Category: Short Films

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.

My Robot Friend – Film Festival Circuit

My Robot Friend – Film Festival Circuit

Film Festival Circuit.

My Robot Friend has finished its festival circuit and was an incredible experience. It went full circle getting shown in Spain, Italy, New York, and Bournemouth (its place of origin). I got lovely feedback from audience members and festival programmers and got to see first hand reactions when I attended its screening in Bournemouth.

The original intent for my graduate film was always to have it screened at various film festivals around the world. Since attending my first ever film festival back in 2015, I have dreamed of one day showing a film of my own at a festival and reliving that experience. This grad project gave me the opportunity to do just that, and focus a year of planning and filming to create a short worthy of presenting at festivals.

Part of the graduate project forces you to find a hypothetical client for your work – for students making content for TV it can be as simple as saying their client is BBC or ITV – but for me I had to focus my attention to specific film festivals that would suit my film. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of film festivals in the world ranging from generic screenings to niche genre festivals. As much as I wanted to submit to as many festivals as possible and see who would accept my film, I would have much better results tailoring my film to specific festivals, and finding festivals with connections to the themes already in my film. This would also prove that there would be an already established active client and audience for my film.

From this I decided to make a three-pronged approach to getting my film its festival circuit by dividing festivals into three tiers, with tier one being festivals renowned for their prestige, potential exposure, and track records. Tier one festivals considered are The Berlin Film Festival, London Film Festival, South By South West, and my personal goal of getting accepted into the 2018 Raindance Film Festival.
Tier two are local festivals on or near the south coast such as Bournemouth Film Festival, Southampton Film Festival, Solent Film Festival, Portsmouth Film Fest, and Brighton’s Cine City Festival.
The third tier to consider, are festivals which have connections to the themes I am raising awareness of in my film. Such festivals include Le Temps Presse which focuses on sustainability, the Illinois Sustainability Film Festival, the UK Green Film Festival, The ROS Film Festival which is devoted to Robots On Screen, and The LA Robot Film Festival.

After researching these festivals, and their respective programmers, correlations between film expectations began to show. In technicalities, festivals ask for films to be made from January 1st 2018, some festivals approve of screenings prior to their own whilst other festivals state that only theirs may be the premiere screening, and their attendance policy – and submissions in general – are marked with an eighteen certificate no matter what the content (limiting those who can see it legally). These rules are clearly listed on each festival page or Film Freeway (a submission platform used by many of the festivals).

I now had my clients, all I had to do was deliver my product – a six and a half minute family friendly adventure film which features robots and themes of sustainability.

FilmFreeway is the place short films and features are submitted to festivals. As a first time user, it was incredibly easy to navigate and shocking to see the never-ending list of film festivals on offer. Festivals from every country were open to submissions and it was easy to lose your head thinking you could submit your film to every festival imaginable. But again, I would have better odds submitting to specific festivals my film is tailored to than the generic ones.

The first step to submitting your film to any festival on FilmFreeway is creating an account and writing a short bio. Here you’ll have a chance to give yourself a label like “Director” or “Producer”. The profile you create is the face you will be using to sell your film to festivals.

Festivals may charge a submission fee and changes depending on how close the submission deadline is – Early Bird fees may be as little as £5 while Late Submissions may charge over £50 – but even paying a submission fee DOES NOT guarantee your film will be selected into the film festival.

After submitting your film to your chosen festivals, all you have to do is wait for them to reply if you’ve been successful or not; and there’s no consistency on notification dates as they can vary by months at a time.

But the feeling of being accepted into a festival is fantastic; it’s truly overwhelming that someone in another part of the world liked your film enough that it’s worthy of being shown to an audience with other films. It’s hard getting your film into festivals, I was rejected many times before I got my first selection, but just one selection was enough for me to feel really pleased with what I had produced and proud of all the hard work put into the project – and to come away with four festival selections, that’s just tops!

My Robot Friend – Painting the Robots

My Robot Friend – Painting the Robots

Painting the Robots

The robots were painted in bright colours to emphasise the toy-like nature of their designs and the happy mood this family-friendly short film promotes. Even though each robot was designed and built differently, they still needed to look different and distinct from one another in terms of their colour, use, and age.

As a family-friendly and child orientated film, basic primary and secondary colours were used to paint the robots such as red, blue, yellow, green, orange, and white.

