You’ve Got Male – Production Blog
*WARNING – MAY CONTAIN SOME SPOILERS, PLEASE WATCH OUR FILM BEFORE READING*
One prop. One line of dialogue. Fourtey-Eight hours of pure creativity.
Last year Shropshire became home to it’s very own 48 hour film challenge, in which 7 teams of filmmakers were given the above in which to make a short film. It was an amazingly hectic, stressful, enjoyable and rewarding experience and my team managed to win the Critic’s Choice Award for our efforts. The film was called ‘Criggion’ and was a short horror/thriller film about how a group of friends find themselves within an abandoned radio station, untouched since 1948, and how things very quickly get very odd. Our team consisted of six individuals who each had various roles throughout the process, and when we were done we were very happy with the film. However, we all knew that we had run out of time whilst shooting and never really got to film an ending. The way it was filmed was fairly decent, but the story was lacking.
When I heard about this year’s challenge, the first thing I wanted to make sure was done right was the story. All the clever camerawork and special effects in the world couldn’t match the power of a solid story. That’s why the Transformers films suck. All eye-candy and no substance. If I could make a film where the audience had an emotional reaction, I’d know that as a storyteller I would have done my job. That doesn’t mean that I’ve got to make a film where the whole audience goes home and feels like they have to re-think their whole life and move to Spain to become one with the mountains in attempt to find their happiness… It just means that if I could make them feel SOMETHING, be it sadness, joy, or in this year’s case just make them laugh, then that would be pretty dandy.
I don’t think that I could of picked a better team than the one I was blessed with for this year’s challenge. It sounds cliché, but it really was a huge team effort. There was no individual writer who came up with everything, heck, there wasn’t even a script at any point during the process at all! The whole film was one massive ad-lib with a basic plot written down in the notes section of my phone. Like I said before, nobody had a defined role that they had to keep to, we all did a bit of everything with myself trying to somehow direct the whole thing, and somehow we pulled it off.
Ashley Morris was our leading actor. I’ve known Ashley since secondary school, and we’ve made quite a few short films together ranging through all sorts of genres and lengths – some fairly okay ones, and some pretty awful ones – it was making short films with Ashley and our group of friends at the time that really progressed me as a filmmaker. Those years were a kind of training ground for what would become my career. Ashley has always had a knack for acting, he’ll probably tell you otherwise, but he has a natural screen presence that just makes you want to watch. He’s also a fantastically witty writer, which added to this year’s film to no end. Charlie Battson was our sound recordist/technician, I think he’s had that role on pretty much everything I’ve made over the past two years actually.. He’s just an incredible talent when it comes to sound, and you never really see or hear from him during production as he’s just constantly working away at making the sound as good as possible.
James Kynaston was our producer as he ended up providing the location we filmed in and drove us pretty much everywhere over the two days, though he really was a lot more than that. The film was shot within his bedroom, we laughed at the fact that the film ended up being a documentary about his life as all the props in the film were found on various shelves in his room.. He also did a lot to contribute towards the writing of the film and some of best gags in it come straight from his brain. He has a fantastic knowledge of how to build atmospheres within his film work, and that really comes across in our final film. James Cartwright was our director of photography. Now, actually I had my hands on the camera at all times. I freely admit that I’m a bit of a control freak, however James was constantly sat behind me and acted almost as a form of quality control to help me as I became more and more tired. If I slightly messed up a shot and had the thought ‘ahhh, that will do’, it was James who would gently slap me round the face and tell me to go do it again. He also has a fantastic eye for composition, so would often offer ideas as to framing and as to what the shot should contain.
Becky Henshaw, my sister, was the actress seen towards the end of the film – she was brought on board at pretty much the last minute of shooting to fill the role and did an amazing job – the first take we shot of her is actually the one that we ended up using for the film. She jumped straight into character and it’s her last line that makes the film feel complete. The last, but definitely not least member of our team was Ian Jones. Ian’s career as a stuntman never ceases to amaze me. He’s been in films like The Dark Knight, Judge Dredd and loads of TV series such as casualty and London’s Burning. His list of credits is pretty mental. Though we didn’t have him falling down any stairs or setting him on fire (as originally planned…) he brought so many ideas (including the basic plot line) to the production and his acting is also part of why the film is as good as it is.
When we all got back from the brief, we all sat down with a load of pizza and cried for a little while. The line of dialogue we had been given was just utterly, bitterly, horribly awful. It was so narrowing, and the thought of trying to do something original with it was enough to upset the stomach. The line was simply two words. “Legends Unite”. It was actually genius for it to be the line we were given, as it really forced us to thing outside of the box, and we did! The first thing we did was try and come up with the most obvious plot we possibly could. I can’t quite remember it, but the basic idea (due to the prop being an iron) was to make a superhero film about a b-list hero called ‘Ironing Man’. As soon as we came up with that idea, we knew that the actual plot we would need to come up with would have to avoid as much cheesy-ness as possible to become original, and with a line like that, it would be quite a task. It was Ian who came up with the idea that ‘Legends Unite’ could be a dating website, and the idea that the film could be about a nerdy character using it and then being quite disappointed with the result came quickly after. I was slightly disappointed, as I was really keen to make some form of an action film as that was what we were best geared up to produce. Ian had brought his crash matts, stunt pads and even his burn gear. However, my amazing team reminded me that the story had to come first. We had a well rounded plot, and that was all we really needed.
