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The Art of Illusion … by Wendy Laybourn

THE BOOK!

I’ve been really busy for the past couple of years helping my Art Director friend, Terry Ackland-Snow, to write a book about working in the film Art Department. We decided to call it The Art of Illusion: Production Design for Film & Television because that’s what making a film or a television programme is all about – sorry to dis-illusion you but what you and the rest of the audience sees on the screen isn’t altogether real!

Like all good things, this project was started over a glass of wine. Maybe I should think twice next time – but I’ve really enjoyed working with Terry and helping him to pull this whole thing together.

Essentially, the book is aimed at anyone wanting to make a career in film production and it will take you through the processes involved in creating a film set step by step. Film sets have been constantly developing from the simple canvas backcloths used on theatre stages, right through to the present day where computer generated effects augment the highly sophisticated art of designing, building and dressing sets.

All of the tips, tricks and techniques described in the book have been used and refined over many decades and, although the technology might have changed, the essence of film making is still the same as it was in those early days.

The Production Designer and Art Director are artists who can adapt their style to any number of different types of production. They integrate themselves and their team into the mood and feeling of any project, comedy, musical, costume drama or science fiction. The range of materials used and the scope of the design evolve as the development of technology and visual processes year by year.

In film and television production the learning process never ends and so even the most experienced film maker will find each new project a challenge!

The book is due to be published by The Crowood Press in September, provisionally priced at £18.99 and with ISBN number 978 1 78500 343 1. It will be available to buy from all good bookshops and from the Crowood website, www.crowood.com.

 

 

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Experimental Film Making … Break the Machine by Kathryn Ramey, a review by the Editor

When I first saw this book I thought that it wouldn’t be my cup of tea, I’m not really into ‘experimental’ – that was until I started reading it! What an excellent way this is to teach young people the creative qualities of film. So many training facilities deal only in ‘digital’ and treat actual ‘film’ as an almost extinct poor relation.

I’m a bit old-fashioned in that I love film, real film – and, although I very much appreciate the boundless options which ‘digital’ offers, both in production and post-production, I worry that young people entering the business today haven’t been tutored in the fine art of using actual film stock. Not only does film require a creative mind, it needs the user to have an understanding of light, how it affects colour and how it can be used to best advantage, how chemicals react and inter-react and, even more important, how versatile the whole process is once you get the hang of how to use it. Film is a tactile, physical element – and the techniques you can learn from using film will carry through and make you a much better and more creative film and programme maker whatever medium you choose to work in. The author takes the reader through all the stages – from using footage which has already been shot and discarded to show how to create your own ‘collage’ film by deconstructing methods like cutting, scratching, colouring and then gluing back together. The clever thing is that each chapter is almost a stand-alone tutorial. If you know nothing about film processing or optical printing, you will by the time you read the appropriate sections. I love the diversity of this book. Have you ever thought about making your own microphone, speaker or headphones? You will once you’ve read Chapter 4! All in all, every educator of young people in the media business and every creative person, young or old, should have this book – hugely informative and, for any student hoping to make a career in production, great fun to read and put into practice – enjoy!

By the way, I’m not on commission from the Author!! 

Experimental Film Making … Break the Machine by Kathryn Ramey

 

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Working in Costume – not for the faint hearted! … by Iona Smith Oliver

Iona Headshot

Iona Smith Oliver

After completing a degree in Fine Art at University of the West of England and in the same year losing my Father to cancer, I worked – any job would do, I just wanted to work and keep busy. It wasn’t until about a year later that I had a chance to reflect on the fact that I was really stressed and exhausted, splitting my time between babysitting, pub work and a variety of unpaid internships. Even though I had put in a huge amount of effort, I still had no direction and no career plan for the long term.

I have always had an interest in sewing and alterations and have been adjusting and reconstructing charity shop clothing since I was very young – and I even used to make fur coats and Spice Girl shoes out of old corks, plaster and dental floss for my Barbie dolls. However, it never occurred to me in later life that ‘Costume’ could be a possible career path for me. By sheer coincidence I started babysitting for a Costume Designer who was incredibly supportive in my quest for work and got me onto my first Costume Assistant job, helping her out on an Argos commercial. It was a great first job as I got to experience lots of different elements of filming, not only to do with Costume but also working with green screen, working with a large group of people (what seemed like five Assistant Directors!) and working with puppets and puppeteers. I remember the first time I went into her studio to pull outfits and the excitement I felt at the realisation that this job really ticked all the boxes for me.

From then on I started to be proactive in my search for work and most importantly (seems rather obvious but top tip!) when asked – I told people that I worked in Costume. You would be surprised at the amount of people that are willing to put you in touch with their niece or old school friend or housemate and it is really, really worth following these contacts up! One of the main lessons I learned very quickly was that finding work is all about connecting with people and being present in a community – you never know where any conversation or email will take you. One particular example of this was a seemingly random phone call I got from a Supervisor asking if I could assist her and the Designer on a feature film up in Leeds. I was unable to do the job at the time but we got on so well on the phone that she asked me to assist her on a low budget feature later that year. We have since become great friends and have formed a strong team with the Designer from the Leeds job and have now worked together on several features.

