easily see the film as a whole and make changes to the story without a major re-write. It became obvious at this stage it was going to be a bit of a monster to control!
As with all short dramas there really isn't the luxury to develop numerous characters gradually on screen but there are tried and tested alternative ways of giving the audience back stories. We chose a narrative over a montage of relevant images. The film delivers a lot of information within that section but hopefully in an entertaining way!
Once the story was locked down, locations were sought.
|These can make a film appear to have higher production values than it
actually has. Our main locations were a hotel room and somewhere for the
main character to hold the wife as hostage. We hit brick walls when contacting
local hotels such as Travel Lodge - they either ignored our emails or refused
when we phoned. We were willing to pay full rate for a day and the general
lack of interest did surprise us. Luckily, Graeme managed to get in touch
with an old friend who owned a hotel and the new owners agreed. However,
in hindsight we could have 'dressed' one of our own bedrooms - the money
spent to hire the room for the day probably didn't come across on film. A
lesson learned! The lock up garage was found via one of the actors and was
an absolute dream find.
Casting was relatively easy - we had used a friend of a friend in one of our previous productions and she knew actors that wanted some exposure in a film.
|Rehearsals are extremely important and we try to meet up with the actors
in a neutral location and go through the script with them, either just sitting
around a table or recreating some of the movements. This gets everyone familiar
with what will happen on the day and means there are no surprises and everyone
knows what to expect. The actors we used were from an amateur dramatic background
and we have found out, perhaps to our peril, that if they are not used to
this style of working (i.e. lots of takes and hanging around) they do lose
their concentration quite quickly! We also 'shoe-horned' some of the actors
into roles and looking back we realise this also did not help the film.
The bottom line is that a drama-based film hangs on the actors' performances - you can have the best equipment, the highest production values but that can all be lost.
|So it pays to spend time on casting and rehearsals to ensure they are
committed and up for the job even though there is no money in it for them!
With cast and locations found, we progressed to storyboards and some test filming and visual effects at locations. We took pictures at the hotel and the garage for the storyboards which were created in FrameForge (www.frameforge3d.com/overview.php).
We spent a day walking the route of the husband's journey around London firstly to make sure it worked (!) and secondly to make sure there weren't going to be any problems on the day of the shoot.
|Filming in London is a nightmare. You have to be prepared beforehand,
and travel light so you can move quickly! A few shots we wanted to use around
the London Eye were scrapped at this recce as overzealous security workers
told us we were not allowed to film despite tourists happily filming with
their video cameras! This is the downside of being professional about your
hobby. We were also going to use our steadycam (
but due to the need to film swiftly in London we found out it was not going
to be possible.
You may not have noticed but there are over 20 visual effect shots in this film, which we tested prior to any shooting to make sure we could pull them off to a high standard. Audiences are very switched on to effects thanks to today's crop of feature films. Our effects weren't going to be huge but had to blend in and not be noticed - which actually makes them harder.
|Every shot that included the laptop with CCTV footage on it was an effect,
along with a few mobile phone and radio displays thrown in for good measure!
Placing a moving image on a screen as though it is supposed to be there is
not that difficult but, as we wanted to use hand held cameras rather than
tripods, placing a moving image on a screen that is moving slightly erratically
was new to us! More on that later but needless to say we were happy with
Who said we were prepared ?
Whilst we had prepared, checked over, rehearsed and checked again we hit a problem as soon as we set up in the hotel! Apart from the owner moving all the furniture around, a shower fan next door kept running continuously making it impossible to record sound! Despite the owners and our best efforts to dismantle it the only way to stop it was to turn the power off. No problem with cameras as we always use batteries but it meant no lights ..
|Luckily it was a bright day so we managed without - just. Apart from
that all went reasonably smoothly and the first days shoot was in the can.
The lock-up scenes were next. Unfortunately it was a windy day and the garage's metal doors were banging around which made capturing audio fun! Lots of takes later it was done in one day as planned. We used a hand held camera for these scenes to give the piece some dynamics and to add a feeling of unease to the situation the characters were in. However, these scenes also included the laptop which had to have the CCTV footage added. We had tried and tested actually switching the laptop on for real and running a movie on it of the CCTV footage but in testing it had not worked well and it added extra set-up time to the shots. So following some proven results we placed tracking markers on a black card and placed that on the laptop screen and carried on filming as though it was working, with the actors interacting with the screen as though it was on.
|Tracking an object can be done in quite a few computer software programs
like Adobe After Effects, Apple Motion and Shake. They use what is known
as 'point trackers' and actually track designated pixels. However, they sometimes
have issues with zooming shots or items that are moving in that style (the
z plane). This was worrying as we had a number plate on a car that had to
be disguised and a zoom to the laptop showing the husband hanging the case
over the edge of the bridge - our 'money shot'!
After a trawl on the internet we found a new dedicated piece of software being developed by Imagineer with the odd name of 'Mocha' (www.imagineersystems.com/products/mocha/).
It was only in a beta (trial format - free!) format but this tracked areas rather than designated pixel points and easily coped with zooming. We finished all the effects using the this software within the free trial period but we have since met up with the programmers and had lots of discussions and provided them with test footage. They allowed us to purchase all their products at 95% discount as a way of thanking us for our support in their early days of trading.
|Eventually all the scenes were shot - our schedule had slipped though by over a year due to an actor's other commitments. Unfortunately the actor who played the lead was up for a theatre part and was told to grow his hair long for the role. This caused us big continuity problems as we came to the final part of the film. This is why he is only filmed from the neck downwards. It sort of works as we know who he is by now, but it is annoying all the same. We learned a valuable lesson from this: that schedules must be agreed upon at the start. Mind you we hadn't just stopped working while we were waiting for the actor. Post production forged ahead with the edit being put together with the visual effects shots, and we worked on the sound track. It is a testament to Apple's software and Graeme's patience that he pulled off such a good edit. Apple's Final Cut Pro ( www.apple.com/finalcutstudio/overview.html) took on all the different camera footage - yes, over the year of production we both changed to new HDV cameras from DV (4:3 to 16:9) which was not a good idea really! We both have similar Mac computer systems at home so we can exchange files across the internet or by disc when we meet up which allowed us to end up with a final edit we were happy with.|
|Lessons learnt from making this film:
Use film actors were ever possibly and try to avoid Am-drams. Film acting is a different skill so try to cast using internet sites like Shooting People ( https://shootingpeople.org/account/auth.php) or Talent Circle ( www.talentcircle.co.uk/) as actors here are committed to the craft and are eager to be involved!
Rehearse scenes just around a table with cast and crew so that everyone knows what to expect on the day and the shoot runs smoothly
Don't get tied to your tripod - use what is best for the film's feel rather than what is technically correct.
Check out the internet and see what others are doing and how they do it and if you can, write a reflective diary or an article like this so that you can learn from the experience
Enjoy it !
Bob Vine and Graeme Webb, Borderline Shorts 2008