Monday, September 15, 2014

Film Festivals: To Pay Or Not To Pay

Distributing Your Short

One of the biggest problems for short filmmakers who do not have any credits as yet, is how to get their films seen or distributed. I would imagine that like me, for most short filmmakers, they would be happy with an audience simply seeing their work, regardless of whether it gets picked up or someone notices them and offers them a job. Of course you can put your short film online but you are immediately faced with a small issue.

Most well known festivals want exclusivity for the films that are submitted to them. This makes it hard for you, because it mean that you have to hide your work until you hear the verdict on your short. 

It is a gamble and unless you know your film is 'festival-friendly' I think you are risking a lot of your money on something that may not pan out. £5 here and there would be tolerable. £30-£50 here and there is a lot of money for the people who are usually the ones making these shorts. 

You Decide Who Sees It

I recently decided to take my short film Harlot back and own it again. After I made it I took if offline for a long time in the hope of entering it into festivals. After about a year I realised that I had spent over £100 in total and had no hope of winning anything. 

I didn't take this to mean that the film is bad or didn't do what it was supposed to. I did take it to mean that I get to decide where my film is shown. I made it to be viewed and I had wasted valuable time waiting for the higher powers of filmfests to give me the go ahead. I put it back online. 

I then spent some time looking into film festivals. I was convinced there were festivals that were free. Not only that but I was convinced there were free entry festivals who also accepted online links instead of the old-fashioned DVD screening option. What century are we in? Please!

After much googling and frowning over the results I finally found FilmFreeway:

It's like Withoutabox but cooler looking and even better...FREE! 

All you do is sign up, add your film as a project and then start browsing festivals. Granted, the festivals on there are paid submission but, again unlike Withoutabox, there is a handy search option which allows you to search for free entries. 

You can then scroll down the lists and just keep hitting submit while the slick little site happily adds them all to your cart so you can submit them all at once when you're finished. 

I have yet to find out whether my film will be submitted to any of them but it was encouraging to find this option in the first place. 

The Future

I understand that film festivals cost to put on. Venue hire, staff, preparation, jury members etc., must all add up and tickets alone aren't going to settle it. However, there has to be options out there for those filmmakers who are still learning and stretching their creative wings. 

There has to be an outlet for those who don't have the name or contacts or look to get them into the better known, sleeker festivals and frankly, I am sure that there are certain types of films that would never in a million years get picked up by a festival, not because they don't tell a story but because they are simply made for a different audience. 

The way we watch content is changing and no matter what any of the ex-BBC, stick-in-the-mud society say, it will change even more in the coming years. One day soon DVDs will be done away with for screenings and one day after that they will become what Betamax is to us now. 

Wait. Beta-what? 

Yeah, exactly.  

I think you have to find your own way to distribute your work. Be it through forums, Facebook groups, Google +, unknown festivals or filmmaking gatherings in your hometown. Don't forget it's ok to start small. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

How To Film People Running or Jogging

Filming Runners

Learning to film people running seems to be a skill within itself. When I set out to make 6 sets of one minute films all around running and the wisdom it holds, I knew that I should expect a few new problems.

Firstly, it is very hard to get any amount of usable footage when someone is tearing past your camera. It is also quite impossible, unless you have a proper Steadicam and vest setup and a skilled Steadicam Operator to follow a runner in front or behind. I have filmed two of these 1 minute pieces so far and would like to offer my own humble learnings. I am aware that there are probably more detailed and better techniques out there somewhere.

1) Use a car: For this little piece I sat in the boot of the car with the door open while Kevin drove and the runner ran behind the car. The motion was incredibly smooth and I could zoom in and out for a varied shot. I was using a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 IS USM lens. I have a 50mm lens that does not have image stabilisation but I don't use it for anything other than shots that I can do on tripod or on the floor or some kind of steady surface. Since I knew the car would be very 'moving' I wanted as much stabilisation as I could get. I did this version handheld but it would be good to test it with the Merlin Steadicam.

I also got similar side running shots by sitting in the back seat and asking the runner to run alongside the car, while I stuck my camera out the window and got a nice medium shot driving alongside them. The camera lens can also balance on the window frame which keeps the shot nice and steady too. It looks nice and it's lovely to get the continuous motion of the running without losing the runner.

