The last few weeks, maybe even last couple of months have been a crazy fast blur fest. It started with a simple notion, to begin to create bigger and better productions with a small budget. To help me produce narrative films with a budget, I ran a fundraising campaign via crowd funding website Pozible, which helps people raise much needed cash flow for a plethora of creative projects from feature films to filmmaking tools, to music EPs, comedy tours and much more.
I wanted to make a couple of posts outlining the story and my experiences so far, from the perspective of both Producer and Writer/Director of this short film, so that those of you who are interested, can maybe get a little bit of insight into what it’s like trying to make independent, very low budget (with high production value) narrative films.
When wearing many hats in producing one’s own content, probably the first thing that you must allow for is the amount of time it may take for even one task to be completed. A perfect example is my crowd funding campaign for what began life as ‘My Roommate Is A Serial Killer’. I picked Pozible as our avenue for fundraising, as it is specifically for Australia based creators, and has a few nice tools in helping create a page for the project. My experience with Pozible was very positive. It was simple and easy to set up, and you basically ‘pitch’ the project to Pozible’s team and receive an invitation to start fund raising. I like this idea as it gives me, as Pozible’s customer, a sense of exclusivity. I even received a personalised message from the creator of Pozible and giving me his own take on my intro video and what he has seen work best when raising money.
And so, my first fundraising campaign began! I had a goal to raise $600. I came to this amount by knowing that I wished to create a 10 minute film (my longest to date), and wanted keep the message simple of what exactly people would be contributing to. So, I had the theme of $1 to create 1 second of my film. Donations could be any amount from $1 to $100. I created a intro video, to give people a sense & style of how the finished piece would look. Here it is below:
Was the campaign successful? Yes and No. We raised our $600, (btw, this was not the total amount I thought we would need, to make a realistic short film I estimated the budget to be approx $2000), but I felt that if I had planned for more time which as I mentioned above is reduced drastically when you also perform other roles in a production, I would have been able to maintain and gather hype/interest in the story itself. Lesson learned for next time!
Once the funding was raised, I took a long break as Producer as I had to switch to Writer to flesh out the story. Another lesson learned…whilst I had the premise and outline of the story, had I of been able to move ahead with a full script in tact, I may have been able to market the fundraising more toward getting other creatives/talent onboard, such as actors. It would have been great to get online auditions, video blogs and the like.
Anyhow, once the script was effectively written (it has changed form drastically from it’s original concept, and now called ‘Journey From Madness’), I moved ahead once again to tackle the next logistical issues. Locations. I wanted to secure locations that added production value (read interesting), to avoid something I feel that many short films (especially mine) fall into, and that is poor locations. You can have as dynamic and emotional scene that anyone has ever read, but an audience will get lost in that scene just that little bit extra if a location is chosen well. A piece on someone contemplating suicide is much more dramatic if filmed atop a cliff rather than against a plain bedroom wall.
The story was written to be set on a train journey, so naturally I wished to go down a few avenues to see if it was possible to film on one, but I also wanted to play it safe and pursued filming aboard another icon of public transport…the bus. Now, many low budget/gorilla shoots will forgo location permits, as there is just not the funds available, and I have shot many a scene with nay a permit secured. I’ve never hit a barrier personally, but this time I wanted all cast & crew to feel safe and secure, especially on board a potentially busy and crowded train/bus. The less stress we felt on the day, the better the shoot would go.
RailCorp were my first port of call, as they operate both train platforms and commuter trains in NSW. The process was actually very straightforward, and I was quickly put in contact with the special events team in RailCorp who were incredible in helping accommodate my needs and exceeded all expectations. My hats off to them. Once the location was secure, I made sure I put in place relevant insurances, booked out our production gear, and we were ready to go!
Our locations were simple. We film on board a train from Newcastle to Central, and then back again, and complete filming in Newcastle Train Station under the helpful eye of RailCorp OSM (Safety Manager) Bryn. Thanks again for your help Bryn. All went smoothly…well nearly. A couple of delays in the morning meant we didn’t start filming until approx 1030, and we were forced to alight at Hornsby rather than Central due to overcrowding, but things will always go wrong on the day, it’s how you adapt and problem solve as you go which will determine whether you overcome those barriers.
I now am waiting to put my producer hat back on for post-production, as soon as the rough cut is done (by myself). We have some great footage, and I will run through thoughts on the story and experiences in relation to directing on the day when I can soon. For now, I hope you enjoy a few pics I managed to have taken for us.
Ever wanted to hold a moustache? Well now you can! Simply make sure that you have a QR reader on your smartphone (NeoReader is a great free one), and see what I have say about movember!
