1st of February was the production day for our short film ‘No Tag-backs’.
We had booked all the equipment for 8:45 in the morning (when the Media Loan Shop opens), so Chris and Jack took it out and came to the house at around 9:15. While still waiting for James (he was supposed to meet the ‘extras’ for the outside scenes), we set up the equipment and even started to test film some scenes.
As you can probably see, we were using not only a tripod, but also tracks. We shot lots of scenes with them, and although I thought at the beginning that they were a bit too much, they proved to be easy to use and hopefully they add an interesting effect to the film.
We also tried different lighting settings to see what would work for us. We had to mimic morning time in the kitchen, with sunlight coming from the window, and since we would be filming the whole day, instead of hoping the sun would be there, we ‘faked’ it with lights. We put a big ‘Blonde’ light in the backyard (thankfully it wasn’t raining!) and it really worked great:
Here it is from the outside, some time after sunset:
Disadvantages of this light setting:
- Health and safety
it can only be used like this if it is not raining outside. Otherwise, the cold raindrops hitting the hot light could easily cause an explosion.
- Shadows in shot
when standing between the action and the light, the camera operator often cast shadows on the main subject. We needed to always check if there are camera shadows in shot.
To our surprise, Chris brought a clapperboard on set, and we started using it.
In the first scenes, we were using it a lot, but at some point we lost track. Still, we continued to use it occasionally throughout the day.
We didn’t keep a logsheet. Since each of us would have to make their own edit, we decided that everyone would have to play back the whole footage to choose scenes, so we didn’t keep track of the scenes. Still, I think it would have been useful to have even a simple one to mark if a scene was OK or it was interrupted halfway through.
Since we didn’t have a shooting plan, we also weren’t sure when we would need our extras to come to the set. So we had them come early in the morning, and they ended up waiting for us for hours. At some point we just had to go outside and shoot the scenes with them, so they could go back home. We also didn’t want them to get too bored, because that would make things harder – we didn’t want frustration on set.
Still, it turned out they were excited enough and willing to help us, so we ended up with a lot of good takes.
Cars were a nightmare. We easily figured out how to keep people on set safe – when we saw a car approaching, we would just shout ‘Car!’ and everyone moved to the pavement. We didn’t even mind too much having them in shot – it is a real life film anyway. But the sound of cars driving along the street was the constant reason for stopping in the middle of a take, waiting for a good time to shoot, and generally it was time consuming and frustrating.
Equipment. We had lots of little pieces of equipment, so when moving even 10 m away, we had to move everything, and there always had to be someone to keep an eye on the things we weren’t using in that moment (at some points, I really wished we had a general assistant who is not involved with the production but could simply be there to help). Since there is no way to stop the tripod from moving along the tracks, there had to be someone holding the tripod on its place at all times. Another problem were the XLR cables for the microphone – when the camera was moving along the tracks, the cables were constantly going in its way, causing lots of reshoots and frustration.
Light. The sunlight was constantly changing – one minute it was sunny, and the next thing you know the sun was behind the clouds, then back out. At that point I wished we could control it as a ‘Blonde’ 🙂
Still, we were able to make a lot of good takes in the street. And even experiment with close-ups and different points of view.
After we finished with most of the outside scenes, the girls could get back home; we brought all the equipment back into the house. But we were all very tired and hungry, so we took a big break which we used to have a quick lunch and check how far we were with the script. We also shot some ‘making of’ commentary, and we made a group photo of the crew:
The sun was going down, so we had to quickly finish with all the other scenes that involved shooting outside. We did a lot of takes for the scenes at the door, because that’s probably the most important part of the script. There was a lot of banging on the door, we shot both from the inside out and from the outside in. Since the sun had changed its position, and we were still shooting scenes that in the script are based early in the morning, we had to find a way to avoid all the sunset light. I figured out we could use a blanket to cover the camera and use as a shield for the sunlight, so it doesn’t appear in the shot. It proved useful.
Shooting in a house: things to bear in mind
When using a house for a production set, you inevitably run into problems. Some of them we could plan around and deal with early on, some of them not.
Since this was the house I am living in, I had to ask my landlord for permission. We prepared a risk assessment form, a letter from University that it is an actual school project, and a location declaration for him. To be honest, I was surprised he even let us film in the house, but once we showed we were serious about the project and provided him with the documents he needed, my concerns were gone. I kept him updated what we were doing, how far we were with the preparations, rescheduling things and changing plans. It is always a good idea to communicate your plans with the people involved.
Another thing that I thought I had planned but turned out to be a problem were housemates. When I told them we would be shooting in the house (I had warned them more than a week before the actual day), one of them said he would be out that day anyway, so he said there wouldn’t be a problem. And my husband would stay in our room, which he is doing most of the days anyway (he’s working from home).
Still, on the day of production, it turned out the first guy was staying in his room the whole day. Which meant he would need to go out at least to go to the bathroom etc. However, he didn’t go out the whole day, and I was constantly feeling guilty about it. I didn’t have a plan how to communicate with him on the day, and the later it became, the harder it was for me to decide what to do. I didn’t want the people to feel like prisoners in their own rooms just because I was shooting a film there, but they did. So my project ruined their day.
