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……..


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?!

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.

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.

Two days and counting..

So, this was today:

  • Oliver (aka ‘John’) spent most of the day with our advisor on blindness, Ian Sharp. Ian’s a fantastic guy – his positivity, humour and enthusiasm for everything around him would be an infectious trait in anyone, but coming from someone who’s almost totally blind it’s an inspiration. Oliver, Ian and director Dave discussed everything from the right way to use a white stick, to how to pour a glass of wine – while I thoroughly enjoyed showing him the loop station (he’s a musician himself, and now a loop station convert!)  One thing was solidified in all our minds tho, especially having spent time with Ian – under no circumstances will ‘John’ portray any of the age old stereotypes of blindness. Big thanks to the wonderful people at Manx Blind Welfare for the white stick, various other bits n pieces and their advice.
  • Our camera op TJ, who DoP John has worked with on several short films already, spent most of the day familiarising himself with all the new camera equipment (lucky boy usually gets to shoot on proper 35mm film cameras!) We now have pretty much all the rig – including some really clever glide track that sits on top of the tripod, follow focus, matt boxes etc etc, so that the final rig will end up looking something very like this…
  • I spent the day sourcing a dead Macbook Pro that we can happily throw on the ground in the ‘angry scene’ (and now have one, thanks to Mannage IT), and a mobile phone that can be broken during the ‘drunken fight scene’ (and now have one, thanks to Sarah C!); also buying wardrobe for John, typing up expenses so far, organising background for our ferry terminal arrival shot, getting some EPK here and there and bemoaning the fact that one of our three sugar glasses (also for the angry scene) was broken on arrival, despite us buying a Boingy Box!
  • Producer Phil managed to source us some partial catering – Culinary Liberation are now going to provide our hot meal of the day, which means it’s just down to us (ie me, Phil and  production manager Rob) to sort sandwiches, soup, snacks and drinks. He also spent several hours in the garden with Adam and Pete, constructing scaffolding around our windows that will – as of tomorrow when the blackout is attached – block out ALL DAYLIGHT from our house. for EIGHT DAYS. Crap…
  • Production manager Rob sorted out the generator, final bits of lighting and return flights for our UK cast/crew
  • Designer Sally and construction manager Ian and I went through some final design/props bits, and started worrying about the fact the 3 different make up artists we’d approached can no longer help us – and we need to do prosthetics!! To the internet for that one, methinks…
  • Numpty came round and Donna showed us his latest ‘crawling’ and ‘look’ tricks – brilliant! then he farted several times and the smell of death and eggs was too much for Dave so he was evicted.
  • After a meeting bout shots & storyboard, Dave is now going through all the gear in the hallway, and I’m sitting here being slightly freaked out by the Balinese wall puppet, African masks and mannequin that have appeared on our walls and in our halls over the past few days – and all of which seem to be staring at me…

Tomorrow starts early with a pre-production production meeting between me, Phil and Dave at 9am, then a full production meeting at 10am, then rehearsals with Chelsea, Oliver and Numpty at midday, then me heading to Port St Mary to pick up some lenses from the wonderfully generous Stef Pause, then – well, then everything and anything else that might need to be done.  More pics to be added to flickr before I hit the sack tho, so check back in an hour or so.

Later bloggettes!

CDH (now entitled ‘Continuity, EPK maker and Asst. Producer’ thanks to Chris C 🙂

Dressing the set, emptying the bank and poisoning the crew…

Just a quick post to update on the week’s happenings; we start rehearsals on Saturday, then filming on Monday, so only a few days to go!

Typically in the life of DAM, this final pre-production week has also been one of our Insanely Busy Work Weeks; Director Dave has been in London with Davy Knowles, taking him to the BBC for his spot on the Breakfast show, then to Maida Vale for his Radio 2 session, and in between the various other bits of promo, Dave was driving back and forth to Mitcorp to sort out the kit we still needed to buy. Namely lights, and camera rig.

