Smoke and mirrors

Posted: 15/11/2013 in Project Flashcards
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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.

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