We shot another short film, last Monday. Sadly I’ve been a bit run down and suffering from some lurgy since then, so I’ve been a bit slow to write about the shoot. It wasn’t all plain sailing and it didn’t go exactly to plan. But it was fun and it was brief.
N.B. For those new to this type of diary – some observations may seem harsh or overly critical in places. But this is intended to be constructive, to help me learn from my mistakes and improve on every shoot.
Firstly, what’s COMFORT HIM? you might be wondering. COMFORT HIM is a ‘micro short’ film project. At least I think that’s the correct term – for a film that has a run time designed to be less than 5 minutes. But more specifically for a film that is designed to ideally come out around the 1 minute mark.
COMFORT HIM is a micro short horror film project, designed to be shown / seen on mobile devices; especially when films like DON’T FORGET TO BREATHE, SVEN GUNNAR or MR CLEAN have typically lengthy periods before people can actually see them (due to lengthier production times and lengthy festival runs etc). Designed to be seen and shared, if people enjoy it as much as we did making it, we’re hoping that people will want to share the films and spread the word. It will have a target run time of 1 minute ideally, because that is much easier to share on most social media platforms, for high visibility. And we want to test the idea that less is quicker to produce and release, to shorten the production timeline and get more content out there… at least that’s the theory.
COMFORT HIM is about what happens when a sleep-deprived father is woken from a nap, and goes to comfort his crying baby. It stars Hasse Brontén (SVEN GUNNAR) and Sofie Klaesson (MR CLEAN) and Hasse’s daughter Alba.
Originally we had planned to do the film much earlier. Hasse is an avid horror fan, and was on board with the project even before his child was born – right after finishing SVEN GUNNAR. But I needed to do some research first and plan the shoot a bit more… then Darwin and I did a test shoot back on January 13th (which I first mention here: https://eibonfilms.co.uk/2nd-award-for-dont-forget-to-breathe/), before Darwin and I went to shoot MAI PIU in Rome. The idea for the long delay between the test shoot and the film, was to perform a VFX test on the filmed footage… but that last bit never happened due to scheduling and illness…. In the end, as Alba was growing day by day, we just had to go ahead and do the shoot already – before she grew up and started walking etc. But were we crazy to even attempt this? Because everyone knows, “you should never work with animals and children…” right?
The original test shoot took two hours and was a hoot to do. But this was carried out by using a doll and filming in a controlled environment – my home and with my gear and just me and Darwin on the day. However, even then, as it was just me as a one-man-band filmmaker, I cocked-up and messed up recording sound and shot some of it in slow motion. Doh! But I did manage to get from 21 minutes of recorded footage down to a smooth 57 seconds of finished rough edited footage, enough that, sans sound, it still creeped people out in the right way. Nice. So the proof-of-concept worked.
So the big question I had, was could we shoot the actual film in the same way, in someone else’s property, with a full cast and a real child, but in half the time that I’d planned to do the film shoot? – we’d allotted two days for shooting, but intending to shoot the film in 1 day if we could. But then, at the last minute, when dates kept slipping and Hasse was being booked up and had less and less free time slots, we were suddenly down to a restrictive 4hrs of shoot time. Yikes! So, could we pull it off or should we cancel?… we decided to go ahead, seeing as once we changed the date, all of a sudden the crew started suddenly not being available at all. So sooner was better… and then we heard more tales of this virus that was going around…
Sunday 8th March – of shoot setup and housework:
I packed the last gear for COMFORT HIM. I’d been prepping it over the last few days and charing all the things. By prepping it, I mean:
- working out what I needed. (camera, lenses, adapters, filters, batteries, tripods, extension cables, duct tape, fake blood and plastic sheets etc etc – you name it I pack it)
- making sure it’s clean, working and has relevant accessories.
- I have reusable lists in the IOS Notes app, as checklists, that I can copy and tick off and adapt to my needs.
- popping gear into relevant carry cases and ensuring that it packs into the smallest available form factor.
- charging all batteries, in case we can’t use domestic power.
- creating preset in camera – including setting the date, aspect ratio, codec, frame rate etc.
