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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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The Stuntman’s World by Jim Dowdall

Fom the perspective of one who has been ‘at it’ for rather a long time and should know better by now!

Jim Dowdall

Jim Dowdall

When I came into the industry in the 1960’s as an armourer with Bapty’s, my first film was ‘The Dirty Dozen’ – and what a picture that was to cut your teeth on!

Surrounded by the legendary luminaries of both the acting and technical departments, I began to realise that, despite my mother’s exhortations that I would be destitute for life without the obligatory 5 ‘O’ levels and 2 ‘A’ levels, it might be possible to make a living in an industry that neither required nor asked for bits of paper – and that my single English ‘O’ level was not required on the voyage!

A prior spell working with big cats as a beastman for Bertram Mills Circus, with a bit of trapeze thrown in and a number of other odd jobs, had infected me with the ‘adventure bug’ and, having left the armoury business some time after finishing on ‘Where Eagles Dare’, I joined the Parachute Regiment, got the Champion Recruit’s Cup and thought that the army was going to be my career – but a parachuting accident left me unfit and I was invalided out 18 months later.

It was now the early 1970’s and the film business was booming, so I enrolled with the ‘Ugly’ agency and a couple of others to get some walk-on work and thus acquire the very desirable (and hard to come by in those days) Equity card.

Being catapulted through an explosion for the boat chase on ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ - 1989

Being catapulted through an explosion for the boat chase on ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ – 1989

 

The Stunt Register was just being formed as a professional stunt body within the remit of Equity and I squeezed in with a few of the stunt contracts I had acquired working for an agency called ‘Havoc…Specialists in Hazards’.Since then, life seems to have been a fantastic whirl of various films, TV shows, commercials and occasionally, live shows (which are always unnerving for their very real inability to ‘go again’)

The normal course of events runs like most productions with a script being offered, various meetings to ‘get the job’ and then the business of breaking down the ‘gag’ to work out the best way of translating the director’s wishes into the camera – and always within the limitations of the producers depth of pocket. Of course, just occasionally, one gets the chance to work on various productions (like the earlier Bonds) where you just said what bits of kit and personnel were required and it was so.

 

This was in Iceland doubling Pierce Brosnan in the Aston Martin on the ice chase for ‘Die Another Day’ in 2002. Remarkable likeness (I don’t think!!)

This was in Iceland doubling Pierce Brosnan in the Aston Martin on the ice chase for ‘Die Another Day’ in 2002. Remarkable likeness (I don’t think!!)

The early days of Bond were a real eye opener for me as everything (as on all productions in those days) was shot in-camera and we would sometimes have weeks of rehearsals either on location or in the Band Room at Pinewood Studios – which would be fully kitted out with mats, trampolines and all the other bits of equipment which might be required, usually for the ‘end sequence’ in the villains lair, which then had to be blown up over a number of days. When we did the submarine sequence for ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ (for which the famous Pinewood 007 stage was constructed) filming began shortly after Christmas in a very cold January on a vast stage with a requirement for a number of us to do ‘falls’ into the water. Although we would be paid a stunt ‘adjustment’ for these falls, there was a certain ‘hanging back’ as we knew that it would be unlikely that we would have time to change into a dry costume before take two – and few of us owned such a sophisticated piece of kit as a wet suit!

As the astronaut on ‘Superman 2’ in 1980 being thrown by Terence Stamp. This is the wire job where I have to be revived with oxygen!

As the astronaut on ‘Superman 2’ in 1980 being thrown by Terence Stamp. This is the wire job where I have to be revived with oxygen!

Wire work on pictures like ‘Superman’ 1 & 2 was pushing the envelope at the time and Geoffrey Unsworth’s capacity to ‘light out’ the wires was masterful – in those days it was without the benefit of ‘Paintbox’ or such sophisticated bits of kit which would come on stream in the 80s. I remember being on wires wearing a space suit with the helmet sealed on which gave me a limited amount of oxygen before I began to get a bit woozy. I would then see Geoffrey up and down a tall ladder spraying the wires with a black paint aerosol just before we shot. I had to be revived twice with a whiff of oxygen after a couple of …‘sorry, just need a second on the wire spraying’… occasions.

