48 Hours Later (part 2)

Posted: 24/06/2014 in Uncategorized

The Sunday Post-Production Party started at 10am at our house with me, Drew, Cédric, Phil and Tull piling into our flat and filling it with laptops and Oreos. We gave Tull’s rough cut to Cédric and Drew, so that they could start preparing for grading and composing respectively, and Phil and I sat with Tull to review the rough itself. I’ve never collaborated on an edit before and spent most of my energy trying not to make too many demands and force my opinions on everyone.

Between us we worked through the edit and finished with a cut of around 4:30 (which was a welcome change from last year, when we’d struggled to make it down to a final length 10 seconds over the limit). Throughout this process, having everyone in the same room was both a good laugh and also useful for keeping everyone in sync. Phil, Tull and I were on Macs, Cédric and Drew on PCs; I was editing in FCP7 and Tull was using X; and Cédric was using an Adobe package for grading. Constant communication helped prevent some of the issues we’d had in the past when mixing setups (like the Announcement soundtrack being a good ten seconds shorter than the video, or Wargames being shot in two different framerates).

dead_ceri

At around 6pm, we handed over the locked-off edit for actual grading and composition. Cédric and Drew already had a head-start on this from working on the rough, but Cédric would need to apply the grade shot by shot, and composing everything obviously takes time. Fortunately, Dan, Phil and I had decided we wanted the night-time cityscape which the film opens on, and we were a tempting fifteen minutes away from the gorgeous views offered by the hills of Guildford.

Phil took us up to the Mount, overlooking Guildford Cathedral and boasting a view all the way across to the Wembley Arches. After setting up some shots and waiting for nightfall, I did my first ever camera operating – granted, it was a motionless shot of a town, but it was exciting nonetheless. After about two hours of charging batteries, lightsabre battles and lying on my back in the grass, we came back with the 15 seconds which would be our film’s introduction. We then took to finding some kind of visual effect to throw over the footage using only FCP7, and ended up cobbling together the “sparkle” effect using a filter and various layers of fade. For a team with no special effects experience or software, it didn’t come out too bad.

We were hitting stumbling blocks, of course. Cédric’s grade refused to look the same in the export as it did in the editor. Drew’s music, as stubborn and self-assured as its composer, would not balance neatly with the narration. A full thirty minutes were dedicated to trying to find the perfect sound for our detonator, which we later decided sounded better in silence. But the agreement to lock off something–anything–before dawn meant that concessions were made and compromises met, and finally we piled everything together into FCP7: the locked-off, graded edit, the music and narration, and the “special effect”-ified cityscape. At around 3am, everyone confirmed their preferred name spellings for the credits, and Cédric, Phil and Tull were finally allowed to go home.

gun_phil

I love this short. I love the way the title juxtaposes the theme, and the backstory for the explosives which you hardly get to hear about in the narrative. I love the memories it brings up when I watch it of an enjoyable, fast-paced shoot without drama or stress. What I think I love most about it is how different it is to some of the other things we’ve made. Strings, as I’ve talked about before, was so tightly tied to my personal vision that it was hard to give anyone else creative input or accept when things weren’t perfect. Wargames was huge and I was wholly unprepared for the challenge. But I approached this with a level of indifference which I actually think helped it a lot, because I wasn’t working towards an idea in my head, and I wasn’t desperate for everything to be perfect, and I wasn’t afraid of the people I was with judging my ideas. We came to the idea and we tackled it as best we could and we settled for what worked, not what we felt like we needed.

Watch Sparkle on YouTube here!

Back to Part 1

48 Hours Later (part 1)

Posted: 30/05/2014 in Uncategorized

At 11:00 on Saturday the 12th April, I pulled up outside Cédric’s house with a car boot full of improvised explosives.

Drew and I spent a few hours the night before dismantling old electronics, sticking wires and circuit boards all over them and smothering them in gaffer tape. We’d already decided to use makeshift bombs as props in our submission for the Sci-Fi-London 48-Hour Film Challenge 2014. We weren’t entirely sure how, but it would probably involve taping them all over Michael Vincent.

We received our brief at about 11:15 by email.

Title:
Sparkle

Dialogue:
There’s nothing quite like meeting people in person, and I look very forward to meeting you.

Prop:
A mobile phone being powered off

Armed with our gaffer tape creations, our team of six met up several miles down south in the Green Belt to get started on the photography.

This year’s 1st Unit consisted of:

Cédric Hauteville, Director of Photography for the first time with Flashcards

Michael Vincent, the face of Drew’s voice

Phillip Grigg, scriptwriter and assistant director

Alex Twinn, AD, “the extra with piercing eyes”

Gemma Druce, demonstrating her wonderful ability to look angry

And me, starring in a Flashcards film for the first time ever. Simultaneously, Drew Cunningham was on his bike and heading to London to record the narration with sound extraordinaire Toby Warren.

