Monday, December 8, 2014

Doing Things For Free

When I was 26, more naive and more idealistic, I believed that ideally not charging for creative work or at least charging very little was the best way to go. Why? Because deep down I still have more respect for the work a hands on labourer does than for say a painter. This is coming from a filmmaker and writer of course.

I am a creative and therefore I often think that creatives price their work far too high.

However, one of the things university did teach me was to put a value on my work.

Now that I am 29, much older and wiser and having had a lot more experience with freelance jobs, I have finally gained some perspective on it all.

For the purpose of this post I am going to talk about freelance jobs and one off video jobs, not full time work.

The sad story of some rejected videos

Many, many years ago I would do videos for charities to 'help them out,' so to speak, usually at the request of friends who had some connection with these charities, so I felt a tiny bit obligated to make them. The charities were explained to me as having very little funding, were unable to afford a video in the first place and that it would be good experience for me as well as giving them encouragement and support.

I was young, idealistic and in the 'money is not important' phase of life, so I agreed to do them for free. I spent a lot of time, a few months in some cases, putting as much care and effort into it as if it were my own production. I would then be asked to make some changes, which I did and finally the product was handed over to them, in just the condition they had requested, after them overseeing it from beginning to end.

Imagine my horror then to discover after a few weeks that my precious videos, with all the care and time I had poured into them had disappeared from all existence! I used to find them, buried away at the back of the company website somewhere, alone, dusty and ashamed. Unwanted.

Apparently my videos hadn't quite suited what these companies wanted. If I had been made aware of this, I would have redone the whole thing to whatever they specified. Not a word was mentioned during the post-production process.

The vanished videos would haunt me, like little excommunicated ghosts crying in the darkness of cyberspace. I vowed not to pour out my soul into anything like that again.

Were my videos just really bad?

Possibly. I am much more experienced now than I was then and I know that in 10 years time I will probably have improved still. I am relatively honest about my own work though and I'm not convinced that my videos were 'bad' so much as not exactly what the company wanted.

Part of the problem is that the idealism of doing something for free, often means that the other party hasn't taken your work seriously to begin with.

Most people have no concept of how long editing takes, how to animate a tiny little word across the screen can take hours, or that sifting through hours of interviews to find the best bits can take a day. Most people who ask you to 'make a video for free,' do not see it as your craft. They usually see you as a man with a good camera and they think it is the camera they are hiring, that if you just handed over your camera, they could probably do it just as well. Who knows, they might well do.

If you work hard, put some value on that

It was through timeless hurts like these that I came to the conclusion that when it is not a passion project, when it is not my vocation or my vision, if people are requesting my time, expertise and craft for their own purposes - it is only harming myself not to charge.

Saying, "I will do it for free" is sometimes saying, "I'm not good enough for you to pay me to do it and it's quite a quick job anyway, practically a hobby can chuck it away if you're not happy with it."

Nowadays, I don't mind if my work gets pushed away somewhere at the back of a website. I mean, I do mind, you always wants your work to be showcased and finely showcased at that, but when I get paid enough to cover a horse riding lesson or a new filmmaking book and sometimes grocery bills, it doesn't hurt quite so much.

Get my drift? The hard work has been compensated. It wasn't for nothing. Somebody has essentially said to me, "I appreciate your craft, here, you deserve this for what you have done."

Thursday, November 13, 2014

How many films can you make in a week?

6 episodes in 6 months

Since June I have been on a mission to write, film and edit 6 half hour TV episodes. These episodes are for a Christian satellite channel which is broadcast in Turkey (and most of Europe) I've worked making productions for this channel since 2008 and since finishing my degree at Teesside, I've been able to start on a solid project for it again.

Currently I have just finished editing Episode 3. So my deadline has had to shift. Luckily that is not such a big deal for me as I just have to make 6 and get them out not work to a particular deadline.

Anyway I thought I would reflect on the process. At university we were taught (or had it drilled into us) that production was TEAM work, that there was a certain procedure to production and to deviate would be detrimental to the content.

I do like the structure of production. The writing, the prep, the storyboarding, the finding of the crew, budgeting, scheduling etc., The order makes producing so much easier.

But sometimes that is just not possible. You have two people, no money and a lot to make.

Since June we have made 3 short films, 12 music videos and 5 1-2 minute fillers as well as approx 10 piece-to-cameras.

Not counting July (because we were away) that is 5 months to create 3 half hour TV episodes. You can ask lots of questions about that.

What's the quality like? Are they interesting? What are your ratings like? I am not answering those questions in this post. I am much more interested in the idea that you can produce a lot of content (often) without all the planning that we are taught to do.

Are we killing the joy?

Do we sometimes hinder what we can do by waiting for the right conditions? I need £40,000 to make this film. I will make this when I have more experience. I haven't got the cameraman I want. I need an experienced producer on board. I haven't made anything that's won an award yet.

These are grown up excuses and creativity is the business of children.

"Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven...therefore humble yourselves..."

Creativity takes humility. As a child, creating, I was so brave. I would try anything. I recreated Riverdance the show when I was 12, using my nieces and myself when none of us knew how to dance. I put on a show and invited the family and CHARGED THEM MONEY to watch us. I dread to think what they all thought and how they must have laughed to themselves. But I didn't mind back then. I was creating and I thought it was wonderful. I didn't mind that there was not the skill or budget behind this production. But it had something special.

I am not saying we should be naive about what we make. Or ignore criticism. Or decide not to learn and develop. However, I do think the structure that is learned and taught inhibits the creative flow we naturally have in us.

