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.

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