- prepping all relevant paper work – including also pre-populating shot tracking apps etc.
I do all of the above for every project I embark on.
I was nicely prepped before Hasse called and I was already putting the gear outside ready for him when he arrived. Soon we had loaded the car and were on our way, talking about the premiere, how SVEN GUNNAR was received, and some other films that Hasse hadn’t seen yet – because we talked about the experience of viewing UNCUT GEMS.
We unloaded the car at his apartment building and then took everything inside as his visitors were leaving. Then I got down to the business of unpacking the key stuff, tripods etc and assembling the camera rig and ensuring the mic boom was ready, and setting up the lights for shooting. Hasse and Gina had to go out for a meal I think, so they left me a key and then I finished setting up a half hour later and then locked up and left.
On the way back, I made notes on my phone of other things to do before the shoot. Then as I had dinner, and as I was cleaning up, inevitable messages from the cast and crew needed attending to. The good thing was people were raring to go. 🙂
Meanwhile, I was also putting together detailed storyboards, using screen grabs from the test footage for COMFORT HIM and sharing them with Darwin so he could study them and see how he could help me out with 2nd camera – this was our strategy for trying to cut down the shoot time, trying to double-up on camera angles for options in the edit, so we might save time in the shoot. It was worth a try. Although he’d had the test film for months to review, I figured this made it easier to reference on the day.
As I was getting ready for bed, I wasn’t liking the sudden wind that was kicking off outside and my brain seemed to dwell on the shoot, despite any attempt at meditating such thoughts away – would I sleep? I doubted it….
Monday 9th March – Shoot day
I had a rough night trying to sleep. It was really windy outside and hot in my room despite using a fan. Also, I meditated multiple times, and I was not consciously stressed, but it wasn’t until I said ‘fuck it’ to the wind rattling the windows and opened them around 3am to cool the room down again, that I finally passed out for around 2 hrs of random patches of sleep. When the alarm went off at 6:15 I felt out of it and exhausted. Perfect energy for filming… not.
I got up and hurriedly got ready – more to get my head in the game, then being late and stressed about it.
I got the train I’d aimed for. Yes, these are super low budget productions – few of the team have driving licenses and cars free – especially if their partners use such transport. So most of us used the train and bus to get to location. But at least we had sunny weather today!
As I was on my way there was the usual random messages that any crew generates. Like ‘how do I get to the location?’ ‘where is it?’ – I am constantly surprised by how few people check such details in advance and leave it to the last minute, despite all information being provided days before… I offered to wait at the bus stop for people once I got to the nearest stop to guide them there, as I got there early. And once we were a small group, it seemed Darwin and I both had little sleep.
Once inside the location, we were raring to set up. A quick safety explanation and introductions were made and then Darwin and I got set up ready for the sofa shot, with Hasse waking up; he then went into makeup and baby Alba met Viking, Isabella’s dog – yes we had both a child and an animal on set :).
The shoot was stressful at times. Seemingly simple takes were proving challenging, despite a video example of exactly what we wanted being freely available for study for months by all involved – both the timing, performance we wanted and shot composition was all there. I produced the test video because often words are not enough to communicate an idea. But yet everyone seemingly forgot that we’d ever done that test shoot – so we were kind of facing a blank slate.
It was helpful that the natural light was great today and we didn’t need all of the lights that I’d brought. That reduced setup times.
Sofie offering to help and to do sound for us too – when she was not in character. This was amazing and much appreciated. Darwin was helpful for the most part as a second camera and alternating with the clapper and I really appreciated getting to work with him again. But I did have to focus on my own shots as well as communicate when I saw him going for angles that I couldn’t use / hadn’t planned on – where I noticed that they would not be helpful / couldn’t be used in the edit, or when I noticed some shaky handheld. “I can’t and won’t use this.” I think I said after viewing one shot. – I often don’t enjoy hand held shots when they are done well. But I hate it more when it is badly done / overly jittery, as it says to me that we don’t know how to hold a camera and I knew no such shots would survive the edit. All would be unused – if we had planned on doing it, we would at least use cameras and lenses with stabilisation.- We were mainly using vintage lenses and the BMPCC 4K which doesn’t have stabilisation.
