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Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Shoot 2: Christchurch: Filming with The Jazz Age Band

Shoot 2: Christchurch

Equipment List: Canon 600D with lens and battery, SD Cards (16 and 32Gb). Black electric guitar with strap and plectrum. Ipod with portable speakers. Drum with home made straps. Drumsticks, Microphone. 3 pieces of red ribbon. Tripod. Steadicam. 25metre track and Dolly.

Costumes provided: Two pairs of braces, beige Mac coat. Embellished white hat.

Cast and Crew: Myself: Cameraman/Director/Producer. Band members: Emma Trim, George Atwill, Will Garden. Roger Finn: Driver and Assistant Producer/Director

Today was the biggest shoot i'd have to do in terms of logistics and equipment needed. Having made last minute decisions about costumes the night before I was concerned that whether with so many variables in play i would forget something vital that prevented us doing the shoot. I tried to take heart from Pete Frasers example of students who were forced to improvise on the day of filming due to difficulties implementing original idea for shoot and promised myself that no matter what, i'd come away with some good, usable footage. The only real moment of panic and stress came at the beginning when picking up actors for the band. I had George's postcode but not the number of his house or his mobile and so at 5 past 6 in the morning i find myself in the car driving slowly up and down his road desperately searching for any signs of his whereabouts. Luckily i had his home number and resorted to call it and we were away.
This image begins to show just how many different elements
i was dealing with. In this situation filming becomes something
of a balancing act. You need to make sure all your equipment is
there and in working order, that everyone has the correct costumes
and any props that are needed. While at the same time you want to
devote some time to your actors to make sure they are happy and
confident about what they are doing. A good performance can only
be captured if that good performance is there.
I don't think I truly believed that i'd ever be able to convince 3 teenagers into giving up their sunday morning and waking up at such a horrendous hour but at 6:30 we were all in the car heading for Christchurch.

It had been extremely useful doing the rechie the previous evening as it meant I could begin work immediately and take control in an efficient manner. I had discussed with my dad a strategy on  how best to be time efficient when working with the heavy duty equipment of the track and dolly. I knew i would have limited time filming as I had another commitment i needed to keep at 10am that morning and also from my experience from the previous shoot,  we only had approximately 2 and a half hours of battery life. While he loosened the straps holding the track onto the roof, i briefed my actors on what i needed from them in terms of performance and sorted out costumes and distributed instruments.

I'd discussed the positions where i wanted to set up the dolly on curved or straight track with my dad at the rechie and so after marking the spot where i wanted to capture the first dolly shot. I let him unpack the curved and straight track while i set up the band on the band stand. I draped each piece of ribbon trailing from one of the instruments or the microphone over the edge of the bandstand, hooking it around the pillars to frame it in the background of the shot. I got the band to stand towards the back of the bandstand facing the steps up to it because the ribbon would have been too taught otherwise. I didn't want to restrict the movements of my performers, particularly Emma, too much and having looser ribbon meant it could be catched by the breeze and add to the atmosphere and colours on display for the band performance. I felt it was important to make sure the ribbon, as running motif, featured prominently within the bands performance so that like in the Sleater Kinney video for Jumpers it is the details in the aesthetics of the background that link the band to the narrative.
A piece of track that the dolly went on. With so much equipment
scattered around the place I had to be careful when shooting
to avoid it coming into shot. This was a problem particularly
when i shot the band traveling with the bandstand in
the background and unfortunately one or two of those that were
filmed in wide shot were ruined by this.

For opening shot of the band I wanted to use a disguised jump cut with the trail of ribbon followed from the mid shot of Tom's character in doorway right into a trail that becomes the lead for George's guitar. In hindsight for a sequence which i knew would be technically challenging i should have really given it more thought and preparation. At Tom's house i'd used a skateboard as a way of cutting between locations but I was unable to bring the same skateboard to this shoot partly because of logistical reasons and partly because at the time i couldn't see past the point of how out of place this object would look next to the band stand. Like before I used the steadicam to track the ribbon and was reasonably pleased with the results, i liked the end framing of the guitar neck in and out of focus. Though looking back at both clips in the edit suite there were problems with one shot tracking the ribbon forwards and the other one tracking it backwards. It will obviously require an extra effect such as a fade to white to properly make it work. My concern with this is that it will feel too against the tone of the quiet build up of the opening of song. I did a similar shot for the drummer but tried to successfully capture the moment the singing comes in by catching the moment with the camera swinging round from mid shot of drum to close up of singer, after several takes I was reasonably satisfied i'd got what i wanted.

