Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Merry Christmas

Well, looks like the bookmakers may be paying out tomorrow as we head for a white Christmas. My house is literally ten metres from the sea and in one night 6" of snow fell and lay. In the thirty years I've lived in Edinburgh I have never known snow conditions like this over Christmas. Normally by midday it has all melted and turned into muddy slush. But it's still here, and still snowing as I write this, half way through Christmas Eve!

Yesterday the conditions were so fantastic, that first thing, before the sun came up, my best friend Pauline skied the 4 miles from our front door, into the centre of the city to work, without once having to take her skis off! Now that is a first!

My achievement that day was to build a five foot snowman at the front door!
Merry Christmas to all my followers and readers, wherever in the world you may be at this time of year.

I will not be posting now until the new year, so this is wishing everyone a happy and prosperous new year.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Sub-zero Strathspey

The last outdoorsey trip of the first decade of the 21st century, and 2009, was a weekend mountain bike trip to Aviemore and the Rothiemurcus forest.

My best friend Pauline had travelled up on the early train on the Saturday morning, but I didn't follow until the 1630 train out of Edinburgh. The reason for this was because I had a prior commitment to help the kids from Portobello High School, who have been involved in the Young Enterprise Scheme since August. Saturday was their official trade day when the product they had designed and produced was to be ready to sell alongside twenty other schools. The venue for this year was not a good choice by the Young Enterprise organisation, being indoors at Balerno High School. Zero passing trade! However, I was very proud of my group who used their initiative and ventured outside into the village itself to sell their recipe book at the farmers market. No other school company did this. They were awarded 3rd place overall by the judges of the day.

The train journey up to Aviemore was very comfortable due to the enormous amount of space I had to myself. Because of the particular departure time I was aboard the National Express East Coast London to Inverness train, a proper train, as I like to call it.

It was dark by the time I arrived and met Pauline, and we cycled the short distance to the campsite on the outskirts of Aviemore. The ground was bare, and solid, and getting the tent pegs in was an effort due to hard and freezing earth. During the night the temperature plummeted, and by day break was still only at -5. The inside of my tent had a coating of ice from my breath condensing and freezing during the night!

As I impatiently waited for my water to boil on the stove, I was joined by a puffed-up little Robin, who delighted at munching on the bits of cheese we threw out for him. Undaunted by our presence he happily hopped in and out of our tents, rummaging for more scraps.

We left the majority of gear behind in the tents, and set off on the seven miles up to Glenmore. However, just two miles on we stopped at the Rothiemurcus cafe, called the Ord Ban, for a cappuccino, and to warm our frozen fingers by the log-burning stove.

A great frosty cycle to Glenmore followed, from where we trundled down to the shores of Loch Morlich to sit and have our lunch, all wrapped up, watching people walking theirs dogs along the frozen edge of the Loch. Next stop was the small cafe at Glenmore, that has been run by the same people I think since as long as I can remember. It was recently featured in Autumn Watch by the BBC for the fact that it has frequent visits by an enormous variety of birds, a number of red squirrels, and, in the dead of night, pine martins.

My favourite Scottish mammal has to be the cute red squirrel, and they visit the bird feeders all year round at the cafe, and you are almost guaranteed to see them. On this visit I was not disappointed, as two of them scurried about. And yes, this is one of my photographs! This is how close you can get to them.

After a warming bowl of soup, we headed out on the bikes round Loch Morlich on great forests tracks. The scenery was stunning, with spectacular ice crystals built up on every blade of grass and pine needle. Nature is truly amazing.

The track goes in many directions, branching off to the Lairig Ghru, or further on, to Loch an Eilein, but we veered north out of the forest, to eventually pop out at Coylumbridge and back onto the cycle track. A fast ride back to Avimore to pack up the gear and then we headed for the 5.30 train home.

Very cold but spectacular weather and scenery.

The company was OK too I guess.

