Sunday, May 19, 2013

New Feature Shoot Announcement

After completing and finding distribution for 'The Addicted', it's time to start production on my next feature film.  'Seven Cases' is a genre mash-up between Horror and Gangster, but with a really emotional core. It's the story of two retired bank robbers who come out of retirement for one last score before they head off into the sunset. Unfortunately, a previous victim of theirs has decided to make their final job absolute hell for them... They have to play a twisted game in order to get their money back and it takes them to the very limits of their humanity.  It's a tale of choosing money over a life and then trying to live with yourself.

I've been working on pre-production for a few months now and i've got the specialFX guys working on some of the more elaborate 'contraptions' i need. 

We're currently hunting for locations and casting the last few parts. With regard to casting, i can't say much at the moment as we're still talking to people, but i'm hoping we'll have a household name movie star in a major role. Trying to sell a movie without a big name is hard...really hard and it's worth the cost to get a cinema legend involved.

Technically, we're not re-writing the book. I'll be shooting on the Sony FS100 and the Atomos Ninja2 and i'll also be doing lots of Go Pro Hero3 and DSLR shots... there's a lot of action in this movie and small, crash-type cams are going to feature heavily. Why not 4k? Why not raw? 'The Addicted' was shot 1080p ProRes HQ and it looks amazing on the big screen. We up-rezzed it to 2k and the distributors all thought it looked fantastic. I have a very efficient workflow up and running and it's really quick...and making movies at this end of the budget scale is all about working fast. I don't have the extra time or money required to shoot 4k or raw and at this stage it's just not necessary at all.  Good luck to all those new raw converts, but on a 100minute feature it's just a huge jump in terms of data, workload and money.

There's a lot of car interiors and after much deliberation we've decided to shoot these in a studio using the process technique. In other words, shooting plates first and then back projecting them onto a huge screen which will be behind the car. The car itself will be in a tunnel made of a heavy black material and surrounded by a moving light rig to simulate passing cars and brake lights. It will give us the flexibility to move the camera on both a dolly and a jib while shooting car interiors - impossible on a trailer or on the road. 

As well as the interior shots, we'll also be shooting some amazing driving footage out on a road. We've been doing tests on this for a few months now and we're confident we've got some great ideas for a unique looking perspective.

Major differences in production from the last feature? Probably the biggest change will be in the audio department. Last time we recorded directly into a mobile Pro Tools rig from 4 radio lav mics and 2 booms. This time we're using a very small but very high quality mixer to give us 4 balanced XLR inputs into the Ninja2. The Ninja2 can record 4 discrete audio channels so we don't need to worry about syncing in post - which took a long time on 'The Addicted'. We've also decided to use just boom mics this time. The radio lav mics were great for the type of film i made last time, but this is a much more controlled film with a lot less working 'on the fly', so i can control the set a lot more rigidly and allow for optimal boom placement from my Production Sound guy, Jon Atkinson.

On 'The Addicted', i made regular video blogs as we were in production, but this time i'm going to do things differently. There will be the odd video blog, but most of the documenting of the production will be kept for use later. This film relies on the audience not knowing too much in advance so too much coverage will spoil the surprise. However, we're aiming for a fast turnaround on this film and we hope to have it ready for Sundance 2014.... so there's not too long to wait to see what we're up to.

That's all for now...


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Digital Film Maker Magazine

I'm sure if you're based in the UK like i am, you will have noticed a new magazine on the shelves in WHSmiths. Digital Film Maker is aimed at the indie film maker and anyone interested in making films with the new technology available to us today. It's already had some great interviews with up and coming Directors and some great established talent. There's loads of useful hints and tips and every month there's articles coving the behind the scenes stuff we all feed on for inspiration and insider knowledge.

I'm pleased to say that i'm contributing to the magazine with a few articles based on my experiences of being a Director and Producer on two micro-budget feature films. The first one of these articles looks at how to cope with being both a Producer and Director in the lead up to principal photography. It's on sale sometime at the beginning of June.

I must admit that i wasn't sure a monthly print magazine would be able to find a place now that we all read blogs and online news which is pretty instant...BUT, i haven't been able to put my copies of DFM down. They have very in-depth interviews and cover such a wide range of the industry that i find myself reading about projects i might not usually think i was interested in. It's definitely worth picking up a copy to read while rendering your latest masterpiece. 

The Canon 5D Mk3 and RAW via Magic Lantern

Magic Lantern, those busy Canon DSLR hackers have managed to squeeze Full Frame RAW video footage at 24fps out of the 5D Mk3. NeumannFilms have been one of the first to get something up online for us to check out... it's pretty amazing that this came from a DSLR:

Now, before you go and sell your C300 or FS100, remember that this is a $3500 camera that wasn't designed to do this... It's a hack, and not a very mature hack yet, so let it settle in a while. It could be that 5D Mk3's subjected to this start frying their own processors. It's a lot of data to shift to the CF card in a very short space of time. Talking of CF cards, it will only work with very fast ones like the 1000x, not the 600x.

What does this mean for the budget indie shooter? Not much really... you still need to spend over £3k if you want a camera with enough CF cards and batteries to make it workable, and then you'll have a lengthy post process to compress those huge RAW files down into something you can edit without your computer telling you where to go.  For the same money you can get a BMCC set up and feel safe in the knowledge that your camera was designed to do what you need it to.

