22 September 2007

Grad Films: the scripts

After a drawn-out process of pitching, writing treatments, first drafts and meetings three scripts have been chosen for the grad films: Ice, written by Katy Wedde; F-Stop, written by Mark Hershenson, and Jeanie, written by Corey Matthews.

In the end, despite a list of pitches of 50 or so initial ideas, only 5 made it to draft script stage. At one point there was even talk of only two films being made, although that might have trying to put some fire under us. Strangely, although there is some real writing talent in the crew, the people with the funny and interesting ideas didn’t produce anything. Ice is a thriller about a woman who falls in love with a serial killer and finds herself threatened by his rejection. Jeanie describes a school reunion with a twist, 5 friends waiting for their long-lost companion to join them. F-Stop describes a love triangle between Adam, married to Eve, and his ex-girlfriend Lilith. Very Biblical.

13 September 2007

5 Minute drama screenings

NZBlogPhoto49-2007-09-13-03-35.jpeg Tonight we screened our 5 minute drama films at City Gallery. Some surprises, some disappointments. See my final film below or here (bigger, downloadable versions).

11 September 2007

16 mm post production


Park Road Post is our local post-production facility, where we went on Tuesday to view our footage. At the same time we had a look around the editing suites. It's always a pleasure turning up at Park Road Post, the building itself and the entrance hall are so stylish, you feel like you are in a hotel.

We met Andy Wickens, who is lab liaison, dealing with clients who come in to have their film processed. First we took a look at the mixing theatre, a huge space with a big screen and a time code counter below it. There were a few mixing desks, one of which had 280 inputs, i.e. could handle 280 individual tracks.

As John Boswell, the re-recording mixer explained, most of the sync sound from a shoot usually gets thrown away and only used as a guide track, and once the dialogue has been ADR'd there may be up to 21 separate dialogue tracks alone. Then come the foley tracks for all the sounds like foot steps and clothing and other sounds, on top of the music and such. NZBlogPhoto70-2007-09-11-03-30.jpeg
John then took us through to the foley room, which was really in two parts: One side had the mixing desk, and through a window was a soundproofed room with lots of stuff on the floor for recording footsteps, such as epsom salt for snow crunch (for ”30 Days of Night”), leaves, gravel and sand. All around were stands with objects that could be used to make a sound as well as the motor bike they used to make foley sounds for "World Fastest Indian". Cool.

The next stop was the dark room and processing room where our film reels would have been checked in total darkness for faulty perforation or rips before being stapled together into a long reel and spooled into the developer. The developing machine is fully automated and even replenishes its dev chemicals automatically so that only occasional tests have to be made to ensure everything is on track. This is also where copies are made off the master print for distribution to cinemas. For a mayor NZ release like King Kong 100 to 150 copies may be struck.


After developing the print goes to the contact printer to make a positive. This is done in safe light, as the positive film is so slow (about 5 ASA) that it won't get fogged under low red light. A big machine runs through the film one frame at a time and contact prints onto the positive material.

We took a short visit with the digital intermediate guy, who ran us through a quick description of the process of DI, where the film is scanned into the computer one frame at a time for post processing such as colour grading and addition of special effects.

The whole film processing areas looked like a hospital wing, all the corridors were super-white and clean, the operators wearing lab coats, a total contrast to the warm cosiness of the front of house areas, where soft sofas and dark wood prevails.

The last stop was the screening room, where we settled down in deep leather sofas to watch our footage from last week. The film had been exposed to a standard setting, although the grader had put on some extra lights on to some film to make it come up better.

Watching the footage we made last week was a sobering experience. A lot of shots had soft focus, and many were badly framed. Fortunately the exposure was pretty good, but then again, there are often only 6 setups per shoot, so they will be difficult to cut together.

07 September 2007

16 mm film intensive week

Since this week was pretty intense, I am going to make one entry out of the whole week, even though I was doing different things every day. Well, I was 1st AD overall for my group (we were split into a morning and an afternoon group) for the week as well, but since that just consisted of organising the transport schedule from hell - why does everyone’s car break down at once? - I shall concentrate on talking about the experience of shooting film and my roles.

To be upfront, I still don’t see the point of shooting film in this day and age for the work that I want to do and see myself doing in the near future. So there. Unless you have access to a professional crew and a lot of money there is really no point.