Before we began, we decided that everything would be shot handheld: this was partially to speed things up, but also to avoid the issue we’d had last year of cutting sharply between handheld and sticks. We also decided (tentatively, on my part) to grade the footage in post, which Cédric had volunteered to have a go at. Both of these decisions gave him several considerations while setting up the camera, for which he ran a few test shoots in the weeks running up to get used to various techniques. (My favourite of these is the focus pulling, which you can see in the final film.)

mike_guards

We were on a very tight time limit, not because of the challenge deadline, or even because of limited daylight, but because we only had one battery for the camera. This led to an enforced wrap after about five hours, and having this deadline encroaching on us all day led to a strict two-take maximum for most of the shots. It was nerve-wracking. Not only could we not watch any takes back, but due to our tiny crew, half of the time I was in front of the camera and couldn’t see the framing at all. Whenever I was on camera, Phil would step in to direct the shot, and Alex directed the final scene with both me and Phil on screen. Many of the artistic decisions for shots were left to Cédric. Whoever wasn’t doing something was immediately doing something else. Although we were far below the number of people we’d hoped for, the result of our tiny crew, made of up people who had all worked on Flashcards shoots before, did at least mean that we all knew roughly how everyone worked and how best to collaborate.

By all accounts, the shoot was a success, where ‘success’ is measured in levels of stress (or, in this case, lack of) throughout the day. I think this was largely due to the preproduction stage of this being vastly overshadowed by the excitement of Wargames (more info on that to follow), meaning that we rushed into this without much preparation. Rather than this resulting in disaster, it led to a pleasant combination of freedom to experiment and a lack of caring much for how it came out. We weren’t there to be shortlisted, or even to improve on our previous films: we were there to add clutter to the Flaschards YouTube channel in the shortest possible time.

That evening we headed back to Cédric’s house to review the footage. The result of our limited battery power was a total of 30 mins of footage (giving us a shooting ratio of 6:1). I could already see that Cédric’s test shoots were paying off: while we’d sacrificed the time to find the perfect angles for each shot, the handheld style gave the footage the edgy, dynamic feel that looks effortless but I always find harder to achieve. We could already see the shots we’d forgotten or things that hadn’t worked out quite the way we envisioned, but for this project it didn’t matter too much.

trigger_mike

I dropped the footage off with Dan Tull, first-time Flashcards editor, to put us together a rough cut that evening while we recovered. Drew showed me the narration he and Toby had recorded, half of it based on Phil’s script ideas and half written by them using the title and dialogue we’d been given. The narration took the story we’d shot (one man and his bombs) and tied it in with the new concepts (of the horrific compound and the explosives it created), giving the final product a nice sense of depth. We could see that there would be work to do in meshing the narration with the visuals, but that would be a challenge for another day. More specifically, the following day.

 

Part two to follow…

Kickstarter total at time of writing: £3574, 79% funded

The ADR

Now the deadline was starting to creep up on us. As the Kickstarter would run for a month, it needed to close before Christmas to match Ant’s deadlines, and that meant we needed to be up and running before mid-November. The edit had crawled on just long enough to eliminate the weekend of the 9th from being useful, and due to the Lambda site being close to the road, we needed to do something I’d never done before: completely re-record all of the dialogue. We managed to secure an afternoon the following weekend with Toby Warren, the same sound recordist we worked with on Announcement. That Saturday, the 16th, was Ant’s originally proposed deadline, but I reasoned that you couldn’t release a Kickstarter on a Saturday…right?

It was a weird day. The first half basically amounted to Ant standing in front of a mic with headphones on, listening to his own voice and repeating it back. Then Matt did his lines, then Drew, and even Chloe ended up recording some. The weirdest part for me – while sitting on the floor and eating vegan popcorn in the small windows between the recording light flashing on – was that after twelve or so hours editing the footage, I knew exactly what the lines sounded like, and I couldn’t understand why my actors couldn’t replicate them as perfectly. (Well, actually the weirdest part was probably Drew ADRing the sound of another man having his tooth ripped out. That was also pretty weird.)

I also learned on this day that Toby is a phenomenal sound recordist and editor. He captured line after line seamlessly and effortlessly, mixed down a first draft in twenty minutes while we were there, and turned around the final track overnight and had it back to us the next day. I’m so grateful and glad that we had him in our list of people to exploit volunteers.

ant

The Final Stretch

With the ADR finished, all that remained was to hand everything to Drew to make us a soundtrack. We knew that Kickstarter required up to three days to review and approve the video, which made time even tighter. While I messed around with the remaining footage, Drew spent an evening gathering, editing and mixing together various samples and sound effects, from background music to ambient sound (including new traffic sounds to replace what we’d spent the previous day removing). We’d had some trouble with audio levels on Announcement, due in part to similar time restrictions, so Drew was keen to put in the hours to fix this for Hood. Finally, some time after midnight and after my last-minute requests, Drew mixed down all the audio levels and handed the export back to me.