For ‘Flash Gordon’ doubling for Timothy Dalton, we spent weeks rehearsing the fight on the disc floating in space with knives coming up out of the floor. We also all had to learn how to use a bullwhip from one of the stunt boys, Reg Harding, who had been a ‘jackaroo’ in Australia and was a master with that very dangerous (mostly to the user) bit of kit

Hours spent in the chair having prosthetics put on to double the monster on wires

With Michael Caine  on 'The Eagle has Landed' in 1976
With Michael Caine on ‘The Eagle has Landed’ in 1976

 

for Michael Mann’s ‘The Keep’ meant a 6am start and sometimes a 10pm finish 6 days a week with all the penalty payments and overtime one could imagine – luckily all before Christmas – and the car park at Shepperton Studios, stuffed with a variety of our newly acquired BMWs and Range Rovers after the holidays, became known as the ‘thank you Michael Mann’ car park!

As the 1980s progressed and the sophistication in filmmaking began galloping forward, commercials became a great laboratory for new devices and gimmicks as the repetition on TV, combined with bulky production budgets, meant that the directors wanted to use every new device that was either coming on stream or was just nudging its way through a crack in the door.

In the water with Sean Connery and Katherine Zeta Jones on the set of ‘Entrapment’ in 1979

In the water with Sean Connery and Katherine Zeta Jones on the set of ‘Entrapment’ in 1979

For me, this was an opportunity to be introduced to the cutting edge of every new gizmo whether it was the ‘Hothead’ or ‘Paintbox’ – and I was fortunate enough to be involved in some of the early experimental work on Libra with Nick Phillips and Harvey Harrison by driving various vehicles either on racetracks or bolted to the side of Land Rovers going over really rough territory.

‘Star Wars’, ‘Superman’, ‘Batman’, ‘Bond’, ‘Indy’, ‘Private Ryan’, ‘English Patient’, ‘Enemy at the Gates’, ‘Corelli’, ‘The Pianist’ etc etc, all have their interesting facets and learning curves which require a certain thought process and how we can make it look good safely (within reason….) and the challenge continues!

The main differences between then and now is that we all have mobiles and email and GPS and CGI … but when it comes down to it, the business still requires a good script, good direction, good actors and good action where required. We are just a part of the jigsaw puzzle, the big difference is that the successful ones can put the linament on the bruises with a £50 note!

Stunt people have, by definition, to be jacks of all trades and sometimes master of one or two – tomorrow might be a stair fall on fire, Tuesday falling off a horse, Wednesday turning a car over, Thursday a high fall and Friday a fight sequence.

I did have a week like that a couple of times. Exciting it is, boring it ain’t!

On the set of ‘The Long Good Friday’ in 1980 with Bob Hoskins ‘inspecting the meat’

On the set of ‘The Long Good Friday’ in 1980 with Bob Hoskins
‘inspecting the meat’

Jim Dowdall’s film credits include: Skyfall – 2012, Safe House – 2012, Blitz 2011, Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows – 2010, The Descent 1&2 – 2009 & 2005, RocknRolla – 2008, Death Defying Acts – 2007, The Flood – 2007, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – 2005,  Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – 2005, Sahara – 2005, Finding Neverland – 2004, The Bourne Supremacy – 2004, Die Another Day – 2002, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – 2001, The World is Not Enough – 1999, Entrapment – 1999, Little Voice – 1998, Saving Private Ryan – 1998, Tomorrow Never Dies – 1997, The English Patient – 1996, Batman – 1989, Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade – 1989, Whoops Apocalypse – 1986, Brazil – 1985, Octopussy – 1983, For Your Eyes Only – 1981, Star Wars V – 1980, Force 10 from Navarone – 1978, The Spy Who Loved Me – 1977, A Bridge Too Far – 1977, Star Wars IV – 1977, The Eagle Has Landed – 1976, Where Eagles Dare – 1968, The Dirty Dozen – 1967.

Television credits include: Eastenders 2012, Call the Midwife – 2012, Richard hammond’s Invisible Worlds – 2010, Rock & Chips – 2010, The Bill – 2004 to 2009, Top Gear – 2008, Dalziel & Pascoe – 2006 to 2007, The Gathering Storm – 2002, Prime Suspect – 1995, Minder – 1991, The Professionals – 1982, Doctor Who – 1975.

