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A Bad Day at the Office by Roger Cavallaro & Terence Burchell got a 4-star award at BIAFF 2009, "Very Highly Commended" at the Guernsey Lily 2009, Silver Diploma at the Cotswold Festival 2008, won the Leslie Gillham Trophy from North Thames IAC Region and more.
Roger Cavallaro writes about
a thriller that was
The inspiration for the film was an inter-club competition theme "The Wrong Number". Terry research on the web various happenings where a wrong number had unusual results. The final story is based on what he read on various sites.
Terry drafted a script by January 2007 and we then worked together to develop it in the first few months of the year. Terry also drew some storyboards but during shooting we just worked from the script. While we both felt a lot of planning was the best approach, in hindsight, the planning is what needed more time and effort in order to create a stronger scenario.
A zero-budget short drama production from East Anglia where a misunderstanding leads to murder.
Robert Mcclenning played Paul, a middle-aged office manager and the male lead.
Claudia Paslaru played the female Katya, a young maid from Eastern Europe.
During this time we met our main actress, Claudia, who would play the maid. We both thought she would make a strong lead as she was very enthusiastic and had just the right look.
Terry made contact with the rest of the cast, which was not easy. They came from various local amateur dramatic societies and all had to bring their actions 'down' a little rather than project themselves as they would on the stage.
Terry knew of a house belonging to another member of Norwich Movie Makers, which he thought would make a good location for both the office and kitchen sets. This was saved having to travel between locations. It was near Norwich city centre so was convenient for all involved.
We met at the house to 'recce' it several months before actually shooting. We took photos to help with planning shots and considered possible camera setups. The kitchen looked great and was very large so we would have plenty of space for cameras and crew. The office upstairs was quite small but we thought it would work fine.
Terry is a member of Norwich Movie Makers and has been making films for many years in various formats. Before retiring he was a Printing and Print Buyer for HMSO.
His other interests are still photography and he has had work published in national and international magazines and in books including his own books on Norfolk landscapes.
On this film he was the principal writer, director, producer, camera and sound man and assistant editor from a distance.
Another task I had during pre-production was creating a sequence to show Paul's computer generating many error windows, thus causing him stress. This had to start when the actor chose yet had to run by itself after that and be repeatable for multiple takes.
A PowerPoint presentation was the obvious choice. A spreadsheet running on the computer was used as the slides' background and then individual error windows were captured as screenshots and timed to appear one after the other. Additionally, there are numbers that were animated to fly out of the screen to show Paul's deteriorating state of mind. More were added in post production. Nearly all the numbers meant something to me - perhaps this may be seen as a rather desperate cameo appearance?
Props were easy to arrange as few were needed. Paul's laptop was mine and the infamous knife was in the kitchen's collection already. The blood make-up I bought from a joke shop and the technical equipment was already all owned by the small crew.
I am in my twenties and currently a member of Reading Film and Video Makers, though when we shot this film I was with Norwich Movie Makers. I am a relative newcomer to movie-making and got into it almost by accident at university, so I have only ever worked with digital video. I recently celebrated my first five years of it as a serious interest.
A scientist by training, I am currently working on the technical side of database marketing for an international consultancy in London. Most of my free time is taken up with aspects of filmmaking, as I enjoy the full end to end process: planning, shooting, editing, graphic design for DVD covers and DVD authoring. I also like biking, tennis, driving, computing and reading.
On A Bad Day at the Office I was co-writer, co-director, producer, camera and sound man and editor.
The film was practically zero-budget. A few pounds were spent on props but no one was paid and no special equipment was bought - the film was created from the passion of the contributors.
We had two DV cameras for most of the shoot, the main one being a Sony DCR-VX2100E and mine a Panasonic NVGS400. Lighting was minimal and handled by Terry, bouncing overrun Photofloods from the ceiling, so keeping the general appearance as natural as possible rather than trying to light 'artistically' in rather restricted conditions. We used an external microphone taped to a broom handle held above the actors and linked to the main camera. We worked at a natural pace recording as many takes as we felt would cover the action, including the sound.
