Monthly Archives: May 2012

Motion House – Days Twenty to Twenty-Four

I was personally asked by my lecturer to executively produce the Motion House Project. This was quite a privilege to be honest as I was being asked to manage a huge project and deal with a lot of responsibility before anybody else. I must have proved myself in Iceland and also in my short film that I am competent and reliable enough to take on this role.

I had learnt so much about producing the Iceland films and also my short film for my module that I felt I could get the job spot on this time round. I had made mistakes in the past and not done things properly but it was a learning curve for me and I ironed out my creases and did the job more proficiently this time. I am not saying I am an expert executive producer or the best but I have certainly learned the role better and am more experienced at it. I am more confident about my skills. When I Exec Produced Gryla Productions, I was learning the job as I went on. This time with Motion House, I am developing my learnt skills and ways of thinking even further.

I am in an exec group of three people; myself and two third years. As they are finishing their FMPs and their big projects and the end of the year, the workload got shifted on me. It was down to me to find out everyone who wanted to be part of the group and when I could use them.

I set out making a database into which I put everyone’s names and availability which I had asked for. They were originally grouped by the role they wanted. I decided all I needed was a handful or directors and producers, a lot of camera operators and a few sounds technicians. As I read into the brief MH had sent me, I realised I would need three different crews. As their effectively ‘stage’ was going to be a huge ship they would build out of wood and large shipping containers and they had asked for a time lapse of it being built, I allocated a “Ship Build” group to tackle the filming of this. They would be tasked with going to wherever the ship was being built or deconstructed or stored and documenting this. They were not needed as much as the other crews but when they did work, it would be the most intense. The second group I created was a “Motion House” group. They were tasked to document the dancing rehearsals and performances as well as interview the dancers and the organisers, the crew and people behind the scenes. They are needed frequently and sometimes for long periods of time so I had to create a bigger group to make sure someone on each role was available. Their main crew of six would shoot as much as they could but if they were unavailable, I had reserves on standby (a few people from the Ship Build offered to be stand bys as they were not needed all the time). The third group were pretty much the same as the MH crew but instead they concentrated their filming on the “Legs on the Wall” aerialist and acrobats that had come across from Australia to be part of the project. Again, I had reserves for them too. To be honest, one massive crew could have covered both MH and LOTW however, Tim my co-exec decided that they be split as they could be in different places at different times.

For the big final performance, everyone who wanted to be part of the project will get to go to Victoria Square in Birmingham to film or record etc. I will have to manage this effectively nearer the time when we know more about the event.

On a separate note, I also have group members who will also be responsible for photographing or filming our work there and documenting our process and development with the project.

After I had established the groups, I met with Tim and Laura my co-execs. We decided that I and only I will solely be the liaison with Motion House. Obviously, the crews will get to know people they are filming but any contact between the two parties will be through me. This prevents communication confusions, people getting wrong messages or not knowing information and also it is more professional to have just one contact with us. Once I find out information, I pass it on to the producers who in turn pass it onto their respective crews. It is a very effective method of working I think although I constantly have to be on the ball, working hard and actively talking to the producers and crews. It is also good because any feedback, problems or questions get directed to these producers and they get back to me and let me know. Then I can sort the situation out or get things done for them.

My next task was to meet the contact within Motion House I will be dealing with. I got hold of Justine and started emailing her to establish a contact with her. However, I always feel it is both professional and just good relationship wise to physically meet people in person and so I strove to do this with Jus. Instead of waiting on emails, I got hold of Jus’ telephone number and rung her to establish a proper contact with her. She was impressed from a professional point of view that a young person learning the trade was so bold and confident enough to make an effort to make this connection. Once I in regularly communication with her, I could get hold of more information and paperwork I needed. I had to obtain risk assessments, health and safety paperwork, more detailed schedules, parking permits, insurance documents (including their public liability insurance) and details of whom I need to contact regarding different issues. Because I made sure I spoke regularly over the phone to her, this was much much easier than the exchanging of information I had done with Gryla Productions. I could chase up things I needed as could she. I was prompt to send her information as soon as she asked for it and if it was not to hand, I would get it as soon as possible and then tell her when I had sent it to her. We needed a copy of the university’s Public Liability Insurance as well as a complete list of everyone who would be working with us. This was mainly for H&S as well as passes to the NEC (where we were/are filming) at her end.

During my talks with Justine, I asked whether there was any budget available to cover our costs. This was not paid work but I was hoping we could get reimbursed on travel expenses. Jus said there was some available and after I had worked out a deal on the mileage it would take to drive there and train ticket prices, we came to an agreement that we could get reimbursed.

