Saturday 16th August 2003|
A few of the Foiled Productions team meet outside the Curzon Mayfair
cinema in London, to take part in the
National 48 Hour
Film Challenge. Apart from myself (Henry Burrows), there are
Mark Flitter, Mark R Stalker, and Mike Varty, who are all up for
helping out in whatever way they can, from writing, to acting, to
post-production (although Mr Stalker is only around for a few
The two Marks and Mike head off to a cafe for some breakfast,
while I sit in the cinema to watch the opening trailer and
receive our assignment for the next two days. I'm eager to get
started, and it's kind of frustrating to wait for everyone
else to register, but I find a cool filmmaker to chat with.
I finally get to pick out a title and genre. I get the title
"Upon A Time" and the genre "Documentary". This could prove
quite a challenge, as I've never made a documentary before,
except possibly a school project many many years ago on the
subject of speech synthesis and recognition. I phone the
information through to the others so they can begin the
brainstorming while I register my assignment.
Finally get back to the others and we go through some of the
ideas they've had. The team on the table next to us have
got a genre of "social commentary" so things could have been
worse - I've no idea what we'd have done with that! We spend
some time discussing various options that might somehow be
connected to the "time" aspect of the title, and eventually
decide on the subject of reincarnation and past-life
After a quick phone call to Julien, a friend who is French
and might prove useful, we head out of London towards Mike's
house in Farnborough. On the way, we pass a building which
looks like it could be the office of perhaps someone who is
going to be in the documentary, so I grab a quick shot of it
just in case. As I film it, a passing pedestrian trips over
a loose paving slab right in shot!! It won't make the final
cut, but it's highly amusing.
We arrive in Farnborough and begin to gather props and come
up with more ideas for how the documentary is going to work.
We want to get a twist in there somehow, and come up with
the idea of having one of our crew die during a past-life
Then we hit upon another idea, to feature the numbers 4 and
8 throughout, seeing as this is the "48" hour challenge.
We'll have our crew member dying at four minutes to eight,
and the last thing he'll see is a clock - this also ties
in quite nicely with the title "Upon A Time". As another
twist on the time theme, we'll try to get clocks into as
many scenes as possible, all showing the time as four
minutes to eight.
Everyone vanishes, off to find clocks.
Finally we're all back together again, with props, and
Julien has turned up too. We haven't exactly figured out
how we'll use him, but there's got to be some way we can
get some French into our documentary!
As Mark Stalker isn't going to be around for much longer,
we decide to shoot a scene with him in first. We set up
our two cameras in Mike's office, Mark puts
on a shirt, and we interview him for about half an hour
on the subject of reincarnation and past-life regression.
Of course, we haven't had time to rehearse anything, or
to do any research into the subject, so everything is
improvised, but we get a few usable shots.
Mark Stalker departs, and we decide to use Mike as a
"hippie" type who will be our one believer in reincarnation
in case we don't find anyone else. We grab some random
shots in the garden, including a great one of him hugging
a tree, then return back inside to do another interview.
Again, we're very unprepared but still manage to get some
shots which we should be able to use in the final cut.
We're still not quite sure how we're going to fill five
minutes and keep it interesting, but at this stage it's
important to get as much on video as we can.
Mike heads off to a party, leaving just myself, Mark Flitter
and Julien. We've finally decided how to use our French
speaker - we're going to pretend we've regressed him back
to a past life where he's Joan of Arc! Julien lies on a
couch and we film him as he describes the last few minutes
of her life. Once again no time for rehearsals, we just
set up and go. Julien then heads off home, leaving just
the two of us to figure out what we're going to do next.
We've got perhaps two or three minutes worth of usable
footage - maybe more? - but still need the crucial final
regression and as many other interviews as we can grab.
We're just short of people...
We decide to head out to the car park of a local supermarket
to grab some random opinions from people. Out of the first
few people we ask, two agree to sign our release form and
answer a couple of questions, but after that we're unable
to find anyone willing. Time is ticking on, so we head
off to grab some food. While we eat, we phone around various
friends and family to try to find more people willing to
answer questions on camera. Mark's parents are in, and not
far from our current location, so we decide to make that our
We record an interview with Mark's father, who has quite a
lot to say on the subject, even if he doesn't believe it
himself. Once again we manage to get a clock into the scene,
despite the fact that we're in the back garden. Later we
discover the sound of a bird squawking all over the audio,
but by then it's too late!