A wee treat to finish in this 25 second video from the weekend;

Monday, 14 December 2009

Terms & conditions

I'm sure that everyone who reads this blog has, at some time or other, bought a product or service online. Just before you get to the checkout to enter your payment details, having made all your decisions in the online shop, you are prompted to tick the box that you confirm you have read, and crucially, agreed to, the terms and conditions.

Do you ever read them before ticking and agreeing?

No? Then beware, and read on.

I am going to tell you of a story that is about a company that makes money by exploiting a loop hole, and our trusting naivety.

Recently I responded to an advert on MSN's homepage, where you are redirected to after signing out of Hotmail. The advert was offering a health product sample, free of charge. At first I was suspicious, after-all, nothing is every truly free, is it?However, I then discovered I had to pay for postage and packing, which being from the US was around $11, so I felt encouraged because I was paying for something.

I proceeded to the checkout, ticked the terms and conditions, and paid for the postage.

It took just over two weeks for the product to arrive. I tried it out, didn't like it, threw it away, and thought nothing more about it.

Another two weeks later my credit card statement arrived. There on my statement was the $11 for the postage, followed by a date two weeks later of a further charge of $131.

Furious, I contacted first, my own bank credit card division, then, with the information provided, contacted the company in the United States.

To cut a very long story short, I was guided back to the terms and conditions, and there, hidden away, far down the page, was information that said unless I unsubscribe by returning the product, unused, within 14 days, I would be billed $131 non-returnable "membership", and thereafter a further $84 per month.

And yes, I have been billed the $84 since!

And to add insult to injury, affiliate companies, that is, in their definition, companies that pay to advertise with them, will also charge you a fee for membership to their companies! And I didn't even know about that at any point!

By ticking terms and conditions you agree to all this! And you have no way of stopping it, because you have not returned the product, unused, within 14 days!

And this is legal!!

I contacted the UK Office of Fair Trading, and the equivalent US version, the FCT, to be told there's absolutely nothing they can do. They can continue to bill me, legally. And get this, even if I cancel my credit card I can't get out of it because of the original agreement!

All because I agreed to the terms and conditions, without reading them!

So next time you see that box . . . READ THE TERMS & CONDITIONS!

I did some digging into the company as well;
They operate via another company, who provide call centre services and distribution to many companies.
I tracked them down to an office in Des Moines, Iowa, advertising on their website that they can help companies with "new ways of capital growth..." Indeed! You'd think the FCT would chase them down, wouldn't you? Well, further research led me to their registered head office . . . in Nicosia, Cyprus! They have a US trading address in Aurora, Colorado, but no contact telephone number, surprise surprise.

So they gather in roughly $200 for an outlay of around $20 total.
They then distribute their virtually worthless product from a warehouse adjacent to De Moines International airport, receiving their orders for shipping worldwide from the call centre, and go on to avoid the majority of US corporate tax, as they are registered in Cyprus!

Neat, isn't it?! And thoroughly immoral.

The Royal Bank of Scotland credit card retail dispute centre have told me that 85% of their work at present is with companies like these . . . and they are on the increase!

Just when the banks are trying to cut costs and recover, there are criminal minds out there ripping everyone off, and sleeping quite well at night, thank you very much!

Buyers beware!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

The Box

This is a new film starring Cameron Diaz and James Marsden, written & directed by Richard Kelly and based on a short story by Richard Matheson called "Button Button".

Richard Kelly's last successful outing was back in 2001 with Donnie Darko, which I enjoyed immensely. Richard got the gig thanks to his best mate Drew Barrymore, and since then hasn't done much with any success. I wont offer my opinion on this cosy set up for now, but he is currently in development with another new film called "Fade".

Here's the synopsis for The Box;
Norma and Arthur Lewis, a suburban couple with a young child, receive a simple wooden box as a gift, which bears fatal and irrevocable consequences. A mysterious stranger, Mr Arlington Stewart, delivers the message that the box promises to bestow upon its owner $1 million with the press of a button. But, pressing this button will simultaneously cause the death of another human being somewhere in the world; someone they don't know. With just 24 hours to have the box in their possession, Norma and Arthur find themselves in the cross-hairs of a startling moral dilemma and must face the true nature of their humanity.

