Well! It has been just over a week since I listened to the strains of the violin fade, turned to camera and said “It’s a wrap!”
To be honest I am still recovering from it. It was a full on, exhausting and overall brilliant weekend. It was an enormously steep learning curve, and I almost feel that I have forgotten some of the things that I thought I had learned. That is why I am going to try and put in words what is involved in taking your own writing and turning it into film.
First of all, I have to say that I had so many things that I intended to have ready for the film shoot that I worked late nights for a long time prior to the deadline. After all that, very few things were completely ready. So I suppose that lesson one would be something like – don’t try and do it all yourself, find some way of getting others to work with you. This means that more is finished in time and you get the feedback and reassurance that is needed to keep going. Believe me nothing is worse than that awful feeling that you have put a lot of working into making props and that people will laugh at them.
This brings me to the next point. Nobody laughed at the props I had made. Nobody was sarcastic about the venue, costumes, make up or anything else. This brings me to another lesson – people are amazing! If you have people and a camera, you can make a film. People go to the movies to watch people, because people are far more interesting than anything else. This also counts for things that are also people (animated characters, robots etc…). This also taught me that the quality of the film would be dependent on the efforts, energy and commitment of the people I had around me and that was 100%. (I can’t thank these guys and girls enough).
I think if I was to try and encapsulate most of my experience into one phrase it would go something like this. When you are making a no-budget film, you will almost always have less of everything than you thought. For this weekend I had less people than expected, a smaller venue than I wanted and not enough black cloth with which to create a shooting stage. This actually worked in my favour because, due to people being superstars, I had proper lights, award winning sound and no less than two cameras. So all the possible negatives were magically turned into positives. We shot close up, with reflected light and SFX light. All of the people who were there were in the thick of the action and the atmosphere was excellent.
This last one was probably helped by the high standard of catering. If you can get a chef – get one. They are worth their weight in gold. The other thing that was worth its weight in gold was the artificial fire. I had picked this up on ebay and it lit more than half the scenes with some really eerie flickering light. A great buy!
The two main things I will change for next time – I will have enough good black cloth to black out a larger area and I will have some soft neutral coloured carpet to put down on the floor. This last one is important for two reasons. Firstly to muffle footsteps (we had to work in bare feet) and to create a non-reflective floor surface that can be included in any sort of shot.
From the script point of view, one thing was very clear. Long sections or dialogue need breaking up. They may be fine in a narrative to explain things, but in film it needs splitting between different characters. This is good for pace and flow, but also allows actors to learn then shoot small sections of script at a time. In a low budget venue, with background noise that is doubly important so that lines can be looped, until a clear take is made. The other thing is that the dialogue really has to fill in a lot of story; people’s thoughts, the back story, what follows on from the film and so on. In my case the short story became a very short film, which starts abruptly and, without additional post-production material, would have shown a series of unexplained events. The other major script point is that just because something is in your story, doesn’t mean you have to film it. If it is beyond the scope of practicality – cut it out. It might sound like you will lose key events in the narrative, but in fact you will quickly see that you can film the effects of events more easily than the events themselves.
For example: In the story a group of people rush out into the sea and are “swept away”. One of the characters is so distracted by this that he is struck down unexpectedly. In the film the people rushing into the sea has been cut. Sound effects and establishing shots will be used to explain the distraction of the character and the effect – him being struck down – is shot as live action.
I am sure that there are many other things that I learned in the chaos that was my first attempt at directing, but my final lesson is this: If you want to make films, make them. You will learn, you will meet lots of interesting people and, if you choose to, you will have fun.
It was an amazingly good experience. I want to do it again, and I’m pleased to say, so do all the others who took part.
Posted by James Snee.