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!

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.