Seeing as how we just wrapped up the first half of our big fall video project, I thought I would share some thoughts with you on the subject of filmmaking, and the personal journey I took to go from initial idea to final product. I heard a lot of questions during production that I thought I would explain a bit here in some detail, even though we cover some of this (in some capacity) in TV 1 & 2.
*Editors note: This post was written over the course of the video being made, and some changes have been made to earlier sections.
Like all creative things, it starts with an idea. The obvious influence in the song choice was Guardians of the Galaxy. It's been a long while since I had that much fun at the movies and the soundtrack was a big reason for that. As soon as I started listening to it after watching the film, I knew I wanted to do something with the song. I really enjoyed the free spirited nature of it and how it had this "fun but self-impowering" feel. That led to the idea of this care free character doing their own thing the norm be-damned, and enjoying their confidence with a smile. The later portion of the story needed to tread the line between capturing this spirt, while not making the character appear as an authoritative threat. This was the most difficult part in both shooting, and more importantly casting. That's what lead to having a female lead. The song is sung by a male, but the character driven aspects to the roll and the tone I was looking to achieve made the gender of lead singer irrelevant. It would fit the character, not the gender.
Initial conceptualizations had the song move more freely through the school, and to capitalize on making the scope seem larger, I imagined it starting outside the school and working it's way in. Track seemed like a natural fit as it's held at the big field, and would be very practical to stage and costume for. I also knew at one point, I wanted the character to "sing" into a microphone. At first I thought if this dance worked it's way through the auditorium, up on stage a mic would be more feasible. Casting for the scene would not. A full auditorium and stage actors would have been tough. I was very close to trying to organize it with the drama club, and in some cases I wish I did, but something had changed my mind. So the idea of lip-syncing into a baton seemed to satisfy that need, and presented a creative solution that fit the setting as well.
As soon as I saw the video to Walk the Moons' "Anna Sun" I knew that there needed to be a choreographed dance portion to it. And I also knew it needed to be done as a long take. The "Phase 3" material (which we shot first) was rhythmically something I knew I wanted to do from the outset, and the frequent costume change was required because of the simple fact the location did not. If the hallways were to remain the same, then the costumes were going to change. Figuring out how the dance number would come together was tough, but I knew I wanted it and so it was worked into the script early on. Thankfully I was introduced to Taylor Jefferson who worked with a group of students on the choreography.
Since this was originally planned as a super awesome opening to the morning show, the "phase 4" concept needed to take place where it did. The desk dancing was a must, as was an aggravated teacher.
Initial concerns heading into production were small, mostly logistical. There were some lingering thoughts as to whether the content was appropriate i.e. suggestive dancing, lyrics being misconstrued. On their own merit these things were not that bad, however, I knew I wanted to go with a female lead and was hoping these things wouldn't be accentuated with that concept.
A script was written pretty easily with the song on repeat for the longest time. As story elements worked into the right place, I was finding the more meticulous I was getting the more difficult it was to fill some gaps in the song with cretive visual content. Some elements in the script were timed down to the second, and finding story ideas or shots that worked creatively in those small gaps was challenging. Some dances were extended, and the rest fell into place.
The next step was storyboarding the ideas from mind to paper, and without a doubt this was the most vital part of the process. Not only were they a good tool to have on set while shooting, they really helped sell the idea to other crew members. Some of the more important elements in theme where camera angles, as they played a more vital role in blocking and than anything else. Knowing ahead of time I wanted a lower angle for costume montage and a higher angle for the long take and choreographed dance was crucial in making those look the way they do. And believe it or not, it helped move things along while shooting on location. There was never any doubt in what we needed to get. Couple this with the fact that some shots took upwards of 15-20 minutes to set up before rolling, and we saved ourselves a bunch of time. I know a lot of you think they are a pain to do, but they help so much. The better and better you get, the less corners your going to want to cut. Don't cut this corner!
