Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Tip #28: Approach a named actor

By Sinéad Ferguson (Producer/Production designer)

While many understand the importance of attaching a named actor to a project a common belief is that the agent is to be avoided when making the approach. While this is not always the case, the odds are you probably stand a slightly better chance if you can approach the actor directly. During pre-production, we approached several well known actors via email, for parts in Ambleton Delight, receiving great responses. Of course there are no hard and fast rules to getting your hands on those email addresses but using a little ingenuity and creativity will get you a long way…

Some tips…
  1. Keep an open mind; many famous actors are interested in a character that is unlike anything they've played before.
  2. Start with named actors who live local to the production –they are more likely to want to be involved. Do a web search.
  3. Timing is also crucial -far enough into pre-production that your project has solid foundations and momentum to be considered seriously, yet flexible enough for to fit in with their prior commitments (which if higher paid will obviously take precedent).
  4. A role that only requires a couple of days filming rather than a long commitment is not only appealing but often more feasible.
  5. First impressions really do count, gently does it, keep it brief, don’t be too pushy and don’t ever bombard an actor you have never met with unsolicited phone calls or scripts.
  6. When possible approach via email. Keep it light and friendly.
  7. A fantastic script is of course what will ultimately attract your actor. If it also happens to have an element you know is of personal interest to them, make sure you emphasise that and why you think this role might appeal to them.
  8. On meeting the actor be fully prepared and able to answer any questions, covering every aspect with clarity and honesty.
  9. Although you may have approached them directly you will likely be dealing with their agent to discuss all the finer points such as fees, contracts etc (more to follow in the next blog).
  10. It is imperative to develop and maintain a professional relationship and communication is absolutely essential. Ensure everything runs as smoothly as possible both on and off set, foresee and anticipate their needs or any possible concerns.

Above: Brian Capron and Sinéad Ferguson

In Ambleton Delight we had the pleasure of working with Brian Capron, a veteran actor of several television series and films –most notably as psychopath Richard Hillman on Coronation Street (check out a great promo he did below!). We approached him via his events company email address, he expressed interest, we gave him a copy of the script, met him for coffee and the rest is history.

If it is your first time dealing with an experienced professional actor such as Brian, see this as a great chance to learn a great deal from someone who has a great wealth of knowledge and experience.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

VIDEO BLOG: Episode 4

'Low budget does not mean low quality' was our mantra during the production. One of the keys to this was to shoot using 35mm lenses. This has recently become a much more viable option, and camera operator Roger Marshall discusses the pros and cons and also the camera and tapeless workflow used. Director of Photography Anna Carrington describes the impact shooting through 35mm lenses had on the lighting. And there is also information on how the sound was recorded and make-up. Finally, the cast discuss how they approached their roles and worked with the director.

All this and more in the fourth episode of the seven part series 'How to Make a Next-to-Nothing Budget Feature Film' exclusively on YouTube..

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Tip #27: Effective auditions for both filmmakers and actors

By Dan Parkes (Director)

Some think auditions are intimidating. In my experience in both attending and holding auditions I have found that they can be quite the opposite. In fact auditions that are relaxed and fun are often more productive. Here are some great tips for both filmmakers and actors....

Filmmaker tips:
  1. Take it seriously; auditions and casting can make or break a film.
  2. Hold auditions in a large space with a waiting area outside if able.
  3. Audition local actors to save on transportation costs, and assist with these if able.
  4. If an actor is quite a distance, on-line or video auditions can save much time and money.
  5. Narrow down the selection prior to the actual audition so you can focus on the strongest candidates.
  6. Prepare well -have a well thought out schedule with breaks, and biographical information on each actor.
  7. Provide glass of water for each actor.
  8. Always film auditions -actors respond and look different through a lens and can be used for later reference.
  9. Take notes during the actual audition on impressions or thoughts that you may forget later.
  10. Leave at least five minutes between each audition to immediately discuss thoughts and reactions with the rest of your team.
  11. Keep it as relaxed as possible; rather than an interrogation, have a conversation with the actor.
  12. Do not spend a large amount of time selling the film concept or potential to an actor, unless the actor asks about it. Time is better spent seeing what the actor can do on camera.
  13. If possible, give actors a short character description prior to the audition as this will help them prepare better.
  14. Have an appropriate scene from the script that can be performed and if possible send it to the actor prior to the audition.
  15. Provide some relevant furniture or props.
  16. If able allow for improvisation so an actor can show their potential in the role.
  17. Always use an experienced actor to play other parts (or as a reader), as this will impact on the quality of the audition.
  18. If the role involves something extra (such as cutting their hair, or stunt work etc) this is the time to ask -not after they have been cast! Your decision could be greatly affected if they are unable or unwilling.
  19. Never cast actors based on just personality or what they 'might be able to do'; the decision must be made based on what you have seen them do on camera and if this is right for the character.
  20. Even if an actor is not right for the role, keep an open mind -are they right for another character not yet cast?
  21. While rejection is part of being an actor, wherever possible give positive feedback and at the very least let them know when they have not got the part within a week or so.
Actor tips:
  1. Be positive; see every audition as not only a chance to be cast, but an opportunity to be seen by those who may remember you later.
  2. Always have some questions to ask the team (and not just about money or conditions) -you at least should show some interest in the production.
  3. If you have not been cast for some time do not allow any bitterness to show; filmmakers do not want to cast a disgruntled actor.
  4. If you do not get the role, remember that this is not a reflection on your acting abilities, but most likely that you were not right for the role.
  5. If you communicate well in person and by mobile phone/e-mail, filmmakers will likely feel more confident to cast you.
  6. If you have been given a scene from the script, bring a prop if possible to assist with your performance.
  7. If you have an opportunity to be a reader for an audition -do it! This allows you to see what works and what doesn't from a safe position. And you may be cast in the film itself!
  8. Finally, remember, the filmmakers are the ones who should be nervous, as they have the most difficult task, not you, so relax!

