Nigel The Troubles With Filming Your First Movie
I’ve been with the Glasgow Film Crew for just over a couple of years now, I’ve worked on several projects starting out on props on “Rainbow Cups”, but my heart has always been in writing. After that and a few other roles on projects I went ahead with a simple (or so I thought) idea for a short spoof documentary inspired in part by one of the crew’s first completed shorts “The Man Who Kept Hearing His Name Getting Called Out”.
Setting the movie in an office space created one of the first of a few obstacles - finding an office in which we could film. We were lucky to find access to a small space through the crew, and able to cast people from previous projects with Steven McDonnell starring in the lead role and co-directing with myself as I had not directed anything before. Later an actor did have to drop out when they got paid work, meaning that I had to step in front of the camera too (my own personal nightmare).
At the time, the only camera I had available was my Canon EOS 550D, which is a fine HD camera for still filming, but without a decent mount is not great for handheld footage. Moving around a small environment with that would have meant difficulty in getting the desired shots, but I was at college at the time and I was able to book out camera and sound equipment giving us a shoulder mounted camera to achieve that style.
Initial filming of the office sequences was set to be filmed at the weekend in a single day – tight but not impossible, as being in the style of a documentary half of the footage would be interview sequences which could be filmed elsewhere.
The day though did not go smoothly as hoped.
Firstly, I was late to my own shoot. Yes, I’m not kidding. I left home in the morning, which at the time was in Falkirk, and the office was in Anniesland, Glasgow. A distance of about 25 miles that would take longer since I don’t drive and was travelling by public transport. Of course, I did remember to bring all the camera equipment and props such as contact lenses didn’t I? Idiot.
The contact lenses were important for the character of Nigel, so I had to get off of my train at the next stop, and then go back to my house to pick them up. Driving this would have taken about 20 minutes; on public transport it took about 2 hours.
In the meantime, Steve went through planning with the cast to block out shots, which saved us time once I managed to get there with the equipment. The second delay was when it came to putting in the contact lenses. Both Steve and myself would be wearing them. Had I known just how much of a pain (literally and figuratively) they are, we would not have bothered! I do not envy those who wear them on a daily basis.
Thankfully filming ran largely smooth for the rest of the day, and the office footage for all of the rest of the cast was filmed on the Saturday. Because of the lost time, Steve and I went back on the Sunday to film Nigel’s interview sequences in the office area, filming his responses with me behind the camera running lines of the presenter who was played by David White.
The remaining interview sequences were filmed later at producer Malwina Bieniawska’s flat, with the cast returning for a few hours to film their sequences. These were filmed with the 550D and the audio was recorded with a clip-on microphone input directly into the camera, meaning that syncing separate audio was not required. Due to this we also filmed David asking his questions – he was not meant to appear on-screen during the interview scenes, but it meant that all of his lines had the same background noise as the others. As we had extra time left once we wrapped the footage, we let Ian Campbell do some improv as he does stand-up comedy.
David’s voiceovers were also recorded then, but using a Zoom H1 recorder. To get his voice without the echo of the room, we used the low-tech approach of having David sit with a duvet over him and the recorder, which muffled any background noise and echo – amazingly this worked very well - sometimes it’s the simplest things.
Editing was where the movie was delayed for the most of its production. And here is where I would advise you the most important thing when you are writing, directing and also editing your own project, at least for the first time – don’t. More specifically, don’t try to do it
all yourself. This was the hardest thing for me, but a learning curve. I’ll admit I should have asked for help a lot sooner, but I didn’t, I wanted to try and edit it myself, but a mix of focusing on college work and my own inexperience (as well as a degree of bone idleness) meant I tried to do too much. I struggled to be objective and second guessed all my editing decisions, to the point that I started to doubt that what had been filmed and what had been written had been any good, or even funny – I still have issues with certain elements of the finished movie, perhaps I always will have (personally I think I would hate anything I make even it if it won an Oscar), but that’s just me.
Eventually, we brought the movie to Peter Stewart to edit, who saved it from being delayed indefinitely, and finished it just in time to premier at the Glasgow Film Crew’s 3rd Anniversary event in front of the best thing ever – an audience that got it, got the humour, and seemed to consistently laugh throughout (someone even got a Korea joke that was in there). That meant it was all worth it.
Nigel was a big learning experience, and one that I’ll hopefully be able to apply to many future projects with the GFC. Get writing, get assembling your crew, and get going.