A good concept but presented in a very muddled up fashion by the director. It's almost as if he lost his way half way through and became confused himself with what he had actually written! It makes what was an original simple story, into something way too complex, and tries to be too clever, only to end up utterly confusing with scenes that had no meaning in terms of advancing the story.

However, it is very stylistic, circa mid 1970's, and has a sci-fi theme and style to match the sci-fi theme and style of the era, which did work well. It very much borders on a B-movie look, and almost, but not in a good way, gets away with it. I'm also pretty convinced that the casting of Cameron Diaz was a box office decision, as her performance in this is awful. She is very wooden and comes across as if she has just emerged from acting school, if she ever went, detached entirely from the film. A lot of that I feel comes down to the pretty bad and clunky dialogue, and poor direction. Donnie Darko it aint.

Frank Langella however puts in a great performance as the disfigured Mr Arlington Stewart.

Great story premise, but the suspense became laughable I'm afraid. It also failed to wrap up and satisfy many loose story threads at the end, delivering only what we had worked out for ourselves half way through. It was going well, almost, right up to when Mr Arlington Stewart returns with the $1million. From there on it overdoses on 70's style science fiction, and slides at ever increasing speed down the ramp to oblivion.

You can see there's an attempt to delve into the human psyche, and it almost manages it, but almost is not good enough I'm afraid.

The answer is obvious in that we should not press the button on The Box, but I'd go a step further and say, save your money and don't bother even going to see it.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Fade in:

As I said in a previous blog some weeks ago at the end of the last film shoot, I am deep into writing a new film again.

And now I can report that it was with great joy, that at 3.30 this afternoon, I wrote the satisfying words "The End", and thus completed the first draft.

This has been a tough one to write. The subject was very complex in terms of medical terminology, and I had to get it precise.

And I'm no doctor. Though after all the research in the past few months, I feel ready to take my hippocratic oath!

The script is an adaptation of 148 pages of a book, so in a lot of ways the structure and the dialogue was already worked out for me. However, as I wrote, it was difficult not to write exactly what was written in the book, word for word. It kind of draws you in, and before you know it you're not thinking anymore.

That sounds strange doesn't it? Surely I'm meant to write what is in the book? It's difficult to explain, but put simply the written word doesn't always lend itself to the visual story. It also drains you of creativity, reading the book over and over, and when that happens, you'll do anything other than write, even stopping to watch the TV programme Neighbours!

I start the process by thoroughly researching what went into the original book, and at times research things mentioned that I want to embellish a bit more. My next stage involves a rough noting down of the actors that will populate my film, starting with the main lead. I find it helps if I assign a real world actor to this character, as close to my vision of him as I can think of. On this occasion it was Scots comedy actor Steven McNicoll. I can then picture him moving, and speaking, and at times, rather spookily, he will speak to me! No, I'm not going mad, and it doesn't happen very often, but if you get the character just right, the writing becomes easier, and you can't write fast enough to keep up with your imagining of his acting. That is a blessing, but very rare.

When I'm casting it on paper I must also consider the budget restrictions of getting the film shot, and at times this can be frustrating, for as a writer and director you don't want these limitations. But it can also be useful in keeping the story lines tight.

Then I structure the film, storyboard it in my head, then on paper. It must flow, and be easily understood by the audience. It's all very well me understanding it, after all, I'm coming up with it in my head, but getting that onto paper that can then be shot, edited and finally viewed and understood as you first imagined it, well, that's the tough part.

Finally, I write, keeping my notes of the characters, their genders and traits, the structure, locations and who's who at which location etc, close by.

Three weeks on, and it's done!

