Birdman Test Shoot
This clip contains the original clip I was trying to recreate and the two takes I did for the test shoot.
What went well
I used a 35mm lens to shoot this on. In Birdman, as he gets closer to the camera, his face distorts slightly, giving it an edgy and uncomfortable feel that I actually really like. After doing a bit of research, I found this article which is giving advice on the best lenses to use for portraits. I found out that 50mm lenses are usually used for closer face shots as they give an image that is truest to life. A 35mm lens distorts a face if it gets to close, giving it the very subtle fish eye look that I like so much in Birdman. I decided to try it out in this test and I really like how it looks. It’s most effective when she’s walking round the corner and moves across the frame of the camera. I think this effect is something I could use during the flashback scene in my film, because this scene is when the film gets a little weird and builds up, so the distortion of the face coupled with hand held camera movement and close shots will hopefully create a slightly unsettling look that will provide a contrast to the first half of my film, where everything is more subdued.
The other thing I liked about this, was the shoulder rig I used for the camera. In my head, I’d planned to use the steadicam as I thought the shoulder rig would give too shaky a shot, however I found it a lot easier to work with than I thought I would. It wasn’t too uncomfortable and might actually be easier to hold up than
One of the main difficulties I found filming a shot like this, was keeping her in focus as she moved closer and further away. As I had the camera on a shoulder rig, trying to hold up the camera with one hand whilst changing focus was hard as it was heavy, which resulted in the shot being wonky and a bit too shaky. To combat this, I could put the f-stop up higher, creating a deeper depth of field and meaning I wouldn’t have to change focus as much. I could also have someone on set change the focus for me while I manage the camera. This would require quite a bit of practise, however focus pullers are common on sets so it’s clearly achievable.
Because the shot wasn’t as smooth as I was hoping for, I wanted to try using the steadicam for a long shot like this to compare the two. For this, I recreated a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
This shot is great, as it contains a wide shot, two-person shot and two clearly defined and well-framed single shots. However, I found that I really struggled with the steadicam, even more than the shoulder rig. Unlike the shoulder rig, where the weight is more spread out, the weight of the steadicam is very concentrated and acts all on the arm that’s holding it up. I’m not the strongest person in the world, so keeping it steady, whilst also concentrating on moving through the motions of the shot was very tricky. It’s not a smooth shot like I would have hoped, my steps clearly show on camera.
What these two tests made me realise, is that although whichever one I choose to film with will not produce the clean film that you see in the clips I tried recreating, the shoulder rig will be a lot better for me to film with. I’ve estimated that my filming days are going to be quite long and as I get more tired, the equipments going to feel heavier, so I choose the shoulder rig, as it’s easier to manoeuvre and hold up for long periods on time.
One other thing I took from these test shoots, is that when planning out shots that contain multiple shot types, it’s useful to create small storyboards that split the shot into it’s separate stages.
The drawings aren’t good, but thinking about it as separate shots helped me to focus on getting the frame right, because it gave me target frames to hit in both shots. If I do use any shots like this in my film, when it comes to the storyboard, I’ll draw them as part of the board like this, then link them together with arrows to I know which ones are single shots.
All in all, I’d say this test shoot was very helpful to the development of my film. Whilst it hasn’t given me inspiration for a specific shot, it has helped me decide what equipment I’m going to use for filming, which is good as it means I can book it out early to ensure I get everything I need for filming. It’s also given me ideas for how to structure my storyboard. A I’m working entirely from my storyboard rather than a shotlist, it needs to be laid out in a way I can clearly understand.
Testing for my long shot
Following all the development I’ve done on my script, I wanted to test out the one long shot I’ve planned for it in my storyboard. The reason for this is because neither of my test shoots above were especially successful, but it’s shots like those that this one in my film is based off, so I want to make sure it’s worth putting in.
The shot I have planned is one which goes from a wide of Joe sitting on the couch, tracking him walking towards the door where it will turn into an over-the-shoulder shot of the conversation between Joe and the delivery guy, before finally turning into a centred portrait shot of Joe as he closes the door on the guy and walks out of frame. This shot will be cut up during editing for the conversation, but the actual shot will hopefully be done in one take. Here is the test shoot I did for this:
The camera is a lot steadier than it was in my previous test shoots. The reason for this is because I looked up ways to make shots look steadier and came across a useful article that provided tips on how to do it.
“the further the camera is away from your upper body…the harder it will be to keep steady”. Last time, I had the camera at the end of the shoulder rig, so this time, I brought it up, closer to my face.
Although this tip is for still shots, I applied it to moving, bending my knees and taking larger steps as I walked to lower my centre of gravity and make me more stable.