Friday, 19 March 2010

VIDEO BLOG: Episode 3

How to get free and natural looking wardrobe for your cast, secure and liaise with good locations and the importance of rehearsing key scenes and communicating via detailed call sheets using free production software.

All this and more, including rehearsal footage and an interview with a restaurant manager about how to approach business owners when location scouting, in 'How to Make a Next-to-Nothing Budget Feature Film' exclusively on YouTube..

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Tip #26: Sets that save money

By Dan Parkes (Director)

One of the secrets to keeping costs at a minimum is to use working locations, with their own sets of props, which is what we did with Ambleton, with almost all of it filmed in a working restaurant and kitchen. However, this is not always practical and in our case there were several scenes which required the building of a set, specifically the two bedrooms sets for Chris Phillips and for John and Kate. Sets have the advantage of being almost completely adaptable and can be even built around camera moves and lighting.

While studio space can be an excellent choice with some even going for as little as £100 per day (some lighting included), others can be very expensive, and you need to factor in how long you will need to hire it for creating and dressing the sets prior to filming. Preparation is essential to plan the design and props you will need.

So it was that we decided to build our set in our own living room (see picture above)! The advantages were clear... there were no hire costs (except for lighting) and we had time to dress it to make it as realistic as possible, using props from our past and every day life to add to the authenticity.

The most elaborate set was Chris' bedroom which production designer Sinéad Ferguson has already discussed in a previous post in regards to choosing props to reflect the character's state of mind. It only took us half a day to build and dress, and the end result is convincing and more importantly enabled us to achieve shots that would be almost impossible in a real bedroom of this size, such as a long tracking shot, and various POV shots.

Above: Chris bedroom set, moving furniture
and props around to get the required shot.
Very top picture: Camera operator Roger
Marshall looking happy to be on set.

The other set was even more basic, a night scene in John and Kate's bedroom involving him waking up from a nightmare. Lighting a bedroom night scene can be difficult, but we decided on using a simple blue gel over a cardboard "gobo" to give the illusion of moonlight coming in through a bedroom window, thus providing the only illumination in the scene. A 'gobo' is a word derived from "Go Between" and refers to a template or 'cookie' (cuculoris) that is put between a light source and the set which is used to control the shape of the emitted light. As the shot also required the camera to be overhead, we simply put the mattress on the floor of the set, thus allowing the camera to sit on a tripod as normal, pointed downward, giving the illusion it was in fact shooting from the ceiling. This is of course something that would have been far more difficult to achieve if in a real bedroom.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

VIDEO BLOG: Episode 2

Brian Capron, most famous for his role as "Norman Bates with a briefcase" psychopath Richard Hillman in Coronation Street, reveals the best way to approach named actors to help raise the profile of a production, and what drew him to the role of the Mayor in the indie film Ambleton Delight.

With footage from their auditions, other cast members discuss how to ensure these are effective, and how casting as close to type can be a critical factor.

All of this and more, such as finding funding sources, is contained in episode two of 'How to Make a Next-to-Nothing Budget Feature Film' a seven part weekly series that explores 40 key factors involved in low budget film production by means of interviews with principle members of cast and crew, excerpts from the award winning film Ambleton Delight and behind-the-scenes footage and photographs.

