Category Archives: Film Crew

The Production Process

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to give a talk about covering “The Production Process” at Film Oxford. Like many I feel nervous talking in front of an audience. They say you should do something each day which scares you, so I agreed to give the talk for an hour or so. One of the problems creating the talk was knowing how experienced the audience would be and how much information to cover. I decided to fall back on earlier experiences of filmmaking and focus predominately on pre-production.

The Production Process
If pre-production is well planned then hopefully the rest of the production should all go to plan (at least until post production). There was a dazzling array of talent in the audience (many who were specialised and had years of experience). I tried to overcome my initial nerves to deliver a candid and hopefully useful talk. Whilst some of the context may be lost I’ve included my slides here. I hope any other filmmakers reading will find some of this information useful.

Download The Production Process Talk Slides by Andrew Carslaw

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The A-Team

In due course I’ll post my experiences about filming Emmi. Before I do that however, I would like to thank the amazing team who helped make it all happen:

Adam Radley:
Adam Radley
Thanks for your friendship over the past 20+ years (feeling old now) and offering support whenever filming happens. You have been invaluable over the past couple of weekends (as you proved during both Etiquette and Spare Change). It’s great to see you flex those prop-skills again!
Alex Abbey-Taylor:Alex Abbey-Taylor Welcome to the crazy world of film-making! It was fantastic to see you tackle all the challenges, even if they involved redressing/painting one of your bedrooms as a set and letting a bunch of mad people move in to cause mayhem!
Amy Harris:
Amy
Thanks for being our amazing Sarah and bringing her to life, giving her the warmth you naturally exude (which wasn’t always written down in the script). Sorry for making you traipse around in PJs in the dark. Was a real pleasure collaborating with you on this. And you’re a Spooks fan, so can do no wrong!
Barbara Deane:
Barbara Deane
Thank you for coming in at the last minute and being so patient with us, despite all the waiting around and dreary weather conditions. I’m really pleased we were able to give you a bit more to do and hope you found the experience enjoyable.
Dan Edwards:
Dan
Thanks for your offer of help at just the point we needed it (ie. extremely short notice). Really appreciated all your logging/scene lighting efforts (that damn stairwell!). It was great to have you along for the ride.
Daniel McGregor-Gill:
Danny
Mr Gimble! Thanks for all those wonderful smooth shots you produced for us, plus occasionally scaling dizzy heights so we could black things out (having tree surgeon skills obvious helps). Your good humour was infectious and kept the whole team going through-out.
Diego Carvalho:
Diego Carvalho
Brilliant having you back helping with make-up after Etiquette. Really sorry you missed that Halloween party and your car misbehaved on the first day 🙂 Great to have you in the film as an extra this time also.
Gillian Kirkpatrick:
Gillian
Loved your insights on other productions, dread to imagine what you’ll say about our production! Thanks for hitting your marks absolutely spot on during that amazing mad dash at the end. I’m expecting to see you on an episode of Doctor Who in the near future.
The Hoodies:
Hoodies
Adam Gilday, Ben Wooding and Lara Stead – you all look menacing on camera, but were all extremely polite and patient with us behind the scenes. Sorry to get you all out of bed early on a Sunday morning just to be rained on and stand around in a grimy underpass.
Jo Lewis-Wood:
Jo Lewis-Wood
Thanks so much for allowing us to film your little one and being so calm, patient and understanding with us. Without your adorable (and amazingly tolerant) little girl this film simply wouldn’t work! There is a toy penguin heading your way soon!
Laura Jones:
Laura Jones
You contributed a lot during the initial stages of the project, then other things then came up. It was wonderful to have you and your enthusiasm back with us for the actual shoot.  Thanks for your cat-wrangling skills and all the lovely food you brought along to keep the team going – massively appreciated!
Mel Cunningham:
Mel Cunningham
Thanks for all your lovely photos and offering to help out in any way behind the scenes whenever the help was needed (occasionally in the form of cconfectionery). It was awesome to have you back on this shoot with us! Can’t wait to see the poster concepts.
Natalie Martins:
Natalie Martins
You knocked the character of Emmi (the script’s most difficult character) out of the park! Thanks so much for doing this, making it all seem so graceful/effortless and being game for pretty-much everything we threw at you. You were mesmerising to watch and hope we can give your performance the justice it deserves.
Oliver Richards:
Oliver Richards
Thanks for just being there and jumping in for whatever we needed help with, be it logging or the occasional bit of sound recording. I’m hoping we can put some of your after effects skills to good use in the not-to-distant future. Meanwhile Salsa!
Philip Hind:
Phil Hind
You were there from the very beginning. Thanks for all the lovely camera work, focus pulls and fastidious attention to detail (during both the production and pre-production). Loved your dry wit and no-nonsense attitude, can’t wait to see that assembly edit.
Polly Biswas Gladwin:
Polly Biswas Gladwin
Thanks for being our ears (usually in more than one way) and recording the majority of the sound for us. Your diplomacy was much appreciated on many an occasion and it was brilliant have another “original member” help us all the way through the project.
Rachel Pooley:
Rachel Pooley
To think we thought you might be the quiet one in the team before we started shooting – haha! We really missed your on-set banter and antics after the first day of shooting. Thanks for playing Ali, carrying buggies/babies all over the place. Wanting to play that 1 second music intro game again now.
Susie Stead:
Susie Stead
Last but by certainly no means least! The whole project would have never happened without all of your enthusiasm and last-minute problem-solving. And of course your script which attracted everyone to the project in the first place. I feel we complimented each-other very well, not sure this is how writers/directors are supposed to behave on set according to film-making folklore. It feels strange not speaking to you on a daily basis about “the next set of obstacles we’ll need to over-come”.

