All Blogged Out (and nothing to say..)

“SCORE!” a new blog from Director Dave.

No excuses-the weeks have rolled on without so much as a “by your leave”: and what have I got to show for it….?

Chelsea Gowland (aka 'Marley') scored..

Chelsea Gowland (aka 'Marley') scored..

Well there was the score for ‘Ghostgirl’. As much as I would have loved to grab Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman or John Williams and get them to rattle something meaningful out on their lunchbreak, I thought: “NO! What am I thinking about? I could just scrape together a few leftover brain cells and squeeze some creative juice out. (And besides, I am very cheap.)”

While we had most of the featured music in place (lots of Manx artists with a dash of Laura Marling thrown in), we needed to up the emotional ante a tad. *note from Ed: we’re still waiting for confirmation of use of the Laura Marling track. fingers crossed…*

Luckily our recording studio happens to be downstairs, so exporting an edit and popping down to carve some opus was convenient to say the least. OK, so we didn’t get the London Phil, or the Prague Cheapskate orchestra to move the air, but I hope most viewers will at least nod their heads in appreciation -“not bad, not bad”.

Dave in the DAM Studio

Dave in the DAM Studio

I tried not to over-do it, and kept most of the scoring to piano and strings and based most of it around a simple piano motif. Simple for me is good. It means that my fingers can still play the simple. No Rachmaninov madness for me.

Course the headaches start when we decide that we need to tweak the edit-once we started messing around with the length I needed to update my cues.

At first I had been going to do all of my post audio in Logic, but it turned out that I had most of the sound nicely shaped in Final Cut. Been doing that as I went along. As any user of Final Cut knows, though, this can be a bit of a pain as you seem to need to render every nanosecond. But bringing the raw files into Logic (via OMF export) is still a huge job.

a Logical way of working?

a Logical way of working?

If I am working in Apple Logic, I like to keep all of my ‘similar’ audio files on the same track, so I can apply a similar eq/compression etc. Never seems to work out that way in Final Cut. Some bright spark at Apple never thought to add the very simple ability to label tracks, realising that the extra byte of processing power that that would take might just push the programme over the edge. Anyway, who needs labels. When you have sixteen stereo pairs of audio, its just simpler to struggle. Thanks Apple.

Who needs the Philarmonic?!

Who needs the Philarmonic?!

Strange, though. You would have thought that they would have taken one look at the sister programme-Logic- and realised that labeling may just help with the organisation of the project. I think it was designed specifically to upset me.

Enough ranting. All seemed to work fine, just important to be able to switch the old brain from editing to composing to grading to blogging (well, blogging eventually). Still got a couple of weeks for any final tweaks, but I want to put this one to bed and move onwards and upwards! (A music bed?)

For the geek in you, here is a run down of some of the gear and software (pictures for those of you who like shiny things):

Studio stuffs

Studio stuffs

Apple Mac Power PC G5 (Getting on a bit now!)However running osx 10.5.8 and latest version of Logic Pro

Using Steinberg’s Halion Symphonic Orchestra

Also using gplayer plugin for my gigastudio samples(http://www.soundlib.com/gplayer/)can now access them on my mac!

Desk is tascam d3200 firewire jobby

Monitors include Alesis Monitor Two, Dynaudio BM5,Avantone Mixcubes

Also use Powercore plugins and an SSL Duende

Here is a bit I prepared earlier. Hans Zimmer? Hah! John Williams? Danny Elfman? Who needs them. I just grabbed a bit of inspiration from some pieces I’d written for other productions, and hey presto. Instant score.only took me three weeks, four days and 8 hours…..

Moving on!

First Screening tomorrow…

Lordy my plates of meat don’t ‘ahf ‘urt (mum). I’m guessing that’ll be because this is the first time I’ve sat down today since, well, breakfast. And that was 13 hrs ago! Partner in crime David, on the other hand (or foot rather), hasn’t moved from his chair or computer screen since breakfast and is complaining of a very sore arse. Oh how we whinge 😉

But it’s all for very good reason! We’ve both been desperately preparing for  the very first screening of ‘Ghostgirl’… yup, tomorrow, Sunday July 4th (Independence Day for some of you, and the eve of our Isle of Man National Day ‘Tynwald’) is the day our wonderful cast and crew get to see the results of Dave’s extremely hard labour over the past couple of months.

