Wednesday, 30 April 2014

SEEING THE LIGHT : £5 DIY LED lights

MJ Dixon is an Award Winning Filmmaker and Director of Low Budget worldwide releases includingSlasher House and Legacy Of Thorn. He has also seen over 30 music videos and shorts appear on major TV channels around the world as well as running filming workshop The Micro Budget Massacre. He mostly spends his time leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong and hoping each time that his next leap, will be the leap home.

READ FIRST!! Once again, please understand that this is just my outlook and opinion on aspects of filmmaking, Im not saying its right or wrong, it's just how I do things and how I view things, Filmmaking is about listening to everyone, your peers, professionals and everything in-between. This article is here to be nothing more than helpful to people looking to make movies, hopefully thats you.


The simple fact is, production gear can be expensive. Sometimes really expensive, I lately looked into getting some professional led panels for studio shoot and discovers that to get 2 (in reality I would need at least 3) would cost me well over £1000 . Which as a low budget film producer and video director just doesn't come easy. I also understand that money doesn't grow on trees for those of you just starting out, who want to learn the craft of filmmaking. 

A few years ago I was booked by a band to make a professional music video, It was one of my first as an official company and so I wanted to keep it self sufficient. I didn't have a lot of gear at the time as I was just starting out. The video needed some lights and a black backdrop and through some careful planning I managed to pick that up with the deposit the band gave me. However it left me little money left for the rest of the video.

A lot of the scenes they wanted in thier story element needed to be shot outside on the streets and I couldn't take my newly bought plastering worklights because I couldn't afford a generator at the time to run them. So I knew I needed a portable light of some kind, however anything useable and bright enough was well out of my budget. After wandering around the £1 store one day, I came across the I perfect solution.

I found some ultra bright head torches for £1 each, they ran in AA batteries and were pretty bright, brighter than any other LEDs I go had come across. But not still bright enough. I needed a way to triple the power of them.

 Hollow Demise Video Still. Lit with LEDs in an underpants box. 
At home I had a cardboard window box from some underwear I had had gotten for Christmas. I bought a couple of the lights and realised that they lights slotted in perfectly. I dropped 4 lights in and closed the plastic Perspex of the box top over the lamps and it worked perfectly. Actually, too perfectly, the light was too harsh. A sheet of kitchen roll later and the light was diffused enough to use, Albiet handheld. 

Being made of a cardboard box meant that the light probably didn't have too much shelf life, but it worked in the in the rain for the duration of the shoot. It did however mean that I could reinvent the light to have more longevity. 

So I invented the Tupperlight.



Tupperware tub £1, Bright LED Head Torch £1 x 3, 12 Kodak Batteries £1


Make sure your box fits the lights tight to stop them from moving during use. 

 

Add A thin sheet on Kitchen roll for Diffusion if needed. 

This is by no means a 'perfect' solution, it has to be hand held for a start (although i'm sure it would be easy enough to mount of a light stand), but it works and is perfect on a low budget. Everything I needed to build this light featured here, I picked up for £4 (+ £1 for 12 low voltage batteries), This one has three lights, which is fine, my original had four, Although you can make a bigger one with a larger casing with as ,many lights as you want. 

No budget Filmmaking is just about being creative with what you have and even though i have since replaced this cheap solution with more reliable lights I still use the Tupperlight every now and then..

You can check out the video that I used it on below. 



MJ

IF YOU FOUND THIS HELPFUL OR HAVE ANY QUESTIONS THEN PLEASE DROP THEM IN THE COMMENTS BELOW. 

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

SEEING THE LIGHT : LEDing The Way

MJ Dixon is an Award Winning Filmmaker and Director of Low Budget worldwide releases including Slasher House and Legacy Of Thorn. He has also seen over 30 music videos and shorts appear on major TV channels around the world as well as running filming workshop The Micro Budget Massacre. He mostly spends his time leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong and hoping each time that his next leap, will be the leap home.

