Thursday, 1 December 2016

The History in the Walls at My First Job

   A month or so ago marked ten years since I started my first job. A decade in and out of employment - isn't that a crazy thought? 

   My first job was a characteristically quirky and creative one. I was still in Sixth Form at school, and I worked in the evenings and on Saturdays for an under-21's minimum wage, which was a lot less than it is now. The place was a family-run jewelry and gift store, the kind where all the locals knew the staff by name, and which had been in business since the early fifties. My job was to photograph all their unsold stock - sometimes random things which they found in the back of cupboards, the boxes covered in dust but the contents glittering and beautiful - and then I'd handle their online sales. I think I was only there three or four months, but I really enjoyed it.

   So, why am I telling you guys about this? Well, on top of celebrating the ten-year milestone, I've also got something wonderful from this job to share with you - something that I've had stored up all these years.

   The reason the shop was selling its old stock - and why I was temporarily brought on board to help shift it - was because they were renovating the upstairs rooms, to turn them into modern flats. The building had been around since Victorian times, and apart from piling up boxes of watches, paperweights and other knickknacks, most of it had remained untouched, and left to deteriorate. When they started knocking things through - and leaving wonderfully oddball shapes in the floor and walls - all of this beautiful decay was uncovered, and so I got my camera out...

   Back when I had that job, I hadn't learned how to make films (as you can probably tell from my blurred photography and dodgy framing!). In fact, I was then in the process of selecting which universities to apply to, to study film production. But all the same, I looked at those crumbling walls, original fireplaces, wartime furniture and decayed wallpaper, and I was filled with inspiration - not just for set design, but for stories in general. I haven't used this inspiration yet, but it's good to keep things stored up for the right moment - and maybe, by sharing these images, I've inspired some of you guys too.


p.s. None of these beautiful dusty rooms exist any more. The flats were completed in early 2007, done up with clean white walls, and were soon let out to tenants. But you can still visit the shop, which occupies the ground floor of the building. It's in my old hometown of Belper.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Wolves On Film!

Introducing our fluffy addition to the Songbird cast! Photo credit: Forged Films

    Last weekend I was finally able to reveal (through a series of beautiful photos by Forged Films) the fact that we had a live wolf on the set of Songbird. Known to us as Sawyer, this furry addition to the cast was great to have around; although he played a fearsome character - whom Jennifer encounters on her journey through the woods - in real life Sawyer is a big softy who brightened up the crew after a long day of lugging kit over hills.

   So I've decided to do this fun blog post in honour of Sawyer, starting with a few facts:

- Firstly, no Sawyer is not 100% wolf. As far as I know, keeping a pet wolf in this country is severely frowned upon. But he is as close as you can get to owning one: his breed is Tamaskan (which is Inuit for 'mighty wolf') and he's much bigger than your average husky.

- One of Sawyer's owners is Alison Heath, the woman responsible for making The Collector's main costume. Most of us weren't aware of Alison's amazing pet when we brought her on board, but as soon as she told us about Sawyer, a part was written for him.

Photo credit: Forged Films
- Sawyer is a survivor. He was the only one of his litter to make it, and a vet predicted that he wouldn't live more than a year. However, at five years old, Sawyer is still going strong - although his left leg is now mostly metal due to a hit and run accident when he was seven months old.

- Due to his surprising stamina as a puppy, Sawyer's breeder named him 'Blufawn Easter Miracle', which is still his stage name. His owners renamed him Tom Sawyer, and he is frequently tormented by another pet of theirs, a continental giant rabbit called Huckleberry Finn!

- Although Songbird will be Sawyer's first movie credit, he is an experienced model, having appeared in various wolf-themed photoshoots. He also appeared in a promotional tour of one of the Twilight films. What a star!

