How do you create a short film? You need a good story, good actors and an attuned team. The following film report provides a glimpse in the production of our short film heart racing. For a cinematic look, three DSLRs from Canon, the 7D, the 550D and the 5D Mark II were used.
André and Sina, a young couple, want to buy a TV. But Lehmann, helpful seller and owner of the store, is not what he pretends. An absurd stalemate occurs from which the young man desperately tries to escape, while his girlfriend and the trainee aren’t suspecting any of this. And Lehmann’s mood threatens to tip …
Our story strongly depended on the location, a television store. But nonetheless we want to give some advice for location scouting. At first a location can be found in the closer surroundings. To keep transportation costs low, a central location should be sought, if that’s possible. The location makes it possible to reinforce the story. Sometimes the location can lead to a film idea. It will become a part of the story and is usually no scenery that is specially built.
You have to examine the desired location to determine whether it fits the story and whether the story is at all feasible there. Sometimes you are forced to make compromises to make a scene smaller or to adapt a story minimally. In shops always ask the shop owner and honestly explain what is planned. Scurrilities should be avoided. You should always inform the owner and not the employee or neighbor. In our case, the owner understood the tongue in cheek contents of the story and let us in for one Sunday to film it.
The duration of such shoots should not be underestimated. In general, 2-3 minutes of finished scenes per day of shooting are possible.
In public places but also in forest roads you need an official permission to film, for example by the city or municipality, otherwise the shooting will be stopped by the police. Usually, the authorities are very cooperative when asked in advance. Depending on the size of the scene shutting off the film set is required, but you have to ask first. In any case, when filming in public a member of the team should watch out in order to prevent obstructions and especially injuries of bystanders. An insurance for the day is also important for both the borrowed equipment and personal injuries.
Because of the tight schedule as we could only film for one day and because of the narrow camera angles we filming with multiple cameras we drew a topview of the store.
In this view the three cameras CAM1-CAM3 and the soundman are drawn. The light was mainly to lighten up the television store without loosing the character of it.
After a slow start of the sequence Thomas and Merle (André and Sina) had to react on Christoph (Mr. Lehmann). Christoph chose his own timing so that the scare is real although the others are expecting it.
In the short film heart racing screenwriter Daniel Jacob has written a screenplay 8 pages long. The author uses the freeware tool Celtx for writing screenplays. Professional scripts always use a special formatting. In this format a page corresponds to about one minute of film. The font is Courier New with the font size 12. For DIN A4 paper, a two-sided margin of about 3 cm must be kept. Each scene begins with a heading that shortly describes the environment. For example INT. ELECTRIC DEPARTMENT STORE – EARLY EVENING means that the scene takes place in a electric department store approximately 17 clock.
A good script describes in brief the situation so that a creative space is left for the director. A screenwriter also has to take feasibility into account in terms of budget for small project.
Casting of the Actors
We were casting the actors with the online portal www.schauspielervideos.de. There the actors have showreels (short sample clip) were they present different scenes. Before starting the casting you have an image of the roles in your mind. With those videos you can quickly find out if the actor fits the role. A good actor always embodies a role, that means he never plays himself or shows his private self.
Often you can find an actor that fits in films of other colleges and watch their showreels as well. Good showreels show the strength of the actors and show an overview of their repertory. The director sees how the actor moves and speaks. When reading or writing the script an image is emerging in your head that then can be confirmed or rejected.
By posting at notice boards in theaters or acting schools the film maker can draw attention to his project. Many aspiring or professional actors are searching and supporting those projects to refine their showreels with new scenes.
They often act in front of the camera without a fee. A greater benefit arises, they make your film possible and you give them your film for their own promotion. Therefore after choosing the right actor the film maker shouldn’t be shy and contact the actors agency. Some agencies demand provisional contracts with the actors which in case of a exploitation of the film determinies the fee. This is a safeguarding if the film project yields profits.
