Stairs & Stares

Stairs and Stuff (Part Three)

NEWS:
There has been a slight delay between posts and said delay stems from ye old eternal life dilemma: When too much work and too much life intersect at the same time, time becomes a luxury. In other words, I had a lot of stuff going on and posting a blog entry had to take a back seat to everything else. I’m still quite busy, but the show must go on, as it were.

Back to the story I was telling…

I asked the always wonderful Sharon Mak to play the part of the second walker. Sharon played ‘The Girl’ in CONNECTED and was kind enough to trust me once again to not make her look foolish on camera.

A mutual friend of Sharon’s and mine was in town and the three of us where chatting over dinner. It was then that I pitched the story to Sharon and The Professor (the mutual friend and a real professor). I told them what would happen in the film and when I was finished explaining the story there was this pause and look of confusion on their faces. Calmly the Professor turned to Sharon and deadpan said, “He’s being creative”. It was one of those moments that pretty much any creator will have when everything you are talking about makes sense to yourself, but makes no sense at all to any normal human being. Nevertheless, Sharon agreed to be in the film.

SHOOTING: Day One

I figured it was a good idea to shoot all of Sharon’s parts first. In my head, I only needed her in one shot and to help me with another. So she showed up to my flat and we proceeded into the stairwell on my floor where pretty much all the action would take place. The first shot done was to be the cut where I land at the bottom of the stairs and the banana peel falls on my head. I told Sharon, when she asked what she needed to do, “I need two things: 1) For you to walk down the stairs in one shot and 2) For you to drop a banana peel on my head”. She grinned broadly at the second task as I figured she would, relishing in being able to take part in my personal humiliation.

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It was a hard shot to get because the space at the landing was tight and I had to set up the camera at an angle wherein it would look like my head was hitting the floor and not show the cushion my head would in fact hit (though it was a THIN cushion) and be framed as such that when the banana peel landed on my head, it would be in frame AND look good. Any number of things could have gone wrong and all of them did. Such as: My not landing in the right spot (My knees were up two steps because the landing was a tight space so I had to start my fall from that hight), by not falling fast enough, the camera not being in the correct spot or shifting due to it slipping when I hit my head on the cushion, my being out of focus, and finally… Sharon missing my head when she dropped the banana peel, not dropping it at the right time (too soon or too late), or the peel not landing in a nice looking way. Needless to say, it took a lot of takes to get it right. If I am not mistaken, the take used is the one where I hit my head pretty hard on the THIN cushion and saw stars when I landed. That’s showbiz!

After we got that out of the way, we shot my standing up, walking out, panning up the stairs and following Sharon’s walk down and reaction when she got to the bottom of the steps. That was also quite difficult because I wanted it all in one take and once again, if one thing didn’t go right, it would have to be done all over again. I forget how many takes we did, but it wasn’t as many as it could have been. I think the take I used was the last one we shot. I moved on because it was one of those moments where I just felt I had what I needed. BUT, just in case, I took some safety shots of Sharon walking down the steps and reaction so that if the one take didn’t work, I could have editing options and salvage the scene. Lucky for me, that last take worked. I think we must have done at least twice as many safety shot takes as we did the master shot and I ended up using none of them: I didn’t need to.

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I think we’d been at it for a couple hours and it was STEAMING HOT in that stairwell. It was the middle of summer and that stairwell had no air circulation at all. I was wet with sweat and Sharon was dry as a bone. How? Only she knows. My theory is that she isn’t human. Either way, I called it a day with a shrug and muttering something like, “I guess I have what I need. Yeah, I think I’m good. It should be fine. I don’t know… Yeah, it’s fine,” not really 100% sure I did have what I needed, but I’ve learned to trust my creative instincts over the years. Sharon was a trooper and said she’d be ok with continuing, to make sure I was happy, but it was hot and I didn’t want to keep her too long and she was already being so patient about everything, so I just stopped.

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Sharon did a great job and her few seconds in the final film don’t portray the amount of work she put in for her contribution. Even on the day, I don’t think she really understood what the film was supposed to be, yet she went along with it all and trusted that I knew what I was doing. For that, I give her my utter thanks.

I took Sharon out for a quick lunch and I returned home to look at the footage and pick the takes I would use. As I said, I got my one take shot as I wanted it and felt very happy about the first day of shooting. It didn’t amount to much finished footage/time, but I liked what I had. Alas, my clothes were soaked with sweat so I had to allow them to dry before I could do any more shooting, so tomorrow would be another day.

