Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Canon Hv20 Feature film (Throwback) Part 3

The third part of my interview with Travis Bain is ready. I would like to first than him again for the time that he has given me and the information that he has shared. Digital filmmaking is a process. No one is born a filmmaker. There are born painters and singers, but film making is a learned skilled. Sure there are those with more talent for the game than others, but I believe that hard work and the willingness to keep trying again and again is what will get most of us from the planning, to the page, to the set, to the screen.

The lesson that you need to take from the making of Throwback and other filmmakers that we will be introduced to over the next year or so is that you do not need a boat load of money to be a film maker. You can make a micro budget film with a few thousand dollars. I have been told that features have been made for less than a thousand dollars. It is mostly a matter of deciding to do it and not giving up until the film is finished. Do not let any excuse stop you. It is okay to slow down and make sure that you are not going too fast or making mistakes along the way, but do not stop until your digital feature film is done.

Okay The third and final art of the Canon Hv 20 interview.

First I forgot to ask about sound last time. What did you use to record sound. Did you go with an add-on mic or did you record external sound and sync later?

For most of the movie, I just recorded audio straight into my Canon HV20 with a Rode Video Mic mounted on the camera. Rode is an Australian company and they make excellent microphones at reasonable prices. I’d highly recommend their products to any indie filmmaker, especially those on a tight budget. Their Video Mic is a very directional, compact shotgun mic which has provided me with very clear location audio. In a handful of situations, though, we found ourselves filming in noisy locations due to gushing river water, so on those occasions we recorded backup audio into a second Canon camera (an XHA1) using wireless lavalier microphones. I'm hoping to use wireless lavs all the way through my next feature, in conjunction with the Rode Video Mic. That way, I can either just use the best audio source in post or blend the two together. We didn't use a boom swinger on “Throwback” because we couldn't afford one, so it just seemed quicker and easier to just stick the mic on the camera and operate it myself. There'll be a little bit of wind noise to remove in post, but not a whole lot because we used a furry "dead cat" windsock on the mic throughout the shoot, which attenuated most of the location wind. I think we've done pretty well considering that the entire movie, except for one scene, was shot outdoors. The audio is remarkably clean, although I do want to use wireless lavs more on my next feature, and maybe a digital field recorder as well. There are some cool ones out now which record a safety track that's about 20db lower than your main track, so if there's a sudden audio spike like an actor suddenly yelling out a line at the top of their lungs, you can use the safety track rather than your clipped main track. Luckily we didn't have too many cases of that on this film. Whenever I knew an actor was about to shout, I'd simply lower the recording levels so they wouldn't clip. That's one of the reasons I shot the movie on the Canon HV20 and not a DSLR - you have full manual control over your audio levels. We'll probably only have to re-record a small handful of lines to replace ones tainted by background noise. Otherwise, about 95% of the dialogue you'll hear in the movie is the original dialogue. I always prefer to use the original dialogue if possible, because you can never truly replicate the actor's performance later on. When they're on location and in the moment, that's when you usually get the best material. I never used headphones to monitor sound on location, I just watched the audio levels on the LCD screen and made sure nothing clipped. I’m using some good-quality Sennheiser monitoring headphones in post, although lately I’ve mainly been using them to rock out to Led Zeppelin while I cut action scenes. “Achilles’ Last Stand” is great for keeping you awake and motivated at 2am. I’ll do the sound mix later when the picture edit’s locked off. It’s important to use proper monitoring headphones for your sound mix because consumer headphones that are made for iPods and so forth usually boost the bass and do other funky things to your audio, so they don’t give you an accurate reproduction of your soundtrack.

The subject of post production is overlooked by many first time film makers thinking that they will cross that bridge when they come to it. Did you have post in mind before you started filming?