 

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Film Production Technique …. from a talk given by Alfred Hitchcock in 1948

Alfred Hitchcock 1899-1980

The filming of each picture is a problem in itself. The solution to such a problem is an individual thing, not the application of a mass solution to all problems. Film production methods of yesterday may seem out of date today and yet, tomorrow’s problem may be best solved by using yesterday’s methods. The first rule of direction must be flexibility.

Nothing should be permitted to interfere with the story. The making of a picture is nothing but the telling of a story and the story – it goes without saying – must be a good one. I do not try to put on to the screen what is called ‘a slice of life’ because people can get all the slices of life they want out of the cinema. On the other hand, total fantasy is not wanted because people desire to connect themselves with what they see on the screen.

Those are all the restrictions I would place on the story. It must be believable and yet not ordinary. It must be dramatic and yet lifelike.

Having decided upon our story, we must next develop our characters and the plot. When that is done, are we ready to go on to the floor? I maintain we are not because our picture is going to need editing and cutting – and the time for this work is before shooting. The cuts should be made in the script itself, before a camera turns and not in the film after the cameras have stopped turning.

Script Cutting

My objection to the more conventional method of cutting is twofold. First of all, it is wasteful. The tragedy of the actor whose entire part ends on the cutting-room floor is not entirely a personal one. His salary, the sets he acted in and the film on which his acting was recorded all represent expenditure.

More important, if each scene is filmed as a separate entity out of sequence, the director is forced to concentrate on each scene as a scene. There is the a danger that one such scene may be given too great a prominence in direction and acting and its relation to the remaining scenes in the picture will be out of balance, or again, that it may have been given insufficient value and, when the scene becomes part of the whole, the film will be lacking in something.

The ‘extra shots’ made after the regular schedule is completed are necessitated because, in the shooting of scenes, story points were missed. The extra expository shots are generally identified by an audience for what they are – artificial devices to cover what had been overlooked in the preparation of the film.

How can this be avoided? I think it can best be avoided if a shooting script is edited before the shooting starts. In this way, nothing extra is shot and, most important, story points will be made naturally within the action itself.

If we do not edit before we shoot, we may be faced in the cutting room with one of the most difficult of editorial problems – the unexplained lapse of time. The passage of time may be essential to the plot but it may not have been made clear in the sequences that have been shot. There was a time – long since passed – when one would simply have photographed the words ‘one week later’ in transparency and caused them to appear on the screen in mid-air during the second scene.

The lapse of time can easily be indicated by the simple method of shooting one scene as a day scene and the next as a night scene – or one scene with leaves on the trees and the next one with snow on the ground. These are obvious examples but they serve to point to the need for script editing before production commences.

Camera Movement

Ingrid Bergmann and Cary Grant in ‘Notorious’ – 1946

A director tries never to go on the floor without a complete shooting script but, for one reason or another, one often has to start with what is really an incomplete script. The most glaring omission in the conventional script, I believe, is camera movement.  The director may decide on the floor how he is going to film a sequence – but I maintain that the time for such a decision is in the preparation of the script.

Here we encounter once again the fact that the tendency today is to shoot scenes and sequences and not to shoot pictures. The angle from which a scene is to be shot ought to flow logically from the preceding shot and it ought to be so designed that it will fit smoothly into whatever follows it. Actually, if all the shooting is planned and incorporated into the script, one will never think about shooting a scene but merely about shooting a picture of which the scene in question is a part.

Shooting in Sequence

The object of these remarks is to emphasize that I favour shooting pictures in sequence. The film is seen in sequence by an audience and the nearer a director gets to an audience’s point of view, the more easily he will be able to satisfy the audience. The satisfaction of an audience has been deprecated as an aim of picture making and I think that is a very grave mistake. There has been a tendency to sneer at audiences, to regard them as a tasteless mass to whose ignorance phenomenal concessions must be made by producers and directors.

Why is this? One reason is that a director hears comments about his work constantly and these comments come, for the most part, from people associated with the industry. It is laudable to seek the applause and approbation of one’s co-workers but, once one begins making pictures for their satisfaction, it is only a short step to condemning lay audiences for their lack of appreciation of cinema craft.

This is a dangerous point of view. Of course, it is a fine thing to make a picture whose technique excites admiration from people who indeed understand technique – but these are not the people who pay the costs of production!