So why was I stressed? Well we were up against the clock – having much less time than we needed for the level of polish I aspired to. We were up against the impending next appointment that Hasse had, to rush off and record a podcast – as well as the good temper of our smallest cast member Alba. As the day wore on, our very real baby actively did baby stuff and wriggled a lot and got more restive. This and some natural difficulties doing simple lines / issues replicating exact performances and camera movement, and then having to fit in time to do makeup when some shots took longer than planned, proved challenging. But despite these challenges, I think that the overall mood / humour was pretty good throughout. And Gina, Hasse’s wife, was amazing at keeping Alba entertained.
Sofie was funny, fussing and constantly smiling over Alba. And Alba and Viking were happy amid the chaos. And despite the stress Hasse was also under, fitting a shoot in before other appointments, his good humour and patience was also much appreciated.
After Hasse raced off, Darwin and I did a bit more foley / sound with Sofie, then I backed up the footage onto my hard drive and we left to go and get lunch. After a good chat, mini wrap party, we parted ways – all happy but tired.
I got home, feeling brain dead around 4pm. I showered once the files from the premiere and the audio SD card were also being backed up. Then I had the depressing task of reviewing every single take to see if I could use any of it – it’s hard when your aspirations and desire for perfection are hard to overcome, after the fact. It’s also annoying when you see that not every camera was set up with the correct date and time info… oh well. But I pushed and reviewed every shot.
I also bought PLURAL EYES, to try and make the task of syncing up audio much easier… although the process seemed to work great, I would need some help to interpret the clips and get them organised in the best way in FCP X once that was done, as currently it looked unusable for this shoot – in fact it looked like an overly confusing nightmare of grouped clips, which were in a nonsense order. Was it because of the shonky date stamps on the video files?
Eventually I confirmed that the only shots that were not really to my liking was the crib scene – although a do over for it all would also help me, but no one would agree to that 🙂 . I communicated with Hasse to arrange when to redo that bit, to also grab some more foley / dialogue from him and then pack up the gear. Sadly it would be another early morning, to race over there, film the crib bit and then pack up all of the gear to get out before his next appointment the following day. I was hoping for a more chilled day / finish to the shoot, and a lie in tomorrow, but it was what it was.
I couldn’t really concentrate due to a weird sudden stomach pain, beyond thanking the cast and crew for their help and time etc and planning what I would do the following morning. But also knowing that there was a chance I might not be well enough at all or that any plans made would be ruined anyway.
As I hit the sack, my stomach was not good at all… it wasn’t stress. I knew that at least. I was mostly happy, apart from having to get stuff finished tomorrow… at least there wasn’t a foul wind outside…
Tuesday 10th march – pick-ups and pack-up
I managed to sleep last night. Strangely, mainly because of the cold (having the window open) and exhaustion. But the five hours of [interrupted] sleep I got was enough to help me function.
I was at Hasse’s place as planned. Only then they wouldn’t let me in… lol. I think I was my typical too early again…
Once Hasse let me in, I instantly went to set up lights and set up the camera for the crib shot. The light wasn’t there today, as per yesterday. It was rainy and overcast and far from ideal, so I had to use all of my lights to get any kind of workable light. I tried with a lighter lens and with and without the monitor to lighten the rig and it was still awkward trying to shoot through a crib. And this time Alba wanted to wriggle through every shot, to turn and grab the camera etc which was charming, but challenging… So despite getting a better angle today, it was also different – not worse, just different. But we pushed through.
And then of course, Hasse ran out of time for recording sound after the pickups and so I packed-up the gear – super quick. Faster than I’ve ever done before. Soon Hasse and I loaded the car up and Gina drove me back to my house. I really appreciate the lift. And soon I had everything inside and started to slowly, confusedly – as the tiredness kicked in after food – to unpack it bit-by-bit and eventually square most things away.
