Story of Toys: Production Role

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My role during the production of Story of Toys was as cinematographer. I was interested to try out a new role as I had always been the director on previous film projects; sometimes having a dual role as director and producer when we had a small crew.

I was very involved in pre-production, as I had a strong vision of how I wanted the film to look after reading Maddie Ryder’s script. Lighting and the use of colour would be very important to the look of our film. Backgrounds would be grey/blue to give a feeling of cold/depression/lifelessness to contrast against the bright colours of the toys; representing the contrast between the darkness of humanity and the bright, happy role toys once had within the human world. A great example of a very similar style can been seen in  A Series of Unfortunate Events. (2017) Although some of the color styling could be achieved from costume and lighting some work would need to be done color grading the photos in post-production (Aldredge, 2017)

As our film is set in a world full of toys, absent of humans, we had no actors to worry about but needed to decide how we could bring our toys to life and, with limited time constraints, full animation was not an option.

Last term I watched the film La Jetee. (2017) by Chris Marker. It uses still photos to tell a story, set in the future, about a man manipulated by an unnamed captor and combines time travel and flashback sequences. Trying to tell this story would have required a huge Hollywood budget, in fact when the film was re-envisioned as Twelve Monkeys. (1995) by Terry Gilliam the film cost “$29,000,001 (estimated)”(Gilliam et al., 2017) to make, yet making it with stills meant Marker could produce it for a fraction of that cost. The use of still images was not something I had ever considered for creating a short film. Yet, ultimately, RAW film footage is nothing more than a series of still images that, when shown quickly enough, create the illusion of movement. In La Jetee. (2017) this illusion is aided by the films strong narration, captivating audio and creative editing. Marker’s unusual approach opened up my eyes to an amazing way to work around budget and location restrictions. Using stills meant scenes could be manipulated and masked to make a setting appear very differently than it does in real life. Using this experimental style we could easily make our toys look like they were alive, and we could shoot some of the more complicated scenes without the need for a huge budget.

With an estimated cost of £500 to produce our film, and no real budget, we looked to “crowdfunding” (Forbes.com, 2017) as a way to finance our film. I set up a page on Indiegogo and promoted it through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and everyone shared links to the posts at least once a day. People were extremely generous and we reached our target goal with over a week to spare. I will definitely use crowdfunding for future projects, making sure to promote it on social media as much as possible. I found self promotion slightly awkward as I felt a little uncomfortable, like I was spamming people constantly and asking them for help. I think this is something I need to quickly overcome for future projects. Essentially I need to promote my films as I would any new business venture.

A strong narration was essential to help ‘animate’ our short film, so myself and our producer met with the film’s writer to discuss adding one into the script. After several attempts our writer handed the task back to us as she was finding it hard to produce a narration rather than a commentary. Unfortunately this means the narration is not as strong as we would have liked and I think we will look at rewriting it after submission. In the future I would definitely think about including the writer in more aspects of filmmaking if we need any adjustments to scripts. Being involved with early idea meetings and being brought on set and to location shoots would help them to have a much clearer idea of our vision.

Like La Jetee. (2017), Story of Toys also looks at the idea of being manipulated by authority with a “Big Brother” (Orwell, 2013) like government watching over the toys. To show that overseeing eye I opted to use several “God shots” (Buder, 2017) to give the audience the viewpoint of watching over the toy’s every move.

As our main character was so tiny we needed him to grab, and hold, the audience’s attention so he wouldn’t be lost in the oversized human locations of some scenes. In order to do this we gave him distinctive clothing, including a red waistcoat and bright orange tie, that contrasted against the grey/blue backdrops. To accentuate him even more I looked at using central framing in as many scenes as possible as this “directs the audience to the subject of the composition.” (No Film School, 2017). At the end of the film I also used central framing “to create tension and drama”(No Film School, 2017) in the film’s closing shot.

I also wanted to include extreme close ups in the film, partly because of the minature size of our characters, “Extreme closeups can be great ways to view subjects that are incredibly small”(Videomaker.com, 2017) and to highlight important details. Extreme close ups, particularly of eyes can also be a good way to connect your character with their audience and reveal what is going on inside their head “getting an extreme closeup of the eyes is going to be a very good way of showing emotion” (Videomaker.com, 2017), or even the lack of it.

All this research into when and why to choose different styles of framing really helped when I sat down with our director to work on the film’s shooting script.

Before filming commenced our tutor suggested we help out on other group’s films, if possible. Due to location dates this wasn’t possible so I opted to help on a 3rd years FMP instead. I found this additional experience invaluable.  I got to work with a professional gaffer, actor and make up team and I got to try out roles on set I had never experienced. I worked as runner, PA and assisted with lighting and filming. It really opened my eyes to the roles of other people on set and the problems they may encounter. I hope this will make me a more considerate director on my next project. I also got a chance to film with the Black Magic cameras, which I’ve never used before, and help capture some slow motion footage on the Sony SF700. I also made some great contacts for future work and got to get feedback on some of the shots from Story of Toys that we had already sequenced.

During the filming process I found I was most happy on set on the days I got to both direct and handle the cinematography. Although I really enjoyed my new role I found it hard to remove my director’s hat and to keep to one role. Working on Story of Toys has made me realise directing is where my true passion lies, but it has confirmed that I would like to eventually become a director who is able to have a strong influence over the cinematography in the films I direct too.

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