Audience Groups

A picture-maker need not try to please everyone. It is important to decide at what audience one is aiming and then to keep one’s eye on that target. It is obviously uneconomic to shoot for a small audience and a motion picture costing some hundreds of thousands of pound, which has taken the efforts of perhaps one or two hundred men, cannot direct its appeal towards people with a special knowledge of film-making or to a certain section of the community.

To approach a cinema audience with contempt invites contempt in response. The great playwrights, Barrie and Pinero for example, rendered more than lip service in their respect for their audiences. They wrote every line with a conciousness that it was designed to entertain adult human beings and every line they wrote shows it. By the reasoning of those who maintain that intelligent drama cannot obtain a mass audience, their plays should all have been artistic successes and financial failures – but we know that they were well received, that many of them were terrific hits and we should profit by that knowledge.

Filming Technique 

I turn now to the actual techniques of picture-making. I have a liking, for instance, for a roving camera because I believe, as do many other directors, that a moving picture should really move. I have definite ideas about the use of cuts and fade-outs which, improperly handled, can remind the audience of the unreality of our medium and take them away from the plot – but those are personal prejudices of mine. I do not try to bend the plot to fit technique – I adapt technique to the plot. A particular camera angle may give a cameraman, or even a director, a particularly satisfying effect but, dramatically, is it the best way of telling whatever part of the story it is trying to tell? If not, it should not be used.

The motion picture is not an arena for the display of techniques. An audience is never going to think ‘what magnificent work with the boom!’ or ‘that dolly is very nicely handled!’  The audience is mainly focussed on what the characters on the screen are doing – and it is a director’s job to keep the audience interested in that. Technique which attracts the audience’s attention is poor technique. The mark of a good technique is that it is unnoticed.

On the set of ‘Rope’ in1948 – the first colour film for Hitchcock

Maintaining Interest

Even within a single picture techniques should vary, although the overall method of handling the story, the style, must remain constant. It is, for instance, obvious that audience concentration is higher at the beginning of a picture than at the end. The act of sitting in one place must eventually induce a certain lassitude. In order that this lassitude should not be translated into boredom or impatience, it is often necessary to accelerate the progress of the story towards the end – particularly of a long picture. This means more action and less dialogue or, if dialogue is essential, speeches ought to be short, a little louder and more forceful that they would be if the same scene were played earlier in the picture.

It is sometimes necessary to encourage artistes to overact!  Of course, it takes a certain amount of tact to induce a good actor to do so and this is another argument in favour of shooting pictures more or less in sequence because, once one has edged an actor into overacting it is, sadly enough, entirely impossible to edge him back again!

Direction is, of course, a matter of decisions. The important thing is that the director should make his decisions when the need for them arises and operate with as few rules as possible.

Alfred Hitchcock was born on 13 August 1899, in Leytonstone, London – the son of greengrocers William & Emma Hitchcock. After graduating from the London County Council School of Engineering and Navigation, he became a draftsman and advertising designer with a cable company. During this period, he became intrigued by photography and started working in film production in 1921 in London as a title-card designer for the London branch of what would later become Paramount Pictures.

In 1920, he received a full-time position at the then American-owned Islington Studios and their British successor, Gainsborough Pictures, designing the titles for silent movies. His rise from title designer to film director took five years and, by the end of the 1930’s, Hitchcock had become one of the most famous film-makers in England. Alfred Hitchcock made in excess of eighty films and several television series

 

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2012 in How It All Began

 

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So, you want to work in the Production Office……?

So, you want to work in the Production Office……?

I miss being a 3rd AD. Every day is new and, because a 3rd doesn’t have to worry about the grander things on set, you can use every moment to watch, listen, learn and implement. I might, at that time, have only been good at making tea and getting the right lunch orders but one has to treat EVERY job as if it is the most important thing in one’s career.

This is from an article written by Terry Bamber in Network Nine News. If you want further information contact me through www.network-nine.com

Sadly, on recent projects, I have had to sack youngsters who have not fully understood the importance of a Production Runner’s job and the dedication and tenacity required. Indeed, everyone’s job on a film is important – right through from the cleaning staff to the Producer – producing a film from script to screen is a joint effort undertaken by every individual in the crew.