It’s all becoming extremely expensive, this filmmaking hobby. One bit of camera rig Dave just ordered costs a few grand all by itself, then there’s the camera body, the lenses, the lights, the light hire, the shipping etc etc. It’s pointless us thinking we’ll save money by hiring the gear, as we’ll only end up having to hire it again for our next film (optimism, people!) and hiring it even one more time would cost as much as owning. Or so Dave tells me.. ;)

Thankfully the lovely people at the Isle of Man Arts Council have agreed to give us some funding (we love you Arts Council!) which will at least help enormously towards the cost of flights, hotels, catering, props etc.

Speaking of lights, our lead actor, Oliver Le Sueur, is coming over on the flight from London City this afternoon and I have to go pick him up so I best head! Before I do tho, few exciting things that have happened:

– our house has been transformed into ‘John’s home’ (lounge emptied out of anything that would get in the way for a blindman, guest bedroom transformed into his former ‘marital room’ which has been abandoned since the accident and is now full of boxes and dustsheets, carpets taken up, pictures removed, batiques hung on walls etc etc);

– Sally (designer) had a meeting with Barbara Glassey who sadly lost her husband Tom last year; Tom was blind, so Barbara was able to lend us a whole host of interesting gadgets, including speaking can tops (“sausage and beans”…”tuna fish” etc – genius!), brail clocks, light sensors and a folding white stick

– the wonderful Danni of has offered to help us out with dressing Chelsea (‘Marley’) in her funky range of designer, hand made clothing.

– we also just found out that our catering unit are unable to do cater for us next week, so myself and Phil are going to try not to poison our entire crew on a daily basis – I’m thinking Pot Noodles, bread and jam, and lots and lots of chocolate digestives…should be fun!

Right, I’m going to be late for our actor. More soon…

Introducing…the camera!

(Blog from Dave Armstrong, Director)

“Ok. So I thought I would get one of these finished daily. of course I didn’t count on quite as much excitement around the Eos.
The damn thing is even better than chocolate  (and if you know Dave Armstrong, you know that’s a very rare thing for him to say! -Ed)

Alright, apart from cooing over our chosen camera, there were a couple of other things to sort for the film (not to mention recording six new tracks in the studio, taking several meetings, and getting gooey over Stu & Andrea’s  baby Lexi- Mr EOS came in very handy getting some really lovely pics of Lexi too).

The camera is a work of art and, bless their little Canon socks, they only threw the video capability in as an aside.

Donna - a still from video

Donna - a still from video

We have worked on a few test shots now (you can see lots more on our flickr feed) and the amazing thing is, you don’t seem to need any light at all to make the thing work!  The low light capability of the Eos is amazing and hopefully will help in our decision making process in the amount of artificial light we need to throw at a scene.

It is also a joy to be working “full frame”again and being able to get our shallow depth of field back is a thrill. After working with broadcast 2/3” cameras for so long, I feel like locking them in a cupboard and throwing away the key (sorry, Sony).

Of course buying the camera wasn’t enough. We have three lenses now, too – 2 zooms and a lovely 50mm 1.4. Forgotten how nice it is to shoot with just a 50mm. And a kind soul from fab local indie label Ballagroove Records has offered to lend us a couple of additional lenses too. Think we’ll take them up on the offer.

But the camera and lenses are actually the cheaper part-the support system and monitor are now on their way.

Zacuto Sniper

The ultra sexy Zacuto Sniper

We have gone for the Zacuto Sniper. I had looked at cheaper options, but we need something that just works and will last the course. Unfortunately, still cameras are not ergonomically designed for hand-held video work. You just cant keep them from the wrong type of shake, so a support it is. And a follow focus. Glad we got John Craine on-board.he is doubling as our focus puller. Without a follow focus we would struggle.. Oh, and the z-finder that attaches to the back of the canon viewfinder. Then there is a Marshal monitor and a mounting kit for the monitor.