Firstly, apologies for the massive absence of blogs since we finished filming. Apart from being immersed in post-production on ‘Ghostgirl’, we’ve filled the time with such things as Making Pop Promos with Danny Lacey & Anna Goldsmith; Making A Cinema Ad on the 5D; Recording Chunks of the Bible in the Basement with Gimli (the incredible & wonderful & truly lovely John Rhys Davies, who’s parting gesture as he left the house was to shout ‘Go make babies!’ in his best ‘INDY!’ voice); Gigging on Tiny Boats in Force 6 Gales on the Irish Sea; Growing Vegetables; Cycling; SeaWading – and other funstuffs.

BUT TOMORROW…at midday, ‘Ghostgirl’ will play out to 40+ invited guests, on a proppa cinema screen n everyfink, while Dave undoubtedly hovers in the background with heavilybaitedbreath and I chew my nails from the comfort of a foot-resting cinema seat, somewhere at the back.

Living with Dave Armstrong, the Writer/Director/Editor/Steadicam Op/Composer etc, I’ve been lucky enough to view the film in it’s various inceptions since he put the first edit together. It’s changed enormously since the first preview with Producer Phil Gates & all I can say is, it really ruddy works. In fact, at points in the film (thankfully the appropriate points), I now find myself giggling, jumping, wriggling with unease and even welling up – all despite my being witness to the very blood & bones of this project from conception to final production.

Speaking of production, it’s not been an easy ride, no sirree. Getting in early with the Canon 5D (Mark 2) was all very well and good and, as you’ll see from earlier blogs, pretty dern exciting, but MAN has it presented it’s problems.. I won’t even try to go into them, as to be honest, I don’t understand a lot of them – am more of an Editor & Creative Bod than a Techno-wizard; suffice to say, as I type Dave is frantically sitting (if you can do such a thing) at his laptop, with various attached screens of various sizes and a veritable snakepit of cables draped around the room, trying to work out how to create a BluRay Disc when BluRay won’t accept 30frame movies (he just shouted through “I blame the Americans!” ; being half-of-one myself, I couldn’t possibly comment…)

ANYhoo, I’ll return to blog in the next day or two, after tomorrow’s screening, and after we’ve suitably recovered from the wrap party here at the house afterwards. I’m also going to try and get some interviews in the garden with our gathered cast & crew for the BTS video, which we hope to show at the Official Premiere at the Isle of Man Film Festival in September – ooo! the Film Fest! that’s a whole other, very exciting story.

Speaking of other stories, I should (briefly) warn you that in roughly two weeks time, a small child will be shot in our hallway…. not reeeeally of course (we like tiny people!), it’s just that the BBC are comandeering our entire ground floor to film a bonafide shoot out for Auntie’s flagship drama of 2011, ‘Shadow Line‘, written & directed by Hugo Blick, him off of ‘Blackadder’ and ‘Marion & Geoff’. That’ll be fun. Oh yes! And we might also be getting a dog!

Ahem. Wow. you can tell I haven’t blogged for awhile.

I’ll bid you adieu with a rough poster idea I knocked up for tomorrow, just to add a bit of colour to this very wordy blog 🙂  See you on the other side folks!

"Ghostgirl" rough movie poster

EOS 5D MK II – quick noise/vertical lines/banding test

So, through gritted teeth we acknowledge the limitations of this wonderful camera. One of the issues I had noted earlier on, was the problem of vertical banding/noise/lines. Whatever it is, it isn’t pleasant and I need to get to he bottom of the conditions that make it worse.

One of those conditions is making a film that involves a blind man’s darkened house. A lot of GHOSTGIRL’S scenes are in low light. Although it was a good test for the camera, we failed to spot the noise issue on the camera’s monitor or on our lovely Marshall monitor.

Of course when I checked out the day’s rushes and on our big plasma, I had a slight “Oh dear” moment.

Didn’t have time to get to the bottom of it then, but I am on the case. 1st point of call was to use only the recommended ISO’s from Philip Bloom’s blog on the Zacuto shootout – http://philipbloom.co.uk/2010/03/24/shootout/

I also played with the Highlight Tone Priority setting, as you can’t physically set ISO 160 whilst HTP is enabled(although apparently it shoots at a lower ISO than displayed in this mode and then compresses the picture to bring the exposure back up-I think…).

