By Dean Butler, 24 August 2012
In December 2010 Shane and I caught up with an old uni friend Stephen Burge, who at that stage was not yet part of Alucinor Productions. Steve and I started meeting up to figure out ways we could work together in the future and decided that to start out we'd look at making a relatively small promotional video production for Alucinor.
We settled on integrating some of our favourite film scenes from the 70's, 80's and 90's into a short online video/homage set in Perth, Western Australia - our capital city, aiming to get local business thinking a bit differently about online marketing videos. We started meeting up a few times a week for a laugh, I mean to plan, and brainstormed some of our favourite scenes. After throwing a heap of ideas out, we came up with a structure to put them all together into one video. Perth Fiction was a way for us to have a lot of fun working together, playing with some of our most loved films and, to challenge ourselves as film makers - take risks, hone skills, learn new ones and test out some new gear.
When you make a video or film for yourself you have the freedom to take risks that you just can't take when you're doing work for a client and we relished being in that position. You can make solid work when you play it safe, but it doesn't leave much room for development. I think you learn most rapidly when you step outside of your comfort zone. Do something you think you can do, but don't know for sure until you try. And if you fail, hopefully you learn something from it :-)
For this blog I originally pondered looking at pre-production, filming and post but thought it might be most useful to look at some of the videos key scenes and the challenges in production and post.
The project wasn't completed until July 2012, nearly a year since the cameras first rolled. After much of the film was shot we simply got too busy with real work (When Separating DVD) and didn't touch it for 7 - 8 months.
Prior to making Perth Fiction I'd done next to no green screen work, visual effects or compositing. These were certain techniques that I understood in theory but had never really put into practice. Early on I decided that I wanted to integrate these techniques into the production process.
The biggest challenge for the Ghostbusters scene, and for the whole video was that the crew (myself, Steve and Shane) were on camera about 70% of the time. So we called in our trusty girlfriends/fiancés to help us shoot. Mariza, Anita and Nicole. They went above and beyond the call of duty (swimming in the Swan river in October at 5am) and we couldn't have made it without them so thanks ladies.
The library scene was shot at our old uni, ECU Mt Lawley. The first hurdle we faced when we scouted was that the lights are on a grid system. Meaning either all the lights are on (on a level), or they're off. We weren't allowed to switch them off and had to be out of the building with all of our gear by 9:30pm. So our window for shooting from when the sun went down was roughly two and half hours on two nights.
We rocked up and blacked out all the surrounding lights with cardboard, tape, blue tack and black sheets. This took WAY longer than expected (we perfected it to a fine art the second night) and took heaps of time away from filming. I think maybe two or three shots got used from the first night.
We were lighting atmospherically for the scene, for the ghost's glow and a green screen. That was where I made a glaring mistake. Did you know that your shouldn't blast a green screen with redheads and turn it into a green light? I didn't. We had a lot of green spill coming off the green screen and it just made post much more difficult than it needed to be. The lesson, light your green screen as softly/gently as you can to reduce the spill. If your lighting with red heads and gullivers, consider lighting your green screen with fluro soft box's or LED's. Don't blast it with light!
A green screen was needed because the book shelves are all in straight rows with not corners or dead ends. So we added a bookshelf in at the end of the isle as well as a new ceiling to cover up our cardboard covered lights and the 'un-basement' like ceiling.
Our Terminator 2 inspired sequence was shot between midnight and 5:30am on St Georges Terrace in Perth City. Shane was away in Europe so I was cameraman and director without much backup. Steve was either driving cars or out on the street communicating when it was clear for another lap.
Shooting was tricky for a few reasons. One being that I didn't have a follow focus (yet) so I was pulling focus manually on the lens. The other is that we hadn't invested in our Zeiss glass yet and other than quite a nice 50mm sigma 1.4 I was shooting on cheap/old Nikon E series glass. A 135mm which performs surprisingly well and a slow 28mm with the smallest rear glass element I've ever seen. It's just a crap, soft muddy old lens. There's a couple of pick up shots of the outside of the Mazda that Steve and I got on a later night on a 28mm Zeiss and the difference was massive. Get nice glass (if you can afford it). If you can't, hire it. It makes a HUGE difference.
Vay (fit running guy) would argue that doing repeated 150m sprints is more difficult, but to me keeping him in focus hanging out the back of a station wagon was the greater challenge. Shooting at night meant apertures were near wide open and on the full frame sensor of a 5D Mark II the focus depth was very shallow. It was tricky trying to keep the same distance between the car and Vay and/or pull focus whilst the distance changed. Fortunately we managed to get enough in-focus shots before Vay tired out.
One of the errors I made in the scene (by accident) was switching the shutter speed from 50 to 30 for a few shots of Vay running. It's not too noticeable but because of the rapid movement there's some noticeable distortion/strobing. There's a still below and it almost looks like there's a superimposed shoulder just off his shoulder. (Look at the pic closely and I might make sense).
The ending was originally set to be a combination of an Indiana Jones sequence through London court and Jaws. Sadly, days before we were set to shoot there was a fatal shark attack at the beach we we're going to shoot at (more fatal shark attacks have followed over the past year around Perth). So for obvious reasons we decided to change the ending and came up with a mix of The Fugitive and Free Willy.
The Fugitive sequence was shot in about 30 - 40 minutes. We only had a small window just after sunrise and hadn't rehearsed at all with the actors (Shane's dad Greg and a friend Chris). Luckily for us, they pulled it out of the bag :-) The difficulty was in the compositing and green screen work.
The cliffs where we filmed were only a few metres tall but we needed them to look between 30 - 40 metres. So Steve and I shot plates of small cliffs and rocks from the opposite side of the river, blew them up and added other elements to sell the wide shot of the cliff face.
To get the background cliff elements for the final shot and the shot where Greg (Shane as his stunt double) hits the water, Steve and I swam around in Perth's Swan river multiple times to take photos of cliffs at various angles. I'd then mess with them in Photoshop and blend them together in after effects.
Blackwall reach is a 6 metre cliff drop near Fremantle. Shane (stunt double for Greg) can be seen jumping off at 5:02. To get the shot I had to jump in, have the camera lowered down to me on a rope and then dangle around in the water rehearsing the shot until Shane did it in costume. I must have been in there for about 40 minutes. It was good fun but I couldn't help but think about sharks.
The final challenge was the Dolphin jump - a combination of an inflatable dolphin on location, an animated image and a model against a green screen.
Post production involved a massive amount of sound work. Shane recorded all the voices, sound effects as well as sourcing royalty free sounds and did the sound mix whilst Steve and I turned our attention to sourcing and mixing the music.
In many ways I learnt more from this project than anything else I've done because of the amount of risks we took. I challenged myself to do things I hadn't attempted before, made mistakes and learnt from them. The key lesson for me is just to get out there and make something, push yourself outside of your comfort zone so you can develop and learn something new and, have fun doing it.