All great films should start with a great story, or should they?

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I hear this a lot.  A great film starts with a great story, or script. If you haven’t got a great story then no matter how good your actors are, no matter how good your sets are and no matter how good your effects are, your film is going to suck!

I agree with this… to a certain extent.  BUT,  I don’t think a great film starts with a great story and I don’t think it’s the most important part of the film.  For me, the most important part of a film and something that I feel is the absolute key to why some films become classics and some films just don’t, isn’t the story at all, it’s the CHARACTERS!

And even go as far to say that you don’t need a great story to have a great film. But if you haven’t got great characters then you’re film isn’t going to be too interesting to watch no matter how gripping the story is meant to be.

Lets look at an example. How about Star Wars!

This film is classed as a classic,  95% of the people I know love this film.  There are a few that wouldn’t place it in their top and actually a couple that haven’t even seen it, but they’re just weird. Overall I think it’s safe to say that Star Wars is a classic film. But why?  Is it the story, after all if story is so important than surely if you read the screenplay without knowing anything about the film beforehand would you’d be blown away.  Well in the case of Star Wars the screenplay isn’t exactly on par with Citizen Kane. For starters the films called Star Wars.  Now this is so etched into out culture that it’s hard to separate ourselves from the words, a bit like Coca Cola or Mc donalds.  But just for a moment try and see that title as if you’d never heard of it before, STAR WARS.  It may just be me but honestly that’s an awful title, straight away it screams B-Movie!

So what about the story?

I won’t go into the story as, lets face it everyone knows what it’s about and if you don’t, well where have you been for the last 37 years? But to sum up. a farm boy goes on a mission to battle the evil empire. Along the way he meets a smuggler and some droids.  He falls in love with a girl, follows his dream of becoming a rebel fighter and destroys something called “The Death Star” (another awful name).

I’m actually surprised that Star Wars got green lit and I believe that if it wasn’t for the great characters in that film it would of been a flop. Don’t believe me?  I think one only has to look at the Phantom Menace to see how a very similar film can fall flat on it’s face.  Yes the story wasn’t great or as simple as Star Wars but I believe what really let that film down was the characters.  Apart from R2D2 and C3PO I don’t think there was one character in that film that I cared for, or believed.

So lets take a look at what made the character in Star Wars so good.  Well this goes back to something I’ve spoken to before and it’s a rule that all forms of art need to contain, so as not to be BORING and that’s contrast. If you don’t have contrast you have bland.

Contrast in characters can come in many shapes and forms.  It can literally be their shape, BIG and small, or their voices LOUD and quiet or speed FAST and Slow.  They could also have contrast in their behavior, maybe they’re always really angry but ever so often get very scared.

All of the characters in Star Wars are rich with contrast. Either within themselves or up against each other.  Each character brings something unique.  Luke is very loyal and driven.  Han is very gun-ho and easy come, easy go. Leia is very feisty and independent. C3PO is a worrier and quite feeble.  R2D2 is fearless. There’s also contrast in C3PO and R2D2’s size that gives them a very Laural and Hardy feel.  I could go on but hopefully you get the idea.

Now if we look at The Phantom Menace we have lots of characters who I honestly can’t remember the names of.  This in itself proves how forgettable they were.  It’s unfair to say that didn’t have personalities but they were so bland that it was hard to have interest in any of them.  No contrast in characters equals no chemistry between them.  If the characters are basically cardboard cut outs then why should we care if they live or die. The story could have the best twists and the biggest obstacles for the characters to overcome but if we don’t care for those characters then it means nothing.

You see this problem a lot in horrors.  The biggest problem with horrors is that the ratio of cost verses profit is so good that Hollywood loves to churn them out.  This is great in that there’s more horrors and I do love horror. The problem is that most horrors are seen as a way of making a quick buck and so character and story go out the window.  When this happens you also loose the horror. It doesn’t matter how scary the monster is, or how many jump scares there are, if I don’t care about the characters then it’s not scary.

If when watching a horror the characters are so bad, I find myself actually willing the monster to catch them and hopefully kill them in the most entertaining and horrific way.  On a side note, for me, one of the quickest ways to kill a characters believability is to get them to say or do something that no one in their right mind would do, or that’s just completely out of character.  Now I know sometimes the story has to be driven forward but I’d rather the story was a bit slower with great characters, than fast with really bad ones.

Another classic example of a film that could of been bad if it wasn’t for the characters and Directors vision, is Alien. When this was written no studio would touch it.  They felt it was a really bad B-movie but at the same time Star Wars had been released and 20th Century Fox needed something to keep the ball rolling and so they took it on.  Here’s a great documentary if you’re interested.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0TNjpb8O5LY

After many re-writes they felt it was just about good enough to go ahead but they didn’t have much faith in it.  It was Ridley Scott who at the time was a very new Director, that had the vision to take the film and make it feel as real as possible.  If it wasn’t for the solid acting and the depth of the  characters,  Alien would have been a very different film and probably a very poor one.