Carey Mulligan as Maud in 'Suffragette' - 2015

Carey Mulligan as Maud in ‘Suffragette’ – 2015

Through the first women I worked with, I was fortunate enough to get a few dailies on ‘Suffragettes’ which was a period feature. It was unlike any experience I had had before. The sheer scale of the production was over whelming. To give you an idea, on one particular day I was one of 18 dailies who were responsible for dressing and assisting 200+ extras. A whole street was shut down in Central London and transformed into a busy working Victorian street, along with horse drawn buses and a hot chestnut stall. This is something I find especially exciting about working for Costume on screen as it is all about making the illusion believable. The attention to detail and the work that goes into these productions does make me feel really proud to be a part of it.

When I’m working on say a 4/5 week shoot my life tends to be dedicated to the process for the whole of the shoot. This is purely because the working day can be anywhere from 12-16 hours and Costume is usually the first to arrive and the last to leave at the end of the day.

There are many qualities I think you need to survive in the world of Costume and I use the word ‘survive’ as it can be an incredibly tough and competitive industry. First and foremost strong people skills are a must! Working with large groups of people for long hours and often under a time constraint, people will get stressed (you may too!) and I tend to have the policy that what happens at work stays at work and doesn’t affect my personal relationships. Problem solving and efficiency is another good quality, as things do and sometimes will go wrong. You need to be able to think fast and act quickly as time is always of the essence.

'Hi-Lo Joe' 2015

‘Hi-Lo Joe’ 2015

I have been working in the industry for just under a year now and, although I have had a wide and varied amount of experience though all sorts of budgets and roles I am now concentrating on being a hard working Costume Trainee. I think you learn and grow from experience on every job you do and in many ways I’m sure this will continue throughout my career. I’m still unsure if I want to be a Costume Designer per se but am very keen to improve my making and construction skills and feel that this may be a large part of my career in the future.

I have been fortunate enough this year to become a part of the 2015 Sara Putt Trainee Scheme and especially lucky, as this is their first year of taking on Costume Trainees. It is so amazing having the support not only from the agency but also from a close network of fellow Trainees. I would really recommend getting involved with a Trainee Scheme as they can be an invaluable resource when learning how to find work and network effectively. Check out my CV (resumé) on this website and contact me via my LinkedIn page.

Iona’s credits to date are: Suffragettes, Hi-Lo Joe, Writer’s Retreat, Foxes, Black Sea, Golden Years, Lady in the Van.

 

 

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2015 in Costume Department

 

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Open Source for Film and TV Production … by Daniel Mulligan, M.D, Rogue Element Digital

Editor’s Note for those who are not familiar with Open-source software.

It is computer software with its source code made available, under licence, in which the copyright holder provides the rights to study, change and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose. Open-source software is developed in a collaborative public manner. Open-source software is the most prominent example of open-source development and often compared to (technically defined) user-generated content or (legally defined) open-content movements.

The open-source model – or collaborative competition development from multiple independent sources – generates an increasingly diverse scope of design perspective than one company’s development alone can sustain long term.

Dan Mulligan

Dan Mulligan

There’s nothing like a new project to make you feel excited about life – and excited is definitely how I’ve been feeling since I embraced the Open Source concept by adopting an Open Source policy to my companies’ camera and workflow divisions.

My background is in cameras. I started out assisting and focus pulling before moving up the ranks to Camera Operating for F1, BBC Dramas and eventually Second Unit Cinematography for Feature Theatrical Productions. During this time I set up Rogue Element Digital and Pure Digital Services, companies that specialise in all aspects of digital cinematography including camera rental, workflow services and location post. Both ran very successfully until 2011 when I was offered a job by Technicolor to set up and run its Digital/Data Operations. As locations and digital dailies supervisor I was involved in a variety of projects including Jupiter Ascending’, ‘Mortdecai’ and ‘The Man from UNCLE’.

Fast forward now to the summer of 2014 when my time at Technicolor came to an end. After a few weeks break to watch the FIFA World Cup, I decided to resurrect my existing business and start trading again – only this time with a difference. Just prior to leaving Technicolor I developed an interest in the Open Source concept and started researching it in more depth. It seemed to me that if Open Source could be applied to film and television production, there was the possibility to really revolutionise the industry and encourage creativity in an entirely new way.

During the many years I’ve spent in this industry I’ve seen a few changes and re-iterations of the current digital workflows and it has struck me how much we rely on proprietary systems for most delivery. There’s nothing wrong with this because, for VFX to DI to onset LUTs and more, they do a good job. However, my research into Open Source led me to believe we could do more and I started asking myself some fundamental questions:

What if we could ensure that 4K cinema (and beyond) was fully open to everyone? What if digital filming equipment could be made available to all via a transparent open policy? If this was possible, could we expand 4K out of the domain of paid professional feature projects and make it accessible to filmmakers who couldn’t normally afford to work with 4K cameras? If we took a truly Open Source approach to film and television production, couldn’t we liberate the creative spirit and inspire freedom of expression?