2) Don't be afraid of the old fashioned pan: Don't turn your nose up to just sticking the camera on a tripod and panning with the runner on a wide or medium shot. I think sometimes I get to fixated on cool moving shots and always being in the action, but you know sometimes our tired eyes just want to watch the action slowly unfold.

3) Lose focus: Again don't be afraid to start or finish out of focus on the runner. By that I don't mean just give up and don't focus! I do mean that if you have a steady shot which your runner runs in or out of, pick a focus point and don't change it during the shot. It all happens so quickly it will be more confusing if you follow focus and the runner running off into blur with grass in focus in front of your lens (or the other way round) can looks quite arty and pretty.

4) Ask your runner to slow down if necessary: Sometimes, for some shots, a split second faster than a walk is what you need to get the shot you want. It's ok. They don't have to be running for it to look like running. Film is mostly about cheating the eye and the brain.

5) Get some close up shots: It is tempting to not get medium close and close up shots with running because everything happens so fast and the action moves by you so quickly. I found that most of my shots were starting to be medium wide, medium slightly wider, medium sort of wide. So I made sure that I had some close ups to cut to for editing. These don't have to be running. This could be the runner putting on their shoes for the run, stopping for a breather over a beautiful landscape, walking to the run or even the landscape itself: a flower, a gate, a rabbit in the grass (if you're lucky) Just bits and pieces of closer, steady shots you can cut to amid all the moving wide shots.

SalomonTrailRunning on YouTube have some great ideas for running videos if you're looking for inspiration for a running scene. 

SalomonTrailRunning YOUTUBE CHANNEL

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Cull: Facebook


I woke up early on Saturday morning. I sat in bed and from 8 a.m till 10.30 a.m I went through the battlefield of my Facebook Friends. My task was to reduce my 1,700 + friends to 300-400. This was no mean feat. I had suddenly realised that my reason for having so many 'friends' on Facebook was no longer valid. I originally decided I would add anyone who asked, so they could watch the videos we were making. Times have changed. If I want people to have access to the TV productions well, we have a separate Facebook page now. And Facebook has moved on since when we were first using it for work. You can message pages these days.


In short, I had had enough of FB Friends and the ridiculous social etiquette that surrounds it. I have suffered countless people, who I don't even know, telling me what I should and should not post to Facebook, people telling me off for celebrating something when I should be mourning mass deaths in another country, people using FB to 'watch' my movements and to keep tabs on me while never speaking to me in real life, people trying to get to someone in my family through me and complete nutters shouting in capital letters all over my posts without any relevance to the post itself. Some I just removed because we are no longer in touch and are very unlikely to be in the future.


What was interesting was that I have been thinking about this for a long long time. What had put me off in the past was Facebook itself. Do you have almost 2000 friends? Have you tried deleting any? It is not easy. First I tried on the website using my laptop. I found that when I went to my friends page and started to unfriend someone, the whole page would refresh and take me to the top of the list again. So I had to scroll back down to where I was, find the next person I wanted to remove and do it all over again. As I said, I had 1,700 + friends when I began. I wasn't about to spend my entire Saturday doing this. I switched to my iPhone app. Happily, on there, I could just go down my list of friends and keep unfriend-ing. I still had to do it one at a time. When I was down to 407 the list on my app stopped. I went back to the website and discovered that the phone seemed to be showing me a 'friends' list whereas there were some other people in sub categories like 'acquaintances.'

In other words, Facebook is not helping you to remove friends. In fact it feels like the opposite. It should not take you hours to weed through your FB friends and delete them. Facebook isn't stupid. They haven't just forgotten to develop the unfriending side of their product. I am sure there is a purpose behind it. In my humble opinion, the more you share around and communicate, the more they can advertise and the more money they make.

