Friday, 6 July 2012

Filming the plane interior.

We began shooting in earnest today with the aircraft cabin sequence.  This should have been one of the easiest parts of the shoot as I had found several companies advertising cabin sets (most of them are simulators used by airlines to train cabin crews) but when I started trying to make a booking I found that all of them were either out of business or simply not interested in helping a low-budget short film.

Luckily I was able to track down a suitable location at an aircraft museum which was available at the right price.  :)

We shot very light, with minimal lighting (just a couple of LED panels) and relied on the natural lighting in the plane itself.  The shots turned out great and will really help to add some production value to the project.

Next shoot is in a couple of weeks, when we shoot interiors for the main scene that comprises the majority of the film.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Suitcase full of money...

I've been busy assembling the various props I need for the shoot, including a number of plastic aircraft kits that will decorate the boardroom table, and the metal suitcase for the corporate fixer character to carry.

The suitcase is a classic Halliburton I picked up cheaply on ebay, it's a bit rough around the edges, but should be fine for our purposes.  The script calls for the case to be full of money, so I bought some bank training notes from ebay. 

These notes are marked with chinese writing, but I am planning to cover that with a paper 'strap' over the centre of each bundle.

I've mocked up how the case will look by laying the notes out flat, I will glue each one to a section of foamboard, with extra side pieces to create fake bundles of cash for the close up shot.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Forty eight hours from London...

This weekend was the annual Sci-Fi-London film festivals 48hr short film competition, and myself and a filmmaker friend decided it would be a good excuse to get out and make something.

The competition requires teams to register at midday on the saturday and deliver a finished short film on dvd by midday on monday.

We've made several short films in the past, and a fair number of 'test films' that were shot in very small amounts of time, so I figured completing a film in 48hrs would be simple enough.

On the saturday morning we registered for the competition and set to work.  We had several ideas and selected the one that seemed the simplest, then after rooting through the props and costume boxes in the loft, we collected our actor and finally started shooting at 3.30pm.

We shot until 3am, with locations spread across Biggin Hill, Croydon and Camberwell, and then after a few hours sleep started editing at 8am.

I have a very editing intensive shooting style, so once I got into the edit it became apparent that finishing on time would be a real challenge.

While I edited, my filmmaking partner created the sound effects and selected the foley ready to insert into the edit, including some fantastic breathing sounds for the main characters gasmask.

I finally finished the first assembly edit by late afternoon, and it was running to eight minutes.  The competition allowed a maximum length of five minutes (including titles).

So I began the long task of condensing the edit, grading and adding the sound effects, which became an all-night job.

By 7am I finally had the effects shots finished and started rendering, although I opted to do only two of the originally planned four shots to save time.

It took a further hour for the shots to render and then I finally had everything ready to export at 9.00am.

It took over thirty minutes to export the film in the HD and SD formats and a further half an hour to prepare and burn the first DVD... which didn't work.   A frantic re-complie of the DVD fixed the problem and I was finally finished at 10.30am.

I was on the train into London by 11.20 and arrived at Charing Cross at 12.00am after just missing an earlier connection at Waterloo East.

I made it to Regents street by 12.20 and found a queue of twenty other filmmakers dropping off their productions, and each of them taking two or three minutes.  I was finally submitted by 12.45... with just 15mins to spare before the one o'clock deadline.

So after a hectic 48hrs we have completed another film, and entered our first competition.  Now we wait to see what the judges make of our entry.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Casting Begins...

Three weeks to go until the proposed shooting date in mid-march.

The revised draft of the script is ready and I've put out a casting call through PCR

PCR offer a very professional service, and my adverts there usually result in a deluge of replies, although this time the requirement is for actors in their 50's so I don't expect to get as many replies as I have in the past.

The ad went live on monday and so far I've got around a dozen replies, including some that look very promising indeed.  There are still a couple of days to go until the deadline, but I don't expect to get many more applications, most actors seem to get their cv's in early.

Location hunting is still ongoing, there are two key locations to organise, including the aircraft cabin interior and the boardroom.  I expect to have both of these agreed soon.  Luckily there are at least two flight-crew training simulators in the South East area and a very large number of conference rooms!

For this project I want to previsualise the entire film before the shoot, so I've been working on the storyboards and the next stage will be to use Frameforge to create digital versions of the shots.

I will post an update on the process soon.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Focusing on this AND that...

I've always loved shots that do something a bit out of the ordinary, and this scene from Pulp Fiction features a great example of split focusing, with Bruce Willis in the foreground in focus at the same time as Ving Rhames in the background.

So i've been continuing to add to my collection of camera gear, and my latest ebay bargain is a used but as new split diopter filter, which is perfect for exactly this kind of shot.

I use a Cokin filter 'P' filter holder for my Canon DSLR, the Cokin range of plastic filters are easily the best value filters on the market and a great way to add value to your shots without breaking the bank.

The filter holder slides onto a ring mount (available for all lens sizes) and has a single filter slot which allows the filters to be rotated or raised/lowered.