We head back to Farnborough, this time to Mark's house. He's
managed to get through to one of his neighbours who is in
tonight and willing to take part. We decide that he'll play
the part of the regression therapist who worked on Julien
earlier, and who will send Mark back into his past life.
Before we shoot any of that, we hit the internet and track
down some web sites about reincarnation and past-life
regression. Fortunately what we've already filmed isn't too
far from what some people think, which is a relief as we
have basically been making it all up as we go.
Mark's neighbour Ash Buttle turns up, and we immediately
grab a shot of him asking a few questions - we can
probably edit these into Julien's scene we shot earlier today.
Then we shoot a scene where "Dr Buttle" turns up at Mark's
house and Mark interviews him. This all goes very smoothly,
so we go straight on to the past-life regression which
will end the documentary. No rehearsals or anything, we just
go straight in and film a few takes. The first take is
just over two and a half minutes, which would be half the
length of the entire thing, so we try to shorten it down
as much as possible. We decide that the year Mark is
regressed to is 1948, to once again fit in with the "48"
Having got enough shots of "Dr Buttle", I head off home
with nearly two hours worth of footage in total from today.
It sounds a lot, but we had two cameras running on all
scenes so it's not that bad. Anyway, there's a whole day
to edit it - surely it won't take that long...?
Before getting some sleep, I do the opening titles, keeping
it simple with a plain screen of text. If I get time at the
end, I can always make it look a bit more flashy then.
Sunday 17th August 2003
I start work on transferring the footage from video tape onto
my PC - it's very slow work, as I'm also picking out pieces
which could be used in the final cut and transcribing the
dialogue. It might take hours to do, but at the end of it I'll
have a detailed list of all the shots and editing will be a
simple case of picking the right order for them.
Mark Flitter reunites with Ash to get a shot of him that we
can use as his introduction, as it's something we forgot to
Mark meets up with his friend Shaun, who knows nothing about
what we're doing, and films an interview. Amazingly, Shaun
is a total believer in reincarnation, and relates some stories
about his previous lives. At last we have part of the
documentary which isn't fake!
Mike, suffering a hangover from the party he was at last night,
and some serious writer's block, starts work on ideas for the
music. He soon realises that he's left one of his main keyboards
at the party, which makes things a little more challenging.
He spends the rest of the morning downloading information on
sitars from the internet, for the "hippie" scenes.
Mark arrives at my house, to deliver the scenes he shot earlier
this morning. I'm still working my way through the tapes, not
even halfway through the first yet! The quality of the picture
on my Canon camcorder is vastly superior to the Panasonic, which
isn't really surprising as it cost about three times as much.
However, the sound is better on the Panasonic - definitely less
noise overall. This means I'll probably end up using most of
the video from the Canon and most of the audio from the Panasonic.
Mark leaves again, and I head out briefly to grab some lunch.
I then continue logging shots.
I begin to put together a rough edit, picking out shots so that
there is some kind of order to them and each is somehow connected
to the one before, in terms of what people are saying. As I
suspected, this part is made very easy by the fact that I have
all the dialogue written out and I can see at a glance which
shots I need.
Mark Flitter reappears, to help out with the last part of the
first rough cut. We manage to get the final regression scene down
to a more manageable length by some careful editing and cutting
to shots of Dr Buttle.
Everyone else turns up at my house - Mark Stalker to sort out
props and to see how things are going, Mike to get a copy of the
rough cut for soundtrack inspiration, and Julien to tell me what
he was saying yesterday so I can subtitle it.
Everyone leaves again and I start tidying up the edits to make
things neater, and copying the audio from the second camera.
I also make the decision to convert everything into a letterbox
format, which enables me to correct some slightly dodgy framing
and to make the whole thing look better.
Mark Flitter records an interview with Sue Element, who has
some genuine past-life stories to tell.
Mike - finally starting to recover from his hangover - begins
to write some music using CubaseSX against the rough cut.