Of course, having a dream is all well and good but if you want to make dreams come true you need to get practical. And that’s exactly what the Open Source movement is doing.

What Areas Can Open Source Be Applied To?

When you start discussing Open Source in relation to film and television production, you soon recognise that this topic has many strands. Basically, it covers everything from cameras and location post through the entire production pipeline and workflows including sensor processing, transcoding, VFX, DI and colour, LUTs and more. In reality though, the first areas that need to be tackled are digital camera technology, network/server support and delivery and distribution.

Ideally we need to see products and solutions maturing and establishing credibility through proven use. People who have open sourced their work and their projects by allowing access and inviting collaboration need to be recognised. We also need to give people the freedom to study, understand, modify and sell their products or derivatives so that the ideas and principles of Open Source can be consolidated within a forum.

To this end, Open Source Cinema UK has been set up to help develop and create solutions for Open Source Film production. The aim of this web site and community forum is to introduce new ways of working so that we can enhance creativity, cut costs and explore different approaches to technological development and financing.

Open Source Digital Cameras – The First Link In The Chain

If we want an Open Source film and television industry, then the first obvious step has to be the development of an Open Source digital camera. As a former cameraman, it was hearing about an organisation called apertus° and the work they were doing that first got me interested in the whole Open Source concept.

Based in Vienna, apertus° is an Open Source cinema organisation founded by film makers and financed through crowd funding. The people behind the company were galvanised into action when they became concerned with the expensive and limited tools they were forced to work with every day. Instead, they wanted access to affordable devices and technology that delivered the highest possible image quality and could be customised to exactly suit their needs.

I heard about the initiative and when I learned that they were developing an Open Source 4K camera, I decided to pay them a visit. I was immediately struck by how little Open Source, for both software and hardware, is utilised by the Film Production community. Certain single elements are there, Blender for 3D, DCP creation, but nothing has been created and developed as an entire production workflow for shooting films digitally.

Since its formation in 2007, the apertus° project has applied an Open Source philosophy to everything it has developed. As no patents have been filed, anyone can access the technology behind its cameras and people are actively encouraged to adapt, modify, repair and even replicate them. To date, reaction has been very positive. Not only has the company achieved – and exceeded – its initial crowd funding target but it also has the backing of some very important film makers and cinematographers, including ASC and AIC Cinematographer Roberto Schaefer and Emmy and Academy Award-winning DOP and Visual Effects Supervisor, David Stump.

The Axiom Open Digital Cinema Camera

The first product developed is the AXIOM camera, which is due for beta release in April at NAB 2015. Initially it will only be available at cost to the community that backed the crowd funding campaign. Rogue Element was one of those backers and we are delighted to be supporting this venture by investing in a number of 4K Axiom camera systems and making them available to the UK rental market.

With an Open module approach, we anticipate that users will soon suggest the modules they want to see adopted. This perfectly fits the goal of creating a free and open technology for today’s professional cinema and film production landscape and making all the generated knowledge freely available. By creating and building an open modular camera system consisting of several hardware and software parts, the company has already evolved into a platform for film-makers, creative industry professionals, artists and enthusiasts. They are more than just a software/hardware collection; they are a knowledge library – an ecosystem of people supporting each other and advocating freedom.

Software For Collaboration, Innovation And Delivery

The introduction of the Axiom camera inevitably makes other areas of the production process ripe for Open source treatment. First among these is workflow, which is why Rogue Element, in conjunction with the Open Source community, is creating OpenFlow, a complete suite of workflow solutions to ensure that Open Source is at the forefront of film and television production for years to come.

The 4K CMV12000 CMOSIS sensor adopted for the Axiom will need processing and transcoding. Cinema DNG is being adopted for the initial RAW workflow and from these Masters other copies can be created.

OpenFlow will also develop software that embraces open collaboration and allows a more efficient and faster software suite to be developed by anyone who wishes to contribute. Think of an open and freely available code that can be adopted and worked on by anyone, creating an extremely fast and efficient software workflow designed purely for the task at hand, whether this is to create copies for Editorial or other viewing versions to take onwards to VFX and other departments. We will also apply Open Source to DI and colour, thus allowing full access to the Masters and their colour science. It is very exciting – by making formats such as Open EXR and Cinema DNG open to all, we can achieve real transparency as well as better, faster results.

Ethical Film Production

As part of its plans for 2015, Open Source Cinema UK will be embracing other new approaches to film and television production, including the adoption of more ethical solutions.

An example of this is Fairphone (www.fairphone.com), which incorporates social values and ethics into its supply chain to create a product with longevity and repairability. This type of thinking can easily drip down into film production. For example, why not use electric vehicles and location generators that incorporate battery power and newly developed Hydrogen Power options? This isn’t wishful thinking or science fiction as this efficient technology is already being used on some BBC wildlife Productions to power cameras left in place for days at a time.

