Everyone’s a director

Well, last weekend we had the final shoot for the first series of Bonny & Clyde. We haven’t announced it on the site, because there’s still quite a few episodes to come, but yes, there is an end upon the horizon.

What was shaping up to be the most complex and perhaps stressful shoot of the series, turned out instead to be the easiest, partly I think because we all knew it was coming to an end, and also because we changed our directing/shooting process slightly.

Even though both Louise and I are the entire production team, we had for a while kept a clear deliniation between the directing and camera operating roles on the day, even though we both had input to them before the actual shoot. We were thus simply assuming that the other was doing what we were thinking for that role. Unfortunately, both the improvised nature of the shoot, and by us not going through the shoot in extreme detail, we found that in most of the recent shoots, we actually had different ideas and perspectives on the day, which in some cases gave us footage that wasn’t as good as we were expecting.

For the final shoot, we decided to work a lot more closely together in directing and frame composition, and we went through the entire shoot in extreme detail before it happened. We already do a lot of planning for each shoot, but this is the first time we’ve tried to proactively address the recent misunderstandings.

These probably sound like obvious things to do in a co-production, work closely together and plan in detail, and certainly detailed planning would be one of the top rules of film making. But we’ve since discovered that while this conflicts with the “rock up, roll camera, improvise” idea, with improvised works it is even more critical to plan in detail before a shoot. This is because you don’t have a written shooting script or plan, so each member of the crew must understand what is trying to be achieved, so they can adapt as necessary. In a way, every crew member must also be a director, and must be both informed and understanding of the shoot enough to perform a directorial role in their own technical area. So much so that they should be able to take over the actual director role if required, because of the shared vision.

So now, before a shoot, each of us takes turns at walking through the entire shoot, explaining key plot points and their cues, the expected (which may change as it’s improvised) blocking of player movements, the actual camera framing and composition elements for the entire shoot, preferred and possible editing choices, and each of the character’s journeys so far and in this chapter. Aside from technical operation of equipment, all of the crew must be able to switch roles at any time, and be able to keep the same directorial focus as everyone else.

The final shoot turned out much better for it, and yet again fine tunes our now quite detailed process for improvised filmmaking. But will it scale up to our next project? Stay tuned for early 2008 and we’ll see.

Oh, and as you probably figured out, we ended up using quite a bit of the fun park footage after all, after both getting some legal advice, and reconsidering our ultimate goals for the project. It certainly doesn’t paint them in a bad light, and it is obvious that it is a fictional work.

TVTonic users blocked

After discussions with the wonderful (seriously) folks at TVTonic, we’ve had Bonny & Clyde removed from their directory, and we’re also blocking their clients at our end. It seems as though there is a problem somewhere with our hosting provider and not TVTonic, and considering we’ve had issues with them in the past, we’ve started looking for an alternate provider. Stay tuned.

Clyde and Vinnie’s car audition

Enough production rambling, time for some fun.

If you remember back to July 2006, we ran auditions for each of the main characters. What? They’re not real people? Not as such, no…

The following video shows an improvised scene with Cale and Dave playing the characters they ultimately ended up becoming, Clyde and Vinnie. The brief for the scene was simply to pack the car as if they were in a hurry to get somewhere.

Enjoy The Back Lot #1: bcbl_QT7_1.mov

Bonny & Clyde website temporarily down

I don’t want to set a precedent where all our production journal posts are about problems, but that unfortunately seems to be the theme at the moment. That and the fact that it has been quite a while since our last shoot, several months in fact. Trying to get all the cast together at the same time, with all their our commitments has been difficult. Meanwhile…

Our site crashed. There’s a more detailed description of what happened on the actual site, but it’s currently down due to the problem recurring. I also wrote a post on my personal blog Bonny & Clyde temporarily down, but I was a little upset, so it’s short on detail.

Basically our hosting provider has shut us down because of a problem with TVTonic continually downloading from the site. Not our fault, but now it’s certainly our problem.

When will it be back up? Who knows. It’s out of our hands at this point.

Will it ever be back up? Yes!

Unfortunately we don’t think it will be ready for our next episode this Monday, so what we’re going to try and do instead is put together a short out takes package, or maybe some of our original audition footage. Then once the site is up, will bring our episode 24 the following week.