The following morning we reached James Kynaston’s house and started preparing his bedroom as a set. The fantastic guys at Gear Up Hire had delivered a set of Arri lights for us to use the night before and I went straight to lighting the main character’s desk the best I could, as that was where the majority of the film was to be shot. Meanwhile, Ashley and Ian sat down with a piece of paper trying to come up various gags, Charlie and James Cartwright went to work with designing the ‘Legends Unite’ website and James Kynaston helped me with the set. Once it was fully nerded up, we took quite a while to get started. Just as Charlie and James had finished the website, Photoshop had crashed and they had lost all of their work, so we lost a good hour whilst they had to re-design the website. Once that was done, as we had no real script, we took the best parts of two hours trying various ideas for as to how the scene would work. We wanted to make it all flow in a way that would slowly build the atmosphere of the scene, and Ashley’s reactions to the computer were key. To be fair to him, most of the shots of him in the film are first takes. We would take five minutes to work out what he was doing, and then (without any preparation) he would quickly deliver the lines to the camera. Like I said earlier, the whole film is just one big ad-lib. Ashley came out with some amazing stuff, a lot of it didn’t make the final cut as it was well over 4 minutes.
Once we had finished the first scene from the one angle (we wanted the whole thing from two separate angles to cut between) we realised we were loosing light and still had an outdoor scene to shoot. We packed up the gear and rushed into Shrewsbury town to try and catch the best of the light. We parked up outside the quarry (Shrewsbury’s Park) at around 3pm and started unpacking all of the gear. During this time we realised none of us had really eaten during the day and went to go and get some food. Something that I’ve learned during this weekend is that sometimes half an hour of rest can be more productive than just pushing through and using up all of the time. Taking a quick rest is a brilliant time where ideas are formed and people are able to reflect on what has been done so far and how we could better certain parts of it. Once we were done it was around 4pm and it was just approaching golden hour (the hour in which the sun is just going down and the light is at it’s best) so we got straight into shooting. The amount of people walking their dogs and cycling through the park was insane. We should have really thought about this before hand as we were using a public space to shoot within, but we were there and made the best of things. Due to the nature of one of the lines, we didn’t really want too many people around when Ashley was acting it out.. It’s fair to say we turned a few heads. In one of the scenes, someone (don’t want to spoil the film!) gets punched. I’ve shot fight scenes in the past, but I’ve never worked with anyone with as much experience as Ian. He knew how to prepare the actors for what was about to happen, and as soon as he knew where the camera would be, he knew exactly how the punch needed to be carried out. Towards the end of that scene we had lost the light. Things got pretty grainy as we had to boost the ISO as far as the Black Magic Cinema Camera would go. The camera is incredible for dynamic range and colour reproduction, but unlike my Canon 5D, the low light capabilities are pretty poor. The camera’s natural ISO is around 800 and only goes up to around 1600. I don’t think on a computer screen the grain is too noticeable, but when being projected I believe some of the digital noise made a nasty appearance and a few details became a little soft.
Once we had finished shooting within Shrewsbury we headed back to James’ house to finish off the first scene. We only had Ashley for a certain amount of time before he had to leave, so we tried to rush through it. Because of the imminent time limit, we were forced to make quick decisions and in hindsight I would of altered some of how the lines were worded. But considering the amount of time we shot it in, it worked out pretty well.
At around 11pm we got to the office with all the gear and sat down to consume as much caffeine as possible. It was just James Cartwright, Charlie and myself. We knew we’d have to edit through the night if we had any chance of getting the film to the level of skill we wanted. Because we shot the scenes in a Raw format, the overall file size of the footage was just under 500gb, so naturally took quite a while (three hours in total) to offload onto the iMac. We wanted to make sure we used our time wisely so got straight into making foley and sound effects for the film. This was where Charlie went slightly demented. He’d set up our mic so it was just hovering a foot or so away from a matt he had placed on the floor. On this matt he started furiously punching rotten apples with his bear fists, smashing his head into various pillows, dropping his bag of clothes constantly and stomping over dead leaves. It was pretty impressive…. The best sound effect of the film was the punch. It was four different sounds layered over each other to become one. The crushed apple, the punch of a pillow, the stomp of a boot and me slapping myself became a really fleshy and bassy punch. It was fantastic. We also found a thin pole that we swung around the office to make a ‘whoosh’ effect to use before the punch for comedic effect. Due to their being five us walking when we were shooting the park’s walking scene, the sound wasn’t quite right. This lead to Charlie recreating the footsteps in my office and layering them over the park’s ambience that he recorded whilst we were there. Again, it worked fantastically.