   Sawyer's involvement in Songbird made me think about other cinematic wolves. It's easy to ring off a list of movies with wolves in - the first that spring to my mind are The Company of Wolves, Red Riding Hood, various classic werewolf movies and even the amazing animated wolf scene in Beauty and the Beast

   What's more challenging, however, is trying to think of wolfy appearances in another of my favourite mediums: music videos. I genuinely struggled for a while to find some notable examples - particularly as the videos for Hungry Like The Wolf and Hounds of Love do not contain dogs of any kind! But, after a bit of research, here are my top five wolfy music videos (and thank you to everyone who helped contribute to this list!):

5) Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Heads Will Roll

   Probably one of the coolest, quirkiest music videos of all time; those long takes are luscious. But it didn't rank higher on my list because the wolfy creature in it is played by a human (so therefore its rating is only 'slightly wolfy')!

4) First Aid Kit - Wolf

   A band I could listen to all day; this video is wonderfully tribal, and features a lot of great wolf imagery, but no appearances from the animals themselves (rating: fairly wolfy).

3) Kyla La Grange - Been Better

   One of my favourite artists, and this video actually features one of my favourite music video sets of all time. There's an earlier recording of this song and a video to go with it, which I also love, but in this version, Kyla has a real live wolf as her dinner guest! (rating: rather wolfy)

2) Taylor Swift - Out of the Woods

   This video is absolutely full of fairytale imagery, and if you can stomach obvious CG, it's a glorious one to watch. Among all the dangerous things Taylor encounters in the woods (as does Jennifer in Songbird) there's a fair few wolves lurking in the shadows, including a wonderously ferocious-looking wolf around the 0:27 mark. It very nearly made my top spot - it's only the fact that the wolves are mainly animated that stopped it from placing there. (Rating: pretty darn wolfy).

1) Evanescence - Call Me When You're Sober

   Every outcast teenage girl's favourite band in the noughties, this was a relatively later offering from the band, and it's full of red riding hood symbolism. And while Kyla only had the one wolf to dinner, Amy Lee is flanked by them - and they're played by genuine animal actors! Plus her dining table is much bigger, and she has a brief flying scene. What joy! (Rating: properly wolfy!)


   What do you think of my selection? Have I missed any great wolf-filled music videos? If so, let me know - I'd love to see some more!

   In summary, whether in feature films, shorts, television or music videos, wolves bring an instant symbolism and a great sense of ancient fantasy. You cannot see one without picturing them running through the trees of a forest, or howling at the moon. And it is so incredible that Sawyer's brief appearance has brought all this to Songbird. The first cut of the film is nearly complete, and I can't wait to show you guys the trailer within the next couple of months!


Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Stories from the Set: Goo Goo Dolls 'Over and Over'

Screenshot of Emmeline Kellie in our Goo Goo Dolls music video entry

   It has definitely been a roller-coaster week. As well as my constant editing work on Songbird (on top of the 'day job' edits), Night Owls - my previous short film - is now an award-winner! We scooped two awards at Sunday's LA Film Awards - Best Actor for Jonny McPherson (supremely deserved) and an honorary mention in the drama category. Then, at the time of writing this blog post, I have literally just discovered that the film won Best Cinematography from Festigious Film Festival, presented to my long-time collaborator and friend, Neil Oseman

   And yet, even with all that going on, this time last week, I directed and edited another music video... in less than 48 hours!

   This came about for two reasons: firstly because I've followed Talenthouse for a while, and I try to jump on their creative invites for music videos whenever possible. And secondly because I've been looking for an opportunity to work with actor Emmeline Kellie for a while. She now owns her own production company, Siskamedia, and it looked like a good opportunity to do a full blown collaboration project. With another of my regular collaborators, DP Chris Newman, on board, we had a good team from the start.

   Since I'd spotted Talenthouse's opportunity to create a music video for the Goo Goo Dolls quite late on into the competition (damn you, junk mail box), we had the hard task of finding an idea that played to our creative strengths, with limited time and budget, whilst also telling a story that suited the track itself. This was a bit of a case of trial and error, but eventually we decided to explore the idea of looking at a the time before an argument, before someone was miserable, and rewinding the images to go back to that happy place.