I spent the following evening trying to stick the sound and the video back together; by this time the Mac was out of my reach, so I resorted to a half-version of Premiere running on my ancient desktop computer. The software itself wouldn’t play back the footage, so I had to export it and play it externally to ensure the soundtrack was in sync, not to mention trying to find the right export type for the footage itself. Three exports and half an evening later I finally had the completed video, though admittedly in the wrong framerate and at the wrong size – but no amount of tinkering or crying was going to improve things at this stage. I finally sent the video to Ant, and after some further back and forth and last-minute quality control, he submitted it to Kickstarter.

I thought we were in for a long waiting game, and all of a sudden I found myself surprisingly anxious about the whole thing. What if Kickstarter rejected the premise on account of the video? What if they didn’t think copious amounts of cocaine were that funny? What if we weren’t allowed to show drugs, tobacco, alcohol, knives, guns, torture – what were we thinking?!

And then, less than twelve hours later, I saw this Facebook status from Ant:

“And…We have approval.”

The Hood Kickstarter closes on the 19th December and is £926 away from the target. If you know people who are interested in comics, please share the page around. If you haven’t pledged, please consider it. And if you like short films with drugs, knives, guns, torture, tobacco, alcohol and Swiftheart Rabbit, then just check out the page anyway – you won’t be disappointed!

HOOD - the Kickstarter

Click the image to pledge to Hood!

Read part 2!

Kickstarter total at time of writing: £2,323, 51% funded

Day 2: Our house

The half of the cast required on Sunday were far happier to see me in our warm flat at 11:00 rather than the dark morning at Lambda. We had five scenes to shoot that day, and in the process Ant got flour all over my bedroom, Bill created a Harry Potter hovel under the stairs, and Matt used the phrase “Johnny Depp wanker” about thirteen times. The “office” scene used a five-person setup to shoot: Chloe holding the camera, perched on an office chair; Bill and Kiera moving the chair from one side of the table to the other (finally, successful tracking shots!); Ant acting as a “wipe” (i.e. holding a black folder for the camera to emerge from behind); and me with my ‘clapboard’ (letters written on my script).

Hood Kickstarter Video

Photo by Cédric Hauteville

One of my favourite things about this shoot was having a production photographer. Chloe is normally my go-to for photos so having her preoccupied as DP was a hindrance to this, until I managed to rope in Cédric, a fellow roller-derby-ist of the Surrey Jammerwockies. Good-quality production stills are important for marketing (of both your product and yourself), but having behind-the-scenes footage was also an extra-special treat.

The Edit

So we turfed all of the actors and comic writers out of our house and apologised to our housemates for moving all their furniture around. The shoot was finished. The plan now was to go through and label all the footage, then to pick up Bill’s Mac to begin the edit on Tuesday using Final Cut Pro. Sadly, as it turned out, Bill’s Mac, recovering from recent repairs, had been wiped of Final Cut and was therefore not available for exploiting. I ended up running desperately to Kiera’s sister Jemma, who agreed to let me borrow hers “for a short while”. (Fact: Jemma is awesome.)

Tuesday evening was taken up by a combination of long car drives, formatting hard drives and watching Jesus Christ Superstar on repeat while trying to shoehorn the footage into the Mac. By Wednesday evening I had a six-minute rough cut and was feeling pretty pleased with myself. On Thursday I bought myself Pokémon Y but still managed to dedicate the evening to the edit somehow. But Friday rolled around, and it became very clear that Jemma wasn’t getting her Mac back that day. I pleaded another day of loaning and promised its return on Saturday morning. The good news was that I did finish the cut on Friday night as planned. But what I hadn’t bargained on was how difficult it is to export anything ever. Bill and Kiera popped over, the former to help with the export and the latter to borrow my rollerskates, and I finally had the Mac back to Jemma early Sunday afternoon (with, of course, a box of chocolates, which I asked her to share with Robin to make up for, you know, the tights thing).

To be continued…

HOOD - the Kickstarter

Click the image to pledge to Hood!

Read part 1!

Kickstarter total at time of writing: £1,565, 34% funded

Those of you following me on Twitter will have seen copious usage of the hashtag #hood for the last three weeks. That’s because in that time, Flashcards have been working on a video for a Kickstarter promoting Hood, a graphic novel written by our mate Anthony Jones. You’ll have heard me talk about Ant before – I first met him when he sundered our nation and led us into civil war (disclaimer: events may not have actually happened). He’s a graphic novel writer, among other things, and the Kickstarter will be funding the creation and publication of the second half of Hood. The Kickstarter went live at about 7pm yesterday, and smashed the first £1,000 in four hours.

