3 DAYS, 2 LIGHTS, 1 FILM: THE MAKING OF DRAWING NEAR

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3 DAYS, 2 LIGHTS, 1 FILM

THE MAKING OF DRAWING NEAR

I have decided to write this blog to hopefully pass on some things I have learnt during the process of filming my latest film ‘Drawing Near’. I decided to write this in a very direct and practical manner as opposed to the emotional and inspiration aspect of it all, as quite frankly I don’t want to bore anyone and I’d rather instead hope that this blog can serve as a tool for anyone about to embark upon a film anytime soon.

So then, I better give you a heads up about the story so i can jump into some of the more practical aspects of the film making process. DRAWING NEAR is a short film, a story about a mothers grief as she is trying to come to terms with the news that her only child has a terminal illness. The story explores her unique way of processing and dealing with the pain, which isn’t made any easier due to the fact that her child is a mute and only communicates through drawings.

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A tip I’d like to give for anyone writing their script, is to find a piece of music that closely matches the feeling you want your film to convey. I usually find something on Youtube from ‘Hans Zimmer’ most often, which allows me to imagine things in greater detail and sometimes even pace my story better. It works for me anyway!

I went through about 5 drafts of the script, each draft i sent to my good friend and co-producer Matthew R. Ford who is also an amazing writer/director. Having him look through it and deconstruct it was invaluable. The good thing about Matthew is despite being a good friend he will still tell you what works, what doesn’t work and whats crap. Without him I think I would of ended up with a very different film, that may still be sat on my computer.

THE CASTING PROCESS

Usually when producing my films, I will run an ad on various casting agencies (mainly castingcallpro.com) as it will allow me to post the project for free and they have some amazing professional actors who are immediately given access to the post. However, for ‘Drawing Near’ I decided to use my own network this time, as over the years I have built up quite a large contact list and was interested to see just how far it could reach. It seemed it worked as I had over 100 applicants inside the first week. If you have a big enough network of people I would say this is a great addition to using casting agencies, as word of mouth is a lot more powerful than many of us would imagine. Video-Camera_stock.jpg.644x667_q100

A quick tip i would suggest when running your ad for actors is to be extremely honest. If you don’t have money to pay them (ideally at least national minimum wage) then say that from the start. Theres nothing actors hate more than filmmakers beating around the bush or making false promises. Also try and make the ad as clear as possible, with a description of the character your casting for, the shooting dates you propose to film, the location you aim to film in etc. Otherwise you will find yourself spending a lot of hours in front of your computer answering emails about the same thing.

Anyway, back on track…After several weeks of running my casting ad which was ran directly from my website and posted around Facebook and Twitter, I ended up with a lot of impressive applicants. Due to the huge amount of people who applied I had to get down to a shorter list, so my preference became applicants who had a showreel as this allowed me to quickly gauge what they could bring to the table. After getting my shortlist down to a manageable number, I set a date for auditions. Due to quite a few actors applying from outside of the Midlands (where i was based) I decided to give them an option of sending in a video audition. I like to try and value people’s time and money as much as possible so doing this felt right and actually worked as one of the video submissions was actually someone we cast for the part.

Ok, so now on to the physical casting auditions. I always enjoy this process as it’s the first time i get to see my characters come to life. Actually seeing people interpret what you’ve written and perform it is a very humbling thing. My main 2 things I look for when casting are:

  1. Can they convincingly embody the character
  2. Are they a nice person

To me it doesn’t matter how talented you are, if the energy isn’t good then I’d rather not work with them as the entire process needs to be a reflection of why I’m doing it anyway, which is a passion and love for film.

During auditions I think it’s important to really use the time wisely and see what an actor can do. When the actors were img-script-reading-01reading for ‘Drawing Near’, Matthew would ask them to read it again but in almost a completely different way. This allowed us to see if they could take DIRECTION, and see if they had a wider range of ability that they could tap into. This is essential for me. Without it you may find someone who does one particular thing amazingly well, but lacks the range and ability to do anything else. It’s always a hard process because you get to meet some amazing people who the majority of would do a great job.

After a long period of auditions and online applications I can say i was more than happy, in fact I felt honoured to have such an amazing cast. Not only are they some of the most talented people I’ve met but they are all genuinely good people who I can’t wait to see do amazing things in the acting world.