Shooting film is expensive, and that makes it limiting to creativity, when you have to think all the time how much footage you have already used and whether it’s worth it to shoot another take. Then comes the worry about whether the focus was right, the exposure, the camera movements, etc. There is no way of knowing until you get into the screening room, because frankly it’s pretty hard to see anything properly on that monitor or the eye piece and there is no rewind button.

Next comes the issue of having an experienced crew. We are not experienced, which means we fog film by accident, we are not good at keeping the actor in frame, we take a long time to light a scene, not even to talk of trying to keep focus.

So unless you have a crew that you can rely on to produce great technical results you know that you will lose a lot of shots because they are soft, or badly framed, or poorly lit. And you wont know that you have lost these shots until it is too late to re-shoot. If film was all there was, fine, but it isn’t the only medium anymore.

And yes, film still beats digital in terms of quality - i.e. resolution, exposure latitude, colour fidelity - but that is just a matter of time. Like in all areas of technological advances there will come a time when the new technology overtakes the old in all areas from accessibility to quality. And film making is always a balancing of options a compromise between what we want to do in our dreamshoot and what we can do in this reality of financial restraints.

But the one thing that we can always maximise is story and character, and there it almost doesn’t matter what the picture quality is. As far as I am concerned I’d rather watch “The Remains of the Day” shot on a cellphone than “Die Hard 4.0” shot in 70mm. And as a new film maker without funding story and character is all I have.

I want to make the best possible pictures, create to most beautiful visuals, because that is how a story is told in a movie, but when that impinges on my ability to be creative on set because I see the money running through the mag or have to cut scenes because it takes to long to set up the beast of a cast-iron film camera, then I know that digital is the way to go for me. Phew, what a rant. And I haven’t even talked about my roles this week, which were camera operator, director, gaffer and clapper loader.

But I guess my observations above really describe the essence of the week for me, where we did have a fogging accident that lost us enough footage to shoot all afternoon; where 2 of 3 mags were broken which meant waiting for the loader to re-load the mag; where we physically couldn’t do shots because of the weight of the camera when it was hand-held; where shots were soft and badly framed. It was a frustrating and sobering experience.

06 September 2007

Hello Dubai screening

Amazing, but true: ‘Hello Dubai’ has finally had a screening in a festival. After a year of work and submission to many documentary, women’s and Middle Eastern film festivals it was accepted at the Date Palm festival here in Wellington. The first screening took place tonight. There will be a second screening on Tuesday and another in Christchurch in the following week. This is the first time I am attending a festival screening and it feels like a huge privilege to be present when an audience chooses to see a film I made.

Seeing it on such a big screen is a sobering experience, mistakes show up a lot more than on the small computer screen. I was surprised how well it holds up, since it was shot on such a simple and small camera. It shows that even relatively cheap cameras can produce decent pictures that can be screened in a cinema. I have been saying this for a while, but I guess now that I have seen my own film make it there I really believe it. Thanks to all the people who came to be there with me at the first screening!

03 September 2007


This is not strictly a film school posting, but I had such a good time, I needed to let it out somewhere: Last weekend Stuart and I went to the Queensland rainforest, to Lamington National Park. He had been at a conference in Brisbane and I caught up with him to have a wekend away. We drove the hire car into the hills and ended up at O’Reilly’s guesthouse, a lodge in the mountains Stuart used to visit when he lived in Brisbane a long time ago.

So for him it was a re-discovery, for me it was a pleasant surprise. Apparently it has got a lot more comfortable in the interim, Stuart kept pointing out how bad the roads used to be, how he used to have to camp for lack of places to stay, how empty it was before the tourists arrived. Our room had an incredible view across the valley towards the volcanic plugs left over by erosion, and in the morning we took a bird walk and discovered a lot of colourful local birds as well as a bunch of kind of grey looking ones.

They all had cool names, though, like Scrub Wren, Black Faced Monarchs and Golden Bowerbird, Lewin’s Honey Eaters and Superb Fairy Wrens. And then there were Crimson Rosellas and Cockatoos and bush turkeys (which are apparently pretty tough to eat, otherwise they would surely be extinct by now), and the smaller version of a wallaby, the pademelon. First we thought it might be Paddymelon, something insulting towards the Irish settlers, but it turned out to just be the Aboriginal word. Since we had come to chill and the view from the balcony was so incredible, we took just a small hike, instead of the two day trek Stuart was hoping for (two days one way, that is).

It was still stunning, even just a small distance from the lodge we came across the humungous Moran Falls, total silence in the shadows of tall trees and a blubbering stream with clear water. So, check out the view from the balcony: