Tuesday, 7 April 2009

My Straight8 Experience!

I’ve decided to write a blog about my straight8 experience!
I’ve never made a film before and never used a super 8 camera so I have no idea what possessed me to enter a competition such as this!!
My background is Musical Theatre, not film however I have been freelancing in one of the top commercials and music video production companies around- Partizan.

It’s a very inspiring place to work and everyone there is ambitious and creative!

My very good friend Ollie Kristian who works as a creative at Leo Burnett entered this competition last year and his film was shown at Cannes.
I was very impressed and proud of what he had achieved and obviously hadn’t taken into consideration how hard it would actually be to make myself.

So, I had a little idea in my head since October 2008 and told a couple of close friends including my composer friend Sena who liked the idea. We were all a bit concerned that something similar had been done before but it is very rare to have an original idea these days. After a lot of Internet research, nothing popped up so the idea remained. I signed up to the Straight8 mailing list.

Christmas came and went and I hadn’t heard from Straight8 as to when the competition was opening. In the back of my mind I didn’t think I would actually do it!
So it was February when my friend at Partizan Lydia Marina asked if I was still interested in making a straight8 film. I told her I had an idea and she spurred me on with the entry!
Another Partizan friend Paul Jackson came on board as a possible dop. Just had to sort out the storyboard and camera.

My Dad had a very simple Canon Zoom 250 super 8 camera that he bought 30 years a go! Ollie Kristian had it reconditioned for his film last year and surprisingly with a little work it still worked after all those years. I tested a film out and was quite happy with it.

March turned out to be a very busy month! Along with my freelance production work, I teach dance and drama and this month had exams, festivals and shows almost every weekend!! We found a spare Sunday to do a test shoot but couldn’t get the actors, dancers or choreographer so it was just Lydia, Paul and myself working out the shots with us standing in for all the parts. Manic to say the least!
With a productive day I felt much better about the film and we’d tied up a few queries and thought of a new ending. A few people were concerned that this new twist was too similar to a Prodigy Music video. I was asking lots of people for advice including my well-respected film director friend Bill Clark who I regularly work with at http://www.origamifilms.com
He said, “I’d do it. It'll be great experience. And who knows, as you go through the creative process ideas develop and new twists appear maybe you'll come up with a slant that takes it into new territory. It's really, really difficult to come up with ideas that are totally original. I interviewed Joe Elliott from Def Leppard once and asked him about how songwriters could come up with original ideas and he said that they couldn't. It's basically impossible to uninvent history.”

I had faith in my idea again and continued producing it. Finding locations, cast and wardrobe.
So, I needed two strong dancers to play the leads, a Postman and a Dancer and I had just the people in mind. Simeon and Alana. Both professional Actor/singer/dancers from good drama schools.
They agreed on the only Sunday possible- Mothers Day!
My choreographer friend Becca Allen was on board and I even roped a few friends and ex students to be my extra dancers.

The week before was stressful! Lydia had to go to Morocco with work (and have dinner with Bono and The edge) and Paul was very busy too. We didn’t have time to talk about things and I wasn’t even sure if they could make the filming date. Unfortunately by the end of the week I found out that they were unable to make it. I was very grateful for their initial help but suddenly felt scared… I was on my own!

The thing with straight8 is you have to edit in camera which means shooting in sequence and working out exact timings.
I spent Saturday night going over and over the shots on my storyboard and hoping that it would all come together the next day.
Thankfully my Dad was around and he said he would be my cameraman. What a relief! So basically my Dad and I were every crew member from art department to gaffer!
10am start and Alana and Sim turn up.
You are given a unique reference number that has to be included in the first 3 seconds of your film. My film is all shot from the knee down so I decided to write the URN on a shoe.
First shot of the day all set up and I tell my Dad to turn off the camera between shots and only turn it on once completely ready to roll! He tells me not to ‘tell him what to do’ as he has had the camera for 30 odd years!
Test the light metre and Dad opens the blind and accidentely presses the trigger! NO!!! Surely that is going to be my opening shot- the ceiling, not good! We all laugh about it but decide to be a lot more careful for the rest of the day! Dad apologises!!!

Wow, time certainly flies by when making a film. So much to get through and worried about the light. Becca was arriving with the other dancers at 1.30pm to teach the dance and at 12pm we still had 7 shots to do in several different locations! Also Sim had to go to a Mothers Day lunch at 12.30pm for an hour. How can we make this happen? A few changes to locations, a couple of shots cut out and Sim goes off. Frantically trying to find another young man to be Sim’s feet but no luck. So off we go with a sandwich in hand (thanks Mum) to Chorleywood Station for a mammoth shot! My poor Dad ends up changing trousers and shoes on the platform and becomes the Postman and I end up filming. We rehearse it and then a train comes in! Too late to get that but we know that another train is coming in 7 minutes. More rehearsal and we see a train in the background, I shout out that we have to go for it! So, now I’m filming my Dad’s feet alongside Alana. It’s running fairly smoothly and they both get on the train and after a couple of seconds jump off again and Dad shouts “Did you get it? You have stopped haven’t you? Don’t say you filmed us jumping off!” I couldn’t remember when I cut!! How awful! I really hope I cut before they got off but won’t know until I see the real thing!

Back just in time for Becca, Sim and the dancers Johnny, Mel and Zoie to arrive.
Still missing two others Josh and Kirsty but we had to get going with learning the dance and setting up the shots in the tiny hall down my road.
Phone call from Josh to say he’d forgotten (bottle of wine for forgiveness gratefully accepted- thanks Josh) but Kirsty was on her way so that was good.

Dance was looking great but the light was fading badly so Dad went down to the cowshed to dig out some lights that our lighting expert neighbour was storing there! Saved the day hopefully with a floodlight and a few kitchen spotlights!

Decided to change the ending again- not very moral but it works well (thanks Ollie and Christen for this advice).

I took the completed film to Soho film lab and handed it in with butterflies in my tummy hoping it will be all right.
My friend Sena from Senadee- http://www.myspace.com/senadee
composed a lovely piece of music to complement the film and we finalised it the morning before the deadline. I don’t expect the film to get shown at any screenings and I have no idea how the film will come out if at all but it was a great experience and I’m pleased with myself for completing it!

Thanks to everyone mentioned in this blog including my Postmen Dennis and James for lending me their uniform and postbags!