Wednesday, 24 April 2013

SCI-FI-LONDON: 48hr Film Challenge

So Ceri 'Creativity Extraordinnaire' Williams (also know as "Diva Williams" and "Ceri Close-Up"), messaged me on the 11th March to ask if I was maybe about for the whole weekend on 6th and 7th April for the SFL 48hr Challenge...

... and I was and I couldn't think of an excuse quickly enough so...
(I'm kidding, of course I was, 'well up for it'!)

Other than some concerns over how well I would be able to operate the camera with only one hand, I was pretty keen and had done some work on Ceri's previous short-film 'Strings' under the direction of a more experienced - and by that, I mean has any experience at all, whatsoever - cameraman, Jon Boylan.
(Blog to come on Strings, another of Ceri's 'Flashcards' projects, as soon as the short-film is finished!)

So on the 5th April, I'm reading through the callsheet to make sure I've got everything, the batteries charging, I've cleared all my memory cards, my bags are all packed and I see on this sheet:

"DOP: Chloe Isherwood"
 (that's 'Director of Photography' for the unfamiliar)

... and, for someone who's a little nervous about ruining ALL Ceri's, and the rest of the team's, hard work... this sent me into some pretty bigtime, pre-shoot jitters...

Back at 'headquarters', props, locations, scripts, recording equipment, times, everything was being organised and planned and the team were buzzing around getting as ready as we could before the brief was released on Saturday morning and here I was about to ruin EVERYTHING because I was RESPONSIBLE for ALL OF THE CAMERAWORK....

So I was basically sat there like this:


 ... all night.
And then out of nowhere, it was a lovely, bright, Saturday morning and I had a text from Ceri and she was on her way to pick me up and I was up, washed and dressed and outside the house waiting and I was thinking - "Erhmahgerd. Herlp."

But instead of help came Ceri, in the car, smiley and expectant of competent camera operation.

So I (foolishly) got in...

Sci-fi London 48hr Film Challenge

Ceri and Gemma

Let me start by introducing Ceri's carefully chosen team for this magical project:

Ceri Williams - Director
Andrew Cunningham - 2nd Unit Director & Music
Alex Twinn - 1st Assistant Director
Fran Green - Production Assistant
Michael Vincent - Art Department/Make Up & Costume
Phil Grigg - Sound

... oh and me - DOP. O_o;

Gemma Druce - Lead Female
Andrew Cunningham - Politician (voice)
Jon Boylan - News Reporter (voice)
Michael Vincent - News Reporter (voice)
Adam Gould - Interviewer (voice)
Matt Evans - Interviewee (voice)
Michael Vincent - Interviewee (voice)

The team was split into two. One team (1st unit) were off to film the visuals and sound on location with Gemma. The other team (all the 'voices') were off to London to sort out some scripts and get recorded! In fact, by the time we got to Gemma's house for costume, make-up and briefing, some of the 2nd unit had already long been in London getting started with set-up.

We received our brief at about 12pm, I think, which was...
Title: A Special Announcement
Dialogue: "I'm afraid to engage in interactions that I don't know how to control."
Prop: A padded envelope

 So, we (1st unit) got to site at about 1pm and started filming the end of the film first. Naturally.

Ceri on the set for scene 1
(I was in there too but like a ninja in the shadows)
The end of the film, or 'the paperwork scene' as I'm referring to it... I'm not going to tell you about as it will spoil it for when you watch it (if you haven't already seen it), but we filmed it a couple of times from approximately 10 different angles to see what worked best and for the most part, we were off to a pretty awesome start actually.

We then went on from there to film Gemma's ascent up the stairs and her walk along the chimneys...

... and then from up there, we filmed the wide shots of Gemma walking around some other parts of the site.

I filmed the entire short at 25fps and using a custom filter that I have set up on my 7D (that effectively whacks the contrast right down from the point of filming amongst other things). You can create your own custom in-cam filters and settings using the Canon software and it's actually pretty handy for this sort of thing. I obviously want my filmed images to look completely different and so having this set up allows me to do both without too much fiddling.

We filmed, I think, for a total of only about 4-5 hours (with a very small 5 minute break to wolf down some sandwiches that Ceri had lovingly made)...

Alex and Gemma enjoying the sun for a brief moment!

...and all-in-all I had a great time all day filming from various angles on an absolutely wicked site and my only complaint really was the inability to focus effectively with the broken hand!!!

On the other hand however (pun intended) I did manage to climb two difficult obstacles with one hand and with a dodgy hip so I was pretty much a machine that day. XD

I'm not broken, I'm just having
some functionality down-time...

