Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Spotting Ghost Trains on a Disposable Camera

Hi Guys,

    A shoot happened this weekend - I signed onto it in a second and it was over in a flash, but it was a lovely chance to work with Neil Oseman and co again, and to pay another visit to sunny Hereford.
    Made as an entry into this year's Virgin Media Shorts competition, Ghost Train Spotting featured two characters and one location, so it wouldn't be a massive challenge for me to take on all of the film's design. Of course, no film is ever as straight forward as it sounds, and I still found myself running round like a headless chicken last minute, but none of it was exactly difficult.
Eli Duckett

   The main prop I had to focus on was the lead character, Norman's, glasses. In the script these had to be old fashioned and thick, bottle-bottom types, so I was instantly inspired by those of near-blind Eli Duckett in Last of the Summer Wine (one of my favourite TV shows in its prime). Finding suitable reading glasses in a small space of time proved difficult (particularly male ones) and we couldn't use prescription ones in case they gave the actor a headache. 

My Dad in his 1970s glasses
     But luckily I come from a primarily bespectacled family with decades' worth of old frames in sideboard drawers - so I was able to borrow two pairs of my Dad's vintage glasses (since the second character also needed a pair), pop the lenses out, and create new ones out of perspex.

   To make Norman's glasses extra thick, I doubled up the perspex lenses that I made. At that point they looked good, but too new-looking. Plus, as Eli's glasses prove, in order for glasses to look nerdy and comical, they also need to look difficult to see out of. So I added some scratches to the perspex with wire wool, then coated the back in superglue. This was then scrubbed with nail varnish remover, polished with silver polish, and even sent to a jewellers' for buffing to create an all-over cloudy finish. I left extra thick lines of superglue at the edge of the lenses to create the desired thick, bottle-bottom effect.
Playing Dress-Up!

    The other prop which required particular attention was Norman's trainspotting book. For this - as per usual - I started with a new book, which I got cheap from a charity store, then had to make it look well-used, as though he took it everywhere with him, whatever weather. The book I got was a general guide to privatised railways so I had to create a list of trains for Norman to tick it off, and make it in exactly the same font and lay-out as the other pages, then stick it into the book.

    A general, all-over vintage brown colour was added to the book by leaving it in cold tea for a few minutes. I then put it in the oven to add further (dis)colouring, and to make it more brittle - plus it needed drying out after the tea. It took a few attempts to make the new pages match the old ones, by which point it had been in the oven five times and the spine was melted completely, so I had to glue it back together and finish ageing the new pages with watercolour. The outside cover and spine also had to be weathered.

Question: How many times do you need to bake a book until it's done?

Answer: Five, with a remainder of tea!
Dead Flower Bunches

   Another thing I had to get for the film, apart from the costumes, was bunches of dead flowers. I won't tell you what they were for (watch the film to find out) but these were achieved by me picking wild flowers and dead sead-heads, and putting them together to look like bunches.

   This also meant that I had to carry a load of dead plants amongst the three bags I had on the train, so I looked a bit like a crazy person, and I constantly had seed heads tickling my legs throughout the three-hour trip. But it's better than the last time I travelled from Hereford, when I had to take a certain coffee table with me...

    So, I got everything done on time, and once I was in Hereford, I decided to try a little project of my own. I'd had a disposable camera in my possession for a while, waiting for something to use it on; something special enough to be worth using the camera on, but not so important that I had to be careful of everything I took. This one-day shoot, in an abandoned railway location, bathed in June sunshine, seemed perfect. The camera only allowed for about 12 photos to the roll of film, but since Katie Lake was photographing the whole day anyway, this wasn't a problem.
Retro Director!

   The disposable camera experiment was a good one, although it took me a couple of minutes to remember how to use it (and how annoying it is to keep winding the wheel before every photo). Other down sides were of course the flash button (and how badly indoor photos came out without it, even when it seemed light enough), and the fact that the viewfinder lied about how wide the lens was, causing me to crop people out of the frame on a couple of occasions.

    But all in all I'm happy with the results, particularly how timeless they look, and I'll particularly treasure the little set of negative 35mm strips which came with them. You don't get that with digital prints, after all!

   Here are the results, good and bad, for you to enjoy:


Actors George McCluskey and Rob Ashman in their costumes, both with flash disasters!