READ FIRST!! Once again, please understand that this is just my outlook and opinion on aspects of filmmaking, Im not saying its right or wrong, it's just how I do things and how I view things, Filmmaking is about listening to everyone, your peers, professionals and everything in-between. This article is here to be nothing more than helpful to people looking to make movies, hopefully thats you.


CAUTION : Obviously working with any electrics that create heat is dangerous, make sure any lights you get have the required protective glass and caging and of course just like tungsten lights be aware that, if not set up correctly, then it can, like anything on set, be very, very dangerous.

Last week I talked about my standard light set up, using tungsten worklights. Tne set up itself cost very little and is extremely useful and very bright. However it does have draw backs, mainly in regards to how hot these kind of lights get. Although trust me, shooting in the winter in Northern England you'll apprecaite that a little more.

However our set up has evolved over the last few years to include LEDs. LEDs are cooler, lighter and most of the time safer than having lights that intergaret hot glass and Sensetive bulbs. This being a low budget filmmaking blog though, I have a duty to look at the cheapest alternative first and of course that is certainly tungsten worklights. 

The problem with these lights is that they each run at 500w each ( that's just work lights, we're talking 800w upward for pro lights) so if your heading out to location you're suddenly talking, large loud expensive generators and when you are running and gunning, like we have to do 50% of the time, you need something much more reliable and subtle to get the job done.

This is where I employ Led worklights. We picked up 3 of the brightest we could find (I think 108 LEDs) they cost about £50 each and they are rechargable, making them a great portable solution at about a quarter of the cost of 1 professional led panel. They fit to most light stands and last about 3 hours of constant use, so if you are careful with your usage you can get a full nights shooting out of them.

They have some drawbacks like anything, but low budget filmmaking is about jumping over hurdles in order to bring costs down. Now first of all, led lamps are not quite as bright as you would like unless you start moving into spending a few hundred, so most of the time you have to double the light source. These particular lights are rechargable, making them very portable. Downside is that they can't run off the mains without damaging the battery, so they need to be fully charged after they die out, which takes 3 hours. 

Heres an ebay link for the model we use HERE

And just for price comparison heres the same size tungsten (They are about £5 more with a stand) which is twice as bright HERE

Now the simple solution to this, is to have them on charging rotation. But of course that doubles the price of your set up. If your after something to rival the brightness of of a standard tungsten light you'll want to double that again. So we go from a £150 set up to a £600 set up. This however is still about the price of one pro led panel. So it's still a great option on a low budget production and an option I recommend can you afford to shell out a few hundred pounds/bucks on lighting.

However bare this in mind, no lighting solution is the best solution for every situation. Some days LEDs just ain't going to cut it. Sometimes you need something more powerful. We use anything from homemade LEDs to plastering lamps to pro stage lights depending on the job. Knowing what the best tools to use for each job is what will make your films look better, not the fact that you spent $7000 dollar on lighting panels. 

A lot of our pickup outdoor scenes in Legacy Of Thorn had to be quick, All of them were lit using this portable set up and available light and that is really the secret to make LEDs work in large areas. Using them to highlight what is already there. This way you can still have control over what your film looks like, whilst utilising the light around you. Especially if you do your research into the locations lighting ahead of time.

The trick with lighting is understand the strengths and weaknesses of different types of lights, tungsten lights are still cheaper and in my opinion give a warmer, nicer, brighter light despite thier drawbacks. But I certainly can't deny the usefulness of LEDs and I certainly intend to replace my tungsten kit with them eventually, but for the level of light you need on a film set you can be looking at some serious money.

But a few hundred pounds is still a lot of money for low/no budget filmmakers. However there is a slightly cheaper option when it comes to portable LEDs if your willing to put some time in, but I'll talk about that next week ;)

MJ

IF YOU FOUND THIS HELPFUL OR HAVE ANY QUESTIONS THEN PLEASE DROP THEM IN THE COMMENTS BELOW. 