To watch it in HD, right click on the player and select 'Watch on YouTube' and then select 720HD from the dropdown menu on the lower right of the player.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Tip #25: Keeping Production Design Costs To A Minimum

By Sinéad Ferguson (Producer/Production designer)

While there are always ways to keep the production design budget down, where possible you want to do so without limiting the creative choices that will visually enhance the story.

Samantha Bolter and John Hayden
on location in the village pub.

The best locations for production designers on a limited budget are ones that come predressed. You then may modify the layout and enhance or change the dressing with a few limited items. This may not be possible for all locations. However for sets that get a lot of screen time putting in the extra work and effort on finding those ideal locations, can in the long term, save considerable expense and work down the line.

To avoid the mistake of spending time, effort and expense on details that don’t end up being in shot, or on details the camera won’t see, good communication with the director is essential. Put all the money spent on production design on the screen, always concentrate solely on what is within the camera frame. Plan and think before you spend any money, question every decision. You may have an idea that will look great but cost a lot, so you must search for alternatives that will get the same results without costing an arm and a leg.

Low-budget production design is adjustable to the needs and resources at hand. So use what you’ve got, then beg, borrow and steal. OK I won’t go so far as to recommend stealing, but
you get the picture! You would be amazed at the amount of wardrobe, props and so on you can source from those directly involved in the project like cast and crew, not to mention family and friends, even those “friends of a friend” can be invaluable.

Actress Judith Ellis-Jones on location
in the village store shoot.

Remember that low-budget independent filmmaking is a philosophy in itself. So if you keep your mind open and the integrity of the film forefront with the right attitude and a bit of creative thinking there is no reason you have to settle for anything less than the best when it comes to your production design.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

VIDEO BLOG: Episode 1

After winning the Best Film award at the British Independent Film Festival 2010, we have decided to celebrate by releasing a series of High Definition 'How to Make a Next-to-Nothing Budget Feature Film' videos in the weeks leading up to the presentation of the award on April 24th.

The 47 minute HD documentary has been divided into 7 episodes which will be released once a week during March and April 2010. Each video explores 40 vital factors involved in low budget film production by means of interviews with key members of cast and crew, excerpts from the film itself and behind-the-scenes footage and photographs.

To watch it in HD, right click on the player and select 'Watch on YouTube' and then select 720HD from the dropdown menu on the lower right of the player.

Here is the first episode.... Enjoy!

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Tip# 24: Visually interpreting the characters

By Sinéad Ferguson (Producer/Production designer)

As a production designer you must create a breakdown of the characters, in the spirit of the screenwriter who created them focusing on how the aspects are translated visually. What we wear, where we work and where we live is a reflection of who we are. Therefore we must apply our understanding of the characters to order to create their environments. Each location is an environment that reveals the lives of the characters and provides an environment that surrounds and embraces the characters as the story unfolds.

There is a direct relationship between the environment and the characters. Every space has its own nature and character. One of the primary locations in the film is the restaurant and this is the environment that reflects John and Kate personalities. The “Amble Inn” while traditional and old, obviously steeped in history, also possesses subtle modern and contemporary touches that reflect and project that a younger couple lives and works there and has had a hand in the decor. The warm, inviting and comfortable atmosphere of the restaurant is also a direct contrast to the Kitchen John’s workspace ,which is almost clinical by comparison. Stainless steel abounds and it is very much a functional space, everything has its use and its place, it’s ordered and practical. The kitchen like John has a cool exterior however once you get to know them, you find that beneath that cool exterior, they are both warm and creative.

Another point worth mentioning is that not every character lives in a contemporary time frame some remain in the styles of an earlier era. As seen in Chris’ grandmothers house, in particular the living room where the colour scheme, furniture, soft furnishings, ornaments and plentiful doilies are quite dated and are reflective of the tastes of an older generation. Chris’ bedroom is also a reflection of Chris’ confusion over who he is.The room itself suggests it has remained relatively unchanged since he first moved in with his Gran as a young boy after his parents passed. We see their picture beside his bed, we see drawings he did as a teenager and a keyboard.Yet in the mix there are hints of what he aspires to be,via movie posters, a camcorder and filmmaking books.

The colour palette of the film and production design, is inspired by the village and Mother Nature herself in the surrounding landscapes. Colours abound in the English countryside. You see everything from, rich autumnal colours, piercing sky blues,stormy grey clouds, green rolling hills to the muted earthy tones of rustic lanes.

But how can you keep the design costs down to a minimum? In my final post on production design I will tell you how we did it.