Monday, February 23, 2015

Let's Talk About The Rain | Filming A Music Video For Tyneside Rain & Don't Dream It. Screen It.



Have you heard about the BIG event happening next month? Well, you should have!

It's the DON'T DREAM IT. SCREEN IT. event in partnership with Mima and Laura Degnan from Writers' Block. 

What is it?

It's a two day music festival across Teesside, March 13th and 14th 2015, showcasing a whole host of local musicians as well as some workshops. The music videos will be screened in various local venues simultaneously and all this in aid of CELEBRATING the Teesside music scene!

You can find more information and get involved with Don't Dream It. Screen It. here:


https://www.facebook.com/dontdreamit.screenit?fref=ts


I had no idea how much local music there was around here until Laura asked me to get involved.

I had already submitted two previously filmed music videos I had filmed for the festival, Over the Yardarm and The Jon Palmer Acoustic Band (which can be found on my website www.jbmoussa.com)

I was then sent a link to Tyneside Rain and clicked on their track "Let's Talk About The Rain." As a lover of music and a songwriter myself, I knew immediately that I had just found my new favourite song and that I would love to make this into a music video.

So I approached Roger Wicks, one of the creators of Tyneside Rain, his co-writer is Syd Collumbine and they agreed to filming a music video.

The musicians organised the venue, which happened to be Darlington Railway Museum, and I turned up Friday morning at 9 a.m with my backpack, tripod and lights raring to go.

Having never been inside the museum before I was pleasantly surprised. The ceiling was made up of glass windows, letting the morning light fall through down onto the beautifully designed track with vintage trains, setup with vintage suitcases piled high on trolleys. My eyes lit up. This was a filmmakers dream set.

I quickly noticed a spot that gave amazing lens flare and a beautiful soft light around the singer, positioned her and got to it. Never having done a music video before, Caitlin Morrow warmed up after only a few takes and really shone, with her sweet, casual style. A powerful voice, projected with apparent ease.


I shot with my Canon 5D MK II and for most of the shots I used a Pressman Lens 1:28 135mm, which was passed on to me on a shoot by Abandon Hope Films (who is the kind of lighting/cameraman/director you WILL want on your shoot by the way and does some really great short films - look him up) 

The Pressman Lens 135mm is a relatively cheap lens, fantastic for getting that soft, vaseline look and getting a huge DoF (everything blurred behind even when you're taking a wider shot) 
Note: You can't use it handheld though there is no image stabilisation. 

For shots where I needed to go handheld I used the standard Canon EF 24-105mm, which ain't cheap but I use it ALL the time as a go-to lens so try and afford one if you can. 

Back to the music video, since this was for an event and was done pretty much on the fly without much planning or budget there not a huge amount of prep for it. 

"Let's Talk About The Rain" is part of a Rock Opera (called Tyneside Rain - who'd have thunk it!) so there was a very definite character and story behind the song. I tried to bring this out in a few of the little details you will see in the film. Subtle, but hopefully sets the scene for the audience. 

"In the early 1970's, when the story is set, a government minister claimed there was a cycle of deprivation in which problems repeat themselves from generation to generation.  The victims were largely blamed for the circumstances they found themselves in.  Tyneside Rain features protagonists who are beset by factors which contribute to this vicious cycle.  

In Let's Talk About the Rain, Caitlin's character busks at the station for spare change.  She realizes that despite all her efforts to make a better life for her family she is locked in to this cycle of despair.  She can't change anything.  The French would have had a revolution; the English accept their fate and talk about the weather." - Roger Wicks

You can find Tyneside Rain at these sites:





Caitlin Morrow performs with her semi-acoustic rock band Occasionally Ben:




Writers' Block NE is a wonderful organisation that do a lot of workshops and events for creatives. Check 'em out:



If you are a singer or a band and want a music video for this event filmed by me then just get in touch as I am doing these at a reduced cost specially for the event: 





Saturday, February 14, 2015

Perspective and Depth in Composition

THE PROBLEM

I was flicking through the channels tonight when I happened to land on Made in Tyne and their Creative programme. I love everything creative so I paused for a while. Unfortunately I had just caught the tail end of it.