Finally thanks to everyone in the production group and Film Oxford who all helped out behind the scenes. My hope is that everyone on the shoot had fun making it and what an amazing team you all made!

If you’d like to keep up with additional information about this and other projects as they happen, visit the Ferny Films page on Facebook.

Derek Watkins (1945-2013)

Brass. Trombone. Tuba. Horns. The trumpet. The one sound which still eludes so many midi composers (and definitely myself). You can make strings sounds generally authentic, even woodwind can be replicated reasonably. Yet brass sounds just don’t translate – and there is just no beating the real thing. It is an art, a skill, a science and has a personality. I woke over the weekend to the sad news that one of these brilliant trumpet personalities is no long with us.

Derek Watkins had the unique honour of playing in the orchestra for every single Bond film to date. Considering the wide range of composers involved and the fact the series started over 50 years ago – this is an astounding feat. If John Barry is the true ring-master for the Bond sound and Vic Flick is the man who helped define that twanging guitar, then Derek is the man who developed that bold brassy sound associated to the series.

Recently I stumbled on to some fan-made unreleased music from A View to a Kill. MattJoe has clearly studied and transcribed by ear extremely faithfully (bravo Matt). I listened to the pieces a couple of times and there was a piece called “hanging by a thread” where I just adored the chord progressions. Now I haven’t studied it much beyond the initial listening, so this is my own memory based interpretation. It is a demo and unpolished, it won’t be entirely faithful, but it feels fitting to post it here as a tribute to Derek’s work even-so:

You can also see a brief clip of Derek in action here (which is also on the Skyfall disc as an extra):

Derek was suffering with rare form of cancer called Sarcoma. There is a charity page set-up by the Watkins family where you can help pledge (and buy a related t-shirt) to help raise funds for Sarcoma UK. This page and links to Derek’s official site can be found at: http://www.derekwatkins.co.uk/Derek_Watkins/Dereks_Charity.html

I appreciate what Derek brought to the table in Bond music terms, so this news hit me particularly hard. I also found out shortly afterwards that another important and inspiring Bond member, poster designer Mitchell Hooks (who designed the very first poster for Doctor No) has also recently passed. Again, an incredibly talented member who helped shape the success of the series from the very beginning.

http://www.mi6-hq.com/sections/articles/biography_mitchell_hooks.php3

To end on a slightly lighter note, happy 67th birthday (Friday) to former Bond Timothy Dalton a happy 67th birthday! He was ahead of his time in terms of showing Bond as a flawed human and it can be argued his portrayal is closest in spirit to the original novels. It would have been interesting seeing him in a third movie (particularly as this seems to be the point where the actors hit their stride in the role).

Credit where credit is due

I experienced a truly surreal moment last week. Whilst reading a Bond forum, I got wind of an Oscar “For your consideration” soundtrack which was doing the rounds for Thomas Newman’s Oscar nominated Skyfall score. The thing which piqued my curiosity was a couple of extra tracks which were not featured on the original soundtrack release. Naturally curious – I decided to try to check this out further, which led me to some less reputable web locations. I was very surprised to find on one of them contained a Thomas Newman demo tracks called East Meets West. Interesting!