The great thing about youth is the experience of turning up each day to be amazed by a wonderfully exciting day. Visiting the set to collect the Camera Sheets from the Camera Clapper/Loader, the tentative approach to the Script Supervisor for her notes to take to the Production Secretary. To make a great cup of tea for the Production Secretary (as she was then called) and to be praised for it used to make my day!

I was working on ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ at Pinewood and was having a wonderful time as Production Office Runner when the Production Secretary gave me permission to join the 3rd Assistant Director on set to get some floor experience – this brought on a whole new set of challenges!

So, the 2nd Unit was going to shoot on Sunday to help finish the film on time. It had taken me quite a while to understand the complexities of ….‘Tea, medium brown, with a dash of milk and a level teaspoon of sugar’.… it’s almost impossible to make a medium brown cup of tea, with just a dash of milk …. but I digress!

One of the scenes we were filming this day involved Sir Christopher Lee as Scaramanga, the main baddie in the movie.  He is hiding from Bond in the final shootout. I had to cue Mr Lee when he had to step forward from this hiding place.

The first rehearsal commenced and my mind went into overdrive.

Was I supposed to cue Mr Lee as soon as I heard the 1st AD’s voice or leave it a beat and then cue Mr Lee?….    Would Mr Lee see me move my arm to indicate it was his cue for action?….   Should I look at Mr Lee straight in the eye or avert eye contact so as not to distract him?…. 

The first rehearsal started. I could feel perspiration on my forehead and my hands were getting clammy. Suddenly the rehearsal was cut short. Oh Gawd! – had I missed the cue? I stared into the dark of the set and mumbled to Mr Lee that we had stopped ‘I can hear that dear Boy!’ he said. Oops – it was then I remembered the advice my Dad had given me ….‘Keep quiet and people will only think you are an idiot, open your mouth and you remove all possible doubt’….

Communication

One of the worst jobs for 3rd Ads, especially now with so many departments having their own walkie-talkies, is ensuring that batteries are always charged and that you have a check list of which department has chargers, ear pieces and spare batteries. Obviously, you must make sure the Assistant Directors are all catered for but once again, think ahead!! If there is a scene involving action cars then work out how many radios will be required for the drivers to receive their instructions.

As the Second Assistant Director has to make a report at the end of each day noting call times, the time the principal cast were on set, ‘wrapped’ (that is finished work for the day) on set and time they left the studio or locations (this also applies to Background Artistes and Stunts) it’s a great help if the 3rd Assistant is totally thorough in noting these times. It could have a big impact on any overtime that may be incurred by all the elements of the cast.

When the unit breaks for lunch the 3rd AD should find out from the 1st who is in the first setup after lunch and ensure they get their lunch quickly so they can have their makeup/hair and costume checks on time, before coming back to the set. However, sometimes the crew will work a 10 hour straight-through day and then it takes much tighter management to ensure that the cast get enough time to eat. This is when teamwork from all the Assistant Directors is brought to bear. A 1st AD once said that on every shot there is always a perfect position for the 3rd to be to make sure that everything is covered.

A few basic things to remember on set:

ALWAYS LISTEN TO YOUR RADIO – NEVER, NEVER HAVE TO ASK THE 1ST AD TO REPEAT HIM/HERSELF!! THIS IS A CAPITAL OFFENCE!

THINK AHEAD. PREPARATION IS EVERYTHING.

POLITENESS TO EVERYBODY and SMILE, SMILE AND SMILE, NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS!

NEVER ASSUME ANYTHING – ASSUMPTION IS THE MOTHER OF ALL COCKUPS!

LEARN FROM EVERYONE IN ORDER TO MAKE YOURSELF A BETTER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR.

Terry Bamber’s film & television credits include: ‘World War Z’, ‘Ra.One’, ‘Katherine of Alexandria’, ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, ‘Quantum of Solace’, ‘Casino Royale’, ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’, ‘Phantom of the Opera’, ‘Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life’, ‘Die Another Day’, ‘Lara Croft – Tomb Raider’, ‘102 Dalmatians’, ‘The World is Not Enough’, ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’, ‘The Jungle Book’, ‘Luther’, ‘Poirot’, ‘Dinotopia’, ‘Cadfael’, ‘Young Indiana Jones’, ‘Jeeves & Wooster’, ‘Paradise Club’, ‘Max Headroom’.