However, this is what I saw:


For a programme that is supposed to be about creativity, it doesn't really give off that vibe at first glance and believe me, first glance is all your audience is going to give. I stayed on because I am in production and I was interested but at a glance the setup of this scene immediately puts me off. 

Now what exactly is the problem? The lighting is nice, the presenter is very attractive and comes across great. 

The main problem for me was the set behind her. Why? 

1) I am not a huge fan of curtains or material in sets. 

2) The off white wall and shelving (placed right behind her which makes it seems flat and blocks the lovely things on the shelves) looks dull and boring

But those aren't really the actual problem. They are just my personal opinions, which doesn't really set a production standard. What the real problem was is that the whole composition and image was flat.

Flat = Home video

All this can be fixed in two simple words: PERSPECTIVE and DEPTH

HOW TO FIX IT

Having worked for many years in a low budget TV production where we learned on the fly, I have experience with this kind of set. We've done it loads of times. You make a nice set that you're happy with, you stick your speaker in front of it, film it, get into edit and wonder why it looks home video.

Here's why - there must be a distance between the talent and the set. A good distance. The minute you do that you've already given depth to the picture and added a nice depth of field to your image. Just go on YouTube and watch some of the top bloggers. They've figured it out (with the help of the DSLR which lends itself naturally to depth of field) 

If this presenter was not so close to the shelving and set behind her the whole composition would feel lighter, brighter and more professional. You can make almost any questionable background look great by not having it in focus. 

Here is an example of what you could do below. Michelle Phan (YouTube personality) is nice and in focus, her background of shelving is bright and colourful, you can vaguely make out what is on them, but she has enough distance from it to make the background slightly blurred and softer, helping her to stand out and giving us that much needed depth and perspective. 



I wrote this post for anyone out there who is starting in TV production or starting their own YouTube channel to point out how simply moving a few things around and creating layers of background and perspective can add miles of professionalism to your production.

NB.

Just to be difficult: This video works too and it does not create layers or depth in the background, but I think it gets away with it because the set it so bright and clean cut in its colour scheme. Also she had a really nice key light on her, lifting her out of the background. I would still personally always go for depth though.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Freelance Filmmaker: Know Your Limits

I have been taking on more freelance video jobs recently and one thing I was thinking about today was the fact that if you're starting out as a freelancer, it's very important to know what you can do in a given timeframe.

When you get your first job, your client is going to ask you how long it will take to complete a certain project.

1) How long will it take to film?

2) How long will it take to edit?

Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto: Iris Ng with Red Epic


Now, if you haven't already been working with film and editing for years, this might prove a difficult question.

What you really DON'T want to do is just throw some hours and days up in the air to them, start the job and then realise you've massively under calculated your time. If you tell your customer you can edit their video in 2 hours and then realise it's going to take you 6, not only will you feel annoyed that you've just ripped yourself off, your customer might not be too happy about you being late.

So what to do if you're not sure?

If you are making promo videos with lots of head talking and cutaways, you need to figure out how long it take you to setup and film one interview. Roughly how many hours? Then figure out how many interviews your customers are going to want in one video. If one interview takes you an hour and they want 3 people, you can probably get all your footage in 4 hours - allow time for getting lost between locations or other setbacks.

Editing. This depends purely on how accomplished and fast you are at editing. I usually say between 4-8 hours for a 3-5 minute promotional video, essentially a days edit. Obviously things are edited much faster for the news and live TV but promo videos are something you are taking your time over, being creative with and making sure they are flawless.


Potholes to be aware of

Pothole



1. Make sure you sort out how many re-edits you will do for one project. These are the minor (and major) tweaks that a company want you to do once you've finished the cut. If you don't give a cutoff point this could go on and on for week and months! Some production companies start charging after the 3rd re-edit to control this situation.

2. Make sure your accommodation and travel are covered separately to your earnings for the filming and editing work. You don't want to be losing all you earned because you have to cover the travel and your location was 6 hours away.

What are your tips and tricks? Comment below please!

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 really...you 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?



So...conclusion

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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBH89Y0Xj7c

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KtJ5N93Sw8Q


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.