I will now leave it for a few days, review it fresh next week, and then once I'm satisfied with the first draft, I'll send it to the producer and the team. Hopefully before the end of the year, feedback and any alterations will reach me, and I start again, on draft two.

Writing is re-writing as they say.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

A place in France

I've spent the last few days in southern France, about two hours directly north of Toulouse in the Midi-Pyrenees region. I went there to view an old barn that's for sale together with five acres of land, with a view to renovating it into a home. I flew into Rodez and hired a car to drive west to a friends house in Villefranche de Rouergue, a fabulous medieval town set on the river Aveyron. My friend William kindly put me up during my fact finding visit.

On the first full day there I visited the old barn and was quite impressed with the building. It was structurally sound and stereo-typical French barn-style roof. It sits on a triangle piece of land around five acres of land. The current plan would be to plant around one hundred orchard trees on half of the land, with the other half divided between vines and a terrace garden leading down to a vegetable field. The barn itself has a lean-to, corrugated iron roofed structure, which would be changed to a contemporary square glass building with a timber decking roof accessed from the first floor of the converted barn via glass doors.

The nearest town is a good twenty miles from the nearest large town and about two miles from the nearest village shop, so it is very much in a rural setting where a car would be essential.

Further away the nearest alpine ski area is Le Lioran, roughly ninety miles north east. By my calculation it would take the same amount of time to get there from the barn as it does to get from my current home to Glenshee in Scotland. Difficult to get there without a car as it would be a strangled and long route by train.

On one of the days there I took a two hour drive east to a small town called Millau.
The reason for the visit was actually to see a special bridge, designed by british architect Norman Foster and built by French structural engineers. On the way I stopped off at a fantastic ridge-top medieval town of Najac, and like the majority of small towns in France quite beautiful and partly run down.

Onto the bridge. An amazing piece of engineering standing at slightly higher than the Eiffel Tower and thus being the tallest road bridge in the world.
On edge it looks wafer thin and viewed from the town it bypasses the main supports look like angels spreading out their wings. It forms part of the direct motorway than links Paris with Montpelier on the coast, roughly another two hours away.

The barn isn't in quite the ideal location for me for outdoor sports such as mountain biking, trekking and alpine skiing, but then any closer to those areas and this property would easily be ten times as expensive. A typical renovated house near to the main town for example is well into the hundreds of thousands of Euros. So a compromise has to be made somewhere.

There is more information to gather and sometime in February I will return and see how easy it is to get to skiing either in the Central Massif or in the Pyrenees, south of the barn. One of my friends who has a property very close by is going to gather some more information for me in January as he speaks fluent French and has many contacts.

It's exciting, and now is the time to buy, but careful thought needs to be given once the romantic idea of it has passed.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Corrour to Dalwhinnie

I'm just about to head out of the door to France, as you do, but thought I'd pen a short blog about a great mountain bike trip over the weekend.

We started by getting the train to a remote station at Corrour near Loch Ossian, the station made famous in Trainspotting. It was pretty wet on arrival so we enjoyed a nice bowl of soup in the station-side cafe. sadly it is closing down at the end of the month due to the estate not renewing their lease.

The estate was bought many years ago by the people who invented the Tetra Pak, but the estate is run by a trust of which all members live in the south of England somewhere! This is another example of Scotland being owned and run by absentees.

Our route takes along a great dirt track to loch Laggan, and though not a fast downhill it was an easy ride. However, due to our late start, around midday, it was getting dark when we reached Loch Laggan and so we picked a spot to camp for the night.

The following morning was much brighter and we were treated to a fantastic autumn view down Loch Laggan complete with rainbow.

Our route runs along
another great track on the east shore of Loch Laggan, past the castle at the end, then turning east toward Ben Alder.

At this point we saw a group of five stag ponies, used in the past for bringing the shot stags down from the mountains. Nowadays that job is done by landrovers and the stag ponies are left to roam wild.
Looking at them though I reckon they are still used to some extent as they can reach into areas that landrovers cannot. It was great to see them again, the last time being over ten years ago further east at Loch Pattack in the shoulder of Ben Alder.