There are just under four weeks left to make a pledge to Hood. In that time you can read about the making of the video itself, Flashcards’ fourth shoot and second finished product to make it out of post-production.

Preproduction

A month or so before everything kicked off, Ant proposed the idea of shooting a Kickstarter video with the brief “more interesting than some geek blubbering into his webcam”. He’d had come across this video which had the style and feel he wanted to emulate. His deadline was pretty tight: once we’d settled on a weekend and Chloe had shuffled around her schedules to accommodate, we had three weeks from shoot to release.

The script presented challenge after challenge. The whole concept was built around tracking shots, which we didn’t have the gear for. We needed an indoor location because of the weather, but had no lighting. There was a lot to shoot in two days, and the sun set at 16:00. And we needed a man to wear tights. That was probably the biggest headache.

Thankfully in my arsenal of crowdsourcing and collaborating I had Kiera Gould, who is not only a remarkably resourceful and supportive friend but is also the sister of fight choreographer Robin – which solved our man-in-tights issue in a way only siblings can. Making shotlists and schedules is one of Kiera’s countless talents, and by the end of an afternoon we had a solid plan. On Saturday we’d return to ‘Lambda’, the location from Announcement, call time 07:00, and Sunday would be pickups at our house in Surrey from 11:00. The following few days were spent scraping together props and crew, and suddenly it was 05:00 on Saturday and I was off to cram Cédric, Phil and a wheelchair into my car.

Day 1: Lambda

At 07:00 we arrived at Lambda and met the rest of the team. We left the lads setting up scenes in one of the warehouses while I took Ant, Chloe, Kiera and Cédric around to a field to shoot what turned out to be a completely unnecessary scene due to my misinterpretation of the script. So far so…hmm.

Hood Kickstarter Video

Photo by Cédric Hauteville

But the rest of the day went well. It was the first time I’d needed to work to a schedule, but I’d seen Kiera work her 1st AD magic before, only this time I was the one being hassled by her instead of supporting her hassling from the other side. Drew turned up halfway through the day with a multitude of amazing sandwiches. I’d asked Ant to learn his lines, but Ant is two things: 1) a force unto himself, and 2) very good at ad-libbing, so each shot ended up with almost unique dialogue. Chloe particularly enjoyed being able to move around the site and actually use her camera properly on account of having two hands again. We had a brief downpour which I thought was going to cut the shoot very short, but it cleared up and we ended up wrapping slightly ahead of schedule.

To be continued…

Hood: The Kickstarter, promoting the upcoming coming by Ant Jones and Armin Ozdic

Click the image to pledge to Hood!

When launching Project Flashcards about a year ago now, I envisioned producing short videos at a rate of one every month or two months. Now I look back on my YouTube channel with a minor pang of regret for all the work that’s been done this year but without a great deal to show for it. But I think anyone who gives the filmmaking industry anything more than the slightest passing glance knows that the turnaround for films is inescapably long, and as many times as I add titles to the “Upcoming Projects” section, nothing is going to change this. My attempts to make myself feel better about this include Tweeting excessively while editing and planning shoots, as well as blogging about some of the work I’ve done, either as part of the project or other experience which will benefit the project in the long run. To prove that this isn’t just a post to push all my other social channels, here’s an example.

When I first offered (read: begged) to make a music video for Three-Sphere, my first point of contact to have my big plans and visions put into perspective was friend and film-making mentor Bill Thomas. After setting my budget estimations straight, we went over some of my ideas for sets and visuals, all carefully mapped out in my mind with precise dimensions and chair positionings and surface area of mirror glass. Bill’s responses to my meticulous descriptions all seemed to follow the same trend: “Why does it need to be X? Can it not be Y? I have Y in my garage right now.” Repeatedly I had to remind Bill that it couldn’t be Y, because Y didn’t have the right dimensions or colours or chairs or nearly enough mirror glass. (Fun fact: mirror glass costs a lot of money.)

A few months later Bill invited me to 3rd AD on a docu-drama he was directing. In between chasing actors around a massive stately home and being tied up in the back of a van, I spent a lot of time simply watching Bill and his team. Bill has experience in both directing and art department, so creating visuals is what he does, and he does it in a way that, to begin with, I simply couldn’t get my head around. As an example, the aforementioned mansion was the set for six episodes of the docu-drama, each focusing on a different character spanning several decades and states of America. One of the rooms, over the course of three blocks of filming, served as an army dorm, a school dorm, three different bedrooms, an interrogation office, a living room and several other ideal prostitute-murdering locations. The final footage is still in post, but I guarantee when it hits the TV screens, even I won’t be able to tell which scenes were shot in that one room.