Whilst photographs are not strictly my domain, I do know a very talented photographer by the name of Kylie Daff, and inspired by some incredible imagery of hers, I wanted to create a cinemagraph. What’s a Cinemagraph you say? Well it’s a term coined by Kevin Burg and Jamie Beck over at photography blog From Me To You and uses an old file type to provide animation to a still photograph. To create these two test cinemagraph’s, that very talented photographer that I mentioned above took some video for me to experiment and play with last weekend during a shoot. I really love the idea of displaying a ‘living photograph’. Whilst some may look creepy and Harry Potter-ish with moving eyes, it really goes one step further in capturing emotion and blending two forms of art together. When I get a bit more time I will run through the process I followed.
Edit: You may need to click on the picture to see the full effect!
Hands up if you have ever watched a short film? Not many in the world have in my opinion, but they can be a great for of entertainment on your phone, laptop, ipad etc which won’t demand much bandwith or much of your time. Visit the link above to learn about my new project and whether it is something that you may want to contribute to seeing.
It’s been a little while since my last post. Again. ‘Observe and Report’ had been getting a little dusty on the editing shelf as it were. I have spent the last couple of months at a snail’s pace on my filmmaking life. My 9-5 job (which is actually like 1-10, sometimes 3-midnight, since I’m an out of hours worker) has taken a lot out of me recently, and I have been left with little creativity, or little drive to be creative when I am at home. Being an aspiring filmmaker is always a double edged sword. On the one hand, I would love to have more time in the day/week/month to simply create something that others wish to see. However, to do this, I need more money, which is where the full-time work comes in handy to not just pay bills like everyone else, but to also save and invest my money into my equipment and film funds. If there is more pressure over one edge of that sword, such as stress at work, then the other edge suffers, and sometimes buckles under the weight. Thankfully, I have recently been able to participate in a project at work which sees me being able to get back to normal, and work mainly the 9-5 routine, leaving far more time in the evenings for me to dabble in my art.
First on the cards, is to finalise Observe and Report for film festivals and the web. I originally entered it into the Take 60 portion of the Melbourne Film Festival, but was not successful. Since the version that went off was ultimately rushed, I wanted to spend some time in having the sound professionally mixed and have a proper colour grade done, to match the shots that never married up to me. The sound mix was provided by the friendly folks over at Caravan Records, a Central Coast based studio in NSW. The colour grade was actually completed by myself, and it is quite interesting how the colour of an image can affect tone, pacing, and the ‘feel’ of the scene in front of you. Below are a few screen grabs of a scene where Megan, our main character, has noticed a picture of a purse she has dropped and lost from days before:
The top three pics, left to right, show first the raw image from the video captured, the balanced image after the brightness and contrast are set, black point and white point set, and the balancing of shadows, mid-tones and highlights of the image and the third image shows the final ‘look’ of the scene (I’m not great at this, so I’m still learning). The raw image was captured using Canon’s Standard picture profile (that is, neutral contrast, saturation and colour tone settings and additional sharpness in the picture captured). The shot was then balanced and matched with others in the scene, so that the film flows and shots do not look out of place if they have been filmed on separate occasions (which occurred for this particular scene). A look was then created from that matched shot to help with the look, feel and atmosphere of the scene (I chose warmer here, in relation to Megan having a chance to find her handbag).
The other three shots show a raw shot, matched shot (look for similarities in the matched shot above it), and the original ‘look’ I picked for entry into the Melbourne International Film Festival. That look was difficult to carry across the other shots simply because that they were not previously matched. Lesson learned! Whilst the sound mix was being done, I took the time to match all the shots and apply the final colour grade. Now all is complete, and I am just waiting on the sound mix to be delivered. Once that’s done, it’s off to some small film festivals, and more importantly online where I hope to have many many people watch and enjoy.
So as I wait for the outcome of my entry into the Melbourne International Film Festival, I thought it’d be hopefully uself to anyone out there interested in picking up a camera and making a narrative film, to step you through the equipment/tools I use to attempt to make anything I complete of ‘acceptable’ production value quality. But first, it all begins with a script….
The current scriptwriting software I use is Final Draft, a very well-known screenwriting program that formats your script into the Amercan industry standard format. It’s very useful to have a script looking professional, as whilst you may be the only one to read it, it actually helps you asertain the running time of a film. As a rough guide (and this is rough), one page of script equals one minute of screentime. Once you know how many pages your script is/how long it will run for, you can begin to ask yourself questions like, ‘why, in a 7 minute short film, do I introduce the main character on page 6?
