The power of a musical score.

I’ve mentioned this a in a few of my past blogs in regards to how music and SFX really add the emotion to a film and I think this Star Wars clip doing the rounds at the moment really drums this home!

As funny as this scene is, it was probably pretty close to what it sounded like on set.  I think this really does demonstrate how sound is just as important if not more so than the visuals.

What camera should I get

Ok this is going to be a short post, mainly because I just spent an hour writing one only to discover when I accidentally hit the backspace button that it’s been lost forever.

So I just want to mention a blog I saw the other day by a guy called Jackson speed…I have no idea if this is his real name but it sounds pretty cool either way.

He’s written a great blog about the camera he uses, which happens to be the same as mine.


And the points he covers are exactly how I feel too.

Here is a link to his blog.

Let me know what you think

In till next time,

Wow! I know I know it’s been a long time!

Ok sorry for the massive lack of updates.  I’ve had month after month of crazy amounts of work and then just haven’t had the energy to sit down and write something interesting.

It doesn’t help that I couldn’t actually think of many interesting things to talk about seeing as we haven’t been able to make any films for a while.

I was thinking about maybe talking about animation techniques or VFX techniques but didn’t want to stray too much from the actual core part of making films.  If you feel this might be of some interest then I’m more than happy to oblige?

I have decided one thing over the last few months and that is to scrap the part of 22 days later where by we have to use a costume, phrase and prop from our viewers.  It’s not that I didn’t like some of the ideas that we pulled out the hat. After all without them we wouldn’t of had the insane films we’ve made so far.  But to be honest we just weren’t getting enough ideas coming in and at the moment I’ve got quite a few short films I’d really just like to make without random input.

Maybe one day I’ll add that part back in but for now I’m going with just making a film in 22 days. If I get an influx of complaints then I will consider bringing that part back.

Although it has been pretty much work, work; work these past few months – by the way I can’t believe it’s been over 2 months since my last post; we did manage to shoot a short film.

The idea was to enter a short horror in a competition called: Short Cuts to Hell.  Unfortunately we left it far to late – the night before, and so had to make up the story, film it and edit it in around eight hours.

It actually came out ok, the only problem was that one of the rules of the competition was that the film couldn’t be more than three minutes. Our film no matter how we tried to cut it came in at around four minutes.  So we decided to call it quits.

I have decided to that it would be a shame to just leave it and so over the next few weeks I’ll finish it off and see what we get.

Here is a still. It’s worth noting that because there was only two of us we didn’t bother with any lighting and just used what we had in the room…which is why it looks a little bland.

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 23.37.28

In till next time – hopefully not two months.


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




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.

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,






The sound of Silence.



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,






The art of music and sound Effects

First off I just want to say that I am by no means an expert in Sound Effects.  This is simply a quick blog on my experience and thus tips and tricks that I’ve learned work  to enhance a film.

One of my biggest discoveries over the past few years is how much visual impact sound brings to your film, yes that’s right I did say Visual.   It’s almost like sound is a nitro boost for your visuals. If done right it can take an average scene or dare I say even a boring scene and add so much feeling and depth to it.

I once heard someone say that sound is the soul to a film. It’s the emotions of the characters that the audience can’t see. I thought this was such a great way of summing up music and SFX. He’d hit the nail on the head. In a novel a writer can tell you what the character is thinking and feeling. In film we can’t do this.  Yes a good actor should be able to convey something through their gestures and camera angles can also convey a certain mood or empower a character but it’s music and sound that feeds us those vital clues.

I think a great example of how we as humans perceive things is the Kuleshov experiment.

If you haven’t heard of this then watch the movie below and think about the man’s reaction and what he may be thinking

You may be surprised to know that each reaction shot of the man was exactly the same shot.  What Kuleshov had discovered was that by showing the audience an image, for example that of the soup or the dead child, we as humans automatically perceive what we feel the character should be feeling.

That is the power of editing but of course we’re talking about sound here.  The reason why I’ve given this as an example is because it goes to show how easy we as an audience can be manipulated but how we can also misinterpret a scene.  Obviously most of the time you’d want the music or SFX to enhance the emotions the audience members believe the character is feeling. So in the example of the man looking at the coffin, some somber music would be quite fitting.  However music can also be used to create a juxtaposition.

For example if we took the imagery of him looking at the woman. Without sound we automatically feel like he’s lusting over the woman.  But what if we were to play some sinister music over the top?  How creepy would that be?  This is where music is really useful in bringing out the subtext of your script, the words not spoken.

They say that sound is 70% what you see on screen and I believe that.  How many times have you happened to catch a scary movie on TV but the sound was on mute. Did you find it scary?  But I bet if you turned the sound up and closed your eyes you’d actually feel a little fear when the creepy tense music started.

This doesn’t mean you should be adding music to everything. There is a time and a place.  This is one of the problems we have when creating out 22 days later films.  With only 22 days to make the films from script to screen it means we have no time to find a composer.  So we’ve been having to use free music and SFX for everything. We’re also not very good at composing so it’s quite hard to be able to blend the music in and out. It was better to let the music continue to play in till a good point to fade it out rather then just abruptly fading it out.

