Story of Toys: Production Role


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” (, 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”(, 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” (, 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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After working through the script we soon released that we would need quite a larger budget for this film than others we have worked on. We would need a budget for locations, travel, props, dolls, catering….. just for starters!

We discussed different methods of money raising and decided to opt for crowd funding. I researched various different sites that offered crowdfunding facilities and Indiegogo seemed to have the best reviews online and offered Paypal as an option and only took a small administration fee.

I set up a page for our film using a photo of the mouse we are having made for us and shared it daily on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, with the rest of the group reposting or retweeting links too.

Then wrote a blog post advertising the campaign and contacted several local newspapers and radio stations to see if they would run the story. UnCOVered agreed to run the article for us.


Media Production students launch crowdfunding project to finance new film


A group of ten Media Production students at Coventry University have banded together to try and raise $500 to fund a new project, showcasing a mix of still images and cinemagraphs to create an exciting new form of animation.

The project started when the second year students were introduced to Maddy Ryder, a third year Creative Writing student, who had just finished writing a script called ‘The Story of Toys’. Set in the future the script tells the story of one mouse’s struggle through everyday life in an oversized world. Influenced by George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, as well as recent current events; the story depicts a world that has become uninhabitable by humans. Following their evacuation to other planets, the abandoned, now redundant toys find themselves new jobs, not so dissimilar to our own.

“We hope ‘The Story of Toys’ will be a film to make people think as well as to entertain them.”

The students need to raise funds for their ‘cast’; essentially a large selection of toys and a one of a kind handmade mouse toy who will take the leading role in the film, so they have set up an Indiegogo crowdfunding page to try and raise the money required.

“The people and students of Coventry have been amazing helping us with donations. One lady even donated some dolls for us to use as ‘extras’ on set. But we still need to raise more funds and if anyone can donate, or even just share our campaign on social media, we would be most grateful.”

264mc: Short Film Study – The Mass of Men

Above is a link to the British short film The Mass of Men (2012), directed by Gabriel Gauchet. It looks at the UK’s benefits system, the casualties of it’s rigid bureaucracy, and the extremes people can be pushed to when they are treated as nothing more than a name and number on a screen.

Interested to see how this film was produced I tried researching the film’s process online but could find very little about how The Mass of Men (2012) was made, except that; it was filmed on S16mm, “has been selected by 111 different film festivals and is a winner of 58 film awards.” (, 2017). So I decided to try and reach out to it’s director to see if he could fill in the gaps. Gabriel Gauchet was kind enough to get back to me very quickly and he was happy to answer several of my questions about the film’s production process.

Gauchet made The Mass of Men (2012) while he was a student at The National Film and Television School. All films made at the NFTS are funded by the school, which “has its own purpose-built studios, including two film stages, a separate large television studio, and post-production facilities rivaling those of many professional companies.” (, 2017). Each film project receives a budget fund of £4000. Having this funding meant Gauchet did not need to spend time trying to raise capital for his film but, if he had, he may well have considered crowdfunding as an alternative. Crowdfunding has become an amazing source of revenue to support short film with companies like Kickstarter and Indiegogo making it very simple for anyone to pitch their film ideas to backers and raise a budget almost overnight. In the same year Jarett Cale and Geoff Lapaire raised $220,856 through Indiegogo to fund their movie Pure Pwnage:Teh Movie (2016).

But film schools and crowdfunding aren’t the only way to fund a short film. Every year many UK filmmakers produce their movie projects using film grants. Funders range from the lottery funded BFI Film Fund, to more localized London Calling, who “focus on London based filmmakers who need funding of up to £4,000.” (Met Film School – London, 2017), to much larger organisations like the BBC and Film4. (, 2017).

All films made at the NFTS, during Gauchet’s time there, had to be filmed on S16mm. This meant that half of the budget was already allocated to film stock and laboratory developing services, leaving just £2000 for locations, actors, catering etc.

Using real film also meant the team only had 60 minutes of film material for the entire shoot. Meaning the majority of scenes shot had to count. Filming digitally, as Ryan Connolly chose to do with a Canon XL-H1 for Tell (2012), means such constraints were never a problem.

S16mm also limits editing and post-production. Gauchet had no option to colour grade or adjust the film afterwards, which meant that it had to be lit and shot exactly how he wanted it to be seen by his audience. In contrast, in 2015, the filmmaker Noam Kroll finished making the short film Stray (Unknown release date) which was shot on the Blackmagic URSA in CinemaDNG RAW. This gave Kroll a myriad of editing and colour grading options, and meant he could edit his short quickly and easily. “For years now I have been using DaVinci Resolve Studio as my primary colour grading platform….. it’s critical to my success as a filmmaker that I am using tools that can enhance the speed and quality of my work.” (Kroll, 2017).

Gauchet didn’t use social media to promote the film or even make a separate website for it, although you can now view it on his own website. Instead he put his efforts into submitting the film to as many film festivals as possible; approximately 500 in total. Back in 2012 this was a very time consuming and costly process as many festivals still only accepted films sent to them in DVD format, now, with the majority of them only accepting files, it is much quicker and easier. In fact, with sites like FilmFreeway and The Film Festival Doctor, most of the hard work is done for you. “Add your project once, select your favourite festivals, and click to submit.” (FilmFreeway, 2017).

When Shawn Christensen wrote and directed the short film Curfew (2012) he set up a website (Curfew (Short Film) – Official Site, 2017) to advertise it, with links to the film’s trailer, details on festivals the film had been entered into and regular updates on any news about awards or press coverage the short had received.

Gauchet’s film was very well received despite his lack of interaction with online resources and social media but I wonder how many more people the film would have reached with a good Facebook, Twitter and Instagram campaign behind it.

Short film is still a rather under rated medium, with many people viewing it as something people just do ‘for fun’ or the medium of filmmaking students. However, many famous filmmakers used short film as a springboard to larger projects. Pixar’s short, Luxo. Jnr (1986), was undoubtedly what caught Disney’s attention, and sparked their now infamous partnership.

For me, short film is not only a place to experiment and develop new ideas, but an important and challenging genre in it’s own right. “Short film is a unique narrative art form that, while lending itself to experimentation, requires tremendous discipline in following traditional filmic considerations.” (Cooper, 2015) In fact, it is the very medium I hope to centre my career around once I graduate.


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