Robot Claw Progression

Painting was a three step process as each piece needed to be primed with a base-coat of white emulsion, then painted their respective colour, and finally weathered to look real like metal and used.

White Undercoat Painting

Painting in itself took a couple of weeks to complete due to the amount of paint required to cover the total surface area of the robots and the inconsistency of the weather. Naturally, painting had to be done outside to keep the house clean and paint free, but also because like the solvent glue, this paint was an emulsion-based paint which meant it needed to be used in a well vented area. A respirator was worn at all times as a precaution.

White Undercoat Painting (2)

“Russian Red” paint was a lovely and vibrant red paint used for one of the robots and unlike the white emulsion, only needed one layer for it to give full coverage.

Once all robot parts had been painted their respective colour, stencils were made and applied to provide additional detail. These stencils were made from paper and masking tape and painted over with spray paint.

Paper stencils and masking tape applied to robot parts.

It is through painting the robots that I was able to include Easter Eggs into my film. The serial number on the military robot is my university i-number (i7627961) and the white robot showcases “B2”which is my production group I have remained in since second year. The stencil for the serial number was made from a magnetic scorecard given to me as a promotional item from Amazon’s Top Gear the Grand Tour.

Top Gear's The Grand Tour Number Magnet - with 762796 punched into the digits.

Finally, when all robots had their respective colours and their designs stencilled on, the final stage of painted could be completed – the weathering process.

All props, sets, and costumes in film go through a process of artificial weathering where artists will try replicating dirt, rust, and age through paint and other techniques. This is most notable in Star Wars where we are lead to believe it is a lived-in universe. If things aren’t weathered or given a hint of age, everything looks new and fake and thus removing from the believable fiction it resides.

It was a great technique to learn and experience but also a very upsetting one – for these robots have been beautifully painted and look incredibly smart, and now have to be ‘dirtied up” to make believable. It is hard to go wrong with this technique, as you’re trying to make it look believable on screen, so things may look too dirty in real life, but may not come across on screen. It’s a real balancing act to get the right proportion of dirt to where it would be most used if it were real on the robots and all to make look right on film.

The technique learnt is a combination of dry brushing and wet wiping. Dry brushing is where the minutest amount of metallic silver paint is applied to a very dry brush and vigorously bashed back and forth on any hard edge of the prop in question. This gives a scratched-away metal look.

Dry brushing technique and example.

Wet wiping is done after the dry brushing, and is a technique were you spritz water over the prop, put some black acrylic in the centre, and using a brush soaked in water spear the black acrylic all over. Then quickly wipe off the paint with a cloth and whatever remains on the prop gives a much dirtied look.

Dry brushed and wet wiped B2

B2 went from three layers of crystal clean white to dirty and almost grey after it was weathered using these techniques.

My Robot Friend – Building the Robots

My Robot Friend – Building the Robots

Building the Robots

The robots are made from EVA foam mats – similar to the ones found in a gym or children’s playpen. A suitable material had to be found for the construction of these robot suits – the original plan was to use cardboard and papier-mâché, however this was not a workable material as its flimsy construction lead to prominent creases and folds when worn or moved about. I had to consider how these suits wold be worn on set and transported to the filming locations, and cardboard was not strong enough to withstand the constant battering and reforming it would face during these days.

So a new material had to be found that was as easy to work with like cardboard, but strong enough to keep its structure when worn. When researching prop and costume building techniques, I discovered a material generally used on amateur or professional cosplay – EVA foam. Although this material is used for flooring gyms and soft play areas, it is a suitable material for making things with as it can be moulded with a heat gun, fused with solvent glue, and cut easily with box or craft knives. Therefore, if assembled correctly, this material is sturdy enough to be shaped and worn numerous times without taking damage. Additionally, for the amount of material you get, it is relatively cheap – this is because it is intended for flooring rooms so the more you purchase the cheaper it becomes.

EVA Foam Tile

EVA Foam tiles are 2ft by 2ft but must have their connecting jigsaw edges removed before use.

EVA Foam Template

Templates are used for specific or repeated shapes to aid in the final assembly.

