Journey

I wanted to do something a little different for my film about professional experience as I guessed a lot of people would be doing vlog style pieces. I also didn’t have many pictures of myself at work, as I’m normally the one taking the photos rather than posing for them, so thought about doing something a little more experimental.

Travelling to a work placement one morning I began thinking about how much I have grown and developed during my professional experience and realised I had been on a kind of journey from student to tentative media professional. So I decided to look at filming my physical journey to work to parallel my “journey” through work.

I used my phone to film my train journey from Coventry to Grand Central station but watching the footage back I found it wasn’t as interesting as I had hoped. So I started to think about how we all view our routine daily journeys. Do we really pay attention to the world going by outside or do we instead occupy our journey time scrolling through Instagram, catching up on Facebook or replying to emails and messages on our phones or laptops?

Right now in the town where I live many structural changes are being made. Once buildings are knocked down people often complain about places being missed, but do we ever really appreciate the architecture around us until it is gone?

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This lead me to thinking about viewing my journey each day a little more clearly and trying to watch and appreciate the small changes around us.

When I view the world through the viewfinder of my camera I notice so much more beauty in every day things so decided to add an additional lens in front of my camera and revisit a previous project where I had designed my own vortograph to slightly skew my view of the world.

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I added narration to the film to explain my personal journey and I hope it will inspire people to think about their own “journey’s”, both physical and personal, after watching it. 

If you look closely while watching the film you can see that at some points my reflection can be seen in the train window, so despite my intention to leave my image out of the final piece it turns out I’ve managed to make a cameo appearance after all.

Swingamajig Festival

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A few weeks after working at the Flatpack Festival I was contacted by Lauren, the festivals co-ordinator, to see if I might also be interested in volunteering at the upcoming Swingamajig festival.
Last year I filmed a television piece there, as part of our formats module, and I really enjoyed the festivals carnival style atmosphere. The festival celebrates all things swing and retro from music and dance to circus acts and big band performances. It’s very different to any festival I have ever been to before. Despite it growing in size each year it still manages to retain it’s friendly and welcoming atmosphere.

I arrived at Digbeth’s Rainbow Arches in full 1920’s attire, as I’d felt quite left out wearing normal clothes last year and dressing up was encouraged in the volunteer information so I thought I’d have fun with it. I’m so glad I made the effort now as how I was dressed ended up making a difference to the job I was given, so I’d definitely consider this when getting dressed for future job roles. I’d say, always ‘Dress the Part’. So if it’s a wedding or formal occasion, don’t turn up in casual clothes; if you’re going to be filming in the woods in autumn think about walking boots and waterproofs. It may seem like it doesn’t matter what you wear as a filmmaker or photographer but, sadly, we are still often treated how we are perceived and dressing appropriately can help to give an added air of professionalism. Even the simple, accessory filled, apron I wear on set helps to identify me as a crew member and it gives me a little more confidence and somehow makes me ‘feel’ more professional.

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There were five of us in the Stewarding team but as I was the only one totally over dressed they decided I should be at the front of the festival welcoming guests in and directing them in to the entrance gates.

This job was quite different to my usual roles but really allowed me a unique view of the festival itself. I got to talk to artists and musicians as they arrived, meet the photographers and filming crew, spend time with security and find out what goes on behind the scenes of running a festival that size but I also got to interact with the public and feel their excitement and enthusiasm for the festival itself.

Swingamajig festival is a true love affair of it’s creators the band Electric Swing Circus, who orchestrate the whole event with a very hands on, personal approach. During my time at front of house I saw Tom walking past again and again. Meeting and greeting musicians, carrying equipment, and even bothering to stop and make sure myself and the other volunteers were being taken care of and enjoying our roles on site.

After seeing Tom’s approach I feel that this is the type of director or producer I also hope to be one day. Someone who doesn’t think they are above everyone else; someone who gets involved and helps out when it is needed; someone who cares about the people on set and ensures the crew works together, looking out for one another, with one combined goal in mind; the success of your team and your final project.