I thought I would use this HTP mode as the first test and I noticed the difference, especially when I bumped up the mid tones in FCP Colour Corrector.

I am going to shoot some more, and research a bit more. i may have missed a couple of articles online.

BTW apologies for the mis-captioning clip 2 should say Highlight Tone Priority DISABLED!

More tests to come…

A rollercoaster blog, from Director Dave

Ok. So its been a week or 2, but I’ve been immersed in “Ghostgirl” & a broken wrist & elbow – courtesy of snow NOT having the consistency of cotton wool and clouds.

Director Dave, directionless!

Director Dave, directionless!

However, the edit is well underway and I have had a chance to look back at some ups and downs.

Up..
Canon released new firmware-hurrah.

Down..:Canon Eos firmware update released just at the end of principal photography. Thanks Canon, great timing.

Up..
Installed new firmware-24p here we come

Down..
Canon withdraws firmware with fault

Up..
Camera image looks lovely

Down..
Some banding on the image in low light noticeable when picture enlarged

Up..
got some great performances & some lovely shots

Down..
Couple of missed opportunities & shots we have to drop

Up..
becoming immersed in a very exciting project

Down..
losing connection with real world, friends, relatives, home, reality,blog, etc etc

So now we have a few choices.

Budget RainMaker!

Budget RainMaker!

The story takes on a slightly more edgy, or benign hue, depending on a couple of small editing choices. We got through one full edit and decided to shoot a whole new scene. means we might be able to use Christy’s favourite shot after all…hurrah!

We also know exactly how much difference the soundtrack and soundscape will make to the viewers emotional response to the story. We have already dropped in  a couple of pieces of music & its amazing what it does. Clearance is another thing, though! We’re going to work on some music here and have a couple of original pieces on the way, but at the moment Producer Phil is talking to Stevie Wonder’s people about clearances on a Stevie track. That would be nice. Obviously if the budget exceeds the GDP of a small African nation, then we may have to think again (actually, I think our music budget is an approximate equivalent to a meal out at a mid-price restaurant.)

Looking at the real plusses though – I love working on this sort of project and with such talented people-especially our actors. Without their performance (and a story to tell) all of this techie crap would be worthless.

Speaking of techie crap, here’s the first part of a short video we did for a film maker friend of ours, Danny Lacey, who’s also about to shoot with the 5D and wanted to know what it was like… 2nd part (covering stuff like accessories, sound recording, memory cards etc) to follow. Hope you find it helpful – and enjoy the few sneaky peaks of ‘Ghostgirl’ that appear…!

(NB: this vid was filmed for instructional purposes, & done so in a 30 minute gap between jobs, so please don’t be judging the aesthetic quality of the interview footage, that aint what it’s for!)

See you on the other side…

Dave Armstrong

“The ghosts that broke my heart before I met you”

Two weeks later and we’re still not finished filming – so much for our compact & bijou, easily digestible, stress free 7 day shoot!

There really are only a couple of shots left to get (she said, not very confidently..) but nothing can be done about them now – Dave and I are on a plane somewhere over the west of Paris, about to embark on a very different 7 day adventure of snowboarding (Dave’s first time, should be fun!) So we’re swapping the confines of our house/location and 20 semi-resident crew members, for a chalet in Meribel with 14 friends and a winter wonderland view. And hopefully no breakages. Not exactly a ‘chillaxing’ time out, admittedly, but a helluva lot of fun!

We’ve both brought our macs with us tho – Dave is going to continue his rough edits of the film, and I’m going to be keeping in touch with Producer Phil to plan whatever else we may have left to shoot, while catching up on the mountains of Other Work I’ve missed since we’ve been emersed in Ghostgirl’s world. The joys of being self employed…

My view of Olly from the roof (on Redhead duty)

My view of Olly from the roof (on Redhead duty)