Even though EVA foam is thought of as an ‘adult’ version of papier-mâché, this was still a new learning experience for me. Not only did I have to figure out how to correctly scale up drawings to human measurements and transfer them to the foam, but I had to understand how this material works. After each cut with a knife, the blade had to be sharpened as this material was so dense it would dull the edge with each incision. The fusing process took a long time to properly get right as a two part solvent had to be used to glue the parts together. At first, large quantities of the solvent were smothered on each piece and held together until the solvent latched to one another, but this proved ineffective as the solvent would be used too liberally causing me to run out quicker and the
fusing process not working as that was the wrong way to use it.

After this had been discovered, light coatings of the solvent were applied to each edge, allowed to set for five to ten minutes, and then pressed against each other to create the bonding process – they would fuse immediately when done like this and not come apart. These would then be left for a day for the curing process to complete.

EVO-Stick Solvent Cement

A two-part solvent is need to bond the foam pieces together. The bond is instant but takes at least a day to cure.


Safety had to be considered too when making these robots as the solvent used to fuse the EVA foam together was highly toxic and could only be used in well ventilated areas. As such, the windows would be open all day, and the gluing would only be scheduled for certain days to allow time for the curing process and fumigation of the room. Naturally, a respirator was worn at all times during the gluing process.
Starting in late October and finishing right before the shoot in April, these robots took months to build. But they were made with passion and due care and was a tremendous learning experience.

This was the first attempt at building the robot suits. Taking an image of a vintage toy robot and finding its simplest feature to scale up to my measurements was an interesting process, but the result turned out great.

Articulation is limited at the elbow but is more fluid at the shoulder. As the first full scale test, this build took over five hours from design to assembly.



New techniques in joining pieces together were discovered whilst building these robots. These shoulder pieces connected to the body from the side and needed extra reinforcement to make sure they would not fall off under its own weight, or be torn due to its location on the body – at the shoulder the arms would be moving constantly and could cause these piece to rip off entirely. Therefore, these pieces were cut with ‘jigsaw’ teeth that would slot into the body and be reinforced by their extra centimetre into the body – a joining method similar to comb joints or dovetails used in carpentry.

To give a sense of scale and how much material was used in the construction of these robots, on the left is a stack of ready-to-assemble pieces that would soon become thighs and shins, and on the right are the thighs mid-assembly.

Building these robots myself and not having the luxury to assembly or store these in a garage or shed meant that I had to live with these in my bedroom at all times. These robots would take up more space the further I progressed with them until eventually I was living with four fully assembled robots – these robots were all built slightly larger to my measurements so it was if I was living with four other people in my room.

If I wanted to work, all the robots had to go on the bed so the floor would be free for me to continue cutting or gluing, and if I wanted to sleep everything had to be moved to the floor.

Building these robots was a learning curve that I had to overcome and hurdles did present themselves. When starting out, I wasn’t careful and rushed the cutting process which caused me to slip with the knife and cut my fingers – losing a chunk of my nail. Thankfully the knife is sharpened after every incision to the foam so it was an incredibly clean cut to my fingers.

The message of this short film is to use what you have to make something great and that is even represented in the construction of these robots as certain designs or components were too difficult to make out of EVA foam so things had to be scavenged to work in the build.

For the child’s homemade robot, and the green military robot, their heads required a dome or half sphere. Unfortunately, the thickness of the EVA foam hinders the creation of spheres in general if one were to try and assemble one with segments. I had to be resourceful and find something that would be a suitable substitute so I ended up using lids from recycling bins.

After all the robot body parts had been cut and glued, it was time for assembly and test fitting. A fatal design floor in these robots however is that they were built to my measurements, so finding someone similar in size to me, willing to act in these suits, and be free on the shoot days was another challenge to overcome. However, Bradley Wyatt agreed to be the robot actor and was the perfect size for the suits.

Robot Test Fitting

It was wonderful seeing these robots fully assembled and finally come to life! There were still improvements needed though when testing these suits with Brad. Namely in what order the pieces would go on and how long it takes for the robot to go together. Additionally, as pieces were cut to my measurements, some were just a bit too small for Brad, so needed minor tweaking.

Robot Test Fitting

The shin pieces need to be completely recut to accommodate for Brad’s knees, and all shoulder or arm pieces needed small pieces to be cut out of them for his arm to go in easier.

After these adjustments were made, the next step would be to paint these robots.