Also, in the final cut, a few of the focussing issues actually worked rather nicely.
Completely intentional... O_o;

Now then, towards the end of the day, Ceri was watching the first take of Gemma climbing up and then back down the metal stairs when it suddenly hit her that Gemma had meant to be holding the little hand-radio pretty much the entire time we had been filming.

When Ceri arrived on site, whilst she was waiting for the second car of people to arrive, she was scuffing up the radio and then put it in Gemma's bag ready for filming... where it sat forgotten and alone for the best part of the day...

So, Phil suggested an additional 'camping' scene to show Gemma tuning into the radio so that it is implied that she has been tuning into all of these broadcasts that you're hearing during the film.

This, if we could get it done, would obviously fix the issue. But just for the sake of covering all eventualities, we popped the radio into as many scenes as we had left and included it in some pickup shots (such as pulling items in and out of the bag) and such.

Anyway, by the end of the day, when it started to get darker, we headed back homeward at this point to find that it was actually too dark to get the camping scene we wanted when we got back. At this point, Ceri, Gemma, Phil and I decided to do this final scene and any last-minute pickups the following afternoon.

22ish hours later...

On the Sunday, after a gruelling night for Ceri, Andrew and Phil who had already been putting the footage together, we headed out to another derelict location at about 5pm for the 'camping scene' where we had Gemma tuning into the radio.

We had Gemma tuning into the radio, studying her map, making plans, tuning into her radio again, getting stuff out of her bag, putting it back, etc for about an hour (sorry, Gemma) and filmed it from all different angles...

I really enjoyed filming although, admittedly, I was still a bit worried about the outcome having no real cinematography experience but there were a few bits and bobs in there that, looking back at it now, I am mental proud of. :)

So, here's a link to the film:

By 'Project Flashcards'

 Please enjoy it!
Interesting facts:
The dropping of the radio scene: The radio was dropped in the first location (4:43) and smashed open in the second location (4:45). The two locations being 15 miles apart!

The map: The map was just a massive map of the Brecon Beacons in Wales!

Corridor scene: In the scene where Gemma is walking down the little corridor 'following' the camera (2:09), Ceri had to pull me backwards along that route while I filmed it so I wouldn't accidentally suffer a crippling 10ft drop!

Metal stairs scene: When first filming this scene, Gemma didn't realise the second half of the railing was not attached to the stairs and had a bit of a near-death experience when she tried to lean on it!

Mood contrast: Despite the mood of the scene being angry, Gemma and (embarrassingly) myself, spent an unhealthy amount of the old electronics smashing scene with 'Pocket Full Of Sunshine' in our heads. It;s a dreadful song. Don't search for it. It's not worth the hassle.

Song: The song heard at 1:54 seconds and again at 2:24 was composed and recorded in just 24 minutes!

A boo boo: At 2:56, my shadow actually makes a guest appearance... (Can't help myself. Just wanted to be in it.)

Paperwork: At 3:40, the paperwork scene, all of this paperwork, other than the headers and footers where all default 'Lorem ipsum...' script which is actually why this shot is taken as if 'browsing' with Gemma...

Camping scene: Even though the camping scene was not used in the final cut, when Gemma was tuning in during filming, she found an actual radio station playing Taylor Swift... she was very happy about it and it was an excruciating couple of minutes.

Exit scene: The final scene (4:55) is from the second 'Sunday' location again and Phil was VERY particular about where all the rusty metal objects were placed so I'm very pleased 'his shot' got used. XD

Product placements: Tesco, Sharpie, Jiffy... see if you can spot them. We're expecting money and/or free stuff from each of them soon. :)

... and here are most of the team enjoying a meal on the Saturday evening after the first hard day's work...

L-R: Fran, Adam, Phil, Mike, Matt, myself, Andrew, Ceri
(Missed: Alex, Gemma and Jon)
That's a wrap!

Thursday, 18 April 2013

The Age Of Scorpio by Gavin G Smith

Hey! It's my birthday!

And do you know what Gavin G Smith is doing on my birthday!? Releasing his next book with Gollancz! Wooh! \o/

Gavin contacted me nearly a year ago now, I think, to talk about creating images of some of his main characters from his new novel and I was immediately really enthused by the idea. He was after a collaborative set between myself and, who I like to call 'The Photoshop Wizard', Karmic Design.

The plan was to get some shots of two of his characters (Britha and Tangwen) and he enquired as to whether I had any suitable models for their general description. Even though, he humoured me with the idea that I could scout for both, I know he had already made his mind up on his Britha being Gabriella Howson, this leggy and strong-featured number...

