Tag Archives: 1st AC

Professionalism in Practice – 1st Assistant Camera and Script Editor on “Cigarettes & Alcohol”

In the first term, Nick had asked me frequently to read his World War II script and offer him feedback on it and I did offer him some advice on how I think he should take his story forward. Initially, I was of the impression that Nick’s script was a story about a survival in that a Jewish man would sink so low as to masquerade as a Nazi in order to survive and I thought that would be more of interesting angle to explore it from. However, exlporing that story idea from just an interrogation scene in one room wouldn’t be enough, and to pull off a decent war film with a small budget is no easy task. Nick however was adamant about keeping it all in one room as he likened this short film to be like the end scene to a much longer film that he would like to make in the future. I was initially skeptical about this approach but decided to go along with it and help him fine tune the dialogue as much as I could.

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Approaching the shoot period, I signed on to be a gaffer, but then was immediately switched to be 1st AC as there were already three gaffers on set. For some reason, Nick was under the impression that we would be able to dress the set and leave it dressed for the three days we were shooting but I remember Andre (the producer) saying that we couldn’t. There must have been some miscommunication between the two as the time taken to dress the set every day was not taken into account in the shooting schedule so we ended up losing like 3 hours of shooting time each day. This led to Nick having to drop shots and only keep in the ones that were essential.

This crunch time shooting slowly started to affect Nick mentally as he had apparently not eaten or slept adequately enough leading up to the shoot which caused him to have some sort of breakdown on set. This eventually resulted in Andre and Sam (the DP) having to sort of backseat direct the remaining shots we had to get as we were running out of time. Needless to say, this shoot did not pan out as I hoped it would because in the weeks leading up to it, I was convinced that Nick knew exactly what he wanted and was on top of everything as there had been literally no production problems up until the actual shoot day.

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After the rough cut screening, where Nick for some reason showed a cut that barely resembled a rough cut (more like a very rough first assembly), Nick decided that he wanted to reshoot some of the film as there were some shots we couldn’t get because we obviously ran out of time. However, since the place we shot in had been redecorated since we left and the Nazi uniform that the Nazi officer Hermann wears was different the first time around, we instead had to reshoot the whole film from scratch. To make things even more difficult, we were told that we would have even less time to get into the location and shoot which would make capturing this whole film impossible.

Sam however, suggested that instead of shooting during the day where we would have limited time and the sound would be bad (due to the traffic on the high street outside the location) we should get into the location when the bar closes and shoot throughout the night. This made all the difference in the world as we found that we were getting through shots a lot quicker and smoother than we did during the first shoot and that the sound was much cleaner although there were the odd noises of early morning traffic here and there. Nick also performed better as a director and didn’t suffer the same mental breakdown he did during the first shoot which made it all better.

All in all, this shoot was a unique experience to me in where I learned quite a bit. I learned that the flexiblity of the location you shoot in is vitally important when scouting locations and from observing Nick I learned that as a director you need to have a basic understanding of the technical side of filmmaking as you’ll annoy your technical crew if you ask for things that can’t feasibly be done.

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Professionalism in Practice – 1st Assistant Camera and Co-Writer on “Tony”

This was one of the two productions this year that I was involved with in two different capacities. The first was as a co-writer with the film’s director Killiesha Bancroft and the second was as 1st Assistant Camera on set.

Firstly I’ll talk about my experiences co-writing the script with Killiesha before I talk about my experiences on set. When Killiesha first approached me to help her develop a script for her to direct this year, I struggled to come up with an idea that would bea story Killiesha would want to tell. After tinkering around with a script about a woman with sex addiction, both Killiesha and I did not seem to be inspired by the story within that script so we quickly abandoned it. We then opted to develop Killiesha’s screenplay Tony which she had wrote for the screenwriting module last year. I was familiar with the story so it was definitely the right story for both of us to be working on, especially as it had already gone through numerous drafts.

The main challenges in writing this script with Killiesha was nailing down the chemistry between Tony and Reece as well as trying to accurately portray the mental illness Tony’s mother was suffering from (which I had identified as paranoid schizophrenia from Killiesha’s earlier drafts). I believe we both did an adequate job in meeting those two challenge in terms of what was on the page, but I have to confess that I did not find the performances of the actors on set to be what I had imagined (especially the actress who protrayed Tony’s mother) from when me and Killiesha wrote the script. Whether the actors were miscast or whether it was down to Killiesha’s direction, I cannot say for sure, but it seemed to me that they did not capture the essence of the characters me and Killiesha worked hard to get on the page, a similar issue I had found in Mantas’ film which I wrote.

I think in regards to both Mantas’ and Killiesha’s films, the fact that I have issues with the way the film was presented may boil down to the fact that I have some experience directing in the past so I have been looking at these films throught the eyes of a filmmaker rather than a screenwriter, therefore I can identify things I would do differently if I had been directing. I think this is a habit I would need to break if I wish to continue writing scripts for other directors in future.

On to the production side of Tony.

Operating the follow focus on set as Sara and I try to capture a shot.

Operating the follow focus on set as Sara and I try to capture a shot.

