Pre Production & Planning – FMP

Script Writing Process

This project will be the first time I’ve written a script for my film. Although my film has very little dialogue, I didn’t want to rely on only a shooting schedule for filming. The reason for this is that this will also be my first time working with multiple actors, most of whom I am not familiar with. Keeping them in the loop of what’s going on and making sure they know the story well will be very important for this process, as it means that when shooting day arrives, they will have already got to grips with the character and we will be able to begin filming straight away. It also allows me to be very clear on the exact layout of my film, so I can plan my shots properly, how long it is, so I can keep it under 4 minutes and finally, what locations I’ll need, so I can plan ahead on those.

Celtx.com is a fantastic scriptwriting website. It’s layout is easy to navigate and understand, which is good for first time script writers like me. It also automatically lays out your work in the correct manner for a script, with options for all the types on writing you would need.

Screen Shot 2017-06-17 at 13.31.58

This is very helpful, because having it in the proper layout means that the one-page-per-minute rule for scripts applies and the time limit for my film is 4 minutes so I must make sure to keep my script under 4 pages.

Before I started writing, I did a bit of research to find out how other people go about writing scripts with no dialogue, so I could get a bit of inspiration. This research can be found over on my ideas development post.

Draft 1

(A final script will be put at the end as individual images so it can be read through)

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This script is four and a half pages long, so a little over the limit. However, as most of the script is describing action rather than dialogue, I can’t accurately predict exactly how long it’s going to be.

I had this film reviewed so that I could check whether the story makes sense and it flows well. The feedback was mostly positive, with the only main criticism being about the ending, saying that it didn’t feel conclusive and didn’t round off or match the story well.

I had struggled a lot to end this film, as I felt like to fully explain the effect breaking the jar had on my character, I would need a lot longer than the time limit allowed. The ending was supposed to show Joe in a very different location, surrounded by people instead of isolated like he is in his house, to try and hint that he is beginning to appreciate life once again and has started to realise the true scale of his job. The idea of the film is that he has forgotten that when he holds a jar, he holds a person’s entire life in his hands.

pg 5

However, I can see why this ending wouldn’t seem right to someone reading the script. It’s very out of place with the rest of the script, especially seeing as it’s only a very short scene. I feel like a scene like that would bee more suited to a longer film, as a sort of follow up to the second half. For now, I’m going to keep the scene in, but I think the next step for me will be to get feedback on it from lots of other people so I can decide whether changing it will be necessary.

The hardest part of writing this script, was the scene where all the flashes of memory from the broken soul jar happen. I could picture exactly what I wanted it to look like, but trying to translate that into a form that fitted the script and also would make sense to my actors was difficult. I came up with two potential ways of writing it. One way was to have it all as one big block of writing and the other was to split the memories up into separate scenes.

pg 3

The benefits of writing it this way, are that it reads a lot better, more like a description in a book rather than separate scenes. It makes it a lot easier to picture what it’s going to look like and as someone who works very visually, I think it’s important to conjure up as clear an image as you can with your script, because your actors will be able to see their characters better and you’ll get a better performance out of them. The downsides of writing it like this, is that having large blocks of text can be difficult to read through. I tried to counteract this by spacing my lines out, which I learnt from the screenwriting messageboard I mentioned earlier, however it’s definitely still a lot of writing which some people can find daunting or boring to read through.

pg 4

The main benefit of writing it like this is that it will make it easier in the storyboard and shotlist stage of planning. In the other layout, I had only suggested potential flashbacks that could be seen, but laying it out this way forced me to actually come up with specific memories, as well as specifying the reaction Joe has to each of them. However, I feel like when you read it, it makes a lot less sense. Although the memories are very separate from Joe in terms of filming (almost like cutting two films together), it’s al one big scene in the end, so to split them up into separate scenes is wrong.

I’ve decided to lay it out as one block of text instead of separate scenes as it reads a lot better and this is important, as the entire reason I’m writing a script is so that I can give it to the actors to explain the story. I’m keeping hold of the other layout though, so that I can use it during storyboarding.

Draft 2

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The next draft I have done contained the updated memory flash scene and also still had the original ending in, as I wanted to gather more feedback on it before I decide whether to change it or not. Once again, the feedback was almost entirely positive other than the ending and the same comments were made about it not working. Because of this, I’ve decided to write up some alternate ways to end this and ask my peers to vote on which one they think is the best. It’s just a quick way to get the opinion form a lot of different people.