Last night, we filmed the pick ups of Marley investigating John’s now-abandoned marital bedroom. The scene we shot previously in that room is going to be one of the most powerful moments of the short – both Chelsea’s and Oliver’s performances were stunning, and Dave’s fluid, spiralling steadicam work coupled with TJ’s unsettling, shaky* handheld (*intentionally so) all makes for a really emotive two minutes. So we were determined to get the moments leading up to that encounter absolutely right – Chelsea did a stellar job last night (despite all the hilarity from the crew and Numpty’s incessant desire to populate the room with the smell of death and eggs from his uncontrollable arse – I don;t think Phil was joking when he said he must have had Balti for dinner)

choreographing the Fight Scene

Two nights ago, we filmed another climactic scene – Marley’s encounter with ‘the drunk lads’ early on in the script. This involved choregraphing a pretty vicious fight scene, with Chelsea getting to thwack poor Tony in the shins 20 or 30 times (she didn’t hold back with her chunky doc martens either!) and Sean getting to pull Chelsea’s hair, throw her onto a crash mat then walk round the corner and puke vegetable soup into a drain.. nice. All great fun and nobody was hurt, thankfully!

'Marley' walking into danger

'Marley' walking into danger

Tony (‘Drunk 1’, who also doubled as our boom op last week), is by day a sweet, funny, charismatic 20 yr old actor – and a ruddy good one at that. Present him with the character of a mildly psychotic drunk to tackle, and he gives you just that, by the bucketload. Both his and Seans performances (‘Drunk 2’) were again way above and beyond what we could have hoped for – and were actually genuinely frightening to witness. We were also really lucky with the location that Phil had found for us (using his years of experience as a location manager, clearly) – the alleyways and fire escapes gave us a brilliantly atmospheric setting, one more akin to a gangster movie than just the back of an Isle of Man restaurant. Add to that John Craine’s masterly lighting and Dave’s excellent handheld camera work & you have a pretty wicked looking collection of shots, if we do say so ourselves! Top work all 🙂

'Marley' in trouble (still from Eos)

'Marley' in trouble (still from Eos)

Soon it’ll just be a case of editing. And that also means scoring… Some of you film buffs will be aware of a very good friend of ours, Danny Lacey, who’s about to embark on shooting his next short film ‘Love Like Hers’. Having followed his progress updates – he’s already organised the promotional materials & soundtrack for the film even tho he’s still amending the script! – I’ve been astonished by how far behind we really are in so many aspects of organisation. If we do this again, we’re definitely going to take a lot more time out to focus entirely on pre production and get all these things in place BEFORE we start rolling.

still from Eos

But in the meantime, I’ve decided I’m going to work on a version of Laura Marling’s ‘Ghosts’ as a potential theme track; the lyrics are absolutely perfect for the film (“He opened up his little heart, unlocked the lock that kept it dark, and read a written warning, saying ‘I’m still mourning over ghosts, over ghosts that broke my heart before I met you” – see what I mean?!) I used to cover the song just using guitar and simple vocals, but I may mess around with piano this time, & the loop station to add some deep, unsettling extra vocal lines – and maybe something spookily atmospheric like a glockenspiel?

Feeling musically inspired now… damn shame I’m stuck in a cabin hovering over the ocean, & will be nowhere near anything resembling a piano, guitar or loop station for a week.. still, something to look forward to on our return.

For now, it’s off to the piste – hurrah!
More later…

Marley defiant

Marley defiant (still from Eos)

First chance to see stills from the ‘film’

Marley - eye.

OK, so its not actually 35mm, but we think the footage from the Canon 5D looks pretty damn close to it! Have split off a few frames from the recorded video so you can see how great the gear is – at dealing with low light in particular, as 90% of our film takes place at night, and 70% of that is inside the house of a blind man who has no need for lights…ouch. But the camera did us proud!

Clicky Piccy Linky to see the stills – and please comment here with your thoughts. Bear in mind some of these frames are taken from action/moving shots, so may not be entirely sharp. There has been absolutely NO processing/doctoring/colour correction to any of them (leaving that to final edit).

ADDITION 260210 – some stills from the ‘drunk boys mess with Marley’ scene:

Observer on stairway

Observer on stairway



Director’s notes… David speaks!

Dave with co-writer/producer Phil

Wow. I have started to breathe again. Bit of a week, bit of a stiff learning curve. Thought I would share a few techie points before I get down to the really important elements of film making. Like performance, story and sleep.(Sleep being the most important according to Alan Parker-thanks for that gem, Lee)

Couple of things regarding the camera:careful in low light. What looks good on the viewfinder may not work on the big screen-we have seen some issues with noise and may just have to work around. I have just disabled “Highlight Tone Priority” to see if that will help…whatever the heck that is….

