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)

Saturday, February 20, 2010


This week I have mostly been listening to Icelandic music - somebody's blog (dammit I read so many) mentioned Sigur Ros and, as I use Spotify, I began to listen and diversify - Amiina, Olafur Arnalds, Jónsi & Alex - all brilliant stuff (and I've always liked Bjork). Being a huge Mike Oldfield fan (though not his ambient albums, like Light and Shade) as well as 70s Prog Rock this all fitted very nicely.

Which has nothing to do with priorities.

I have a lot on at the moment: the immediate pressure of the Monsters pick-ups next week, the location is still a bit of an issue though I have some ideas. Trouble is we're shooting on Saturday and most industrial estates, even the lovely run-down ones around here, still have things going on on Saturdays.

Then there's the re-write of the web series Winter, as Chris said on his blog the need to stand out is very important so we're playing to our techie strengths: extravagant imaginations and (hopefully) the technology to fulfill that imagination. One of the comments from the feedback on it was " a bit too Terminator" - the rewrite, which involves a complete change of universe, will kick that into touch.

I'm using one of Bill Martell's approaches on this rewrite: just write out, on cards, all the scenes you can think of that could happen based on those characters (in no particular order). And when you're done, re-arrange them into plot order (discarding those you don't need). I'm at the re-arrangement stage and filling in the gaps. (Although I use the card system built into Celtx rather than actual card cards.)

Then there's the web project. Which has been taking a backseat for the last couple of weeks.

Then there's the other new writing: Tec being the main one. It occurred to me that I haven't finished anything new in a year (except Unit X and Running both of which are in desperate need of re-writing).

So I have to prioritise.

Which is one reason why this blog has been ignored. But I am planning the next Application of Drama (to role-playing games) in my head. The game I was running has now finished and it worked out quite well using the principles of drama.

So the order of play currently:
  1. Monsters picks-up (script and location, plus no dropping balls in other departments)
  2. Web project
  3. Winter re-write
  4. Tec
Oh, and we're going to see Avatar tomorrow, it's unfair on the Boy not to, and it has to be seen on the big screen in 3D otherwise there's really no point. The Teacher and I could let it pass but we'll do it for him.

What's on the turntable? "Lori" by Amiina from "Kurr"

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

I could be the next Joss Whedon!

Yes indeedy - I can see the dominoes lining up ready to be knocked down.

Do I like writing kick-ass teenage girl leads? Check.

Do I like writing SF/Fantasy? Check.

Am I incapable of writing one episode = one complete story plots? Check

You see - perfect*. I can look forward to a career of having my TV series cancelled by Fox. Yay!

What brought this on? Ah well, I got my feedback on Winter by the excellent Jez, and my 30 minute SF action thriller has a problem - it's too damn big. It just won't squeeze into 30 minutes, there's too much story sitting in the background not being told.

However Chris and I have had a little communication and he's had a really cool idea that I like lots. But there's a way to go on that so I'm saying nothing else.

In other news: I said elsewhere that the trick with "no unsolicited scripts" is to get the company in question to solicit the script. But you have to initiate the communication, otherwise they don't know you're there - well, I did that tonight with an agent, we'll see how that goes.

Apparently the Big Finish new writers initiative got 1200 entries. They've said they won't, now, be replying to the ones who don't make it through the first stage. They were a bit overwhelmed.

* Yes there are other qualifications for being the next Joss Whedon (like writing utterly brilliant dialogue) but this is a silly blog, okay?

What's on the turntable? "Sultans of Swing" by Dire Straits from "Dire Straits"