So watch this space!

And as a follow up to the previous post, a few days ago we finally got back our replacement 500GB drive. Now we have more 500GB drives than we know what to do with. Maybe we should start some kind of video media project… Nah, it’ll never catch on.

I love Final Cut

The only expensive part of our production process, is the use of Final Cut, Apple’s professional video editing package. Although these days it’s cheap enough to be a serious option for hardcore hobbyists, so we’re not too fussed about using it as part of our proof of process.

One of the things I love about Final Cut, and most other video editors to be honest, is the disconnect between the project timeline and the raw footage. A project can exist, with it’s timeline, regardless whether the footage is actually on the hard drive, or still in it’s raw form on tape. Final Cut keeps track of where your footage is, and manages your project accordingly.

We have a dedicated 500GB firewire drive for Bonny & Clyde. Our single Final Cut project contains every episode so far, and most of the footage we’ve shot, so at any point in our workflow, we can check back in previous episodes, and look at anything that’s been shot. Once an episode is complete, we take a master copy of it using the Final Cut Media Manager, which creates a new project file for just that episode, and stores it on the same drive.

Last week the drive died, and we lost everything. Luckily however (well, by design really) Final Cut was configured to continually autosave projects to a backup drive. We simply copied those autosaves to a new 500GB, and we were up and running again. The raw footage had to be re-logged from our tapes, but Final Cut simply prompts you for which tape, and goes off and captures all the footage for you.

As it was, we spent about 2 hours recovering from the crash, and got the episode out on time.

If you’re using Final Cut, there’s two things you must use to protect your work, autosave, and clip logging. On small projects, I tend to just tell Final Cut to bring down the footage, without logging the clip first, which is fine. But if you have a large project, where you may lose or need to delete raw footage, without the clips being logged, you’ll have a difficult time finding the correct tape and in/out points to re-capture your footage.

Cutaways and edits

Coming from an agile development background, I’m used to rapidly changing variables and the best of planning not always being appropriate once you get on the ground.

Such is the case with Bonny & Clyde, with many of our early technical production decisions having to be changed once we started to edit the raw footage. The first rule of future projects will be: expect your plans to change, and be prepared to adapt on the spot.

One of these changes is our use of cutaways and edit points. Because we don’t want to interrupt the cast once they’re performing each 15-20 minute take, we don’t reshoot anything for B-roll or alternative angles. For most takes we even use exactly the same framing, so we can intermix different takes depending on the dialog and emotions we wish to use for the episode. We’d originally planned to use two cameras, but decided against it because we had too many other things to concentrate on with such a small crew. Get the process to work, then scale it up later.

We’d always wanted to have as fews cuts as possible, to give the illusion that it is a documentary, shooting as things happen, so we have a standing rule: if the take is funny, let it run without edits for as long as possible.

This means that any time there’s an edit throughout the series, it is usually because we have to for technical reasons, such as:

  • Characternuity – In rare cases, a character will say or do something that contradicts the series or character arcs. In most of these it’s usually a really small detail that they’ve forgotten, because the episode in which it was mentioned hadn’t been released yet.
  • Corpsing – In a few cases, the improvisors will break out of character and laugh, because the situation is so funny. Quite a few of these are hysterically funny, and it’s unfortunately we’ve been unable to use them. You’ll see some of them later when we start releasing out takes and behind the scenes footage.
  • Tension/raised stakes – When we get to within a minute of the 5 minute mark in editing, we start looking for moments when the tension is increased, or the stakes are raised. Stakes are all about increasing how much the characters could lose, or could gain, making the audience more concerned about and for the character. A lovable character in a situation where they’re about to get found out or caught, usually undeservably, is the ideal. The more they struggle the better, and the more they compound the situation themselves the better.
  • Interview/back story – Often the interview footage highlights a certain trait or historical fact, which adds to the intensity of the live action. The most obvious to date was when Clyde built up the fact that he’d done all the planning for the initial job with Bonny. This went on over a few episodes, until we finally saw the unclimable wall. Of course we then raised the stakes even more by having the phones stuck over the unclimable wall, and so they couldn’t even stay at the wall, we made a savage dog guard them. However, interview footage is usually only used as cutaways so we can use…
  • Live action from different takes – The dialog is improvised, and it changes from take to take, so we end up with funny moments scattered across different takes. Most episodes are thus a mix of different takes, and most edits are for this reason.