In the last half an hour off the computer’s offloading process, we all decided to have a quick nap. James snored like nothing i’d ever heard before, I was both disgusted and impressed, and I believe Charlie got some decent sleep also. My head was going round and round with things that needed to be done by the morning, but I think I managed to get half an hour or so. When the alarm went off, the pain we all went through the get up was unreal. I’m not quite sure how we all woke up really, but we got straight to work with the edit. Charlie continued to work on the sound in the downstairs office, whilst me and James headed up upstairs to my office to start the colour grade. Because we shot in Raw, my editing program of choice (Adobe Premiere Pro) wasn’t really all that happy with editing the footage straight away, so we brought it all into DaVinci Resolve, which is the software I use to do my grading in. Normally you would grade a film after the editing process, but circumstance demanded a different approach. I very quickly had a very cinematic Terminator Salvation-esk grade that just didn’t suit the film at all. Because the production felt like a hybrid between a short film and a sketch, the grade had to feel very natural. ‘Natural’ isn’t a word I use very often when grading my shots. I love chasing after that Hollywood feel, and I think some of that may of crept in, but the grade we decided on was a nice mix of ‘gloominess’ and soft skin tones. The bathroom scene was quite different in it’s grade as we wanted to make it feel as close to daylight as possible. We shot the film at night, so we tried to light the best we could to mimic sunlight, so the grade was essential to try and portray the idea that the main character had left his gloomy bedroom to face sunlight for what could possibly be the first time in his life. Again, the grade was very subtle, but nicely warmed up the shot to the point where I think it’s believable that it was shot at day.
Once graded, I exported the footage out of DaVinci and brought it into Premiere. This was where James decided to get a bit more sleep, so for the bulk of the first two scenes I edited them with a background noise of James’ snoring. I was very tired so was just making guess work with the cuts, however the shots very quickly fell together, and I caught myself laughing at some of the gags as the timing of the cuts just seemed to be perfect without me having to put much effort in at all. When James woke up, we worked together to complete the other scenes and had to get a bit creative when certain shots that we thought would work just didn’t..
By the time we had done all of this it was around 11am. Charlie had just about finished the sound work and came up to start putting them into the film, so I thought the best thing would be to let him keep doing his thing, which would also give me and James the chance to go home and grab a quick shower. When me and James got home I had a frantic text from Charlie saying I’d locked him out of the office and taken the keys with me. Oops. I showered quicker than I had ever showered in my life and James Kynaston rushed me and James Cartwright back to the office. We lost the best parts of 45 minutes and so Charlie really had to work his magic at getting the audio sussed. Six hours passed like they were minutes whilst the whole team crowded around the iMac to watch as me and Charlie went through the edit. Ideas were constantly being chipped in and the edit quickly fell into place, but we still had to render the whole thing. 5pm creeped upon us and the ProRes render quickly completed it’s self, I believe it took just less than 5 minutes, but when it came to the compressed h.264 version it told a different story. The timer estimated it would take 45 minutes. We needed to make sure we had left by 5:45 and Premiere usually takes a lot longer than it really lets on. The pressure slowly increased as the estimation went up and up. At 6:12 the render finished, only to then come up with an error code and no finished file. We freaked out, but decided it was just better to get to the screening with just the ProRes file. We raced over to Ludlow whilst Charlie put the ProRes file into Premiere on his laptop to render out a h.264 version. We made good progress to get outside of Pontesbury only to get stuck behind two large tractors for a lot of the Journey. Going through Ludlow we seemed to hit every red light which only added to the pressure of getting there on time. We went over the bridged, the h.264 render finished successfully, quickly parked in the Charlton’s car park, transferred the files onto my hard drive, ran in and tried to work out where the screening was, found it, gave Tom Middleton the hard drive and looked at the challenge’s timer. We had done it. We only had 50 seconds spare. But we had done it. I’m not quite sure how.
The screening was lovely. Everyone’s films were great, and it was a joy to see the diversity of ages and levels of equipment used in the films. Every single one of them was brilliant and had a great reaction from the audience, and then it was our turn to show ours. I said a little sentence or two about our experience how we’ve found new ways to deal with sleep deprivation and then our film was played. We got 28 seconds in and the fire alarm went off. At first I thought it was a render error and had a little heart attack, but thankfully it was just the venue and Tom put our film to the start and played it again. The reaction was great. We had people laughing at all of the gags, and the twist at the end got a great reaction too. We’d done our jobs well. The whole team was incredibly proud of what we had accomplished, and just to add to the joy of the night we won the Hobson’s Best Film Award. Fantastic. Just fantastic.
We then celebrated with a meal at McDonalds, we all ordered Chicken Legends as a tribute to the line we had been given, and soaked in the emotions of the night. We had done it. Every single one of my team had been incredible, and I believe thoroughly deserved the award. We’re now planning very carefully how to share the keg of beer… It will be used as a way to either celebrate our glorious victory this Sunday as we’re told we have won the overall award, or used to drown our sorrows as we’re told we have not… I am kidding. I think… But anyway, it’s been a great experience yet again and can’t wait till next year!
– Tom Henshaw, Creative Director of FilmGrade.
We found out on the Sunday night that we had indeed won the overall best film award, so we are one very happy crew.