   This gave us the opportunity to work with not only reversed footage, but also slow-motion, to add an extra visual layer to the video without too much extra time and expense. This did effect our camera and format choices, though - with minimal time left for the edit, 4K slow-mo footage would have taken too long to log and render, so we opted for trusted 1080p. It also meant that Chris' weapon of choice, the beautiful Canon C500 & Odyssey combo we used on Songbird, had to be temporarily shelved. So he brought in another camera operator for the shoot, a man we all know as 'Justin Fantastic', who brought his Sony A7S & FS7 into the mix, which better suited our needs in this occasion.

One happy group shot at the end of the shoot day (photo by Emmeline).

   As usual, I was blessed with a wonderful cast. Not only Emmeline herself (who was on double duty as lead actor and producer, and also spent the majority of the shoot running or covered in water!), but also Benji Taylor, who played against her beautifully in the argument scenes, and our great supporting actors, Adei Bundy and Anita Dashwood - and the gorgeous, albeit excitable dog Ceaser, acommpanied by owner (and local actor) Katie Ward. We were also blessed with some beautiful locations, once again returning to Matlock (shout out to Emmeline for finding us that quarry!); the only downside was that we were held up in severe, unpredictable traffic on the way to the second half of the shoot, but we quickly made back the time we lost.

   Chris was the first to suggest that we shot the argument scene simultaneously on two cameras. On a practical level, this was because we knew we only had a day to shoot the film, and we needed to get a lot of coverage in a small space of time. On a personal level, I was particularly excited to try this because I know that's how they shot the majority of Blue Valentine, and I knew it would help to enhance the raw and intimate quality of the argument scenes. It's a wonderful technique, and it went as smoothly as I'd hoped, so I'll definitely be trying that again in the future.

My edit suite for the production. I wish I could've kept it!

   Due to the crew's busy schedules (mine included), the only time we were free to shoot was two days before the deadline - leaving us with only one day to edit (or slightly over that if you converted it into American time). I was on editing duty again, but Alex Stroud - Emmeline's neighbour and one of the biggest assets to the local film community I've discovered recently - lent me his gorgeous edit suite for the day, then came in and did a beautiful grade on the film when my eyelids were starting to droop.

   There's lots of specific things I could talk about to do with this film (like the way slow-motion water droplets can be graded to look like fireworks!), but the best way to make you aware of all this is to show you the film itself. So here it is:

   The winner is chosen by Warner Bros Records and Goo Goo Dolls themselves, so it's not open to a public decision. But if you want to support the film, please give it a like on Talenthouse  - or log-in via Facebook if you don't want to create a profile.

  And wish us luck!


Sunday, 2 October 2016

Stories from the Set: Scribble Victory Unplugged

Scribble Victory in their damp but acoustically-pleasing location! Photo by I C Things.

    ICYMI, Derby based musical duo Scribble Victory (who have previously featured on BBC Introducing) recently released a music video that was created for them by my company, Triskelle Pictures. Scribble were one of a handful of great artists who contributed original songs to the Night Owls soundtrack, and I've wanted to make a music video for them ever since. It was the least I could do.

    This was one of the rare occasions on a shoot where the location was chosen before the client. My frequent collaborator Ian Cudmore discovered the location, and because of its potential, we pitched it to Scribble as part of a package deal: a music video from Triskelle combined with a photo shoot from Ian's own company, I C Things Photography.

    I'm a big fan of the Mahogany Sessions - a series of YouTube videos where great artists perform live versions of their songs in unusual locations, so we tried to achieve something similar with this video. This meant that Ian was actually on double duties: he recorded the music live on the day, and mixed it for the video, as well as taking photographs. 

   One half of the location - the wider and, in my opinion, more visual half - featured a large open vent alongside one wall, and traffic noises clearly came through there. So we recorded the main audio for the video in the second half of the location, which was a much smaller space, fully enclosed... and completely underground...

Pacman Bokeh is coming for you...

    Because this was a small, low-budget video project, I was on camera duty again. For this reason I kept the shots very simple but made sure there were plenty of them, for a more exciting edit, and I did some very basic techniques to add interest to the images like focus pulls and shallow focus to create bokeh (the smaller location was filled with fairy lights and little LEDs, on request from Scribble, and those looked really cool). Some of the soft-focus shots of these lights caused weird e-shaped circles on the camera, prompting Ian to coin the term #PacmanBokeh.