Just Us

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This week I was lucky enough to join the crew of the film Just Us (2017).

My main role on set was to be the film’s Continuity Supervisor. This is not a role I have undertaken before so I did quite a bit of research into what it would entail before I started work.

I also spoke to a few friends who had looked after continuity on other sets and they gave me a lot of helpful tips. One insisted I “photograph everything from several different angles“, so I always had a clear photo of my actors and their previous scenes to refer back to. This advice proved invaluable as it is very easy to forget exactly what props were in each shot, or which exact way an actor was sat, and having photos on my camera to check really helped.

Another friend advised me that “Tape and chalk, anything that won’t blow away, are also useful for marking first and last positions if you can do it without the camera seeing it.” Again this was great advice as the crew needed to mark the trees in the forest so they knew exactly where to return to the next day and we ended up using tape to do this. I also brought tent pegs with me which could easily be pushed into the ground to be used as an actor’s spot marker but wouldn’t be noticed on camera.

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I also had the opportunity to be gaffer on a few scenes, which I really enjoyed. Six months ago I was totally clueless about lighting, but after working on so many different films this term, I’m now a lot more confident lighting a set and feel like I have a much better idea of where to position lighting to make it as natural looking as possible.

Law Conference

While filming for the DMLL I was approached by a Law lecturer who needed a film crew to photograph and film an upcoming conference with a visiting speaker. I jumped at the chance as this was the opportunity to do similar work to the events I had helped film for the University but I would get the opportunity to produce the whole thing myself.

Knowing I needed a talented and reliable team I immediately contacted Dana, Lavi and Victoria. Three extremely talented people who I reguarly work with and who are at the top of my recommendations list whenanyone ever asks me about the best people to work with.

Victoria was going to be out of the country on the day of the conference but was happy to edit any footage we captured and Dana and Lavi soon set to work outlining all the equipment we would require.

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Arriving at the venue we were quite surprised by the shape of it. The lecture theatre was very different to any in Ellen Terry as it was very steep and circular. This meant we really had to reconsider where we would position out cameras and where we could stand ourselves and not obstruct anyone’s view or end up on camera.

I think we really could have benefited from a meeting with the event organizer a week or so before the scheduled filming date to survey the venue and discuss any key points. This would have prepared us for the venues unusual shape and i would have maybe thought about bringing one more camera or even incorporating some 360 footage in using the Ricoh Theta to take advantage of the circular space.

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At one point Mitch, the visiting speaker, was presented with a gift Brethertons present to him and it would have been great to have had an opportunity to both photograph and film a simple shot of the gift before the conference started so we could have cut to it when the box was opened so viewers could also see what was inside.

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After the event I managed to speak to one of the partners and request his introductory notes from the opening of the conference. I am so pleased I thought to do this, it wasn’t planned and was just an idea that popped into my head at the time, as it really helped with putting names to faces in the edit and giving everyone their correct job title so it is something I will definitely try to do from now on.

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I really enjoyed photographing at the after party as everyone was so more relaxed, laughing and smiling and I felt i could capture a lot more natural interaction between the guests.

It wasn’t until I had a quick flick through my first lot of photos that I realized a lot of them were unusable as people either had cheeks full of food or had been capturing pulling some rather unattractive faces while eating. To counter this I concentrated on photographing the tables of food and wine and people’s hands and plates until people had finished eating.

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The other thing I had not considered was people shaking hands. As this was a business conference hand shake shots would be particuarly useful but as they are so fleeting it seems to be that as soon as I focused on two people’s hands meeting I’d already missed the shot. Next time I would get my videographer to film these shots and then we could use stills from the hand shakes instead.

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Fire Drill

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A few months ago I took some portraits for the Health and Safety team and now they have come back to me to ask if I would be able to put a Health and Safety video together for them.