Scrap robots which the protagonist scavenges from the bin also had to be made. As these were designed to look damaged and broken and never from close up, these were made out of cardboard and did not need to be precise in their construction – hence the greebling of yoghurt tubs and egg

Scrap Robots - Made From Cardboard

My Robot Friend – Designing the Robots

My Robot Friend – Designing the Robots

Designing the Robots

Robots were a large factor in the production of this film. They represent the excessive consumer choice in our society – there are so many robots to choose from, that once finished with one robot or it becomes ‘obsolete’ one can just discard it and move onto a newer model.
Our world is trapped in a throwaway mind-set with our technology of mobile phones, tablets, or computers, discarded without hesitation when the opportunity rises to get an update. Film allows the extraordinary to be brought to the ordinary; so robots are used to replace and represent our most advanced yet mundane ‘disposable’ technology – mobile devices.

Vintage Toy Robots

The robot designs are based off of vintage toy robots from the 1960’s to counter hyper-realistic designs in contemporary science-fiction. They have also been made to evoke nostalgia in viewers to when robots used to be colourful, playful, and happy.

Rough Sketches and Designs of Robots

Sketches were made to see which robots would be the best fit in the real world and the simplest to build. The sketches helped me discover limitations in time and construction as I was able to see how much material would be need to build them and how much or little detail each would have.

Bournemouth’s 48 Hour Film Contest

Bournemouth’s 48 Hour Film Contest

On the 17th November 2017 Aimee, Sarah, and I competed in the Bournemouth ‘Shooting From the Hip’ 48 hour film contest. It was an awesome experience for me as this was my first ever 48 hour film challenge (Aimee and Sarah had already competed in the previous year’s event). As such, there was loads of new things for me to learn and figure out over the weekend.


I missed out on competing in last year’s Shooting From the Hip due to other commitments but set myself the goal of at least taking part in one 48 hour competition while studying in Bournemouth. With news of Shooting From the Hip’s return, I asked my friends if they would like to form a group with me – to which they responded they were already going to partake and had a full group. Heckling ensued with me stating I would form my own group with better people and beat them in the contest. Little did I know this would actually be the greatest decision I would make.

I teamed up with Sarah Martineau and Aimee Webb, two students on my course and in my class. At the time, our friendship was new and starting out, but it was through working on the 48 hour film challenge that our friendship cemented itself and we got to know each other on a higher level.


Like everyone else, we were to go into the competition blind, not knowing our film’s title, prop, characters, story, or anything else related to the actual production. But there were things we could work on before the event to help in advance like roles, equipment, locations, and sleeping arrangements. Unlike other groups who booked out tonnes of kit from uni, our group were fortunate that Aimee and I already had a full arsenal of filmmaking equipment. No need to lug around or store unnecessary pelicases of gear, just decided between the two of us what we wanted and who’s we’ll use.


When we arrived at the bar, we mingled with the other contestants – mostly uni students, with some families and Bournemouth folk filling the gaps. Naturally we hazed our friends and got heckled in return on who would win, but ultimately had a good time with a chill drink and talked with people taking part – wishing them well in the process.

Title and Prop Envelope
When all the groups had signed in and were present at the bar, the envelopes containing the titles of the films and the props to be used were announced. The title for our film was Fist Mouth and the prop we had to use (in any way we wanted) was a pair of black rubber gloves.







Screening Day

Jenna The Great – Campaign

Jenna The Great – Campaign

Jenna The Great is an independent short film written and directed by Dan Tonkin. It’s a story about a cocky student; Jenna, waking up with peoples chosen favourite philosopher; Aristotle, to deliver you a funny hidden chapter of history about the most unlikeliest of friendships ever forged.

On the 26th of April, I filmed the material for the campaign video that will be hosted on IndieGoGo as the cast and crew raise funds and attention for this short.

This was a really easy and fun set up to do and the cast and crew who would star in the promotional video were great to be around. Everyone showed enthusiasm for the day and the film in general, and contributed wonderfully to the video.

Working with Dan again is ace and I’m super grateful he’s got me on-board to help out with this project.

Here is the finished video and the link to the campaign page…

I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

This is the account of a two day shoot conducted on the south coast near the village of Beer in late March 2017.

A lot of things happened on this shoot and I shall tell them as fairly as possible without drifting too much into opinion.