I tried and failed to get the COMFORT HIM audio synced and useful for editing. Mainly I couldn’t get automatic import into FCP X to work. But then once I did it manually the file still looked like confusing garbage. It made no sense to man nor beast, no matter what I tried. The audio may have been synced for the most part. However, it made no sense why the first shots were at the end of an 5 hr timeline and not at the start etc and having too many lines of edit to work with. WTF!
From two cameras, I now had over an hour of footage. Taking out the pre and post roll parts of each clip and any ‘making of’ type shots filming BTS, I was left with 34 minutes of footage.
But there was plenty of time for that. The shoot was done.
Update: I’ve now gone through it all and I have whittled it down to 21 minutes of usable footage. Now the editing can begin. But I am resigned to manually syncing each clip to the audio…. but all of the shots look great. It’s only how the performances play and how I put it together / make them work in the edit that will take time.
I’am also full of some virus. No I don’t know if is THAT virus. But I will carry on regardless. I’m self-isolating, based on government medical advice and have nothing but time, if little energy, on my hands.
- They are right to advise you not to work with children or animals. Things will not go easy on such shoots. However, Alba was a joy to work with. And she really awakened the Maternal instinct in Sofie and had the crew laughing at her antics. And she put up with a lot, considering all of the new experiences and sensations / distractions. Viking was also good, considering everything that might make a dog bark at.
- If you think you need more time, try and replan the shoot until you can get the time you need. Working under such pressure is never ideal. Less time means compromise. It’s not always a creative fire / inspiration.
- We knew that, going into this shoot without enough people was folly. I really wanted to follow the mark each shot and follow the shot list and get each composition just right as well as get sound sync. Sofie was amazing helping out by holding the boom for us when not in shot, but it was a lot of running around / stress and corners got cut. As a result, I almost tripped and had an accident during one shot. Fast isn’t careful. Two more people, the people that suddenly couldn’t make it at the last minute would really have helped. But that was my fault for having to change filming dates.
- Because you have a camera that shoots professional footage, it does not make you a professional. It is very easy to turn up on set and shoot, but you should take time to prep the camera and create shot presets and ensure all data is correct before taking your first shot. The time stamps on our footage claimed it was being shot in January and March respectively! So that’s fun when trying to use shot metadata to sync up shots later on. I need to check this rigorously before any future shoots.
- You should use identical lens systems if trying to match multiple cameras, to ease the colour grading / speed up matching shots on post. It still won’t match, but it will make it easier to do so. I don’t think things will be too tricky. But we’ll see.
- You should cut makeup shots if trying to keep to schedule. Isabella was amazing and did her best in impossible conditions, but we should have given her more time and had more time available to shoot – the makeup wasn’t important for the film per se. It was a nice-to-have, but it was an added stress. Do it right, or not at all. Right?
- You and your camera team should discuss stylistic considerations before the shoot or before a take – not after. One angle was unusable on a perfectly good take, due to deliberate shaky hand held being applied. A perfectly good moment of time / take that we’ll never get back, when that angle was better than the one I’d had. Luckily there wasn’t much of this. But communication is key.
- You need to be in a location you can control. And you need to be able to control the schedule. But you will always find challenges, even when the shoot is smaller and less ambitious than other larger shoots. Less isn’t always less.
Overall it was a real pleasure to get parts of two teams together – those of MR CLEAN and SVEN GUNNAR – for a new project. And despite my reservations about certain takes – comparing those in a very controlled shoot with a doll, to that of a live shoot with more live challenges – we did pretty well with what we had. And thanks to everyone who has helped us get here so far, and the post production team that is now waiting in the wings for me to pull my finger out and finish the edit!
I can’t wait to get the film finished and to show you all and share and share away.
- Hasse and Gina for believing in the project, entrusting their daughter to us, and helping shift the gear and providing us with a great location and half the cast.
- Sofie for not only giving a great performance, as always, but also trying to help us get sound too.
- Alba for putting up with us and being a star.
- Darwin for working that second camera and helping me get through it.
- Isabella for doing great makeup under tough time constraints. 🙂
I’ll keep you posted as I progress this project. Thanks for reading!