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

Video

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,

Peter

Mutant rabbit

Video

I thought I’d show you an insight into the process of building one of the characters from the film, which in some ways is the star of the film, the mutant rabbit.

This post does contain small spoiler so if you haven’t seen the film yet then what are you waiting for? 🙂

You don’t actually get to see much of the rabbit in the film. There were two reason for this. One was simply following one of the golden rules of horror which is, never reveal the monster till the end. A classic example of this is Jaws, it’s more scary because you don’t see the monster till near the end.

And just like Jaws this rule was applied for another simple reason. The rabbit, as in the case with Spielbergs classic, looked like crap and so I had to to think of as many ways not to show it as possible or at least keep it in the dark.

To be fair the model wasn’t terrible although I didn’t have time to study any ref let alone the anatomy of the rabbit so I quickly sculpted a model using a piece of 3D software called Zbrush.

This wasn’t the main issue, the biggest problem was the rig for the rabbit was awful. A rig is the controls that allow you to move the model around, very much like a stringed puppet. I’m not very good at this process, especially when I’ve only got an evening to do it. So the model had a lot of issues when trying to animated in that some of the limbs didn’t move very well and would distort strangely. So I was very limited in what I could do with it. Which is one of the reasons why when you see the silhouetted version of the rabbit jumping out of Ludwik’s head it looks a little strange.

The only other animation you see of the rabbit is when it hops out from under the sofa. Which again I made sure was very subtle and hidden in shadow.

So because of this I thought it worth sharing this video of the rabbit in all it’s ugly glory. I hope you enjoy the time lapse videos. I think in total it took about 4 – 5 hours to create the model.

Let me know if you enjoy these sort of behind the scene vids and I’ll post more.

Till next time,

Peter

Black Magic URSA.

Video

I’m not one to usually get excited about camera technology, well not since I realised that I was wasting so much of my time waiting from the perfect camera that I wasn’t actually going out an shooting. And you really can’t beat experience no matter how good the technology you’re using is.

But I have to say if I was going to get a new camera the new Black Magic URSA looks amazing. There’s a lot of nice camera out there these days but they all seem to something that lets them down. If the price is good it usually means they’re not full sensor or you have to spend another £5000 just to make the useable on a set.
If they have everything you need they’re also usually way out of my price range and most other Indie filmmakers.
Plus a lot of the time it just feels like the manufacture doesn’t really listen to the customer and is all about profit and not usability.

When the first Black Magic camera came out I thought it’s specs looked great and the price was amazing. But it had so many of the key functions that I need missing. For example ND filters, XLR’s even the body wasn’t very user friendly.

However with this new camera it really seems like they’ve listened to what people actually want and even going beyond that. And for £5000 I have to say it really does seem like a dream camera.

Having said all that I’ll go back to my original point. If you’re audience is moaning that your film isn’t in 4k or that the dynamic range in the shadows doesn’t look great than you have serious problems with your story. Plus 4K really isn’t needed at the moment unless you you’re going for a theatrical release, even then you don’t need it…look at the Blair Witch project or one of my favorites 28 days later. Neither of these shot on high res cameras.

In other news. I’m adding foley and and music to The Great Spielron at the moment. It’s nearly there and is actually coming together quite nicely. So I promise I will have it released soon 🙂

Even big budget movies seem amature without post production

Video

I watched these B-roll clips of The Hobbit The Desolation of Smaug and it struck me on how without sound, music and VFX it actually made it almost seem comical.

Seeing elves, orcs and wizards running around, trying to talk seriously without all the music and effects, really made me realise how much these other elements add to the overall film.

Now of course having made a couple of short films I’ve seen first hand how these elements can really take a scene that, when on set I was worried wouldn’t come across in the finished version as I’d imagined. Only to see it come alive in post and actually be better than I’d hoped.

But it’s nice to see that even the big budget movies have that same problem. Even with great actors they really do lack so much.

Of course music and VFX are a huge part of this but I think this really demonstrates how even the little foley sound effects that you wouldn’t normally think would make much of a difference really can help to tell the story.

For example at around 2:46 of this video one of the dwarfs shuts someone in what looks like a prison (I haven’t seen the movie yet). My first thought was, he hasn’t locked that the guy could just get out. But of course by simply adding a sound of a latch going in post the audience has a key story element that wasn’t ever told on set.

Or another example is the fight scenes. Ignoring the fact that a lot of the times they’re hitting each other with green batons. These scenes still appear and sound funny because there’s no sounds to back up the power of the weapons they’re meant to be using. Just adding metal clashing sounds and thuds would add so much more dramas to this piece.

The other great thing about watching these videos is it really goes to show how much has to be added in post in terms of VFX.

The Hobbit and LOTR were known for shooting a lot on real sets and trying to keep as much stuff in camera as possible. I really believe this is the best approach. One only has to watch things like The Phantom Menace to realise the difference in an actors performance.

But no matter how much is shot on set, there’s still so much to do in post. There’s the obvious stuff like adding vast vistas to the background. Or adding a dragon to the pile of gold. These all take a hell of a lot of work and a hell of a lot of very talented artists.
But these are actually just a small part of the visual effects. There’s so many bits that people don’t realise need to be added or replaced. So many things that are invisible in the final film (as they should be) but are a vital part of creating the illusion.
For example when Legolas is being pulled along by wires to make him look like he’s sliding. Some one has to paint those wires out.
Or the real swords reflecting the green screen. I wouldn’t be surprised if they just ended up replacing those swords with CG versions.
Even removing an extra because the director felt that one was distracting from the main action. It’s these bits that make up 70% of the VFX.