It brought me down to earth a bit. Maybe once I’ve moved to Los Angeles to work on my blockbuster screenplay, I’ll have enough money and sway to shoot in sets made to my specifications, exact replicas of the “in-film” locations they represent. But even big established production companies don’t do this. Indeed, what is the point, when one corner of a room can be a police interrogation room and the another corner can be a psychiatric hospital? Probably the first piece of lingo I picked up on film sets is the verb to “cheat”. It applies to anything – cheat the angle of the room so it looks bigger, cheat the clipboard higher up so we can see it in your hands, cheat that 3rd AD so she looks like a fifteen-year-old boy. And if the local gaming store is offering to hire an upstairs room for half the price of a normal venue and your photographer friend’s grandparents have a barn you could put a drumkit in, it might not matter that the room is the wrong size and the barn has more horses in it than you envisioned – you might be able to cheat.

Chloe posted this blog yesterday. You may have seen it.

I’ll paraphrase myself from her blog to explain this. I played Vampire: the Masquerade at university and decided to play a character I’d created from an earlier game, a Malkavian called Summer. In life she was introverted, socially detached, curious in a child-like way, until she was kidnapped and killed by a Malkavian vampire. The ‘Malkavian’ clan are delegated thus for, in short, being insane. This vampire in question made a practice of inscribing this name onto the skin of his creations, but unlike most ‘sires’, he then abandoned Summer. She was found and taken in by another group of vampires, and one among their number was able to remove the scars from her arm. But she later became terrified that her unknown sire would discover this betrayal, and she inscribed the letters back into her arm.

While at university I also did myself a bit of drawing, and decided to draw the above scene, which I was planning for the game. Let me stop here to add, for anyone who has never played Vampire: The Masquerade before, that this is fairly light stuff for the World of Darkness series. I wasn’t trying to be edgy at this stage.

I liked the image in my head, but my drawing did it no justice. So a year or so later, after a few months of frolicking in front of Chloe’s camera, I shyly put forward the idea of creating the image as a photograph, then even more shyly showed her my drawing. Chloe is also a V:TM player, and she was very excited by the idea.

We had some chats on how to best portray the character outside of a game, roped in Hannah Lonergan for her outstanding blood effects and drove over to the abandoned nightclub. The rest of the shoot you can read about in Chloe’s blog.

A few months later Chloe sent me the final image before posting it anywhere to ask what I thought. That alone should have been a warning, because Chloe typically likes to keep things as surprises. I opened the picture on my phone and genuinely stared at it for a good few minutes. Normally I do this anyway in a “How amazing does Chloe make me look” sort of way. This time it was more, “…oh. Wow. That’s frightening.” I really wasn’t sure if I wanted it to go online. Without context (and of course I knew the context better than anyone) it seemed very stark and real. In a strange way, it made me see the character very differently. She was fun to play, cute and funny and a bit sad. But seeing it, even in my own face, was something else.

So I sat down with Chloe to discuss the image and whether we wanted to put it online.

My concerns were twofold. First up was that I know absolutely nothing about, and have no experience whatsoever with, the utterly massive world of self-harm. I’m very lucky. And the last thing I wanted was to either upset someone who was unfortunate enough to have experience, or make light of the concept in any way. My second concern was more selfish – despite breaking a few barriers with more dark and unusual shoots, everyone around me is also aware that I know nothing and have no experience in this world. Putting my face on it felt strange and self-conscious in a way that showing bare skin on camera had never done before.

But we are artists, and artists break genres and show skin and do things that scare them. We put the image online.

I asked for permission to publish a few comments from friends:

“Having known you for years, that final image is just… hard to look at? I don’t know. Amazing make up work, but, dammed. Your face to that image kind of shook me up.” 

“Damn….” 

It was this particular comment which made me realise something I had never been aware of about Summer before, not when playing her, nor when modelling her:

“That’s quite a troubling image that, rightly, or wrongly, or perhaps more accurately: fairly, or unfairly, requires a lot of context to understand.”

Chloe replied:

“Quite. We were so carried away and with the concept already clear in our heads, we didn’t actually consider at the time how it would look to other people.”

And I nearly wrote this on the Facebook thread, before I realised I was getting carried away in my own thoughts:

I think we always knew that it would need the context to work. What we didn’t think through was how that stupid cartoon version I drew would translate into real flesh, literally. But actually it doesn’t need vampires and a character situation to work. It’s about a child who was mistreated by someone whom she trusted, someone who should have been there for her, who tried to leave painful memories behind but just wasn’t ready to let go of them. That isn’t fantasy, not really. If anything maybe knowing the context just makes it easier to look at.