Our awesome Transportation for the Day

Neil's 'Stand By Me' moment

AD Katie Lake sets up catering in a clearing

George in character as the rail guard.


Neil directs DOP Colin Smith

Shooting a Scene

Colin, Neil, and the fire at the end of my film roll!

   Ghost Train Spotting will be online soon, so make sure you vote for it in the Virgin Media Shorts competition.

   As for me, I'm going back to the digital camera for now, and I've got more podcast editing for Stop/Eject to do, so it's time to crack on!

Sophie x

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Stop/Eject blog 3: Yippie-ki-yay, it's the EPK!

Hello Everybody!

    And special hellos to my two new blog followers, Jess and Debs Bennett - the latter of which is an amazing MUA and frequent creative collaborator.  You can check out her work on her website or, if you're feeling particularly nice, you can even vote for her to win an Elle internship. Just follow this link and click 'like' below her section.


   It seems odd, looking back nearly eight months, to when I was just a plucky young Production Designer, brimming with enthusiasm to be working for Neil Oseman for the first time, and Stop/Eject was little more than a box of props and set dressing in my hall, waiting for a shoot that didn't happen.

Stop/Eject in boxes - October 2011

   I never thought that I would end up Co-Producing the project, and that the lead actress from The Worst Witch would star in it - or that the majority of the film would end up being shot inside a Victorian B&B. The whole thing flew by in a mix of excitement, exhaustion and colour - on the last day, I actually turned to Neil and said, "did we just shoot Stop/Eject? When the hell did that happen?!"

   Then all the madness slowly filtered away, everyone got some rest, and now we are in a little thing called Post-Production.

   Today's blog post comes on request from Neil, because I've been working on something recently which he thinks you guys might be interested in. After all, there's a lot of stuff that goes on behind the camera and away from the sewing machine, and a lot of which isn't exactly glamorous, so I suppose it is time for me to shed light on those areas.

   One such area which is neither glamorous nor creative, but is important all the same, is the Stop/Eject Electronic Press Kit - or EPK. This is different to a regular Press Kit because all the promotional material is on disks rather than including printed post-cards/posters etc, and is aimed entirely at broadcasters. As Co-producers, Neil and I make sure to delegate and share the workload, and I think I genuinely may have offered to do the EPK because I knew the technical term and wanted to sound a bit clever! However, after almost a month of working on little else, the term 'EPK' has started to lose all meaning.

   The Electronic Press Kit is an important part of post-production because we use it to send to relative news programmes and television shows, in the hope that they will do a feature on our film. There's a lot of things which can be put into it - and in some cases it's down to choice and what you think will best promote your film - but I got my checklist from Chris Gore's Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide, which I've been using as a guidebook. Actually it's a corking book, and very useful, so I recommend that you get a copy. But, in the meantime, here is his checklist for EPK assemblage, and my notes on each:

              1. Two Trailers - one with music and one without. This is mainly in case they want to show the trailer but are fearful of copyright infringement with the music. We included just the one copy of the trailer, with music, because the sound track (not the score) is still in early days and it might feel seem somewhat exposed without the music. If you have the same concerns then you can do what we did and include a copy of the license agreement for your music, so that they feel safe to use it. If you haven't got clearance for your music - what are you doing? Go and get some at once! And if you can't, you lose all chance of having your trailer played anywhere that gets attention, and you're wasting valuable promotional opportunities.
          Another reason to only include one trailer is that ours came with a swanky little pitch video, so there's two videos included in the package already!

              2. Selected Scenes - basically this is an opportunity for you to put in the best scenes of the film to show how great your film is, or to show the general style and tone of your film (if your trailer hasn't done this enough for you). But of course, you do run the risk of giving away too much too soon. We didn't include any scenes in our EPK because ours is to promote the trailer and the final funding campaign, rather than a finished film (yes, this does mean there may be a second EPK at later date).

              3. A Making-Of Featurette - Gore says that this is optional but I LOVE behind the scenes footage. No news room is going to want to show a full making-of in a small report, but including a snippet of one can entice them in (a person at a planning desk is still 'your audience', after all) and make them want to do their own piece on the film. Particularly when targeting local news, clips of their best scenery with film crews working on them - and looking all professional - will basically spell out the story for them. So we didn't include a full Making-of, but I did include a happy little montage of the crew assembling the alcove and equipment in the Rivergardens, taken straight from the first podcast. Lovely Belper Scenery: check. Crew looking professional and hard at work: check.