The track deteriorated about five miles in for about a mile. However once past this it was a fast and straightforward run to Dalwhinnie along the shore of Loch Ericht.

As you'll have read in a previous blog, Ben Alder estate was bought by an German Swiss industrialist and he's spent his billions ruining the countryside with a Disney-style castle. At one point he even dynamited a hole in the hillside so he could house his helicopter! But on this trip I learned that he had seen a church in Wester Ross and decided he liked it. So he bought it. Then he shipped it, including the crypt, to the lochside so his daughter could get married in it. However, she wasn't happy that the naive was so short and so he built an extension to the front. Once the service was over the extension was dismantled!

Clearly lot's of money, no taste and no brains! Once again our beautiful country is being raped by these rich outsiders with no respect for Scotland and it's history.

It was dark by 4.30pm and our train was not due until 7.30pm so we spent the time in Dalwhinnie's only restaurant/hotel enjoying soup and baked potatoes.

Friday, 13 November 2009

On location #9 - final day

There's a sense of relief when you get to the end of a shoot, and the nervousness you've had throughout begins to subside as the day progresses. You're no longer worried about whether you're going to get every shot, if the weather's going to be kind to you, will the talent turn up etc.
But mixed with this is a sense of sadness as well, that it's all over. At the end of the shoot day we all shake hands on a job well done, all the tensions and frustrations fade away, you all walk away from set, and it feels a bit of anti climax.

The film now goes into editing, post production as it is called, or post, for short. All the material that was shot is now taken into the computer edit suite, a process we call ingesting. Our editor, Smeegs, now works his magic to create the film I originally wrote. I hand over my master script to him which has all my notes scribbled in the margins from my thoughts on the day of shooting.
We use a type of solid state card to record the footage onto in the camera, similar to the SD cards you may use in your digital camera.
These cards are called P2 cards, and measure roughly 5cm by 8cm, and cost somewhere in the region of £1000 each. We can record true HD onto the cards with no compression, i.e. no loss of quality from what I see through the lens. Tape, and the smaller formats, all compress the information in order to fit it all on. Using solid state P2 cards also cuts down the amount of time we need to ingest it into the edit suite as it is just a case of transferring the files.

They say in the industry that there are three scripts; the one that is written, the one that is shot and finally the one that is created in the edit. The skills of a good editor are paramount to the finished product, and many editors go on to make excellent directors. This is why I took time in the past to thoroughly learn the process of editing so I could take that knowledge with me to set, and thus help my editor get what he needs to work with. There are also a number of graphics and CGi to be made for this film, and Smeegs takes care of this as well. I will not see the film again until he has a rough cut put together.
I find the process fascinating that I can write something on sheets of paper, break it all up into individual shots, shoot them out of sequence, and then see it assembled into an order that makes sense. It will not be until that point if we find out if all the research and preparation has worked.

After the edit we will assemble a focus group and do a test screening which will bring out further alterations that will be made. The post production process can take a long time, and certainly longer than filming. Case in point, Anthony Minghella's film Cold Mountain took just under three months to shoot but eighteen months to edit.

Now, I have started a new film, which I've been researching for a few weeks already, but I have been waiting to get the current film "in the can". This next film will shoot sometime in February next year.

Finally, I must tell you about a film I turned down recently. This was an offer from a published author who wanted to bring his script to life.
He had never worked with a camera crew before and had never made a film of any sort, and here he was striving to make a feature as his first film! I must admit to being concerned about this, but I knew with the right crew, and crucially, a great 1st Assistant Director and Director of Photography, we could pull it off. As well as Producer I offered to do the role of 1st AD.

We met, and he had a lot of nervous energy, and he seemed very determined to succeed. I left the meeting enthused, and late that same night sent out a myriad of emails to crew and equipment suppliers for availability and quotes. I should say at this point that the film had very little money and I had offered to give six to eight weeks of my time for free, which would be roughly fifteen hours per day, six days per week, and would involve me using a lot of favours with people I knew.