I was contacted five days before the shoot as to whether or not I would be interested in helping out. I was hesitant at first, for five days was a very short amount of time for me to make my decision and prepare for an intensive two days of filming. I reluctantly said yes, however, for three reasons; first I did not want to disappoint the person hiring me (for they had explicitly came to me for help), second, I was greedy – I still wanted more experience in the field, and third, I was promised many great things from this shoot which was a factor many of the other crew members came on-board for.

I was weary. I was given no information about this shoot other than “it’s a whooper” and “we’d be working on an interesting piece, set in 400AD with a bloke who kicks about with A-Lister’s like Paramount, Universal, and Virgin Entertainment”. In retrospect, I should have demanded more information and researched who I would have been working with, with further caution going into it sounding too good to be true. But I accept my mistake and have learned immensely from it.

I was requested to come onto this project as a Spark (Electrician) and to be confident in using Cine or LED lights – to which they also wanted me to book my own from uni. I was fine with that and pretty excited to be given a role of this calibre on this film.

Friday came round and I was still in the dark with information on this project and I had to be at The Anchor Inn for dinner and debriefing at 8:30pm. I had received no call sheet, shot list, or even a script. I didn’t even know what the story was we would be filming! What was more concerning, the person who had brought me on-board was the Assistant Producer / Production Manager and had not received this basic information either. The more time would pass, the more cracks in this production one would see.

We arrived at the Inn and met the cast and crew, who to my surprise were university students like me. They had been waiting well over an hour to meet with the people in charge of this project (Director, Producer, Lead Actor) and had the same information as us. It got to 9pm and still no sign and everyone was getting hungry. According to an email “You will be given a meal and drinks (paid for) with a pre-production brief from the Director and Producers.” The meal turned out to be a buffet of crisps, sausage rolls, and tomato soup. We had our food and then had an unnecessarily long briefing about the film.

Further issues rose from this meeting. No one had been formally introduced so the Director did not know who anyone was or what their role was. Had a Call Sheet been made, he (along with everyone else) would have had names, numbers and positions. Instead, we spent an hour discussing what people were doing and who felt comfortable with what – exposing what experience people have had on set.

“R2 says that the chances of survival are 725 to 1. Actually R2 has been known to make mistakes… from time to time… Oh dear…”

Finally the Director revealed what the story was all about. I may be wrong, but there was nothing special about this film and its plot. To be fair, I did sign a non-disclosure agreement form, so I shall not spoil the plot, however, he was ‘bigging’ this up so much. For all I know, it could skyrocket and become a great independent short, but the Director was comparing his project to Game of Thrones and stating his competition was Guy Ritchie and his upcoming film Arthur. Props to the Director for having such faith and passion in his project, but to be so protective of it to not even disclose it to his cast and crew until the briefing before the shoot is idealistic and unacceptable.

The meeting continued to 11pm with him discussing minute details about the film such as the actors beard whilst the entire cast and crew just wanted to get to their accommodation and sleep – ready for the early morning call time of 6am the following day. But everyone was held back for even more time – No one knew the location of the camp we would be staying in, the chalet number they would be assigned, nor did they know who they would be staying with. Tensions had worn thin, people just wanted to sleep (especially knowing that now they would be getting less than seven hours rest). The majority of the cast and crew got to their cabins just before midnight, however, the Assistant Directors, Assistant Producers, Production Managers, and Producers, continued their meeting until 2am figuring out how this film was going to be made.

It was very dark when we arrived at the caravan park – the only light apart from our phones and torches were the security lights on the sides of the cabins – so visibility was low. This made everyone wonder where we actually were and what views would be there to treat us in the morning. Sun rose, and we were all greeted with a beautiful vista of sea and hills.

“This is where the fun begins”

Saturday morning came and we all trekked with equipment to the cliff top. We were told that “the journey to the filming location is only a short walk”. This was a lie. Firstly, we walked 1km with boxes of heavy equipment to an old lookout tower with no signs of an easy walk down. We would then be told we would have to use the other path. So we backtracked 200m to then walk an additional 1.2km down a treacherous cliff-face path to the set location. There was no concern for anyone’s safety. Anyone of us could have been injured traversing this terrain. The path was steep with no railing, guide ropes or barrier to prevent the public from falling off the cliff-face. There were loose rocks underfoot as the path became narrow. It must have rained previously too as the ground was muddy and slippery. And what obviously made it worse was the fact everyone was slowly walking down this cliff-face with heavy pelicases, flightcases or just plain boxes of equipment. It is a miracle no one was hurt. It was a blatant disregard for our health and safety.