I'm still converting the edits into letterbox format and
rendering them out to new files - once I'm happy, I can delete
all the old files and clear up some much needed disk space.
Mark Flitter turns up with loads of food from his local Chinese
and we just eat for a while. I grab a copy of his latest
interview, and we move some of the edits around until we feel
we've improved things enough.
Mike eats his dinner while watching an aircraft crash documentary
on TV which gives him loads of ideas for what to do with the
Mark heads home. I continue updating all the audio so it comes
from the second camera.
Mike records Mark Stalker's ticking clock for the main 'time'
theme. It has a nice mechanical clock sound, and coupled with an
artificial tick noise (for some bite) it does the trick.
Monday 18th August 2003
I start working on putting the names of our characters up on
the screen the first time we see them - I decide to do it only
for the so-called "experts" otherwise things could get very
confusing. I also get the closing credits finalised and start
gathering famous quotes and statistics about reincarnation to
put up on the screen throughout the documentary.
Mike's now about halfway through the music, and has a nice
sitar section in place with some Indian drum beats.
Mike turns up at my house with his PC so we can work on getting
the music matched to the final cut. I kick off a render of the
whole thing, which takes some time to complete, while Mike tries
to get his PC running as it should. All kinds of weird problems
start arising, like his PC crashing, refusing to recognise the
sound card, locking up...
Mike finally gets the latest cut imported into Cubase and starts
working on refitting the music. I experiment with various options
for our on-screen quotes, including scrolling text, big text and
the final decision - yellow text on a golden bar. It's easy to
read and doesn't obscure too much of the picture.
Mike cleans up the dialogue sections, doing noise reduction,
EQ and levelling. It's starting to sound much nicer. Outside,
the sky is getting light...
I figure it's probably a good idea if I test that I can output
the video to my camcorder, as the films have to be submitted on
MiniDV and that's the only way I can record it in that format.
I connect up all the leads, change the settings in Premiere to
output to DV, and... nothing happens. Not a sausage.
I check all the connections, start and stop all the applications,
and still I can't get the camera to recognise that there is
some video coming out from my PC. Something very strange is going
on - the PC also doesn't want to play the video now, just
displaying a black screen whenever I try to watch it. It starts
to get a bit worrying, as I don't know anyone else who might be
able to write the film out to tape... I start hunting the internet
for possible solutions.
Mike's PC starts crashing again.
After a total shutdown and restart, I'm very relieved to find
that output to the camera is working once again. I should have
thought of trying it earlier, but by now I'm quite tired and
not thinking straight.
Mike performs the final mixdown of the music track and cleaned
dialogue tracks, and passes it back to me for the final rendering.
We spend some time adjusting audio levels in Premiere, to ensure
that what people are saying isn't drowned out by the music. It
takes several passes to get it good enough, especially as we're
both half asleep!
We finally manage to get the finished film out onto a MiniDV
tape. It's such a relief to know that it doesn't matter how many
times the PCs crash now, we have a tape with it on. I play it
back, just to be sure it's recorded successfully!
Mike leaves, and heads home to get some much-needed sleep. I'm
not so lucky - the tape has to be delivered back to the cinema
in London. I check up on train times, and find one in less than
I get on the train to London, tape securely wrapped inside a
padded envelope. Lack of sleep is making me paranoid - have I
accidentally sealed up a copy of my holiday video by mistake?
Does any of the film actually make any sense at all?! Oh well,
it's too late now...
I post the tape through the letterbox at the cinema, onto a
huge pile of other entries. There's not much room for more tapes,
so hopefully someone will be along soon to empty it out. As I
head off to do some shopping, paranoia once again makes me think
- what if someone reaches through the letterbox and removes my
tape from the top of the pile?! Why is that dog staring at me?
Where am I? What day is it???
...beyond the infinite
Overall it was a great fun 48 hours, and the word "challenge"
is very apt. Considering we made an entertaining documentary
on a subject we knew next to nothing about, we didn't do too
Next year we'll probably turn up well prepared with hundreds of
cool locations, dozens of willing volunteers, the most amazing
props ever seen - and get the genre "monologue".