I feel so strongly that characters are the key to a great film that I’d almost go to the point of saying you don’t need a story to keep people watching. Take Big Brother, ok so this is reality TV so slightly different but people will quite happily sit and watch an hour of other people walking around a house, shouting at each other.

Now it could be argued that there is a story because certain people form friendships, there are rivalry and scheming all of which are keys to a story.  But if we look at story in the traditional sense then Big Brother has none.  The biggest hook is that they’re real people, we know that the feelings they have are real. Now the producers of Big Brother aren’t stupid and they don’t just put a lot of boring, similar people together, after all where’s the fun in that and more importantly where is the contrast?  So what you get in Big Brother is a mixture of people from all walks of life with very different personalities. Some loud, some quite, some confrontational and some diplomatic.  That is why we watch and it has very little to do with story.

Of course if you have great characters that the audience believes in and you then put them in difficult situations, placing obstacles in their way,  that’s when your story becomes gripping.  But without those real characters, the story is just an empty container.

I’d love to know other peoples opinions on this so drop me a comment or a mail.

Till next time,

Peter

 

 

 

 

The sound of Silence.

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I wanted to follow on from my last blog with an interesting point someone brought up in regards to sound design.  They mentioned how sometimes no sound at all is just as powerful as the use of music and Foley.

This is something that I completely forgot to mention  and if used correctly can really add power to your films.

I was watching a TV drama the other night, it was called The Suspicions of Mr Whicher.  There was one particular scene where one character was talking to another in a crowded pub.  I actually can’t remember what the conversation was about but during their conversation it became quite tense.  It suddenly occurred to me that one of the reasons why was because all the sounds around them had almost become silent and it was just their words being heard. One of the characters left and slowly the ambient sound raised again.  It’s really quite a simple tool but helped immensely in emphasizing  that this was meant to be a tense scene.

I do believe that this will only work if it’s contrasted against loud noises. For example there are  scenes in Saving Private Ryan that do this too. Although there’s no reason why a whole scene can’t just be silent, only using subtle sound effects to tell the story in effective ways. For example a ticking clock, a crow or the howl of wind slowly getting stronger.  This all work just as well as using music to communicate to the audience subtle clues and beats.

So although music is great for adding tension and pace to your films, those silent moments really do help. And if you use your sound effects in inventive ways you can really punctuate the pace of the scene.

Let me know your thoughts.

Till next time,

Peter

 

 

 

 

It’s time for Episode 3

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Ok so Christmas is over, we’ve seen in the New Year and it’s time to get busy again.

Although to be fair I haven’t really stopped through the Christmas period with trying to complete all the shots for Episode 2 “The Great Spielron”

I’m slowly getting there but as I explain in this blog, it’s taking a lot longer than we originally planned.

Give the man a hand

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Seeing as a lot of our films involve severed limbs I thought it would be nice to post up a tutorial I did on how to make a silicon severed hand.

This was my first attempt so there were a few mistakes made along the way. But it was a fun projects and the result has been used in many of our films including The Lollipop Lad Killer.

Some photos from Sunday nights shoot

Hi all,

I thought it would be nice to post up some of the pictures that Stuart kindly took while we were shooting some of Episode 2 on Sunday night.

On a technical note, one thing I was really pleased with was the lighting. It was such a simple set up. We had a candle in the centre of the table and then just a paper sphere shade hanging above.

I wanted have a subtle rim light to give blue cast so just used one of my daylight soft boxes a few meters back to give the feeling of moonlight coming through.

One tip. If you want a fast shoot, don’t get fancy with camera moves.  As soon as you start wanting to move the camera all over the place you get into a whole world of pain with having to work out where to place lights.

We kept the dialogue as simple as we could in terms of camera placement. Just locked off shots for two shots, close ups and one wide. And the same for the reverse.

We also tried to break the dialogue into segments. Luckily the script has breaks in it where the story goes back to a past event so these acted as natural breaks. We broke the dialogue down into 5 segments, each segment being split by a scene from the past.  We shot the first segment making sure we got our wide, close up and two shot. We had to do these for the reverses as well so we ended up with having to move the camera 7 times in total.  We then had to do the same again for segment 2.

We did think that maybe we should just keep the camera in one place and go through all the segments before moving the camera and  then returning to the beginning of the dialogue to shoot all the way through again from the next angle.

We tried this for a bit but found that the actors were then losing the flow of the scenes that they’d shot earlier.  So we kept to getting coverage for each segment.

I did try to employ a technique I’ve heard used a lot where a Director will shoot the actors they feel warm up quickest first before then shooting the actors that take longer to get to a point where their totally in character. But I found that all our actors were very good a picking up the feel for the piece and staying in character.

One thing I may do next time is try to stick more to what I had story boarded as I have a feeling I may have too much coverage. I guess you can never have too much coverage but unfortunately we ended up having to rush the end sequence because we’d run out of time and it was this part that required the most time.  I’d of liked to of shot the complex sequence first but because it required pouring blood on on one of our actors we had to leave it to last. Image

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We didn’t have a reflector so decided to improvise by using a turned up red table which gave a nice warm glow.