Monday, 14 April 2014

SEEING THE LIGHT : Our £100 Lighting Set Up

MJ Dixon is an Award Winning Filmmaker and Director of Low Budget worldwide releases including Slasher House and Legacy Of Thorn. He has also seen over 30 music videos and shorts appear on major TV channels around the world as well as running filming workshop The Micro Budget Massacre. He mostly spends his time leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong and hoping each time that his next leap, will be the leap home. 

READ FIRST!! Once again, please understand that this is just my outlook and opinion on aspects of filmmaking, Im not saying its right or wrong, it's just how I do things and how I view things, Filmmaking is about listening to everyone, your peers, professionals and everything in-between. This article is here to be nothing more than helpful to people looking to make movies, hopefully thats you. 

CAUTION : Obviously working with any electrics that create heat is dangerous, make sure any lights you get have the required protective glass and caging and of course just like tungsten lights be aware that, if not set up correctly, then it can, like anything on set, be very, very dangerous.

Lighting is the most important tool at your disposal when in comes to shooting anything. That sounds obvious, I know, but in advent of DSLRs and their ability to shoot in low light conditions, I slowly watched a lot of filmmakers around me slowly begin to ignore lightning all together as they struggled less and less to get a 'usuable' image, and slowly they stop reaching for the best image. 

Shooting in available light, is great. It's cheap, it's quick and it's easy and it's something I employ from time to time depending on the situation. That however simply doesn't always cut it, especially if you want to make dynamic looking films. Shooting in flat available light and colour grading after is brilliant for a quick fix, but really learning to light your films will a world of difference and will set your films apart from the standard colour graded footage that has become so popular in recent years. 

The trouble here, is that lighting equipment can set you back by thousands of pounds/dollars/euros to get a simple set up. The fact is though, it doesn't have to.  Our set up cost us, literally, just over £100 and I've never had to replace it.

Our £100 Lighting Set Up

I've shot for over 3 years now on a set up that cost me £100.75p (that 75p drove my OCD crazy). It's made up of three 500w work lamps and two 500w floor lamps. All these lights have lit everything I have made in the since 2011, including 2 feature film, half a dozen short films and over a dozen Music videos that have aired on major tv channels across the world. They run off a standard mains adapter and fit in a medium sized travel bag (although it is heavy) and it has never let me down. You can buy these things at most hardware shops and if you shop around I imagine you'll find an even better deal than we got. 




For barn doors, my set up becomes super, super low budget. It involves aluminium BBQ trays (6 for £1) and some pretty standard acetate for 50p an a3 sheet from the craft shop pinned to the trays with metal clips that come in packs of 20 from the £store. It's the most low-fi set up you will ever see in your life, but film is about the destination not the journey. For diffusing. I used greaseproof paper, and just cut it to size it cost about 50p a roll. I've bought one roll in 3 years. 

When I'm attaching BBQ trays to sheets of coloured plastic and hooking them on plastering lights, clients, crew, cast all look at me like I'm a mental case. However when they see the final product all that goes away when they see the result that I get. It's doesn't matter how you get your look as long as you get it (safely of course).





It may seem a little crude, but it gets the job done and I swear by in for any filmmakers that struggle to afford equipment. The only small drawback is that using acetate this close to heat source usually melts it out of shape after a day shoot. So I find that I buy new gels as needed per shoot, On average it usually costs me £1 to replace them. 

Lighting Set Up Cost Total = £104.25

The reason they work however is nothing to do with thier wattage, or brightness, or BBQ trays or how they plug in. No they work because I learned how to use them effectively and when you are shooting on something like an SLR, it's more important to understand how to light your scenes than ever, because it's the difference between a 'usable' pictures and something professional looking. 


 

On our latest feature Legacy Of Thorn, almost every scene was lit using this set up. 

I learnt to light properly on digital video and transfered those skills in the advent of DSLRs. it an important skill to learn and once you get it it will change the way you think about your films forever.  

I also understand that LED lights are becoming more common place, but currently a decent 'professional' set up is far from affordable off the shelf, although it doesn't have to be. I'll talk about that next time.