If you do need to end some music abruptly it’s worth hiding it under a sound effect. An example in our film was when the four characters enter the hall at the beginning.


The music playing is fine up in till there’s a bang and they all turn to see what it is. By fading the music quickly under the bang sound effect it works quite well.

If you’re lucky you can also find tracks that blend together quite well and so go from one to the other.  But there will be many times when you just find that the music needs to fade out and it just doesn’t sit well.

This is why if you are going to make a film and you want it to be of the highest quality then hire a proper composer and sound mixer.  They’ll add so much to the production of your film. They’ll be able to take scenes that you thought were good to new levels. Bring out subtle acting cues and tense moments that just didn’t exist before.

A good example of this was the scene in the Great Spielron where Katie brings out the hat.


I wanted this to be very tense with a sense of foreboding.  We managed to source a subtle low bass drum type sound.  Just adding this to the scene created a real sense of fear.

Or another example would be when the boy goes to take of Ludwick’s hat.


This scene was a nightmare to film.  Nothing was going right on set and the shots I ended up with were poor and not at all what I’d imagined when I’d first written the scene.  But by adding the SFX and music, it brought it together.

Laying down music and sfx early can also really help you get a feel for your scene.  As long as you know the mood you’re aiming for it’s a good idea to find a piece of music that fits this well and just lay it down so you can pace your edit on it.

There was one particular part in The Great Spielron, part of the same scene as mentioned above where  the boy is entering the stage, Ludwik is laying down cards on the table.


We spent ages trying to edit this piece together. I wanted to show Ludwik’s temperament  through the close up of his hands.  I wanted to cut between the cards being dealt and the boy getting closer,  adding an air of tension to the piece. But no matter what we tried we couldn’t seem to get this across. It was only when we placed down a foley sound of the cards being placed on the table that we realised it was this sound that added to the tension. Like a ticking clock…or bomb.

It gave us the road map we needed to structure the edit.  Things always work well in threes and we knew that having three cards slowly being placed with the flicking sound, cutting between hands and then boy, would really add to the tension.  Unfortunately we didn’t have enough coverage in the footage to get this across as well as I’d of liked. We still added the sound of the cards being placed,  you didn’t physically see them but it still added to the tension…just not as much as I’d of liked.

Sound and music can not only add emotion to your film but can also emphasis objects.  The perfect example of this and one that is probably way over used but still works, is the sound of a sword being drawn.  How many times in a movie do you hear the “Shink” sounds when a sword is pulled from its sheath? There’s no way a sword would make that sound in real life and yet we believe it on film. It adds to the danger, it’s like the filmmaker is saying “this sword is really, really sharp”.

And so we decided to do it in our film too. I must admit I was skeptical about this.  It’s the shot where Mike picks up his knife from the table to tell his story.


He doesn’t even pull it from a sheath, he just picks it up.  We laid down the sound and it did sound comical.  But once we’d played around with the volume, added a bit of reverb and tweaked the high pass it actually worked.  Adding these subtle audio clues are a great way of emphasising items and clothing in your film.

One final tip is to not rely on all the sounds on set.  A lot of the time in films 90% what you hear is laid down afterwards.  Dialogue is probably the only sound that is used from the actual takes and even that sometimes has to be replaced afterwards. There are some scenes in The Great Spielron where we didn’t record any sound at all. All the scenes of Ludwick performing on stage were completely silent as I knew that it was going to consist of mainly Music and audience members laughing.


So to sum up.  If you want your film to have that professional feel, then make sure your sound is top notch.  You can get away with boring camera moves and lighting to a certain extent but if your sound is bad, it’s really going to show…which is ironic really.

Till next time.







Behind the scenes of horror The Great Spielron. Or how to try and put a film together in 3 weeks.


Hi everyone.

We decided to do a behind the scenes commentary on The Great Spielron. In this video Stuart carpenter (producer) and Peter Butler which is me (Director) talk through the video and try to cover as much behind the scenes bits as we can.

This is mainly coming from an Indie film perspective so all the issues we had in trying to create a film on no budget and in such a short space of time.

We tried to cover as much as we could regarding some of the issues we had in making the film, as well some of the fun bits. There was so much we could have talked about that it was easy to miss bits. But than that’s what’s great about having the blog as I can add all the things we forget here 🙂

One area we didn’t mention much of was the foley and music so I will try and cover that in a later blog.

For now I hope you enjoy our making of video. If there any questions please feel free to email or comment below.

Till next time,


It’s all in the eyes…the zombie eyes

Right well now that the film is finished I feel I can share some of the techniques we used in the VFX process.

There was a hell of a lot of VFX in this short which is why it took so much time to complete. Although I can’t say that any of the effects were of amazing quality I am still proud of how it all came together.

One of the more time consuming effects was the eye replacement for both Ludwik and Katie.  I did toy with the idea of using 3D eyeballs to create the whited out look but decided to try a much simpler approach which worked surprisingly well.

