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Post Mortem: 2016 Boston 48 Hour Film Project

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My 48 Hour Film Project team, Shoot the Moon Films, participated in the 2016 Boston 48 Hour Film Project this year. This is my critical analysis of the processes used to create “All In” (IMDb).

WARNING: There are some details of the film which may function as spoilers, so don’t read below the fold if you haven’t seen it yet.

Day One: Preproduction, Kickoff, Writing, and Planning

The 48HFP genre rules changed – we were allowed to pull two genres which we were allowed to decide between. We pulled “Comedy” and “Adventure Serial”, from which the writers decided to go with “Comedy”. We lucked out, in that Curtis (our producer) was able to attend the kickoff event, since we had been worried that one of us would have to make the 3+ hour roundtrip to Boston for the pickup.

As per previous 48HFP attempts, our writing team did not discuss anything until the script hand-off. This time around, our producer Curtis sat on the phone while they spit-balled ideas, but otherwise the writing process was more-or-less the same as it had been.

The writers finished the final copy significantly earlier than before, with copies going out to the cast and crew before 11:00pm. Jon Demers and I packed the box truck full of everything that didn’t need to charge.

I made some general shot prep notes, then spent a few minutes discussing it with Natasha (my wife, and one of the writers), then got to sleep after I was certain that everything was charging.

Day Two: Filming

We woke up a little after 6:00am, since we were trying to make a call time of 8:00am in Douglas, MA, where one of our friends had helpfully lent out their lake house for us to use for shooting. I took the production vehicle (our large box truck, colloquially referred to as “Blue” for what can only be considered obvious reasons) and left before the rest of the crew to secure the parking location for the vehicle. I hadn’t properly anticipated the Rhode-Island-level potholes on the road leading there, nor the incredibly low-hanging branches. After a white-knuckle turn-around, I got Blue in place, and the crew ended up trickling in between 8:15 and 8:30 am.

Our producer had planned to have us start shooting around 10:00am to take advantage of the position of the sun. We had originally expected a cloudy / overcast day, but last minute changes in the weather forecast had forced us to put together a scrim to cut shadows. (The scrim was essentially electrical conduit, connectors, a sheet, and some clamps.) We hadn’t accounted for the tree branches in the way of the line of sight between the sun and our actors, so we ended up simply using the cloth component rather than the entire scrim frame. Thankfully very little of the script was written to be outside.

Inside we realized that, due to the number of windows in the house, we would be seeing both a fairly severe variation in light levels over the course of the shooting day and a significant amount of back-lighting, causing our characters’ faces to be lost in shadow. Our lighting designer, Deb, hid two panel lights around corners in the open floor plan (and in once case used a room-dividing muslin curtain to form an impromptu soft-box), and rigged up a key light on a C stand to bring around for medium and tighter shots. For the majority of shots, neither video village (located in the kitchen, and connected by a long SDI cable which had been Frankensteined together from several shorter SDI cables), nor any non-practical lights were visible for the majority of our shots.

A few shots, due to lighting, bumped up against the 180-degree line. We may have been able to fix this with a little additional planning for shot/reverse-shot, although it’s very difficult when all sides of a table are being shot around hidden lighting augmentation. Rather than bore any potential readers with the tedium of standard shot setup, I’m going to detail the two “more difficult” shots we executed.

One was a “That 70s Show” style spinning shot, which we executed by collapsing a tripod down, spring clamping it to a table at head level, and clamping a key light to the top of the top handle of the camera rig. This had the annoying effect of mismatching coloring for the entire shot, which we made a mental note to correct in color correction/grading.

The other specialty shot was our last shot, which was supposed to be a god’s eye view shot of four people pushing back from a table. Due to the ceiling height and lens length, the crop makes it a little funny. We ended up having to break the camera down, mount it on the end of a C stand arm, and jack the camera all the way to the ceiling. Even with an 11mm focal length, we couldn’t capture everyone, and the crop is a little … funny. The takeaway for me was: either know your location, your gear, or make a more educated guess.

Another recurring issue we had was the boom mic shockmount misbehaving for our indoor shots. We have a homemade blimp / zeppelin for outdoor shots, but our standard boom mic shockmount, which is much smaller and better suited for inside work, had some issues with stressed rubber bands. This ended up causing some “bumping” noises periodically when the mic was swung from side to side.

We left the location in Massachusetts around 5:20pm and arrived back at the editing station for 6:00pm. I started the footage offloading and, as is my wont, headed out to grab a cup of coffee. Everything had loaded onto the editing deck by 7:00pm, and we started the edit.

It took us roughly four hours, including some breaks for lunch, to get everything edited and the basic sound replacement done. The major issue we ran into involved two takes which didn’t capture properly – both of which covered the establishing shots of the beautiful lake we had shot on. This was due to us not setting up video village or an EVF outside for those shots in order to attempt to save time. It was a hard lesson, but we re-worked the intro concept to get around the lack of footage.

Nick and I sat up getting the credits done (which we usually leave until morning for 48 hour festivals) and doing a basic round of coloring. There were only two shots/angles which provided a fair amount of difficulty: one was a heavily backlit shot of one of the actors (which couldn’t be avoided, due to the round-table setup we had used) and the other was due to some augmented lighting we had used for our rotating shot – everything else had been pre-matched. We also had used an IR cut filter (for the first time), which provided the cleanest and most color-accurate footage I’ve gotten on the BMPC4K body yet. I got the OMF and reference video off to our sound post crew by 3:30pm and fell asleep on the couch near the editing cave.

Day Three: Post-Production and Dropoff

We woke up at 8:00am. This is only notable because we never sleep in until 8:00am during one of these – but the initial round of coloring being done the night before with the credits afforded us some extra breathing room. After another cup of coffee (naturally), I got to work on the second round of coloring.

We ended up round-tripping the post-production audio a total of four times. This had less to do with the new engineer we were working with (who was awesome, by the way), but had more to do with a number of boom microphone clanking issues we had noticed. We also took the opportunity to insert some non-diegetic sounds, as we were going for a more comedic end product.

Post-Mortem Analysis

  • I need to attach my script to me so it doesn’t get lost. - Every time I put my shooting script down, I couldn’t find it, and would have to waste time looking for it.
  • Separate shot list, rather than marking on script (skipped this time to cut down shot prep time). - My separate shot lists are generally very beneficial for the 1st AD, but I had foregone that process in order to cut down shot prep time. This, in retrospect, was a mistake.
  • For outdoor shots: be extremely mindful of the sun. - When filming outdoors in the morning or afternoon, the angle of the sun changes rather dramatically over the course of ten or fifteen minutes. If you’re using a scrim (as we were) to attempt to blunt the hard light given off by the sun, make sure it’s adjustable. We ran into problems when it became apparent that there was no maneuvering room around tree branches and bushes, and each successive take involved resetting the positioning of the scrim. It felt like it took more time to do those shots than it did to film the complicated ones we had scripted.
  • The EVF needs to be plugged into camera power source. - I took care of this as soon as we recovered from the 48. It was an annoyingly expensive adapter cable, but was entirely worth it.
  • Subject matter. - We didn’t win anything this time around; not even an audience award (that went to a drama which screened before us). I attribute some of that to the intentionally offensive subject matter. If we were trying specifically to win a 48, that probably wasn’t the wisest of directions to proceed in.

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