Aligning an ethical approach to programme and film making with new and developing Open Source Hardware and Software is novel, but there is a growing requirement for these kind of services and in a few years it could well be a lot more common than it is today.

So Where Does All This Lead?

While the Open Source concept may still seem unfamiliar to some people, there is no doubt that it will eventually become perfectly normal for both hardware and software development and in terms of services and equipment procurement.

IP restrictions are already being lifted and when this happens you soon get a global community of many thousands who are collaborating and engaging in product development. The evidence for this lies in software such as OpenOffice and other free/libre OSS solutions, as well as hardware support for Cloud and other media services.

Align this approach with an ethical supply procedure and there is no reason why Open Source solutions shouldn’t become an established part of film production during 2015. Digital productions, in particular, are increasingly relying on software to drive evolving hardware such as sensors and storage. Given that productions, especially those destined for TV, have seen an increase in shooting hours, it is perhaps inevitable that cheaper Open Source technology will come into its own as a way of cutting costs.

Personally I can see immediate benefits for Arts-based productions on ever tighter budgets but still needing 4K to support broadcasting requirements. Surely with the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and 5 all actively looking for new ways to save costs while retaining quality, the future must include embracing an Open Source and ethical production environment.

by Daniel Mulligan, Managing Director, Rogue Element Digital

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Posted by on February 19, 2015 in Cinematography

 

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HOW I GOT INTO SOUND POST-PRODUCTION … by Ben Simpson

My response to the question: “Oh that’s Sound Post-Production … what got you into that then?” – by Ben Simpson

It wasn’t so much that I was incapable of doing the work at A Level, it was more that I wasn’t in the right state of mind to make a good job of it. I know I can’t be the only one to ever feel this way – too much time spent being talked at rather than to. I suppose the insipid teaching is partly responsible. After I came out with two AS levels in Law and Psychology and an A level in Drama, I felt my time in education was over and so I went into full time work.

The monotonous tedium of jumping from job to job got old all too quickly and all I knew was that I wanted to be involved in music, creating it, producing it and making it sound like the tracks I’d admired for so long. I decided that now was the best time to ‘follow my dreams’ (kind of) so I enrolled in a BTEC course in Music Technology. Three tutors in particular were very encouraging and kept pushing my limits, which I loved because it gave me a challenge that high school never could. It was the best experience I’d ever had in education – apart from Reception because you could just mess around in the sand pit all day; you do that now and people think you’re odd.

It was during this course that I did my first post-production module and knew that I’d found what it was I wanted to do with my life. It had never occurred to me before that sound should be recorded separately from where the film was shot. It sounds silly to me now obviously, but not many people will believe you when you tell them that, for example, 98% of the sounds in ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ were created entirely separate from the filming. Foley and composition were the main parts of post-production that stood out for me. I got to write music and also create some natural effects with weird and wonderful techniques, such as kicking a bin in various ways with different things in it to create the sound of an exploding tank. It’s all about layers – like an ogre.

From here I managed to convince an award-winning director to let me compose some music for his short film ‘Grotto’. By this time the film was already picture locked and so I asked if he would give me a few days to compose something to it and if he didn’t like it, then at least he would know he made the right decision. From what I can gather, it is now being made into a feature length film, which is awesome. I wasn’t as confident with Foley back then as I am now and so I didn’t dare apply for that role too and potentially ruin it! Though with hindsight (being 20/20), it would have been well worth just trying to get involved in it somehow because although I wouldn’t have been able to contribute all that much, I might have been able to help now and again and would have learned a lot. Sometimes though, you want to make a splash when you do something for the first time instead of just wading in slowly from the shallow end and have everyone think you can’t do full lengths of butterfly. My plan was to get good behind closed doors, then kick it down like ironman with the sound effects to boot!

I worked so hard at college that I got the best possible grades, showing me at least, that not all intelligence is measured in academia, and the value of a person in society should not be forever coupled to the measure of how well they could regurgitate what they were told as a teenager. As Albert Einstein said, “Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish on how well it can climb a tree, it’ll go through it’s whole life thinking it’s an idiot.”

I chose to go on to University to do a Music Production BA, knowing I could specialise in post-production, and doing so for my second year as well as for my final year project. I have been taking every opportunity, which has lead me to talking to some of the top Foley artists in the industry for advice and insight, get advice from seasoned professionals by the sheer luck of going into the right church just to ask if I could record some Foley in there for the ambience, be the composer for a excellent final year film project for the Leeds Beckett Film School, be a Foley artist for a TV series pilot that is currently – at the time this is written – filming, record the Leeds Symphony Orchestra and write this article – all alongside my work for my final year. To get the composition job I used my old trick of “give me a few days and I’ll send you something over, I know I can deliver what you’re wanting.” This time it wasn’t picture locked so I couldn’t sync the music to the picture, I just had to capture the feel of the whole thing by reading the script over and over and listening to what the director and producer were saying they wanted. It works, for me, like an inverted mind map. The centre is the goal and I have to use my knowledge surrounding it to get there, as opposed to expanding outward endlessly.

