Lessons Learned 4: Actors and Directing

Saturday, August 2nd, 2014 by tommakesmusic

TL:DR – The Director is the boss, the buck stops with you.

The cast of “Are You There?” consisted of friends and family, for the most part. This had good and bad elements.

The good side is that everyone freely offered their time and efforts. Everyone tried their very best and did everything they could to make things work. I think everyone was very natural and I’m happy with most (if not all) of what we captured.
There were several down sides, however.

As we used family and friends, we didn’t have a casting process and missed out on the pre-production that would have forced us to do. We saved time but the actors didn’t really understand quite what the script was about or the story that was in my head and so it wasn’t always easy to get what I needed from them. Being family and friends meant that I couldn’t and wouldn’t be as tough on them as I might be with paid professional actors.

Think of it this way; if the actor doesn’t understand the person they’re portraying, how can they be convincing?

This is the director’s fault :-(

At the same time, you need to be clear enough and confident enough in your vision to ensure that you’re getting the performance you need rather than the one your actors think you need.

This can be a fine line to walk.

Actors tend to have strong personalities and you have to remember to do what’s best for your film without upsetting anyone. But ultimately, what’s on screen counts.

In our case, this meant leaving lots of my carefully written dialogue on the digital cutting-room floor. It was just better to leave our protagonist a mystery than to have five minutes of unnecessary (well-written and clever, of course) waffle removing any mystery to the five minute film. That makes even more sense when the actor interprets things slightly differently than a director wants… Again, directors fault.

On the other hand, if you’ve done all the preparation and worked with your actors and you’re still not getting what you need, then it might be time to recast. Unless there’s a reason you can’t reschedule.., :-(

On “Are You There?” everyone went above and beyond the call of duty in all areas – when you realise that the film was shot in 36 hours on the Monday and Tuesday after Easter 2014, look at the film and watch RJ Woolsey.

RJ actually shaved his head between the flashback scenes and the main mountain footage! Amazing dedication. Thank you RJ!

The single biggest problem with the whole production, however, was my shyness and reluctance to make a “big thing” out of it. This really caused problems. (This is probably not a problem for many directors ;-)

It’s not that we were making “Avatar”, but by not making the film’s importance to me clear, other people just weren’t aware of the effort and time needed, the time, money and effort I had already expended. This meant that there was an atmosphere of “so what” around some of the production. Again, director’s fault – we set the tone on the production.

This reluctance to ask people to make time for pre-production, to being afraid to ask for help, to be pushy, was the single biggest directing fail on “Are You There?”

If you’re going to make a film be aware that it’s always a collaborative process so get everyone on board as soon as possible and get them invested in making the film for themselves as well as you. They’ll keep the momentum going and push you to keep going, even when the doubts set in!

Also, you need to make sure others know you believe in yourself, even if you’re not always full of confidence. That will make them more likely to follow where you lead… Because, when the camera rolls, you (as director) are in charge of leading everyone through the following hours, days or even weeks…

So that seems all negative.., but when the film goes up on YouTube or Vimeo it’s your vision, your creation, more than anyone else’s. “A (your name) film.”

Anyway, that’s it for now. I’m writing this on my phone, in the car, in the pouring rain of a typical August day. In the course of a normal day I don’t get a chance to write much of these blog entries so I grab any chance I can ;-)

Next time: Editing


Lessons Learned 3: Production Essentials

Sunday, July 20th, 2014 by tommakesmusic

TL:DR; More lights, more light, more crew, more time!

With the production of Are You There? fresh (ish) in our heads here are some thoughts about what I (we) will do differently next time! Patrick will add his views to this too, for another perspective.

Camera & Lights: We used the Canon 600d. As good as it was, (it’s mine and I sweated blood to buy it and I love it, but), it definitely performed better with a lot of light. By a lot, I mean more than you’d ever think you’d need! I knew this going into the production, but for budget and time reasons we just didn’t get enough light onto some scenes – even though I knew we needed more going into things, the small crew meant that ideas about lights and generators weren’t possible. Noise is a problem on the 600D image sensor and the more light, the less noise in the image and the better the picture quality. More lights, lights on location and faster lenses would have helped here.

Less Image Noise: We had to use several steps of de-noising on some footage and it definitely was not as good as I had hoped. The solution to the problem is light and lots of it! Light it up and stop it down! Other, better, cameras will have a better sensitivity and may not have quite the same struggle we had to get a clean picture. If you can only afford some things for your film, make sure you have plenty of lights and maybe even a generator for location purposes.