MJ

IF YOU FOUND THIS HELPFUL OR HAVE ANY QUESTIONS THEN PLEASE DROP THEM IN THE COMMENTS BELOW. 

Monday, 7 April 2014

SELECT YOUR WEAPON : What To Shoot Your Indie Movie On

I think its fair to say, that technology has moved on quite rapidly in the last half decade, a positive of this? We now have access to amazing filmmaking technology and that technology is becoming less and less expensive every month. However, the downside? Choosing a camera can be a bit of minefield if you don't know anything about them, and that can lead to worrying about making the right choice. I'm here to tell you that it might not be that important.  



When I was a teenager, back in 90's the simple fact was that you just shot on what you could, because not every family could afford the expense of a video camera. So it was either shoot on your Uncle's VHS-C camera, with its blurry viewfinder ( LCD screens were a dream of the future) or nothing. So I learned not to picky early on, and just work with what I had. 

I just wanted to make movies and it wasn't important to me that I couldn't get hold of the best cameras on offer, I just wanted to make movies and that was that, I would jump any technical hurdle to do it. For me, things have not changed, although they have become much, much easier. 

KNOW YOU ENEMY

First of all let me start by saying that, it IS important to choose the right camera for your project. The approach now for newbies is just to grab a DSLR with a kit lens and think that it will solve all your problems, but the fact is that SLR's aren't suited for everything, although I do agree that they are at least a pretty well rounded camera for a beginner or those on a low budget when it comes to imagery alone, they do come with 'hurdles' that must be jumped. But I'll talk about that another time. 

My point is that choosing the right camera for your project is important. To a degree. Depending on if you're shooting a documentary, a promo, a music video or a narrative will most likely dicatate what kind of camera your going to use. If you have a budget then your choices will grow and if not chances are you'll have to work with what you've got, but none of that should ever stop you from shooting something, because a camera does not dictate how good of a filmmaker you are, how you solve problems does. 


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Camera's are more accessible than ever now, you can pick up a DSLR that shoots Hd footage brand new for £200 right now and start shoot nice looking footage. You can get an HD (Shooting in 1080!) camera with Ninja Turtles stickers on for £30 right now and just start shooting. It's just about knowing your limits, jumping the hurdles and working with them to solve the problems they present to you. You can shoot a movie on you phone now with relative ease, ON YOUR PHONE!!! (Note : this blog was written in 2014)

We shot a little practical joke Trailer for April 1st in 2014, and we decided to try and utilise stuff we had to hand, which was an iPhone and an old rowing machine that we dismantled and used as a slider. It had a few draw backs, but it came out ok for a first crack at using a phone to shoot a movie. 



WHAT YOU SHOOT ON IS NOT IMPORTANT (Kinda)

I went to University with people who wouldn't shoot on anything but film, they refused. They we're waiting till they could afford to shot thier 35mm feature and as a result a lot of them are now married with kids or have full time jobs at a supermarket or a call centre and, of course, never made their movie. The same goes for a lot of filmmakers I meet now, the are waiting for their budget so they can shoot on a 'Red' but of course that budget doesn't come because they won't budge or compromise and so haven't proven they can make anything and probably never will. By the time they can afford to shoot on a Red it will be dead tech and we'll have moved onto 17K or whatever is the future of film format happens to be.

In 2009 I planned to shoot my first feature Creepsville on a £300 Panasonic 3ccd Camcorder (man was 3ccd important back then), about a month before shooting, the Univeristy stores guys told us they had some Sony V1 cam's and that we could borrow them after hours outside of term time when no one was using them. We jumped at it, because although it's important to get by with what you've got, it's also important to shoot on the best possible equipment that you can, as long as it's not harmful to your movie. 

On Slasher House I looked at renting a Red, however the rental for 2 weeks in 2010 was about £5000, that was our entire budget, so that would have left us no money for location, costume, travel, resources, food etc. I decided that it wasn't worth struggling through the rest of the movie with no more resources and so we shot on a Canon 550d (back then with 2 lenses and an SD card cost me £1000) which I bought rather than rented, which meant that we had it permanently for the rest of the films shoot.