It is rare that we use an actual cutaway, establishing shot or similar as a way of editing. In fact we actively try not to do this, for creative reasons.

Of the above issues, we also use quite a bit of audio dubbing to remove characternuity and corpsing.

An example is in episode 6, Kev. When Bonny is talking about Kev being “in tyres”, the video from this take was the best, but the original audio contained some characternuity problems. We already had the dialog about tyres from another take, which was funny, but the rest of that take wasn’t funny enough to use as the video. So we took the “in tyres” dialog from the other take, and dubbed it into this one. Note that Bonny is off camera at the bottom of the stairs when she says it.

However, in the audio take, Kev had already climbed the stairs, so we had to dub in extra footsteps of Kev climbing the stairs (taken from yet another take, which had no dialog), and edit out some audio of him opening his toolboox (from the other take) when he hadn’t actually finished climbing the stairs. Once you know the dubs are there, you can spot them easily enough, but for most people they shouldn’t really notice. If you can’t spot the 5 edits, listen for the sound of a generator in the background, which was in one of the takes, but not the other. The problems with guerrilla filmmaking…

Weekly, sickly, deadly

One of the problems with developing a weekly series, is producing something every week. Not out of laziness, but due to unforseen problems, like illness, equipment failure or resource availability. We had quite a few of these problems with our Frank and Dale machinima, because we would write and produce a full episode, the week before it was to be released. We won’t be doing that again when season 2 kicks in later in the year.

Luckily for Bonny & Clyde, we’re quite a way ahead episode wise. Like really a long way ahead, so it won’t really affect our schedule. But it’s still annoying when you put a lot of work into costuming, set construction and special effects preparation, only to have one of the improvisors, and our Director, both fall sick on shooting day. We wish them well, and at least everyone else got to have a day off, which was nice.

Also luckily, we just happened to be shooting at our house today, so we can at least leave everything as it is until we can reschedule.

The only question is, now what do we do with 10 litres of corn syrup?

Released!

Well, it’s been a long wait, almost 18 months, and a year since we first put out the call for auditions, but it’s finally on it’s way. The first episode is out!

The site is running a beta version of Splinter, a new microcontent platform we’ve developed, so it’s kind of like two projects to be honest, but yes, this is the Bonny & Clyde Production Journal, so from now on we won’t mention Splinter again.

It was a good day today, once it was released, got a couple of hundred visitors, not too many, not too few. We feel like we’re in no mans land though, with 18 months of development behind us, and an ongoing weekly schedule ahead of us, we decided to pretty much take the day off.

Tomorrow, production continues.

We’re planning a bunch of behind the scenes videos, kind of like a production videoblog, but that’ll be a few weeks yet, once we get into a rhythm. Some of the on location footage is a hoot, as there’s a lot of funny stuff we can’t use because it’s either out of character, has characternuity problems, or clashes with something else we decided to use instead. Stay tuned.

For now, please check out the first episode and give us some feedback.

Lunatic Park

On our shoot yesterday, we were hit by what I’m calling the terro-igno-copyright nazis, while we were shooting some footage inside Luna Park, Sydney’s harbourside fun park. Luna Park is open to the public, so you don’t pay to get in. You pay to go on a ride, but not to get in the gate, and there’s nobody actually on the gate to check who’s coming in.

We got more and more confident about using their space as the shoot went on, which eventually alerted their security staff, mostly out of work nightclub bouncers by the look of it, except for the one guy who first spoke to us, who was polite and fairly knowledgable.

When we were first approached, we were told that we weren’t allowed to shoot video on their premises if it was for commercial use, and that they’d send down the duty manager who would watch us erase all the footage we’d shot that day. That in itself was OK from a Bonny & Clyde perspective, as the Luna Park footage wasn’t a significant part of the chapter we were working on, and could fairly easily be worked around. We shoot a LOT of footage, and then pick and choose later what works and what doesn’t.

