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.

Friday, 23 October 2009

On location #4

Drama day, and not just with actors!

It was well past midnight last night before I finally got to bed, having been working on the shot list for today, even though I'd managed to get home early.

When you shoot a feature film you're shots are following a script with a story line that normally contains one protagonist and his arch enemy, the antagonist, be that a person or a corporation. When filming it's normal to expect to achieve three pages of script per day, about three minutes of screen time, or possibly up to six pages. This will likely involve around six or eight scenes/shots.

By midnight last night it had become glaringly obvious that today I would have sixty eight scenes to achieve! Or to put it another way, eight days of filming in one!


Call time was 8.30am with first shot scheduled for 9am. Our actual first shot was 9.40am, but we forged ahead and caught up. Thorough preparation was key, and the producer had pulled the stops out in organising our volunteer actors, equipment, props and location to all be there ready for me when I needed them. A director is lost without a good producer. Thanks Craig.

The cameraman's hands were a blur as we literally raced through the shots, changing setup after setup, moving from one room to another, carting around lights and tripods and track, deciding on the frame and angle in less than the click of a finger. Thanks Rich and Steve.

Occasionally you come across one person in a shoot who is calm and collected and no matter the level of stress, no matter the demands, will get the job done and be the person you know will catch you when needed, and Mark was that man. Thanks Mark.

And my cast. What can I say? First of all thank you for your patience. The majority of time for an actor is spent doing absolutely nothing waiting to go on. They wait literally for hours at a time for just a few minutes in front of the camera. A few minutes that are vital for me. I never stop, time vanishes and I constantly run out of it, and then exactly when I need them they are there, on set, and they do their bit they've been waiting to do. None of our actors were professional, but you could have fooled me. All stars as far as I'm concerned.

Our location was just in one house today, and thanks to Al and his family we had the run of it. There are many rooms in the house and we were able to set various scenes in most of them, and it is a brave man indeed that allows a camera crew into their home. We'll have that beer soon Al.

There is always a moment on a shoot, that despite the pressures and the stress, gives you that buzz and reminds you that this is great fun to do, and brings you back again and again for more. People ask me why I put up with not knowing, week to week, when I am working; how do I put up with not having "a weekend"; and working regularly ten to twelve hours per day (fourteen today!). Well, it's simple. It's all down to one special moment, and you never know when it is going to happen, but it always does. I'm sitting there and there's a small gap in proceedings while the crew reset for the next shot, and I'm watching them do their thing.
And then it happens; all these people, rigging lights, setting cameras, creating effects, finding props, building sets, rehearsing lines; it's all happening in front of me right at that moment because of something I wrote! A story I imagined in my head, and typed into my computer, and here we all are, all these people, pulling together to make my story come to life. But that's just half of the reward. The other half is the collaborative nature of film making. It's a fantastic business to be in because it is the ultimate team game. Everyone relies on everyone else, and the runner is just as important as the director. Remove any element and the whole things comes apart.

I had one other reward today, quite unexpected, and made me both blush and bring a tear to my eye. Whilst I was sat in a post-production meeting with my Producer, one of the cast passed on his thanks to me via his son by phone, to compliment me on my professionalism. That makes it all worth while, and I was very humbled by his comment, and I am very grateful on behalf of all of my team.

That shot list? We got fifty one out of sixty eight scenes! If there is a Guinness Book of Records for this sort of thing, I think our team deserved that entry today!

So a short gap in the schedule now. Next shoot day is Thursday next week, 29th, when I'll pen the next blog.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

On location #3

It's 6.30pm and I'm home already! It must be a miracle . . . or something went wrong!

Outdoor locations today. The best sort of filming. On Monday just gone the forecast for today had been pretty bad, and it was touch and go whether we would shoot at all today. But we held off on that decision, and thank goodness, as I awoke to blue skies and calm winds. The day looked so good that I thought it perfectly in order to bring out the V-twin motorcycle, Trigger, and turn up on set in style!

First location was the coffee shop/bar Negociants in Potter Row. There were several scenes here for two different sets of actors, and we had plenty of time to get it all in the can. The sun was streaming through the windows and the DoP was delighted with the shadows it cast across the scene.