The fact is that, you should of course use the very best equipment that is available to you (but that is completely relative)  if you can use a Red or a Black Magic or a GH4 or whatever and can afford the extra cash for storage, then by all means do it. As long as it not detrimental to your project. Ultimately though the truth is this, you can shoot on whatever you want as long as you have a great story (and decent sound!). As long as its engaging your general audience doesn't care if shot on a £40,000 Red setup, a DSLR, A phone or a £30 quid HD camera with Ninja Turtles stickers on it. There really is no excuse. 

Now go shoot something :)

Just remember that what you shoot on is not a substitute for talent or skill and no camera is going to make you a better cinematographer or filmmaker the same way that no camera will make you a worse one. 

MJ

IF YOU FIND THIS BLOG USEFUL. PLEASE SHARE. You can keep up to date with our filming goings on at our FACEBOOK PAGE :)


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Monday, 24 March 2014

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION : Getting The Most Out Of Your Set

READ THIS** Ok once again, this is just my approach to filmmaking, its not here to cause offence or tell you you're doing it wrong or that i'm doing it right, its just here to share my approach to the process. There is no right way, if this all seems to basic for you then maybe you don't need to read it, or it might serves as a nice refresher for you, it purpose however is to help people who don't know where to begin. But once again this is just how I do things and you don't have to listen to it. 

Locations are extremely important when working on any film. However if you're working on a low budget movie, it can make or break your film. I've lost count of the amount of films I've seen filmed in someone's mom's kitchen, living room, back yard, the field out the back of thier house. I'm not judging, you have to work with what you've got, I mean the sheer amount of movies I shot as a teenager in these kinds of environments is staggering, But it really helped me learn many filmmaking lessons, the most important one being, a good location is everything. 

FINDING LOCATIONS

When I was writing Creepsville, I spend a good few weeks wondering around at night, To judge what the locations would actually look like after dark. It would amaze you the amount of sets I've been on where people have done a recce during the day and then been surprised to find that it was completely unusable after dark. So I waited till the environments were how I would want to use them and then wandered around finding interesting locations to shoot in, places that were well lit or just looked interesting. Then I looked at which of those we could shoot legally (without a permit) and then chose my locations around that. 

For one of the films set pieces I knew that I wanted to use a garage space that they had at the university. I'd used it in my short film Before The Dawn (2006) and it had added incredible production value to my little low budget short and knowing I had access to it in the evenings, I wrote it in. We spent about 4 nights shooting one night inside and then 3 nights on the exterior before our lead took ill for a couple of weeks, knocking us back and behind schedule. 

LOSING LOCATIONS

The Original Garage Scene from Creepsville
About a week later I was wandering past the garage on my way to the University and noticed that the garage looked exteremly light inside. I got closer, only to find that they had completely removed the roof. I was in a panic as we still had about 4 more interior shots to tie the whole inside and outside scenes together. The next day I returned to find that the whole building had just gone, just like that. No warning, no nothing. We couldn't complain, as they had been kind enough to let us use it for free. But we did lose one of the biggest, most expensive looking scenes in the movie. Which was down to some solid acting by two of our actors and of course the huge expansive realism of the location.

The less ideal Reshoot Scene set in House
Luckily one of the most important things about shooting movies is 'Always have a back up', especially when it comes to Locations. We had to re shoot the scene in an abandoned house (which we had looked at for choice when scouting) about a month later, it still worked, but not on the same scale. We also lost our only real stunt sequence in the movie because of it. But more on that another time.

The biggest loss, was that the garage was a working garage during the day, and boy did it look like it. That added so much production value that we just couldn't have put in ourselves building it as a set, there were old fridges, trees cuttings mattresses, two large pick up trucks and oil and dirt everywhere,  it was incredible and it felt, well, real. Because it was.