An incredibly good choice though on his part.

I suggested Stephanie Lindley for his tom-boyish heroine, Tangwen...

And then, a little nearer the time, Gavin sent me a brief with all the props I would need to acquire and he also, foolishly, mentioned this other character Cliodna...

Oh my goodness, Cliodna. To think we might not have done those shots.

He said to me, effectively, 'fine' if I could find a Cliodna and fit the shoot in on top of the other two... we could shoot this character as well.

So I asked Kiera Gould...

Who is plenty enchanting and yet also vicious and therefore perfect for this role...

So we got it all together, got that Rachel Nicholson character on board for the make-up and contacted all the models to get their availability and book the shoots.

The 'Tangwen' Shoot - September 8th

Come September 8th, me, Gavin, Yvonne Cunningham (location/shoot co-ordinator), Rachel Nicholson and the lovely Stephanie Lindley were meeting at a tea-room in Brecon to prep for our first hike to Cwm Llan Llwch...

We drove out as far as we possibly could towards the beautiful nature-spot and parked up ready for our 30 minute walk up-hill...

To find this:

It was really, very beautiful.

As we were a little tired from the journey up, we had a very quick brunch in the sun whilst soaking our feet in the freezing-cold water looking like what Gavin described as an all-female hobbit cast from Lord of the Rings (thank you, Gavin for your ever sought-after comments and opinions):

Annoyingly, it was also implied that I would be 'Samwise' to Rachel's 'Frodo'. I was less amused by this than she. Mainly because she's cruel and I'm not really Gamgee's number 1 fan... still, he's better looking than Smeagol, I suppose and I do like 'taters so it could have been worse.

After our little pre-shoot snack, we got Rachel set up and doing the make-up on Steph...

... and then Gavin and Yvonne went for a walk about the Loch whilst I went scouting for shots and angles... well, that's what I said I was doing. I just wanted to take this shot:

(for scaling purposes, I have ringed Rach and Steph...)

I was pretty taken with the view and actually, my day had already been made by this point. I sat for a few minutes and then made my way back to Steph and Rachel, though, not before spotting Gavin trying to chuck Yvonne in the water, the menace:

When I got back, Rach was just finishing up and we were looking ready to shoot... we just needed to get the armour on her... The most amazing armour ever, might I add. I want it so much AND it's my birthday *coughhintcough*:

This is just one of many amazing pieces made by Evenlode Studio in Oxford... but it's still my favourite at the moment. You can see most of their latest stuff here if you're interested!:

Now then, back to the shoot: Tangwen has two sides to portray (as do all three of our characters in a way) and so the first is to demonstrate her youth and her more gentle-natured side, I suppose so to start us off I wanted to catch the sun on her and on the water which worked rather nicely actually as in both of these next ones she's surrounded in a gentle light:

This second image is the one that was used from this set and this is how it looks after it's been with The Photoshop Wizard (Karmic Design) for further enhancement and to make it look a bit more fantasy-ey...:

I'm pleased with both of those images. Especially with them being the first shots of the day. The lighting couldn't have been more spot on, I don't think.

Right, so next we got Rach back on the case for Tangwen's second 'look'. This time we were getting a bit more of a savage look. Which meant bringing out the scary, huntress side in Steph (who hasn't an angry or hurtful bone in her body... XD )...

So Rach slicked back her hair with white 'lime' (or paint) and started on Tangwen's war-paint...

... and meanwhile, "Location Hobbit", as Gavin has started to affectionately refer to her at this point... has decided she'd like to be a giant (normal-sized) now...

... but the climb made her a bit tired so it didn't last...

... and then she was prone so I was forced to bully her with my camera a bit.

Once again, veering off track - Here are some images of Tangwen, the Huntress...

This second one, again used for the final image, enhanced (rather expertly) by Karmic Design:

... And to think, I didn't even notice the burning hill fort while I was there.

We did also visit Pontsticill Reservoir also in the later part of the day to get the following images in a bit more of a sunset scene but these ones weren't used. Still, I like to share so I hope you enjoy:

... and then we had to break anyway for Steph's emergency 'Warrior Juice':

... so we called it a day there and went for a lovely meal - after giving Steph a hefty scrub - where all the hobbits promptly fell asleep on a collective of full bellies (as is best for hobbitses):

The 'Cliodna' Shoot - September 9th

Well, excitingly, Gabby (Britha) couldn't do the following day so that meant we were able to shoot the Cliodna shoot the following day! Yeah!

I was willing to shoot the Cliodna shoot all the way at the pre-arranged Lavernock Point in Newport, though I did not know the way - Luckily, we still had Location Hobbit.