I feel sorry for the young members of the crew who had to lug the 40kg petrol generator down the cliff-face. That was not fair. That was not safe.

This could have all be avoided if the cast and crew had known what they were getting themselves in for. Instead, the Director kept his arrogance about him and refused to disclose information about his precious film. A simple recce could have informed the people that the journey was one of length and danger. Transparency. Even if a recce had not been conducted (which was most likely the case) then go early to assess the location and find a solution.

We are trained as early as college (sixth-form for some) the importance of a recce. A recce comes from the military as ‘reconnaissance’ – you go to a location prior to your shoot to assess its suitability. You assess it on its appropriateness to the films potential visuals, and its safety. How accessible is it, does it have phone signal, does it have wifi, what is its proximity to emergency services? All these issues are supposed to be found out through a recce.

I asked the question, had something happened whilst carrying equipment on that cliff-face, how fast and how easy would aid have been provided. Most probably, the air ambulance would have had to have been called out. And even then, how fast would they have got to the cliff-face path? I only discovered that one person of the crew of 20 was trained in first aid and that the first aid kit was that borrowed off another student.

I love film and wholeheartedly support independent film, and it saddens me when I read stories of people being injured or killed on film sets due to ignorance or arrogance. Let us not forget the tragic loss of Camera Assistant Sarah Jones on the set of Midnight Rider. This all cycles back to the respect for your crew. You are responsible for these people. Do not put them in danger to satisfy your vanity project.

The equipment is down the hill and on the seafront being set up and organised for the shoot. This takes a long time for the film to get up and running. In that time I was just guarding the equipment. More time passed and I was sent to do a recce of my own whilst collecting the actor. The actor had arrived and parked in a lot on the seafront which was much more accessible than the cliff-face walk – all that was needed to be done was walk along the shoreline. We walked back along the shoreline where I explained the new route to get equipment to set for the next day. Later on, The Production Manager, a Production Assistant, and I would then walk back up the cliff-face, to grab the car, collect food and coffee, drive to that lot, and walk the shoreline (with food and coffee) to the set. This was fun… The tea and coffee we collected was not in a thermos, but in twenty individual coffee cups lined in two trays which the Production Assistant and I had to precariously hold on our laps whilst the Production Manager as hard as he could carefully drive us to that lot. This tea and coffee spilled on both our laps burning our hands, wrists, thighs and crotch. Then to walk the shoreline with soaked trousers and heavy, awkward to carry trays of food and drink for them to go cold without even a hint of thanks removed all motivation or hope to continue on this project.

After that ordeal it is hard for me to recount what else happened that day. But be assured, as the day came closer to an end more cracks started to appear and the cast and crew became more worried. Discussions arose about people wanting to bail, who would be paid, what we would have for dinner and so forth. Our only saving grace for that day was that a local tractor owner kindly drove up to set to transport the equipment back to the car park. We had pizza for dinner.

Hooken Cliffs Sunrise

Day two and the clocks went forward. Technically, this put the production behind an hour as a sunrise timelapse was to be conducted at 6am, but did not happen until 7am? It was very pretty.

Sunday was a much better day – probably because everyone not only wanted this film to be finished, but that everyone had learnt from yesterday, including the director. This day was efficient and well organised. Equipment was delivered via tractor from the lot and the assistant directors were stern in not allowing the director to shoot or add unnecessary shots. I actually did stuff this day too and my help was actually required! Yesterday I had been wasted and kept on the bench, as soon as I was called on-board they noticed a significant difference! I’m good – don’t leave me on the side-lines, coach. Sure it was just a glorified runner’s role I did, but I still managed to be active on this set. I played interference with the production manager so he would not further agitate the film, kept on top of the batteries, provided clips for the 2nd AC, and was the only one with super glue and clear tape to fix the prop sward. I still laugh, brought on as a ‘Spark’ but really what I did on this film was provide the 2nd AC with my clapperboard, pens and clips, hold a reflector, and did runner responsibilities and a bit of ushering.

We wrapped early and returned to the camp to pack and go home. But before we could, we had to have a meeting to tell the director what went wrong, and what should be avoided in the future. We are all better for it. And we have a good story from it to boot.