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2012 in Production Office

 

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The Script Supervisor

THE SCRIPT SUPERVISORS’ JOB … one of the best kept secrets in the business!

Emma Thomas

The job of a Script Supervisor requires a high level of concentration, stamina and an eye for detail. These skills are often required at times when you are at your lowest ebb and it’s the last hour of the day or night shoot. Even with all the courses available it isn’t a job you can learn from a manual.  Learning  ‘on the job’ is essential because each project is different and requires a number of different personal skills. You need to be a team player but stand your ground and hold your hand up if you make a mistake. Continuity isn’t life and death but it does help if you have a sense of humour when you are trying to do your job efficiently! 

 

FEATURE FILM SCRIPT SUPERVISOR

We provide an invaluable link between the Director and the Editor. We need to have essential knowledge of shot/lens sizes, shot descriptions, screen direction, slating, set ups with single and multiple cameras. In some cases we need to keep track of all sound and camera rolls especially where there are multiple units shooting (mainly for features).

We need to have essential knowledge of breaking down a script, page counts, individual scene by scene timings, story day/year breakdowns, back and cross matching the story particularly in drama productions.  We log all pertinent information for each department; detect overlooked coverage, stage direction, action and dialogue. We are responsible for overall timing of all productions which involves a daily update. This is often completed at the end of a 12 hour filming day. We must also have knowledge of post-production techniques, editing and dubbing.  In particular CGI information for feature films.

TELEVISION SCRIPT SUPERVISOR (Studio-based TV, Sitcoms, Entertainment, Factual, Drama, Documentary)

We provide organizational support for the Director in terms of studio technical requirements, rehearsal schedules, props lists, studio schedules – culminating in a master camera script from the Director’s notes.  This is then distributed to all departments including Lighting, Camera, Sound and the rest of the Production Team. We must have essential knowledge and experience of studio shot calling, bar counting to musical productions with responsibility for overall timing of the programme and absolute timing on live productions. We must have experience of Outside Broadcast shoots, transmissions and again post-production techniques, editing and dubbing.

Most dramas today are edited as the shoot progresses.  So it is even more essential that we provide accurate and concise notes for the Editor on a daily basis. We  used to draw a lot of continuity pics on our script as we went along. Today use our digital cameras instead.  We also used to stand next to the camera team a lot more but as we work on more HD dramas, there are monitors on set to check the shot size and reference details. It is still handy to know the shot/lens size in case the monitor goes down at that crucial moment – or you’re stuck in the middle of a field with very little electrical back up. I would encourage all trainees to learn the basic skills and not rely on the monitor so much.

Emma Thomas’ Film Credits include: ‘The Boat That Rocked’ (AKA Pirate Radio), ‘Captivity’, ‘The Mark of Cain’, ‘Jack & the Beanstalk’, ‘War Bride’, ‘Some Voices’, ‘Elephant Juice’, ‘Among Giants’.  Television Credits include: ‘Luther’, ‘Spooks’, ‘Horne & Corden’, ‘The Bill’, ‘Miss Austen Regrets’, ‘All in the Game’, ‘Last Rights’, ‘Whose Baby’, ‘Canterbury Tales’, ‘Teachers’, ‘Birds of a Feather’, ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’.

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2012 in Production Office

 

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STORYBOARD MAN!……or how to tell the story in pictures

The following is from an article by Martin Asbury in Network Nine News.  www.network-nine.com

Martin Asbury

A good storyboard artist has to know, understand and love film. He has to think like a camera and draw pictures as stills of movement. He has to tell you all you need to know about what you will see on screen but leave that little bit out for the imagination and invention.

Cutting my speed to 150 m.p.h. I fly low in a sweeping curve, banking with my crimson cloak streaming out behind me. I swoop in a wide graceful curve over the Film Studios dropping down and landing lithely in the car park on the balls of my feet – like a cat.

The security guard outside the Production Office instantly recognises me. “Thank God you’re here!” he exclaims.

As I stride into the office the Co-ordinator screams with delight. “Thank God you’re here!” she squeals. “The Director – he’s in his office” she smiles wanly. “Go on through.”

Brief, firm knock on the door and I enter. The man at the desk is slumped, his head in his hands. He raises his head, grey faced rheumy blood shot eyes staring at me.

“Storyboardman! Thank God you’re here!” he says. “No problem sir.” I reply. “I’m here to help.”