USING LOCATIONS AS A CHARACTER

EXT. SLASHER HOUSE
INT. SLASHER HOUSE
When we came to shooting Slasher House, we began to struggle finding a building that was run down enough, yet safe enough to let us shoot in throughout the UK. We sat down and started to talk about building the set, as a bunch of interchangeable panels. It wouldn't be ideal and we would lose the realism that I wanted for the film. In my eyes the house had always been a character in the film, an ominous presence and I felt that bulding it on a set would see us lose that. 

Luckily, thanks to our leading man Adam Williams, we found an abandoned prison on the Isle Of Man, who, after a bit of persuasion, allowed us to shoot there for a small price. Of course we had to get our cast and crew out to an isle off the coast of England, but, once again, thats a whole other story. The location was everything I was looking for, it had a character all of its own, that we couldn't have artificially created in a million years. It may have cost us about a third of our budget, but hell, it worth it. 


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DOUBLING UP LOCATIONS

When it came to finding locations for Legacy. Of Thorn, we had to be a bit smarter. It was written around 2 main locations, but in reality was probably about 5 or 6. The trick we had to employ here was finding an existing location that served as a potential production base whilst also bring production value to the film whilst at the same time encompassing all the other locations that we needed throughout the film. A warehouse, a hospital ward, a rooftop and some kind of medium sized cabin. A lot to ask, but essential in making a low budget film like Legacy of Thorn work. Boy did we get lucky.

The school that doubled as Avondale High
Our producer Anna managed to get us into an abandoned school complex that housed all but 2 of our locations. It was kind of incredible and, of course, there's nothing that looks more like a school than a school. However because of the size of the complex the other locations, 'the warehouse', 'the rooftop', 'the abandoned outhouse'. They were all there too and they had all been used and then abandoned, and looked horrible, which made them perfect for our movie. 

The school, we had to clean up, as it needed to look operational, which also included us re flooring the gym, whilst also trying to shoot scenes (not fun for sound). 

But everything else was gritty and dirty and perfect for the look of the movie. If we had tried to turn a set into this kind of thing, we would have been well over budget by the end of it and still would have had nowhere near the realism that we wanted. The warehouse room doubled for the store room with some clever shelf movement, but still leaving us with that used looked we wanted.

The Gym we had to refloor for the Cheerleader Massacre
I think when finding locations when you are on a shoe string budget, you have to try and be efficient. If we have one main location, I always try and make sure that we can also house the cast and crew there if possible. This also saves travel headaches, and keeps your head in the game. It also means that you have your actors with you at all times (as long as they are scheduled to be there for a few days) when it comes to quick retakes or ADR or anything like that. 

I understand that getting a location to shoot your movie seems very obvious, but by being meticulous and getting the right location will change everything about your film. It will add expense and style and most of all it will really help your actors get into scene and character and all of this will improve the final product immensely. Or maybe your film takes place in your mom's kitchen, in which case ignore all of the above.

MJ

IF YOU FIND THIS BLOG USEFUL. PLEASE SHARE. You can keep up to date with our filming goings on at our FACEBOOK PAGE :)


MYCHO MICROBUDGET MASSACRE MASTERCLASS

ALSO IF YOU'RE BASED IN UK, MICROBUDGET MASSACRE AND THE MILTON KEYNES FILM NETWORK ARE HOSTING THE FIRST OF THIS YEARS SPECIAL 'MYCHO MICROBUDGET MASSACRE MASTERCLASS' LIVE SHOWS ON TUESDAY 8TH MARCH.  


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Monday, 17 March 2014

CHOOSING YOUR VICTIMS : CASTING A LOW BUDGET MOVIE

When casting its true that I usually make the final decision on who we go with, but most of the leg work in regards to dealing actors and their auditions before we start shooting come down to my Producer, Business Partner and Better Half, Anna. Who not only gets the talent there, but spends most of her time dealing with them on set. It only made sense that she shared her wisdom when it come to the delicate and yet deadly world of... Casting.

As a low budget production company we rely heavily on recommendations and professional contacts when casting. You need a cast that will power through a difficult shoot with the end goal in sight: the finished film which everyone has put their heart into and everyone can be proud of. The last thing you need on a low budget film set when everyone's knackered, starving and freezing is constant demands for brown M&Ms and a bloody great Bengal tiger.


