Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Tip #61: Don't forget to document the process

By Dan Parkes (Director)
When we began work on Ambleton Delight we soon realised it was ambitious enough to warrant some form of documentation (...a feature film with a named actor, dozens of locations and speaking roles, from pre-to-post in 9 months and on less than £6000...?). However the busy rigors of preparation and organisation meant we did not follow through on it, something we later regretted. We did have a couple of handycams on set at different times and Itsuka Yamasaki (Producer) and Andre Marshall (camera assistant) did film some behind-the-scenes when they had a a rare opportunity. This material can be seen in some of the 7 part Making of series now on YouTube (Part One starts here).

Above: Producer/writer Itsuka Yamasaki
films the actors in make-up.

We previously mentioned about having a dedicated stills photographer for at least one of the days, if not all. But also not to be overlooked is to have someone to officially document your behind-the-scenes process on video. Having a film that is about how you made the film is something that is not only going to be of sentimental value; for publicity having an official Making Of that can also later accompany the film on DVD is an essential part of any marketing strategy.

Often film students are crying out for an opportunity to work on a film set for experience. If you do not feel confident enough giving them an actual position in the crew then it is well worth thinking about having them film you making it. Make sure they are aware of what you expect -for example possibly interviewing key members of cast and crew on the day when appropriate.

Tips for organising a Making Of:
  • Don't forget to ensure cast and crew contracts include information on also appearing in the Making of, so it is part of their contract
  • Have somebody separate from cast and crew organise it (such as a film student)
  • Keep them in the loop on the production as much as possible
  • Give them a list of not-to-be-missed scenes to film
  • Give them a list of cast and crew to interview, with some possible questions if need be
  • Ensure they do not interfere with main filming
  • Make sure they also follow any legal or health and safety guidelines (such as waivers etc)
  • Let them know what you expect as a final product (e.g. a 20 minute Making Of documentary) and also your expectations regarding the quality.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Tip #60: Continuity is critical

By Daniel Parkes (Director)

Not long ago film sets had a "continuity girl". This term has been replaced with the more politically correct "script supervisor" a job that entails more than just continuity. But that should not undermine the importance of continuity. Since most films are shot out of sequence and on different days, maintaining the consistency of characters, wardrobe and props over the duration of the film is an unenviable but critical task. However, failure to do so can cause an audience to be distracted from the story.

The fact that it is important is seen in that almost every film ever made has some at least some minor continuity issues. The most common are:

Common Continuity issues
  • different head positions (especially when filming reversals)
  • changes in hair position (especially women e.g. -behind the ear or not)
  • hats/clothing (buttoned or unbuttoned, collars up or down?)
  • food (if an eating scene how much food is on the plate at different stages of the scene)
  • cigarettes (length of)
  • weather/lighting (bright day, dark day)
With the popularity of such film websites as IMDB, it has now become a popular pastime to spot continuity errors in films (check the goofs section on most IMDB entries). Apparently, one of the earliest continuity errors appears in Charlie Chaplin's The Property Man (1914) when his hat momentarily disappears when he steps into a room.

Five Famous Continuity Errors
  1. The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy’s hair noticeably changes length when she first encounters the Scarecrow. Her ruby-red shoes shoes inexplicably become black when she and the Scarecrow fight with the apple tree.
  2. The Godfather. When Sonny and his car are shot up at the toll booth the shattered windshield is shown undamaged in the next shot.
  3. Pretty Woman. When Julia Roberts’ character is eating breakfast, she goes back and forth between eating a pancake and a bagel.
  4. Return of the Jedi. When Lando says to Han Solo, “Go on you pirate,” his whole outfit changes. Not only does it change colour but the strap and rank changes sides.
  5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. When Harry is sorted into Gryffindor he sits down on the right side of the table, and a few moments later he is magically sitting on the left side of the table next to Hermione.
The solution to avoid continuity errors in the pre-digital age, was to have not only a person dedicated to taking lots of notes, but also use a Polariod camera to catalogue a visual record. With now even the average mobile phone taking high resolution images, photographs can play a major role in helping prevent possible issues.

Preventative measures:
  • Keep actors aware of their own continuity
  • Shoot a master shot that becomes the template for all close ups
  • Have a script supervisor who pays close attention to details
  • Make notes in the script to remind you and the team of potential issues
  • Take digital photographs of the cast and set at all times
When you discover continuity issues and errors during post-production, an editor's trick is to cover these by cutting to wide shots or cutaways that distract the viewer from noticing.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Tip #59: Getting extras (background actors)

By Itsuka Yamasaki (Producer/writer)

An extra is someone who appears in a film in a nonspeaking or nonperforming capacity normally in the background and hence also known as background actors or background performers, background artists or simply background.The easiest and proper way to find extras is to approach an agency. There are many around that specialise in sourcing background artists. However for most indie films you won't have a budget for this and you will need to find extras yourself. Here are some ideas for finding them inexpensively -or possibly even for free.

1. Production team/cast/crew members.

2. Family and friends.

3. Interested organisations/drama groups
What we mean here are organisations that have an interest in films in general or the theme of your film, maybe a local theatre group or a community group. For example, in Ambleton Delight we had a village council scene with 12 male councillors. Producer Sinéad approached a local drama group and we could find enough men perfect for the scene. You could also approach model agencies as some models are interested in moving into films as well.

Above: Some of the councillor extras in Ambleton Delight
came from a local drama group.

4. Schools/Colleges/University.
Film students are probably ideal but they don't have to be. I did my degree (nothing to do with films) in New Zealand and while I was there Edward Zwick was filming Last Samurai; We would find ads in our canteen for young lads (of any nationality) who could play soldiers. Thought it was a great idea.

A word of caution....

Although your budget may be limited, you would want to make sure that the extras are right for the scene. Recently I saw an indie film that had a cinema release. There was a press conference scene in the film and the extras playing the reporters were more like grandads in a tweed jacket, mums who had been shopping, and students - nothing like reporters! It's important to find the "right" group of people as well as to dress them appropriately.

What you want to watch out for is that a lot of people who have never been in a film tend to look directly at the camera. Plus unlike professional actors they are not "continuity-aware", so you need to pay extra attention to their continuity too.

Another very important thing to remember is that you need to have everyone sign a waiver, even if they are your friends or family. OK, you probably won't need it but having a habit to take care of the legal side is very important and can save you possible heartache in the future....

Do you want to be an extra? Here are some links to check: