So we successfully filmed our short film ‘Over The Hill’. Everything could not have gone more according to plan. The weather forecast was predicted snow at one point, however as per usual the weatherman predicted wrong. We were gifted blue skies all weekend which was sensational. As everything was pre-planned beforehand, myself and the crew knew exactly what we were doing, when we were going to do it and what we were going to tell the actors when we got to the locations.
On the day on the shoot we woke up early and because everything was organised and already packed we didn’t need to rush or feel stressed. I took precautions and even though the weather was brilliant, I packed rain-covers incase the weather turned against us. We were graciously provided breakfast by Jake’s Uncle and were soon on our way to the station where we took the equipment from Cockfosters to London Euston on the tube. It was here where we eagerly anticipated the arrival of our actors. We arrived early with plenty of time to spare, so we decided it would be best for Jake and Alex to make their way to Regents Street to begin setting up for our arrival. Myself, Mick and Rich (who had initiated the original casting call and had been in contact via email and phone with the actors) stayed at the station to meet and greet. I thought it was best that we arrived 30 minutes early rather than 1 minute late; the last thing we wanted is to make a bad first impression by making them wait! Our actors soon arrived and we were immediately off to our first location, where Alex and Jake were waiting and ready to film.
Being the First Assistant Director I was in control of keeping to the schedule myself and Mick had prepared. There were factors I had to consider at the time in regards to what elements could effect the order of our scenes; for example weather and lighting, although I was reasonably lucky as the sun was out all day. I just had to make sure that we had filmed all the exterior shots before the light started to fade (around 5:00pm). I was also responsible for the safety of myself, the cast and crew, so I took extra precaution by bringing a first aid kit in my bag as well as emergency numbers keyed into my phone.
For keeping track of time I had rented out a stopwatch from the media loans shop located on Coventry University Campus and took notes of log-sheets during shoots which can be seen bellow as a PDF file. I had a rough idea of how long each scene would take to shoot from timing the set up of the equipment and running through the script on location the previous day, and also how long it would take us to get from location to location by timing the distance travelled on the London Underground.
Click here for the -> Over The Hill Log-sheet
Before the shoot I went through the script in detail with the actors on location, advised them on how to express certain words, emotional responses to portray and kept them feeling in a good mood. I wanted to be as enthusiastic as possible; after all they were the ones doing us a favour. After starting each take with the clapperboard, I made sure that I kept well out of the way of the actors’ eye-line while the camera was recording; the last thing I wanted was a re-enactment of Christian Bale’s reaction on the set of Terminator Salvation! During recording we all set our phones to silent so there would be no interruptions.
During the shoot I noticed some problems which were pretty easy to solve. Due to the extreme sunlight we were blessed with, this unfortunately caused massive shadows and during a take the boom pole and rifle mic was overshadowing our actor. Rich was quick to react and instead of holding the boom high above his head, he crouched down and held it facing upwards, with the shadow out of shot. As I am controlling the safety of the crew I had to be able to predict potential hazards. For example, when Jake was walking backwards with the heavy JVC, I was stood behind him making sure he couldn’t trip and fall. Another issue I encountered was that the opening phone call conversation between Phil and Charles lasted far too long. While the scene was being recorded I took a note of the timing of it and when everyone had finished and was happy with the take I asked Mick to step aside to make him aware that the phone call lasted 1 minute 10 seconds, which was at least 30 seconds too long for a piece which is intended to last just 3 minutes. I did not want to mention it in front of the cast, so I gently mentioned to them that they had done a great job (which they had, they were brilliant), but the script would need to be cut down slightly.
There were moments when we had shadows across the faces on the characters, again because of the amount of light from one direction. Thankfully we were prepared with a reflector provided to us by one of our lecturers. This provided a second angle of light which we could bounce the original light source off to create our own 2-point lighting. Other problems we had, in particular in the busy areas of London, were crowds of people. If a single passer-by was in shot and looked directly into the camera we would have had to re-film the entire take. It was my responsibility that this did not happen, therefore I had to be alert. There was one point where there was an elderly woman who wanted to walk in front of the camera because she thought she would “be on telly”. I had to politely ask her to step to the side with me where I quietly whispered random words to her in order to keep her attention on me and off the crew. This was the only problem we had in terms of crowds luckily, even though we filmed on the South Bank on a Saturday.
We were aware that permission was required to film on the South Bank, so we all brought our student cards with us, so that when we were encountered by the South Bank Security, we had student identification to grant us access to film.
For larger productions we would have had to go to the office building and gain signed documentation from London Council. This was similar when filming on Millennium Bridge, we had however asked the London Metropolitan Police patrolling the area for permission in advance, so this was not a problem. On route to Liverpool Street we stopped for a short lunch break in order to grab a student-friendly Tesco meal deal, which the actors were fine with. All expenses were of course covered for and I was keeping a note of our budget, making sure we weren’t going over.