As one should, I then informed the "author" what had been done so far to keep him up to date. His reply was, to put it mildly, surprising. Here's an extract;

"I cannot be bothered with these ping pong emails unless you have some results. I'm not here to make friends, I just require you to make this film and not tell me about the film business. The deal is I expect you to schedule the entire film, before any contract is signed, in order to prove to me that you can do this job. I have a budget drawn up but I expect you to do your own. If you feel you want to respond with a two page defense this is not the job for you".

How right he is! That was a week ago, and it may surprise you to know that I was still considering it at one point. But crucially I realised I would not be able to work with him. In film making, even if you have a million pounds to spend, let alone the tiny budget this character had, you must make friends. Actually, should we not make friends with our work colleagues anyway, regardless of the job? I have since learnt he has pissed off and scared away many more people. It is a tall order to try and shoot a feature film in three weeks, but at a push it can be done with a very experienced crew. This guy will be lucky if he ends up with enthusiastic students.

I predict this film will not see the light of day, and I pity anyone who gets involved with this idiot.

The last day of filming was very enjoyable, and there was a nice atmosphere on set. It was busy but everyone did their bit without question, and as ever I am grateful to my producer, cameraman, crew and actors for getting the film finished.

It will be around a couple of weeks now before my next blog as I am away on a fact finding mission in France, which I'll tell you all about on my return.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

On location #8

Out and about today, which is always the best fun.

Our first shot of the day was to be a locked off shot, meaning the tripod is placed in one position and the camera is locked into one position mounted on it, in front of two wrought iron gates. They were then to swing open slowly and our character would walk through. This shot was to depict the thought of coming to a dead end as a carer, daunted by the journey ahead, with no easy way through. When the gates open and the character walks through this depicts a possible way ahead, a new path.

But we couldn't do it!

We were to shoot in the rear car park of a certain art gallery in Edinburgh, but the bureaucracy of the organisation clogged the works. So much fuss and unnecessary complications muddied the way and we lost the shot. Such is the frustrating nature of film making.

We forged ahead to film establishing shots of a council building and the old Scottish Government buildings in Waterloo Place. It's at this point that I must digress and remind other indie film makers out there to always remember a scene from a Robin Williams movie called Dead Poets Society. In one particular scene he asks his students to stand up on top of their desks, to reinforce his notion to always try to look at things from a different angle. I, quite literally, adopted this approach for these shots. We had arrived outside the main council building, parked up, and walked toward the council offices.
At this point we could have simply shot it from street level and that would be that; an establishing shot of a council building. However, by just standing there and looking around we realised we could walk round and up to a higher viewpoint that would look down on the building, which became a much more dynamic shot. As a bonus, when we arrived there we had a wonderful view across to Calton Hill and the back of the old Scottish Parliament buildings on Waterloo Place. A much better shot than had we gone round to the front of the building, especially as the sun was on our side. In addition we saved some production time and could take a relaxed pace to get our shot.

There were a number of other general shots to achieve, one of which was a gas van. This was scheduled to be picked up another day, but when we arrived in Portobello to film the front of a bank I spotted a gas van parked in front. So I approached the driver, and by sheer luck it turned out that I knew him from my Boy's Brigade days! Sometimes in film making all it takes is a polite approach and a bit of charm and you can mostly get what you want.

Around mid afternoon we set up our steadicam rig in George Square. We then assembled four religious leaders; an Imam, Rabbi, ley Hindu leader and a christian, then filmed them in slo-mo as we walked along in front of them stood side by side.

Last shot of the day was going to be a hit or a miss, at first. We were to park up at the entrance to the Royal Infirmary emergency department and await the arrival of any ambulance that might come in.
It was freezing cold by now, and we could have been stood there for the hour we had, and nothing arrive. So I decided to approach one of the ambulance drivers that was already parked there, asked him if I could set the camera up in front of the vehicle, have him put all his blue lights on, and drive away. Job done.

