Night Shift: A Good Shoot

Independent short films often have a reputation of being highly disorganised, rushed and generally an unpleasant experience however I can happily say that Night Shift was none of the above.

Below: Don Warrington MBE and David Schaal partake in the martini shot.

There aren’t many productions that I have worked on in the last year that I have a genuine interest in watching and I’m very glad to say that this will be one of them. A great cast, a comical script and an enthusiastic director made the job that much more pleasant and enjoyable. On top of that Ben Bailey was an absolute pleasure to work under and look forward to the day where’s his name pops up in my email inbox.

There were little to no hiccups on the shoot and I encountered only one problem in the final hour. Our only BNC drum had a fault and my absence from the camera prep meant we did not have a backup drum. Fortunately the only remaining shots were two static shots and a very small tracking shot pictured above. It was our luck that the Alexa came with a 3m BNC cable which was just long enough to not cause problems. In hindsight I should have noticed the lack of a spare drum and asked for a backup as soon as I realised.

As I had mentioned in the previous article, I had little information about the shoot so I turned up a earlier than breakfast to label up the set of ultra primes (16mm, 24mm, 32mm, 50mm and 85mm) and get to know the kit. At the beginning of every job I open all the cases and take photos of the contents. Its a good habit to ensure you return the kit with all the bits that came with it. I recently came into possession of a mag liner so I proudly set it up for the first time laying the lenses, hard mattes and focus rings on top before wheeling into the first location.

All in all I couldn’t have asked for a better shoot and like to think I made a good impression on the rest of the camera department and hope to work with them in the near future.

Night Shift: Ready to Roll

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Above: I was out of the country for prep so had to my own little prep sat on the sofa.

So after a fairly quiet two weeks I got a phone call from a DP that I have been wanting to work with for a while, Ben Baily. 

Night Shift is a black comedy short film shot in a large manor estate just near Bricket wood and that’s pretty much all I know about it.

There are some recognisable faces from British film and television so I’m looking forward to that as well as working with focus puller Jake Martin.

Find out more about the film here (Facebook), here ( Kickstarter) and here (Company Website).

Another set of night shoots means another period of disturbed sleep but i’ll try and update the site throughout the week.

Squat: Six Italians, Two Cameras and a whole lot of night shoots

Over the summer I took a three week trip driving all the way from London to Rome, visiting small towns along the way, with my girlfriend and a small orange camper-van named Wikus.

From those three weeks I learnt a lot about Italians; their passion, their inability to talk quietly and their mannerisms which they use as a second set of emotions. So these next five weeks were lining up to be quite exciting and I hadn’t even realised that it was a shoot comprised entirely of nights.

I had no idea what to expect when I turned up to the camera prep, the only thing I was aware of was that the entire camera team was Italian apart from me. The team consisted of:

  • Franz Pagot - DP/ A Cam Operator
  • Claudio Grifalconi - A Cam Focus Puller
  • Emanuele Parrini - B Cam Operator
  • Michele Cadei - B Cam Focus Puller
  • Samuel Hayes (Me) - Clapper Loader (For both cameras…Gulp)
  • Stefano Biscaro - Grip
  • Beatrice Solano - Camera PA

Although I had only been doing camera work for just under a year this shoot was a great opportunity for me to step up to the challenge of loading my first full feature.The only things that worried me were having two cameras to look after, that would mean hooking up two monitors, slating two cameras, two sets of batteries and so forth. I was fortunate enough that B Cam were very happy to do a lot of my duties for me as they were not in play all of the time.

Night shoots are never easy and then don’t get any easier the more you do. You become nocturnal, rings under your eyes form more deeply than usual and your body has to get used to the fact that you’re eating lunch at midnight and breakfast at 6pm. I’ll explain them more in depth in a later article but for now all you need to know is that they’re tough.

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Above: The bags under my eyes had already begun to form on day one. (images courtesy of Scanner Rhodes/Squat The Movie Ltd - Photo Credit)

One of the things I enjoyed most on Squat was the crew, especially the camera crew - although my communication with the focus puller, Claudio, was a mixture of broken English and google translates he taught me a lot about the camera and being in such a demanding department. That film really taught me the importance of choosing the right crew not just for their skill but also for their personality. The previous statement was highlighted on one Friday night.