We also took a day to get up to the shooting location to test equipment, determine camera settings, and settle on a shooting style. I was able to figure out ahead of time the exposure type I needed to get the depth of field I wanted (exposure triangle TV 2!), as well as work on using artificial lighting. We tested on an overcast day so the lights proved helpful, although on the actual shooting day we had much more sun. We tried two different dolly types on two different surfaces to know how they would look, and which would be best to avoid shake on the camera. The most important decision was to settle on a frame rate. We did tests on 3 (24 FPS, 29.97 FPS, and 60 FPS). At this point in my career 29.97 looked more natural despite everybody shooting at 60 nowadays. This was locked as a creative choice, and we went on to schedule our shooting days.
The classroom scene, and climax of the video. Logistics were tricky on the spot. Big things (like forcing a perspective) or small things (such as making sure the socks on Lindsay's feet weren't too slippery when she was on the desk...safety first!). But the crew here really stepped up their game. There was a lot of moving and shuffling and reseting and redoing. The biggest obstacle was setting the slider for the desired look, and obtaining the shot without being able to move a lot of furniture. The ending, another long take, was set up to have Lindsay move from the classroom to the news desk, with a costume change, several moving extras, two lighting changes, and extensive camera movement. We nailed it.
If there is a trend to this post, it's that the descriptions have been getting shorter as we move into post production. It goes to show you that the planning process is the most important aspect to any film being made. For me post production was simple. Since I had the song laid out, I used markers within FCP to identify the timing and rhythm of the edits. In fact, almost all the edits were done before any video was shot. As the days work was done, I just found the right takes, and moved them to the timeline. The longer portions of the edit were doing some mild color corrections, and light sound editing in the opening scene. Below you can see a gif of the color correction process. The first image where Sue is holding the gray card is the original color balance of the camera. Very blue. The second is balanced for the actual shooting conditions of the day, which while more accurate was still too golden in color with very high contrast. The third image is the touched up image in post production. I'm not happy with how it lost some detail, but I pulled some of the contrast out of the image so we were able to better see Jess's and Sue's facial expressions.
There were some hiccups. The track scene has some shots I was not happy with, and I didn't get to use some other ones. Since it was the only scene where we didn't shoot to a back track (the song playing in the back ground) it was justified. Wind caused some issues for the few times we needed natural sound. In fact, in the shot where Lindsay walks into frame looks around and exhales, the natural sound there was re-recorded outside my house. Since I had to recreate that audio track, I provided the vocals for her exhale. So that's actually me breathing out:)
Eliminating shots was easier here then in the classroom scene. We just had so much good footage. Little things like Anthony dropping his notebook in stunned silence needed to be cut, as did the transition from jumping off the desk, into the long take. This was because I repositioned the extras for the studio section, and they were no longer in costume to dance in the window. It was also hard to match Lindsay dancing on the desk shot to shot because her dance was different each take. The end result is an edit that looks natural for her movements, but we also see Mr. Sherman push the chair in three times. I still think it works very well. The long take where Lindsay walks through the studio hides a pretty cool edit. Since the whole video had some color amplification it ruined the shot when the studio lights went on. So, in the last tracking shot when the house lights go on, the video makes a cut so that the proc-amp filter doesn't continue into the remainder of the shot. Pretty cool and sneaky right?
Let this video be a microcosm for how film production really works. Look at our timeline!
-Initial concept (August)
-The sales pitch in our global meeting (where I danced on the table)
-Casting and crew positions
-Shooting test footage
-Shooting (over 20 hours combined)
-Pick-up shots (only one!)
That's pretty cool, and I can only hope you all felt the final product was worth it. It was quite the short little journey and I can't thank you enough for all your help and dedication. To all the actors who were gung-ho from the start, ready to wear, bring in, change nine times, awesome costumes and give it your all even if it meant looking like a fool. To the dance members who took globals in and taught them how to dance in sync, and then have to put up with nailing it in one take (and a difficult one at that!). The crew who ran cables, held up lights until their arms were sore, assisted in direction, and kept the group moving. The weekend warriors who came to school on a Saturday and hung out on track for half a day. This could not have been done without ALL of your amazing effort and support. Thank you for inspiring me to create and challenge what we do as a club and family. For our next project....well, lets start coming up with some ideas.
It's Mr. Leonard. Teacher, Videomaker, Professional Goofball