Finding the best method to use the steadicam
proved to be a trial and error process. Although resting it
 on the shoulder or holding it vertically might arguably allow
for more stable shots, the method i used when capturing the band in
dynamic mid shots and close ups allowed for better manoeuvrability.
This is evident in some of the lovely sweeping shots i took.
I came into this shoot knowing that my priority was to first capture enough footage of the band performing on the bandstand that effectively i could edit the video not showing the band traveling through space like the two characters at all. I felt i had to be realistic about what was achievable in the time frame and cover myself in case an extra shoot at Allum Chime was not possible. Worked through the system I'd spoken to my dad about. With the ipod playing on loop i would film the band in mid shots and close ups using tripod as well as more dynamic shots using the steadicam while my dad set up the next track and dolly shot.I would then capture that before moving on. As the sun came up the lighting got better and better and i found my idea of filming the band from behind on a curved dolly worked really nicely with the sunlight casting the performers in and out of shadow in a way that evoked the dynamic passion and surge of atmosphere i wanted behind the performance. One of the problems with curved track was that the framing of the shot would always end up looking odd. When getting lower angle shot I placed the camera on a pillow on the dolly to reduce and vibrations and tried to combat this problem by sliding dolly to the centre of the track and adjusting the positioning of the camera to get the framing central. When i placed the tripod on the dolly i attempted to keep the point of focus the same by getting someone to push dolly while i turned the camera using the tripod handle. The danger with this was that my movement of turning the tripod handle would ruin the smoothness of the shot but i think the results looked fairly accomplished and effortless.

The steadicam proved versatile in not just capturing
dynamic movement shots but also allowed for quickly
capturing well held low angle shots.
Shooting from behind the bandstand to harness
the light shining onto the band.
I was aware of trying to make the effort to find interesting shots or camera angles to shoot the band from as i didn't want a too conventionalised performance video style of shots, mid shot of drummer, close up of guitar etc. Harnessing interesting features around you is always a good way to be inventive and i got quite a nice low shot of just the bands feet out of focus in the background and the drip of water in a puddle on the steps in the foreground.

I was surprised at the speed in which we captured footage both with and without the dolly and i decided i would capture the band walking away from the bandstand. I still wanted to give the illusion that their trail of ribbon was never ending and got them to tie the ends on to the edge of the bandstand and walk towards the camera (which was on a dolly) while they were framed in a three shot, their ribbon trailing behind them. Looking back at the shoot i think that one of my greatest mistakes might turn out to be asking Emma to not acknowledge the camera. In some ways this conforms to the conventions of indie music videos of not pandering to the audience but at the same time i think having that disconnection might mean some of the emotional weight of the performance will be lost. What often works so well in female artists tracks such as Florence is when the performance is given exclusively to the viewer, the power of this cannot be underestimated.
With the sun above the estuary, light shimmering off the water the quality of the lighting pushed me into making an improvised decision to not film the band walking down several different streets around christchurch and then at a separate shoot at Allum chime but to keep things simple and have them just walk up to the waters edge and look out.
Actors eh? what are they good for..
At the end of a long morning filming, i wouldn't
have managed to capture the amount of good footage
i did without their incredible focus and discipline.
Withe the battery running on its last bar i continued to film them traveling to this location less than a 100metres from band stand in a hurry. However i felt that within that last half hour of filming i overstepped the line between efficiency and uncalculating urgency and this shows in the footage. A few of the shots are ruined by amateurish errors such as the moving reflection of myself in window and Roger packing up the dolly in the background for one of the shots. I also resorted into my editing head as a filmaker holding shots for nowhere near long enough and being sloppy with the framing. Despite I still managed to get some brilliant, superbly lit footage which should cover me in the edit.

Although it was a squeeze at the end I think i can classify today's filming as a success as we hopefully caught all the footage we need of the band, though i still want to keep filming at Allum Chime as viable option.

I think my main concerns with the sequences now are not whether we have enough material to cover the video but whether lip syncing will undo me. I didn't have tight structure for what shots would be used for which lines as i felt it to restrictive a way of filmmaking while holding the same shot for the full length of the song seemed counter intuitive when we were on such a tight time schedule. The wide shots and close ups of instruments should help with this though and knowing that half of the video footage will be covered by the narrative eased my worries a little.

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