Sometimes directing is about thinking on your feet and not being too stuck to the script, and taking the opportunities when you see them.

Monday, 2 November 2009

On location #7

Ahhh, film making, the sound of the camera whirring, the lights going up and, of course, the exotic film locations.


Early start and we're off north to Polmont and Falkirk today to film a typical day centre and a residential care home for people with dementia. A very blustery, and sometimes wet, drive up, so although I took the motorbike in to the production office in Edinburgh, I was glad I then left it there for the day.

When we arrived the weather was cracking, and we set up in an adjacent park to the care home, the sun streaming through the remaining autumn leaves, illuminating each leaf as if it had its own light source. We used the one metre, tripod-mounted track system to get some beautiful shots.

We're indoors next, to film some of the actual residents having lunch, and later playing a few games.

Having been involved with the dementia team for the past six months I am all too aware of the need for such care homes, but it is still heart-breaking to see those here.
Dementia is an awful disease and to see everyone here, knowing they had full and active lives before this, was difficult not to be affected emotionally. The staff at the home were marvelous, taking care of their every need, and being very supportive as and when they were needed. I'm aware that in many other countries people would be astonished that this is where our elderly relatives end up, as many other cultures take care of their grandparents until their last day. But this is our culture and this is the way we cope with the illness, and we do it well. Looking after someone with dementia twenty four seven is very demanding, and one can, and it does happen, become very isolated as a carer. Day centres, and eventually care homes, certainly help everyone, but it is still difficult to think of yourself, or anyone else you know and care for, ending their days like this.

We only had two actors on set today as the majority of shots were about establishing buildings. It's something we now don't even notice when we watch movies, but it's used all the time. The audience is eased into a new scene or setting by simply showing what we call the establishing shot, which could be as simple as the exterior of a building, to then cutting to inside the building, and possibly cutting again to a room and close in on the characters action. We now accept, without question, where we are.

For our scene we first have our carer walking past the camera and away from us toward the gate of the care home. At this point the actor must remember which foot they were on, and which hand they opened the gate with. We then relocate the camera to within the grounds and repeat the walk, except this time we see the person coming through the gate. And so on, moving the camera several times until we are inside. In the edit it will look as if we shot it in one, using five different cameras, where in actual fact it took an hour for the person to get inside, and we used only one camera.

There is one key factor to remember; we must never "cross the line".
This is a term used to describe where an actor is on screen and the camera position. For example, if they exit on the right of screen, then they enter on the left of the next, and so on. Next time you see two people facing each other watch where they are on screen. If an actor talking is on the right of screen, and you can see the back of the other actor on the left, they must always occupy that space. So when we cut to the back of the person speaking they are still both on the left and right respectively. Sounds simple but if the rule were to be broken you would notice immediately. "The line" refers to an imaginary line, drawn between two people for example splitting them down the middle. You must stay on one side of it.

A nice early wrap at 4pm but then the drive back to Edinburgh through rush hour traffic extended the day slightly. Though the crew headed home I then sat down with the producer to plan tomorrow, then I had to meet someone in person straight after who was organising something for the shoot tomorrow, so my day ended around 8.30pm.

Three days of filming to go; tomorrow, Wednesday and then the following Wednesday, but already I have started on a new film.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

On location #6

Hi readers. This is going to be fairly short as I am absolutely shattered!

One location today using the Producer's house, who broke the golden rule; never have a film crew in your house!

Another day of lots of shots to do, but unlike last week we had less to do in terms of making the place look like more than one house. First actors on set for this day were a Chinese couple with their interpreter, but unlike all our other volunteer actors this couple were an actual carer and person with dementia. This presented challenges not just in terms of getting the right shot while conveying my wishes through the interpreter, but designing the takes and length of setups around their personal needs, and being sensitive to their situation.
We did well as a team and everything went just as planned, and they were absolutely terrific in helping us get everything we needed. Our final shot with them was at a bus stop, where we had to time the shot around the timetable of the bus service, then they were to get on, and the bus would pull away. My concern was they'd get on and we'd never see them again! But it was all fine and we picked them up again at the next stop.