The other thing I like about this shot is how the separate camera angles are visible, but they still flow together to form one shot. I did the same storyboard planning for this one as I’d done for the others so I knew which marks to hit, which helped me.
I also made sure for the over the shoulder shots, not to break the 180 degree ruler, meaning that the shots cut well together.
Again, I can tell focus is going to be a problem for me. I was not quick enough on the focus change for the OTS, so Izzy had already started talking while still out of focus. A way to avoid this that I learned from another cinematographer I met on a film I worked on, is to mark out where you need to turn the focus ring to before you start filming with something that can be wiped off easily, like chalk. This means that when you come to film, you can change focus quickly and know exactly how far to turn it, no guessing.
Something else about this shot is that if I do it in my actual film, I’ll need to focus more on getting the framing right, because in this it was quite sloppy. At the beginning, I made no effort to get her centred or make the shot straight, but it’s little things like that, that can effect the quality of your film.
After these three test shoots, I have made the decision to have this shot in my film, but to made it the only long shot in my film. After scouting for locations, I’ve realised that all the locations will be too small and the actions of the actor will be to subtle to bother doing any long, complicated shots like this. The reason they work so well in Birdman and Raiders is because the subjects are constantly moving and changing location, meaning that there’s always new angles to get within a single shot. However my actor won’t be doing much walking round, so I feel like it’s best to focus on close shots.
Filming a Screen
One final thing I wanted to figure out before filming as how I planned to film the screen pop ups I’d written in my script. I’ve managed to get my hands on a working old CRT monitor and computer, which I think add nicely to my film aesthetic, however, I know that filming a screen is essentially impossible because of the flickering and the only way to fix flickering is to run it through a programme you have to pay for, which I want to avoid.
Here’s what it looks like to film the screen. It’s very distracting and there’s no way I can put that in my film as it looks unprofessional.
I found a YouTube video that claimed to have a way to get rid of flickering without an expensive programme.
He said to put two of the same clip one on top of the other on your timeline, set the one on top so it plays a single frame behind the one underneath, then change the opacity of the clip to ‘overlay. So I tried this.
It definitely toned the flickering down slightly, but it’s still very noticeable and not something I want to put in my film. Also, doing this causes all the colours on the screen to become too bright and contrasted.
I decided to try taking a photo of the screen and simply using that instead of a shot. To make it less apparent that it’s an image, I added a slow zoom in using keyframes.
Clearly I’d have to hold the image up for longer so people can read it and a better picture would be needed, but I think this looks quite good and actually, because it’s a still image it’ll be easier for people to read what’s on the pop up, which is good because they’re key to understanding what’s going on in the film.
I feel fairly happy with my solution to the filming-a-screen problem I was having, however I don’t think it’s a perfect solution. Had I the time or the skill, I would have maybe done something like green screen and add a fake screen in after, or I would have made the effort to run it through an anti-flicker programme online. However, as it’s only two short shots in my film, I’m willing to let it slide and to put the images into it.
19th June 2017
The main knowledge I gained from doing these tests, is what equipment to use. I had been debating whether using the steadicam would be better than the shoulder rig, as it gives a smoother image, but recreating the scenes from Birdman and Raiders of the Lost Ark showed me that the steadicam is only steady if you’re strong enough to hold it up and therefore, the shoulder rig would be better to use over long periods of time as I’d get less tired. I also, through the same tests, decided on what lens I wanted to use. I’m not generally very good with lenses, I don’t know much about them. But by putting the time in to research lenses and what they’re used for, I not only found out how to get the shot looking like I wanted, but also gained some new knowledge about lenses that I can take forwards into other projects.
If I could do this project again, I would definitely do more testing related to my film. I feel like, out of all of the phases of my film, my test shoots were the the place that I put the least amount of work into. You can see in my final film, that the tests that I did do had an influence on my film.
The movement in all three of these shots, for example, is directly related to the first three test shoots. The testing I did for how to film a computer screen was also really helpful, because as well as giving me the idea of using an image instead of video, it also showed me that having the computer turned on during my film would be a bad idea, as the flickering on the screen would be distracting. Instead, I kept the computer turned off throughout the whole of filming and inserted a clip of him turning the monitor on, so the continuity wouldn’t be broken. Because of the success of what testing I did do, the benefits of doing it are obvious and I feel like I should have made the most of it. If I were to do it again, I would pick a couple more scenes from my film that I think could do with some practise. I would liked to have practised my montage scenes, so that I would have known what pace to cut them at, because I spent a large amount of my edit trying to get them right. Had I already done it in testing, I would have been able to edit them straight away.