Next stop was down by the sea on Portobello beach. This was carefully timed by the producer for low tide. The scene depicts one of isolation for a carer. A common event in their lives once they get heavily involved in caring for a person with dementia, can be that they lose the support and contact of once close friends and family, so this was the scene I wanted to depict visually.
We set it up with the actor in the centre and six other in a close circle looking in. We then tracked round anti-clockwise with the Steadicam.
The Steadicam equipment is a very clever invention. We are able to mount the camera on a special gimbal that is balanced in such a way we can move very quickly and achieve a very smooth and gliding shot.
As we moved around the circle, each time we passed a character on the outside we tapped them on the shoulder and they had to run behind the camera and keep running round as we went, leaving the central person all alone, isolated. This needed a few takes. The camera was close to the centre of the circle the people on the outer edge were having to run quite fast in order to stay out of shot, but we kept catching up with them and getting them in shot, desperately running. Good comedy.

Then it was lunch. Always a good time.

Next stop, George Square. It looked stunning in it's autumn colours, with the yellow, gold and red leaves now scattered over the ground. There were several scenes here, all of people out for a walk with just slight differences between them all. Last shot at this location was a close up, moving along a line of people in the woods, all stood still and staring into the camera lens as we went along. Great looking shot, except we were one actor down in the five we should have had. Unfortunately one hadn't been able to find us. We decided to shoot anyway, and the producer hopes to pick it up again at a later date with all five.

Final location was in the rear grounds of the modern art gallery, except we were well behind schedule and by the time we got there the light was failing and the gallery was closed! Another pick up shot another day. Good news; an early wrap!

That's the unpredictable nature of film making.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

On location #2

Another long day, but a very productive one, and the first day with actors.

We were all on set for 9am, which was once again back in the studio. Today we had various actors who will be playing parts in drama scenes at a later date, turning up to be filmed rotating on a turntable. First job is to get there central line of their body, from the middle of their head and down through their torso, to be exactly in the centre of the rotating platform. Then the camera's focal plane had to be set to match exactly.
In short, when the platform is rotated we needed the person to remain central on the screen and not drift off to the right or left. Sounds simple, but it takes a while.

So we're ready to shoot, we start the camera and the cameraman shouts "speed" (the camera is running at the right speed) and we rotate the platform. We film this in slow motion, the same way we did yesterday, in order to end up with more frames and thus the ability to make the shot twice as long when we come to edit.

There was a visual special effects shot to start today as well. In one particular scene of the film we have a brain superimposed on the side of someone's head. So today we filmed the person who will be the human element of this. As they rotated we brought them to a halt side-on to the camera, then zoomed in. In the edit we will then match a digital version of a brain to the same rotation and make it appear gradually, when we will see small electrical impulses firing off at various places in the brain. This will be achieved by the genius Smeegs, our post-production wizard.

Next up I had interviews to do with several people who were not actors, but represented real carers of people with dementia. It's difficult as director, and interviewer, not to be come emotionally involved, but that said it's also a huge privilege to be in such a position of trust to be able to ask these questions and share these people's stories.

My next task was to listen to actors recording voiceovers in the sound booth. The finished film will be entirely narrated, and the visual scenes will depict what the narrator is telling
us. This is because the end
result will be translated into several different languages, and so by having the film entirely narrated it makes it easier to translate, and subtitle, into as many languages as we need. However, to create a little change on occasion we have several actors talking as if they have had a personal experience of what is being described, and though we don't se their faces, it gives the viewer a change from the main narrator, and adds depth to the finished piece.

Finally we mocked-up a meeting room and filmed a carers support group chatting through one or two problems. We were wrapped for the day and cast and crew could head home. Myself and the producer then had our end-of-day two hour meeting on progress to date, and started planning for tomorrow, which, weather permitting, is all outdoors at various locations.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

On location #1

So here we are, at the end of principal day of photography.

The shoot really started yesterday with the last pre-production meeting with myself, the Producer and the Director of Photography (DoP), when we went over the shots in the script and I discussed the storyboards with the DoP. This was one of many discussions over the past few weeks, but this was the final one, with storyboards. The biggest problem ahead that we could see was that Thursday is forecast to be torrential rain and this is the day we have several outdoor locations scheduled.

So, this morning, an 8am call to set, in the studio, started with rostrum work. This is where we had several booklets and documents to shoot, which we set up on a table top with matt black underneath, and lit it to give it some depth and interest. the camera is then placed on a special miniature track which sits on the same table, allowing the camera to get very close to the object, and gives us the ability to track over the object left to right.

Using the script we then determine how much screen time each item will appear for and shoot accordingly. However, in order to have a smooth finish we increase the speed of the camera. Normally video films at twenty five frames per second, but we can set the camera to shoot at fifty frames per second. Once this is then played back it gives us a smooth shot for double the length of time filmed. If we then shoot at a faster shutter speed we have the added ability to be able to slow it down further in the edit suite should we need to.