Also-using a Marshal HDMI monitor-BEWARE. Don’t believe the lovely bright image. We ended up turning the brightness down and down and down, to give us a more realistic idea of brightness

Monitor issues?

Monitor issues?

levels (you shouldn’t really rely on monitor, anyway. When you have a DP who wanders round with what looks like a STARTREK Tricorder pressed against his cornea for 24 hours a day, you have someone else to point the finger at when it all looks like a black cat in a coal shed at night…….). Actually it has been a real test for us, as most of this film is set in a blind man’s house at night with the lights turned off. Sorry, JC!

DONT think you can use the camera for long without using a proper support rig-the type of camera shake you get from holding the camera body alone is not pleasant, unless you want to simulate a POV from someone with St Vitus Dance. Don’t forget what looks like a small amount of shake on the little monitor can look like a 7.6 on the richter scale on a big screen.

"LOVE the camera"

"LOVE the camera"

Over all, though-love the camera.Repeat- love the camera. When 24p firmware hits us, I will be dancing for joy, but even at the crazy crazy crazy 30p, the image of this camera is great.

TJ with the Canon Eos & Zacuto rig

TJ with the Canon Eos & Zacuto rig

We are off to shoot a bit of “action” tonight, where our ‘Marley’ gets accosted by a couple of louts. Should be fun. Gonna miss our camera op TJ, who was a joy to work with. Still, I do have my third eye, John Craine, whose initials could be quite appropriate for the miracles he is able to perform. Going to operate camera tonight (I was relegated to Steadicam op for the week of principal photography.) Do need some more time in the saddle. Directing is all very well, but there just aren’t enough buttons……..

DA.

Changing sides…

Oliver, aka 'John', with John Craine (DoP)

Oliver, aka 'John', with John Craine (DoP)

Wow, that was a properly packed week – & the whole ‘main location/unit base = our home’ meant it was a week that felt more like a 2month feature compacted into 7 days.

And it’s not over yet! But we have wrapped the lovely Oliver (aka ‘John’) and sent him back to the relative normalcy of his London life. I’m not sure the poor sod has ever experienced a shoot quite like it, and he coped fantastically well as relative chaos buzzed around him – not only managing to turn out a stellar, totally convincing performance as our blind lead character, but also gelling really well with the crew and somehow putting on a very brave face against Chelsea’s constant mischief..

'John and Marley'

'John and Marley'

The relationship between our two main actors behind the camera was fantastic – one minute like kid sister & big bro, the next (like when, for instance, Chelsea had mixed half a bottle of tabasco into the chilli Oliver had to eat on camera..) it became more like watching a lion and his overly playful cub – he sits there calmly tolerating the cub’s tomfoolery, tail pulling and mane eating for as long as lionly possible before he finally whips round, takes a swipe & the nipper sidles off… It was hilarious to watch, and there’ll be plenty of that featured in the EPK/behind the scenes footage I’m sure!

But their relationship on camera, as ‘John and Marley’, was far beyond what we were expecting; it actually led Dave, Phil and I to have several emergency script meetings over the course of the week to change scenes or moments or dialogue to better reflect what was actually developing between the characters. As a result, the atmosphere of the film has now changed quite dramatically – but you’ll have to wait for the premiere to see how/why!

TJ, our camera op

TJ, our camera op

Practically, we had a few fraught moments over the course of the shoot; our ‘silent genny’ was actually about 100db – didnt go down too well when we turned it on in Derby Sq at 9pm to power up our HMI!; also, we woke to snow on Sunday – which led to several phonecalls from panicking crew who couldn’t get in to unit base due to road closures, and similarly to all of our background artists cancelling for that day’s exterior shot & us having to source a dozen people with 5 mins notice; the insanely expensive & barely used rented HMI conked out midway through shooting on the last day (only the 2nd time we’d used it) so couldn’t be used at all in the shot; I mistakenly threw out our prop chilli on Sat eve, not realising we’d need it again for a shot on Sunday- thankfully Sally was armed with several cans of veg soup and some surprisingly convincing food colouring (you’d never know!); and finally, our boom operator fell ill so Chelsea’s lovely boyf Freddie had to step in – his 6’4, former pro-footballer prowess certainly helped!

But all in all, any issues were relatively minor; it went extremely well and the footage looks stunning.