A hint: No-budget doesn’t mean automatically that it doesn’t cost any money to produce a film. Mandatory for a film shoot is an appropriate catering, good but not too exaggerated. And the film maker have to bear the driving costs of the team. In films with just a little amount dialog the director also can guide amateur performers in dialogue-heavy films a professional actor can improve the works. Amateurs often appear involuntarily funny if the are not guided well or overstrained. After the selection and making contact a real meeting has to happen.
The job of an actor is demanding. Besides talent a lot of life experience is required. Usually friends or family are a good source for amateur performers. Members of private theater groups or school theaters can also be cast. When the amateur is familiar with the themes or situations and the director gives precise instructions very good films can be produced.
The practice shows who has talent therefore with amateurs screen test are often helpful. A good actor plays with the text a bad one just recites it. When you have text uncertainties you can improvise but you can get problems with the continuity when repeating a scene.
Shooting the film
Before filming we prepared the set to create space for crew and technique..
In the make-up room the actors are subtly painted so they don’t shine under the spotlight.
Even though the film was short and we had only one location there were complex scenes. Besides the driving scene the most complex part was the illumination and positioning of the three cameras around the narrow TV island. The radius of action of the boom operator was small and he had to watch out for three cameras rather than one. For the lighting technician it was harder to position his lights.
By using three cameras we could save much time because several perspectives could be filmed simultaneously and the actors didn’t have to repeat the scenes exactly like before. Because of the small depth of field of the 5D MarkII we used it for the wide shots and figure shots. The 7D and 550D were used for narrower shots and details – therefore the different sensor sizes aren’t noticable in the film. But you have to pay attention not to film one of the other cameras.
To take care of this we drew a sketch of the store from above. We drew the position and direction of the cameras, the lights, the boom operator and the actors for each scene. To avoid reflections in the TVs we swapped each of the reflecting ones with matte displays. The employees of the store were very helpful with that. The synchronous start of three cameras and the sound was achieved by a good communication of the set coordination: “Quiet please. Speed, Camera 1 on, Camera 2 on, Camera 3 on, Slate … and action”.
In the scene were the protagonist flees with the car at first we tried to let the actor drive the car himself. That did not work well. So we let our set driver drive the scene. Before the shooting he was scheduled as a backup that we could successfully use. Here you see how important good planing is. In such shootings a lot of safety precautions have to be considered like getting a filming permit and securing the packing lot.
The newscast which will be shown on the TV on set was filmed in a greenscreen.
The background was keyed out to show pictures of the news report.
The keying went well despite the 4:2:0 color subsampling of the onboard codec of the Canon 7D.
For brightening the scene we used 2 Kinoflos, each with 4x80W 3200K bulbs that work flicker free thanks to electronic control gear (ECG) with 20000Hz and 2 Hedler 2kW lights with soft boxes. For illuminating the actors we used a 150W and a 300W Arri Fresnel lens for the tips. That means bright points on the back of the head of the performer, so he is distinguishable from the background. The Canon 7D and 550D were mounted on a Manfrotto tripod with fluid heads MA519 and MA504 to allow clean pan and tare the center of gravity optimally.
The Canon 7D was installed in a RedRock Micro compendium with a matte box and follow focus. A follow focus is a gear transmission, wherein the movement of the focus ring is deflected. The focus puller sets the sharpness on a side wheel, instead of touching the focus ring on the lens. With the help of a marker ring on the follow focus the sharp points can be marked. A camera assistant approaches them on focus pulling. A French flag prevents glare and reflections from the top and the side wings of the sides accordingly. A zoom lever from Chrosziel allows smoothly zoom. In the 550D, we used an older matte box set of our HDV video camera also with follow focus for focus pulling.
The 5DMark II for the long shots / medium shots, had a fixed focus. Since we didn’t pan in the shots a Manfrotto photo tripod was enough for the 5D Mark II.
