Sunday, 17 November 2013

Stories from the Set: Sheena Holland Promotional Video

Cleo Kinsey-Lyons in one of Sheena Holland's bespoke pieces

  Hey Guys,

   Well, this is a rare thing; two blog posts in the space of two days! But I haven't been posting much lately, and it's something I want to make up for when I'm free to do so - particularly if it deters the barrage of spam comments I get when I leave this blog unattended. To said spammers; this blog is still active, and I do not appreciate your garbage!

Photo of the crew by Sheena Holland
    Although most of my intended client videos have now been pushed back to 2014, leaving me time to focus on Night Owls and two other fiction films I'm attached to, I did produce one promotional video recently. Back in September, myself, cinematographer Lucy Young, and stunning model Cleo Kinsey-Lyons, created a little video for the wonderful Sheena Holland.

   It was a relatively easy shoot. We started early (although I'd been working until 1am the night before, so I was beyond shattered) and finished by lunch time, all the while working to a schedule which worked around Sheena's loyal clientele; the shop had to remain open, so I'd planned for shots which captured the entire shop interior to be done first, before the shop got too busy, even if this meant shooting the 'story' of the film out of sequence.

   Of course, cinematographer Lucy was in no way restrained by my schedule. She is a talent beyond her years, and certainly one to watch, although with her youth comes unquenchable enthusiasm; I'd be setting up the lights for the next scheduled shot, or Cleo would be changing costume, by which point Lucy would've got five or so unplanned cutaways which she'd been inspired to capture in the moment. So I certainly had plenty of footage to work with in the edit!

Me slating up in Sheena's lovely little shop

   We did have some minor issues to overcome, as no shoot ever runs perfectly. The main problem was the lighting. I knew the post-production effects would require bright images, with fairly flat shadows, and the natural lighting wasn't bright enough to achieve this. But, due to the size of the shop, it was difficult to turn on my redheads (a naturally bold, yellow-coloured light at the best of times) without washing out the room. Sometimes, the shop would look perfectly lit... but the moment Cleo stepped forwards, her face would burst on the screen, and her cheeks disappear in the overexposure. It was such a pain. But we worked with it the best we could, opting for a two-point lighting system rather than three-point (which was more than enough) and plenty of greaseproof paper layered over the lights.

   Yes, greaseproof paper. A budget marvel! I've been using it since I started out filming as a teenager, and I'm sure I'll buy some proper diffuser at some point soon. But if you don't have any diffuser to hand - or if you don't have enough - then it can be a godsend.

    Anyway, the size of the shop wasn't also an obstacle in terms of lighting. We could barely move our equipment anywhere without being in danger of knocking some of Sheena's beautiful and often fragile stock. I always try to be careful and respectful when working in someone else's space, but when working in a vintage store, or similar, you need to take extra caution.

    We also had to abandon our planned dolly shots (the kit for which was supplied to us by Enigmatic Productions) due to the shop's bumpy flooring. The boards looked original, and certainly a feature which suited the aesthetic of the shop, but cameras can be overly sensitive about the slightest things. So Lucy opted to do all of the moving shots handheld, which required some minor stabilising in post-production, but which turned out well enough.

Sheena's own hands had a couple of cameos in the video!

    Minor challenges aside, we had a great shoot. And what's more, it was one of the girliest shoots I've been on. Everyone on set was female, and we got to film beautiful things twinkling in the over-bright lights as though we were shooting a Christmas advert. So it was extremely fun - particularly for Cleo who got to try on plenty of Sheena's stunning handmade headpieces.

   Once I'd rested, and edited the footage, I handed it over to the talented VFX whizz Scott Nolan, who I'd worked with previously on Ashes, to give it the old film effects and near-sepia colours which Sheena had specifically requested. And here's the finished result:

     Around the time the video was finished, Sheena's business came into a little trouble. Scheduled scaffolding work took over the street her store was on, and this badly affected the number of people visiting her shop. Numerous letters were sent to the council, but it's up to the public to help her now. Sheena Holland is not only Derby's premium retailer of vintage and antique items - she also makes a lot of her pieces from scratch, featuring pieces of jewellery dating back to the Victorian times in some cases, and everything in her store is a one-off original - like Sheena herself.
    Independent shops are dying out in the looming titan of mega-chain shopping centres, and if we're not careful, we'll lose them forever. So, if you like any of the items shown in our video, or if you know of someone else who might like them (Christmas is coming, after all) then please, please check out , and share the video around. She needs your support - so stand up for the 'little man' while you can!