University – although ‘expensive’ – has been one of the best ways to get to know people in the industry, so that’s the route I’ve gone. I was the antipode of a typical student, I think I went out ‘on the town’, so to speak, only once. To be honest though, I really dislike drinking, being deafened by endless dubstep and ‘dancing’ around sweaty drunken strangers anyway, so it worked out for the best!

However, I believe that because I’ve worked hard it has given me confidence in my abilities. I can demonstrate and discuss what I do and why I do it, meaning when I apply for positions and opportunities, I do so more positively and with more equanimity. That is one of the most important lessons I have learnt from University. The grade is mostly in the justification. If you can’t justify why you’ve done something creative then it can be confusing, but if you can, then it becomes more understandable and shows off your creativity in the light you intended. Think of all that modern art – an unmade bed was one I believe, as was a light switch and a bin full of make-up – it’s how it was justified that made it artistic.

The way of the creative industries is that no one is “the best”. Ask a group of people who is the best actor is and I’d wager it’ll be a while before you get a repeated answer … unless it’s the morning after the Oscars when “Best Actor” has just been awarded – but again, that’s the opinion of a certain group of people – and why would their opinion change yours? What I’m trying to say by bringing up subjectivity and justification is that I’ve found that you can have sound coming from a spaceship whilst in space, you can have elephants shaking the ground with their steps and you can have longbows creaking when arrows are drawn, as long as it makes sense with the film.
I am confident that – with this work ethic – I can continue to be part of wonderful projects, each of them improving my knowledge and making me more and more pleased to have dropped out of work to go after what made me happy. So I tinker around on a piano making nice sounds for brilliantly creative films and it seems my journey through education has come full circle, because ironically enough, I spend a large number of my days messing around in sand pits after all … and I don’t care if people think I’m odd, I love it!

The author's self-portrait

The author’s self-portrait

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2015 in Sound Department, Uncategorized

 

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CARE FOR WHAT YOU SHOW by Peter J Knight

 

Peter J Knight

Peter J Knight

The most important thing is the way that a film is screened for the audience. It is, after all, the very last link in a production chain which will have taken a huge amount of money and involved hundreds of talented people – so if it is not presented in the best possible way then all of that effort has been wasted.

I was asked by Wendy to write this article back in 2009 when digital cinema was actually a bit of a way off, although definitely on the horizon – but there were still projectionists working in the box and they were still a very important part of the audience’s enjoyment.

For various reasons the article was started but never finished and, over the intervening years, things have changed at a great speed, which has seen the majority of projectionists lose their jobs. In most large multiplex environments, the technical roles have been taken over by cinema managers. However, I wrote an article about the Art of Projection: http://www.indieplex.org/the-art-of-the-projectionist/ and this article for Network Nine News came back into mind and this article takes a look at some of the history of the projectionist but also why it is still important to put on a good show.

I call myself a projectionist and am likely to do so for a good few more years – sometimes I add AV Technician as well – but I am still a projectionist. I have been a projectionist for nearly 16 years which, compared to many in the industry makes me fairly junior, especially when you consider I’m only part time. However, one of the things I have always found and been told, or had reinforced to me, is that the projectionist is the last link in a massive film-making chain which has evolved through thousands of people, years of work and millions of pounds/dollars – and if you get it wrong at the point of screening, it has all been wasted.

In the early years of cinema, the projectionists were the showmen who entertained audiences, usually in village halls or fairgrounds showing off this latest technology – a sight which many would have been unaccustomed to. Many of these showmen went on to make their own films, people such as William Haggar, who produced many short films in the early 1900’s for his local Welsh audience.

Early cinema shows were often known as ‘cinevariety’, as it wasn’t just the one film which was screened – there would be a news reel, followed by a ‘B’ movie and then the main feature so with all the projectors and stage lighting there could be anything up to five people in the projection room – this went on until the multiplexes came into fashion.

The usual way that a projectionist was recruited was as a young boy (or girl), often replying to a slide advert in the cinema. Like most trades and apprenticeships, projectionists would start at the bottom, learning about cleaning (projection rooms were always kept sparkling clean) then perhaps going on to be a rewind boy.

Projectionists are a weird bunch; they spend the majority of their lives in darkened rooms with their closest friend often the flickering light on the screen. Through history the projectionist has been responsible for the care of the presentation of a film. Written in numerous projectionist manuals is a line to the effect …”The Projectionist is the last link in the filming making chain and it is your responsibility to show that film in the best possible way”. It was this belief and value which was instilled into the projectionist for more than a century. Right from the very beginning, showmanship and presentation was at the heart of the role. Once upon a time the projectionist would have to hand crank the film, working out the best way to make the projector work and to crank the machine at the proper frame rate!

Often the projector and film would be bought without any instructions in the early days, when many ‘bioscopes’ were run and operated by funfair showman. These basic affairs of a tent with a few benches and a screen got more and more ornate as the showmen tried to out-do each other and persuade the audience to visit their film show rather than a rival. There were big fair organs, powered by steam engines, as well as live stage shows. All required a great deal of skill to make it happen. In the USA it was common for small storefronts to be converted into theatres, charging five cents for a show, thus the ubiquitous name ‘nickelodeons’.