On the one hand, it is extremely flattered that people might even consider my work in the same breath as an Oscar nominee (especially as the track itself was still a little rough around the edges – the brass definitely needed more oomph!). On the other hand, not only is this work free in the first place, I am not getting the credit I deserve.

Do we ever get the credit we deserve?

For the rough-cut of Spare Change I decided so many of the cast and crew were doing more than just their specified role it would be unfair to attribute them to just a specific role. We all mucked it, I appreciated all their efforts. Therefore I dropped roles altogether.

Spare Change Credits 1Spare Change Credits 2

This certainly isn’t the done thing in larger production circles. However I do wonder how much hard work is taken for granted as a result, and how many people get perhaps more credit than they actually deserve!

Meanwhile, I’d like to wish Thomas Newman (and the three other Skyfall nominees) all the best for tomorrow evening at the Oscar ceremony. Fingers crossed!

Sounding off

Busy times! The next big thing on the horizon with Gail Hackston is called Cancer Hair (“an unromantic comedy“) which has been shortlisted for an Eastern Edge Film Fund award. We are one of five teams to be considered and recently we all met each other during one of the training events. It was not only inspiring chatting to the other teams, but extremely flattering that we might be considered worthy against such talented film-makers. The main difference on this film will be that I am going to produce whilst Gail will make her directorial debut.  I will no doubt blog in more detail soon.

Meanwhile things have been trundling on with Spare Change. To focus my mind, I have agreed to showcase the current rough-cut and talk further at the OFVM film-makers 10×10 event in Oxford on 7th February (ie. tomorrow night – gulp!). This event is great if you are local to Oxford, it is where I got to have my first play with a Black magic film camera.

I’ve essentially re-edited Spare Change from scratch and thrown out all the audio captured on location. This was generally unusable as there were 100 or so students milling around on the street at the time, the thing which surprises me most is how calm the shots look considering the chaos happening behind the scenes. I must thank my student-wrangling team for this! I must also thank all the actors who came back in November to re-record their lines. I am pleasantly surprised at how well the ADR worked.

Spare Change Team

However my decision to throw out the sound was perhaps hasty and is now coming back to haunting me. It’s scary how many small sound-effects I need to source, little moments which add so much. The film being shown tomorrow will still be devoid of many of these (people seemingly float across the pavement without their accompanying foot-step noises for example). I am finding the whole process surprisingly time-consuming – but the results are rewarding and it is already sounding great.

Sound Editing on Premiere

If nothing else it makes me appreciate all the hard work that sound-editors do. It also makes me appreciate how much sound adds to a film. It’s been said that the visuals account for 50% of a film and audio for the other 50%. This film is a very visual one, but it could possible be argued that audio is even more important.

All the fun of the fair!

This week I took the family to the fair for the first time. It was wonderful to see the bug-eyed sense of wonder displayed from the children. It reminded me of the same wonder I also felt going to the cinema as a young boy to watch ET – The Extra Terrestrial. I’ve had a chest infection for the past month or so, so this was welcome relief if only as I was feeling vaguely more human – even if it was busy, loud, dark, cold and raining.

Which is exactly how I spend the weekend before this whilst directing Spare Change. Ironically, the original date we planned to make this was cancelled because we found out there was going to be a Street fair at the top of the shooting location on those dates. I also got to experienced some more of that sense of wonder watching our team come together and perform against all manner of odds. I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy shoot, but it all came together and once more we had a brilliant team!

Why wasn’t it an easy shoot?

Well firstly, it was a night shoot. Yes, I have finally have experienced that dreaded “night-shoot”. I found it generally okay but I could have done without the aforementioned chest-infection which felt about ten-times worse by the end of the shoot. I was on adrenaline during the first night (we finished at 5am – thanks to all who stayed!). By the second night I think many (including myself) were flagging  – understandable (we finished about 1am – again thanks to those who stayed!). Thankfully we had planned for this, so the shoot on the second day was much more relaxed.

Obviously one of the big considerations with night-shooting is lighting, so a fair chunk of time was spent setting up this particular aspect.