Here are the ideas:

Idea 1: Stick with the original script ending

Idea 2: Have the cafe ending almost the same, but have the last couple shots showing either the teenage daughter or the wife from the flashbacks sit down opposite him, as if he reached out to the family following the emotion o seeing another human’s life flash before his eyes.

Idea 3: Have it end at scene eight, where the memories have just finished and the last thing you see is him sat in complete silence, overcome with emotion and in tears at what he just experienced.

Idea 4: After you see him sat on the floor in shock, have him get up and wander slowly outside, just into the garden or down the road. The idea behind this is that we’ve only ever seen him cooped up in this one place, as if he’s isolated himself from the outside world and this is the start of him appreciating what’s around him again.

Idea 4 is one that I came up with whilst talking to a local script writer. She has written many scripts for short films and it has become her main job, so I asked her if we could meet up to talk about my script and see what she thought or if there were any improvements that could be made, as well as to discuss the ending. We came up with this one, because it seemed like a good way to send the same message as my original idea, whilst also keeping it connected to what had just happened. Unlike my first idea, there is no jump in time, the events are connected and flow one to the other. It’s still an ambiguous ending, but there is more of a connection there. It’s also something I can do in a few simple shots. I might not even have to actually show him walking around outside. Simply showing stepping over the door frame could be enough to send the message I want.

The writer I talked to was also kind enough to leave me some feedback about my script, which gave me some confidence in it making sense and sending the message that I want it to.

Screen Shot 2017-06-17 at 17.20.26

As well as this being my personal favourite, it’s also the idea that was most liked amongst my peers. I had some of my friends and family read the script so they had context, then the possible endings and then I asked them to put a mark next to the idea they liked best.19263927_1596622303701753_1365273942_o

I understand why no one went with idea 2, as it would be very hard to pull off. I’d first off have to make sure that I properly introduced the daughter into the flashbacks so they knew who she was and it might confuse some people as to who the soul actually belonged to.

The third idea is the ending I had whilst the idea was still in my head, I thought it would be effective to have the film end on such an emotional note. But as soon as I started writing the script, I knew that there needed to be some kind of conclusion to it, some kind of change to happen. An important part of storytelling is that you end up in a different place to where you started off and I felt like I hadn’t quite reached that place yet.

I’m happy with the decision to go with idea 4, however I do feel like it might be a slightly weak ending. It relies a lot on the actor to be able to show a lot of emotion with his face so you can see his change in mindset happen. However that will be quite subtle and something that I’m not sure everyone get unless they already knew what the film was about before they watched it.

Here’s the final script

pg 1pg 2pg 3pg 4


Locations

As I’m focusing on cinematography for this, the location I film in could make or break this film. When I imagine the place, I always imagine a small, open planned flat, the kind of place you’d expect a 20 year old guy living alone to own. However, the location has to be carefully picked, as I want there to be some aesthetic to the film and a common problem many new filmmakers have is filming against white walls. I learnt this from a video by YouTuber Darius, who made a video called Common Mistakes Beginner Filmmakers Make. This is a video that I ALWAYS refer back to ever since I discovered it, as every point he makes in it is an idea worth taking on board when making a film. I used to think that filing in front of a busy background would make the shot look too cluttered, but I can now see that it actually creates a more interesting image for the audience to look at and provides a depth to it. So when location hunting, the main thing I will be looking for is a place that will give me good backdrops for my shots.

Location #1

The actor that I’ve chosen to play my protagonist actually does live in an apartment on his own and would be willing to let me film in it. The only areas I would need for filming are the hallway door and the main living room, so I asked him to send me some pictures.

hallwaykitchen:open area

Positives about this place:

The living area seems nice and open. Obviously, I don’t know what the room looks like the other way, but from the picture up there, I can see that there will be enough room to be able to move around the actor fairly easily. It also contains a good-sized desk, which is a very needed prop in my film.

The backgrounds of the shots could be very nice if the camera is set up properly. I especially like how the subtle grey of the door stands out from the walls and the colour of the kitchen, as well as how it’s set back from the rest of the room. I talked in my development post about frames within frames and I think the entrance to the kitchen could be a great opportunity for a shot like that.

A final positive about this location is that the actor actually lives there. He’s currently at college, working towards a show that premiers on the 14th June, so he’s very close to the start of performance. Because of this, I have to make sure that I keep my filming on schedule and don’t take up too much of his time. He’s very willing to help out with this film, but I feel like filming here would be helpful for him as he wouldn’t need to travel anywhere.

