Mockumentary Filming

Mockumentary Filming

On Sunday 7th April 2019 I travelled up to London to film a short comedy skit for a friend. This was an interesting shoot but revealed something about me that I need to change.

An old uni friend of mine, Finn, reached out to me the week before the shoot asking if I would be able to help out on his short film. I was hesitant to reply, as travelling up to London for a day with only a week’s notice was very risky – I would have work that entire week and would struggle to find the time to digest the script, recce the locations, plan the logistics, or channel my full focus on the story in that time. But I needed to say yes to this, whatever the cost. Up to this point helping out on sets had been sporadic to say the least, in my spare time I did keep myself occupied with making my own films, but working on other people’s projects was something I begun to miss; so getting an opportunity to collaborate again was something I could not afford to pass.

Finn’s script was a short comedy about a ‘posh’ boy trying to blend in with a London gang and was to be filmed in a mockumentary style – similar to The Office, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, or Reno 911. In what time I could spare leading to the shoot day I studied the script and re-watched mockumentary shows to understand the shooting style and how I would implement that on the shoot. Something I noted and had to keep in mind on the day was how natural they felt, as if the acts were happening in real time and the camera was just a fly on the wall.

These shows would typically be single-camera set ups and cuts were kept to a minimum allowing for dialogue and performances to play out. The script had definitely been written with that in mind as there was a natural pace to things and moments in there which screamed “sitcom”. I drew rough ‘storyboard’ sketches on sections of action and dialogue I thought would suit the film and when I finally arrived on the day of the shoot, Finn and I had almost exactly the same drawings for scenes of the mockumentary.

Finn's Cancellation TextThe day of the shoot had a rocky start. Just as I was leaving my house to walk to the station, I got a message from Finn saying his lead actor had bailed on the project! Finn’s message said filming might have to be postponed until the following week but was definitely not the desired outcome. I immediately messaged back asking if he really couldn’t do today as I was legitimately bummed out by this – I was excited to not only go up to London for the day but to spend it filming as well. But then a miracle happened, Finn replied saying how one of the other actor’s dad was with them on the train and would be happy to step in! We had a full cast again, no need to panic anymore, which was great – it would just mean this actor’s dad would need to learn the script on their way up but that was fine.

St John's Wood Tube StationIt takes me about an hour and a half to get to the shooting location in St John’s Wood – just over an hour to get into Waterloo, a 15 min tube ride on the Jubilee Line to St John’s Wood, and then a short walk from the underground station to the location. It’s a lovely area and the underground station is beautiful with its brass escalators and vintage up-lighters.

Arriving at the location I’m met with a plate of pastries for breakfast and a group of actors going over their lines. I’m introduced to everyone before shortly being taken to familiarise myself with the equipment. For this shoot we would be using the Canon 5D mk4, shooting in 4K, and primarily using the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L Series lens. Even though I use a Canon 650D, all Canon cameras function pretty much the same with slight cosmetic changes here and there, so ‘familiarising’ myself with this model took no time at all.

GoPro Controlled Via Mobile PhoneShooting went pretty smoothly to be honest. The first shots were static GoPro setups from inside the car which we controlled remotely on Finns mobile phone. No one apart from the three actors were in the car, and because of how wide the GoPro’s line of sight is, it was funny seeing all of us run alongside it as it drove down the street.

Though what was even funnier was the banter we were all having with Nayana, one of Finn’s friends who helped on the film and had kindly let her car be used for the mockumentary; let’s just say she was nervous of someone other than herself driving her nice BMW.

The day continued to run smoothly and progression was made at a good pace. Everyone seemed to be enjoying it which is always a good sign. However, near the middle of the shooting day I began to be too self-critical and as a result come across overtly grumpy or curt. We had just done two long takes of the police officers leaving their vehicle and confronting the gang and I just started to hate what I was doing. I really wasn’t pleased with the quality of what I was shooting. It was nothing to do with the actors, I thought they continued to give a stellar performance each take, nor was it any outside factor like time or location as we were all chilled and running with great time to spare; instead it was my own self doubt in my ability to achieve good coverage of the events unfolding and satisfy anyone with the footage. As a result I became frustrated with myself and came across very grumpy to those around me and complained to Charles (lovely guy on sound) how nothing was working for me, ultimately bumming out everyone around me to the point one of the actors asked if there was anything he could do to improve the situation. This is something I definitely need to improve upon. Let this be clear, I wasn’t angry at anyone, I was angry at myself. Angry for thinking I wasn’t getting the best result I could be getting and that I could do so much more. Ultimately nit-picking every action I took and questioning why I was even asked to film this short. It wasn’t until the next setup that I felt comfortable again as I begun to picture in my mind the big picture. Finn is a nice guy and really has a way of keeping people happy on set; he chose me for a reason and was ultimately (hopefully) happy with the footage I got, and amusingly knows how I work and that I get like this; other people may not understand this ‘grumpiness’ and if I don’t change now it will have repercussions for me in the future.

The shoot was drawing near to an end and the final shots were set up – talking head interviews of the two actors in that classic ‘The Office’ mockumentary style. Easy to set up and got them in a couple of takes and even had time to fit in a quick photo op. We wrapped, transferred the footage, and said goodbye to the actors. It’s the small things that make a great shoot – saying thank you, umbrellas, charging sockets… and feeding your cast and crew. I’ve talked about the importance of feeding your cast and crew before and the importance of what constitutes as food, especially if you can’t afford to pay them, but Finn provided and ordered just what we needed after a day’s shoot – three Dominoes Pizzas. After a nice refuel, it was back home for me.

I was anxious accepting this gig at first but I went with an open mind and am glad I said yes. It was an enjoyable day and I came home with some definite food for thought.

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