The technique was to use 2D imagery tracked onto their faces.

Here is a close up of one the  more complex eye replacements.


Now I’m going to try and keep the techniques to how to achieve this as simple as possible but if you want a more in depth tutorial video co-pilot have got a great tutorial here

The basic idea is you take photo reference of a whited out eye.  If you need to create one the best way to do this is take a few photos of your eye.  The idea is to get as much of the whites of your eyes as possible.  To do this take one photo looking as far left as you can. Then take another looking as far right as you can. You can also do looking up and down as well.  You then use an image editing package to cut out the areas of the eye that are white and combine them so that appears to be one white eye. Like this



The next bit you will have to do is to track your footage.  I’ve explained tracking in one of my earlier posts But to sum up tracking is a technique where by you tell the computer to track a point on the image.  Once the point or points have been tracked you can use this information on another piece of footage or image and it will mimic the movement from source.

When tracking you have to make sure you track an area near the eye but it’s likely that you won’t be able to track the eye itself as people either move their eyes or blink which will throw the track off. The brow or the nose is usually a good place to track or the cheeks if they’re not talking.

I would grab a still from the footage that I’m replacing and load it into photoshop. Then adding a new layer  I would place my white eyes over the originals and colour correct them to match the lighting as shown here



I would then overlay this comped still image over the matching frame in After Effects.  Using the masking tools I could cut out just the eyes.  If I was to then scrub through the timeline I’d get a problem of the eyes getting left behind, like the example below.


This is where the tracking information comes into use.  If you look at the image above you should also notice a red square by his nose.  This is called a Null in After Effects and I applied the tracking date I had acquired earlier to this.  This now means that the Null will follow his head movement exactly.  I then parented the still images of the eyes to this Null and Voila! He now has evil zombie eyes.

If you’re wondering why I didn’t just add the tracking data to the images of his eyes instead of the Null? Well I could of and it would of worked just as well. The reason I use a Null is that it gives me that extra flexibility should I need to move or rotate the eyes slightly on top of the tracked data. I sometimes find that the tracking data although good may just stray in one place or another. By having the Null contain all the Tracking data it means I can tweak the eyes without messing with that data.

Now the trick isn’t quite finished although for some of the longer shots this would be fine, for the close ups the eyes still looked too flat.  They lack all the moving reflections and specular you get off a real eye because after all we are just looking a flat image of the eye.

This was one of the reasons why I was thinking of going the 3D route. Using 3D eye replacement would mean I could get the computer to do all the clever stuff with the reflections, refractions, sub subsuface scattering. But I realised I really didn’t need it. If I just added some simple specular highlights it was enough to sell the illusion.

So all I did was to look at the original highlights in his eyes and add some simple colours that matched the shapes of those original highlights.



By then keying them to match the position and shape of the original highlights I could give the illusion that his eyes were moving. It even made them look wet and slightly translucent. It’s amazing how some simple highlights can make things look real.

I did this same technique for the shot where Katie looks across the hall to where Laura has just run.

One final technique I used to really sell the look was on the shadow that fall across his left eye.  The still image of his eye was colour corrected to match the original plate while that eye was in shadow. But the problem was that as he tilted his head up that eye then had light case upon it as you can see in the image below

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 23.43.18


So to create this same look over the fake white eye I simply added a negative mask that matched the movement and shape of this light shaft that would cut into the image of his eye to reveal a brighter version underneath.


Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 23.41.44


Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 23.41.49

So I hope this has been some help and if there’s anything else you’d like to know just drop me a mail or comment below.

Next time I’ll be looking at how I achieved some of the rabbit effects.

See ya soon!








Coming soon…honestly it really is.



Ok so this has been said a few times now and I’m sure most people are sick of hearing it. But honestly we really are nearly finished on The Great Spielron.  And if the Great in the title refers to the amount of time and energy this film is taking then it really is quite fitting.

I actually realised the other day that the film almost has as many effects shot in it as the orginal Jurassic park. Ok so they may not be on the same par but I still think that’s pretty impressive. Even if most of the effects are invisible ones, for example removing lights or modern day appliances that you didn’t find in the early 20th century.  Anyhow all the effects are finished. I keep spotting bits that need work but I think the film will never get released so I calling the VFX done.

Stuart and I are now just going through and finishing off Foley, SFX and Music. I really enjoy this part as it really helps bring the scenes to life and fit everything together. There were a number of scenes that I was really worried about but adding these Music and SFX has really lifted them. Don’t get me wrong it’s far from perfect but considering we wrote, shot and edited the film in 5 weeks I think it’s pretty impressive. What’s not impressive is the fact that it took me another 4 months to colour grade and add all the VFX, SFX and music.

So again really sorry for the massive delay. I’m not going to tie myself to a release date but what I can say is that it will DEFINITELY be in the next two weeks…maybe I should make that the next 22 days 🙂

I will also be doing LOADS of behind the scenes stuff on this.  All about how we did the VFX, SFX and the problems.

In till next time!