Apart from the obvious, I also took away with me some interesting thoughts for my future…

The truth of the matter is…hell, we are not ready. We knew they were coming for over a year. We’ve thrown every resource we have into this, but still…

Even though this film was poorly organised, and poorly directed, and had very little transparency and communication, the film crew which consisted of first and second year film students were more trained and knowledgeable of their craft than any second or third year student of Bournemouth Uni’s Media Production. These students were reliable, knew their stuff, fun to talk with, and had passion. In short, those on my course who dream to be in film, are not ready. We are not ready. We are not trained or given the resources to even compare ourselves to these students. This is partly because Media Production is so broad and covers all areas of the media (website production, audio production, scriptwriting, filmmaking, art installations, and theory) but also because this course is more tailored for a career in marketing and public relations. Only those who take the initiative and learn what they want to focus in may have a better chance at getting to where they want to.

I leave this post as a message to myself and a warning to others. Please respect your cast and crew in all areas of the project, and start training now if you know what your endgame is; for the future could bring you anything, and you need to be prepared for whatever it brings.

Twisted Short Film – Blog Entry 1

Twisted Short Film – Blog Entry 1

Twisted is a grad project by a third year Media Production student. The film was shot over seven days, though I was only brought on for three.

This is the account of Day 5, the first day I was on call.

Being on this shoot was not an enjoyable experience. The days were long, the crew were unorganised, and there was no respect between people. It saddened me that this is what I have waiting for me in third year, that this is how people could behave on their graduate project. Of course one can change that, it doesn’t have to be like that, and it may have only been those people that were not good to work with.

What were the reasons for the disastrous approach to making their film? I believe it was down to three factors; BU’s Teaching, Money, and Scope.

How it all began.

March 2nd I was messaged by my friend Bethany Westwood with a dilemma wondering if I would be able to help. The request was simple enough, Beth was on a shoot that was using the Sony FS5 and the camera operator didn’t fully understand how to use it, so Beth messaged me to see if I could help knowing that I have used that camera before. The conversation was then cut short when Beth said the camera operator knew someone who may be able to help. I thought nothing of it and wished all the best for Beth’s shoot. Maybe half an hour later my friend Dan Tonkin called. He too had a dilemma he thought I could help with. He needed help understanding the Sony FS5. It took a while for the penny to drop as I just thought it was a happy coincidence that two people I knew were using the FS5. I thought Dan was maybe doing some wedding film, and Beth’s operator was a student of kinds.

March 4th, Dan phoned me again. I can’t quite remember the conversation, but he called me asking if I would like to step in as his camera assistant whilst his current one had other duties to attend to. Something along the lines of “Hi Will, I’m working on this student short film and I could really use a hand. My AC has left for a couple days and I need someone to fill in. You came to mind first. Would you be interested?” Naturally I said yes. He then went on to talk about the project itself. He said the short was called Twisted and that it has some really cool filming locations. And he asked if I had heard of it. I had to interrupt him, I had heard of Twisted. For that short was the film Beth was working on. And that’s when the penny dropped. It was Dan who couldn’t figure out how to use the FS5 on Beth’s shoot. Secretly I was kind of jealous of Beth working on this film – it had gained a lot of hype around our circle of friends. And to be offered a role filming it whilst others I knew were just helping with the paperwork was an added intensive.

Dan asked what days I would be willing to help out. The film was to be shot over the entire March reading week (06/03 – 12/03) but I had other commitments during that week so I replied saying I could only do the last three days; 10th, 11th, and 12th. I was emailed the script and waited until the shoot day. Since then, I had been wanting to keep my involvement on Twisted a secret so that when I magically appear on set I surprise Beth. But March 6th I was sussed out I would be working on it.

I know Dan, and if you don’t treat him right, or a film set with respect, he can be difficult to get along with. So I messaged Beth to touch base and see how he was getting on. Beth confirmed my speculation that things had not gone too smoothly. This should have been the first alarm bell. I was then asked if I knew everything for the shoot day I would be joining. I had been given nothing. Not even by Dan. That should have been the second warning.

Why Does Everyone Want To Go Back To Jakku?!

Why Does Everyone Want To Go Back To Jakku?!

The day had finally come. We were to finish the short film Guilt And Denial.

Two months had past since we last filmed in the derelict building of Holton Heath. This time however, we were prepared. We had surveyed the area in advance, mapped out our entry and exit routes, and devised a foolproof plan. We were ready to return.