So there we were after a heavy night's sleep, eating our breakfast in the hotel-adjoined restaurant, when who rocks up but Aldershot's very own Chuck Norris, Kiera Gould, Stunt (and pain) Extraordinnaire... or 'Stunt Hobbit'?

Kiera, frankly, is a bit terrifying. Especially if you are tired.

They call her Kierannosaurus - for a reason.

So here she is again:

... but don't let that face fool you because her real side comes out later in this shoot.

She's the type of girl that you don't want in your Zombie Apocalypse team, not because she wouldn't totally handle all of the zombies... more because if you were slacking, you'd be left for dead. And no matter how hard you might be trying, beside Kiera, you'll always be slacking.

As we're big on LOTR references today. Here's another demonstration:

I've killed 2 already! <- You
I'm on 17.                <- Kiera


We arrived at Lavernock Point fairly early on and Make-Up Hobbit (stupid name for her, as I think she was the tallest person on this shoot-team), got started on Cliodna's make-up.

Now Cliodna's a selkie... so they don't really wear clothes per se... and in this setting they're a bit grey/blue so Rach effectively was painting almost-naked Kiera blue for quite some time...

Meanwhile, Location Hobbit, Photo Hobbit (me), Arty Hobbit (Steph) and, erm, Gavin, sat down and had a little settle on the rocks.

I drew a picture.

Here is it:

... About 2 hours later, it had turned much coIder - not that Kiera was visibly suffering from any sort of human weakness - but we put our coats on and went in search of lunch.

When we returned, we munched our lunch, and our beautiful selkie was ready for her pictures...

Which went a bit like this:

This last one chosen to represent Cliodna's more softer creature side (you'll learn from the book that she's never particularly human)...

And here's Karmic Design's transformation of that last one:

Which I love, love, love with bells on. Ahhh!

For Cliodna's second look, she's going majorly feral so Kiera didn't have to put on such a massive act anymore pretending to be all gentle.

Rachel got going on THAT make-up:

... and then before we knew it, 3 days later, Kiera was ready for the 2nd set.
Cliodna the mental Chuck Norris selkie:

... and yet it was the below image that won us all over:

That's some creepy stuff right there.

But that's nothing. get a load of this Karmic Design creation:

I love that final image. In fact, the two of Cliodna are my favourite final images but I love the others as well for many other reasons.

So that was day 2 of project 'Age of Scorpio'. We were, for the most part, covered in body paint and exhaustion. Not to mention, Rachel kindly did this to me:

Making me look like some kind of dirty, male hippy-type.

We wrapped up Kiera in a dressing gown and bundled her off to a nearby shower... but not before getting a shot of the team:

The 'Britha' Shoot - September 15th

Right, the final shoot - Starring the ever-stunning Gabriella Howson:

Location: The top of Pen yFan; The highest peak in South Wales and Southern Britain at 886m high.

Game on.

Didn't even look that high from down here...

... So after the first few steps I was wheezing like a wounded pig.

The back pack was digging into my shoulders, fit, athletic people were overtaking me, practically jogging, and after, probably an hour of Rachel and I, straining up this mountain, crying with laughter at our own terrible jokes and weirding out the rest of the team, we FINALLY... made it into the freezing cold clouds and started to rejoice that we had made it... only to be told that we weren't actually at the top yet...

And another thing to add to this already bizarre scenario (of the two girls hiking up a mountain, at a snails pace, looking in pain and crying with laughter...) I forgot to mention that Gabby was already in make-up and looked like this:

... and was getting a fair few funny looks of her own. XD

Anyway, another 15-20 minutes later, there was a lot less laughter but a lot more being at the top of this deceptive mountain.

Here's Rachel's success story:

... it was now that we chose to tell her she technically could have waited in the car.

So now, with Nature's fog-machine, atop Pen y Fan, we started shooting Britha.

Now both of Britha's final images are from the same set rather than two different locations or two different make-up sets but they are as follows with Karmic Design's beautiful/scary edits:

Britha's more noble, druid-esque look:

And after enhancements:

... and then here is savage, celty, heart-eating Britha:

I know, she doesn't look savage or celty, heart-eating but check this bad-boy out:

Good job 
Karmic Design!!

Well that's it from me, you guys and I have to say we had a bloody fantastic time shooting all these and I've never worked with such a well-glued team. We had a whale of a time, got some wicked images and you know what, for such a big meanie with a terrible sense of humour, Gavin G Smith sure can write a novel.

The Age of Scorpio is out today, folks!

Available in bookstores and on Amazon now!