A projectionist would have to earn their way to being chief projectionist by learning the requisite skills, starting as a rewind boy and spending all their time cleaning the projection room, often for many months before being allowed anywhere near any film – and it would be a long time before they would be allowed to touch a projector.

This extract from what is obviously a much longer document demonstrates very clearly the care and attention that went into the projectionist’s work – cinema showmanship Late 40′s style: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvQWMSZS-Rs. In fact, such was the importance and value given to the projectionist, that there was an ‘Operators Creed’ – this was not written by me but was found in a 1935 Projectionist Diary – but is just as true today as it was then!

THE OPERATOR’S CREED

  • Remember yours is one of the most highly skilled jobs in this modern wonder age and technical developments succeed one another with bewildering rapidity.
  • Concentrated within the spool-box is the consummate artistry of playwrights, actors, producers and camera-men. You are the last and the most important link in a great chain.
  • According to your diligence and craftsmanship, so has this artistry, this anxious care, this enormous expense been wasted or justified.
  • Yours is the task of taking thousands of your fellow men and women away from the cares of an often drab and colourless existence, transporting them on your magic carpet to a land of make-believe and sending them away refreshed to tackle the world of reality with renewed zest and high courage.
  • To achieve this you have to master a formidable list of highly technical subjects, you have to be resourceful in emergency, calm in danger and unremitting in sacrificing your time and, if need be, your person in the interests of the public you serve.
  • A noble and inspiring calling that is surely, if slowly, receiving the recognition it deserves.

However, slowly and over time, cinema chains have decided that it is no longer necessary to have curtains, masking or lighting adjustments in the auditoria. Audiences now walk into a cinema with a big, white, blank screen – and some of the awe that had once filled the auditorium was inexorably and finally lost. With the advent of Digital Projection it is possible for the presentation of an entire cinema circuit to be controlled from a room, anywhere in the world, by only one person. For the majority of cinemas, a single uniform presentation style began to be implemented. Only a very few independent venues still have a projectionist because of their desire to continue to do some theatrical presentation.

Cinema has become more complicated with all the different formats, aspect ratios, sound systems and other requirements from content makers. This film which shows the number of different aspect ratios which have appeared over the years helps demonstrates some of this: http://vimeo.com/68830569.

While the everyday films can often be run by low-paid, non-skilled workers who have no sense of whether the film is being shown in the best possible way, or whether all the speakers are working properly, or if the lighting source lamp is aligned correctly, or if the 3D filter is in its proper place – and so many other questions that most of these amateur ‘projectionists’ don’t even know to ask. This work is often delegated to concession workers, assistant managers, or anyone who just happens to be available when something needs to be done in the booth – or if, heaven forbid, something goes wrong during a screening.

The new digital technology has convinced cinema owners that the projectionist can go the way of the lighthouse keeper or the steam train stoker. Where once there may have been five or more projectionists in the box, now there will be nothing but blinking lights and whirring fans as servers and other digital equipment which replace the showmen of yesteryear. Like all technology, it is great when it works but it is when it is misbehaving, or when there is something unusual and technically tricky to screen – that you need the hands, eyes and experience of the expert projectionist.

THE FUTURE

Even in modern cinema with all the latest technology, there is still the need for a projectionist, or at least a technical person in the box. While the everyday requirements of making up and running a film may have been reduced in their overall complexity, a projectionist is still a useful person to have around. Digital projectors still need maintenance, still need someone to reboot them when something goes wrong – but that is the easy part. Cinemas are looking to making use of this new technology through hiring the venue for alternative content which is where a technical person is of most value – there are now more formats and aspect ratios and ways of connecting equipment than ever before – and someone who knows how to get the best from the equipment and wants to put on a good show should still be an essential part of the cinema experience.

It doesn’t matter what your role is or where you work, the most important thing is the way that a film is screened for the audience. It is, after all, the very last link in a production chain which will have taken a huge amount of money and involved hundreds of talented people – so if it is not presented in the best possible way then all of that effort has been wasted. It should not matter whether it is a big blockbuster, a low budget, or a short – people have spent their time and money to make that dream come true – so is vital that the film is shown in the best way possible.

About the author: Peter J. Knight, otherwise known has The Mad Cornish Projectionist (www.madcornishprojectionist.co.uk), has been involved in the cinema exhibition industry since 1997, when he was started as an assistant projectionist at Flix – Loughborough Student Cinema. Later becoming head projectionist and actively involved with the overall running of the organization. After graduation Peter moved to London where he has freelanced as a Projectionist/AV Technician since in a variety of different venues from arts centres to preview theatres and even at the Glastonbury Music Festival. Peter is chairman of the Projected Picture Trust (www.ppttrust.org), an organization interested in the preservation of cinema technology equipment, and is also the vice-chairman of the BKSTS Cinema Technology Committee, an organization which is interested in the education of the current day cinema technical worker and cinema technological development. Peter also writes extensively about all areas of the cinema industry and the technical elements of projection. He has also recently just launched We Can Still Show Film (www.wecanstillshowfilm.com) a free international website which is aimed at recording all the people, venues and companies still able to handle film.