I don’t have a point to make with this. I’m just fascinated by how something has gone from a roleplaying character, to a concept shoot, to an image we never intended to create, to an insight on that roleplaying character that I never intended to have. I hope no one is offended by the image, or upset by it, and I hope Chloe and Hannah’s work is appreciated artistically as well as for its shock factor.

As further justification for my insistence that Summer was never meant to represent this, here is a response from my mate Ian, who played John alongside Summer in Vampire: The Masquerade:

“Ah, she was such a fun character…having a fairly good day by the looks of it. It’s only an arm!!!!”

There’s a discussion starting on Chloe’s blog about roleplaying characters and how they are perceived by people around them – jump in!

In the spirit of collaboration which I have been pursuing so vigilantly lately (and by ‘pursuing’ I mean ‘throwing things at my collaborators impatiently until they meet my demands’), I thought I would mention some of the recent postings and goings-on of avid gamer and fellow blogger Dave Thompson.

I’ve spoken about Dave before, as one of my main influences in starting a blog in the first place, and his blog features updates (far more regularly than mine) regarding fitness, dieting, martial arts and, most prominently, a sandbox-style tabletop game of epic proportions called 13th Age, played with the rules of the same name.

The game works like this: twice a week Dave emails us asking who is free to play, where we would like to go and what we would like to do. We all have a copy of the map of the game world, which is began blank and has been slowly filled in as we explore, discover, and choose to define things ourselves. Each week the party might be different, and the actions of one party might affect the situation of another in the same world.

Dave’s latest instalment to the enriching and expanding of the setting is a collaboration of world creation. He has posted a hex map of the land the game is set in, along with a Google Doc open for editing, and has invited anyone to take a hexagonal spec of the world and define it however they see fit. This can include adding buildings, locals, backstory or politics, with the intention of all of this content from so many people creating a vast, diverse and unexpected landscape for gaming in. I love how this method of combining the elements of GM-created plotlines vs. fully collaborative storytelling to give players that extra level of input over their own adventure.

I’d highly recommend following Dave’s blog, To Hit Arse Class 0, to keep up with his updates and insights. Other posts of his which are worth a read are on Dreamlining and Harajuku moments. On a vaguely-related note, a bit of link-clicking led me to this very cool article on how to cross anything off your bucket-list, which is worth a read for anyone trying to achieve something big and scary.

“If a zombie apocalypse broke out in Middle-Earth during the Third Age,
would they overcome Sauron’s forces?”

For the purposes of tackling this question we make the following assumptions:

1. That the zombie virus originates in food supplies and is transmitted by bite
2. That zombies move at half-speed and are killed by removing the head
3. That zombies are mindless and immune to the call of the One Ring
4. That all living races, including Elves, Orcs and Men, can become zombies
5. That the Armies of the Dead and the Nazgûl cannot be come zombies

Scenario 1: Outbreak in Hobbiton

Infected grain arrives in the Shire. The Hobbits waste approximately no time in demolishing it, immediately turning a third of Hobbiton into zombies. Caught off guard and with no forewarning to call up defences, the rest of the Hobbits, including Team Frodo, are quickly turned as well. Though wearing the Ring on its chain when he is turned, zombie-Frodo is now immune to its powers and therefore has no inclination to take it anywhere. As Hobbits have basically no inclination to go anywhere anyway, the spread from this point on is slow. One or two Hobbit survivors are able to flee on horseback and warn the Men of Bree, who march back on the green pastures, slay the reanimated halflings and successfully quash the outbreak. But despite the escapees, the halfling race has taken a blow from which it is unlikely to recover; it is expected that Hobbits, of the Shire at least, will be extinct in the next decade or so. Meanwhile the Ring lies dormant at the bottom of a heap of chargrilled Hobbit, waiting for the unfortunate Gandalf to arrive and seek Frodo’s remains from those of a thousand identical cremated zombies.

Short-term outcome: Gandalf must find a new Ring-bearer or risk the Ring, through him, wielding a power too great and terrible to imagine.

Long-term outcome: Hobbits become extinct; less pipe-weed in the world.

Scenario 2: Outbreak in Moria

The Great Halls of Dwarrowdelf are more or less self-contained with little to prevent the speedy spread of a zombie outbreak. Swiftly and quietly a whole ecosystem is transformed into an undead horde, with neither resistance nor outside awareness.

When the Goblins descend on Moria, they are not expecting this shit.