The most important thing for us when casting, much more important than experience, is that we can work with the actor to get the best out of them, us and the film itself.


Jade Came recommended by another filmmaker
The process we have found works best is to have a mixture of casting within our extended circle, people we know or people who have worked with people we know, and using casting sites to find our cast. We shortlist the applicants down to the people who have the right look for the role and ask them for a video audition to save them the expense of travelling to us. We give them a portion of the script to read to camera and send to us which gives us a good idea of their commitment and acting ability.


From the start, in the casting call itself, it's always best to make what you want from them very clear - if you want nudity in your film (as we almost always do making low budget horror) tell them exactly what you'll need so nothing is ambiguous. If you do require nudity, be respectful and put the actor at ease. 'Get your boobs out and I'll make you a star, baby' was never the best chat up line and I'm guessing they've heard it before. What one person could see as harmless flirting may be extremely off putting to an actor when you're asking them to take their clothes off. You might mean it playfully enough, but a lot of models and actors have had bad experiences with perverts with cameras who pretend they're making a film. Just be professional. Tell them you'll have a closed set and, in the case of actresses, you'll keep the male presence on set for that scene down to a minimum. That said, if they do show any reluctance to do nudity in a scene that requires it, don't cast them. You don't want to make anyone scared or uncomfortable and it could lead to you having an actress on set on the day who won't do the scene or may not show up at all. Be respectful and be completely up front. Also, put chastity belts and/or shock collars on your crew as necessary. You know which ones I mean, yeah those guys.


Let them know how tough it will be, they probably won't believe you but tell them anyway. Tell them it will be long hours, very little sleep and difficult conditions if you don't, you can't really blame them for complaining when they get on set, especially if they have never done a long shoot away from home before. But tell them it's worth it, because the end result will make you all proud. We use the very helpful mantra 'pain is temporary, film is forever', good old Troma!


Paris was an actor in our extended social networks
If someone's taken the time to apply for your project, take the time to respond to them even if they're not successful and to thank them for showing some interest. It's a tough world for actors at the moment with so much competition for paid work that it's difficult to put the time into applying for something they may not earn any money from. It may take a while to respond to everyone, but it's worth doing to show them some gratitude. Casting sites sometimes make this a bit difficult but when people apply by email it's no problem.


If you can only pay expenses (which again is usually the position with us in our collaborative projects) make that very clear too. If you can't pay an actor up front, explain that but tell them that if the film goes into profit then that will be split between everyone involved, just don't make any promises you won't be able to keep. It's very difficult to make money out of an independent film so make sure they know that. There are things you can do for them like provide them with references, recommend them for future work and help them along in their career with head shots, help with showreels, etc. You have skills that are worth money too.


I can normally tell whether we'll be able to work with someone from my initial communication. If they seem disinterested or unhelpful at that early stage, it's unlikely to get better. If I have to constantly chase them for a response or their audition it may be that their heart isn't in it. If they're way too over the top and are 'poking' me on Facebook every other day, I might end up killing them on a hectic film set. People are busy and sometimes life gets in the way but just use your best judgment of how well you think you can work together and make sure the relationship can be a productive one for all involved.


Also, like I said at the beginning, the independent film network is usually a fantastic and supportive place to be. I've been more than happy to recommend actors I've worked with to other filmmakers and I've also asked for references off filmmakers as well. This way, the people who are great to work with will be pushed forward and the people who aren't won't be. It's invaluable when working within low budget constraints to get some kind of vibe about how they are to work with from other people. If someone was a no show on someone else's film for no good reason then you don't want to take the risk with them on yours. Ask questions you feel would be the most important for your project: Did they perform well and were they respectful to the set and the other cast and crew? Did they throw a massive diva strop and murder anyone? Well...that they weren't supposed to murder.