The split diopter looks a little like a half magnifying glass, and slots into the Cokin holder easily, although it does exhibit some vignetting around the corners when using the lens at it's widest angle.

Here are a couple of shots that show the diopter in action, the first shot shows the scene with the naked lens.  The camera is looking through a mirror back into the room.  The bed is in focus but the frame of the mirror is soft.

This second shot shows the scene with the diopter in place, and the difference is immediately apparent.  The foreground mirror frame is much sharper while the bed in the background remains in focus. 

The downside to using one of these diopters is the visible edge of the diopter itself. There is always a clearly visible line of soft/sharp focus where the split needs to be hidden, in this case I've aligned it with the edge of the mirror frame, you can just see the blurred line above the starfish.  In the Pulp Fiction example the line is hidden by the edge of the wall.

I'm pretty excited about how well this diopter works, and it's another useful tool for the camera bag, I still need a few more grad ND filters, and a mattebox to control flare.


Saturday, 21 January 2012

Adventures with BIOS batteries... fixing the Dell Dimension 8400

Since I upgraded to my new editing station, I've had less call to use my older machine, a Dell Dimension 8400 which is over seven years old.  However, the Dimension runs all my old 32bit XP software, including After Effects which won't transfer over to my new Windows Vista 64bit machine.

Recently the old Dell started playing up, displaying CMOS warning messages on startup and generally being a bit flaky.  It turned out that the Bios battery was nearly dead, unsurprising given the age of the machine.

Changing the Bios battery in one of these old Dells is a very straightforward job, so easy that even a computer illiterate like me can do it.  First I downloaded the user manual from the Dell support website which helped to identify the parts needed.

The Dell uses a very common type of battery, a CR2032, and I already had some on hand, so all I had to do was open up the case and get to work.  These batteries are available from ebay or your local Radio Shack, and should only cost one or two pounds.

First of all disconnect the power and remove all the cables.  The case opens on a hinge at the front, so simply press the large button on the top rear of the case and push the case open.

Inside, the CMOS battery is hidden behind the graphics card and other boards on the lower left of the picture.

Here's a close up of the battery, the graphics card is blocking access and will need to be removed.

Once again, a very simple task on these new Dells, what would once have meant unscrewing the tiny connectors on each board is now simply a case of unclipping the green plastic bar at the outer end of the boards.

With the bar removed, the Graphics card and other cards slide out with only a little pressure.  They are fixed at the back by small connecting lugs, so tilt the out at an angle.  Be sure to avoid touching the metal ontacts on the boards and beware of static charges... be sure to ground yourself before touching the boards otherwise you could damage them.

Now the CMOS Bios battery is clearly revealed.  I used a wooden pick to spring the clip holding the battery in place and it popped out.

A quick press with the finger and the new battery is in place and the machine is ready to go.

After re-connecting all the cables, the machine boots up and a quick press of F2 enters the Bios menu.  I needed to disable the floppy drive as my machine doesn't have one, and then I set the date and time.

That's it, the machine is ready to go, and all set to give a few more years of After Effects and Photoshop work to my projects.

Herding words again...

It's four months since I finished my 'Bourne' style short, and I've found myself mired in devlopment on my next projects.  Partly because I have too many several different ideas on the go right now.

I'm keen to crack on and shoot something longer, with the goal being feature length, and I have two different ideas for genre films that would be suitable for the niche-channels like syfy or horror.  Provided they don't go out of business with the recession of course!  I have two different scripts I am developing towards that goal, but they still require a great deal of work to get beyond the first-draft stage.

Jumping straight into a feature length would be a big risk, especially as I also need to develop my interior lighting skills, so it makes sense to try a smaller project that uses lights.

I also need to prove my pipeline for audio recording.  I wasn't happy with the results from my DAT walkman on the 'bourne' short, and I have upgraded to a digital recorder which I need to test properly.

So, I intend to make at least another two short films this year, and I have been working on the script and planning for the first of these, for which I will be concentrating on interior lighting and shooting multi-camera dialogue.

Project Tacoma

This will be a slightly longer film than my last one, the script for Tacoma is running to ten pages, with a lot of talking, and at least one simple vfx sequence to add a bit of intertest.

The goal is to shoot within the next two months, so I need to get my skates on, otherwise spring will arrive and I will lose the dark and overcast weather that I want.

Project Lotide

The second short film for this year will have a different purpose.

If I were to set one goal for myself with a short film, it would certainly be to try and win best short in at least one competition.

I feel like I can achieve the visual quality I need, but the missing piece is the content.  Festival winners seem to fall into a very different catagory from the kind of films I usually make, winning festival films generally get by with less ninjas, hitmen and zombies that my projects.

So I've also been putting some thought into what kind of short would be best suited to festivals, I tend towards the more commercial end of things when I come up with an idea, but clearly a more arthouse sensibility would be better for the film festival market.

I think I have a good idea for this project and Lotide will be quite different from the kind of films I have made before, not least of all because it will feature only a single line of dialogue.

I will update on both of these projects as they develop.