Anyway, after sticking at 407 when I had to pop out for a 2 hour shoot, I came home and then carefully went through each "friend" and finished the job by hand, typing in individual names to the search and painstakingly removing each one. What was interesting was that most of the people I didn't know who I was removing had long since deactivated their accounts anyway. After another hour long slog I stopped at the satisfying number of 257. Done.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Ticking Clock

I have been working on a ticking manual (manual digital???) clock on After Effects after finding this tutorial:

A Self Animating Clock Tutorial

It is pretty easy to follow and lovely clean graphics but something seemed wrong about mine. When the second hand turned it got smaller towards the 3 and 9 O'clock points. It didn't make sense. I could not work out what was going on. I checked the clock circle shape to make sure it was a circle - it was. I checked that I had done the correct formula. I looked around on forums and couldn't find anything. I wondered if After Effects was broken.

I played around with the colours scheme while searching the vast wilderness of the internet for clues. 

It was like one of those evil Super Mario levels you can never get past no matter how many times you play and you start getting up at 6 a.m to try and buy more time...

FINALLY I managed to spy one comment in a forum that made me go back and check my Composition Settings....

Sure enough, it was on WIDESCREEN and needed to be switched to SQUARE PIXELS. 

Problem solved.

It's very frustrating when you were simply one click away the whole time and spent hours searching for the solution. 

Writing and Creativity

I realised that I have to take at least one day a week to be creative and come up with ideas for the TV show I am making. It is not a luxury. If I don't there will be no content. 

It is quite hard to get in to the mode of seeing a day of writing at your desk and watching films, lectures and reading news to get ideas as 'work.' It feels like I am cheating. It's also much harder to use the time effectively. However, I was surprised that something new got written once I made myself put pen to paper. 

I would actually advise anybody who is in the sector of creating content, especially if you're a student, to take a day or two to just brainstorm ideas, looks for new ideas, write a load of rubbish and fill your mind with stuff you wouldn't normally think about. I wish I had given myself that discipline while I was doing my degree. If I had done that every week, I would have 312 writings days worth of ideas now. Even if most of it is bad, there would be quite a lot of potential writing. 

Do it! It's worth it!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Keep on turning

Forever Learning

With the arrival of my results today I have decided to carry on this blog. I started it as a way of regurgitating what I learned in university for the benefit of anyone who missed lessons, for anyone who was interested and to remind myself of what I had learned that day.

Finishing uni does not mean I stop learning. I will continue to make music videos, short films and other projects where I know I will be constantly learning new techniques, making new discoveries and above all making big mistakes. All wonderful opportunities to learn and grow.

Technique for Vox Pops

Recently I have had to film some Vox Pops (vox populi - "voice of the people") for a satellite TV series I will be making over the next year. It has been a long time since I have done Vox Pops. I am a naturally shy person. I hate going up to talk to people so Vox Pops are not my favourite type of filming but they are great for programmes and also so interesting. One thing I learned which I knew but had forgotten was that there is a good way to get as many as possible.

Initially I went up to people, camera in it's bag and asked, "Would it be ok if I ask you a couple of questions about...."

More often than not I got a hesitant smile and then as they thought about it in the awkward pause that followed and as I got even more nervous they shook their head and said, "Sorry, no," or "I don't really have anything to say."

What I realised was better is to go up to people, camera in hand, mic switched on, looking determined and hold it up to them as you say, "I'm making a programme about this....can I ask you..." and then start recording. It gives people less time to say no and usually when they see a camera they are not confused by what you are asking and they kind of also want to be on it. Also smile and be excited as if these Vox pops mean the world to you. They did to me. I was so desperate to get as many as possible I became a different character, running up to people, flirting, laughing and telling them their answer was wonderful (only when it was of course)


Recently I had to do a few short piece-to-cameras in Turkish for the same programme which meant I could not memorise what I had to say. While I was in Turkey I was able to use a teleprompter which was fixed over the camera lens which meant the eyeline is perfect.

However, after returning home and realising I need to find a way to use a teleprompt without the fancy equipment, my husband and I figured out that an iPad with some free teleprompt software angled above the camera at the right distance from the talent gives almost the same effect.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

The End

I can't believe I have finished. When I started university, 3 years seemed like forever. Now it just seems to have flown by. And I'll be 30 next year. Eeek!

What will I be doing next? Nothing that will have the university chasing after me for publicity I am afraid : ) I will be going back to making short films and music videos for a Turkish Christian TV channel, Kanal Hayat . For the next 6 months I will be putting together 6 half hour music programmes, producing most of the content myself. Just a little daunting but something I truly love doing. Coming up with new ideas for short films and stories for music videos is hard but so rewarding.