Within a week, I had formed teams ready to go. I sent the Ship Build crew over first; unfortunately I could not accompany them. They met with Jus and got things rolling filming wise. The feedback I got back from MH and the crew was great – everyone got on and things went smoothly. Then a problem hit me. Due to the nature of their work, their schedule can change very last minute and at the beginning this was not made clear to me. I was given one day to scramble a crew together and get them over to the NEC. This posed a problem as that particular weekend, nobody was available to go. I managed to get one producer and a camera op that thankfully had a car to transport us. The NEC is easily accessible by train but I would rather take kit in a car so it doesn’t get lost, stolen or broken. Myself and the two scrambled crew made our way over the NEC to film. It was also my chance to meet and make contacts there.

My policy of knowing something about everything and everything about something came into light that day as my producer had no camera skills and my cam op was not trained on the camera we were using, the JVC. I taught her how to set it up and use it effectively. On the day I also directed her whilst I went about doing my producing duties of meeting people, talking to people, finding out what was going on, where we could and could not film etc. Ideally these tasks are better done by two or three different people but I am confident enough that I can do it all on my own – just as my resources are stretched out, I am not as effective.

After a long day of filming I realised a very important factor. I needed a more broken down schedule of each day Motion House were active so I could use my crew most efficiently. It was no use sending a crew to film for 8hrs if only a couple of hours are film worthy etc. I got onto Justine about this and she started sending me schedules with complete breakdowns of the days. As I still had not met her, it was tricky going through the schedule and deciding when we would definitely be needed. I emailed her back an edited version of the schedule she sent me which had dates we would definitely be there to film.

Whilst I was there, I strove to meet everyone important to the running of things as I could. I developed a list of people to contact regarding certain things which I posted on the Facebook group. One of the key people I met was a security guard to the NEC itself. Tony was not part of Motion House but was in charge of the building itself. He was a cracking chap to chat with but building up this relationship with him has given me lots of benefits. Firstly, if there are any issues whilst we are there, Tony would either help me or sort it out for me. It made getting access to places in the building easier. It made our storage of kit easier. I also developed such a good link with him that he said if our crews were not filming, he would slip us in to other exhibition halls personally. This was great as it was something I could give back to the crew and also a resource if moral gets low.

I met the stage manager, Barbra, who is in charge of everything whilst working around the stage. She was friendly enough to meet with but not too approachable with things we wanted to do filming wise like getting on to the ship to film or filming the rehearsals on the ground from the ship. However, through building a personal relationship with her and building her trust in me I have managed to more access filming wise. We are in discussion at the minute of this more exiting style of filming; we are also looking at potential places to put static cameras to film the performances from an insider’s point of view. Barbra is also trying to give us time to film interviews with the dancers. As they are constantly working in the hanger and must have time for breaks, it becomes difficult to get interviews but we are working on facilitating these. She is also helping me to organise a day when we can go to Birmingham and film the Legs on the Wall guys in their long term accommodation they are staying in (they are away from their homes in Australia for about two months). I suggested this as it would be great to get a more personal approach to the final films. Barbra is also in charge of health and safety on the set. One part of this is making sure people sign in and sign out of the building. Last Friday, my crews went home whilst I was still talking with Justine and I could not enforce them signing out. When I realised after they had left as I went to sign out myself, I had to deliver a firm word to the producers of each crew to make sure this is done. It may seem trivial but it is important that we abide by their rules and act professional.

The Motion House work is ongoing and is a brilliant opportunity for me to hone my skills as an executive producer. I will strive to do the best job I can and in the end have some work I am tremendously proud of.

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Iceland Recci – Days Ten to Fourteen

It was decided a couple of weeks before we went to Iceland that it was imperative to send over a recce crew to finalise and sort out logistics. The crews needed actors and were short on them. They needed to see the locations and have them locked for definite. They also needed transport and some spare equipment they could not carry over on plane.

It was decided that myself and three others – Chris the Outdated director, Alex the Snowblind director and Nick the location scout – jet across to Iceland two days before the main body of the crew got there to sort these things out. At this point I was in constant email contact with Jon, a fixer I had come across in Iceland, as well as the Icelandic Film Commissioner, Einar Tómasson. They were helping me sort some things out before I went. Einar couldn’t really do much until we got there but it was still nice to be in contact with the man in charge of films in Iceland – I could never get a private email address for the English Film Commissioner. Jon put me in contact with the Icelandic Film School and I managed to make contact with two girls who were willing to help as our line managers and fixers whilst we were over there. Edda and Hulda were their names and they ended up becoming very close friends.