They are: Elizabeth Joyce Morris (Jodie), Liam Millard (Callum), Elise Reed (Lucy), Elaine Ward (Doctor Sarah Connelly)

PRE-PRODUCTION

Pre-production for ‘Drawing Near’ was actually quite fun. Myself and Matthew took a trip to various locations and scouted ideal spots where the story could unfold, and then that allowed me to create a detailed shot list of how I wanted the script to play out. I never personally use storyboards, a good shot list is a lot more effective for me, however if you’re working as part of a bigger team where multiple people need to understand the composition of the scene then I would definitely recombined a story board. Our production team was going to be small, with myself both directing and operating the camera , which meant I could get away with it this time. Plus I like breaking the rules 🙂

We decided to keep the number of locations down to a minimal as this would allow us to spend more time creating the ‘look’ for the scenes we did have and give us a lot more time. It’s amazing how much time can be lost in travelling from location to location. Even a 10 minute drive can turn into an additional 2 hours before any filming even happens. We decided on 3 locations for our film. Just a tip for outdoor locations, try and make sure there is a toilet close by, as trips to a nearby bush may not be everyones preference.

WitIMG_0493hin the story there is a necklaIMG_1323ce which plays an important part. I searched online for the right one with little luck, but coincidently
‘Cassie’ the mother of one of the actresses ‘Elise Reed’ who plays ‘Lucy’ is actually a master jeweller and asked me to send an idea of the design I was looking for and she would make one for me. I couldn’t believe my luck, and again this is what I mean about working with good people. She created an amazing necklace which was exactly what i imagined and it will be a treasured reminder of finding the right team to work with.

Oh, and one last thing…this is one thing I’m always guilty of no matter how much I know better. ALWAYS ALWAYS plan for more time than you need. No matter how sure you are that you can wrap a scene up in an hour, it’s safer to bank on 2 hours. There are a million and one things against you as soon as you’re ready to start filming, try and protect yourself by giving yourself a bit of room.

THE SHOOT

First off i must say that I had an incredible group of people to work with, both cast and crew. I had Matthew who was co-producing but also assisting directing on lots of scenes. He would also share the role of sound capture along with Luke Fannin and Sharul Khan, and then there was Robert Lawrence who was 1st AD and we h_MG_4983ad production assistance from Kerry Gilbert who also allowed us to takeover her house for 2 days. We had Sean Kelleher who created the awesome drawings for us which feature heavily in the film and we also had a drone for some aerial shots which was handled by Kerry James. Make up was very important in this film too and we had such an excellent job done by some of the students from Bournville College’s Media Make up Department.

I decided to film ‘Drawing Near’ on the Blackmagic Cinema camera. I chose this camera because I love the filmy-look it has and it’s ability to shoot in uncompressed RAW for maximum quality. Shooting in RAW also allowed me greater flexibility when it came to colour grading and it meant I didn’t have to worry about white balancing as you can change it to whatever you want at a later stage. I also own it so that always makes the decision IMG_0201process a lot of easier. I have a few cameras but I felt like this was the right one for the job. Just a mention for anyone planning on shooting a film on a Blackmagic Cinema camera, we shot in RAW which equalled about 1.5 hours recording time on a 480gb card. So make sure you have some serious hard drive space before shooting.

The entire shoot was done using only 2 lights (at any given time), and this included the night time scenes which were in complete darkness. The lights were wireless, which meant I could save costs and energy on using a generator for the times we were shooting out in a field in darkness with no available power. I bought 2 LED panels with a ton of batteries that allowed me to shoot for hours without the need for a plug.

The only problem with LED lights is they are very soft and not very manipulatable like tungsten based lights which i use a lot, and can create some great lighting effects and shadows. However with a few tricks like breaking up the light with objects, positioning the lights from higher angles and using natural objects to obscure the way the light would fall, I managed to get the look i was going for.

The reason I only used 2 lights at any one time (LED 2000 lumens, 800WATT Red Head) is becauseIMG_0205 I prefer to light using as much natural light as possible. I’m not a fan of over lighting things, and I like to use shadows just as much as I use light, as i feel it gives a more filmic look. I would often bouncing a light in the opposite direction of the actor so that it would look more natural when the light would reflect back and be less intrusive.

For sound we were using a Rode NTG-2 going into a Tascam recorder. We had the full wind blimp on the mic for outdoor scenes which literally saved us. Don’t try and film outdoors without any wind protection for your mic if you value a stress free life.

We had a few other goodies like car mounts, jibs and sliders, but most of the film was filmed from a tripod with canon, nikon and sigma lenses.

A tip for filming with a car mount, try and use a lens which has image stabilisation it it which can help smooth out some of the smooth bumps that are inherent with cheaper car mounts.

Working with the cast of the film was a joy, and I made it a point before filming even began to make sure there was always plenty of food and snacks available, as acting can very draining especially on the emotional scenes. Also food makes everyone happy, and when your keeping people for such a long time it’s really important to make sure people’s spirits were high and they feel taken care of.