Saturday, 16 November 2013

Review: "Drained" by Nick Peterson

Andee Tims in Drained, dir. Nick Peterson 2012
Hi Guys,

    With little over a week before I tackle the necessary evil that is crowd-funding once again (this time for Night Owls), I've been researching other projects which have found success using this method. One such film - Drained (2012) by Nick Peterson, which was funded via Kickstarter - also happens to be one which I've been meaning to review for a while. Because, and I can say this with all honesty, Drained is not only an example of what people can achieve with online income, but it is without a doubt one of the best short films I have ever seen.

   Drained was first brought to my attention by Chris Newman; I was waiting at St Pancras station when he sent it to me, which he did because it tackles a similar subject, and in a similar style, to Ashes, which I was working on at the time. Both films use fantasy elements to represent how a man's addictions can affect his relationship, but no film out there does this in the way that Drained does. It is a film which is completely unique - indeed a rare find in modern times!

    The reason Drained is so original is mostly down to its shooting style. Peterson, who cut his teeth in the VFX department on films such as Constantine and The Ring, has used his visual experience to full effect here. Knowing that the film would feature stop-motion effects later on (and what wonderful effects they are too), Peterson wanted the animation and the live action to flow seamlessly together, so he developed a shooting technique to accomodate this. Using strobe lighting, and with his Canon 7D in still mode, he used the stop-frame technique on the live action elements, shooting over 254,00 still frames at 8fps. All of which he and his crew basically had to do blind due to the "headache inducing" shooting conditions.

   The result is at once jerky and fluid; unnatural without the movements ever looking forced. The only thing I can compare it to is watching an interpretive dance, or ballet, on stage (and the gentle piano score helps to support this comparison) - movements which are at once beautiful and unsettling.

Jennifer Alford and Daniel Ball in Drained, dir. Nick Peterson 2012

   The minimal set (apparantly a warehouse with a white-washed exposed brick wall) allows for the actors to be the main subject of the image, and lets them tell their story interrupted. The couple - Andee Tims and Daniel Ball - stand naked, painted as white as the wall behind them, and start the film in innocence. The colour black is used, in a treacle-like oil subject, to represent human flaws, and lay a striking contrast on their white skin when it starts to creep onto it.

   The man in the story literally wears his flaws - representations of addictions worn as clothing as he shows them, or rather admits them to the female character, openly inviting her judgment. She finds some addictions easier to accept than others; when an addiction to alcohol is shown (the man's body covered in dirty cans and beer labels), she is initially shocked but embraces him, at once affectionate and understanding. She finds his addiction to porn slightly more alarming (again, the man is dressed by his addiction, wearing layers of scrap paper torn from pornographic magazines) but, after a moment's contemplation, she tries to become like the women shown in those images. She douses herself in the black grime, literally inviting his vices onto herself, then poses for him (the role now played by the curvaceous Jennifer Allford). She mimics these women as her way of acceptance and understanding, as many women have done before her.

Amanda Chism in Drained, dir. Nick Peterson 2012

   As the man shows more flaws to her, he admits even more troubling vices, each one more terrifying than the last - each one more difficult to stomach. Which is never more apparant than when the man's final addiction - drugs - literally causes the woman to reject and throw up all that she has mentally digested, in an moment of stop-motion technical brilliance. What's left after that is a thinner woman (Amanda Chism), her empty body straining against the greasy black paint on her skin - it is at this point that the incredible sound design really comes into its own, grating on the audience and enhancing the visuals' feeling of unease.

   The thing about addiction is that it consumes people, and it isn't long before all of the man's flaws, (built up on the ground in a puddle, where the woman had set them aside like putting bad thoughts to the back of her mind), start to take hold of the woman as well. Literally, in fact, due to another great piece of stop-motion animation. The woman is bogged down by them, her body blackened by the grease and the rubbish. The man's vices have now become her own, through her desire to support him, and to be part of his world. And what has become of the man? Well, you'll need to watch the film to find out:

   Drained has, rightly so, been screened at a variety of film festivals, and taken home some awards, including 'Best Experimental Short' at Irvine International Film Festival. You can find out more about the making of Drained in this useful little making-of featurette than the team posted online:

   Nick Peterson's next project, The Visitant, (another film which was successfully funded online), has just been completed, and I for one look forward to the finished result. You can also watch his earlier short film, MuM, (which was screened at the Sundance Film Festival that year), on Vimeo or Youtube - and you can find out more about Nick at

   Right, now I need to get back to my funding prep for Night Owls. I hope you all wish me luck, and that you show your support when the time comes!