I am still deciding whether to finish this blog here and start something new, or to carry on. After all, we never stop learning and my education has not been solely that of Teesside.

On that note, here is a small selection of short films that I have found interesting and thoughtful.

Perfection, written and directed by Karen Lin. I really like this one. It had me hooked from the start and I just love the message in it. Yeah! Just breathe and turn the machine off!

Powder Keg, BMW Films, written and directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Honestly, I didn't really enjoy this, but that's probably because I am not a gun film kinda gal. The use of suspense and build up is something to learn from though.

Little Favour, written and directed by Patrick Viktor Monroe. I must admit I have not watched the full film. I saw this mash up of it on youtube (I only watched it because it stars Benedict Cumberbatch) and it got me interested. Cunning little twist in there...Here's the trailer. Now available on iTunes, apparently...Bit violent for me.

My Jihad, written by Shakeel Ahmed and directed byAl Mackay. A really sweet little film that unfortunately, I bet, won't get watched as much as it might if it had a different name. But I like the name too. It's brave. The whole film is brave and gives a very interesting insight into breaking the boundaries of culture.

My Jihad

Cold, by Waseem Shaikh. Ummm...Well, I always judge how good a film is by whether it holds my attention from the start (having said that I am sure a lot of my productions don't) and this did not hold me captive to it. I made myself watch it and found it a little draggy-outy. It's shot beautifully, I love the way the lives intersect I think that's clever, but I am not sure why it is award-winning. Perhaps because the subject resonated with so many people? After all, we really do live in mini islands most our life don't we? And becoming more and more isolated and unfriendly and lonely. Interesting.

DISCLAIMER: I watch these films to learn how to make better short films, not necessarily because I think they are good or agree with what's in them.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Final Film: Director's Mistakes

I think it is very healthy to go over anything I've done and look at the mistakes I made so I can do better next time. Here is a list of mistakes I made while shooting 51 Percent. Bear in mind these statements do not mean the film is ruined are unfixable. They are a constructive look back on the production:

  • I slightly rushed the final scene because it was nearing the end of the day and it was freezing and windy outside and we were losing the light. It still works but I should have had more detailed about some of the closer shots I wanted.

  • Halfway through filming, 90 second story very kindly leant me their boom mic, which worked wonders in the wind and served us wonderfully for the rest of the film. I should have thought about filming dialogue outside in the wind earlier and thought about the equipment we would need for it. 

  • During the emotional scenes, because Charlotte really gave it her all and a lot of emotion was put into it, I was a little cautious about asking for more and getting a wider range of angles. I know that should not have stopped me but it did. I didn't want to ask too much of my actors. Not really a good excuse. What can you lose by filming extra?

  • Shot list. I hate shot lists and I find them very anti-creative and anti-artistic. I like to be creative while shooting and sometimes the actors do something that makes me want to shoot from an angle I hadn't planned or even rewrite the scene there and then. But I do think that if I had written shot lists for every scene, when we got tired it would have helped. Sometime just looking at a piece of paper and knowing what comes next is easier than explaining when you've been filming for 12 hours. 

  • I had too much faith in British weather (when will I learn?) and did not dress well or accessorise enough for the cold, blustery outdoors. 

  • I should have insisted on my own HD monitor for every shot. Unfortunately this was made difficult because the Canon 5D switches off the in camera monitor when you plug in meaning the DoP couldn't see. My husband figured a way on day one of doing it through my laptop but because it was very slightly delayed I chose not to use it all the time. If I had I would have noticed very tiny, subtle errors such as actors looking into camera, or their eyes 'coming out of the emotion of the scene' which left me with fewer options in the edit. My fault. Not theirs. I should have noticed and asked for another take.

And on second thought, I will also list some points in which I feel I may have improved since my last short film. If I didn't that would be showing no progress:

  • I waited much longer to call action and cut on the scene meaning I have more to work with in edit. It also lets the scene breath

  • I think I asked more of my actors then I usually do

  • I didn't forget any scenes because I did so much prep and had a folder with my storyboards and script and personal notes in it which I took everywhere