             4. B-roll Footage - again, optional, but I recommend it more than anything. If you weren't lucky enough to have a news crew capturing your activity whilst you were still on set (and, let's be honest, you'd have to have quite a name for yourself for that to happen, and in that case you probably wouldn't want them there), then sending your own behind-the-scenes footage is only way for that to be featured in the report. News stories about films being made, particularly by independent filmmakers in local areas, are often character-driven and at least half made-up by behind the scenes footage. In conclusion, don't submit clips of the director looking thoughtful and saying 'action', or the actors rehearsing a scene in front of a nice camera, and you probably won't get a story! Again, any clips you do send should be relevant to the people you're sending it too, so the majority of ours showed the Belper/Matlock streets and landmarks being used.

             5. Interviews - and here is where the second half of a character-driven news report comes from. Companies like the BBC will always shoot their own interviews, as a rule, but submitting your own interview clips will show them the type of thing the cast/crew would say in an interview, and suggests that they are in fact worth interviewing! Even better, get a clip of them saying something along the lines of "the local area is brilliant etc" then it shows the crew will have relevant things to say for the local news channels, and that we might even make them look good - it gives them a sample sound bite and hopefully shows that the programme will get some good publicity in return.
    I put the interview clips in order of relevance to who I was sending to, assuming that the news crew will lose interest towards the end - that's a good rule with anything like this, actually. Put your best stuff first - these people are very busy and might not even have chance to see all of it, even if they want to, so you have to snare them in quick. So the clip of Neil talking about how lovely it was to film in the East Midlands went right towards the top. The majority of the interview snippets came from Neil and Georgina, being our main attractions, but I also included a clip of myself from an early podcast, purely because I was talking about the locations and showing how beautiful they looked.

          6. Promotional Images  -  just as with a regular press kit, it is important to include  your poster, logo, website screenshot etc., only in this case in a digital format. If you're lucky, your logo may even be used in the background when the newsreader headlines your story, so make sure it's in a high resolution! I also included a scan of our Belper News feature - the way I see it, that showed that we were already 'news worthy' and hope that it encourages further publicity.

     Yes, that is a big list, but put it all together and you'll have yourself a bonafide, well-researched-looking EPK!

Something else I recommend you have when building an EPK - strong coffee!

    At the start of the DVD, you should also include your company logo, and a disclaimer which is well-worded to discourage people from spreading your material willy-nilly without putting them off promoting it at all. 

    Before EVERY clip on the EPK, make sure you include the title of the film, the director's name, a brief description of what the clip is, and a total running time of said clip. This makes the whole thing look very corporate but is helpful for the people researching and compiling your story on the other side.

   You also have to silence the creative editor inside you, which is the part I found hardest. The clips your submit should be snappy and interesting, cutting straight to the relevant shots of people working and the local scenery looking great, or a one-sentence answer (if possible) in your interview clips. There's no room for elegant pacing here.

   One area where you can be creative, however, is in the presentation of the package itself. Don't just put the clips onto a basic disk with a note - here is an opportunity for you to show how professional and interesting your film is before they've even watched the disk, which will make them want to do so. I created the disks using Lightscribe, featuring the film's logo, and the covering letter/DVD contents sheet were made using our original posters as backgrounds. This kept everything in our colour scheme and made it looks as thought everything was designed specifically for the EPK. It's also important to ring up the news companies in advance to make initial contact; you can get addresses and numbers on the internet but you have to track down the name of the person to send the EPK directly to, to avoid it going unsorted in a forgotten pile. Plus it gets your names into the reporters' heads before the EPK arrives, and they will (hopefully) know to look out for it.

One beautiful, completed, Stop/Eject electronic press kit!
    There were some problems along the way. I sent the whole thing to Neil for him to greenlight it before it went to press, and whilst he generally liked the content, he spotted that there were too many frames per second. For the life of me, I don't know how he noticed that (the main reason is that he's been editing for nearly two decades, although I have other, extra-terrestrial theories about his eyes), but it needed sorting. 