However... there is one caveat. The 5D Mk3 is a seriously shit-hot stills camera and i for one really notice the benefit of having a great stills camera around. So, if you need stills as much as you need video, in time, this could be a great solution.

It'll be interesting to see if this filters down to other models like the 5D Mk2, 7D and 550D et al.... i'd love to be able to get RAW out of my little 550D... it's already a great little B-Cam, RAW would make it much more useful. We can only hope...

As ever, my overall advice is get something that suits you. I got a lot of shit for shooting on a DSLR for a couple of years, but it was perfect for me at the time, but now it's not.

Lastly, the one big upshot from projects like this are the affect that have on pricing. BlackMagic Design will have to think hard about the price of their next camera if this hack turns out to be stable and portable to other cameras...and Sony and Panasonic too will have to watch out. None of them want to start losing sales to DSLRs like they did a couple of years ago.  It's all good for us though...democracy through invention. Fantastic.


Just seen this from Cinema5D (Thanks guys)'s a split screen demo of RAW footage comparing the 2.5k RAW of the BMCC and 1080p (Full Frame) RAW of the 5D Mk3.  I gotta say, the 5D seems to be a tad better to me... and with people finding the image less noisey in the blacks, this could be trouble for BlackMagic Design. I kind of hope not, as regardless of their supply issues over the last year, they have helped bring better specs down to an affordable budget and they deserve a slice of the action for that alone. Props to Magic Lantern though - this is a serious achievement. Makes you wonder what Canon's R&D department get up to all day....

Friday, May 10, 2013

Micro Budget Films in the current market conditions

When it comes to putting the budget together on micro budget films, cutting corners and finding savings is vital or your production will never be able to re-coup it's production costs.

Things have changed for micro budget films. In the last few months, HMV stores have ceased trading and that's hit the indie industry hard. Indie DVD distributors in the UK relied on HMV taking stock and this lead to more deals elsewhere going more smoothly. Since HMV has gone, you're really only left with the supermarkets in the UK for sales of actual DVDs. This is all very well having all these big name supermarkets looking for DVD product...but they have got a lot more choosy. With such an over saturation of straight to DVD films coming from the US, UK produced movies are finding it tough to secure distribution.

3 years ago, my first feature got distribution mainly because of the celebs involved and that was fine...we knew that was it's main selling point. My latest feature 'The Addicted' has no 'names' in it. We were very lucky that the positive press coverage we got about the project elevated it to the point where we have now managed to secure distribution in both the UK and the US as well as worldwide sales representation.  But, i don't think we can hope to achieve that again in the current market. If our next feature doesn't have at least one bankable name attached, we will struggle. It's sad to think of all the micro budget features in production right now that will have to go down the self-distribution route as no distributors will be interested, but that's the reality of it.

So, my advice is budget for a 'name' that will attract the kind of coverage in the press you will need to get your movie distributed. Even a 'story' behind the production of somekind helps... maybe it's a true story and you can play on that? Maybe there's a connection to a well known franchise of some kind...not necessarily a movie franchise, but possibly a game franchise or even a tie-in with a band people have heard of? You need to get your PR head on if you want to succeed these days.

This brings me to another thorny subject. Payment. Some Directors & Producers have a policy of only working with cast and crews who are fully payed as per the non-budget end of the industry.
This policy is fine if you can afford it and your investors are ok with this kind of structure. Personally, i believe that if your investors are ok with such a huge percentage going on wages when there are so many other options which don't hit your bottom line, they shouldn't be investing in budget films.
There are some caveats to working on micro-budget films and one of them is that i can't afford to hire an experienced DoP or 1st AD... but, there are lots of people with some experience and a keen desire to get more who will work for deferred payment or a back-end cut deal. There are also plenty of actors who are more than keen to work on a feature for experience and another few scenes for their showreel... this is how things get done - everyone wins. It's not being dodgy....and it's not wrong...everyone is free to say no to the job and everyone knows the sketch before they sign up.
Hollywood budgets are ridiculous and i would struggle to be ok with that kind of spending with such a messed up economy and so many people living on hand-to-mouth budgets at home...  The day of the the well planned and sensibly budgeted indie film is here. Too many wannabe directors are chucking cash at RED or Alexa packages when their films will go straight to DVD if they are lucky. Wake up, smell the coffee and stop acting like Michael Bay. Making a career out of this business is possible, but it's got nothing to do with what camera you shoot on or how many crew you have on set, it's all about the end product. Evolve, shrink the crew, utilise new technology to work smarter and if the Unions have an issue with the new way of doing things, let them worry about it... this industry is changing fast, don't get caught in the past. Just look at what happened to the music industry. The warning is there for all to see.

With Cannes just around the corner, i'm usually prepping market materials and working through the night getting footage ready to show in meetings... but, this year i'm not going. With 'The Addicted' all sewn up and the next feature in pre-production, there's neither the need or the time. However, we have representation there and 'The Addicted' will still be involved, even if we're not.

Lastly, some news for Go Pro Hero3 users... the new firmware update is out and this should finally sort out the reliability issues for the Black version and even add some new features.

Get it here: