Short film production — Storyboards / camera angles for movie making.

Case Study: When Kane was Able

When Kane Was Abel was a short film pro­duc­tion by NAFA Pro­duc­tions for Tropfest, in which Halyu­ci­na­tions Stu­dios was enagged.  This com­e­dy-mar­tial arts short film drew upon the old David Car­ra­dine Kung Fu TV series.

Halyu­ci­na­tions Stu­dios han­dled most much of the pre-pro­duc­tion  and post-pro­duc­tion film edit­ing.  Pre-pro­duc­tion includ­ing sto­ry board­ing, loca­tion scout­ing, shoot­ing sched­ules, film­ing, clip log­ging, and the post pro­duc­tion edit­ing and export to DVD. Pro­duc­er Tony Chu audi­tioned actors and crew and Direc­tor Mal­colm Ian Con­nell han­dled Scripting/writ­ing and direc­to­r­ial duties on the day of the shoot.

What fol­lows are sam­ples of the mate­r­ial gen­er­ated to cre­ate the film, which will give you a per­spec­tive of the process of short film­mak­ing.

Short film production — Storyboards / camera angles for movie making.

Script for "When Kane was Able"
Open­ing lines from scriptScript­ing

Pre-production

Scripting

The begin­ning of any movie maker’s adven­ture starts with the sto­ry. Whether it’s a 90-minute fea­ture or a 30-sec­ond adver­tise­ment film mak­ing begins with a sto­ry.  Our exam­ple here was a sev­en-minute com­edy script.  The film indus­try stan­dard is rough­ly one page of a prop­er­ly script­ed sto­ry­line equates to one minute of film. The script deliv­ered to us to work with was on its third draft by Mal­colm Ian Con­nell.  Mal­colm had request­ed to direct it to see his sto­ry­line to com­ple­tion, which is not at all an unusu­al desire but some­times another’s inter­pre­ta­tion of the deliv­ery of a script can open it up to pos­si­bil­i­ties the writer nev­er envis­aged.  This is always some­thing worth con­sid­er­ing as a writer.

Audi­tions and rehearsals

Audi­tions were held at The Illi­nois Hotel in Five Dock on Octo­ber 7th and involved a cold read, plus mar­tial artists were asked to demon­strate their moves. The first (and only) rehearsal was booked on Tues­day 12th Octo­ber, also at the Illi­nois Hotel, from 6pm till 8pm. From there we went straight to the shoot.

Storyboarding

Halyucinations Story Board Sheet
Open­ing sto­ry­board

The sto­ry needs to be trans­lated into visu­al media and the first step is the Sto­ry­board – basi­cally a com­ic book for a film.  Here is the sto­ry­board for the open­ing scene described in the script extract above.  The Graph­ic Artist Halyu­ci­na­tions com­mis­sioned for the sto­ry­board was Margie “B”.  Margie is a Graph­ics Artist par excel­lence (as well as the artist who designed Halyu­ci­na­tions Stu­dios’ logo).  Margie’s back­ground in Graph­ics design began in col­lege when she stud­ied fine arts and graph­ic design and con­tin­ued as she worked for var­i­ous pub­li­ca­tions as a design­er.   She also worked as a free­lance illus­tra­tor, in which capac­ity she began work­ing for Halyu­ci­na­tions Stu­dios as a lay­out artist doing the sto­ry boards for pro­duc­tions.

Location scouting

Illinois Hotel back bar layout with camera angles
All com­bined cam­era angles

The loca­tion venue the pro­ducer found for the shoot and gained per­mis­sion to utilise the back bar for, was the Illi­nois Hotel on 15 Par­ra­matta Road, (cnr Arling­ton Road) in Five Dock.  The bed­room scenes were actu­ally shot last in the actu­al bed­room of the son of one of the per­sons involved.  The sto­ry­board allowed the Direc­tor of Pho­tog­ra­phy (DOP) to mea­sure up the bar and map it out to deter­mine place­ment of all of the cam­era angles (there were 22 in the hotel bar) for all 61 scenes and then deter­mine the sequenc­ing of the scenes and devel­op a sequence for a three-night shoot.  The cam­era angles were all mapped out in a to-scale map of the back bar of the Illi­nois Hotel and then these were bro­ken down into a dai­ly (or in this case, night­ly) sched­ule.