I originally was not meant to have another techincal role on the set of Tony as I had already worked on the script with Killiesha, but having changed producers midway through pre-production, there were a lot of things that were arranged last minute. Amnah, the new producer, contacted me to help out as 1st AC with Sara and having no reason to turn her down, decided to accept.

On the first shoot day, we arrived early at a hardware store in Walthamstow to shoot the shop scenes. Overall the shoot day went pretty okay. The only major issue was the fact that Amnah had forgotten to book out a tripod, so all the shots that were shot in the shop had to be done on a gimbal. This proved difficult as there is a long dialogue scene between Tony and Reece in the shop so me and Sara had to take turns operating the gimbal as holding it for a long period of time can get exhausting. If we had had the tripod, shooting this scenes would have been much easier, but at the end of the day we had managed to get the shots we needed and ended up wrapping slightly earlier than scheduled.

Operating the gimbal in the hardware store.

Operating the gimbal in the hardware store.

The second and third day of the shoot moved on to the house interiors and exteriors. These shoot days were fine for the most part, except for the last day when the extras that were meant to arrive for an exterior scene did not arrive and had to be replaced very last minute by the director’s sister. This meant that production started later than scheduled and we therefore had to shoot behind schedule which was relatively stressful as we had many scenes to get through.

This led to Killiesha acting like 1st assistant director on set rather than as a director as she was very conscious about time and getting the shots done as quickly as possible so that we don’t fall behind schedule, rather than focusing on the quality of the scenes she was shooting. This could probably be attributed to the fact that we didn’t really have a 1st AD on set to help keep things running smoothly so that could perhaps be a factor into why we fell behind schedule.

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At the end of it all though, we managed to get the shots we needed too and wrapped on that third and final day. Looking back, I didn’t do a massive amount on set as I was hoping as Sara was adamant about operating most of the shots herself, which was understandable as she wanted to shoot as much footage as possible for her dissertation showreel. Overall I enjoyed my time on set and would definitely want to work with Killiesha and Amnah in future.

 

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MDA3400 Secondary Roles

As part of my dissertation assessment critiera I am required to participate in at least two of my cohort’s productions in a secondary role. I have managed to attach myself to five projects this year, each of them requiring me to adopt a different creative approach to filmmaking.

The five projects I am a part of are as following:

Screenwriter on “Cellular”
Co-writer & 1st AC on “Tony”
1st AC on “Cigarettes & Alcohol”
Editor on “Dancing out the Dark”
Gaffer on “Hand in Hand”

For the short film Cellular (directed by Mantas Beginskas and produced by Andre Meehan), I’ll be writing the screenplay from a story devised by Mantas. This ties in with my pathway for my dissertation as it would allow me to improve upon my screenwriting skills. Mantas is a filmmaker with a very strong visual sensibility, so his direction would be a key learning experience for me to write the screenplay for his film in a very visual way. In the past, I’ve had the tendency to overwrite dialogue and not focus on the visuals that much but with this project, I’ll be setting a challenge for myself to overcome this habit.

For the short film Tony (directed by Killiesha Bancroft and produced by Amnah Pervaiz), I’m attached as co-writer along with Killiesha. This film is a social realist drama focusing on the effects of mental health. This project would challenge me to write a mentally ill character as realistically as possible, therefore I would need to conduct research around the mental illness that would be portrayed in the script in order to represent it as accurately as I can. This links to my dissertation script in the amount of research I would have to do; most screenwriters working in the industry today have to conduct research to write about topics they are unfamiliar with so this would be a valuable experience for me.

On both Tony and Cigarettes & Alcohol (directed by Nick Toth and produced by Andre Meehan) I’m attached as 1st assistant camera. I have never been a 1st AC before so this would be a valuable experience for me to learn what it’s like for camera operators to work under a DP.

For the documentary Dancing out the Dark (directed by James Land and produced by Emily Mitchell) I’m attached as editor for this entire project. I’ve always enjoyed editing and it was one of the pathways for my dissertation I was considering along with directing and screenwriting, but ultimately chose screenwriting as I could not figure out how to pitch myself as an editor the best way I could. Dancing out the Dark follows the story of how transgender man Kay J Browning uses his art (poetry, hip hop, dance) to express his lifestory and experiences. This documentary isn’t a conventional one in the sense that it isn’t just talking heads with intermittent footage. This project would involve me trying to construct a story using an assortment of archive footage, photo stills and captured footage centred around Kay’s aforementioned artistic outlets. I’m very much looking forward to cutting this film together as I’ve only ever edited one documentary before in my first year at my prior university which was more straightforard than this one. I feel that this project would help me grow as an editor as I would have to approach cutting this film with a different sensibility as opposed to cutting a narrative film together of which I have a good amount of experience.

On the music video “Hand in Hand” (directed by Fred Iyeh and produced by Amnah Pervaiz), I’ve been attached as gaffer. During second year, I had a fair amount of experience lighting different projects (Tremors, Ordeal etc.) so I feel confident about lighting the different scenes required for this music video. Drawing on what I learnt from Ian Liggett’s lighting workshop last week, I’m looking forward to trying out the different techniques and theories that was covered during that workshop.

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