Without these artists these films wouldn’t be half as grand as they are and it’s a real shame that so many great artists are out of work at the moment due to studios closing their doors through bankruptcy.

Till next time.

Episode 3 winners announced

Video

Here we go again!

We’ve just pulled out the suggestions for Episode 3 and what a mixed bag they are.

PHRASE suggested by Eggnogonthebog “Excuse me waiter, there is a human toe in my soup!”

PROP suggested by Dave K A Commodore 64 computer

COSTUME suggested by Christine1948 An old fashioned strong man costume.

All our winners get a bubblegummonster T-shirt so well done all!

We now have a week to write a script based on these ideas.

I can tell you one thing, we won’t be basing it in two eras.

Till next time.

It’s time for Episode 3

Video

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.

Seperating the art of storytelling from the tools we use to tell them

Video

I just watched this fascinating video by Stephen Fry on the use of the English Language and how there are a lot of pedants who will criticise people for tiny grammatical errors. Luckily so far I haven’t had these people on my blog, I’m sure they’d have a field day.

I think a simple rule of thumb is if the language you’re using is distracting or confusing to the point where the story you’re trying to tell gets lost than your grammar and punctuation needs to be addressed.

What resonated with me the most was how I feel we have a very similar problem on the film making forums.
The amount of “film makers” I see spending all their time writing posts on the forums on how they’re waiting for this or that piece of technology to come out before committing to purchasing a camera.  
The pages and pages of arguments between these people on why one camera is better than another. On why the dynamic range of the Sony trounces the Panasonic.  You get them posting up comparison stills blown up by 300% so that they can highlight how the grain one camera is far more significant then that of the competing camera. Or the highlights on the woman’s forehead are clipping slightly more.

Now I totally understand there is a place for this, especially among Directors of Photography and lighting technicians. But what I found was that the majority of people having these arguments were indie filmmakers looking at buying a camera.

It’s an easy trap to fall into and I’ve found myself also spending far too long on forums reading more and more about what’s the next best thing coming onto the market.  It reminded me very much of the days at school where they’d be arguments about which computer was better, the Atari ST or the Amiga. Silly and pedantic but we’d spend hours arguing to the point where some people would actually have a fight. Of course the Amiga was far superior : )

This is where you have to stop and think, are these new tools really going to make me a better storyteller? For me the two bits of technology that have arrived in the last few years that I believe really have made a difference to my storytelling capabilities as an independent film maker are wide screen and large sensor (shallow depth of field).  These two really have helped us poor indie filmmakers get closer to the “film look”
Again it’s not actually about the “film look” it’s about storytelling. It just so happens that this is also the “film look” simply because film has spent over 100 years finding great techniques to tell stories better.

Wide screen is simply an aspect ratio.  The great thing about aspect ratios is it allows us the film makers to change how we want our film to be perceived to the audience. You’ll sometimes hear how a film was shot at a certain aspect ratio as they really wanted to get across a certain feel.  Generally the wider the aspect the more grand and epic the feel.

So although we don’t have the luxury yet of setting any aspect ration other than 16:9 it’s still nice to have that cinematic feel. And if you really do want to change the aspect you can always add black bars.

Shallow depth of field  is also the other great advancement in recent years.  It’s only been in the last five years that this technology has really become available to video.  Before that you either had to use a 35mm lens adapter or shoot on film.  The reason why I feel shallow depth of field is such a key part of storytelling is because it allows us as storytellers to direct our audience to where we want them to look.  This is huge and something that I used to find really frustrating when using video cameras with small sensors and large depth of field.

But other than these two piece of advancements, I can say that for me there hasn’t been any other technologies that are really going to make a massive difference to how you tell your story.

Put it this way,  if the audience have noticed that they can see slightly more detail in the shadows, under the sofa, that’s in the background of your shot, then your film is suffering serious issues on the entertainment front.

So to all those people that have fallen into the trap of the technology war and read so much that they’ve become afraid of doing anything at all.  I say think about the story you’re telling. Does it really need HDR, 10 bit compression, 3D,  4k resolution (that’s another rant that I’ll leave for another time).  If it does then wait. But I have a hunch that for 99% of people telling a story it really isn’t needed.

Are the films being told really any more engaging than those from 50 years ago? I’d actually argue that the majority of them these days are far less so.  Transformers is always a good example, just think about the amount of technology that went into that and yet I feel far more engaged watching the 53 year old b/w film Psycho than I ever have for most of these modern blockbusters.

In conclusion I guess what I’m saying is just get out there and shoot movies.  Learn from your mistakes and become a better storyteller. Having these skills are far more important than having the latest technology. Master storytelling and the rest will follow. You won’t need to worry about buying the latest equipment because the studio that’s hired you will be dealing with those problems.

Having said all this I will say that it’s worth keeping on top of what’s going on in the world of technology and if you’re an indie film maker with a small crew then it’s likely that you will not only be the Director but also the DOP and Editor.  Knowing what tool is best for the job really does help, just don’t get too caught up in it all because you’ll find yourself procrastinating.

And if you’re like me you’re actually begin to fear your ability to make a film, worried that you don’t have the best equipment and that your film is going to be terrible. And so it becomes easier to start making excuses, to wade more and more  through the thousands of posts that give your reassurance to wait before buying your next camera, thus allowing you to believe this is the real reason why you haven’t made a film yet.

Everyday you wait you’re missing out on the fantastic thrill and experience you’d be getting from making a film.

Doing nothing isn’t going to make you better, going out there and learning from your mistakes is what will make you a better filmmaker/storyteller, not a 20k camera.

Get shooting!