 
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Posted by on July 30, 2013 in Cinema Projection

 

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CARPENTER TO CONSTRUCTION MANAGER by Dominic Ackland-Snow

Dominic Ackland-Snow

Dominic Ackland-Snow

How do I see the role of Construction Manager?

The Production Designer has to conceptualise the viewpoint of the script and the Director – and the CM’s job is turning that concept into reality, dealing with the technical, the financial and the scheduling sides.

I’m fortunate to have been brought up in a family with a strong design connection. I was lucky to have been able to crawl around as a youngster behind film sets while my Dad, an Art Director, was working. My first time working on a film set was when I did work experience on ‘Aliens’ with my Father and Peter Lamont in the Art Department. Although I enjoyed this, the element I was most interested in was Set Construction

I left school in 1986 and started an apprenticeship in carpentry & joinery. The company I worked for did mainly television scenery but also some exhibition and theme park work. I left the company after 5 years as a qualified carpenter/joiner and decided to ‘try my luck’ in the film industry as a freelancer, starting with ‘First Knight’ working for Construction Manager Tony Graysmark as a shop carpenter. This suited me very well because I preferred ‘setting out’ and the actual fabrication of the scenery. I worked for Tony again on ‘Goldeneye’ in 1995, then worked on a number of films after this including ‘Fifth Element’ with Ray Barret ‘The Borrowers’, ‘The Avengers’ and ‘Notting Hill’ with Michael Redding and ‘Love & War’ with Terry Apsey.

Construction on ‘Band of Brothers’ showing the back of the aircraft hangar

Construction on ‘Band of Brothers’ showing the back of the aircraft hangar

The front of the hangar with bombers, as seen by the camera

The cast of 'Band of Brothers' as seen by the television audience. It’s all an illusion!

The cast of ‘Band of Brothers’ in front of the hangar as seen by the television audience.
It’s all an illusion!

I was fortunate enough to be supervised by two great Construction Managers – Terry Apsey on ‘Sleepy Hollow’ and ‘Band of Brothers’ and Michael Reading on ‘Quills’ and ‘Tomb Raider II’. I was very lucky with both Terry and Michael, as they were very lenient on my slightly rebellious approach to what I did and how I worked.

The fabulous set of the Paris Opera House for ‘Phantom of the Opera’ - 2004. This was built as a fully-operational theatre  capable of holding a substantial audience in the auditorium, an orchestra and a full cast of artistes on stage. The construction used two adjoining stages at Pinewood Studios so that the action from  the theatre stage could follow right through the authentic  backstage area built on two floors, complete with dressing  rooms, costume department, props store etc, to the stage  door exit complete with  stables.

The fabulous set of the Paris Opera House for ‘Phantom of the Opera’ – 2004. This was built as a fully-operational theatre capable of holding a substantial audience in the auditorium, an orchestra and a full cast of artistes on stage. The construction used two adjoining stages at Pinewood Studios so that the action from the theatre stage could follow right through the authentic backstage area built on two floors, complete with dressing rooms, costume department, to the stage-door exit complete with stables.

I started on ‘Phantom of the Opera’ as a Supervisor but was cajoled by Terry Apsey to try my hand at running Carpentry as Head of Department – this is when I started to be exposed to the financial and scheduling side of construction – an area I found that I really enjoyed.

After ‘Phantom’ I ran a television show as Construction Manager, which was great for cutting my teeth. I had a few leads as CM after this but unfortunately all of them

– which, at that time, was a pretty regular occurrence. I had the horrible experience of working on a film that folded owing me wages – something that most film workers have experienced during their career. Around this time I decided to emigrate to Australia with my wife and children – but before leaving I enjoyed working on my last film with Michael Redding as his Head of Department.

When I arrived in Australia I had made my mind up not to be involved in films any more because the work was so fragmented, so I was really fortunate to land a job with a joinery company as their Operations Manager.

Then, out of the blue, I had a phone call from the production office of ‘The Pacific’ – asking if I would be interested in the role of Construction Manager. Luckily, the production had asked Terry Apsey of my whereabouts and he managed to track down my number. Although I had promised myself not to drop back into the industry, the complexity of ‘The Pacific’ appealed to me.

We filmed in the far North of Queensland, the You Yangs Regional Park near Melbourne, around the city of Melbourne itself and in Melbourne Central City Studios. In total there were 105 different sets and we were turning over 2 sets a day to the 2 main units. Some of the sets were worth $50k and a couple were worth $6m each! The overall construction budget was $24m out of an Art Department budget of $50m.

Because the job was so large it had 2 Supervising Art Directors – Dominic Hyman & Richard Hobbs. There’s quite a difference in work practice between Australia and the UK – in Australia the Construction Manager usually doesn’t have financial control but luckily ‘Pacific’ used the UK system where the CM had full financial control of the construction budget.