They don’t need the video completed until later this year so I can start on it once my term finishes but they asked if I could capture some photos and footage of the university’s annual fire drill this weekend to put in the film once it’s finished.

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I normally would have liked to have one or two other people with me for a shoot like this but as it was over the Easter holiday most of the other students had returned home so i had to film alone. I took two cameras, one on a tripod to film with and a second to capture photos and any close up moving shots and I would have to sacrifice sound and add it in with foley.

I set my tripod up where the fire engines were planned to pull in so I could get a good shot of the them arriving and waited with my other camera. What none of us had been told was that the fire crew were being followed by another camera crew as they were having a documentary made about them. This made it particularly difficult for me as there were two camera people and they seemed to always be stood where I wanted to film or in shot filming so stopped the scene from looking natural.

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Obviously I couldn’t ask them to move as they had a job to do as much as I did so I just tried to ensure that I kept out of their shots while getting the best photos and filming i could from some more imaginative angles.

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I really enjoyed today’s filming. The fake smoke and sirens and the ‘injured’ casualties all added to the atmosphere of the event and I felt like I was on a professional film set, if a little under staffed.

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Today’s filming really taught me to expect the unexpected and that you can’t always control your set. Not only did I have a film crew often getting in shot but also members of the public as the surrounding area was still open to everyone. It reminded me to stay patient and to think my way around things and be quick to find a new angle or subject to focus on.

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Flatpack Film Festival: Birmingham

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Over the past two days I have been volunteering at the 11th annual Flatpack Film Festival in Birmingham.

After an initial induction and health and safety training I was kitted out with a lovely red Flatpack Film Festival t-shirt, National Rail guest badge and led towards a very strange mysterious black box on the platform of Grand Central Station.

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Looking like a cross between a bomb shelter and a bike shed I was intrigued to find out what might be behind it’s closed doors. I could hear drilling and hammering coming from within and wondered if it was still under construction or if maybe someone was locked inside.

I soon learnt that the ‘box’, labelled the Kino Train, had been constructed in just a few hours and housed a pop up cinema, complete with a brand new projector and enough bench seating for approx. 10-15 people.

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But why exactly was it called the Kino Train?

Flatpack explained to us:

“In the years following the Russian Revolution, ‘agit trains’ were an important tool for spreading the Bolshevik gospel to workers across the land. Brightly decorated with rousing propaganda, their carriages functioned as printing presses, libraries and cinemas – the latter enabling many rural Russians to encounter film for the first time.

We’ve always dreamt of taking to the rails with a mobile film unit, and our Kino Train is definitely a step in the right direction. For four days during Flatpack 11 you can find us camped out on the main concourse at New Street Station, offering bite-sized chunks of cultural nourishment to the busy throng. The programme will include:”

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(Flatpackfestival.org.uk, 2017)

Over the course of the two days I handed out programmes for the weekend’s events and encouraged shy customers to jump on board the Kino Train and discover some of the amazing short films showing inside.  I met some really talented people volunteering alongside me and running the event, as well as some lovely members of the public.

Working for Flatpack has really raised my confidence levels, and encouraged me to meet and talk to more people, as a simple smile or hello can spark a conversation that can lead to interesting new opportunities.

Next year I would love to return to Flatpack Film Festival and hopefully become more involved in their Marketing and Social Media campaigns after my recent experience of running #YourLibraryStory online.

References

Flatpackfestival.org.uk. (2017). Kino Train | Flatpack. [online] Available at: http://flatpackfestival.org.uk/event/kino-train/ [Accessed 8 Apr. 2017].

Journeys and routine

Making the same journey for the umpteenth time I glanced out the window and wondered if I ever really pay attention to the world going by outside. I normally pass the time on the train scrolling through Instagram, catching up on Facebook or replying to emails and messages on my phone. I rarely bother to really look at the scenery passing me by and it got me thinking about how much we miss on our regular journeys through life.

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Right now in the town where I live many structural changes are being made. Once buildings are knocked down people often complain about places being missed, but do we ever really appreciate the architecture around us until it is gone?

