Posts Tagged ‘Bill Thomas’

Bill Thomas, professional director and all-round top bloke, recently celebrated the release of his first feature-length film FALLEN SOLDIERS, now available to buy at many online and street retailers. It’s best described as “Sharpe” meets “The Walking Dead” and it’s got zombies in it, so you should get a copy.

A few months back when Bill was going through the acquisition process, there became an opportunity to add some special features to the DVD, and Bill asked if I’d like to make a behind-the-scenes featurette and a director’s commentary. Of course I hadn’t been there to shoot anything during the shoot, but there was a handful of behind-the-scenes footage already, and we decided to shoot some interviews with the cast and crew, then stick them all in a room to record a commentary track. Phil set up the camera and Drew recorded the sound externally.

You can see the featurette and hear the commentary on your DVD, and I won’t go into huge detail about the decisions behind how we made it (on another blog, maybe). I did a chunk the edit, and as it got closer to the hand-in deadline, I gave it all to Bill to take over and finish up. As ever, there wasn’t enough time for me to get it as tight as I wanted. When I sat down to watch the final product for the first time on my copy of the DVD, I made a list of things I wanted to do differently next time I have the opportunity:

  1. Put each interviewee in a different place – even if it’s just the other end of the sofa – to give it a sense of variety and also avoid the sense of jump cuts when changing from one to another in a near-identical shot.
  2. Vary the background – having a selection of posters, or maybe screenshots from the movie, would have helped instead of always the same one. The white wall also appeared completely washed out and didn’t look effective, so some wall hanging behind would have helped.
  3. Music – if we’d had time I would have liked music from the movie in the background of the whole doc, either a hash of various tracks or one central theme.
  4. Jump cuts – when I began editing I tried to make an effort to cover any cuts in the dialogue with other footage or images, but didn’t have time to fix them all. I personally don’t like the effect of the ones which are left so I’d make more effort on that.
  5. Images – something else I didn’t have time to finish was throwing in effects on the images, probably just simple pans and fades so they aren’t too static or abrupt.
  6. Camera angle – in future I would definitely have either a) tried the interview setup at home in advance, to work out the best angle and distance etc., or b) turned up an hour earlier than the interviewees to work it out. We could have made much better use of the space and made the look much more interesting.

I love behind-the-scenes features, and I quite enjoy commentary tracks too. My favourites respectively are from Lord of the Rings and Shaun of the Dead. I’d like to get really good at them because it’s something I’d like to do again and be considered to do for other people.

And my favourite part is that the featurette says “Directed and produced by Ceri Williams”. So my name is on the DVD of a feature film which a bunch of people have bought. It’s a tiny thing but it’s exciting to tell people.

P.S. Buy Fallen Soldiers!

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.