Negatives:

The main problem that sprung to mind is how I would get all my props and equipment over there and back. It’s fairly far away from where I live and I have a lot of large equipment such as the 5D, slider and tripod, as well as 120 glass jars and an old computer monitor. It could be done, but a lot of time would be taken up with sorting it all out, loading the car up and travelling, which would make the days even longer for me and the rest of the crew who also live far away.

The other problem I have with this place is that it isn’t the right setting for the last scene, where he gets up and walk out. He’s meant to walk out into fresh air, but here, he will instead walk out into what I guess will be a dingy hallway, which would be less effective.

In conclusion, I think that this is a very strong option for a location, the two main positives that stand out are the nice aesthetic and the logistical ease of my actor already living there. However, I will still keep searching for an apartment closer to home, that also maybe has an older and slightly more lived in feel to it and keep this one as a backup.

Location #2

This location is one I got after asking round my friendship group to see if they knew anyone who lived in a small house or apartment that would be willing to let me film. My friend Tucker knew someone who lived in Manchester who was up for it and he sent me across pictures of the flat.

Positives:

It definitely looks like the kind of apartment you’d expect a young adult to live in. It’s quite small and could channel the claustrophobia my protagonist feels in his job.

Tucker, being aware that Manchester is very far away and would be difficult to get to for filming, offered not only to give me and all my equipment and props up a lift up and back, but also said that if the shoot required more than one day, he’d be able to offer a place to stay overnight in Manchester.

Negatives:

Whilst this flat definitely has a busy, lived in feel to it, it just doesn’t have enough character and I feel like this wouldn’t work with the mood of my film. The backgrounds are too plain and wouldn’t be interesting enough.

Manchester is a long way for me, my cast and my crew to travel to. Making them all travel that far would cost a lot because of petrol/train tickets and it’s a big commitment to ask them to make, especially as I’m not able to give them anything in return.

If the apartment was amazing and exactly what I was picturing in my head, I would be able to justify the distance, but as it’s not, I just don’t think it’d be worth the travel.

Location #3

This final place I looked at and I found it because the person who lives there is a friend of my mums.

Positives:

There is only one white wall in the entire house, all the others have very interesting backdrops. I am especially taken by the wall with the stonework in it. As I’m going for a plain desaturated aesthetic for my film, this will fit in perfectly.

It’s very open planned and this would be great for manoeuvring the camera. The majority of my shots are shoulder rig and so I want to able to move around and get lots of different angles.

The massive window provides a solution to a problem I hadn’t even thought of; lighting. Wherever possible, I like to use natural lighting for filming, because nothing can quite recreate the natural warm glow and soft shadows that the sun can do in my opinion. The size of the window means that even on dull days, the rooms lighting is always light and airy and as you can see form the photos, at the right angle it can create some very nice lens flares. Having this window would be great because it would mean I wouldn’t have to bring as much equipment along.

Another big benefit of this place is the location. It’s in the same village as I live and the same area that the rest of my crew live. This would make it a lot easier to transport equipment across, as it could be done in multiple trips if necessary.

Negatives:

One of my only worries about this place is whether it looks too nice a place for someone like Joe to live. It might be harder for the audience to believe that this character feels trapped and disconnected if he appears to be living very comfortably and has a nice view out of the window. This is something I’d have to counteract by trying to make the room seem smaller on camera and to film away from the window as much as possible, so you don’t get to focus on the nice view.

Another problem is that it’s quite far away for my actor to travel. It’s about an hour and 20 minutes by bus, so his days would be completely taken up by travel aswell as filming. As a way of compensation, I feel like i would be best to pay back his travel expenses.

To conclude, I’ve decided that location #3 is my best option, with #1 as a back up. The deciding factors were the character the house had, as well as the space. The main problem I had with both the others is that they were fairly monochrome and ‘new looking’, where as this house is quite quirky. The other two were also a lot further travelwise, which is a problem considering the amount of equipment I’ll have.


 

Starting the shot planning

The very first thing I decided to do for planning my film, was to go through the script and make some notes, whether they were about costumes, props, or any shots that immediately spring to mind. Here is an example page:

pg 1

To make it easier for myself, I colour coded it. I used pink to mark out each separate scene. I did this, thinking about the next step in the process, which is storyboarding. Splitting them up like this makes it a lot easier for my brain to process the film and how it’s set up, so I can picture the scenes individually.