    Because I'm not a DP - nor will I ever pretend to be one - I'm not going to go into a detailed breakdown of how I shot the film, but I will say that it was entirely lit with battery powered LED panel lights. LED panels are best used to enhance and support existing light sources, rather than fully lighting a location from scratch, but they were really handy in this scenario; because we were underground, there were no power outlets anywhere, and battery powered lights were the only way to go.

    Apart from the lack of light, the other issue with the location was the fact that it was literally flooding as we were filming. It was raining heavily all day, and water was dripping through (again, another good reason for using battery powered lights rather than having trailing cables!). Our feet were starting to get a bit damp by the end of the shoot, but the water did really add something. At 01:30 in the video you can see a shot where one of the little LEDs is completely reflected in the wet floor, and you can hear some atmospheric dripping in the background of the audio track - particularly at the start and the finish - which really suited the sombre tone of the song.

   So, the music and the location may have had moody elements, but the Scribble Victory boys were a joy to work with. When all their hard work was done, they loved nothing more than using Ian's photography skills to capture them laughing and mucking around together, almost completely vetoing the usual 'posed band photos'. They are a talented but really fun pair, and I hope I get the chance to work with them again - ideally on a higher budget video so that I can offer them the benefit of a full crew.

    The video is on Scribble Victory's Facebook page now, and will appear on their YouTube channel in the near future.


Monday, 29 August 2016

Songbird: I Can See Clearly Now The Rain Has Gone

Shooting the dreaded 'scene 17'... (photo credit: Robert Brown)

  Back in December 2015, writer Tommy Draper, producer Laura C. Cann and I had a sudden surge of interest in Songbird - and from that moment on, it seemed to take up most of our time. It was the biggest project my team and I had attempted since Stop/Eject, and my biggest undertaking as a director so far (multiple locations! Multiple actors! Magic! Aaah!). Even though we were working on it constantly, over several months, it always seemed as though there was lots to do. I thought I would never be ready for it - but now, all of a sudden, the shoot is in the past.

   In spite of a couple of last-minute line-up changes (something which seems to be inevitable with indie filmmaking), we started the shoot in very fine spirits, mixing some seriously quality work with constant laughter, hugs and innuendos. Apart from a mid-week blip where the weather slowed us down (we were out in 30 degree sunshine with minimal shade), it seemed as though things were running so smoothly that I'd love the shoot as much as Night Owls.

  But Friday and scene 17 were always looming on the horizon; Scene 17 was a complicated and long outdoor scene (it takes up almost half of the screenplay) and we knew how challenging it was going to be. Then, to make things even more difficult, the weather decided to turn again - just for that shoot day - and we were met with torrential rain. We had to buy a last minute supply of ponchos, groundsheet and gazebo just to avoid cancelling altogether. But the rain came in fast and heavy, occasionally going sideways, and the gazebo - originally our only source of shelter - started to flood. 

   Everyone was exhausted, and - understandably - tempers grew short. My brain was so fried, thinking about each shot felt like trying to assemble a jigsaw in oven gloves (whilst soaked). There were a few times when I had to bark, "just keep going! Keep filming!" through the rain. From the word go, it was one of the most difficult days of my career - so much so that it took me a little while to look back at the shoot with the positivity I started out with.

Directing Janet Devlin. (Photo credit: I C Things)
   However, a few sleeps later, I see it as the brilliant shoot it was. The word 'family' has been used amongst the crew a few times, which always fills me with such happiness; people supported each other throughout the shoot, and often went beyond the call of duty (shout out to 3rd AD Demetri Yiallourou and his team for doing that every day). Old partnerships were made stronger, and new bonds were formed - one particular example is the friendship I made with Production Designer Charlotte Ball. I often struggle to delegate art department duties, but I already miss her frequent evening messages, saying things like "which of these white sofas do you prefer?" and "is this nightie subtle enough?" I hope that our paths will cross again.