Craig and Jane were cast in Legacy based on their Previous work and their auditions

It's worth bearing in mind that actors speak to each other too and will compare their experiences in dealing with you as well. They're your family for the duration of the project, just treat them like that. Unless you hate your family, in which case maybe treat them like your therapist's family, I guess.

Anna

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Monday, 10 March 2014

STORYBOARDING : THE ART OF PRE PRODUCTION

One of the first things I do after we lock the script down is start Storyboarding. Now I know there are many schools of thought on this, some people don't like them, some people will only shoot if the entire film is storyboarded and some filmmakers fall into the middle. I would be one of those filmmakers.

See for me how a film is going to look visually is massively important, in regards to shot choice, colour and even placement of actors, I like to think about all that before going into a movie I'm shooting. Weather it be for me or someone else, its important to try and use that visual style to convey tone, size and of course most importantly use it to tell your story better. 

Storyboard from Creepsville 2009
I come from a background in graphic design and so when it comes to storyboards, I get to save on budget by doing them myself, which suits me as a low budget filmmaker, although I know guys who have less budget than us who hire people to draw storyboards because they find them THAT important. It helps filmmakers on various levels, whether it be shooting faster on the day, locking down there ideas or conveying the visual ideas to other crew members. Every filmmaker i've ever met has different reasons for using them.  

However my problem with storyboards lies here, because I have a habit of going into too much detail. On my first feature, Creepsville, I started spending anytime we weren't shooting drawing storyboards out for the upcoming evenings/weeks shoots. Which is a time taking process, but our cinematographer decided half way through the shoot that he wanted them to make sure we got all the coverage we needed and so I was happy to help him as much as could to speed the process along.

Storyboards from Slasher House 2010
When it came to Slasher House, it was requested of me that I storyboard the entire movie for the cinematographer from the offset, who wasn't going to be me at the time, and so I started drafting each shot. After about 2 weeks I had storyboarded the first 5 pages (albeit in great detail) and realised that this simply wouldn't be ready for shooting if I carried on this way. 

After that the cinematographer pulled out and I realised I was going to be stepping in to fill his shoes and so I looked at what I needed to storyboard and decided on only storyboaring the bigger set pieces in the film. Each one still took me weeks, but this made it much more manageable at the time, Because quite honestly, story boarding simple conversation scenes and even very basic action stuff suits became more trouble than it was worth very quickly. 

But an interesting thing happened as I started working out the movie visually, it started to get its own distinctive voice. When I draw I use specific colour pallets, something I carried over from drawing comic books, and it wasn't long before I fell in love with the storyboards visual style and I
The final look of the film based on the Storyboards
realised I was going to have to try and achieve the look of the storyboards in the finished film. We shot some test stuff and graded it and for some reason it worked(This might sound strange but the films storyboards were based on a very intense green and red scheme which I figured would never work in terms of a film), and so pre production became geared toward also making that colour scheme work within the film. 

Less detailed storyboards for Legacy Of Thorn 2012
When it came to Legacy Of Thorn, I had this in mind from the start and so Storyboarding began as a process of quicker sketches to secure the shots we needed for the much more intense action sequences and everything else was planned out verbally in production meetings and then on set when actors were running lines, I would be looking at angles if I hadn't pre planned them already (which wasn't always possible due to the tight schedule) but I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted from the get go. 

What I've learned to do is applying Storyboarding where it's really needed and use pre planning to shoot more conventional stuff is the best approach for me. Storyboarding is useful to me and I enjoy it to a degree, but ultimately it's not always nessassary and really comes down to is how confident you are that you can get what you need in the day in time you have to get it. It does have other important uses within the process though.

So the question is are storyboards important. I would say that,
to me? Yes. They help me find my films voice, and help me to find a better way to tell my story using my visuals. They also help me shoot more intricate scenes a lot quicker, which is helpful on the usual tight schedules that we end up having and on top of that they force me to thick about my film and every shot in much greater depth, So to me they serve a great many purposes. 

However famed action director John Woo doesn't use them, and it might be that you just want to figure out what you're doing when you get there, it really doesn't matter in the end as long as you get what you want out of your film. 

MJ

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