Once your script is complete, you can begin to plan for the shots you would aim to show. We all have movies in our heads (unless that’s abnormal and I should speak to a professional), but when you are on location, speaking to your director of photography, the best way to show those shots (and also know how long those shots would take to set up) is to storyboard your project. For storyboarding, I actually kill two birds with one stone. The Cinemek Storyboard Composer is a nifty application for iOS mobile devices (such as the iPhone). You take pictures of a location you intend to use, then insert track marks, dollys, pans, and actor blocking movements into the photo, making obsolete my incredibly stickmen-like storyboards of the past. It is incredibly useful, and was how I storyboarded Observe And Report.
Other than a pen and paper, these were the only tools I utilised before I went to film. There are a variety of pre-production tools/software out there, and I would say that I would have probably benefited from the sue of others, but to me, this is the bare minimum you need to get a low budget project to shooting stage. Of course, once you have a script and shot list sorted, you can then plan on the number of actors required. Which scenes they will be needed, how many locations you need, the equipmtent needed to setup and film a dollying jib shot, the time it will take to setup and film the same shot, pretty much all logistical planning comes from a combination of the script and storyboard.
What pre-production process do you use when planning your own projects? I’d love to hear from other aspiring filmmakers if you would like to post your thoughts/comments below.
Next time, I’ll go through my equipment choices with observe and report, as well as how I picked and chose my actors for the film.
I am quietly cheering. Quietly cheering as last Thrusday I completed ‘Observe and Report’ and have little energy for anything other than a quiet cheer. A completed screener is currently with a courier on its way to the Melbourne International Film Festival, for competition into MIFF’s Take 60 Short Film Competition in celebration of MIFF’s 60th year. I wanted to use MIFF as my deadline, because whilst the opportunity to be screened at a world renowned film festival is a fantastic prize, I now have a completed short film to submit on to film festivals to hopefully begin to get my name out there.
I am very pleased with the end result, which runs to precisely 6 minutes long, especially considering that I have had to do the majority of the work myself. Is it perfect? No, as I’ve said before, there are far more creative people than me that I can usually rely on to help. It was a steep learning curve. However, as a storytelling device, it flows well, drawing the viewer closer and closer to the two main characters until we left guessing….what next!?!?
I’ll put together a post or two about equipment used, but for now, I must rest. My normal day job is calling, and I’m looking forward to working without burning the candle at both ends….at least for a week!
Another delayed yet relevant update on the status of ‘observe and report’. A week ago I wrapped on principal photography and have been neck deep in the next phase of the project, editing. A self-funded pet project, observe and report has had to make do with a multi-talented one man crew. Read, me.
The problem with my talent, is that it is not that strong. Not at least for the roles I have been performing. On top of writing, directing and producing, which I am getting the hang of, I have been cameraman, production designer, grip, gaffer, script supervisor, editor, vfx editor, sound designer and sound mixer. Oh, I should also throw in colour grader in there somewhere. Usually, I have many creative and talented people to help fulfill these roles, far more creative than me if I am honest, and so the end result, no matter how it turns out, will not be perfect. However, this can be a blessing in disguise if you want it to be.
Firstly, having complete creative control and artistic license over a project means that you can at least attempt to transfer the film that is continuously playing over and over in your head as accurately as you can to digital/celluloid. Filmmakers, you know what I’m talking about.
Secondly, having to dabble in so many different areas teaches you both the importance, and time needed, in those areas. When I now ask to have someone to place a video insert in to a shot with movement in, I know how long this may take and will now form an important piece of knowledge for future projects.
Overall, I am so far quite pleased with the results. Whilst not perfect, it is flowing well, and I am nearly at the sound mix stage. It is a good feeling, knowing that I’ll be done within a few days. It has to be actually, the next step is the
Melbourne international film festival.
Below is a picture of my own ‘edit suite’. Annoyingly, my 2nd monitor is dead, so I’m having to make do with one.
A little delayed this post, but last weekend I started principle photography on ‘observe and report’, a short film aimed at the film festival circuit. As I have mentioned the story hers previously, I will let you bring yourselves up to speed on what happens. This project has been a long time coming, and I think it really has the ability to be something special.
The Sunday we filmed in and around the Newcastle CBD, with Samantha Beames, an actress from Sydney who I have had the pleasure of working with before. Sam was very gracious to donate her time to the project, something which as a filmmaker shows me that I hopefully have a film that people want to see.
Crew wise, this is actually going to be the smallest shoot I have done. The reason for this is simply to keep everything low key. The weather on Sunday was a bit mixed, but we managed to get most shots required with Sam.
Next step in the process, is to complete filming next weekend on the 9th & 10th April, where we will be filming in newcastle to complete our exterior shots and then moving to film our interior scenes with our ‘lars’.
Below, I have placed some screen caps of the raw footage taken last weekend. I hope you’ll agree with me that the quality of the footage is great, especially since we have not yet graded anything. Another update soon.