Tag Archives: Professionalism

Professionalism in Practice – Editor on “The Art of My Scars”

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The Art of My Scars is a documentary that focuses on Kay J Browning, a transgender man from Tiverton, Devon (the director’s hometown), and how he utilises various art forms as a form of expression to communicate his pain and life story.

I agreed to edit James’ documentary a few months back as I thought it would be an interesting challenge to edit a documentary as I have never really cut one together before, especially a documentary such as James’ which is quite unique and hard to categorise as far as documentaries go.

Throughout the editing process, James had a very clear idea of how he wanted to visually represent the three different period’s of Kay’s life which greatly helped me try and figure out how best to make the three segments mesh well together. The very fact that James had such a strong idea of what he wanted was invaluable to me as his editor as when I was unsure of how to cut a certain sequence together, James’ input greatly helped me figure out what I was I needed to do.

Paper edit of the film's initial structure

Paper edit of the film’s initial structure

The two most challenging sequences to cut together were the hip-hop sequence in the middle and the dance sequence at the end. Both sequences required a lot of fast editing, but that wasn’t the major problem. One of the problems I had encountered whilst cutting these scenes together was that there were either inconsistencies in the quality of the shots (some shots out of focus, shaky cam etc.) or there were inconsistencies in the performances of the subject which made match-cutting in time to the music a nightmare. This was made doubly hard in cutting the hip-hop sequence together as I had to cut that performance together whilst showing as little of Kay’s face as possible so there were other angles that were better in terms of performance and shot quality that I could not use because it showed too much of his face.

The dance sequence was tricky in that the first cut I put together of it, I used a wide angle shot of the dance routine that was shot on the Panasonic GH4 as a master, whilst intercutting it with various other angles that were all shot on the Blackmagic. The end result was a dance sequence where the colour palette of the GH4 shots were drastically different from the shots on the Blackmagic. As I am not that experienced with colour grading, we were unsure as to whether or not we could get the footage from both cameras to match visually so we decided to abandon the GH4 shots and focus on cutting together a dance sequence using only the Blackmagic shots. The end result for this was a poorer cut compared to the one with the GH4 shots as the quality of the dancer’s performances were much better and sharper in the GH4 wide shots than the Blackmagic wide ones.

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After getting some technical assistance from Anna Barsukova and conducting a colour grade test between the GH4 and Blackmagic footage, we realised that we could in fact grade it to make the shots match. This freed me up to recut the dance sequence using the GH4 shots and the final result ended up with a much faster and smoother cut of the dance sequence as I had more angles to cut to.

All in all, I am very pleased with the final outcome of the film, especially with the positive response to the film people gave at both the rough cut and fine cut screenings. I have learned a lot about editing and storytelling through editing this documentary and hope that I’ll be able to utilise the skills and experience I have gained working on this project in any future projects that I edit.

 

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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 – Gaffer on “Hand in Hand” Music Video

Originally I was not involved in this production in any capacity, but when Fred changed producers halfway through the year and brought Amnah on board, I was brought on last minute as gaffer as no crew had been sorted out by that point.

I was only involved on two shoot days, one which involved shooting a party scene which was tricky to light and the second which involved an exterior rain scene and interior bedroom scene. The party scene was tricky to light as there was a section that was outside in a patio that needed to be lit, but there was no visible light source in the space. To combat this we decided to put fairy lights around where the principal actors will be in order to lighten up the area and augment that light with the rotolight kit. The effect we achieved was that of a nice soft light on the actor’s faces that made it clear to distinguish them but it was still obvious that it was night.

Lighting the space with fairy lights.

Lighting the space with fairy lights.

The interior was a lot tricky however as I had to light a room that would traditionally be quite dark as it was a party scene. To address this, I merely used one rotolight and bounced it off the walls at a low brightness which added as a mild fill light for the rest of the room. James (the DP) had a light attached to his Panasonic GH4 and used that as a key light which helped capture the party scene atmosphere nicely.

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For the second day of shooting, I did not really need to be there as most of the shots did not require any lighting at all. I couldn’t even get into the bedroom scene because the space was so small. For that day I mostly acted as a 1st AC and assisted James whenever I could with the camera, although he didn’t really need much assistance as the shots he needed get were simple enough for him to get on his own.

Overall, this shoot wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be, taking into account it’s troubled production history and the fact that the producer changed halfway through pre-production. The result from the rough cut screening was a pleasant surprise and I look forward to seeing the finished version, as well as Fred’s second music video.

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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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Professionalism in Practice – Screenwriter on “Cellular”

After the pitches, I approaches Mantas offering myself for hire as a screenwriter for his pitched film which was as of then untitled. He agreed and he sent me a very rough draft of the basic plot outline of the film for me to formulate a first draft from.