I now realise I could have knocked on their doors to tell them if we were shooting at that moment or not, if we were in the house or not (we spent two hours outside), or at least I could have sent them text messages. If I ever have to film in the house again, I will prepare a communication strategy for the housemates – I just don’t want them to barricade themselves in their rooms.
‘Buffer room’. We were lucky to have one of the rooms in the house empty, and we could use it for a changing room for the character, as well as the room we asked the girls to go to when there were too many people on set. Still, we had a lot of equipment and boxes to deal with, and we ended up piling it in one corner of the room we were actually shooting in. Although it was OK, it could have been much better to plan earlier and have a ‘buffer’ room for stuff we didn’t need on set but need to be easily accessed.
Cleaning and tidying up. On the night before production day, I spent a couple of hours cleaning the house, especially windows. There are lots of reflecting surfaces in a house (especially this one), so it’s worth cleaning them in case they appear in shot. Also, I tried to get rid of the most reflecting surfaces I could (putting stuff in front of mirrors etc.), because we didn’t want reflections of the camera in shot.
The not-so-obvious things. Since it is a house, it has its own lamps. It is a good idea to decide and keep an eye on the lights while shooting – they could cause white balance problems or unexpected shadows, or could cause continuity problems if they appear in shot. Same with doors – for continuity reasons, we had to always make sure we knew if we need the doors open or closed. Another thing to bear in mind were the electrical appliances. Boilers, refrigerators, etc. – they make noises and add to the soundscape. I decided to just switch off the boiler, but kept the fridge on, so in one take it went off and we had to reshoot. It is another thing to think about for continuity reasons.
Logistics. The house is very far from the university, and it wasn’t practical to move on foot. We had to move 3+2 people plus lots of heavy equipment, so we had to plan how we were going to transport everything from the university to the house and back, while keeping in mind time, money, and the Media Loan Shop working hours; we also wanted to make the most of our 24-hour equipment booking. What we didn’t know was that at the time we were filming, there was a taxi strike, which added another layer of things to think about, but we managed to find a way around it as well. Another small thing was that all the equipment had been booked by Chris, so he had to be there when returning every camera, track or cable. It also caused extra stress for him (as if being a camera operator + director weren’t enough), because he was solely responsible for the equipment.
We thought the script, directing, camera operation and acting were complicated enough to handle, and then we also had the sound and soundscapes to think about. As mentioned earlier, cars were a big problem, but an almost equally big problem were we – the crew itself. We had to scrap lots of takes because someone made a noisy step, took a deep breath, or moved a squeeking door out of shot. We also had to be extra cautious how we are moving the tracks and where the cables and microphone were – because moving the camera on the track (and having the camera operator move with them) can make a lot of noise. In the house, most of us just removed our shoes to keep the noise of steps down. We also had to be very careful how we were moving in the kitchen – even though it is a relatively big one, when you have four people plus equipment, it is tough to handle.
When shooting outside, after having planned a scene for quite a long time, choosing camera angles etc., we would often find ourselves changing the whole plan because we didn’t consider where the microphone would be or how its cable would move around. In one of our most complicated scenes, we just decided to not record any sound, and then make another take from an easier to shoot angle to record appropriate sounds.
Another smaller problem was that people simply forgot we were shooting, and would say something in the middle of the scene, forgetting it’s not only visuals but also sound we were recording. Also, since Chris’ background is in music videos, where you don’t use the sound on set, he would give acting directions while recording, causing the whole thing to start all over again. It wasn’t such a big problem, but worth listing 🙂
A long day on set with the same people can cause frustration
People do annoying things – multiply it by the number of hours we were shooting, and it could easily turn into a nightmare. The interesting thing was it didn’t. Although each of us was causing frustration with something they did or not did, and although it would have been understandable if people would get annoyed, no one got that far – we all kept it professional, trying to focus on the task we had to do. Of course, it helped that we only had one day to do it all, and we all wanted the film to turn out good, but I am very thankful there were no conflicts.
The four of us had been working together in previous projects (we were all in the same production group for Group A’s 72 Hour challenge; the guys are often in the radio studio together; me and Chris had been working together on most assignments this year), so we knew each other well enough to know what to expect. Of course, there were surprises, but nothing so serious that it would hinder our work.
We didn’t simply work well together – I think it is safe to say, we made a great team. Everyone knew what we needed to do; when there was a problem, everyone got involved in such a manner that would help the end result; we all wanted the project to be successful, so at moments that could turn into conflicts, we all just focused on what would be most appropriate for the film. I think the four of us have very strong egos, but for the sake of the project, we left them out and we focused on helping each other to make the film happen. Everyone understood the other people’s roles and capabilities, ideas were welcomed, but also when someone needed to take the lead, the others let him do it. If someone made a mistake, the others would accept it and simply make sure it doesn’t happen again.
I think we learned a lot about each other, but also learned a lot from each other. Plus, we had loads of fun. Check out the ‘Making of’ Chris put together 🙂