Scene breakdown

Camera angles for the first scene in the Bar
Open­ing bar scene — Kane enters the bar

To come up with the cam­era operator’s angles we’d use in the hotel bar, the sto­ry­board was bro­ken down into a series of scenes and the cam­era angles nec­es­sary to shoot that scene deter­mined. We broke the room up into a series of four quad­rants (A,B,C and D) in order to describe to the pro­ducer, direc­tor and sec­ond cam­era oper­a­tor the rel­a­tive posi­tion­ing and direc­tion of the cam­era shot.  The open­ing bar scene shot on loca­tion (illus­trated here), in which Kane enters the bar, required six sep­a­rate cam­era angles shot.

We then divid­ed the sto­ry­board into six “scenes” and deter­mined the cam­era angles for each of them.  The result was 61 shots done with 22 Cam­era angles (as shown in the image above).  Keep in mind this was for a sev­en minute Tropfest film.  This prepa­ra­tion was all car­ried out before a sin­gle frame was shot.  Know­ing the cam­era angles for each scene in the storyboard/script will not by itself gen­er­ate the final plan to com­mence a sequence of shoot­ing objec­tives.  In fact, film­ing in accor­dance with such a sequence is pre­dictably the most inef­fi­cient and cost­ly way to make a film.

Shot sequencing

"Whne Kane was Able" in order of storyboard
List­ing all shots in script sequence

This is the prac­tice of list­ing all shots in script sequence. The most expen­sive piece of machin­ery to use on a film set is the cam­era.  (And by that I don’t mean it’s cost because I am sure many peo­ple will say they have lights or props or per­haps actors on whom more mon­ey is deployed.)  I use the term expen­sive in terms of what has to accom­pany the cam­era.  They are  lights, sound equip­ment, actors, props, etc and in par­tic­u­lar they way these have to “fol­low” a cam­era from posi­tion to posi­tion.  Every time you move the cam­era so does every­thing else — hence it’s “expense” in time and logis­tics on a shoot­ing set.  Shoot­ing a film in sequence of the script or sto­ry­board is like­ly to be the most inef­fi­cient and expen­sive man­ner of doing so.

Far bet­ter indeed to sequence your shoot­ing in terms of cam­era angles and so reduce the pro­duc­tion cost of mak­ing a film.  If you know all your scenes as depict­ed by the sto­ry­board and can deter­mine as a result of know­ing your loca­tion all the pos­si­bil­i­ties for cam­era angles, then you can sched­ule the sequence in which you shoot to be the most cost effec­tive, with the goal being to min­imise the trav­el of the accom­pa­ny­ing lights, sound equip­ment, actors, props, etc.

Film Production

The schedule for the first day of shooting based on Camera angles.
The shoot­ing sched­ule for day one

Continuity

In this case, after we mapped out the cam­era angles, we then resched­uled them for what we hoped would be each day of the shoot.  One of the issues that one has to take care of with bas­eing your shoot­ing around cam­eras and non-lin­eal pro­cess­ing is, of course, con­ti­nu­ity.  The final film will be re-edit­ed in lin­eal sequence so the shirt the actor wore when he was in a scene on day one has to be worn on day five when the next scene from the sto­ry­board is shot.  In fact, it is often not thing like shirts but the place­ment of props that are mis­han­dled in con­ti­nu­ity.  So, to this end the con­ti­nu­ity crew will draw up their own shot list based on what the Direc­tor or Direc­tor of Pho­tog­ra­phy (as was this case) has gen­er­ated to mon­i­tor con­ti­nu­ity.

listing of sequences for the continuity crew
Con­ti­nu­ity sequence for first day

Hence, we start­ed on night one on the first day of shoot­ing with a close up of Bart, our vil­lain, thrust­ing his fist into “Kane’s face” in a bar fight scene.  It was the only scene that required that par­tic­u­lar cam­era angle.  From there we turned the cam­era 180 degrees (as well as the lights, etc) and shot two sequences that were to be edit­ed into the film 10 lin­ear sequences lat­er.  In this man­ner we con­tin­ued to shoot anoth­er 57 sequences for the next three evenings.  But as afore­men­tioned, all this paper­work, plan­ning and prepa­ra­tion was made and dis­trib­uted to cast and crew as they had need before any­thing was “in the can”.