Next: Walking Makes One Sweat

HIM
The second issue has been completed over at HIMcomic. You may have noticed that no new pages have been posted in the past couple of weeks. As previously mentioned, I’m a but busy, right now, and so HIM will be on hiatus for a time until I can be freed up once again. I will start posting HIM again soon, but for now, I’ll be posting on this site for the time being. Naturally, I will announce when HIM continues from this blog. Thanks for your patience.

-Steve
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Stairs and Stuff (Part Two)

So I had my idea for a new mobile film, the question I needed to ask myself was ye old ‘How am I going to make it?’


In case you haven’t watched it yet...

My first mobile film (CONNECTED) was shot and recorded almost 100% on a Sony Ericsson mobile phone. What wasn’t shot and recorded on that phone was recorded on a second almost identical phone. That worked very well for that short film, but a couple years had passed and it seemed like I needed and wanted to do something that was, for lack of a better phrase, ‘a step up’. Not to mention that I was now using an iPhone as my phone. Well, there was my answer: I’ll just use the same thinking I did on my first mobile film: use the phone I’m using to shoot the film.

When I first heard of the whole mobile film concept, I thought the idea was to shoot films with a phone. It was only after I finished CONNECTED and had the film accepted into the 2009 Hong Kong Mobile Film Festival did I find out that my film was quite possibly the ONLY film accepted that was recored using a mobile phone. I got that impression when I watched the other submitted films, but also at the judging panel interview as they seemed interested in exactly to what extent I did use the phone as a recording device (For the record: not a single frame or sound didn’t pass through the phone’s lens or microphone. It was 100% phone recorded). So I then understood that the “mobile” in mobile film was referring to the viewing device and not the artistic tools used to make the film. I could have shot using an HD cam if I wanted. All’s well that ends well: I won two awards at that festival, for CONNECTED, and one more elsewhere, so the super low resolution of my film didn’t hurt it and it saved me the cost of buying or renting an HD cam.

My general feeling on any creative endeavor is to start under the premise of not how professional I want to look by virtue of the tools people see me holding, but how professional I want the end product to look. The latter philosophy, I find, saves a lot of time and money and the user end shouldn’t know any different. For STAIRS and STARES, why use an HD cam if the film is only supposed to be screened on at the biggest, an iPad sized screen via highly compressed video? So, I decided that if the film is mostly going to be seen on a phone like an iPhone, I may as well use the camera designed to shoot video for said device. And that’s what I did. Every decision artistically or otherwise stemmed from the fact that I would shoot with an iPhone. More about that later.

I did have a problem. I knew that it was likely that I’d play the main part, myself, and so I’d be on camera and I’d have to operate it at the same time. That ruled out another hand held film: I needed a tripod. More importantly, I needed a mount for a tripod that could hold an iPhone. I didn’t even know if anyone made such an item so I did what anyone would do: I searched online. I found a couple mounts on Amazon.com that looked ok and would have done the job, but I came across something much more interesting on my internet travels: Owle Bubo!

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This sweet thing is a solid piece of aluminum. It’s rock solid!!

The Owle Bubu solved one problem and presented some interesting bells and whistles:

1) It served as a solid tripod mount for the iPhone.
2) It added a simple, yet effective, microphone so I could get better sound recording.
3) It added a 37MM lens option to my shooting options over the standard iPhone lens. Brilliant!

Owle1
Note the small pointable mic on the side. Shockingly, it helps a lot.

The 37MM lens meant my film would look slightly different from other people’s films (if they also shot with an iPhone, that is). I hoped that it would make the shots look a little bit more interesting and slicker. It would also allow me to get wider shots in tight spaces. That was very practical considering my entire film takes place in a stair well where camera positioning with a tripod would be limited.

Needless to say, I bought the Owle Bubo and I bought a decent tripod: I was ready to go!

owle3
The iPhone fits snuggly into the back and we’re off to the races!

I make no mention of writing the script because I never wrote one. I don’t even have a typed or scribbled outline. I knew from the get go that I wouldn’t need a script since there was no dialogue and the basic story is quite simple enough. Also, because so decided that I was going to construct the entire film in editing. I had the whole film mapped out in my head and certain specific shots, such as the final shot in the film before the credits, planned out in enough detail in my head, that, for the most part, I just shot coverage and would work with what I had when I sat down to edit. No need for a script to do that. I liked the puzzle aspect of making a film that way.

Like with CONNECTED, I also didn’t draw a storyboard for this. I’ve drawn storyboards for some 15 years now: I don’t feel the need to storyboard my own stories. It’s easy enough to do it on the spot (on set, as it were).

