Tag Archives: Filmmaking

Just a Typical Day on a Film Set

If you ever have a chance to work on a film set I suggest you take it. Even if it’s just running errands, carrying gear or making coffee, there’s a good chance your time spent on set will be an experience you won’t soon forget.

As movie goers we see the  finished product – the results from months of writing, rewriting, casting, filming, editing and so on. But, it’s the stuff we don’t see that makes it so memorable for the cast and crew. The camaraderie built from spending so much time together trying to bring the filmmaker’s vision to life creates new and lasting friendships.

We have a great cast and crew because this video shows what it’s like all the time on the set of The Amygdala Project.

I hope you enjoyed our video. Please take a moment to click this link and consider helping us make sure we can finish shooting the series. Thank you.

Amygdala – Day One

July 16, 2016 – 5 a.m.  My alarm is telling me it’s time to get out of bed because we’re filming Amygdala –a mystery/suspense story designed to be released as an episodic mini-series. The alarm was merely a precaution in case I fell asleep. I didn’t – I couldn’t shut my brain off. All the writing, rewriting, casting and pre-production were all coming to fruition, making sleep an impossibility. I head to Tim Horton’s for a coffee and pick up a bag of perk coffee for when the cast and crew arrive, and a bunch of disposable cups and stir sticks because the last thing I’ll want to do is dishes when I get back from shooting.

20160709_1334176 a.m. Repacking all the gear to make sure I have everything, double checking that all the batteries are fully charged, and printing extra copies of the script and shot list. Call time is 9 a.m. at my house for wardrobe and makeup and I requested all hands on deck for a meet and greet regardless of what time we were actually going to film their scenes. Most of them have never met each other let alone worked together, and their experience levels ranged from seasoned pro to enthusiastic newbie. I felt the initial team building was important because I didn’t want people showing up later in the day and feeling like an outsider.

CoTejH9XgAAfy8u8:50 a.m. Coffee’s on! The cast and crew start to arrive – our budget is very limited but our ambitions are not. Everyone appears to be just as excited as I am. While Ida preps Andrew for his special effects makeup, Darren arrives with several large army duffel bags filled with military gear, outfits and boots. The cast get into their wardrobe as jokes and stories are shared.

Why such a late start time?
Shouldn’t indie filmmakers be taking advantage of all the natural light and start at sun rise?
Normally yes, but when working with Mother Nature there’s more than just light to consider – low tide was at 12 noon. At sunrise there would have been an extra four feet of water flooding our set.

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10:30 a.m. We arrive on set eager to start filming. We’re running a little behind schedule despite the key location being across the street from my house. In fact, the Amygdala story started with the location because I knew that stretch of coastline so well, the characters and story came later.
The tide is still going out and I position our three actors for the flyover drone shots, take a deep breath and say… “Action!”

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12 noon. The scenes are going well. The drone shots took longer than expected but Carl is doing a great job flying the drone despite the heavy winds in the inlet and the glaring sun obscuring the view of his monitor. I would be calling a lunch break soon but the pizzas I ordered will not be ready until 4:30 – none of the local pizza shops are open early on a Saturday. If we had a bigger budget I would have had snacks for a light lunch, something I hope to have on the next shoot. The rest of the afternoon is spent blocking, rehearsing and shooting as we work our way through the shot list. Enthusiasm is high despite the blistering heat.

4:30 p.m. Lunch! Mine and everyone else’s first meal of the day (and Caledonia Pizza did not disappoint). We managed to get all but two scenes shot. One of us had to leave a couple of hours ago due to a bad sunburn and a touch of sun stroke, and I can tell the gang is getting lethargic. We were not prepared for the scorching temperatures and it has taken its toll on everyone. I want to reshoot the last scene, and we still have a couple more to shoot, but for health and safety concerns I say “That’s a wrap” and call it a day. We’ll get the rest on the next shoot.