    First off, I changed my export settings. Although your software may insist it's exporting in HD it's still good to check that it's exporting in the right regional format, no matter what format your footage says it's in. UK DVDs are always made in 25fps, so I set mine to do that, which almost solved the problem.

   There was one clip - the montage - which still had too many frames, so I had to go back to my edit of the podcast itself and check its Import settings. To cut a long story short, I have to re-edit the podcast; but you live and learn! It's a good lesson to remember - even if you're certain your settings are right, and that they are set up to be correct from your last project, it doesn't hurt to check them again. It's certainly quicker than rectifying the problem later.

    Finally this morning, the EPKs were packaged and ready to be posted:

The finished EPKs in the same spot where the Stop/Eject boxes sat eight months ago.
     This doesn't mean my work is over, by any means. You can make the best press kit in the world and still not get a story. It's up to the planners as to whether or not they find your project interesting, or if it will fit into their scheduling for whatever reason. Or the parcels could open or get broken, and your EPK might never even reach it's intended destination!

     So the promotion continues in other areas - Twitter, Facebook, local companies, specialist interest groups for Belper and Matlock, film groups, fans of The Worst Witch... anyone we can contact who might be interested will be contacted!

   And now I've told you everything I know about EPKs, and it's taken quite a long time to write. Hopefully this inspires you to pop on over to the Stop/Eject Website and show the project some love!

   I'll be back soon with the stories behind some music-videos, and more Ashes news too!

Sophie x

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Sophie on: The Wonderful Carl Cropley

Hi Guys,

   This is going to be a difficult post for me to write, but I wanted to do it - it seems wrong for recent events to go by without me talking about it, mostly just to pay tribute to a great man.

    I remember a few months ago, I was sat in a meeting with Crash Taylor in his studio, and I had a bit of a cold. Anyone who knows me knows that I get sick a lot, so much so that I don't always get sympathy for it anymore. I don't even give myself sympathy. But Carl Cropley arrived at the studio to join in the meeting - and to show us the first sample VFX he'd done for Jar of Angels. I instantly said, "Hi Carl, how are you?" to which he didn't reply, but said, "more importantly, how are you?" Because he'd seen that I was sick on Facebook, and that's the kind of selfless guy that Carl was. 

   Literally, no one could ever speak of Carl without adding the prefix of 'nice guy'. Any time I put up a new Facebook status, or shared a link to a trailer on Youtube, he would like it and comment on it straight away. He did this for everyone that he worked with, and hardly ever asked us to promote his work in return.

   We first met Carl on the Wasteland trailer shoot. It was very last minute, and we were in need of somebody to play a Zombie extra. Chrissa Wadlow (then Maund) said, "someone called Carl Cropley's been leaving us messages on Facebook, saying he wants to work for us. Let's try giving him a ring." So I rang him, he dropped everything and came down from Nottingham there and then. He was so good he even played two Zombies. We covered him in blood and put a prosphetic arrow in his eye (I did accidentally poke said eye a bit) and he didn't complain once.

   Here is Carl, as two Zombies, the day that he first came into our lives:

   While on set with us, Carl explained that he also did visual FX, under the company name 'Full of Squares', and he sent Tom Wadlow some samples of his work. It was great stuff at bargain prices, so Light Films immediately employed him to do VFX on a lot of their corporate work, and I started recommending him to lots of people I knew. Since then he's designed the logo for a film company I know called Fake Plastic Videos, and - as I said before - I got him work on Jar of Angels, not only tackling our VFX but also as an extra, playing a member of the paparazzi. He even came on location with us during the scene in the woods where Myles finally confronts Wilson. Carl came down to guide us with the VFX that we would need but he also ended up helping out in general, and he got along with everybody really well. 

Some of Carl's VFX work for Jar of Angels, dir. Crash Taylor 2011
   Here is the Jar of Angels trailer, featuring Carl's VFX work. But you won't spot where it is, because it blends so well into our existing footage: 

 Every project I've signed onto recently, Carl has somehow been attached as well. His name was down to do the final VFX for Wasteland as well as Ashes - we'd been throwing some ideas back and forth with that, so I have samples of how his work on that would look. He also had his name down to help out on the set of Stop/Eject. Then, two weeks before the shoot, I had an email from him. He had to go into hospital and couldn't make it to Stop/Eject. As always, Carl said nothing about his treatment or how he was feeling about it (I hadn't even heard he was ill by that point) but was keen to express his apologies to myself and Neil Oseman for having to miss the shoot. 