We often then played them back to all involved for any comments before moving on. The main thing is to be sure it is right before continuing but to try not to take too long otherwise the atmosphere can be lost and the actors, especially, can get bored or frustrated and angry.
Working as a team went very well for the vast majority of the time. Our view was that the thing to do is to be sure everyone knows what is happening and what part they are to play, not just the actors but the crew as well. When it does go wrong, it is difficult not to get angry and lose control of the situation. Fortunately this did not happen often; most of the time we thoroughly enjoyed the whole event.
The logistics of getting several people together at the same place and same time was possibly the hardest part of production. This was handled well by Terry. We got the first day in at the start of June but the next time everyone required could turn up was towards the end of August. Here we managed two weekends in a row making a total of three main shooting days for the film.
Dorothy filmed some behind-the-scenes footage on each of these days, which can be seen on the DVD's extra features.
Shooting Day One
On the first day we filmed all of Bob's scenes in the morning before moving on to Claudia's scenes downstairs that afternoon.
It was a long day for us on the crew. Claudia was not essential in the morning so her call was later and similarly for Bob in the afternoon but he stuck around to read his lines off-camera for Claudia to react against.
Since it was soon apparent we would not be able to get another shoot in soon, I edited what footage we had and reviewed it with Terry. I was not happy with the static nature of all the shots - they made the film look far too rigid and boring to me, since there was not even much movement required from the actors. I decided to film with my own camera on the following days, which I had not done on day one.
We also noticed that Bob had occasionally looked too close to the camera which on screen seemed as if he was looking at the camera. He also happened to have a rather prominent cut on his forehead and, whilst giving a good performance, being a stage actor, he had exaggerated some of his mannerisms unnecessarily. These things considered, we decided to re-shoot Bob's scenes next time and - for continuity of the outside weather - Claudia's also. In the final cut we kept only a couple of shots from the first day. This may be considered a waste but I think it was an invaluable learning experience.
Shooting Day Two
Nearly three months later ...
All of Bob's and the bulk of Claudia's scenes were reshot with me on the extra camera. The main camera was always on a tripod and got the solid, reliable shots while I handheld my camera to get what I consider to be more interesting shots with creep zooms and subtle movement. Not all of these worked but those that did I think produced some of the best shots in the film.
One of them was a faked dolly tracking shot in the kitchen which I stabilised in editing resulting in quite a convincing effect. I also had a basic camera stabiliser (a Glidecam 2000 Pro) which we tried for one shot but we could not get it balanced with the main camera - we did not have enough weights to balance it and it was too heavy to hold for very long. Why we didn't just use it with my camera is beyond me, but in the middle of filming you sometimes can't see the wood for the trees. Using the two cameras obviously added options in the editing process which was very good to have.
At the end of the second day we filmed the end credits sequence with Bob driving around Norwich city centre. His comments to himself during this were very amusing but were not in keeping with his character's mindset at the time so you don't hear them in the film.
The following weekend at the end of August was the third and final main day of photography, where we shot the scenes with the wife and her lover. This was a shorter day and just required the three actors. We felt all the actors did very well, especially our two leads. They were all enthusiastic and had ideas of their own.
One problem with using two cameras was that we forgot to white-balance them so the footage had to be corrected in the editing, which was a challenge.
The following week after finishing the main shoot I moved away from Norwich so Terry had to do a little more in September to get the opening shot of the office buildings. Coincidentally, the main building seen was actually my office building in Norwich. Terry 'did a Kubrick' by getting over thirty takes for this one simple shot!
Moving house and changing job obviously brought its own challenges to my time and this meant that the editing of the film took longer than expected. No longer being in the same area of the country as Terry meant he couldn't help in person. I edited in my spare time and sent Terry DVDs at appropriate points for him to review and make suggestions for changes.