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 22.02.23We would spend about 8-10 hours per day filming, and as i mentioned earlier, I was guilty of not allowing myself enough time for some of the days. British weather likes to play games with filmmakers. The forecast was sunny, in fact it was due to be boiling, however when we turned up to the first location we were greeted with 2 hours of rain. Great! However, we managed to claw some time back on the last day and make up for lost time. The lesson here is always always always plan for the worse case scenario, because it usually likes to occur when you decide you want to make a film.

We used a drone with a Go-Pro camera attached for some aerial shots which were really fun and reminded me of the amazing things that can be achieved with a bit of creativity. Kerry James who piloted the camera had some great ideas and although the  aerial shots are only in for a short time, it really did add something special to the feel of the film. Just remember to pick your filming location wisely, because for anything where you want high altitude shots, you may see a lot of peripheral scenery that doesn’t add to your story.

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 22.05.15When it came to directing, it was important to run through the scene before actually filming it. This was mainly down to the fact I didn’t have a schedule for rehearsals but in a weird way I kind of prefer working like this. I like to craft the scene on set and when its perfect, capture it. I’d like to point out that it’s a very demanding job we ask of our cast, to emotionally go to different places at will and exert themselves in the way that they do, so it’s very important to make sure you have good communication with them, find out how they’re feeling, listen to suggestions they have about the particular delivery and schedule times for breaks. Sometimes they will see something you miss. 10452467_962356043796691_4543733522864655595_n

Talking of missing things, you want to make sure you have someone on set who is keeping on top of continuity. Robert Walsh did a great job of ensuring everything is as it should be and this gave me a great feeling of security having another set of eyes taking care of various elements.

The shoot went amazingly well, it was a pleasure to work with such a talented group who gelled so well.

POST PRODUCTION

The editing process is always fun for me, it almost feels like a second shot at making your film. Plus it doesn’t require me to get dressed and leave my house which is always a bonus. I edited in Adobe Premiere Pro but did all my grading in ‘Davinci Resolve’ which is hands down my favourite colour grading application. Some shots i actually used ‘Film Convert Pro’ within ‘Premiere Pro’ as I love their grain structure which adds a very filmic look and on a few shots I used my own plug-in ‘Cinepre’ for specific looks.  11150233_961497033882592_122151574256805698_n

We recorded the sound separately from the camera which meant syncing up the audio to the video footage. Luckily the program ‘Plural Eyes’ makes this easy, simply throw the footage and the sound into the program and it will sync it for you. Take note though that you need to make sure you have a clap, or loud sound at the beginning of each take to allow the program to easily sync it up, or else it can make mistakes. That’s when a clapper board is handy.

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 22.06.56The editing process took me about a week and then 2 days to grade with an additional 2 days for sound. I sent the edit back and forth to Matthew and with some fine tuning we agreed on a final edit. I then created a poster (in Adobe Photoshop) and marketing materials so that I could send it off to film festivals. I like film festivals because it can potentially mean an award the actors can take and add to their CV which always looks good.

A quick tip for film festivals, if you want your film to appear on IMDB for free (as most of us do), if you apply to a film festival through the company withoutabox.com they will generate an IMDB page for you.

The music selection was important for this film as it would set the tone, but not just that, but also the sound design of atmospheres, sound effects and other textures. It’s amazing how sound can give a completely different message to your audience. Choose wisely. Please remember that places like Vimeo and Youtube have audio tagging now so if you use music yScreen Shot 2015-05-28 at 22.03.26ou don’t have permission for, it is very likely that your project will be removed or not able to go public. Check out these websites for some cool free royalty free music http://www.danosongs.com , http://www.mobygratis.com

All the music and dialogue was mixed in ‘Adobe Audition’, this allowed me to easily organise all the sound elements and add compression and EQ to the dialogue to get things sounding smooth and balanced. The thing I like about ‘Audition’ is I can export a timeline from ‘Premiere’ and it will open up in ‘Audition’ exactly the same, which makes things easier.

THE FILM

So now the films complete, and as I’m writing this, it has not yet been released to the world. I hope you all manage to see it when it’s release and I hope you like it. I hope this blog has helped if only in a small way towards making your next film. If it does, drop me a line and let me know 🙂

Happy filming

Daniel Alexander

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Thanks for reading guys, see you again soon but in the meantime feel free to drop by and catch up with me at any of the following spots:

Twitter: www.twitter.com/DAFilms

Facebook: www.facebook.com/danielalexanderfilms

Instagram: @danielalexanderfilms

Mailing list: http://bit.ly/1fhgR9t 

Web: www.danielalexanderfilms.com

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