A horde of Dwarvern zombies quickly becomes a horde of international zombies. When the Fellowship finally arrives, everything is much the same, except that the entrance hall is not so much littered with dead Dwarves as crawling with them. Balin’s Tomb goes from skirmish dungeon to full-on boss level, complete with reanimated Lord of Moria. The race to the Bridge of Khazad-dûm runs roughly the same but with twice as many monsters. Frankly, the appearance of the Balrog is something of a relief. They make the bridge, Gandalf falls into shadow (spoiler alert) and Aragorn leads the remaining party out of the undead-infested halls.

Short-term outcome: The story continues as standard, except the Fellowship probably levelled up a bit quicker.

Long-term outcome: Moria becomes a renowned zombie grind for thousands of adventurers to come.

Scenario 3: Outbreak in Lothlorien

The Elves are a sharp bunch. When the first of them start to fall prey to unassumingly green-tinged Lembas, they swiftly conclude the possibility of biological warfare on the part of Sauron. Unwilling to sacrifice their regal dignity to a mindless shambly fate, they quarantine the infected and bolster the security around their borders. Their quick-thinking and swift-acting successfully contain the outbreak, but the arrival of the Fellowship coincides with this heightened security and prevents the party crossing the borders. Frustrated and grief-struck, Aragorn gives in to Boromir’s insistence to simply move on and head for Minas Tirith; thus the journey southwards takes place along the banks of Anduin, minus boats, cloaks, supplies and the Phial of Galadriel. Saruman’s forces bypass Amon Hen and instead run into the party further north. Having missed their supply stop in Lothlorien, the hungry and exhausted party are no match – all but for Boromir, who, encouraged by the increasing chances of making it to Gondor, takes advantage of the ambush and springs upon Frodo. Leaving the Fellowship to their fate, he walks away alone and alive with the Ring in his hands.

Short-term outcome: Boromir delivers the Ring to Minas Tirith, and immediately proclaims to the city that he will use the weapon of the enemy to overcome Sauron.

Long-term outcome: Sauron quickly locates this highly-publicised weapon and its new bearer, and sends his Nazgûl to eat him.

Scenario 4: Outbreak in Gondor

Denethor is too proud to eat of the same grain as his subjects. He is the first to turn.

Boromir and Faramir arrive at the throneroom for Isildur’s Heir dream therapy. Their father is waiting to strike like a coiled undead python. Boromir slays him, but not without suffering a mortal wound. With his dying breath he beseeches two things from his beloved brother: 1) to ride in his stead to Rivendell to seek help and answers from Lord Elrond; 2) to paint the walls of their father’s throneroom with his blood. Faramir preserves his brother’s honour and dignity by beheading him at the foot of the throne of Gondor, then rides north with all haste, while behind him his people slowly succumb to their zombie fate. He requests a place in the Fellowship, on the initial grounds that the Ring might help reverse the evil which has awoken in Gondor. However, his good-natured little-brotherly mindset helps him to understand the plight of the Ringbearer, and instead of making an attempt on Frodo at Amon Hen, he instead warns the Fellowship to avoid Minas Tirith at all costs.

Short-term outcome: The Fellowship escapes the Uruk-Hai and they cross the Anduin together, cross the Dead Marshes, barrel into Mordor and save the world in brothers-in-arms-y glory.

Long-term outcome: The epidemic of zombies spills out of Gondor, replacing the recently-solved Sauron problem with a brand new undead problem. Sequel trilogy probable.

Scenario 5: Outbreak in Isengard

Luckily for the Hobbits, that infected grain all happened to be contained in the Isengard shipment. It arrives sometime between Amon Hen and the Ents. Poor Gríma Wormtongue has the happy job of poison-testing Saruman’s food, so the Wizard himself is safe to sit on his balcony and watch as Man, Orc and Uruk alike slowly sicken, die, then rise again to fill the pits of Isengard with their groaning and biting. Encircled by walls and out of reach (because everyone knows that zombies can’t climb), Saruman placates himself with his Palantír and waits for all this to blow over.

That is, of course, until Wormtongue shuffles up behind him teeth-first. It turns out that come zombies, floods or big walking trees, Saruman is probably still going to end up with Wormtongue’s knife in his back. (Or teeth in his neck.)

Short-term outcome: The Hobbits arrive home to a lovely homely un-Saruman-ized Hobbiton, removing two or three chapters from Return of the King.

Long-term outcome: Zombies are contained within Isengard’s walls and become an interesting tourist attraction.

Scenario 6: Outbreak in Mordor

An Orc falls ill. He is slain instantly for not pulling his weight.

A second Orc falls ill. Slain instantly.

Third. Fourth. Fifth. Slay, slay, slay.

A fighting Uruk-Hai falls ill. No one is sure what to do, so they avoid his heaving body lying prone at the side of the road for a few days until it finally falls still. Then the prone body lurches back to its feet.