Construction in progress on one of the 105 sets for the television series ‘Pacific’ in Australia

Construction in progress on one of the 105 sets for the television
series ‘Pacific’ in Australia

For me, one of the best things that came out of the ‘Pacific’ project was the fact that, because I needed a crew of 450 and the local crew base wasn’t large enough to facilitate this, we undertook a training scheme – specifically in fibrous work. A lot of the sets were very different to normal film construction and involved some fairly innovative approaches, mainly utilizing civil engineering and geo textiles. Also in Australia, the sculpting department is normally as big as the carpentry department because they don’t usually use fibrous plastering – they mainly sculpt in concrete, which is a very, very cost-effective method.

After ‘Pacific’ I returned to the company I started with when first arriving from the UK, where I moved up to the position of General Manager. Although scenery was not in my company’s portfolio, I very quickly added a ‘special projects’ division to the business and have been lucky to have involved the company in theme park, exhibition and film. 

The CM’s first responsibility is to the Designer – and I often see this as a protective responsibility as far as the budget goes, in dealing with the Producers – and also a responsibility to the Designer in allowing enough time for a design to be constructed properly. Because, as I mentioned, I have grown up in a ‘design’ environment, when I see the blueprints I can visualize the construction methods required and see it in a 3-dimensional image – which makes it very easy to budget and schedule the job.

When you work with a good Production Designer like Tony Pratt, it’s easy to understand what you need to produce. Peter Lamont was very much the same, an Art Director of the old school like my Dad and Jim Morahan – and I’m very lucky, having worked in television, exhibitions and theme parks, as well as films, so now I can bring all of those methods together.

From my point of view, the ‘old school’ design, the ‘pencil’ design, is the easiest to interpret because, with a pencil you can actually ‘feel’ the type of set you need to do. With CAD drawing there is no emotion involved. If I look at a drawing by Jim Morahan or Tony Pratt, or my Dad, I know exactly what I need to do – but if I look at a CAD drawing I have to start talking to people to find out exactly what the set is supposed to look like – the feel, the texture, the finishes.

There’s a guy in Australia called Mike Molloy – he’s not in films but I’ve worked with him in commercial construction work in night clubs, shops etc. I use him because he draws in pencil first. I think now that you can actually get CAD which doesn’t use a ‘straight line’ format so it begins to look like an actual drawing – but all the designers on ‘Pacific’, with one exception, were pencil Draughtsmen – and the only set we had major problems with was drawn on CAD! It was the only one that the Scenic Artists and the Plasterers couldn’t quite get the feel of what exactly the Art Director was after. 

Tony Pratt is very conceptual – very epic in his designs – and I was asked to produce two sets of 90,000sq m in 20 weeks alongside 80 other sets. I know that he worried a great deal for 3 months whilst we were conceptualizing and, in the end, I had to remind him that I was the Construction Manager, so it was my responsibility and not his so that he could stop worrying so much! It was such a pleasure working with him. 

I have to say, never have I seen crews who want to please the Designer more than the Australians – if the Designer gains their respect, they will do absolutely anything to produce the best sets possible.

The big difference between Australian and English crews is mainly in construction techniques. Just as you would find a difference working in Prague – but the results are the same, although the differences are reducing as more and more British guys are emigrating – and both crews learn a lot from each other.

I have found that the Australian approach can be very interesting, for example, Chris McMahon is one of the best sculptors I’ve ever worked with. Sculpting here is completely different, they can do very fine work – they did all the work for ‘Narnia’ & ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ but the most amazing thing is that their sculpture is in concrete – and they’ve devised a method which Disney now uses in the theme parks – they’re extremely talented guys and are more construction based than art based. 

The Scenic Department is very different to the UK. The Paint Department is run by the Scenic Artist who is quite often also the Scenic Finisher. Which sometimes doesn’t work very well! To get the best results I think that you need to specialize – Scenic Artists to do backings with the Scenic Paint Department finishing surfaces.

The most important thing is that the Designer gains the respect of the Construction Crew and therefore will get the best work. In a film every person had their own input, whether it’s a Stagehand sweeping or the Producer who raises the money, all have to work as a team to bring the project together – but I wish that, when awards and praise are handed out that the highly trained and creative Construction Crews – Carpenters, Sculptors, Painters – would get more recognition. After all, it is they who bring the Art Department and the Director’s ideas to life! 

Dominic Ackland-Snow’s film credits include: The Invisible Woman – 2013, Sanctum – 2010, The Magic Flute – 2006, Phantom of the Opera – 2004, Tomb Raider II – 2003, Quills – 2000, Sleepy Hollow – 1999, Notting Hill – 1999, Fifth Element – 1997, The Borrowers – 1997, In Love & War – 1996, Goldeneye – 1995.

Television credits: Parade’s End – 2012, Pacific – 2010, Planet Cook – 2004, Band of Brothers – 2001.

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2013 in Construction Department

 

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