It took a number of hours to film all the items we needed, then we moved on to more elaborate rostrum sets. One was a colourful arrangement of all healthy food items in a balanced diet, and another was different types of drinks, such as water, orange juice, tea, coffee etc, showing a visual representation of the need for everyone to drink 8 glasses or cups of fluid per day. In the colourful foods shot we have a little trick up our sleeve; in order to make the food look more appealing and fresh, we paint each one with glycerine. The skin of the fruit repels the glycerine and it starts to bead, then very slowly drips down the sides, mimicking condensation. It's a trick used in commercials many times, and is very effective. It allows us to shoot in a very hot environment under the studio lights, for a long period of time, and all the produce looks like it has just come out of the fridge.

The next sequence of shots involved a turntable. We had extreme close ups to achieve of money, a telephone and a pair of spectacles. The camera remains locked off in one position, the items are placed centrally on the turntable, which is then rotated past the camera lens.

Finally, we filmed some live action scenes where we mocked-up a typical phone helpline and someone answering a call.

Sounds all very straight forward, but in amongst all this are constant questions and deliberations over the days still to come. These covered things such as actors calling off at the last minute, a location falling through, and on one occasion being told we couldn't film at the local police station because they had just started a new murder investigation! Add to this everyone's personal life issues and family problems, plus the need to have a break and eat something, it becomes a very stressful, tiring and complex day. That said, a good and productive first day was achieved, with only 5 shots dropped, which we'll pick up another day.

We managed to wrap two hours ahead of schedule for the crew, and then I sat down with the Producer to discuss cast and location problems that needed to be solved. At the end of an eleven-hour day, it was time to go home, have some dinner, then start preparation for tomorrows shoot.

Which is exactly what I need to go and do now.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Achnashellach to Strathcarron via Coire Fionn

The forecast for the weekend looked promising, and so myself, Pauline and Andrew decided to make our way north on the Friday afternoon. We changed trains at Inverness and took the Kyle of Lochalsh train, but alighted at Dingwall, where we stayed in a campsite for the first night.

It was in this campsite, around 8pm, that the most bizarre and most strange event played out before our eyes. As we stared across the campsite and up at the ever-increasing visible stars in the darkening sky, with Andrew pointing out Mars, an event occurred which none of us can convincingly explain.
A series of around eight very bright lights, flashing on and off very quickly, crossed the sky in what appeared to be some sort of fixed formation. However, this formation looked to be many miles apart and yet remained perfectly fixed in relation to each other. It was also traveling at some colossal speed across the sky, north to south.

We did try to explain it away as aircraft, and though this was already a stretch of the imagination, there was one other fact against it; there was no sound from these "eight aircraft"! There is nothing more to add. We have no photographs, only our combined witnesses of the event to tell the story.

It was a cold night, and we awoke early to frost on the tents and low mist on the surrounding fiends as the sun started to rise and defrost the countryside. It was a stunning morning and we headed out of Dingwall on the first train, to the start of our trek in at Achnashellach, a request stop on the train.

The train had no sooner departed than myself and Andrew spotted a small sign pointing the way to a tea room. Not just any tea room mind you, but one that sold hot-buttered toasted crumpets! It was impossible to resist, and impossible for Pauline to persuade us otherwise. And they were superb, a perfect start to the day. What could be better? Perhaps another round of hot-buttered crumpets!? And so it was that andrew and I added to our waistline.

Finally, after much whining, we headed off up the glen following the course of the River Lair, with spectacular scenery reminiscent of north America, and in particular, Yosemite. The sun was shining and everything was resplendent in it's autumn colours. In the distance we could hear the bellowing calls of the rutting stags.

This was the last weekend of the stalking season, but even so, we had to stick to the rights of way for Saturday, aiming to climb the mountain Maol Chean-dearg on the Sunday when it is possible to climb the peaks during stalking season.
As we came over the first bealach at the head of the glen we were rewarded with stunning views across to Liatach and Ben Alligin
in the Torridon range. It was a fantastic walk in, and by 5pm, after about six hours, we pitched our base camp, ready for our climb up the neighbouring rocky peak the following morning, the surrounding mountains now turning orange in the fading light.

At least that was the plan.

During the night the wind started to gather strength, and continued to do so, gusting gale force at times. There was
no sleep to be had this night, and the stags in the area kept up their bellowing calls all night as well. All three of us regularly checked our guys on the tents to make sure we were not going to take off during the night. At around three in the morning, the main front moved across, and the heavens opened!