Blue marks any general notes about costumes or set design. I like to think about these because I believe that the key to a good film is in the detail. If you plan a frame right up to where exactly a pen goes or which way a plant pot faces, you create a scene which is subconsciously more aesthetically pleasing for the audience. It’s also good to do this now so I can start to put together a prop list. Organisation is key and trying to keep track of everything in my head isn’t going to work ad will result in some things being forgotten.

The yellow highlights mark any sound effects I will need. Some of the noises such as the bottles rattling and the knock at the door are important to my story and because of this, I’ve decided that recording them as foley after filming and adding them in will be the best option for me. This allows me to have more control over the noise levels so I can decide exactly how prominent I want them to be.

Finally, any unmarked notes are potential shots. when I read through the script, there are scenes where I can picture generally what I want them to look like on screen and writing down little notes like this helps me to start thinking more from the cinematography side of things and create a more exact structure for my film. I noticed as I was going through the script that a lot of the shots I was writing were close and extra close shots. My reasoning for this is something Hitchcock said, “the size of an object in the frame should equal it’s importance in the story in that moment”. In my film, detail is necessary to convey the story, I need to make sure I show things such as the delivery slip, stamps and labels close up because they are important details the audience needs to understand the story.


 

Storyboard

In the past, I haven’t enjoyed using storyboards for planning, as I found them too constraining and preferred instead to work solely from shot lists and experimentation. But as I focus more on cinemtaography, I find planning a film visually is a lot more helpful for me. If I can see the camera angles drawn on paper, it helps me to decide whether two shots work well together, if there needs to be extra shots in there, if there’s going to be any continuity errors and so on. So for this film, I decided to skip the stage of making a shot list and only make a shot list, because the clearer I can picture my film at this stage, the more confident I am that it will be a successful film.

During my testing of shooting longer shots, like the ones from Birdman and Raiders of the Lost Ark, I’d found that splitting up the single shots that move between multiple shots types is a good way to plan them out, so I took this idea on board for shots such as 3 and 26.

shot 3

shot 26

The storyboard also helped me plan my conversation scene between Joe and the delivery driver. This was a shot I had tested during my development stage, so I knew the basic layout of it, but doing a storyboard like this meant I could make sure I hadn’t broken the 180 degree rule.

Something I noticed from the storyboard is that a lot of my shots are potentially going to be too similar. I hadn’t realised how many of the shots were mids of the protagonist and I don’t want the film to look too boring and repetitive. This isn’t so much a problem during the second half of the film, where the pace picks up and the shots become more varied, but it’s definitely apparent in the first half. To combat this, I need to go through and try varying some of my shots. Shot 11 could go from a mid of him reaching into the box, to a close of his hand reaching in and for shot 13, instead of just showing him typing, I could go for a close up on the hands, or maybe a wide shot from behind. It’s important to vary your shot types as much as possible to make it interesting to look at.

To conclude, I’ve discovered from drawing my shots out, that storyboards are incredibly useful for showing you potential problems with your film that you might not have noticed had you only done a shot list. Until I made this, I hadn’t realised how unvaried my shot types were and I was able to correct this early on. It also helped me to plan out my shots that have multiple shot types within them, which are shots that I find harder to explain in words. Whilst I never used to enjoy using storyboards to make my films, I can now appreciate their purpose a lot better.


 

Props

For this film, props will quite important. It’s quite a stylised film, every shot is carefully planned out and framed, so I need every detail to be just right to keep the quality of the film up.

The Delivery Slip

The idea for the film is that you don’t immediately know what the jars are for, you find out slowly through certain shots in the film. The delivery slip is one of the most important shots in the film, because it’s the one that explains that the jars are actually human souls. I had to make sure I made it clear he was signing off for souls, whilst also making it look like a genuine delivery slip.

delivery slip

This is what I ended up making. I like how this turned out, because it looks authentic, some people thought I’d just put printed out a general delivery note. Also, I made the font for “80 souls, human” different from the rest of it and made it larger, to make it stand out as much as possible. I think I should film him signing it very close up and at an angle, so that the content description is in the foreground of the shot and his hand signing is in the background, out of focus. By using a shallow depth of focus, it’ll be drawing attention to the writing as much as physically possible.

Also, the delivery address “Styx Lane, Asphodel Fields” references the Greek myths that inspired this film, how souls pass over the River Styx to the afterlife. It’s not something that a lot of people will pick up on and it might not even be visible in the shot, I mostly just did it for my own amusement and because I feel there’s no point skipping on details.