This lead me to thinking about viewing my journey each day a little more clearly and trying to watch and appreciate the small changes around me.

When I view the world through the viewfinder of my camera I notice so much more beauty in every day things so decided to start using the camera on my phone to document my daily journeys. After a few days of taking photographs I switched to filming my journeys, using a small gorilla pod on the train table to steady my shots.

It was really interesting to see the differences each day and I found that on uploading the footage to my macbook each night and replaying it that I noticed even more differences in the journey’s landscape as each day went by.

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While working on this project I came across some photos I took a few years ago when, inspired by the work of Alvin Langdon Coburn, I made my own vortograph and attempted to change my view of the world by photographing places and objects through it.

I wondered if this project was merely a continuation/progression of that last one and decided to attempt to film my next train journey through the vortograph and see what results I got.

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I’d used the vortograph to film through once before in the subway scene of my first film Trip (2015).

I’m hoping that the film I’ve made will help to change how we look at the journeys we make every day, help us to spot changes in the landscape and value the architecture and scenery around us before it, inevitably, disappears.

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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Working on the set of More

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This week I worked on the set of Chris Caswell’s new short film, More (2017).

Chris’s film is centered around an obsession with the practice of Trepanning and looking at where that obsession can lead.

Although I was mainly working as a runner on Chris’s film I ended up fulfilling several other roles on set too.

Initially I helped to set up camera and lighting equipment and then, as our actors and make up artists arrived on set, I greeted everyone and ensured they felt welcome and had everything they needed.

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It was great fun getting to observe the professional make up artists at work making our actor look as if he really had drilled directly into his skull!

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Once filming started I got to work as an extra camera operator using both the Black Magic Ursa Minis and the Sony SF700. I had never used either of these cameras before and as they are quite different to a DSLR I had always been quite nervous to film with them. Working on More has really improved my confidence for working with unfamiliar equipment and I now hope to book out the Sony SF700 to film some slow motion footage for a future project.

I also got to help the gaffer by holding reflectors and dimming lights etc. This was an unusual role for me as I normally direct on the set of my own films. But it was a really helpful insight. While holding the reflector I realised how uncomfortable this role can be. You are expected to hold the same exact position for long periods of time, while everyone else on set tries to decide the best way to position lights and cameras around you. On future films I will try to ensure anyone holding a reflector is the last person to be set up before filming so they are not left holding the same pose for an uncomfortable amount of time. The same consideration needs to apply for actors too, as they are often asked to stay in the same position for long periods of time which can lead to cramps and muscle pain.

When I wasn’t assisting with filming or lighting I tried to be Chris’s ‘right hand man’. Taking on any tasks I could that freed him up to concentrate on directing. So sometimes I would do the food run, or check on external crew, clean lenses, book out additional equipment, check continuity during filming, take behind the scenes photographs to document the film’s progression or even just mop up spilt milk- literally. You’ll see photos of this later 🙂

One of my favorite moments working on the set of More was getting to work with sugar glass. There was a scene in the film where our protagonist knocks a glass of milk onto the floor and the glass smashes and then intermingles with blood from his bleeding skull.

After several attempts during test shoots, with normal drinking glasses, we realised we couldn’t get the smashing effect Chris wanted either visually or safely. So Chris purchased 3 glasses made from sugar glass from a specialist company online.

The sugar glass was amazing to film as it smashes so perfectly when dropped and is visually very impressive, especially when filming in slow motion. This fulfilled a childhood dream for me as I remember watching a programme about the making of Adam Ant’s music video Stand and Deliver (1981), when he smashed through a large window into a room and they explained that this was able to be done with sugar glass as a replacement for the real thing. I could only have been 5 or 6 at the time yet, I was so impressed with the magic of sugar glass that, I still remember the story today. So it was really nice to get the opportunity to work with sugar glass myself on a film set.

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Adam Ant Stand and Deliver music video (1981)