Across Mordor more Uruk-Hai have turned, and the Orcs are not strong enough to slay the zombie-Uruks. While they are busy becoming Zuruk-bait, Orcs start to succumb without being routinely beheaded for insubordination. With no grunts to keep them in check, the Mûmakil begin to wreck havoc, smashing towers and bridges and generally causing a scene, until one of them seizes a zombie-Orc as a snack. At the same time, rampaging Trolls with no agenda start fights with Orcs, Uruks, Mûmaks and each other without prejudice, and eventually some zombie or other lands a bite.
Very quickly the legions of Mordor are decimated, and the rest become a full-force multi-cultural fighting zombie horde.

Mordor is almost completely sealed, with the Black Gate no longer manned. The outbreak spreads like wildfire, and within a week, all that is left of Sauron’s army are shambling around and shuffling into each other and bumping into walls again and again. The Nazgûl pop back to see what the hell’s going on – bam, zombie Fell Beasts. And all the while, King Elessar and a host of Men, Elves and assorted Dead warriors are fast becoming an unencumbered pain in Sauron’s disembodied neck. Eventually, Sauron makes the best of a bad situation and opens the Black Gate, unleashing tens of millions of zombies onto the Free Peoples.

Meanwhile, Frodo and Sam slip through an empty and desolate Mordor, swiftly outrunning Gollum, and triumphantly slam-dunk the Ring into Mount Doom.

Sadly, Sauron’s downfall has no effect on the battle outside except to release the Army of the Dead from Aragorn’s control, removing the only thing causing a vague inconvenience to the zombies and leaving an unstoppable force of undead Uruk-Hai, Orcs, Mûmakil, Trolls and Fell Beasts to swarm out over Middle-Earth in all their biting, smashing, trampling, winged horror. There aren’t enough Men, Elves or Dwarves to withstand the zombie-Orcs or Uruks – not to mention the backup of zombie-Aragorn and zombie-Free Peoples – and not even Legolas, zombie or otherwise, could decapitate a rampaging zombie-Mûmak. And even if the remaining forces of Middle-Earth did put aside their differences and band together to make one final heroic stand, what good could they do? This shit’s just been given wings.

Short-term outcome: Frodo and Sam have a long and lonely walk home.

Long-term outcome: Short-term outcome unlikely to be relevant for long.

A short while before the emotional rollercoaster of A Special Announcement began, foley extraordinaire Phil Grigg had convinced me to let a friend of his edit Strings. This was mostly for practical reasons: I had no editing software of my own, and Phil wanted to submit the final film for his course at university, and the deadline was looming. He and Drew both needed time for foley and music, respectively, so we needed to move fast. The editor in question, James Berridge, had a lot of experience, some flashy software, and was keen to help out. After no shortage of consideration on my part, I agreed.

I’m not going to lie – at first I was not happy about the idea. Despite all the above practicalities, not to mention the risks of a first-time director editing her self-written film with very little experience – despite all that, this was, after all, my first ever production, lovingly and stubbornly clung to from the initial concept stages right through to the shoot, and I wasn’t sure I could surrender the footage to another editor. How could anyone else possibly achieve my vision?

But I did eventually concede. We were running out of time, and Phil assured me it would be a collaborative process, and I could have as much or as little creative control as I liked. And I had to remind myself that Project Flashcards is, at its heart, a collaborative project. A fresh set of (highly experienced) eyes was probably exactly what this needed.

That didn’t stop me creating a new storyboard based on the footage and talking poor James through it very, very thoroughly. I wasn’t quite brave enough to trust anyone else completely just yet.

We met initially to go through the storyboard and concepts, and put together the first half before I had to leave. James send me this first half for me to review, and I send him back a (fairly exhaustive) list of feedback. He incorporated it and sent be me back the redraft, this time with the second half as well. Once I’d reviewed that (this was maybe two weeks after our initial meeting) we met up again, and as time was getting on and deadlines drawing near, I decided that whatever we ended up with that evening would be locked off, without questions.

And after all that, I was surprised at how enjoyable and successful the experience was. If anything, James was just the right combination of willing to follow direction and prepared to offer suggestion, because what we ended up with, I am convinced, was as close to what I had in my head as the footage could offer, but ten times better than I could have put together myself. I knew just how I wanted each cut to look, but a combination of my terrible drawings, thorough descriptions and James’ educated efforts produced results which I am certain I would not have managed on my own.

This did make me realise that the collaborative aspect of Project Flashcards is not only to benefit others who are involved, but largely also for me to outsource all the bits I am not able to do myself (writing everything, being good at acting, owning expensive equipment and so  on). By that same token, maybe it will help me learn to outsource the bits I want to keep to myself, and take on the bits I am more apprehensive of.