With the Canon 7D, a Canon 70-200 F2.8 IS II was used. On the 550D during the dialogues we used the Canon 70-200 F4.0 IS. When looking over the shoulder of André we had the Canon 24-70 F2.8. On the 5D Mark II the Canon 24-70 f2.8 lens which was used.
The start and end sequence was conducted with our Black Track Magic Dolly from KeyWest. For the external shot the fleeing car is followed by an ABC light crane with 6m lift.
Using a notebook during the breaks, the data of the memory cards was backed on the internal drive and redundantly on an external 2.5-inch hard drive.
The memory cards used were 3 Compact Flash SanDisk Extreme III 32GB and two Sandisk Ultra II SDHC 8GB. In full HD at a data rate of 50Mbit/s about 75 minutes of video playing time can be stored on a 32GB card. 8GB means about 18 minutes.
The sound recording was done with an external recording device a boom pole and a directional microphone, which the soundman has kept as close as possible above the people, without being in the picture.
The displayed image area of the DSLR monitor is larger than the stored video, since the sensor format is higher, at a photo 3:2, 16:9 in the video. Therefore you can see the micro in the darkened area above the image, before it appears in the recorded video.
Postproduktion of the Canon DSLR Material
For better processing of the data we converted it into an Intermediate format . The computer must be fast because of the compression format MPEG-4 AVC, than DV or HDV (MPEG2 format). We used MPEG2 with 100Mbit/s and higher color sampling (4:2:2) as an intermediate format. Due to the higher bit rate and the higher color sampling, the results of color grading and finishing can be improved.
At different white balance an alignment of the cameras is difficult. An incorrect white balance can even lead to video noise due to the compression when you try to move the colors back “straight” in post production.
Premiere Multi Camera Editing
In one of the scenes Lehmann scares André and Sina, he says: “Ah! One last thing.” When working with just one camera, it’s decisive for the actors to play the scene as similar as possible. Otherwise when cutting to another camera angle the motion sequence would seam interrupted. With multiple cameras the effort for the continuity is much lower because the cameras are filming the scene in sync. But in any case the correct timing is crucial to increase the horror of André and Sina.
The three following picture show the moment of the scare – without color grading.
Cut to the medium long shot
Cut to André
Comparison with and without color correction
After the cut the material is color graded in Premiere and the look is defined.
The color correction consists of a higher contrast, color matching of the three cameras and the color grading, the color mood of the image. A retouching of the lcds reduces the reflections of the kinoflos.
|Mr. Lehmann||Christoph Michel|
|Director & Cutter||Michael Großmann|
|Script & Assistant Director||Daniel Jacob|
|1. Camera & Crane Operator||Helmut Schnock|
|2. Camera||Tobias Peter|
|3. Camera||Dirk Jacobs|
|Digital Imaging Technician||Christian Drewke|
|Boom pole operator||Andreas Meyer|
|Set Photographer||Dennis Siebert|
|Catering||Karin & Reinhard Großmann|
The preparation was more complex than the post production. Syncronisation of the cameras took four days. We had one hour of material of the canon 7D, 550D and the sound and 30 minutes from the 5D Mark II. For the cut itself we took 7 days plus 3 days of color grading.
It is important to work thoroughly during the shoot. Using of the slate must be disciplined performed at each take in order to synchronize them later.
The differences between the three canon cameras are very low if their setup is correct. Just the controls are slightly different which is a bit disturbing when switching between cameras. We liked the Canon 7D the most. Its modes switch for video to photo mode is also used in the new Canon 5D Mark III.
The Canon DSLR have depth of field and dynamic range comparable to film the image quality and handling are good. Therefore they could be used in the action-packed cinema movie ‘Act of Valor’ of hollywood cameraman Shane Hurlbut in over 80 percent of the shots successfully.
Making of the Short Film
Canon DSLR Short Film on Youtube
Set-Photos: Dennis Siebert www.shadowandlight.de
Professional article of the heart racing shot in the Foto-Praxis 03/11 (German).