This street, Artillery Lane, was perfect for where we wanted Phil and Pete to meet. Originally we had it set out as they would arrange to meet, although we decided to alter the script on location and have Pete jump out and surprise Phil. This was so we could convey a more emotional response and add some comedic value to keep the audience entertained. I also helps to break up the montage slightly and add a little something extra to engage the viewers into recognising the two characters’ history of friendship. This photograph was taken the night before and was nowhere near as dark as this on the day. We had issues white balancing here but luckily we had packed white card and also Mick was wearing a white hoodie so this was soon resolved thanks to Jake and Alex correcting the colour on the camera. It was by this stage we were running low on our second JVC battery so we couldn’t risk using the monitor. It was a sacrifice we all agreed on doing in order to guarantee we could film the footage, as re-shooting at a later date was not an option. I understand now that in order to be a successful 1st AD, I must be able to have immense patience, as there is a lot of waiting around whilst others set up their equipment.
It was near here that we filmed our ‘pub bench’ phone call between Charles and Pete, from Pete’s location. Here is a short video Mick took on his iPhone while the actors were reading though the script.
Once finished in Liverpool Street we asked the actors to meet at Hemel Station in an hours time. We said they could have a coffee break as it would take us much longer to get there than them, as we had to go back to Cockfosters to collect the car. We did so and on the way we continued to make our side-documentary of the whole experience – a ‘behind-the-scenes’ so to speak – which was a great deal of fun. Once in the car Mick drove back to Hemel where Myself, Alex, Jake and Rich began to set up the camera, mic and lighting ready for the interior phone calls between the characters from Charles’s perspective. When the actors arrived they were still enthusiastic and ready to carry on even though it had been a long day, which was brilliant. We soon began; the script was re-read a few times so they got the conversation perfect and I asked them to give slightly longer natural pauses so as to help in the editing process. It was only until post-production that we noticed that the shot of Charles in the chair was extremely bland, so we tried to use as little of it as possible as it is just simply boring to look at, although nice and crisp. Rich sorted this by overlaying the opening titles over most of his visuals for the phone call and also editing the voice of Charles to make so we can hear his voice as if it is coming through the speaker of a phone, while on screen it is showing the respondent’s reactions. We initially only thought of having the person speaking on screen, however due to their acting experience we soon saw that it was more engaging being able to see the other person’s reactions to what is being said. Smiles and other facial expressions add to the reality and character of the piece itself, as well as developing the individual personality of the character. We had to create manipulate artificial light to make it appear daylight for the interior phone-call and bag-packing scenes. We achieved this by facing de-do lights towards the walls and bouncing back the light at wider angles. We also used a large reflector to act as a diffuser; it worked a treat. I held it in position as steady as I could whilst I read out the second half of the conversation from the script.
We did the same with the lighting for the tent scene too, except this time we also used gels to create a warmer orange glow. We could have manipulated the image on final cut, but we had access to the gels so we decided we might as well test them out. They worked well; it made the image appear as though it was lit up by a nearby camp fire or something similar. The orange reinforced the warm-hearted friendship of the characters. This scene did take the longest out of all the scenes over the weekend, but it was worth it, as it was the focus point of the production; it was the part leading up to the payoff and the scene where the viewers can see the close connection between all three characters simultaneously. We allowed them to act more freely and add improvisation if they wished and we got some cheesy jokes and banter out of it which was hilarious. As we only had one camera for filming the same scene many times from different angles (focusing on each individual character expressions), I was worried that in post-production there would be problems with continuity, but I was pleasantly surprised. The actors acted and moved in exactly the same way throughout each and every take. It was wonderful. It is little things like this which made me happy that we didn’t use student actors or our friends in our short film. They knew exactly what we expected of them and they worked well to our arrangements. Little can be said for these guys:
Our main rule from the very first day that we formed our production group was that we were in no way shape or form going to film within Coventry or anywhere near Coventry. Each one of us saw this module as an opportunity to really exceed the boundaries of our own creativity, therefore the locations we chose, I believe, reflect that. The West Country locations we chose are iconic and beautiful, they are a part of our national history and we wanted to include them in our short. Why? Because we could. That’s the simple reason.
We made our path to Stonehenge straight from Hemel, where we got out of the car at a nearby footpath reasonably close to the rocks. It was £6.70 each to go up close, but we decided against that as we did not want to exceed the expected budget we had set. We were not able to bring the actors with us to the locations in the countryside due to our 5-seated car and the desire not to pay further return train fares, therefore Mick and Rich offered to kit themselves up in the exact same clothes as our festival-looking Phil and Pete (this was pre-arranged well beforehand). As the montage shots of walking past Stonehenge and the Tor were from behind the characters, their faces are not shown, therefore not recognisable, so we managed to get away with it. Mick’s beard is only noticeable after watching in extreme depth and slow-motion.
Here is a group photo of SAMPLE TEXT: Adam Davies, Alex Hacking, Jake Humbles, Mick Le Mare and Richard Neal on top of Glastonbury Tor, we were up there as the sun was setting. Not too bad, hey?
Our Budget was as follows:
- Food & Drinks = £15
- Oyster Card x2 = £10
- Taxi Fare Liverpool Street To Euston = £16
- Train Fare = £46.40
- Actors Parking = £6
- Mick’s Parking = £6
- Mick’s Train = £33
- Beers = £9
- Beans = £1
Altogether the total came to £142.40. Divided between the 5 of us comes to £28.48 each. Bargain. Fortunately petrol was covered by Mick’s Dad’s company car, which saved us at least £100 extra (due to our 700 mile round trip).