I met with Mantas numerous times for story discussions whenever I presented a new draft. I initially wanted to explore phone addiction and how it could potentially have a negative effect on a person’s physical relationships with other people but Mantas wanted to take the concept in a different direction and emphasise the point that there are so many things one can do with technology that any real world counterparts are not as important; but at the same time he wanted to explore that all innovations technology can bring can be hugely distracting to what’s important. Eventually, I decided to go along with Mantas’ vision of his film and try and implement my screenwriting talents to try and achieve what he wanted.

In our subsequent story meetings our constant point of focus was on raising the stakes for Marie (the main character) in regards to her phone addiction, fine tuning her conversation scenes with her mum for strong dramatic effect and by presenting the story in as visually coherent a way as possible.

Mantas and I butted heads on a few story issues such as his insistence on including a scene in which Marie masturbates on her phone and my concerns toward perhaps including too much information in the opening newscast voiceovers along with the onscreen text messages. I managed to talk him out of including the masturbation scene at the beginning of the script as I, along with others who have read the script agreed that a scene such as that didn’t tonally fit with the rest of the script so he eventually agreed to abandon it. We couldn’t come to a consesus on whether or not we were conveying too much information with the on screen text messages and the newscast voiceover so we didn’t fine tune those scenes as much as we could and this would lead to problems that I will discuss later.

Eventually, both of us came to a draft that we were both happy with so that Mantas could start shooting. As far as I’m aware the production went well. However after the rough cut screening, an issue came up on the clarity within the film’s narrative as some people didn’t manage to catch the threat of eviction that was a plot point in the film. Also most people struggled to keep track of the opening of the film as they were confused with all the visual on screen information they were getting as well as the newscast voice over. This was an issue I had feared at the writing stage. Additionally a lot of people did not see the point as to why Marie would study to resit her exams if she isn’t eligble for financial support anymore for failing the first time.

Of course taking on all of this feedback on, there was little I could do to improve upon the story issues. This was a valuable experience in seeing how a director can take a script you’ve written, made a film out of it with their own creative vision and seeing how everyone reacts to the film you’ve written being presented through a different creative lens. I was at a crossroads on whether I should take the blame for the story issues or whether I should let Mantas take the blame. After much self-deliberation, I think as a screenwriter, I should learn to share the burden a bit more with directors who I write scripts for, because at the end of the day even though the director has final say on the creative story side of the script I still feel it’s my duty as a screenwriter to speak up and inform the director whether or not I think he or she is making the best story decision for the story they want to tell if I feel I have a better alternative. This is a lesson learned that I would definitely be taking on board in future projects that I script for others.

Drafts written:

Connection Lost (working title) [First Full Draft]

Cellular (working title) – Second Draft

Cellular – Third Draft

Cellular – Fourth Draft

Cellular – Fifth Draft

Cellular – Sixth Draft

Cellular – Seventh Draft

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Professionalism in Practice – TREMORS (Sam and Andrija)

For Sam and Andrija’s shoot, I was employed intially as their gaffer. I was unable to be on set during their first day of production as I was in the middle of shooting my film, but I was present on all subsequent days, eventually taking on the role as director of photography after Andrija’s original DP, Sara, could not be available afterwards due to the challenges she was facing with her own project. My first day on set as a gaffer was shooting the house scenes in which I learned on the morning of the shoot that Andrija had fifty shots to get through coupled with the fact that only one day was scheduled to shoot inside the house. This made me have some cause for concern as I wondered why Sam would only schedule one day to cover fifty shots. Then I learned that Sam did not receive any shot list from Andrija until early in the morning before the call time. DSC_0049             DSC_0051 Needless to say, this lack of preparation and tight time frame to work in made covering the scenes in the house feel very rushed as we had to run through so many shots in such a limited time. Ideally I would have liked to have spent more time getting the lighting right for different scenes/shots but the reality was that I had to work faster than I would normally work just so could we get through as many shots as possible. Also, the scenes in the script vary between night and day so at times Andrija would want to shoot day for night which proved impossible as no prep had been considered for this. Had the shooting order in the house scenes been properly scheduled to have the scenes in daytime shot during the day and the scenes at night/evening shot in the evening then that would have been better. Alternatively, if we had to shoot day for night, then we would have needed to properly recce the location and gather the necessary materials (such as plastic bags or foil) to cover the windows to make the interior look darker. All of this made me realise how important is to properly recce a location and to schedule shoot days properly in accordance to the amount of shots needed to be covered as well as the time of the day a scene needs to be in relation to the script. Had this all be done with this shoot day then perhaps we would have been able to get through all the shots Andrija wanted in the house and not have to stop and reschedule to cover certain scenes at a different location and at a different time. DSC_0045 Subsequent shooting days however ran a lot smoother. We shot the bathroom scenes at a different house location and the doctor’s office scenes (both interor and exterior) a few weeks after with little major issues that got in the way of production.

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