We had just pulled up to the next location, a busy section of road where the hero’s vehicle passes by, a fairly simple shot in theory. However the heavy rain and wind caused the jib build to be everything but enjoyable. As I hooked up the BNC along the jib arm, I turned round to see a group of punters out for the night laughing and chatting amongst themselves. Its was then I realised how much I enjoyed my job and to be honest calling it a job seems a little harsh when it doesn’t feel that way at all. I enjoy filmmaking and I feel as if I’ve turned a great passion of mine into a job and not the other way around. 

So as I clapped the sticks on my board and shuffled under the easy-up, I took pleasure knowing that I had chosen the right path to follow and wouldn’t give up standing in the rain on a Friday night…not for anything.

Below: Less favourable conditions for jibbing

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BNC and Me

Now as you can tell from my header and the picture below I have a great love for BNC but also an enormous amount of resent from how stressed a roll of video cable can make me.

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Above: Daniell Goodall (Friend and Spark) and myself sporting our very best tees on "The Beat Beneath my Feet"

As a trainee you’ll soon learn that you cannot escape BNC no matter how hard you try, that your fingers will be muddied and sore from reeling in a 50ft drum of it and your pockets will be filled with BNC connections.

I just wanted to show you a few little things that I’ve found online and been taught by others that will help you work with and maintain our beloved cable.

  • The Over-Under method is hailed as the be all and end all to wrapping cables. See this man perform it with expert manner and uncomfortable shuffling in this video.
  • The ends of the BNC cable will often get little bits of dirt, dust and debris in them, dislodge said particles with ease with a slight squeeze of Ken Air.
  • Use small resealable zip ties to store the BNC neatly - I can’t tell you how long I spend untangling two separate BNCs wrapped round each other.
  • For dolly shots, run a BNC the length of the track and back to ensure there’s enough slack.
  • Tie off the BNC to the stand before you plug into the monitor or the camera’s pan bar before you plug into the camera. Doing this ensures that when inevitably someone kicks the BNC it doesn’t rip the cable from the metal connector.

Remember kids, treat a length of BNC with love, care and diligence to ensure their long and healthy lives. 

NB: Like the Tee? Get it here!

The Difficulties of a Daily

Now  you shouldn’t confuse the daily (Coming into an on-going production to cover an absent crew member for day) with dailies (film rushes delivered at the end of the day) - it is important to understand a few things about them and why I personally dislike them, furthermore how you can make them run a little easier.

Below: How I feel turning up to breakfast on a daily

Being a newcomer, my phone does not ring as much as I’d like it to and when an unknown number comes up on my screen I swear a little bit of wee pops out at the thought of a focus puller, clapper/loader or DP offering me a job. However there is one instance where that wee quickly dries up - “Hi there Sam, Joe Bloggs has family commitments tomorrow so are you available to cover him?”. After the initial excitement of landing another job, the flurry of questions usually erupts from my mouth, “What camera? What monitoring system do you have? Who is the DIT? “Am I running the mags or is there a PA for that?” The person on the other end of the phone most probably has twelve other things to do so can’t usually stick around so its a quick yes or no and then nothing but dial tone.

I pack my bag, get an early night and immediately get anxious that I’m working for a completely new crew and subsequently don’t get enough sleep having finally drifted off at 1am with a 6:30 am rise…Fantastic(!)

I arrive on set and instantly I’m lost, I don’t know whose in the camera department, where to get my radio from and the most importantly of all where do they keep the lengths and lengths of BNC.

I think the thing that frustrates me the most is showing up, not knowing where things are or how that specific camera team likes to work which accumulates in doubting my own ability. 

For my final words I have a few tips if you’re lined up to do a daily and want to survive.

  • If possible, retrieve the email or phone number of the person you are due to cover to find out as much as you feel is necessary. Be mindful of his/her time however.
  • Arrive half an hour earlier than you would on a normal day to run through what you need to know. (Eg, Type of monitor, wireless or hard-wire, battery count, media count and location of essential equipment).
  • Over breakfast run through the day with your direct superior, now is the time to ask questions.
  • At the end of the day I like to drop a text or leave a note for the person returning thanking them but also notifying them about anything that happened that they should know about. (Broken/ Dodgy BNC, problem with a down converter etc).

Duties of the Trainee

A quick post about what I normally do as a trainee on set and what I recommend others doing.

  • Running batteries to and from the camera.
  • Hooking up the camera to video village.
  • Keeping the rest of the camera department refreshed (water, snacks, fruit, hot drinks).
  • Covering my superior when they step off to the bathroom.
  • Fetching requested equipment from mag liner, camera truck or allocated camera department space.
  • Help the focus puller get marks.
  • Stand in for the actors whilst the DP checks the frame and levels.

