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

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Final Film: Directing Actors

How do you prepare as a director to direct your film? I like to learn by watching experts. Since I didn't have access to any tangible directors around me prior to the shoot, I sought out education online and through reading books.

Here are a selection of resources I used before shooting "51 Percent." Whether you think the film turned out well or not, these are still wonderful resources that I would recommend to anybody.

Michael Caine's Acting in Film Workshop series. There are 6 parts to this and I would advise you to sit through the lot, both for actors and directors (and writers):

Alexander Mackendrick: A Director Prepares. This is a little treasure. The cuts are wonderfully unnatural and we learn that the shots from the video 'tape' cameras can be switched in real time in the control room. However, the material is based on a book by Peter Brook and there are some great tips and ideas for getting a performance out of your actors and how to set up the environment to allow the script to come to life

Then from the master of suspense and thrill, Alfred Hitchcock gives us a wonderful story to illustrate storytelling at it's best. It's only 2 minutes long but one of the best lessons I've come across:

Another master of storytelling, Steven Spielberg. Here is a tribute to him at the DGA, Steven being interviewed by JJ Abrams and James Cameron. It is quite long but this director has some fabulous experience and his way of directing is much more to my liking in that he appears to be not so tied down by format and rules of the trade.

(Sorry about the boring links, some of the youtube videos won't allow embedding) All worth a watch and I feel I learned so much. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Final Film: Directors observations


Trust your gut instinct: When my producer pointed out Andrew for our other lead character, the minute I looked at him, I just knew, actor or not that he would work. The rest of that process would be whether I have enough skill to bring out his acting, not whether he can act or not. During the screen test, others realised that he worked as well but even though it was suggested we look at other possibilities, I just knew he was the one. Trust your gut. It's usually right.

Use embarrassment: Romantic scenes are really hard to rehearse, especially with non-actors. I get embarrassed so I know they do. However, remember this - if your actor get embarrassed during rehearsal, and still carries on - get excited. It means there is a special spark there. They are willing to try and it also means something is happening internally that is real and has emotion, which technically as a director you can convert into energy for the performance. The real performers to fear are the ones who show barely any emotion, off screen or on. Generally it means you have nothing to work with.

The enemy of art is assumption

Agents are quite often unhelpful and sometimes act stupidly: Like everything, this has a few exceptions (i.e Kreative Talent Agency who have helped me out a lot and actually seem to care). I sent out countless emails to agents of named and unnamed actors looking for an actor for one of my roles. At first I thought it was wonderful. "I'm sorry, David Tennant won't be available at the time of your shooting." How marvelous. if he had been available they might have read the script! By the 5th reply that was almost word for word from every agent I contacted I decided that this is a sentence that the Evil Agents Guild came up with at their annual meeting back in the 1800s and thought was polite enough yet firm enough to get rid of any short filmmakers who won't make them any money. That's the unhelpful. As for the stupid - I sent out a casting call asking specifically for a male actor and received a reply telling me that "Mary" would be a great option for me to contact...

Pay your principal actors: Not just because it shows value to their work but also it's good for you. It gives you a reputation (hopefully) that you're serious about your work. By paying you are also, effectively making a contract with your talent and they are far less likely to bail on you or mess around. The actors who want paying are also probably the ones you want to work with.


Direct some theatre: I was so thankful that I was able to direct at Stockton Arc Scratch Night. It was a different environment to direct in, it made me think on my feet and definitely gave me more experience. Just getting as much experience prior to your film really helps you to. Being around performers and seeing how they work sinks into your subconscious and gives you knowledge you will use later

Read "Directing Actors" by Judith Weston: Just read the whole book. Then read it again. She really has some great ideas and techniques for rehearsals and working practically with your actors.

Make sure you know all the cast (if possible): Having 'rehearsals' over tea and cake and general chit chat are really helpful because everyone knows each other before they have to perform together and you become more comfortable with them. It gets rid of a whole lot of awkwardness. Of course, some of your actors who are only coming in for the day of the shoot from a long distance are difficult to meet up with and that's just life. In those cases just be super friendly as soon as you meet them and put them at their ease. Try and keep it professional though. The more you joke around the less authority you'll have. Find a balance.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Final Film Project

In 2 weeks time I will be picking up the equipment I booked out and getting ready to start filming "51 Percent."

I hoping that the age old saying planning is half the battle comes true. We have spent the last two months in pre-production, sorting cast, locations, props, scheduling, budget, fundraising, storyboarding and crew. This week we have a few rehearsals and then we just have to do it.

I keep saying to myself, I don't care what happens during the shoot, I need to get these scenes in the bag. I also want this to be fun. It's a fun story. It's essentially a light-hearted story and it's about growing up. Yes, it is our final project and a lot of our grades rest on it being good, but if it becomes deadly serious and we can't have fun, that will reflect in the final product.

Looking back, I am amazed things have come together as they have. Tomorrow night, I have a group of girls coming round so I can show them the restaurant scene and what the dancing involves. We also have 2 professional belly dancers willing to take part in the scene. It's exciting.

So...roll on 18th March. I look forward to working with you.