Sunday, February 28, 2010

Pick-up and shoot!

Come Friday I was worried we'd lost our make-up person and knew we'd definitely lost our DoP which meant we'd also lost a decent camera and associated equipment.

The Director, Chris, and I were frantically sending out messages on all the forums we were connected to (and through personal contacts) hoping to find a replacement. But it was looking fairly hopeless.

On Thursday evening I had, with some trepidation, posted a message on Production Base. The reason for the trepidation is that this a Professional site (needs a capital P) and from reading their message boards they give pretty short shrift to people who want "something for nothing". But they do have a "Collaborations" section on their forum. So I posted. Carefully. Inventively (I thought).

The post got at least 300 readings in 24 hours, but no response. Not even criticism - at least my wording had successfully silenced the critics. (To be fair they do get the odd prat claiming to be a genius and almost demanding support.)

On the evening of Friday I checked the log file of the Monstrous Productions website (as I do occasionally to see if anyone's trying to hack the site) to find that someone had sent a message through the contact pages that I hadn't received - turns out I hadn't set up the email redirects properly. Frantic emailing followed, and I got hold of Jon at Red Lettuce, he was in the pub and had given up on receiving a response, but yes, he'd be happy to help out. Yes!

I also got an email from Donna, the make-up person, apologising for being out of contact but she'd been very busy. She was also prepared, having made prosthetics, and would be arriving at the designated time.

Come 1 o'clock on Saturday we had the whole team assembled and headed out back to the industrial estate where all the externals were to be shot.

I got the stunt team and the Daughter started on devising a fight sequence, working with Chris, while Donna got started applying the prosthetics for the character Jason (to be played by the Boy - he agreed to suffer for my art). This was slightly wrong in retropect as I misjudged how long the external shots would take.

When I say "stunt team" these were members of the local Jujitsu club that the Daughter and the Boy attend. The club Sensai, Nick, wasn't keen on appearing on film but was happy to choreograph the fight - something he does all the time in training. Jujitsu is less stylised than most other martial arts, it's very pragmatic: get the other person out of action as fast as possible by whatever means.

As a result the fight scene is fast and dirty. The guys gave it their best - very enthusiastic. I was taking pictures but the camera died. A lot of the blows contact (far more than in a "proper" fight scene) though they are pulled to reduce the impact. Of course, there was bound to be an accident - the Daughter was required to kick one of them in the face, and he ended up with a dirty mark across his cheek because he didn't move quick enough.

I'm pretty sure this is going to look good: the Daughter is not tall and her assailants are big guys; she's dwarfed but genuinely has the skill to take them down, it looks scarily real. (The Daughter's boyfriend was one of the runners - he's never seen her in action before, the joke about her being a ninja isn't such a joke any more :-)

So, two hours later the fight was in the can. Pretty much on schedule. And the team went off to a rugby match.

In the meantime I'd been spending more and more time indoors - just too cold for me. To be honest the weather had been kind, it was raining lightly at first but that cleared up, and the light was then bright but overcast. This was handy as we had no lights and no reflectors. With the light coming through cloud it meant we had a good ambient light and didn't have to worry about shadows.

Chris then realised he'd missed a reaction shot from the end of the fight. So out we went again with the Daughter and quickly sorted that. We then zipped through scenes with Ralph (a freak dying of the S.I.D. retro-virus) and Dog (one of the bio-engineered teenagers).

Ralph was improvised, we needed to make him "lumpy" and also hide his face since it was the same person who played the news cameraman in our previous shoot. His jeans were too tight, so we found him a wider pair and stuffed it with bits of clothes and kitchen paraphernalia, held in place by cling film and bandages. Then coached him into moving awkwardly and twitching at odd intervals.

The industriual estate proved to be an endless source of interesting views and locations. But the joy of standing around in the cold had to come to an end and the shooting moved indoors.

Meanwhile the Daughter was getting her face and arms made up with lots of cuts and bruises for a little cut-in image filmed in one of our cellar rooms. This represents the lowest point that the character Chloe reaches in the whole story, the point at which she is beaten.

As Chris said, make-up spends hours on doing the best possible effects, then we shoot it in ten minutes and no longer need it.

Finally it became the Boy's turn. He'd spent the better part of the afternoon with gross prosthetics stuck to his face. And all we wanted was for Jason to walk downstairs. About 10 times. Resulting in a rather Kubrick-esque shot.

At this point Jon the Camera had to go - we were overrunning by an hour at this point. But there was only one more scene to shoot: the greenscreen of Chloe being dangled over the edge of a skyscraper.

This scene presented a rather serious problem: How do you show a man holding a girl by her neck, dangling her out over a skyscraper and make it look convincing? Even using greenscreen if her feet are actually on the ground it's just going to look wrong. The only solution is physically suspending her off the ground - but that takes equipment, even if you can attach her to the ceiling you need some sort of harness.

It had been bugging us for weeks.

Halfway through the afternoon I realised how we could do the required effect - easily. We just wouldn't do any dangling at all. Instead (not sure how well I'll explain this) imagine person A standing on the edge of a skyscraper; person B holds them by the collar; person A leans forward, further and further until the only reason they don't fall forward is person B holding on.

That's what we did, and it looked great. This was shot indoors with yours truly creating wind effects with a large brass plate. One of the things I'd missed was casting the bad guy who dangles Chloe over the edge. Chris had brought along a friend from his work to assist, Simon, who by sheer coincidence was dressed perfectly for the part. Simon is also very tall - which was a slight issue with the greenscreen but otherwise made him perfect. So he got the part.

Creating the CG shot is going to be interesting and if it works it's going to be an excellent addition to the trailer.

We'll be building selected shots into the trailer Chris has created so far - this is for the Trailer Festival - and the fight scene will be incorporated back into the mini-pilot. We may also keep the fight as a separate item.

A good time was had by all but I now ache from the unaccustomed exercise.

The trials of the industry.

What's on the turntable? "Panic in Detroit" by Bowie from "Aladdin Sane" (geddit)

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