Am absolutely cream crackered so wont’ write anything more for now – Dave’s going to do a blog in the next day or two from the Director’s perspective. But I’ve added a load of new pics to the flickr page, all taken by our ace assistant and creative helper Andy Skillen – top pics and should give you an idea of what went on (and a few sneaky peaks of how it might all look!)

Next step – after getting the few remaining pick ups this week – is to assemble a preview edit, and only then will we know if we got what we need.. fingers crossed eh?!
CDH

Changing Sides..

Changing Sides..

Midway point update – all still alive, just (apart from the smashed macbook)

Today, we smashed a glass against our living room wall, threw a Macbook Pro off a table – violently – and smashed it against a light, and poured a bottle of wine on the new wood flooring. All in the name of art, dahlink.

Oliver reclining

The shoot’s going really well – halfway through so far. But it’s by no means without it’s hiccups. We quickly realised that we’d have to cut our original shooting schedule in half to be able to complete anything in  the 7 days we’d alloted for this; so we decided to postpone all the scenes that don’t involve our UK based lead actor, Oliver Le Sueur, to a later date. We’re still cramming it in tho: two x 16hr days, and two x 14 so far (calculated from breakfast meeting, to heading to bed after backing all the files up)

Budget RainMaker!

Budget RainMaker!

Set ups are taking considerably longer than we’d imagined, partly because we’re a new crew (1/3rd of which are normally documentary makers, 1/3rd student film makers and 1/3rd who are total newbies), partly because we have entirely new gear that none of us have used before, and partly because we’re fitting this in between our normal day jobs…so, Dave having been away on a job in France til the very same day our actor arrived, & the rest of us all havin 9-6ish jobs til Shoot Day One, meant we’d done nowhere near enough pre-shoot prep & were ‘lacking focus’ to use a dreadful pun. Dave and I are used to working like this when we make our documentaries or pop promos or corporate stuff, so I think subconsciouly we thought ‘ah it’ll be fine’ – how naieve we were!!

Because of this lack of time & focus before shoot day, we’re operating without a storyboard and Dave is having to work out shotlists on the day we film the relevant scene. Not a good idea people! It’s led to us missing out a few crucial shots from an editing point of view (I’m editing bits and pieces together roughly as we go along, just to check everything fits), so we’re having to squeeze in pick ups where-ever we can. And it adds a ridiculous amount of set up time to the day, as our camera dept have to plan & block each shot before we shoot it.

I’m also finding it hard not to be as involved as I would on a normal DAM shoot. As mentioned before, Dave and I would ordinarily do everything – from concept to script, from lifting to lighting, from camera to final edit. So it’s odd to be surrounded by 18 other crew members and find myself being a bit of gopher again, without a specific job to do except ‘everything that other people aren’t doing’. That currently includes making lunch and evening snacks for 19 people… after two days of bacon & sausage baps, I’m running low on ideas!!

Dave & Phil check rushes

Dave & Phil check rushes

The budget has increased on a daily basis too – suffice it to say, we’re waaaaay over the money the Arts Council gave us and poor ole Dave’s bank account is straining under the weight.

BUT, having said all that… the footage looks incredible… the Canon is incredible, as is the Zacuto rig – we’re all really, really chuffed* with it *if you can still use that term? Chelsea (aka ‘Marley’) and Oliver (aka ‘John’) are utterly brilliant on screen (and utterly mad off it). The story is coming to life in a way we could have only hoped for and I’m particularly proud of Chelsea, this being her first ever role; she’s not only perfectly captured the spirit of Marley, but the ’emotional stuff’ she filmed today actually brought a real shiny tear to my eye!

Chelsea girl - she's so priddy!

Chelsea girl - she's so priddy!

Also, our crew have been top notch; everyone’s pitching in to help out where-ever they can, and they’re all going away above & beyond – remember we’re all doing this for nuffink (cept the love people, feel the LOVE!)

All in all, we’re learning a LOT of very valid lessons from this experience already. And (mostly) loving every minute. And (mostly) totally and utterly and completely cream crackered.

Night all…more to follow soon.

CDH
ps. here’s a little behind the scenes footage for you – of our Macbook destruction stunt!!

Ghostgirl Stunts – the great Macbook disaster!! from Christy DeHaven on Vimeo.