More crew: We made most of this production with a crew consisting of Patrick and myself. We moved the furniture, set up the lights and camera, directed and recorded sound. RJ, our lead actor, helped a lot, as did Zakk and Sharon, but when it came to lighting and camera, set dressing etc. the burden was on us, and me in particular, as I was the one with the ‘vision’ of how I wanted things. This was very stressful and tiring and I always felt that I was forgetting something…

Get your crew together in advance. Do some pre-production with them. Make it clear what you expect from them, then trust them when you get on set. Have meetings, get locations sorted in advance, give everyone a role… Your crew can make the shoot harder or easier and it’s really the director’s fault if a crew member doesn’t know what to do. Also, don’t let crew members drink themselves sick between shooting days ;-) that’s really not helpful!

More time: We shot the whole thing in about 32 hours. That was way too compressed a time frame. It was always rush, rush, rush… Always feeling like we were pushed for time means that we were reluctant to take time to really take stock of scenes and set ups. We gave the actors time to do as many takes as they wanted but we always felt under pressure…

If you’re more prepared and the crew are up to speed, then things will go more smoothly even with a tight schedule. With our limited crew and prep, we put ourselves under more stress than was necessary or helpful.

All these faults are really my responsibility. I can’t lay them at anyone else’s door. But next time (oh, yes! There will be a next time! Ideas are already flowing ;-), next time I will be more prepared and we will do proper pre-production with a fuller crew!

Anyway, I’m sure that Patrick will add his ideas and thoughts but until next time!

Next time: Lessons Learned 4: Actors & Directing


Lessons Learned 2: Budget

Monday, July 14th, 2014 by tommakesmusic

TL:DR You’ll never have enough money! But if you do have some, make sure you see it on screen!

We started the film with a minimal budget, we spent more than we planned and our budget was still under £150 ($200)!

We bought lights, we bought food and we rented a room. We used fuel, we got free stuff from gumtree and we borrowed as much stuff as we could.

Before the production, I was worried about the limited budget. I had wanted to hire lenses, or maybe lights, but was persuaded that the purity of using our own gear and equipment would be more satisfying.

Unfortunately, a lot of stuff (lights) that we eventually bought didn’t make it on screen… To a very real extent that means that the money was wasted.

The same goes for the location we hired… Because of the framing problem (see Lessons learned 1) the room really didn’t add anything to the film – the uniqueness of the room that we chose isn’t on screen due to the restricted framing of the shot. In the end we could have shot it anywhere… Wasted money.

The time involved in organising the sets and locations that didn’t show up well on screen was also time, energy that was wasted unnecessarily – not to mention the added stress involved.

We got a lot of communications equipment off gumtree to use as set dressing, but again, it’s not on screen so the trip to get it was wasted time and fuel. (Anyone want some old BT communications gear? Lol!)

Our lights were ordinary worklights and really not powerful enough, but they were well worth the £30 they cost. We also borrowed coloured gig lights from our star, RJ Woolsey, and from Ryan Kelly (who appears in the party scene) for a few shots.

RJ found us several locations and allowed us to turn his house upside down for the filming of the party scene. This saved us a lot of time, hassle and, possibly, money. Thanks RJ!

Everyone was happy about the food, though! If you have a volunteer crew and cast, look after them well and they’ll be happy! With access to snacks and drinks, everyone was happy to let the mad director (me) boss them about for two days! Thanks guys!

So there you have it: if you have a limited budget or timescale, make sure it appears onscreen, otherwise it’s wasted money and time.

Next time: Lessons learned 3 Production essentials

Visuals – what you missed!

Thursday, June 12th, 2014 by tommakesmusic

Patrick produced a lot of visuals for the film – a lot of which didn’t make it into the final edit. Here’s some of what you missed!