Next up, we were shooting on location. Location shooting in a popular area is always a bit of a head-screw. But shooting on a busy street is frankly insane. It appears freshers week occurs early this year, so we miscalculated events (especially as we thought a Sunday should be quieter). You can imagine the fun we had wrangling drunken students to keep them out of the shot. We had to constantly adapt and saw all manner of crazy things through-out the evening. At least the ridiculously tall drunken Russian guy provided some entertainment (and even offered his services to keep people back). Taxis were particularly annoying and would just stop in some of the wider shots usually with headlights beaming. Again, when shooting on location it’s always good to allow extra time.

(Photo: The Erratic Photographer)

Sound was an understandable mess with any hope of quiet conditions thrown out the window. A fair bit of work is going to be required to rebuild things from the ground up in this respect.

The icing on the cake was the weather. To be fair, we were predicted heavy rain all night but it didn’t actually start until 1am. When it came there were thankfully some breaks – but it did mean having to keep an extra eye on continuity (in particular costumes) and equipment had to be weather-proofed.

I am beginning to feel slightly better (still have the cough element), but I am already looking back on the experience rather fondly. How on earth did we manage to complete this with all the obstacles thrown in our path! Well, we got there, in no small thanks to the wonderful team involved (who I will showcase in later). What’s more we all had some fun, there were no accidents and nothing got broken or taken and the night without incident free. That in itself is no small wonder.

(Photo: VivaciousMel)

Cloud nine

So our BAFTA premiere screening has come and gone. Time to come off cloud nine and return back to reality! But not before I blog a bit about the experience so I can look back at this at a later point when moral is perhaps a bit lower.

The first thing I can recall is all the last-minute flapping that occurred – lots of it! It mostly revolved around train-times.

I was frantically trying to improve the sound quality for the showing, which involved editing/re-encoding/re-authoring onto a Blu-ray disc. Not exactly a snappy process when in a hurry. I eventually managed to do this with about two minutes to spare before having to run for the train (in a tux). This might have been quicker had I not picked up on a couple of other small errors in the edit which I also wanted to fix. I had to sit through the film three times that day before even seeing it on the big screen – to make sure things were technically “sound”! The next train issue came when our original train ran late. We had mere seconds before making our connection to Paddington. In fact we all thought at one point we had missed it. Really didn’t want this to happen as I had to hand the latest version of the film over to the technical team at BAFTA *before* 5pm if they were to even consider it. Thankfully all the hard work and flapping was worth it and they showed the “two minutes to spare” version in the end.

With producer Sherilee Wedderburn

With producer Sherilee Wedderburn

One vivid memory I recall is sitting down in the theatre, near Alex Babic.  We knew we were the first film playing. Alex leaned over and asked “So what happens if nobody laughs at it?”. For some reason this simple question hadn’t yet crossed my mind in all the earlier chaos. First film, comedy, no laughing… The next few minutes seemed excruciatingly long whilst I playing worst case scenarios over and over in my mind. I can only assume with all the effort Alex invested into the character he was probably doing the same. The main difference being Alex would be recognisable afterwards, whereas I could fade into the background. But this only added more pressure. Obviously I had to take responsibility being the director and I certainly wouldn’t want to make any of our actors look bad. Stresssss!

Thankfully we needn’t have worried. The film got an excellent reception and the audience got behind it. We even found ourselves worked into one of the speeches during the Disability and Development Partners presentation during the middle.   Was also nice to hear the chap behind me saying he liked our film best when the screenings were over. Based on audience reaction, I feel we held our own extremely well against the other films. So what about the other films?

Well, for me the highlights were Cucumber (another comedy) and Unremembered (which was a sort of mystery piece) – perhaps my favourite film of the evening. I’d say that both of these clearly had bigger budgets than our effort, clearly they had more time and better equipment. Both were slick and technically superb. The stories were fun. This said I think all of the films shown had merit.

After the screening we did a bit of mingling. It was great to catch up with all of the members of the Etiquette team who could make it (sadly being mid-week some were busy or couldn’t make it at the 11th hour). One highlight was our Trevor (Alex) meeting the original Trevor (Ross Sullivan).

Team Etiquette!

Also managed to catch up with the lovely Gail Hackston, who is the writer on my next project Spare Change. Great to meet and chat in more detail, perfect for keeping me focused on what’s next… Although to be honest with the absence of any dinner before-hand and the amount of champagne consumed, I lost a bit of that focus!

As mentioned in an earlier blog entry, Gail originally sent over her “Working Late” script.  Well, since then some Canadian chaps who go by the name of Filmstormers have gone and made it. Absolutely love those sound-effects!