    That was the last time I ever heard from him. It wasn't until a couple of days ago that we heard Carl had in fact died.

   The Midlands creative scene is in mourning. Every good film crew feels like a family, particularly on independant productions where everyone is so tight-nit and helps each other out. If film crews are families, then it feels as though we have lost an uncle. I can't even begin to imagine how his real family is feeling right now, and my heart goes out to them.

   Sometimes, people don't have to come into your life for a very long time, or make a huge noise about themselves, to leave a lasting impact. I didn't get to know Carl very well outside of his work, and I'm not a religious person, but I hope that somehow he's seen all the kind messages and sadness left for him online, and I hope he knows how much we all cared about him.

   I have one thing from Carl that I can carry with me on my journeys to remember him by. A few months ago, during the time when I was pretty down about the slow pace of Ashes' funding campaign, Carl sent me a little surprise to cheer me up. He'd made me my very own Triskelle Pictures ident - an animatic of my logo to go before all my films. I hadn't asked him to do it or told him what kind of style I would like for the logo, but he nailed it. Perhaps that shows how well Carl could listen to people's likes and tastes. It is now the last work that Carl will have ever done for me; I may never be able to get hold of his hi-rez copy now, but I don't really care. I'm proud to have it on every one of my films all the same:

   And now I suppose there's only one thing left to do, simply because any words I write will not be full tribute to Carl. The only way to truly remember him is through his work, (he was more passionate about pixels than anyone I know), so here is the Full of Squares portfolio, including his samples for Jar of Angels and Ashes:

   Goodbye, Carl Cropley. I hope you know how much you meant to all of us.

Sophie x

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Sophie On: Styling her first Photoshoot

Hey Guys,

     I'm sat in my office today. All the local shops I need for supplies are shut, and I can't post off my finished work (bank holidays are great for the masses but can be a pain in the arse for freelance creatives), so I thought I'd do another little blog post.

    Just over a week ago, on a wonderfully hot, sunny day, I was invited to do the styling on a photoshoot. It was arranged by Chrissa Wadlow, as a showcase for her photography work and to give experience to a young model called Olivia Neave. The wonderful Deborah Bennett did the make-up, as she does on so many of our projects. Chrissa's helped me out loads since I graduated and set up my business, so I was happy to do the work for her.

   The idea of the photoshoot was to show the Derbyshire countryside, as it is and always has been, but showing that the people that live there are young, stylish and modern. Rather than buying anything new for the project, we used a mix of mine and Olivia's clothes and accessories (plus some we actually borrowed from Chrissa's young daughter, Eryn!), and I looked to Patricia Field for styling inspiration. Actually, I often look to her for inspiration. She is the Queen of mix-and-match layering, and always pushes me to take risks!

  Deb and me provided Olivia with two different looks on this shoot (I'd planned eight, but it's good to be over-prepared); one look was supposed to be an up-to-the-date urban look, in which we could pour all of the colour Chrissa desired, and the second was a mix of current trends with vintage styling, using a softer pallet. The modern look was styled with fun accessories such as sweets and a yo-yo, for added youthfulness and colour, and she carried my vintage doctor bag for the second look, so she looked a bit like a 1950s runaway (which was no bad thing)!

   1950s is easy, but for some reason, everytime I try to do 'modern' looks, I end up making the model look like something out of the 1980s. Perhaps that just shows my age (23, in case you were wondering). Still, whatever the reason, Olivia looked colourful and fun, so we were all happy with it. And it put Taylor Dayne's 'Tell it to my Heart' in my head for the entire shoot, so that's an added bonus.

   While I was on location, I couldn't resist getting some behind-the-scenes snaps, and a handful of these turned out pretty well so I thought I'd share them with you:

   The photos Chrissa got that day turned out really well, and I'm looking forward to seeing them when they're edited and finished. After that, they should hopefully be on display in Derbyshire as a mini collection, so I'll be sure to keep you all updated on that.

  Sophie x