My editor is Adobe Premiere Pro. The clips from the different cameras had to be colour balanced which was difficult, but no one has yet mentioned any remaining differences to be a problem. I animated my own logo on the opening titles and put the rest at an angle to follow the lines of the office building. Terry and I had discussed this at the very beginning and they have always gone down well at showings. I put thought and effort into my title graphics but it always surprises me how everyone mentions these when it is such a simple technique.
I used the main camera for most shots except where I had got a better one with mine or very occasionally where I did not consider the main camera shot to be good enough. Pleasingly, there was only one point I remember where there was a 'missing link' between shots that required some creativity to get around.
In the sequence with the numbers coming out of Bob's spreadsheet, I added more with Premiere and animated them to actually come out of his screen. Even though the shot was zooming in there is no noticeable difference between the numbers that really were on the screen and the computer-generated ones.
Something I very much like are creep zooms, in lieu of being able to actually move a camera towards or away from the subject slowly and smoothly. Used appropriately they add great emotion and life to a shot almost subconsciously. While my Panasonic camera can give good slow zooms, the main Sony could not, so for ultimate smoothness, slowness and control nothing beats doing them digitally.
Purists may recoil at this and I am aware of the loss in image quality but for a properly-framed shot and depending on its duration, the effect usually only requires a zoom in the editor of about 10%, which you increase towards or reduce from, depending on which direction you're going. I used this in a couple of static shots in this film, one to add suspense by moving very slightly into the maid while the phone rings and in another to add life and a 'revealing' quality by zooming out of an otherwise 'still frame' of the empty kitchen. I think they add a huge amount to the emotional content of the film and the quality loss is unnoticeable. Indeed, no one has queried it yet.
Our audio was generally very clean as we used balanced XLR connections. I just had to remove some interference from the third day's footage which I did with Adobe Audition. I selected a section with just the interference (no dialogue) and used it as a profile to find and reduce just that type of noise across the whole clip. The amount of volume reduction has to be tweaked so it removes the noise but doesn't affect the actors' voices. It worked very well in this instance.
On the Web I got several free sound effects clips of office sounds to add subtle background noise to Bob's office shots - photocopiers, typing, coffee machines etc. Hopefully they don't intrude. That can happen so easily. But they do add a subconscious sense that he was in a populated office. Sound is not my favourite part of editing and a tricky aspect was balancing all the various sources - different actors talking in different places at different times plus random sound effects from different sources plus the music.
The score was written specifically for the film by a young composer named Dominic Irving.
I met him at a party and he kindly agreed to help us. I talked him through the film once explaining about the various emotions that had to be reflected or emphasised at each point. The score he produced from that is what is in the film, which is a great achievement. I only slowed down the first few bars slightly as I had changed my logo at the start of the film and wanted to have music over it.
We were extremely pleased with the score and I believe it is what raises the film to the quality required to do well in competitions. It heightens the atmosphere and provides added emotion throughout, just as it should. I have no idea what I would have done if I'd had to have used commercial or royalty-free pieces and tried to get each to fit the scenes; it would have been far harder and produced a poorer result. This is why it's so good to have a tailored soundtrack and why it needs praise.
Some say that the best scores are not noticed and while I disagree with that, it disappoints me that no one, not even competition judges, comment on this one - it was the final, crucial piece of the puzzle for a successful film.
The music and final editing stages had to be rushed in order to complete the film in time to enter the North Thames Regional 'triangle' competition that we made it for in the first place. We were very pleased to win that competition and also the next tier of it - The Leslie Gillham Trophy - the following year. We also did well in a few other competitions in the UK and abroad, including BIAFF and the Guernsey Lily 2009. It was even granted its own page on the Internet Movie Database. I am currently nearing the end of the long process of authoring a fully-designed DVD for the film complete with special features and cover art.
It has been a difficult film to finish, spanning nearly three years but I am very pleased to have been a part of it and hope to improve on it with other dramatic films one day.
- Roger Cavallaro
[Roger designs his DVD covers using PowerPoint rather than a conventional image editing or desk-top-publishing program, - Ed.]