So, I had my story, my plan and my equipment. I had my principle actor (Me. It was an expedient choice. I’d get what I want the first time, adjust with minimal effort and be available at my own whim) and my location scouted (My own building’s stair well!). All I had to do was get the person I needed to play the part of the second walker. I knew I wanted that part to be a girl and I had I pretty good idea of whom I could ask and whom might agree.

Next: Why is it every time I do something like acting, it’s always so dang hot?

In the meantime...

HIM
The new page (pg 50) has been posted over at HIMcomic. No pick to click on, this week! Just click on the link (you just passed it!) and get the latest page! YAY!

-Steve
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Stairs and Stuff (Part One)

Ok, first thing: I haven’t posted in a while because I was a) very busy and b) had a computer go down on me and that put me out of action for several days while I felt with that. However, I have a new computer and a free day so I have time to post again.

So a bit about STAIRS AND STARES. Please watch it first…




The first thing to note is that this is to be considered a Mobile Film. The intended viewing screen size is intended to be no bigger than an iPad screen if even that large. It isn’t supposed to be viewed bigger than that.

This idea came in a flash: As is my usual custom, I walk down my building’s stairwell to go out. One evening, when I reached the bottom the the stairs, I turned back and looked at the steps and thought (Yes, my mind does fork like this):

(Spoiler Alert)

‘It would be interesting if a row of eyes opened up. Hmmm… What would I do? I guess I’d stare back. Then what? I guess a staring contest would ensue. What if they won? That wouldn’t be every interesting. What if I won? I guess I’d run the steps like Rocky and celebrate my victory. Well, that’s not much of an ending, it needs more. I guess I could slip on a banana peel and fall down the steps: my reward for winning is some quality humiliation. The stars would laugh at me and I’d stop off in a huff. Still not much of an ending, though. AH! I could have Sharon walk down the steps and have to face the same staring contest I just did. GREAT!! That’s an ending. What do I call it? ‘Stairs and Stares’. Ok, now I must make this. That’s too perfect!’

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This is about the size of an iPhone screen and the preferred screening size.

And that is exactly how it wend and took about the time it took you to read all that. Between the initial idea and deciding I would make the film, was about 2 minutes. By the time I reached the street from my building, I was recording the idea into my mobile phone.

Next: “How am I going to make this?”

In the meantime...

HIM
The new page (pg 48) has been posted over at HIMcomic. Click on the tasty preview of this week’s action to get more comics! HM?!
HIM048_pre
-Steve
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Stairs & Stares PREMIERE

Here is my latest short film: STAIRS and STARES!


I’ll write more about the film in a couple of days.

In case that isn’t enough quality entertainment...

HIM
The new page (pg 46) has been posted over at HIMcomic. Click on the poignant preview of this week’s action to get more comics! UH!!
HIM046_pre
-Steve
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Some Production Art

Stairs-DVD-MENU web
I finished my last storyboard and had some time to make a piece of production art for STAIRS & STARES. This will serve as a general promo all purpose art piece used when promoting the film in festivals. It also happens to be the art for the DVD menu.

-Steve
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Stairs and Stares

Stairs-Title

My new short film is now complete. Or to put it another way, it is complete for now. I may tweak it here or there before I submit it into festivals, but at least for the moment, I’ll consider it finished.

As I expected, my sound effects and general sound issues were minor things to add and/or fix and so not a whole lot of time was needed to deal with sound. Much of the natural sound was already good enough as is. This isn’t supposed to be a super slick affair, after all.

If you too a look at the posted picture (above), you’ll see the title of the film. For now, that’s about all I’ll show of it. I’ll eventually post it on YouTube, but I want to submit it to festivals before I make it public. I expect that post submissions period to be in early 2012.

All in all, I think it turned out pretty well.

I just want to send a quick “Thanks!” to Sharon Mak who once again stepped up to be my star (Though, this time, she isn’t the star, but she helped me out and did as well as I assumed she would).

So that’s all I have to say about this project until something happens. I understand that is how news works.

-Steve
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Film Update: Almost There...

For the past few days, I have been spending pretty much all my time dealing with special effects and I’m getting to listen to a lot of music. Today, I completed 2 shots and the complete Absurd Minds Discography.

Looking at my effects schedule, I’m just over half finished the effects. I have 11 more shots to deal with, but the hard work is done and I can use the materials I already have, with adjustments made, to finish what’s left. With any luck, I can get them finished in a total of 3 more days. Maybe...

I won’t be posting any picture of the effects shots until after the film is finished and has been exhibited. Spoilers and what have you.

My target finish date for the completed and lock film (Plus 20 second trailer) is November 21st. At this point, I think I’ll be finished earlier than that. I’m not being too fussy with the effects (The style of film doesn’t warrant being finicky about details) and that is speeding the process up quite a lot, though not as much as I’d like. Still, it’s quite relaxing to do and a nice change of pace from drawing storyboards all the time.

Speaking of which: I have to get started on a new Babar storyboard so I guess the film work will be on hold for just over a week and a bit.

-Steve
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Film Update: There is a Reason People Get Paid to do This.

Special, or not so special effects, can be tedious work. On the other hand, the time does fly by while doing them.

Stairs-pic-8
This is not an effect shot. If it were, I’d have made myself more handsome.

I completed my first shot (of 25), today. It is the second most difficult shot in the film and it seemed a good place to start in order to figure out how to accomplish the effect I’m doing. I’m sure someone who does this kind of thing for a living would know how to do this task easier and better, but I want to do it myself and I wanted to figure it out for myself. I think the result is fine for what I’m making: it doesn’t have to be perfect and perfect may not suit the film anyway.

Now that I have an idea of how to approach each shot and I’ve made my big mistakes (over the past two days working on this one shot) the rest should be easier and go quicker. That’s usually how things go.

I think I’ll see how many shots I can do over the weekend.

In the meantime...

HIM
The new page (pg 28) has been posted over at HIMcomic. Click on the product placement preview of this week’s action to get more comics! YUM!
HIM028_pre

-Steve
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Film Update: Special Effects

There’s nothing like a man in make-up, I’m told.
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I spent a few hours, yesterday, wearing make-up to shoot some footage for some special effects I need to do for my new short film. Today, I will start seeing if what I shot is workable. If I’m lucky, I should end the day with a few finished shots with effects added.

I sure hope I don’t have to reshoot anything because it was a pain to get the make-up off my face however purdy it made me look.

-Steve
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Film Update: Principal Photography Complete

Picture 1
Making good use of a delay between Babar scripts, I spend a few days shooting my new short film. Luckily for me, it all went well and I’m 90% sure I won’t have to do any extra shooting and I can work with the footage I have.
Picture 9
I have completed the rough cut of the film (Hence my 90% certainty. 10% is for surprises) and I’m quite satisfied with how it is coming together. It will need the usual tweaking and tightening, but I’ll worry about that after I have completed the special effects when I will have completed visuals to make tweaking and tightening more accurate.
Picture 6
Next step: Planning, shooting, executing and incorporating the special effects. I have a new Babar script on my table so the special effects will have to wait until I’m next between storyboards. I’ll be very pleased if the effects are completed by the end of September. I have 25 effects shots so if I can manage to do one cut per day, I’ll meet my target.

Onward!
Picture 2
-Steve
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New Short Mobile Film

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We interrupt The Making of God of Dance for some broken news:

On Sunday, I started shooting what will be my second short mobile film.

I’m doing things a bit differently, this time, as for starters, I’m shooting with an iPhone4. I don’t have to use a mobile device for shooting a mobile film, but I’m not sure what the practicality of using an HD cam is when the designated delivery system is about the size of an iPhone screen or maybe an ipad. iPhone video has a nice picture and it’s fast and easy to deal with (plus, I have one). Using an HD cam or shooting in full HD seems like wasting fuel, to me.

There is also no script for this one. Last time, making Connected, I had a full script written before shooting. I didn’t use a storyboard, but I at least had a script to make notes on. This film: no script, no storyboard and no notes. Everything will be done in camera and editing.

I’m also in this film on camera... be warned and be afraid.

The only thing consistent with the last film (Connected) will be another appearance by Sharon Mak. She’s been my go-to girl on all my short films (Connected, Listen to Me... MoMo...) and I suspect she’ll show up in the next one. All her parts were shot on Sunday. She did a fine job and I expect that I won’t need her to do any more takes. Thanks, Sharon!

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Over the past 3 days, I’ve shot quite a bit of footage. One more round of shooting should get me everything I need to start building the film in editing. After a rough cut, maybe I’ll need to shoot some minor pick-ups: maybe not.

Once the rough cut is done, then comes what I expect will be a couple tedious tasks: Special effects and replacing most of the audio. This new film will have a certain amount of effects work in it and I’m not really certain if that will be easy or less so. If I’m lucky and my plan works out well, it will be a simple task. If my plan fails, I’m afraid I’m in for some very long hours. My first impression of the audio is that it isn’t strong enough as it is and will at least need to be enhanced, but there is also the possibility that I will need to replace all the audio and rebuild it from scratch. I’ll decide which it is to be after the rough cut is together.

My hope was to have said rough cut finished before the weekend. Now, I’m wondering if that was a bit optimistic. Maybe early next week is more likely. Then again, when I get on a roll I roll quickly so I can hope.

-Steve
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