Quickly I undo my compact drawing tools, sitting opposite him and fixing him with a reassuring yet piercing gaze. I open my sketch book.

“Now what’s the first sequence in the script?”

In the past the making of a film was governed by the script. It was honed and nurtured and worked upon, re-written and re-written. When completed to everyone’s satisfaction it was almost set in concrete. It became the Bible – but these days there appears to be more impediments and pitfalls than ever to this process. Constant writing and re-writing of the script through the prep period can only increase the budget and cause wasted effort. I tell stories in pictures – I have told stories in pictures for all my life. So, if I were asked to direct a film, I would for sure write or draw down what I wanted to do before shooting any sequence – a shot list or stick figures.  It is common sense. Nobody in their right mind would walk onto set with no preparation and no plan.

All those people waiting – all the actors, the producers, the first second third fourth fifth sixth and seventh assistant directors, the lighting cameraman the gaffers, the stage hands, the assistants, the stand-bys – well, you know how it is.. and you are there with nothing in your head..  everyone looking..  it doesn’t bear thinking about!  So, the need for storyboarding becomes obvious.

Over the years they have been used extensively, from ‘Gone with the Wind’ and virtually every film since. On the basis that one picture tells a thousand words, a finished board shows everyone what the director has planned, what they have to do, where they have to be and what they are going to try and achieve.

The Director leans forward conspiratorially. “I need something really dramatic for the opening sequence.”

I tap my pencil. “How about an extreme top shot craning down to a quick track then pan followed by a jib up, jib down low angle Steadicam handheld Skycam sort of locked off shot which favours the star?” I say.

He gasps. “Is that possible?  Can we do that?”  

“We can do anything.” I reply.

Storyboards are not gospel. They serve as a starting point. They can be, and often are, discarded when events or maybe better options present themselves on the day. They can show what to do but, more importantly, what not to do. A whole 360º set might not be necessary to build. A scene can possibly be cut without detrimental effect to the story or can be revealed as being too costly. They can show whether set or location, when explosions and other special effects might occur or how, for example, to shoot the double of the star in one location whilst at the same time the star himself is shooting on another set elsewhere. They can show how to heighten drama with oh-such-cunning angles and camera moves and, of course, are almost indispensable to the ubiquitous car chase. They save time. They save money.

A side door opens and a large-framed man is framed in the frame. I frame a clever remark but the Director leaps to his feet.

“Problem solved!” He bellows. “Thank God for Storyboardman! What we’re going to do is: an extreme top shot craning down to a quick track then…”  

“Stop!”  The Producer steps forward, face grim. “Slow down! We may not have the money for it.” 

“But..but.. “ The Director gulps. “What about my dream?.. my vision?”

A successful storyboard will reflect the director’s vision, the concept that he has nursed for many months and translate it into usable workable drawings which the whole of the production team will understand. Everyone hopefully singing from the same hymn sheet. To achieve this the artist should try and get inside the director’s head – not to second guess him but to realise his dream for the first time in a visual way.

That sounds grandiose but nevertheless is essentially true. The storyboard is the very first time the script is translated into pictures.

Every director is different and every director wants something different. Some will be most specific about the way they see a sequence down to precise angles, framing and composition. Others will talk you through the scene detailing particular shots they are anxious to include -; a pan here, a track there, low or top shots, the lens to be used, the composition needed -and the storyboard artist will then make the smooth transition and join up the dots.  Others will allow complete carte blanche and the artist can make his own individual pass at the scene, presenting his own take to the director for perusal and criticism. Rarely in such a case does the director accept the offer-up completely and he might not like it at all – but usually much more discussion follows until he is satisfied. He may accept some of it, alter and revise bits or just cherry pick what he wants. All the time though, he is the sole arbiter of what is finally presented to the film’s producers and the rest of the unit.

The Director, leaning against his desk. “We cannot proceed unless we have a plan.”

Storyboardman  “… and I have that plan.”  Quickly I stand up. The Producer’s eyes widen as he takes in my perfectly formed body. 

I am resolute.  “Let me explain.” I say. I outline my extraordinary idea and with every second see him slowly relax, taking it all on board. I finish talking. I am satisfied.

He lowers his gaze. “You really are the one.” He mutters. “Truly  you are wonderful!  I never would have thought of that.”