 

 

 

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Meet the actors

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Hey everyone,

Hope you’ve all been well?

Things are crazy at the moment with lots still to do on Episode 2 and starting Episode 3…and Christmas coming!

In between shoots I like to do some quick interviews with our actors.

This week we’re talking to Marcella Carelli on her role in the indie short film The Great Spielron. And also what it was like to have syrup poured on her head.

EPISODE 3!

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I really can’t believe it but it’s that time AGAIN!

We’re still in the middle of completing Episode 2 but as promised we are going to be sticking to a schedule and shooting Episode 3 at the same time, how CRAZY IS THAT!

That’s right, episode 3 is upon us…well almost. First we need you great people of the world to come up with the ideas that shape the film.
One clause is you also have to be subscribed to our channel http://www.Youtube/user/bubblegummonsters and you’ll be helping us look cool and popular.

So we’re going to need from you the following suggestions.

A Prop
A Costume
A Phrase

We’re giving you to Midnight next Sunday the 24th of November to do this. We will then pull from a hat (maybe the magic hat) one of each suggestion.

Whoever the winners are, get a high quality Bubblegummonsters T-shirt, HURRAY!

So hurry time is a flying.

 

No severed head :(

Which is a real shame as I really wanted to do a blog entitled “What’s in the BOX?”

Anyway it turns out that the head I was going to pick up today and deliver to the next recipient  tomorrow in London actually wasn’t in London at all but was in Glastonbury. So as much as I wanted to have the severed head in the film, I’m not going to drive all the way to Glastonbury.

I was literally on the phone to Kate discussing when to pick it up when she realised that it said on the delivery label that it was to go to Glastonbury, not their London office.
Damn and it looked so good too!  I’ll post up some pictures with this post.

Today has felt like a mind field of problems. Fire fighting all the way through.

So we’ve got the hall booked. Although like buses I’ve now got another hall as well so I’m going to check that one out as it could possibly be a lot cheaper.

We’ve got three of our four actors. Sam Nash the actor that played Sherduck in the previous film said he’d love to be in this one so I’ve cast him for one of the parts as I think he’ll be good.

We’ve got our two female actors and I do have a fourth but we’re trying to confirm he’s ok for dates at the moment.

I’ve also been trying to figure out how we can spill fake blood on a hall floor without actually spilling it on a hall floor. So far the only ideas I’ve had are to buy some fake wood vinyl. Nice idea but too expensive, unless anyone reading this has some knocking about?

The other idea is to buy some of that clear adhesive covering that you used to buy for your school books. The only problem with that is I’d be worried that pulling it back up would also pull some of the varnished floor up.
So this is just one of the main issues we’re trying to resolve right now.

Good news is that although Millennium FX can’t lend me a head they have got lots of spare limbs laying around so I’m going to pick some of them up tomorrow. Should make finding the hand competition a bit more interesting.

We also shot another scene today outside the hall.  It was a quick scene and only needed a few shots. Even so we were against the clock as it was getting dark so we had to race to get it done.

Here’s some more behind the scenes photos from last Thursday…wow can’t believe that was a week ago!!

In this photo Stuart had a nervous break down and curled up into a fetus position

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Me looking a bit mad.  Not unusual!

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Would you believe that this hat was actually a bit small on everyone else.  Fitted Mat like a glove, as in you put your whole hand in a glove and Mat can put his whole head in a hat!

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she's had a bad day

she’s had a bad day

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Busy editing

Hello again.

Today I’ve been editing the first scene. Here’s a tip, it’s always good to edit your scenes as soon as you can. On set if possible.  This is a great way of finding out if your scene will work with the shots you’ve got so far.  If you find that you really need that extra shot then you’re still able to get it while on set.

If you can’t do it on set try to get a rough cut done within a day or so so that actors can hopefully still be available and haven’t grown a beard or something in the the the space of you shooting the footage and editing.

Although I think for this scene it could of done with a few more shots to really make it come alive I’ve decided I’ve got enough. My criteria for 22 Days Later is, does my scene tell the story needed to be told?  Is my scene not jarring in anyway as to put the audience off?

If the answer to the above is yes then I class it as good enough.  Which is quite difficult for me as I’m usually a perfectionist, But I have to grit my teeth and accept that it’s the way it is.  Obviously if you’re shooting a film which you’re hoping to enter into festivals and more importantly win. Then you should aim to get as close to perfection as you reasonably can.  Because once your film is out there you can’t change it.  But obviously time and money are the biggest factors.

Here’s another tip. To aim for perfection shoot as many films as you can.

I thought I’d post a still from the film.  I’ve quickly graded it to give it the spooky feel that we’re going for.

Also not the infrared alarm in the top left corner of the room. We were aware of this at the time but was hoping the actor would be in the way for the shot. As you can tell, he wasn’t. I will have to correct this in post at some point. Along with some spot lights in some of the other shots.

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