Actor and film crew scheduling

This also allows for the sched­ul­ing of cast and, in this case, because of the unavail­abil­ity of cer­tain actors at spe­cific times, the shoot­ing sched­ule was also adjust­ed to allow actors who could not stay on set till late, to go home ear­ly.  This was after all a short film with min­i­mal bud­get.  So, the choice to shoot spe­cific angles and to do them ear­ly as opposed to late in the evening was also guid­ed by cast and crew avail­abil­ity.  So, the choice to shoot the first shot of the “vil­lain” punch­ing the “hero” was because (as you may note on the sched­ule image above) three actors guar­an­teed they would be the first on the set.

Logging sheets

The logging sheet used on set by the Cameramen for "When Kane was Able"
Log­ging sheet to com­mence film­ing

With writ­ing, draw­ing, map­ping, locat­ing, nego­ti­at­ing, sched­ul­ing, and paper­work all com­plete, the first day of the shoot com­mences.  The paper work does not fin­ish here. It would be nice to assume that every shot tak­en will be per­fectly act­ed; no pass­ing car, train, plane will inter­fere with sound; no con­ti­nu­ity per­son will for­get the cup that should be to the right of the actor; no actor or crew to the side will cough unex­pect­edly; that the sound boom will not unno­ticed wan­der into the scene from the top of the scene but…

This is why the cam­era per­son should con­sid­er the per­spec­tive of the film edi­tor.  A log sheet that that records all the takes and which ones were good, bad or indif­fer­ent allows the film edi­tor to com­mit min­i­mal effort in locat­ing footage to use.   This along with the footage gen­er­ates the guid­ance for the film edi­tor the knowl­edge of what footage to load up for reassem­bling the non-lin­ear sequences into the final film sequence.  While in this case one of the cam­era­men was the film edi­tor, this may not usu­al­ly be the case.  This is the com­mu­ni­ca­tion from the direc­tor and crew as to what shots to use.

Movie making made!

A scene from "when Kane was Able" as the "hero" bids farewell to the Barmaid and attempts to exit the pub.
A scene from “Kane”

Final­ly, after four nights of shoot­ing, shuf­fling cam­eras, lights, props, actors, crew, the final shot is logged and the cam­eras closed down, the lights switched off to allow to cool and the actors and crew go home.

Post production

Filmmak­ing is a col­lab­o­ra­tive process involv­ing sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of peo­ple. This is when the film is hand­ed over to the film edi­tor. This stage of movie mak­ing – the post edit­ing – is what direc­tor Mal­colm Ian Con­nell once described to me as “the loneli­est job in film busi­ness”.  This col­lec­tion of entan­gled hodge­podge of footage has to be reassem­bled into a coher­ent lin­early sequenced sto­ry that may loose­ly resem­ble the sto­ry­board.

And so, I sat in a small office, with the occa­sional com­pany of the Direc­tor, for hours in front of a Mac­in­tosh com­puter run­ning Final Cut Pro, regen­er­at­ing the sto­ry.  It was cut togeth­er, export­ed onto a DVD and deliv­ered in time to the Tropfest fes­ti­val coor­di­na­tors to be judged along­side of some 700 oth­er films.

Film makers closure

What­ev­er the final result of your film it is impor­tant to keep in mind that the jour­ney from con­cep­tion to screen is rarely what you expect. It is a tru­ism in the film busi­ness that there are always three sto­ries gen­er­ated in the cre­ation of a film:  The one you write, the one you film, and the one you edit.  It is very unlike­ly these will ever be the same and in fact more like­ly not to be.  Innu­mer­able writ­ers, film mak­ers and edi­tors have said to me over the years that there is lit­tle point being too emo­tion­ally attached to your part of the process in the hope that it will ever be what was orig­i­nally envis­aged.

That said, there is a process that one fol­lows in gen­er­at­ing a film that serves the process of enter­tain­ing, edu­cat­ing, elic­it­ing, inform­ing, whether in the form of a 30-sec­ond adver­tise­ment, a music video clip, a short or long film.  The longer and more com­plex the film, the more you will need to fol­low these process­es (amongst oth­ers) to be able to afford­ably gen­er­ate your result.  The sim­pler the film, the eas­ier it is to get away with­out the paper trail, and man­age it all in your film maker’s head, but what­ever the case these are all part and par­cel of the process­es you need to fol­low to gen­er­ate your pro­duc­tion on film.

And when you want to do this, please remem­ber to con­tact us!

Visual Media for Visual Artists
Halyu­ci­na­tions Stu­dios

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