The mission of our recce as stated above was absolutely paramount to making sure the films happened. Actors were the main issue for all three films as we were unsuccessful in finding any before we went over there. Nick had an idea of the locations he wanted us to use but without seeing them in the flesh he could not be definite. We were taking over a lot of bulky, heavy filming kit and therefore we needed to secure some sort of transportation to lug this around; we aimed to get a minibus. We had booked out some big, powerful lights to use whilst we were over there from Pegasus Rentals – it was also our job to pick these up. These needed generators too so we had to get them as well. I felt really nervous at this point as getting these things organised before our team got there was imperative and if we failed, the group would point the finger straight at us and be outraged as to why we had gone over in the first place.

I had to organise our flights and accommodation before we went. This was very tricky to do as it was all over the phone and the hotel in Iceland didn’t speak great English. But I persevered and managed to wiggle our flights and get them changed for a small fair (this saved us a lot of money). Basically, they changed the dates from the Friday evening to the Wednesday afternoon. I asked our group if anyone would be willing to drive us to Gatwick and back – Tik kindly said he would and we would reimburse his petrol money. It was up to me to manage all this money exchanging en route. We got to Gatwick with plenty of time to spare before our flight. Thank God we did because we were not on the flight details as the booking had been changed so late. At this point everyone in the recce crew was panicking so I had to calm them down and explain to the check in lady that we had paid to be on this flight. After a bit of persuasion, I got her to check the flight manifesto and low and behold, our names were on it. After a big sigh of relief, we checked in. We had taken with us a D90 SLR camera for recce photos and also a tripod – Nick and I used the spare space in the tripod to fit our socks in as our suitcase. Anyway, after a short time in departures, we hopped onto a 737 and set off on our journey to Iceland!

As we landed in Keflavik airport my mind was blown at the sheer magnificence of the landscape accompanied with the most beautiful sunset. After collecting our baggage, I rang Jon the Fixer to arrange a meet once we had got into Reykjavík, another role of a producer. We paid for the coach into Reykjavík and were there within the hour at our hotel, Hotel Cabin. We got into the hotel (it was at this point, I realised I had left my waterproof jacket on the coach) and went up to the desk to pay for our rooms. I had been told over the phone and email that we would get two cheaper double rooms. They had not been very clear in our pre-contacts and we were looking at spending 18,000 kroner on the rooms for two nights; a preposterous amount and everyone back home would be angry that we took such a huge chunk of the budget up. Jon arrived in my moment of panic as I was trying to find alternative accommodation. He mentioned that there was a youth hostel about a mile away that was great and a lot cheaper. We decided that this was a brilliant option and set off to the hostel. Jon kindly gave me a lift where we could discuss our action plan. I had emailed Edda and Hulda about meeting up when we got into town and gave them a call en route to discuss where and when. I was surprised to hear Edda down the phone as she had, what I thought, was an American accent! They arranged to meet us later for dinner and to get to know us. We would also plan what we would do over the next few days.

After checking into our rather superb hostel, we literally dumped our kit and set out to the Icelandic Bar in downtown. It was situated opposite the Parliamentary building which was completely strange as you can’t get with 100yrds of our one in the UK. Jon joined us for a drink but then left shortly after and said he would meet up the next day. Edda and Hulda helped us order the most fantastic meal and beer I have ever had and then we discussed our action plan. They would aid us in every way possible and set up connections, meets and auditions for us. Fantastic, we had just arrived in town and things were getting done. It really paid off seeking these people out in advance before we got over there. I recorded a short clip of Edda saying hello to the guys back home then Hulda kindly gave us a lift back to the hostel. I decided that instead of writing feedback of our day to the rest of the crew, I would record a Vlog and post it on the Facebook group. It was basically a run down of what we had done with a bit of comedy from the day to get people excited and also to prove we had already started working.

Just  a note on the social aspect of our meeting with Edda and Hulda; it was a good move to meet them in person and build up a relationship with them as it made life easier, we had a better time there, they stretched themselves as far as they could for us and it was a pleasure working with them. It really pays to take time out and get to know people who will be working with you on a more personal level. One must be careful not to be too personal though as a professional manner still has to be maintained but I feel it is better to get along with people and show them heart because their work back to you will be even better as they actually WAT to do it.