  Above all, having had the opportunity to direct Janet Devlin was a clear highlight. As I'd been a fan of hers for a few years, I was really looking forward to working with her, and she didn't disappoint. If anyone was wondering whether or not she can act, let me confirm this for you; she bloody can!

   Every time I direct a film, I learn something new - and I like to pass those lessons on to you guys. So, before I ramble on any further about the film in general, here's five things I learnt from the Songbird shoot:

1) You need to learn to drown out the background noise

   On the days leading up to the shoot, I genuinely lost sleep worrying about directing my first ever outdoor scenes. I didn't think I'd be able to lead my actors through difficult scenes with the constant distractions of disgruntled public, disrupted businesses and forests with certain strict location requirements. But, as another great director promised it would, all those worries faded away when I was on set; with a good producer and ADs to worry about location logistics, all you can see is your actors.

   However, one thing I can't ignore is the distress of my crew. As I said, Friday was very difficult, and at the slightest hint that any member of my team was unhappy, my brain crumbled. Challenging shoots happen sometimes, and as a director, it's good to play the leader and care about your crew. But there's a reason the director should always try to rehearse with the actors away from the crew, and join them on set when any technical issues have been sorted. You need to be in a distraction-free zone when you're creating a character together.

2) Don't forget about your Sound Guys (even when they're camouflaged!)

Spot the sound guy! (Photo credit: Charlie Clarke)
   Bringing sound recordist Rob Brown onto the production early on gave him the opportunity to join us on location recces,  and I learnt how invaluable that process can be for planning your sound recording in advance. On reflection, there really aren't many stages you shouldn't invite your sound guy to: inviting them along to rehearsals will save time on set, because they can pre-plan their levels. And when you're running through each scene or shot with your cast and DP, don't forget to include your sound guy in this conversation!

   Also, I still have the bad habit of calling 'cut' before an end board. It's very easy to do when you're caught up in the scene - but my apologies again to Rob and his boom operators, Johann Chipol and Laura Clough, for the times when I did this!

3) You need to learn about every little area of production - not just the 'main things'

   My main focus when I'm directing is my actors and, because of my background, the art department elements of the film. I also think a lot about the edit, more so than I used to. Many directors think about the camera above most things, and while this still isn't my strongest point, I try to make up for it with detailed storyboards and lengthy cinematographer meetings.

   However, as a director, you need to think about other areas you may not immediately think of. Here's an example: during makeup tests one late summer night, I kept making suggestions like 'I want her skin to look more sallow' and 'try adding more sealing powder to mute the colours'. A few less-than-successful tests later, MUA Charlotte Price politely but firmly informed me that sallow means yellow, not thin and saggy, and sealing powder is completely transparent. If I'd just known a little bit more about makeup  (I know practically nothing) it would've saved us a fair bit of time. (So my second apology of this blog post goes to Charlotte, who did a wonderful job in spite of my ignorance!)

A sneak preview of the raw Songbird footage! (Photo credit: Motion Click Productions)

4) If in doubt, try it anyway!

   In an ideal world, I would've loved a few hours to myself to just sit with the script and get myself into a proper 'director mindset'; and DP Chris Newman and I would've cherished the time it takes to plan every shot down to the exact Fstop. The reality is that most of the crew have day jobs to work around, even those based in film, and often the only time we had to plan schedules and have meetings was late at night.

   We planned everything we could, in as much detail as possible, but there were one or two shots I really wanted to try that we didn't have chance to test in advance. We tried them anyway; one of these shots ended up being my favourite of the film, and it will probably be the stand-out moment of the trailer.

   Sometimes things just happen the way they mean to. Sometimes you accidentally catch the corner of a light in shot, and it floods the image with what looks like beautiful sunlight. Sometimes you realise you can cover two shots in one through an accidental reposition of the camera. Spontaneity can sometimes be your friend, and it's something that's suited this project since the start.