However this incident excited me personally, because it was the first time I’d actually been challenged about my footage, and this is after I’ve been in some pretty dodgey situations in the past, like leaving my camera on going through customs and immigration a few years ago.

So then we were told that they wanted the footage erased for two reasons. 1. So it’s not used for terrorism, and 2. so it’s not used for commercial reasons. At this point it all started to make sense, they were copyright nazis.

The terrorism one was hysterically funny though. I’m not going to bring a 6 person crew into Luna Park, and pretend to be a film production, just so that I can get some shots of where the ferris wheel operator stands to flick the go/stop switch. I’m going to come with a friend and a domestic handycam and look as much as I can like a tourist.

Anyway, so the guy goes upstairs to check on where they legally stand, and one of the “grunts” decides to stand by me, I’m assuming so that I don’t go and get some more terrorist footage. It’s now that I’m starting to feel like I’ve been pulled out of a night club, and we have the following conversation:

Grunt: Show me your ID

RBF: I don’t think I have to

Grunt: I said show me your ID

RBF: I’m sorry, but I don’t think you’ve actually got any right at this point to ask for my ID

Grunt: This is a licensed premises, I can do what I like

I’m assuming he meant that they served alcohol, which I’m pretty sure is not the case, and there were no conditions of entry displayed at the entry gate saying so, or that there were any conditions for entry. But getting a little concerned for the safety of both myself and my camera, I handed over my ID, which he took upstairs while yet another grunt took over terrorist guard duty.

Then finally a few minutes later, the original guy returned, handed me back my ID, and explained what we already knew, that they had no authority to touch, let alone erase any of our footage, and that we had not broken any law. He also said that we were free to stay and play on the rides, so long as we didn’t shoot and more footage, otherwise we’d be asked to leave, which I’m sure was just a scare tactic.

So we left.

Not only are we in an age where anyone who has posted something to YouTube is a self taught copyright lawyer, and where anyone who hasn’t is also a self taught copyright lawyer, but there is an assumption that everyone but the self taught copyright lawyer is a copyright ignoramous. I know full well what rights Luna Park have in controlling the use of their images, and while our footage certainly contains things that we couldn’t use commercially, it also includes large sections shot inside Luna Park that we can use.

I understand that all the media hype surrounding P2P has confused people enough so that they don’t really understand what copyright is and what it is for. But people in positions where an understanding is required, such as a security guard who has been hired to not only protect property and life, but also to protect the commercial interests of the company, should be fully briefed in how the law works. We could have challenged these guys and made a stand about our rights as members of the public creating independent media and culture, but our main concern was for our crew, our footage and our project, so we ended up just walking away. On another day, I may not have been so forgiving.

Ultimately, having watched the footage from the day, we do have enough material for Bonny & Clyde which doesn’t use Luna Park imagery which they seek to control. We don’t know if Bonny & Clyde will be a commercial project, but if it ever is, we don’t want to be in a position where we’re dealing with safe harbour provisions, and having to re-edit episodes due to take down notices. If you know me, I’d have no problem using the dodgey footage, but I just wouldn’t want to have to spend time going back into production if it came to that.

Fear not however, as I will be posting some of the actual Luna Park footage to my personal blog (www.kashum.com) at some point, probably around the time the episode comes out.

In a perfect world, we’d be not only allowed to shoot inside Luna Park (which was opened in 1935), but to use the footage for whatever we like, commercial or otherwise. Luna Park and it’s imagery are such a part of Sydney’s history, that it has become a part of Sydney culture, and thus should be able to be used, sampled and remixed as part of that culture. To still be trying to control it’s use, is farcicle, and indicative of yet another blinkered company who you’d be wary of dealing with.

Regardless, it was a fun day. Luna Park is pretty shit, but it was still a fun day.

The calm before the storm (in a tea cup)

I’ve been a little quiet here recently. We shot a bunch of material late last year and early this year, and we’ve been spending the last month or so prepping for the release on 14th May. So the last few months have just been editing, plot writing, and creating the web site and other promotional materials.

Shooting resumes in a few weeks, so hopefully then I’ll start posting on the behind the scenes production side of things again.