In the morning, our real work started. The girls first took us up to the NOVA shop – the Icelandic equivalent of Orange or T-Mobile etc. We purchased four NOVA sim cards so we were contactable whilst we were over there. This was one of our best decisions as long-range communication was our greatest asset. Wars have been won and lost from communication and so I knew it was a great decision to get our phones working. It also meant we could contact Edda and Hulda constantly. We then set off on a location scout. First down to the major bus station (a scene of Outdated was actually filmed there) where I also tried to get my coat back from. They did not have it and so offered me an alternative jacket which I have grown rather attached to! I digress; we set about travelling to different iconic locations the girls thought suited our script (which I had given them a copy of the night before). We hit the coast, the centre of town, the observatory, the huge concert hall, the harbour and some houses just to name a few. Nick took photos to show everyone so decisions could be made as to where to shoot. The girls also took us up to their film school where we arranged auditions and looked at borrowing some of their equipment. We met other people in the school who said they would lend a hand. It was a real opportunity to explore the differences and similarities in our cultures and schooling. On the final note of the day; Alex and I rung up a minibus renting agency in Reykjavík to obtain us some transport. They offered us a minibus for £3,000 for the week. Our budget definitely would not stretch that far so we hackled and begged and sold ourselves as a company until finally, we made a deal that we could rent the minibus for the full week for £1,000. I was learning how talking to people and making them feel part of the project was an exceptional part of producing and we greatly benefited the crews.

Alex and I then went over to Morgunblaðið to conduct an interview with their chief reporter. Morgunblaðið is Iceland’s national newspaper – the equivalent of the Daily Telegraph or The Guardian here in the UK. We had a fantastic interview with the reporter who was also a high ranking editor for them too. We had to sell ourselves as a fantastic project that wanted to film in Iceland so passionately and wanted to create connections between our two nations. This publicity stunt proved invaluable as when we were making contacts later on in the week, we could mention we were in the paper and were immediately thought of as commendable and ‘famous’ to a degree.

Morgunblaðið Article

The Friday was a very long and hard working day. We had our auditions in the morning for the lead roles in Outdated and Snowblind. I was also looking for women and men who could play the leads in Cats although without a boy, we were stuck. We managed to get through about 40 auditions in the morning and Alex and Chris were confident they had their stars. My job on the day was to ensure we had records and paperwork of all our auditioned actors as well as taking a photograph of them to show back to the crews. I also asked for their performances to be filmed so we could look back at the footage if we needed. Edda arranged for an audition with a semi-professional actor who had starred in many short films and music videos (as well as a small role in a feature film) called Haffe. Ironically, he used to be a child physiotherapist and along with his outstanding acting skills, he would be fantastic to work with both us and a child actor, once we had found one. I also stumbled across a few potential actresses who could possibly play our mother in Cats. Ross, my director, later chose Vildis whom I had auditioned, to play the part.

Auditions at the Film School

I also got the chance to audition a young boy for the role of Pall, the lead character in Cats. He was slightly disappointing and didn’t quite cut it as the actor we wanted however, he was a last resort. The approach I took toward auditioning him was completely different to how I had to act with the adults we were auditioning. I didn’t sit behind a desk; instead I sat crossed legged on the floor. I encouraged him and entertained him all whilst testing out every emotion the character needed. It was very hard to do especially since he didn’t speak very good English. However, I am used to being with children and can interact with them easily so this did help. Also, Edda (whom I forgot to mention had Canadian accent after living there half of her life – she also spoke better English that I did!) translated my directions and also got very much involved with the boy. She had done acting in the past and knew exactly what I wanted to her to do with the boy after I had given specific directions. I suppose I was a director for the day and I know I have the skills to do it – I want more practice in the future.

We then had to go pick up the equipment from Pegasus rentals. Jon helped us with this and put the kit in his garage for the night for us. This was great because we didn’t have anywhere to store it as yet. We managed to wiggle off a few hundred kroner as well which we were proud of!

We called the day to an end and headed back to the hostel. Our next plan was a logistical one. We had to get our kit and luggage from the hostel to the Hotel Cabin. I managed to arrange the hostel to lock up our kit in a safe room so we had to collect it all then take it to the hotel. Then we briefly went out for dinner whilst Chris went to meet some other Icelandic student actors (where he later found his lead female). We headed back to the hotel and prepared ourselves to great the main body of the crew who were arriving.

I decided we should meet with them before they went to bed (they got into the hotel quite late) and so I managed to blag the hotel’s conference room to do so. They arrived and although completely shattered, they were extremely excited. I helped a lecturer sort out their rooms and showed them round. We had our meeting in the conference room at 22:00 and told them what we had done on that day and what we had been arranging for them. They were given hope that the films would be very successful as we showed them how much work we had achieved in just two and a half days. I redelivered a Health & Safety brief and discussed with them as to what days they would be shooting and what they needed to do before then which I think they all took in quite well.

We were nearly ready to film!

Four Days: three day recci and one day planning the pre-trip