The rest of our day was split between a kitchen setup, living room scenes, garden sequences and one scene at a local hairdresser.

Lunch was a comedic affair. We all piled across to a small cafe opposite the location, where I think we doubled the owners takings for this week! I've been in situations such as this, working behind a counter, when a sudden rush comes in, but at least I had a loyal team of staff and a good efficient manager.
This poor guy had ten eager members of a film crew on a short lunch break, all wanting toasted paninis, and he was on his own! He did superbly well, but what made me smile was he jogged everywhere in order to get it all done! And with all that going on he superbly managed to remember exactly who had ordered what. I was very impressed.

The afternoon was hard, with some scenes containing five actors at points. We were also aware we were using someone's actual house, and they were very patient with us all day.
In the end we didn't take the final shot until 9pm! The usual suspects get the usual thanks, but a special thanks go to a couple of university film students, who came on board for the day to help us and gain some experience. They learned a lot, I'm sure, and they made our day a lot easier.

So that's the shoot wrapped for this week. Back on set again on Monday in sunny Falkirk.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

On location #5

Day five. We're back on set today at a few different locations and with a much easier day than last Friday.

First off the crew all met up at the studio to do what's called a pick-up shot, where we recreate a previous setting and reshoot something we either missed or that didn't work. On this occasion it was quite straight forward as it was a rostrum shot of a document we didn't have first time round.

This in the bag quickly we all had time for a round of bacon rolls.

Then we had what's called a company move, where the entire production team move to a new location. We had a quick shot inside St Leonards Police station, of Ian Rankin fame, involving a simple shot of a police officer, in situ, answering a call. Though it has a screen time of just ten seconds it takes a fair amount of time to set up, hauling equipment into the location, lighting it, directing the actor about the scene etc. A lot of work for just a few seconds.

Our biggest location for the day was at the Astley Ainslee hospital. First shot was in the grounds in a small forested area. We had five professionals from different jobs within the NHS line up side by side on one of the wood's paths.
We then rigged a large light, called an HMi within the woods to mimic sunlight streaming through. The sun was out but we didn't have time to wait for it to be in the position we needed, so lighting it ourselves was the best option. Then it was in with the Steadicam rig, set the camera to slo-mo which all combined to give me a nice slow track along the line of professionals.

We broke for lunch and on our return we were given two blank rooms that we had to make look like four different rooms; a physiotherapy suite, an occupational therapist office, a psychologist's room and finally a GP's room. With clever lighting and positioning of posters and plants etc, we achieved this to great effect. It could be looked upon as starting to look fake, as you look at the lights projecting venetian blinds on a wall mimicking sunlight coming through a window etc, but what would be more noticeable would be a large area of blank wall. It's these subtle differences that a good lighting cameraman/DoP achieve that make my life so much easier.

From 9am until we wrapped we had most of the volunteer cast on set, and though the majority of them enjoy watching the process it can be very boring sitting around all day. I am always aware of their time spent just sitting around, waiting patiently. One of our actors said at the end of the day that it had been interesting watching how it is all put together and what goes into just getting one shot. My thought would be, imagine being an extra on a full length feature film for three months with this kind of waiting around! Not something I could do. I very much appreciate these people's efforts and my thanks go out to them once again.

With all our consulting room shots in the can we had one last shot of the day using the Steadicam. We had to walk through two automatic doors and into the building, through reception then turn right into a corridor. One of our actors, John, who played the part of the GP, was to walk past, leaving the building, then one of our crew, Elliot, dressed as a nurse, walked in front of camera and away and we followed him for the remainder of the shot.

Wrapped by 5pm it was a good, successful and creative day.