Lesson in Impromptu Music Videos

I would like to give you an example from one of the music videos I made this month. The password for the video is 'bazilari' - it is not sensitive content, just not broadcast yet so I don't want it posted everywhere so people can be bored of it before it's on the TV.

Bazilari Video

I had to film a horse for this song. So I asked around until I found some friends who knew a lady with a horse somewhere up on the moors near Danby. I rang her and talked to her about what I wanted. What I wanted was very loosely "Natural shots of a horse and the relationship between horse and rider." I knew in my head I wanted to start the video showing parts of the horse - a sort of reveal. That was all I knew. So here are a few things I did which do not fit the expected procedure of filming:

I didn't do a recce. STRIKE 1. I know. I should have gone and met the horse first, checked out the environment, seen what equipment was best. I didn't have time. I needed to get these episodes out and I needed the footage as soon as I could get it. So I just turned up, knowing that the owner was going to ride him that day.

I didn't stay very long. STRIKE 2. I spent about an hour altogether filming this horse and I knew I didn't have as much as I would have liked. There got to a point where I knew that this was as much as I could get out of this horse and that the ladies wanted to get on with their ride they were putting off for me. Again, I was not paying the owner anything so I felt I couldn't intrude on her time for too long.

The me-singing-cutaway was totally filmed in my front room. STRIKE 3. I didn't have the time or budget to find a nice beautiful venue to film in. I originally planned to film me separately on the moors for the singing part but I filmed the horse on my own, my cameraman was working and then we were busy at the weekend so it would have had to wait another week and again....I needed this fast. So I thought, well, you can make any room look filmic by having enough depth of field to blur the background. I stuck on a prime 135mm, found the longest diagonal line in our house (which ended up meaning the camera was in the toilet) and used a tripod. I'm happy with it. If the image had been flat with no DoF, it would have looked home video but I feel it gets away with it because of the distance and perspective.

Just Make It

There are many other things I did that were impromptu and unplanned.

I am satisfied with what I made. I'm happy with it.

If I had followed an expected protocol I would have had to write and draw the outline of the video story, storyboard each shot, find a location and a horse, do a recce with the horse and rider as well as checking out the location, find another location for the singing cutaways, storyboard the shots for the cutaways, plan the lighting, plan for the weather if we had been filming it outside.

Altogether it would have taken a lot longer than I had and perhaps even inhibited the creative juices. Sometimes not having the option to plan means you work it out as you go along, which equally sometimes injects a little spark into the content. I'm not saying this one has a spark but there have been others that did.

Hitchcock planned his famous Pyscho shower scene to be a silent scene. What a massive failure that would have been if the little creative spark hadn't got involved then?


Don't always do things just because "that's the way it's done." Go and make something. Go on. Skidaddle.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Storyboarding. I hate but I never regret.

I hate storyboarding. Let's just get that out there straight away. Although I can draw to an extent, I find the whole process tedious and a drag. Being somebody that hates it so much, I think I can tell you that my short films have got better since I started storyboarding.

If you can't draw and will never attempt it, then do what my friend does - write an excruciatingly detailed shot list. Describe your shots with words. I prefer to storyboard because I am more visual and I find it quicker. Whatever your choice I really would suggest that you do this before you start shooting.

Here's a few reasons why:

1. Storyboarding, first and foremost, makes shooting easier for YOU: Alfred Hitchcock is famously known for saying that the actual filming part of his filmmaking process bored him. This was because he planned his shots so meticulously beforehand that the shooting part was just routine. It was necessary but not creative. All the creativity had happened before. The more detailed and stronger the storyboard, the less stress and panic you have to put into the actual shooting.

Imagine: On set, suddenly, the director becomes the person to talk to. I am quite an introvert, I hide in the corner at social events. So imagine my shock and horror the first few times I directed my short films, to realise that suddenly EVERYBODY wanted to talk to me. And what's worse - they want to ask me questions and then make decisions! Technical problems arise, actors want feedback from you, DoPs think they have full rights on your attentions - all you want to do is get your performances and shots. Try and imagine all that hassle around you while you are trying to make up shots as you go. It means you're focus is drastically impaired. With a detailed storyboard all you have to do is look at what your shots should be and follow them to the letter. Then you can answers the questions being shot at you without ruining your production.

2. Storyboarding allows you to see the rubbish: It's amazing how every single time I am storyboarding a new short film, I realise that some lines or some shots don't need to be there. I don't understand the science of it, but somehow, writing a story in your head seems to mean you add bits that don't add to or explain the story. Drawing the scenes out, shot by shot, means that you are essentially reading your own film as a comic book -and that's when you realise the areas that don't make sense. Storyboarding also lets you know how strong your story is.

3. Storyboarding helps you plan better: I am sketching away when suddenly I think, "Oh - I need to have that prop ready!" When you are making short films with a minuscule crew and you are doing most of the jobs it is so easy to forget things. Props, especially very simple essential props you might know you would have to hand are top of the list of things you might forget. Storyboarding, actually drawing the necessary props seems to implant them in your mind more than if they were written down in a list. Of course, I am sure for some people, writing it down will be more helpful

4. Storyboarding enlightens: Shading in your sketches allows you to think more clearly about what type of lighting you want and then what lights you will be using and how many. It also enables you to think about the setup time between shots where lights may need to be moved for a wider shot. That in turn may help you with your scheduling.

Anyway, enough from me, the amateur. Listen to some pros:

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!