ENOUGH about the toys. We also have a story to tell. Thats what its all about really. All of these tools are just there for one thing:to help tell that story. We sat for a read through last night with a few of the crew and it really help clarify a lot in my mind, as well as remind me that this film-making lark is quite a challenge.

Great crew, though. looking forward to working with them.  Lots to do, lots to plan. Just a week til rehearsals and still so much to do.

Read through/Production Meeting

Read through/Production Meeting

Keep making a mental note to make mental notes-the list goes on
matte Box
HMI light
Coat stand
clearance for music & trademarks
can we smash a full wine glass?
photos of our “john”before he was blind

need I go on?

..and they’re off!

(A blog by Christy, the unclassified crew member)

It’s Sunday afternoon – an unexpectedly snow-dusted day & the sun, low in the sky, is casting it’s last last golden threads over the top of the ivy that’s choking our garden wall. Despite the apparent calm and serenity outside, I’m typing to the sound of very loud drumming, as Davy Knowles and Back Door Slam are recording some new demos in our basement.

Seems like much longer than just a week ago that I was headed to London to meet up with Dave (Armstrong – Director of Ghostgirl, my partner in creative crime), who himself was on his way back from the Midem Music Conference in Cannes with the aforementioned band.

We had organised auditions in the city with a number of professional actors trying out for the part of ‘John’ in Ghostgirl. Considering we’re due to shoot in two weeks, it may seem a little late in the day to be casting our lead, but ‘John’ is a very challenging role and though there is a wealth of talent here, sadly we were unable to find anyone suitable on the tiny Isle of Man. Having scoured all available casting websites and sent the script to various casting agencies, it seems that part of our difficulty in finding someone could also have been the demographic we were after – 30ish, attractive, Bohemian looking males have either had their break by now, are Hollywoodbound & wouldn’t touch tiny companies like us with an imaginary bargepole, or they haven’t had any breaks at all and therefore made the decision to give up and start a family. It’s a depressing thought, but very probable.

However, we did find our man – an extremely good match for the ‘John’ that existed in our minds eye (more on that in next instalment) – and seeing as he was the last part in our cast & crew puzzle, it seemed like I should really get a blog out.

Maybe I should start by explaining a bit about who we are and what we do…

My partner and I, the aforementioned Dave Armstrong, run a small production house on the Isle of Man called DAM Productions which is a part of the Running Media Group. RMG also has a management and music side, and through that we look after the artists Corinne Bailey Rae, Davy Knowles and Christine Collister among others. From the top floor of our oversized, constantly busy Victorian house in Douglas, we run a video production company (where I spend most of my waking hours editing, or updating websites, or designing album covers, or…anything else creative really) and Dave runs a music studio from the basement, where he recorded and produced Back Door Slam’s debut album ‘Roll Away’ and from where I can now hear the strains of Davy Knowles’ staggering voice belting through the floor as they progress through their latest demos. Suffice it to say, it’s an exciting place to be.

And in a fortnight, when Davy is back in the US having completed his first Maida Vale session, the house will have been transformed into a film set & will be teeming with cast, crew and camera equipment, for the start of filming on ‘Ghostgirl’.

This means we have a lot to do; the house will need a total overhaul to make it seem like a convincing ‘blind man’s abode’ (anyone who’s been here will know that Dave and I tend to hoard stuff, and leave said stuff in places that a blind man would very quickly trip over and undoubtedly do himself some nasty injuries). We also share our house with a variety of folk & family who come and go as they please, and who leave more stuff in various rooms, adding to the potential hazards. And we’re film buffs, meaning our recently purchased giant home cinema system will also have to be hidden away somewhere (John is unlikely to be able to appreciate the glorious sharpness of our HD mega-screen). Thankfully, our wonderful designer and art dept guru Sally Black has already come up with some fantastic ‘Not Mood Boards’ to give us an idea of how we can transform everything but we’re a long way off yet.. even though filming is practically imminent!

And right now, I’m needed in the basement studio to record some backing vocals on Davy K’s new demos. What a curious few weeks this is turning into.

More soon…