Absolutely. You have to have a post-production plan in place before you even shoot a frame of footage. You have to set up your workflow in advance and practice good media management otherwise post is going to be a haphazard mess. In a way, a movie isn’t made during production, it’s made in post, so it’s crucial to start planning your post strategy even at the script stage. For example, knowing that we were going to film “Throwback” almost entirely outdoors, I deliberately wrote the script to have as little dialogue as possible. From the outset, I wanted to tell the story visually rather than through endless chitchat. They are called motion pictures, after all. My opinion is that if you want to watch actors talk for two hours, go to a play or a Tarantino film. Otherwise, I’m in the Hitchcock camp: I believe in telling the story visually, with camera angles, action and montage, and defining your characters by their behaviours rather than boring exposition. There have been a number of recent Bigfoot movies where the characters blather on about their relationships and their emotional issues. Nothing sucks the life out of a horror movie faster. I went in the opposite direction—I wrote “Throwback” to be a lean, economical, fast-paced suspense thriller with an action beat every five to ten minutes. With minimal dialogue, your sound mix is easier because you can build your soundtrack from the ground up with a mixture of canned and foley effects. There is character development in “Throwback”, don’t get me wrong, but like “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, we get to know the characters along the way, as we get swept along by the action. Having minimal dialogue also helps your movie’s chances in non-English speaking countries.

Do you get others involved in producing the final product? Do you outsource sound work or the soundtrack?

On this film and my last, “Scratched”, I’ve followed the early-Robert Rodriguez model of pretty much doing everything myself. When you’re on a tight budget, the best person to do post-production on your film is yourself. You are your own best possible employee. You know that you’re always going to turn up, never slack off or call in sick. You’ll work for free, and work tirelessly because you feel passionate about the project. Plus you know the material intimately, so you never have to say “I want it done this way.” On my future films, as the budgets increase, I would love to delegate more tasks to people who know more about these things than I do, but right now, I’m dong all the post on “Throwback” single-handedly. I haven’t outsourced anything as yet, apart from my animated production company logo and a couple of CG smoke shots. As Rodriguez has always said, it’s great if you can be both creative and technical at the same time, because it’s really empowering. Best case scenario is that we get picked up by a distributor and some money becomes available for a professional sound mix in a proper facility. But until that happens, I’m just trying to do the best job I can on my home system.

What about audio effects?

The vast majority of the sound effects in “Throwback” are coming from Sound Dogs, a great US company you can buy sound effects from one by one, which to me makes more sense than spending thousands of dollars on a huge sound effects library you might only ever use a fraction of. So I’m mostly using Sound Dogs, but if I need a basic sound effect like a simple splash of water or something, I’ll just foley it myself and save money.

When making a horror movie there are a lot of little things that have to be done in post. Did you plan on that ahead of time?

Yes. There were a few shots where we knew there'd have to be a digital effect added later, so we'd film it in such a way that when the effect is added, it’ll blend perfectly with the background plate. You’ve got to plan ahead with your audio, too, by recording ambient sound you can use later to fill in any gaps in the soundtrack.

Do you plan on test screening the rough cut before doing your final cut or will it be straight to final cut?

I generally try to avoid showing people rough cuts unless they’re within my “inner circle.” When I screen my work, I prefer it to be as complete as it can possibly be so it's as close to my vision as possible. I don't want people to see a half-baked version of my film and judge it based on that. When people start seeing the movie at preview screenings in a few months’ time, they’ll be seeing something extremely close to my final cut.

I do not know what distribution is like in your country, but the options have grown here in North America. For a micro budget film many of us look to Video of Demand (VOD) and itunes rather than considering theatrical release. Did you have distribution in mind before you started production?

Definitely. The whole reason for making a genre film in the first pace, apart from the fact that I love them and they’re fun, is because they’re the easiest types of films to find distribution. Horror movies sell well, and they probably always will, because there’s a huge market for them, so it was kind of no-brainer to make one as my second feature. I found out the hard way, from making my first feature “Scratched”, that modest little comedy-dramas shot on Mini DV with unknown actors have basically zero chance of finding a distributor.

What are the distribution plans?