We all decided to abandoned the attempt on the climb, and stayed in out tents until around 9.30am. It was clear it was not going to abate for some time yet, so we made the move, struck camp, and headed off toward Strathcarron down Coire Fionn.

With the wind behind us we made good progress, and by midday we were out of the rain and the wind, and the skies were clearing. It was too late for our summit, as our train out of the area was at 4pm. On our final leg to Strathcarron Andrew had one more piece of entertainment for us; miraculously, on passing an ankle-high twig, he managed to catch one of his gaitors in such a way, it whipped it clean off his leg and left it dangling in mid-air (the gaitor that is, not his leg!).
You had to be there to see the hilarity of the situation, and
the impossible nature of what had happened. It would have taken him a good deal longer to physically remove the other one himself, yet this happened in the blink of an eye!

During the thirty minutes between our train connection in Inverness back to Edinburgh, we indulged in pizza!

Another fabulous weekend in the Scottish Highlands, thanks to Pauline's organisation. Never a disappointment with my two best friends (I have to say that; they read this blog!).

Friday, 16 October 2009

Coming up . . .

Greetings readers. Apologies, once again, for my tardiness in failing to post a riveting piece of writing for you to pass the time on for the last ten days.

Gosh, is it really ten days!?

I am currently in pre-production for a film, which I start to direct next week, and hence I have had little time to relax, let alone write a ditty for you all. And despite your anticipation this is not the hoped for blog.

You may recall, some blogs ago, I had a rant about the irritating nature of TV programmes telling us in advance what we were going to be shown.

Well . . .

That's what I am going to do here! I don't think it's hypocritical to do so, mind you. Had I opted to do the same within an actual blog then that would be quite different.

But I ramble.

Which brings me neatly to the introduction of the first piece. The next blog will be a report on a walking and wild camping trip to Torridon in Wester Ross with my walking companions Andrew and Pauline.

After that I will be writing a daily series about the first week of on location filming.

So I will see you then.

Lights . . . camera . . .


Monday, 5 October 2009

Burning bridges

I guess we all have baggage from our lives, and we add to them gradually as we move toward the end, in what at times seems an ever accelerating speed. Some of that baggage is useful of course, as at times it can provide us with the knowledge and experience to tackle a problem presented to us.

Every morning as I brush my teeth I am reminded by my reflection that I am getting older, hopefully wiser, and that it is highly likely I am nearer the end than the beginning. In my last blog I talked about seizing the day, and the variety and lack of free time in my life is certainly in keeping with this. But I often stop and wonder what it's all about. How worthwhile anything we do actually is. Like a lot of people I tend to get irate at the smallest things, and more often these days. If I just stopped and thought for a moment I'd probably realise that actually it's just not that important. And how much of the perpetual desire to be constantly busy is really an excuse or a tactic for avoiding getting emotionally involved with someone.

A while back you may recall I mentioned a love interest. It was a great time, albeit only lasted 4 weeks. Actually it was longer than that, as latterly we were messaging each other on our mobiles or MSN.
What seemed to be happening though, is I was playing it from the point of view of looking for love, for an outlet for my strong romantic side. In return what I was hearing was a need for something very casual, and that's not what I want. Maybe I played it too strong, as I am apt to do, wearing my heart on my sleeve as I do, impatient. Who knows, but it was becoming obvious we were never going to meet again.

It may have only been four weeks or so, but it was a wonderful four weeks.

It's funny when I think about it now, because when we met I had actually been going to meet someone else. I was also in the wrong frame of mind as I had been bitten badly in the past at the hands of another, and I am now quite cynical about relationships, so in a way I was going along with a mind to resisting, to prove myself right. Which is weird I know, but that's how it was. So the person I was to meet introduced me to someone else, and we ended up chatting instead, and things went from there.

Sometimes you can meet your destiny on the road you took to avoid it.

My last, for want of a better word, "relationship", was nothing short of a disaster, and those who know me will remember the living hell she put me through, without any admission of guilt from her when it all finally, thankfully, ended. But it was me who prolonged it, and I should have walked away much earlier back then. So this time I decided, painful though it was, to cut loose.

I am now once again on my own, and happy to be so for the time being. Cutting contact was difficult, but it didn't appear to be that big a deal for them. They were my first romantic encounter since the relationship from hell, and certainly helped to put that back into perspective. I'm hopeful that I've opened the door again for someone who will be more right for me.

I guess one of the hardest things in life is knowing which bridges to cross and which to burn.