Of course, we were all nervous, but that would not stop us. But why did need need to go back to this location? The weather was different to when we first filmed, the crew were smaller, and the time was shorter. So many things could go wrong. Hell, we could even be caught once again! But as said, nothing would get in our way of finishing this film.

That was one of the greatest things about returning to Holton Heath. The crew had so much energy and positivity to finish the project. Those negatives were vastly outweighed by thoughts of completion.

The plan.

We would be divided into two groups, Group A and Group B. Group A would be the Director Hamish, Producer-Actor Alex, and myself and Group B would consist of Cinematographer Dan and the second Actor, Sam. Group A would get to the location first for 06:30 with the majority of the equipment – that meant we had to meet up and be in the car are for 05:45! Again, the adrenaline and excitement to get this finished did not slow anyone down and we were all buzzing that morning. Group B would arrive later to the location with the rest of the kit. Hamish drove Alex and me to the location while making a quick detour to his girlfriends house to collect the stepladder. 06:30 we rock up at our predetermined parking space and walk with the equipment to the location. We (Group A) were carrying props and costumes, audio equipment, food, documents, and the ladder. So far so good; we had a pleasant and quiet drive to the location, we were on time, and feeling confident about the day ahead. However, only a few paces to the fence we would climb, I saw car headlights coming from the road that leads from it. I warned Hamish and Alex and threw the ladder into a ditch the side of the pavement – the ladder was the most obvious thing we were carrying that screamed we would be up to no good. Hiding that, Hamish, Alex and I turned around and walked in the opposite direction – having been at the back of the line going to the location, I was now leading the line. It was funny, I kept asking if we were in the clear and could turn back around – we had basically walked back to the car. We were safe, for now, and walked back along the pavement. I picked up the ladder and propped it against the fence for us to get over. Nice and quietly, we wouldn’t want to disturb any neighbours around. We kept our torches off whilst we climbed over, and only turned them on for brief moments to get our bearings in the dark.

We are now in the derelict building. Things have changed since the last time we were here.

We make our way into the building and drop our gear in a doorway. Hamish and I then take our torches and do a quick search of the building for anyone or anything that may still be in. We find nothing, and wait patiently until the sun rises. Stood in the doorway and lit only with a slither of light from the outside world, we look into the shadows of the building. Nothing is there, but the sense of the unknown plays tricks on all of us. We think we hear or see things in the distance. It puts us all on edge but it’s a tremendously fun feeling. And one that can be exploited; for Alex got really jittery – so much that Hamish and I would play tricks on him whilst we passed the time. As the morning got lighter, every now and then we would do another search of the building. Soon, it got light enough for us to set up what things we had and block out the shots in preparation for Dan and Sam’s arrival.

Dan and Sam arrived and it was all systems go! I took the cases off Dan and begun setting up the camera and lights while Hamish talked through the blocking with him and Sam. After initial set up and the first few takes, the day went nice and smoothly – almost identical to the first time we filmed together. And just like before, I got to do a couple shots. Though there was one shot I was tasked to get which was nearly impossible; this was to pan and track a bottle being thrown at a wall, whilst moving from full blur on the thrower to sharp focus on the glass impact all in one go – and only one go to get it (due to how many prop bottles were available to throw). It took so long that the shot was simplified to just an over-the-shoulder shot of a bottle being thrown at the wall.

There were some cool treats we came across while filming at the site again, and one was stumbling upon an old prop bottle which had aged beautifully. During our first shoot at the site we had two prop bottles with printed Flirt and Mallard labels, strategically placed on the window ledge as an Easter Egg to one the crews first ever short film. When we had to cheese it the first time around, there was no time to save any of the props so they were left there – little did we know they would still be there and remain intact on our return months later. It was great seeing this little prop naturally weathered and remind us of the our first visit to the site. It was so sentimental, in fact, that Alex took it home with him.

Our final shot was one which could only be done once, but it was a good one. I set up the camera low on the ground, propped up by Hamish’s skateboard, with a dripping puddle in the foreground. Sam and Alex had to fall to the floor at the same time and stay there long enough for end credits to roll over. In relation to the story of Guilt and Denial it’s quite poetic as both must face each other and accept their fates for their pain to end. The shot could only be done once however as Sam’s suit would become wet and muddy and unusable for a second take. As Hamish called “cut” that marked the end of Guilt and Denial.