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Most head home to a shower or their swimming pool and a few hang around a bit longer to chat. The excitement level is still high and I consider it a really good day. When the last of them depart I pull the memory card out of the camera and copy the footage to my laptop and then to my backup drive. I want to review the footage but my years of working with audio has taught me to never edit or review material on the same day it was recorded. Let it sit and approach it with fresh eyes and ears the next day.

amygdala_sarah_002aAll and all it was a great shoot. We learned a lot about how everyone works together, which is quite well I should add, and we learned the limitations of the gear we currently have – I was not able to properly view the footage as it was being shot because I could not see the small screen on the DSLR that Aziz, our cameraman, was using. The bright sun made it impossible and we didn’t have the budget for an external monitor.

I knew that the sound of crashing waves meant we’d have to re-record all the dialog anyway so I wasn’t overly concerned about sound, but I should have had someone running a boom if for no other reason than to let the newer actors get comfortable having a microphone hovering over their heads.

The next day when I reviewed the footage some of it was too shaky or framed incorrectly – it was impossible for Aziz to see the screen clearly in the bright sun. You only get one chance to make a first impression and after several days of serious consideration I decide this footage is not going to be our introduction…
We’re going to do it again!

13606848_10157173858515541_1585149668677302536_nI spent the last of the money we generated on our fundraising campaign to buy a shoulder rig to get steadier shots, and an eye piece to fit over the screen so I am looking through an eyepiece rather than at the screen – no more glare! I am going to “Robert Rodriquez it” and direct from behind the camera and shoot footage with Aziz. If I’m going to be walking around on set with a portable monitor it might as well be attached to a camera right? I started shooting video long before I got into photography so in a way I was going back to my roots as a camera operator. So rather than purchasing a monitor I got a shoulder rig and eye-piece attachment.

Aziz and I spent several hours shooting test footage and matching the cameras so we can get everything from two angles. (Note: Due to a heavy course load at the University, Aziz has since dropped out of the project to focus on his degree. He’ll be missed. He has a great eye for composing shots.)

Andrew built a rig so the small dolly I borrowed could be used on a couple of tripods to get more movement in the shots. What we really need now is a proper audio recorder and microphone, a better camera, and of course enough money to make sure everyone is fed and kept hydrated throughout the hot summer days.

Check out our GofundMe campaign and please consider contributing to the series. We have a great cast and crew who are all volunteering their time and talents to see this series made, but there are some costs that simply cannot be avoided so please contribute today. Every little bit helps. On behalf of the cast and crew, THANK YOU for your contribution!

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Blocking the Scene

Blocking the scene is much like a puzzle – Directors will keep reworking their ideas to get all the pieces in place so they can visually get the story off the written page. Blocking is working out every detail and nuance of the actor’s performance and movement, and the camera’s movement in relation to the actor.

A film shoot can be divided into five parts:

  1. Blocking – determining where the actors and cameras will be on the set for each scene.
  2. Lighting – the DP (also know as the DOP or Director of Photography) lights the set and positions the camera(s) for the first shot. On big budget films this is done with stand-in actors while the main actors are in hair and makeup. Low budget films often cannot afford to use stand-ins while lighting.
  3. Rehearse – camera rehearsal with the actors and crew.
  4. Final Adjustments – the lights, camera and every aspect of the scene are tweaked to capture the performance.
  5. Shoot – this is when you actually press record to capture the shot or scene. On the short film “The Final Goodbye” we had parts that were  done in one take while others required ten, but typically it was 2-3 takes per scene.

When the Director is happy with the take he or she moves on to the next shot or scene… then repeats the 5 steps.

It takes a long time to shoot a single scene, and the more moving parts you have (number of actors and background actors, locations, stunts, special effects and so on) the more time you’ll need to shoot each individual piece of the movie puzzle.

Actor Darren AndreaWhen actor Darren Andrea and I were shooting some test footage to try a few blocking ideas for my upcoming series “Amygdala” the last thing I expected him to do was walk into the ocean in his street clothes  just so I could see if the proposed changes we came up while on location would look as good on camera as we imagined.  When your actor is willing to do that, even though it’s just test footage and not an actual shoot, you know you have a dedicated actor who is passionate about filmmaking.

blocking the scene with Darren Andrea