 

The Souls

When I originally planned the soul jars, I’d decided to use jam jars from my mum’s empty jar collection. I asked around my friendship group and it seemed almost every family hoarded empty jam jars like my family do and were willing to lend me them to use. I was aiming for about 100 and with everyone owning at least 20, I could easily get thatamount. However, the downside to using second hand jars, is that they’re never completely clean and they’ll all be different shapes and sizes. After spending so long trying to make it seem like an official job, the a delivery man and an official delivery slip, it seemed wrong to have the jars themselves look homemade.

I decided to bring some uniformity to the shape of the jars, because it seemed only right that a massive soul sorting company would spend the money on official jars. Ideally, I wanted apothecary shaped bottles, because they looked more fantastical and range, but they were far too expensive.Screen Shot 2017-06-19 at 16.59.07

Instead, I’ve opted for using jam jars like I originally planned, but I’m bulk buying them, so they’re all the same size and shape. I found 120 for £60, which was far cheaper than the apothecary bottle. Here’s what the souls will look like

soul jar

I like how against a window, the colour really pops, almost as if it’s glowing. I can use the large window at my location to get the same effect with the jars.

  • CRT monitor. wanted an old monitor to show that he’d been doing it for a while and also to show that he hadn’t cared enough to update his equipment for work. doesn’t take much pride in it. Finding a working one was difficult. got one from someone in the village. tested out filming the screen, opted for simply putting a still image in (link to test post)

 

Call Sheets

The days were long and the location was quite hard to find for someone who isn’t from round there, so I felt a call sheet was needed to make the days more efficient. They’re a good way to get all the cast and crew organised in one go and it stops people asking about finishing time, when lunch is, how much we have left to do etc. because it’s all on the call sheet.

The call sheet for day one was fairly simple. As you can see, the crew have been called an hour earlier to allow time to set up, so when the actor arrives we can jump straight into filming. The contacts on there are always neccessary and were useful for this, as my actor was travelling by bus and we needed to know when he was going to get here and which bus stop he was getting off at.

call sheet day 1

The call sheet for day two was more of a necessity than day one, as i have two shoots going on at separate locations, one to film the flashbacks and one to film the outdoor scenes with Lewis, and I needed to be organised and work to time limits.

call sheet day 2

I found these call sheets to be such a help. It was handy to have everyone’s numbers in one place. Lewis was able to get in contact with me on the bus to tell me it was going to be 10 minutes late and one of my actors for the the flashback scenes could contact me to tell me her meeting overran and she’d be half an hour late.

They were also the only proper shooting schedule I had for the days. In retrospect, I wish I’d created a more in depth shooting schedule, rather than just using the ones on the call sheets. They were only meant to be there so the actors knew the general running for the day, but I’d decided that they’d be enough to work from. However, I think I would’ve benefitted from planning out my shots with estimations for how long it would take to film each scene. This would’ve given me deadlines to work to. Instead, I just kind of worked through it shot my shot and it meant I overran by about an hour and a half.

Preproduction Evaluation – 19th June

Now that the project has finished, I can look and back judge how useful my planning and preproduction was for my film.

I am pleased with the amount of planning that went into my film. For my last couple of films, I did very little planning and struggled a lot because of it, so this time round I went into it determined to create an extensive plan. Having a script was definitely a key part  in successful planning, because it boosted to quality of my story board and gave me a very clear view of how my film would plan out visually. The detail I put into my storyboard meant that I was sure the shots would cut together smoothly.

The only problem I found with my pre-preproduction when it came to filming was that I hadn’t planned my time effectively enough. I ran over time on both days by about an hour and I feel this was due to me not having a proper shooting schedule. Whilst I knew what order I was filming my scenes in because of my call sheets, I feel I should have taken the time to roughly estimate how long everything would take to film, then I would have had a better idea of how long my shooting days would have been. It’s taught me a valuable lesson which I can take into future projects, that whatever you’re planning during your preproduction, always factor time into it. Timing is a challenging part of filmmaking and is something that needs to be planned out just as much as your locations or storyboards.

Despite this, I am overall very happy with this area of work, I feel like the amount I did provided me with a solid base for my film shoot and edit. Spending time on details such as props upped my production value which shows in the film and the structure of my film felt safer than it has done in previous films. Usually I go into films with only 70% of the film planned and I improvise the rest, but this time I made sure to have everything locked down.

 

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