Lessons Learned 1: RAW

Thursday, June 12th, 2014 by tommakesmusic
So we finished the film… Unfortunately we missed the deadline for the My Røde Reel competition…. Ironic, considering this was the initial impetus for starting the film in the first place! A communication problem between Røde’s emails and the timer on their website meant that we thought we had eight hours more than we actually did… }:-(
As you can imagine, the swear words were flying… But I got over it quite quickly; I figured that we set out to make a short film and we made a short film… The Røde competition was irrelevant in the end.
So having missed the deadline we just said “Let’s get it finished!” and we did!
Given that our budget wouldn’t buy coffee for most other low budget films I’m happy with the result. Very happy. At one point I wasn’t sure what result we would get but I’m satisfied. There is a story, character development and even if you don’t exactly get everything, you get a sense of the character’s urgency and his ultimate madness…
Yes, there are things that I would do differently; yes, there are things I would change and, yes, there were a few problems along the way… But we set out to make a short film and we did.
We learned a lot of lessons along the way! And we’re going to share them with you (whether you like it or not!!!)
Lesson 1:
Magic Lantern / RAW on a Canon 600D
TL:DR version – Too much hassle!
Not being able to see the shot you’re shooting, not being able to quickly preview and review footage is a great pain in the ass. And there’s one other problem – a biggie…
As I’ve said before, if you’re thinking of using this setup, do tests and mask off the screen so that what you see is what you get…
I completely messed up a two-shot because most of the two people were outside the portion of the view screen that was captured by the RAW frame…!!! Even using a wide angle adapter! Imagine how stupid I felt when I saw that my two-shot was a no-shot!!!! Lol! d’oh! If we had been able to review our shots as we took them, we would have picked up on this before we (I) embarrassed our (my) self!
Other than that, the work flow is long, tedious and expensive on hard drive space. You end up with the RAW footage, the Cinema DNG files and then the (in our case) Pro Res 444 files that are being used for the final edit. Only when you have the shot in CinemaDNG form can it be viewed and that’s far too far down the production line.
Whilst making the film, RAW Magic was updated a few times – unfortunately, it wasn’t until the film was nearly finished that the vertical line artefacts were (supposedly) removed. Where the exposure wasn’t ideal, such as in the derelict house, any attempt to correct things resulted in purple, vertical line artefacts. Not ideal. Luckily, I had planned these shots as flashbacks and so the effect added to them masked the problem. There’s no way we could have used these shots as standard shots.
The film was edited in Final Cut Pro (The first project I used it for – I found it very enjoyable and quick to edit with.) on a Mac Pro 1,1 running Mavericks (a story in itself!). Not many twelve or thirteen year old machines would even be capable of this but definitely a newer, faster machine would have made the process less stressful and tedious.
All in all, RAW had a few good points but a lot of drawbacks… Its up to you. In future I’ll give it a miss unless the camera is capable of doing it natively and playback is possible.

Are You There? Short Film on Vimeo

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014 by tommakesmusic

You can watch Are You There? on Vimeo.com as well!

Are You There?

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014 by tommakesmusic

A short sci-fi film shot on location in the Ring of Gullion and County Armagh, Northern Ireland.

Written and Directed by Tom Watson
Visual effects by Patrick Watson

Starring RJ Woolsey, Elaine Thompson and Sharon Carroll.

Somebody’s been bad…

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014 by Grumpy Owl Patrick

Well folks, it’s very nearly time for Are You There? to be released into the wild like a majestic… badger. Before that though I (Patrick) have discovered a rather amusing little bit of copyright infringement on You Tube. The channel pictured below appears to be some kind bizarre creation of a channel completely filed with stolen trailers. In all the descriptions there is a link to a mediafire download of some type of .EXE file.

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 14.28.37

Why am I bringing this garbage up when it’s clearly just some kind of bot or spam operation? Well all the of the STOLEN videos don’t seem to be related. Some are trailers whilst others are popular science videos. The interesting part is that they happen to have taken a copy of our teaser trailer for Are You There? It’s nice to be up there with the big boys like Transformers though!

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 14.29.51

Take down notice will be filed of course. It’s only 8 hours old too!

Posters Available

Sunday, June 1st, 2014 by Grumpy Owl Patrick


We’re selling these great looking posters from the film. Click a thumbnail for the one you want. If you want all three; you can find them, along with the rest of Patrick’s designs for sale here!

They are available in various sizes and materials (including canvas and metal) I promise you won’t be disappointed!

So we made a short film…

Sunday, June 1st, 2014 by tommakesmusic

Well, there’s lots to tell… And we will but this post is just to say that the 5 minute version of the film is almost done. We’ll hopefully upload to YouTube tomorrow, along with the behind the scenes.

We are planning to do a slightly longer version, but this will have to do for now! See you tomorrow (or later today!)


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