The first phase of our strategy is to hit the film festivals. We want “Throwback” to tour the film festival circuit and be seen by audiences and generate buzz. Film festivals offer great exposure, so that’s our first port of call. We’ve already had interest from two of the world’s biggest ones, which is really cool. After a few festival screenings, if the movie is received well, we hope to be in a position to sign with a sales agent, who can then pick up “Throwback” and run with it, and hopefully help us sell it to some distributors around the world. I’d love to be able to sell the film to every major territory around the world. It’s a very Australian film but its also got universal appeal as an action/adventure story, and because it doesn’t have too much dialogue, it would be quite straightforward to subtitle or dub for foreign territories. A theatrical release would be a dream come true but we’re realistic about our chances. It’s very expensive to release films theatrically. Sometimes even movies with well-known stars go straight to video, or if they do go to cinemas, they only make a few thousand bucks. To be honest, I’d be more than happy just to see “Throwback” released on DVD and Blu-ray. A multi-platform release would be ideal. VOD is an interesting new market, but I don’t want to limit the film’s chances to just that market. I think the vast majority of people still prefer to watch movies at home on DVD o Blu-ray, so in that regard, I would love to see “Throwback” end up on shelves in places like Blockbuster and Target. Our 1080p imagery is going to look beautiful on the average HDTV. With the success of Fincher’s Netflix series “House of Cards”, I think VOD is a promising new outlet for long-form TV series, and I myself am very interested in getting into mini-series down the track, but for feature films, I don’t think cinemas or optical discs are going anywhere just yet. People love to watch big movies on big screens, plus going to the cinema is a fun social experience. As long as morons with mobile phones don’t spoil it.

What is next?

I’m developing a slate of projects for different budget levels. So if “Throwback” is a success and someone offers me a million dollars to make a movie, I have a script we can do for a million, or if they offer me five million, I have one we can do for five million. It’s a bit of a mixed bag. One is kind of action/horror inspired by Lovecraft, another is action/sci–fi and another one is a remake of a classic adventure story. By the same token, if someone offers me some other project to do, I’d definitely consider it. There are also novels I’d love to adapt, like Richard Preston’s “The Cobra Event.” I’d love to remake John Boorman’s film “Hell in the Pacific.” Even a big-screen version of an ’80s TV show, like “Battlestar Galactica” or “Knight Rider” would be great fun. What film I make next will depend entirely on how much money’s available and who’s willing to back me. But I’ll be aiming for the stars, so even if I fall short, I might still hit the moon.

Do you plan on specializing in one genre?

No, I want to mix things up like Kubrick or Fincher or Danny Boyle. I'd love to bounce around different genres. I'm very keen to do action, sci-fi, fantasy, crime, horror and blends of those genres like action-comedy and that sort of thing. I want to take my films to conventions like Comic Con and mingle with my fellow geeks!

You know once you do a horror film or sci-fi it is hard not to be classified as a horror film maker. Ridley Scott has done almost every type of film, but people hear his name and think Alien or Blade Runner first. The only film maker that I am aware of who ever managed not to be classified as a type was the great Robert Wise. He did everything from The Day the Earth Stood Still, Run Silent Run Deep, West Side Story, The Haunting to Star Trek. Is it possible to do any type of film you wish? Or do you look forward to being the master of a genre?

I think if you get enough clout you can do any movie you want, but even then it’s not always guaranteed. Apparently Michael Bay, one of the world’s most successful filmmakers, had to make the third Transformers movie so he could do his own personal project, “Pain & Gain.” You’d think a guy like that would be able to just pick any project he wanted, but I guess not. Even in Hollywood, money’s tight these days. Mind you, though, I don’t have any deep desire to do un-commercial, experimental films anyway. At this point I just want to make a variety of genre films right now, whether it be horror, sci-fi, action, fantasy or some sort of hybrid. That’s what I love about John Carpenter’s career—he’s never gone and made a boring Thomas Hardy adaptation or whatever, he’s jumped around between horror, sci-fi and kept it fresh. I remember seeing “Big Trouble in Little China in 1986” and thinking, “Wow, what is this?” And I’m sure people felt the same way when they first saw “Halloween” in 1978. As for “The Thing”, well, people just didn’t know what the hell to make of that back in 1982. It was ahead of its time. So yeah, if I can make another genre film after “Throwback”, I’ll be extremely happy. There are lots of new HD cameras out that I want to test. I don’t even care if I can’t afford an Alexa or a RED, I’d be happy to shoot my next movie on a Panasonic GH3 or the new Blackmagic Design 4K camera. If I can shoot cool shit and get paid for it, that’s all that matters to me.

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