The storyboard artist is to the director what the concept artist is to the designer. He is a utensil, pure and simple. If he is worth his salt he will support and aid the director in all his endeavours. If successful, his boards can save a huge amount of money and prevent an equal amount of heartache. If nothing else they can offer up a back stop – a safety net if you will – and be the building blocks to gain the most out of any given sequence. They can kick off discussion or decision.

Nowadays with the advent and growth of the use of Previs, the line between the two approaches has become somewhat blurred. Previs are fantastic. They can be totally accurate in that they can demonstrate what any scene will look like from any given camera position, any lens, any lighting source. Clearly a wonderful tool for any director. At the moment they are expensive and take quite a while to produce but I am sure all that, in time, will change. When that day happens maybe storyboards per se will cease to exist – but I hope not. I still feel that the immediacy of drawing to the director on the spot cannot be substituted. A sudden change to shooting requirements can necessitate an instant storyboard. The good artist can block out a whole sequence in a couple of days and provide a cost-effective kick start for the whole creative process.

I quickly draw 1000 frames a day and complete the whole film in two weeks. Needless to say the whole of the production team is overcome and in awe of my dexterity and expertise.

As I present the final sequence to the gathered company the Producer rises to his feet his eyes watery and sad.

“Hey you guys – the Production Company has decided that they are against the whole idea. They are pulling out. We’re not going to make the film after all. See you on the next. Sorry about that….”

A good storyboard artist has to know, understand and love film. He has to think like a camera and draw pictures as stills of movement. He has to tell you all you need to know about what you will see on screen but leave that little bit out for the imagination and invention. An accomplished storyboard is good for what it tells you. If it is drawn well with excitement feeling and vigour then all to the good but it is all about information and communication. For that is why we are all involved in this business. We inform, we communicate, we tell stories and all in pictures.

Martin Asbury’s credit list as a Storyboard Artist includes such films as: ‘Malificent’, ’47 Ronin’, ‘Skyfall’. ‘Snow White & the Huntsman’, ‘The Cold Light of Day’, ‘Captain America’, the ‘Harry Potter’ series, ‘Quantum of Solace’, ‘Wanted’, ‘Casino Royale’, ‘The Da Vinci Code’, ‘Batman Begins’, ‘Die Another Day’, ‘Resident Evil’, ‘Chicken Run’, ‘Entrapment’, ‘Tomb Raider’, ‘Alexander’, ‘Troy’, ‘Michael Collins’, ‘Labyrinth’ and ‘Legend’.

He also took over as the artist for ‘Garth’, the cartoon strip in the Daily Mirror, from 1971 until its final episode in 1997. www.martinasbury.com

 
 

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Do you want to work in Film Production ….. ?

So, you think that you would like to work in film production – why?

Wendy Laybourn - Editor

Is it because you’ve seen all the DVD ‘behind-the-camera’ footage and you fancy yourself in that glamorous world, having cocktails with the stars and walking the red carpet at the première of your latest blockbuster? Or, is it because you have an overwhelming passion to see something you’ve been involved in creating, in whatever capacity, up there on the silver screen? If it’s the former, then forget it and find another career – but, if it’s the latter then take care, you are entering a world where creativity walks hand-in-hand with job uncertainty and life will never be ‘normal’ again!

On any feature film, depending on the budget, there will be hundreds of people employed and, for those aspiring to be director, producer, cameraman, please remember that these are only three out of those couple of hundred people and it takes many years of perfecting your craft to reach these dizzy heights.

However, think carefully about the rest of the film crew – divided into departments and each needing skilled, reliable and committed people to produce a feature film to entertain a global audience.

The time to do this careful thinking is whilst you’re still at school – make no mistake, no matter which career path you choose you will always be best served by getting the highest grades possible – but, if you’re mad enough to think that you might still fancy a job in film production, then you need to do a bit of research – and this is what Network Nine can help you with.

We aim to give you enough information about the whole process of film production from the time the producer selects the script to the screening of the film at the cinema so that you can better understand where your particular talents might be best suited.

I’ll be posting articles from the News at intervals but, if you want to make the most of our information then you need to subscribe to the magazine from the web site www.network-nine.com

 
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Posted by on January 17, 2012 in Feature Film Production

 

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