The things I learned from 48Hours Film Competition 2014

Every year is a different experience, even when it was with the same crew. The first 3 years my partner (at that time he was a work colleague) and I went into the competition with the team I founded, Two Redheads and a Blonde. It was a big learning curve and each year we came back stronger than the last. But due to some circumstances, the group separated. The next 3 years (2 for me, 3 for my partner) we went with my partner’s friend’s team (they change name every year, but the ones they used when me and/or my partner were involved are DeVito, Pants Optional, and Mechanically Separated Chicken). They had been participant of the competition since 48Hours started out, and they are a solid team. Their films are always punchy, short and to the point. It’s like being hit in the face when you didn’t see it coming, and was left with the throbbing to remind you that it happened.

Those of you who follow my Twitter and/or Facebook would know that I was involved in another 48Hours Film Making Competition last weekend. This time my partner and I joined our friend’s team, #Brown at the last minute. It was a whole different experience again, I did my very first sole camera op outside of Uni assignments (oh so many years ago!). It was a little nerve wrecking at first, but I gained confidence as the hours ticked by. Having used to take stills, I was happy framing the shots, but I had to frantically search my memories for the experiences from years back when I was handling video cameras more often in order to make the technicalities work. Overall, I am personally not happy with the result (though after the screening, I was slightly relieved at how the final product looks on the big screen). It’s that whole case of  “I would have done it differently”, and for the first time in my history of 48Hours participation, I felt defeated and unsatisfied. Please note that this post is my opinion alone, I do NOT speak for the team. In any case, it was still a production, we made a movie, and we made it in with 25 minutes to spare. The audience’s reaction was an encouragement, and I was happy to know that people still enjoyed it. But it also showed a lot of flaws I’m not happy with in my work. At the end of the day, I took home experience handling camera and pulling shots that I wouldn’t have gained otherwise, and met new friends, and for those, I am grateful.

So here are the list of things I learned this year, and I hope it could help someone else:

Apple box is not just for actors

I saw one of my friends who was a team mate in Two Redheads and a Blonde at the hand-in on Sunday, and when I told him that I pulled camera, he teased me, “So there are a lot of low angled shots then?”. LOL. He was right. So, I concluded that next time I’m operating a camera again, I’d bring an applebox with me. This year I had to tip toe/stood on a log/raised platform, and craned my neck to see the screen as I was too short to reach the eyecup.

Instant cinematographer, anyone?

Let me be clear, this year was the first time I was credited as a cinematographer (there are 3 of us listed there), honestly, that was me winging it. Thankfully I’ve paid attention when others did the work in the past, and I’ve read and re-read the Cinematography book I bought years ago, and I’ve been taking lots of still pictures lately, so I was able to pull it off without some major “oh crap” moments. I’m up for the challenge, but no matter how much you pay attention and how many times you’ve read the books, you’d still need the experience in order to do well. There are shots I am very unhappy with, but that was the best I could do with the limitations present at the time. I was surprised when I saw the final product that at least a couple of the shots I wasn’t happy with made it to the final cut, especially because we did another take that would have been better than that. But anyway, between me and my partner, we managed to work out most of it, while another scene was done by another cinematographer.

I’ve underestimated my steady hands

We didn’t have steady-cam, or glide-cam, or dolly, so we had to make do with what we had. My partner always told me that I have steady hands for picture taking. And I was surprised because when I was filming it, I thought they were a really rough, but when I watched the footage as it was being captured, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they actually looked decent. Sure, it was still a little shaky and everyone could tell it was handheld, but nevertheless, it was decent. With more practice, I should be able to improve that.

A pool game scene is a continuity nightmare

First of all, thank you The Office for letting us use the space. The shoot would have been worse if we were following a game, but in our case, we weren’t. However, we still had to do multiple takes, and that means everytime we reset, we had to make sure everything looked the same in every shot. I think next time I’d suggest snooker instead, slightly simpler to keep track of.

Partnership goes a long way

We also discovered that my partner and I worked very well as a production team as well as post-production. It’s the “I speak your ‘language'” sort of thing that made us worked really well as a unit. I guess it helped by the fact that we worked together before we got together, and we already knew each other’s workflow and used to it too.

Check every windows and glass doors when shooting a day-time scene at night-time

This is better if you take a look at the picture below:photo 3

One our scenes was meant to show early morning (around breakfast time), but at the time we were shooting it, it was 1am on Sunday morning, and of course there was no sun. So we set up a redhead on the balcony outside the window. Once it was turned on with the curtains drawn, it really looked like early morning. So, once we were happy we started shooting, but it wasn’t until the final cut that we realized that we forgot there is a skylight in shot! And the blinds on the skylight was opened! Thankfully the skylight was on an angle and it was far enough not to be blatantly obvious, but it was still obvious (if you pay attention) that it was night time outside. We had a good laugh about it and file it as a lesson for next time.

It’s better safe than sorry

There are times when you’d think you don’t need to shoot reverse shot or another take, but in 48hours, it’s best if you do it anyway. Lack of sleep can affect your ability to plan, think, and execute tasks. Both my partner and I always do another take for safety, or shoot another angle we thought would work, based on the assumption that we may not have the time and/or the resources to re-shoot the scene if we need it, we also try to enforce this because we didn’t have reference monitor on site with us. On one of the shoots, the person directing that particular scene insisted we didn’t need a reverse shot, but both my partner and I felt that we needed it. In the end, we needed it and we didn’t have it, and the film ended up with a shot that wasn’t ideal for that scene. We couldn’t  go back and re-shoot, because we no longer had access to the venue. So, it’s better be safe than sorry.

Don’t get stuck on an idea… explore!

This is a similar situation I’m facing at work at the moment with a work colleague, and when given a free range, it could prevent you from creating something to your best potential. This year I found the team was faced with this problem. We had plenty of amazing props and costumes to use, but my partner and I felt like the potential plots the team came up with were dictated by the fact that we had those props there to use. Those props and costumes are there, yes, but it shouldn’t become something we MUST use (in the end I justified the team’s decision by thinking that the props are there, might as well use it, but I personally did not agree with that decision), because we didn’t really explore other potentially good ideas that didn’t include those props and costumes (which we didn’t actually need to pull of the genre we got).

Ungodly hours are your new bestfriend

photo 4

One of our shoots happened at 4am (or the 2nd 3am thanks to daylight savings) on Sunday morning. Sure, it’s an ungodly hour, and quite late for a shoot for 48hours standard, but we were shooting a bar scene at one of the local bars (beloved Crumpet, thank you so much for letting us do our shoot there), and when is the best time to shoot a bar scene? When it’s closed. You’d have full control of the room, the light, the music and/or other background noise, so those ungodly hours are your new bestfriends!

I found my inner Abrams!

photo 2

My partner laughed when he saw the framing I had set and told me “Well well! You’ve found your inner Abrams!”. Lens flare? Oh yeah! Though I think he said it because earlier that evening during another shoot on a different location, I also wanted a lens flare and had it in my frame at one point, but we didn’t end up shooting it because the timing was off and we didn’t have the time for it to come around again (the light source where the lens flare was coming from was a moving light, and wasn’t something we could control). Anyway, during the mugging scene shoot (thank you Combat Room for letting us use the space), I wanted to make the villain look menacing. The lighting, the hood and katana already made him look bad ass, but the lens flare made it better!

So hopefully you can find something useful here. I’m just sharing my experience this year shooting our 48hours film. For those of you who did the competition, hope you all had a fun time, and learned something new as well.

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One Response to The things I learned from 48Hours Film Competition 2014

  1. Pingback: The 48Hours 2014 diary (with photos) | Ditha's Creative Journey

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