Each job requires different duties but the above are what I like to call my default duties.

During prep or before call find out what the day entails and ask yourself how can I make this easier for the rest of the camera department.

Green Street 3: Baptism of fire, rain and football hooligans

As learning curves go this job was pretty steep.

In the weeks between getting the job and first day of production I did a number of things:

  • Completely gutted my bank account buying tools from Panavisions online store.
  • Memorised Evan Luzi’s The Black and Blue - THE camera assistant website which is a haven of information, tips and tricks that you’ll carry forever.
  • Panicked at the thought of undertaking a job that was very much above my skill level.

As I arrived on set the first morning to meet the DP and focus puller (I had missed camera prep due to prior engagements which was a bad idea) I was a barrel of nerves. Luckily they were both very friendly and open to the idea of having a completely green 2nd AC who they’d have to train up. I have a lot of respect and thanks for Jason Iqbal (Focus Puller) who took me under his metaphorical wings and showed me the way of the AC. 

Above: Tending to the camera during a long and cold night shoot.

Being a British mid October the rain, wind and cold came with more force than I have ever experiences and motivated me to buy as much North Face as possible for how else was I supposed to fit in on a film set. In all seriousness having durable and comfortable clothing on set is an absolute must, there’s is nothing worse than having to run 25ft of BNC through the mud in trainers and skinny jeans. I learnt the hard way so that you don’t have to.

Being my first time on the camera department I also made quite a few mistakes from not acclimatising the lenses (a process where you let the lenses reach room temperature so they do not fog), forgetting to hook up the monitor for the director and misplacing my clapperboard numerous times.

I think one of the most valuable things I can tell you as a trainee is that don’t be afraid to ask! Too many times on that job I valued my pride too much to ask for any help and in doing so I slowed down the department. If you don’t know just ask, after all you are a trainee - the key is in the name - you are there to be trained by the others in the camera department.

I shan’t keep you much longer but the job was one I truly enjoyed and I’ll remember that one for a long time. For now have a look at the trailer - whilst I may have not made any creative decisions in this film, I was part of the crew that made the director’s vision a reality so I am truly proud of that.

The story of me and how I became to be.

Having been a avid film enthusiast for most of my life I had never thought of getting behind the camera to make them.

That all changed in the Summer of ‘08 after I was  ’politely’ asked to leave my school of 7 years; which prided itself on classical subjects like History, Politics and Latin (to name but a few). However, upon finding a new school which leant more towards the arts and crafts of life, I quickly discovered my passion for film did not stop at watching them but also writing, shooting and editing.

After a great two years where my other 3 A levels struggled as a result of my 4th (Media/ Film Studies) - I left sixth form with the great desire to attend film school which would hopefully improve my skills as a filmmaker and give me the contacts to kickstart my career.

The two years at Met Film School went swimmingly and I couldn’t have asked for much more. There has always been and always will be a debate on whether film school is the right thing for you. My two pennies are as follows:

  1. You test the water on what path you’d like to follow whether it be gripping, editing or screenwriting film school allows you to have a turn at all of them.
  2. You can learn and hone your craft in a safe, warm and fuzzy environment where AD’s won’t be tapping their watches, DP’s won’t be screaming at you and extras won’t be showing you their head shots. I’ve always thought that you’ll learn a lot faster getting hands on then watching someone else on set where time is tight and there might not always be opportunity to run you through everything.
  3. There are other students to collaborate with meaning you can build a CV with credits to hand out as soon as you’re out in the big scary world of freelance filmmaking.

I could honestly write a full 2 pages on why film school was right for me and it definitely varies on the type of person you are. You may have already one degree so another 2 years might not be ideal on the 3-4 you may have completed. For me I look at it like this; before film school I knew nothing and now I know enough for people to rehire me and recommend me to others, so that’s that.

Back to me…

Upon leaving film school with a big smile on my face and set of hands ready to get stuck in I was lucky enough to meet a production manager who took me on several jobs as a runner.

Now, I hated running, I don’t believe anyone likes it - I’m more than happy to make coffees, run errands or pick up artists at silly o’ clock in the morning but what bothered my is the stigma and lack of respect you receive. They say you have to have thick skin to work in the film industry and my days as a runner definitely reinforce that.

After several months working as a runner, my favourite production manager got me on a low budget feature film entitled “Green Street 3” as a 2nd AC and the rest, as they say, is all a blur.