It’s a new year and a new site, so what better time than to talk about perhaps one of the most valuable things I learnt last year in my film making adventures. Not wishing to sound arrogant but I like to think that I know quite a lot about film-making technology, however when I had finished shooting Code Name: Abyss I had no idea what I had let myself into.
After I had finished editing the film it was time to set my sights on what I thought would be a relatively easy VFX process. After a lot of searching, I found a VFX artist who was up to the challenge. It was on our first meeting that I realised how much work I had created for him by making some innocent but relatively stupid mistakes. When I was planning the film I was very adamant that I wanted to keep as many of the effects as practical as possible. We built the set, put the lights in, made the cockpit look as futuristic as possible, and even made a scale model for exteriors. To complete the set we placed two computer screens in the cockpit which would be the physical embodiment of the space craft’s AI, “S.O.F.I.”. I foolishly thought that the on-screen graphics for these monitors would be a simple thing to add in post production. I ended up leaving the screens black during the shoot, although not without first sticking white crosses in the screen corners thinking “That’s what the pros do right? – shove a couple of white crosses on things and the tracking will be lovely and easy!”. How wrong I was! The shoot went on without any of us thinking anymore about these screens, pumping smoke into the cockpit, letting our lead actress walk in front, moving the camera in strange angles around them of them, which all in all made the post production process ever more difficult. It wasn’t until I met with my VFX artist that I realised how much extra work I had created.
Film making is mostly a learning process and this made me aware of how little I knew about VFX. So I started learning, asking questions, doing research, basically finding out as much as I could so that the next film doesn’t go the same way. This whole ordeal also got me thinking about what else I don’t know about lighting and cameras which is something I think is very important for other new directors. The more you know about the technology behind what you are doing, the more adept you will become at using it effectively. Understanding the limits of the camera, the lights and the VFX will help you cut the amount of work you might end up creating for yourself. You also need to understand the tools you’re using, not only for the reasons I have already mentioned, but also to protect you from people telling you what isn’t possible. People will tell you that “you can’t do that practically” or “that’s just not going to be possible with this camera” but if you know that the lens is wide enough, or that you can get the camera in that tight spot if you strip it down a little, or if you shoot it in a certain way the lights will be able to work where they are, because you understand the capabilities of the tools you’re using, you can make what you want to make!
This applies as early on in the process as the writing stage. If you are writing something that you know will be made with a low budget, you should write it in a way that limits costs. You can easily think about how you would light and shoot the scenes you are writing, and then look practically at what might be possible with the available budget. These tweaks can prepare you when you come to shoot and have silence nay sayers. When I made Code Name: Abyss, a lot of people told me that it wouldn’t be possible as I had planned, and that I should try and make the film less ambitious. However I knew that I could do it. I knew what I needed to make it work, I knew the limitations of the equipment, but most of all I had faith in the people I was working with.
Know what is possible and don’t be told otherwise by people less ambitious than you!
Thanks for reading this! I hope that maybe somewhere deep in the last 700 or so words, is a nugget of useful information. Check back regularly for other posts from Jonny and Mikey! Finally, welcome to the new site! Hope you like it!