Thursday, 30 December 2010

Tip #58: Give actors what they need

(Interview with 'Ambleton Delight' cast member Andrew Elias)

Following on from our interview with leading actor Jos Lawton, we have asked supporting actor Andrew Elias, who provided a memorable performance as Town Clerk Colin Wilkinson along side the Mayor played by Brian Capron, regarding practical ways of making life easier for an actor on a low budget film.

What do you need from a director prior to filming?
I really appreciate being able to sit down with the director to discuss my character. It sounds obvious, but it’s amazing how many directors send supporting actors a character description, and then expect them to turn up on set and ‘act’ without any further character discussion, whilst focusing entirely on the leads. Every director works differently, but being able to sit down (even just for five minutes) and chat about the character is essential. It helps the actor know what the director’s expectations of both the actor and the character are. It also means that there doesn’t need to be any ‘what is my motivation?’ questions on set during filming, which can be infuriating to a director trying to stick to a tight schedule.

What do you need from a director on set?
I like to feel that my contribution to the production, no matter how small, is integral to telling the story and fulfilling the director’s vision. A great director is one that makes an actor feel important no matter how small the part. Contrary to popular belief, most actors are insecure about their abilities, so a bit of praise after a shot is also really helpful. I personally liked to be pushed to my limits as an actor. I worked with a director years ago who was making me repeat the same scene over and over, and the rest of the cast said to him ‘Give him a break’, to which he replied: ‘I will only push Andrew as far as I think he can take it, and he’s got a little way to go yet’. How right he was.

What do you need from a director afterwards?
Evaluation is always helpful, especially in a social setting (a pub!) away from set, where you can both relax and discuss informally how the scenes went.

What should they not do?
Break down in tears, smash things up or hit people. happens, and it doesn’t inspire confidence! A pet hate of mine is when directors say ‘do it like this’ and do a specific action, or ‘say it like this’ and adopt a strange accent/intonation. Not only does this make a mockery of the casting process, it is also incredibly soul destroying for an actor and has nothing to do with building character. As I’ve already said, I do liked to be pushed, but there’s a big difference to being stretched as an actor and being asked to do an impersonation of the director.

What can filmmakers/producers do to make your job easier?
Detailed call sheets and frequent correspondence are incredibly helpful. This helps concrete the feeling of ‘belonging’ rather than just ‘passing through’.

What should actors do/not do to make filmmakers' job easier?
Where do we start? Well, Spencer Tracy famously said that to be a good actor you merely have to learn lines and not bump into the furniture! Patience, flexibility and a good sense of humour go along way on a film set. It’s also very important to know where you, as a performer, stand in the ‘pecking order’ on set. For example, the Star can make Big suggestions, a Supporting Actor can make Small suggestions, but an Extra should keep schtum! Patrick Tucker’s Secrets of Screen Acting outlines basic, accepted, screen acting etiquette and is an essential read for actors wishing to avoid any faux pas on set.

For more, check out Andrew Elias' insightful acting blog:

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Tip #57: Film day-for-night

(By Dan Parkes, Director)

As mentioned in the previous post, night shoots are never easy, so it is sometimes more practical to film day-for-night. By means of camera settings and filters and then some post-production colour correction you can take a shot filmed during the day and turn it into night. In Ambleton Delight all of the exterior night shots of the restaurant and Chris' house were done this way. But remember that day-for-night does not always work. Depending on the scene sometimes sunlight can be too strong, building or street lights are not turned on and it can become a post-production headache.

  • Underexpose the image, and then add different filters such as graduated filters to change both the quality and sharpness of the image
  • Use ND filters so you can shoot at or near wide open as you would actually at night
  • An overcast day is generally better -less shadows. If strong sunlight attempt to turn this into moonlight by underexposing.
  • At night colour has less contrast and is more subdued, as it is lit by moonlight. White balance on a yellow or orange card to force a blue tint.
  • Blue gels on lights can also help sell the effect (especially when filming night interiors).
  • Day for Night effects can be added in post in compositing programmes such as Adobe After Effects (check Andrew Kramer's tutorial on this here:

Monday, 13 December 2010

Tip #56: Surviving night shoots

By Dan Parkes (Director)

Even for those who consider themselves 'night owls', filming at night is never easy and poses numerous challenges. But before we look at surviving night shoots, let's establish two key reasons for doing so, which are:

1. Filming an exterior night scene at night
2. Filming interiors at night due to cast/location availability

The first, also described as 'night-for-night' is likely the most obvious reason. The rain scene in Ambleton Delight was filmed this way. It is good to note that our eyes see night in a very different way from how a camera does as our eyes naturally adjust to the low light levels while most cameras struggle to compensate. The two key mistakes filmmakers can make is to either force the camera to see more light (using a wide open aperture or a gain increase) or by overlighting the scene with too many lights. Both will make the camera see more, but the result will not look authentic, either being overlit or too grainy.

  • Only illuminate key objects or areas - for example using practicals from logical sources (i.e. real lights within the scene, such as streetlamps)
  • Use reflectors and white cards to reflect light
  • Use natural elements such as snow if filming during winter, or rain (or by wetting the ground) to create natural reflection and illumination
  • Use natural light -shoot during dusk or twilight -although remember this lasts for less than an hour!
  • If possible do some test filming beforehand at the hours and location you intend to film
Overall night filming survival tips:
  • Preparation/planning -treat it as a normal day with a 'lunch' scheduled
  • Have a well thought out schedule that wastes no time...dead time at night is demoralising and can cause people to go to sleep
  • Make sure actors are scheduled only where necessary (it is good to schedule scenes with the most actors first so that some can go home earlier and only those who are required stay for the whole night)
  • Food and drink are important -liquids such as water and coffee can help keep you awake
  • Consecutive night shoots can for many be easier than one-off shoots, as you can get your body into a pattern
  • Prepare the day before by getting more sleep (like travelling overseas try to adjust to the time zone before you arrive)
  • 4am - 5am is the most difficult hour both mentally and physically -schedule easier scenes to be filmed at this time or have this as the 'lunch' break.