   The same goes with rehearsals. I always love to rehearse with my actors, and we had an extra day to rehearse the most complicated scenes of the film ahead of the shoot. But sometimes on the day the schedule gets a bit tight, and you need to keep moving. It's not ideal, but in this scenario what I did (and recommend) is shooting the rehearsal as your first take. Explain to the actors that it doesn't count as a proper take, and they immediately become more relaxed. You will undoubtedly have to go for a second take, but there's always something you can use from the first take, even if it's just knowledge on how to do a camera move differently.

And finally, 5) if your shoot is a week long, book the following week off as well!

   The day after Songbird, I mostly slept. After that, I shot a music video, then I went back to the corporate film day job.  But films on Songbird's scale involve a massive clean-up operation afterwards: sorting and paying invoices, returning kit and art department items to the people that lent them to you, and so on and so forth. If you don't leave time for these mundane but important activities, or if you don't have someone to sort them for you, then it will be a long time before you can settle down to watch the rushes, and enjoy the fruits of your labour.

All smiles towards the start of the Songbird shoot (photo credit: Motion Click Productions)
   So there we have it - everything I learnt from directing my most challenging but potentially brilliant piece to date. I'm not put off directing one bit, as I'm still dying to direct a feature, but I probably need to direct another film on Songbird's scale to build up my stamina first.

   In the meantime, there's the Songbird edit to keep me busy, and we'll be releasing new BTS photos from the shoot every Sunday, so keep your eyes on the Triskelle Pictures Facebook page to see those. There's also the aforementioned music video, which is soon to be released, and some other smaller projects in the pipeline.

   My final word for now is to everyone who worked/laughed/endured/swam their way through the Songbird shoot. Each of you were brilliant, and all of you will stay in my heart. And I will never again hear the word 'moist' without thinking of you.


Monday, 13 June 2016

Burn the Witch (stereotypes)!

Meryl Streep's witch in Into The Woods is one of the most recent cinematic iterations

    As soon as I read Tommy Draper's first draft for Songbird, I knew that tackling a witch character was going to be an interesting challenge. There's so many images that spring to mind, and there's no concept that hasn't already been done to death in films and literature. So finding a way to present a new witch character is going to be tricky - and doing that while still paying homage to beloved witch characters of the past is going to be even harder.

Snow White's crone: The face that
terrified a generation
   When someone talks about aged, fantasy witches, the first image that always springs to mind for me is the crone in Disney's Snow White. Hunched, heavily wrinkled and with deep, dark rings around her buggy eyes. This is an image that scared a generation; a figure that is immediately terrifying - and immediately pitiable, too. When Snow White meets her, although she is frightened by the crone's appearance, she is sweet and polite to her because she believes her to be a harmless, little old lady.

   And that's one of the core themes in Snow White. Snow is young and beautiful. The evil queen is ageing - and when she becomes the old crone, it is her worst fears brought to life. She cries out when she sees her hands wither and wrinkle. Because, good and bad aside, Snow White has always been a fairytale about age, and the appearance that comes with it. While the childlike Snow White is loved, when the (solitary) Evil Queen becomes the crone, people are repulsed by her - and they believe she has no power.

  There's similar themes to address in Songbird. The witch, (who was - poignantly in this case - known just as 'Old Woman' for many drafts of the script), is surrounded by young, arrogant people who don't appreciate things the way that she does. At least, that's what it looks like from her perspective. But interestingly enough, while our witch is still a solitary character, so is our hero; Jennifer is shy, and prefers to hide away in her little flat.

   The witch that terrified me most as a child was The Grand High Witch from Roald Dahl's The Witches. I don't mean the movie version; Quentin Blake's deceptively simple line drawings left so much to the imagination that all sorts of images of the Grand High Witch's terrible face flashed into my young mind. I couldn't even be in the same room as the book for a time! But I plan on revisiting that childhood fear, particularly when discussing the make-up style for our witch.

Robert Eggers' The Witch goes
back to nature
   The other thing that was scary about the Grand High Witch was the way that she was able to move around undetected in public, her true nature masked (literally) by beauty and superiority. Although our witch won't change her face at any point, she does need to be able to appear in public, at a crowded bar nonetheless, receiving little more than the odd judgmental look from the younger patrons. How we achieve this will mostly be down to what she wears in these scenes, and the dignity with which she carries herself. She will be somewhere between the terrifying true face of the Grand High Witch, and the glamorous persona.

   Traditionally, when you look back over old fairytales, witches were never glamorous. They were ancient, feral creatures that lived outdoors - which is something that Robert Eggers has recently gone back to for his iteration in The Witch, and we want to homage those traditional witches as well as more Hollywood move staples.

   The Collector in Songbird has a lair in the forest, and we need to make it look as though this is where she is from - where she feels most comfortable and confident of success. So we need to capture this connection with nature; there will be a costume change for the forest scenes, but we also need to suggest that she cannot fully shake off her roots (perhaps literally as well as figuratively) when she's out in public. Costume and hair design will play a subtle part in this, but it's also very much down to performance.

   Taking all of the above into account, there's a lot of challenges in terms of the writing, direction, costume and makeup choices for this character. But casting is the most crucial decision of all, and I'm very lucky because my team and I have found the perfect person for the part: Julia Damassa.
The beguiling Julia Damassa

   When you first look at Julia, it's hard to imagine an old woman, so makeup will still play an important role there. But when Julia speaks, her voice and the way she moves gives a sense of otherworldly depth about her. Even more importantly, she showed an incredible understanding of the character from the word go, expressing some great ideas I hadn't considered before (like how The Collector processed sounds rather than listening to them, like she was mentally 'trying on' the voices). And when I asked her to find a monologue away from the script, something which summed up the nature of the character, she performed two pieces of powerful, masculine dialogue from The Tempest and Wuthering Heights. I was sold.

   In conclusion, there's still a lot of work to do if we want our witch to work in a modern, believable setting whilst still being respectful to the movie witches that have gone before. But with talent like this on board, I think we have the best chance of being successful.

Get a sneak preview of Julia's voice talents in the Songbird Teaser Trailer!

   For more information on Songbird, check out the designated page on the Triskelle Pictures website. To support the production (and pre-order a copy of the film in the process), please donate to our Indiegogo campaign. And, as ever, you can follow the Triskelle Pictures Facebook page for news and updates as they happen.


Saturday, 11 June 2016

A Rush of Dust to the Head

   My team and I have just released a rather odd little video on the Triskelle Pictures Facebook page. Whilst it's fairly amusing, I don't know if it's 100% self-explanatory, so I've written this blog post as a companion piece.

   As stated in the video, there's a scene in Songbird where the witch character (played by Julia Damassa) steals Jennifer's (Janet Devlin) voice by blowing magic dust into her face. Production Designer Charlotte Ball and I initially thought this could be done using practical effects, but there was always a health risk with blowing things near/into a person's eyes. So we knew we'd have to test this out well in advance, and I (somewhat foolishly) volunteered to be the test subject. Watch the video above to see how this turned out for me!

Charlotte's concept art for the 'dust scene' in Songbird
   For the practical and physical tests, we used things that were edible (such as flour, icing sugar and a gluten free option too) to minimise the health risks. A couple of the ingredients left scratchy feelings in my throat, but they didn't leave any lasting damage; the main issue was trying to close my eyes on cue, and acting like I wasn't expecting the attack!

   We also tried doing this scene with some old-school VFX screen techniques, for which Charlotte would blow the dust samples in front of a black screen; the black would then be removed in post, and replaced with footage of my 'shocked' face as the dust appeared to hit it:

Above: various FX layer experiments we've done for this scene, and the original layer at the top. Please excuse my double chin from this angle - it's all in the name of art!!

   This technique is going to take a little perfecting. Removing the black without making Charlotte see-through required a mix of screen blend on the opacity, chromakey, and cutting her out of the image with a mask and key frames - sometimes all at once! But we've nearly cracked it, and this method worked better than our practical tests because it gave us more freedom to use whichever materials looked best on camera, whilst still being completely safe for the actors involved.

   Want to enable us to do more crazy experiments for the sake of making a great film? Then sponsor Songbird on Indiegogo today!