Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Filming in Central London? Make sure you have the paperwork or you are Bond to get stopped!

I have filmed in London on a few occasions now and there are certain protocols you need to follow in order to make sure you are filming legally.

Many London boroughs are happy to encourage film makers to make films in their territory and they go head-over-heels to help and see that you get the support that you need. But some of the major councils require a fee for you to shoot, so always make sure you have checked out with the local council where you are planning to shoot and they will supply you with the right information, licences and fees.

I shot a short film in Westminster last year and it was at the same location that they had filmed one of the Bond films (Quantum of Solace) earlier.

The local film council are used to conducting large location fees for these sort of films and aren't overly fussed with worrying about films on a tight budget. If you have planned to shoot in a popular spot, and not checked out the council fees, you could end up blowing your budget on fees and not on filming. Of course I hear you say 'well if I am on a budget, then why not shoot gorilla style and shoot it anyway without them knowing?'

Well to be honest, that is an option...and there are lots of people out there grabbing the shots that they need without the correct permission in a snatch and grab manner. But it is a risk that sometimes just isn't worth taking. If any accidents happened while you were filming, then you should not have legally been there in the first place and so insurances would be void (don't talk to me about filming gorilla style and not having insurance...there is a difference between fast paced gorilla shooting, getting the job done and getting home...then there is just plain amateur night).

Also, the police are uber-sensitive about shooting in any restricted areas. So even if you have the correct licences, you need to be prepared to stop and pull them out every 5 minutes. Also expect to have a film council inspector drop by to check you are acting accordingly and not blowing up a building when you only told them you were going to gently dust the area in feathers. They are very strict and you must adhere to what has been agreed with them (we nearly got shut down on one occasion when an inspector said that the camera crane was...and I quote, 'larger than I imagined', even though we had given the specific dimensions and footprint of the crane).

But if you DON'T have a licence when you are stopped...well then you are in a bit of trouble. The police have the powers to shut down the entire shoot immediately and indefinitely, plus you could be looking at a hefty fine...but more importantly than that, if you were ever wanting to be a serious film maker, your reputation will be tarnished forever in an industry that is a very tight-knit community. Still worth it?

Last month I had the distinct feeling of deja-vu as I was again asked to film in central London with a Bond connection. I was asked at short notice to film two of the original Bond cars, the Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger & Thunderball and the fantastic Aston Martin DBS which was from Quantum of Solace.

We were to film roaming across London at some of the most camera shy locations you will ever find...The Admiralty building in Whitechapel, Admiralty arch in Pall Mall, past Buckingham Palace and on to do a spot of filming outside Mi6 (as you do).

It sounded like a fantastic shoot to be involved in, but one of my first questions was...'do we have the licence?...Yes? Great, lets go for it!'

The next day (day of the shoot) we had a problem with the licence. Someone had not put through the correct paperwork and we now had 2 original Bond cars in the centre of London with a full film crew and none of it was legal! At this point I was none the wiser and believed that the licence was on its way so I headed off to prep our first location. There were two police officers conveniently sat in a patrol car at the exact location I wanted to shoot. So I asked them if they would mind moving and that we had our licenses on the way for them to see. When they found out we were shooting the original Bond cars, they seemed more interested to see the cars than the licence.

Finally we had shot on location one and I had been too busy to see any licence. I just assumed that we had it and we were good to move on. We started to shoot at the back of Admiralty building and immediately another police car appeared. We were asked to produce the licence and so I rang the producer, asking him to bring it over. When they saw the two Bond cars they just got back in the police car and drove off...I can only think they also assumed that such a high profile shoot would naturally have the correct licences in place. Add to that my complete confidence when talking to them (as I honestly believed we had it) and they were happy.

A little later on and we were doing an interview with Royal Navy Commander Northwood.

He decided to stay with us for the journey through London and then on to Mi6. We didn't realise at the time what an asset he would be to us, but it was around this time that it was seeping in...we didn't have a permit to be here!

Just after we had finished filming Mi6, the two Bond cars, film car and additional secret service car was driving on to the next location. As the convoy pulled up in Pall Mall, an officer on horseback (of all things) trotted right out into the centre of the cross roads and stopped the cars and the shoot.

He wanted to see licences there and then...and guess what, we couldn't provide them. But fortunately we did have with us a Royal Navy Commander (real life Bond) and 2 armed secret service agents! I implore you if ever you are pulled over by the police to carry a Navy commander and 2 secret service agents with you at all times as the impact of these guys will make any ticket bearing officer/warden disappear in an instance. Joking aside, we were very,very lucky on this shoot, and we could have been closed down at any point (and rightly so), which would have wasted everyones time, effort and a whole day of filming costs.

So what have I learned from this? Always make sure you have the legal right to be at your location and always SEE (and check) your licence/permits. Then there can be no mistakes and you will be safe in the knowledge that you are actually allowed to be there.

The pressure of shooting a film on time and on budget is big enough, you don't need to add pressure to the shoot by worrying about being shut down. Failing that, try shooting something with a value in excess of £7m and hope that the mere spectacle of it will beguile and dazzle the law long enough to get your filming done!

All the info you could ever want when filming in London can be found at www.filmlondon.org.uk/filming_in_london

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Film director or doing a hobby? Just go for it!

With the 'game changing' introduction of DSLRs, it has made it possible for anyone to pick up a relatively cheap camera and shoot some high quality footage. It is something that would not have been possible a few years back without access to an expensive camera or biting the bullet on the camera hire costs.

I have heard a few people recently complaining that now 'anyone' can pick up a camera, point & shoot, 'it has saturate the market with wannabe film makers'. It has given amateurs the access they needed to think they could possibly be professional (how dare they?). It has meant they have improved the quality of their work and now could be considering a career in film making...(a market that is notoriously over stretched with people trying to 'make it' and does it really need to be stretched any further?).

Experience is everything in this game, the more experience you can get playing with a camera by yourself, the better you will be at knowing what works and what doesn't! How else can you learn?

In my opinion, you have to commend ANYONE who has the notion to pick up a camera and decide to give it a go. We need more of this attitude. People generally don't understand just how much work is really involved in making a film (I don't even mean making a good film...I mean 'any' film). It is so difficult just to keep focus on the story and try to control everything that is going on in a sequence, while staying on schedule and budget that anyone who gives this a go should be congratulated and not put down.

Its far too easy to tear strip off other people when you are not performing well yourself. If you are on of those who believe the world owes you a living and any new comers trying to become directors are just ruining your own chances, then I would suggest that you are exactly the type of person you are complaining about...YOU are saturating the market!

Be proactive, push yourself further and stop worrying about what everyone else is doing. Have your own game plan and go for it! Contrary to popular belief, not every director has made it because of their industry connections, but because of their hard work, unshakable commitment and ultimately...talent!

This country is starting to realise that it can produce independent films of such quality that they can rival the big film studios. And this can be done while flying in the face of economic strife and even while the UK film council is in dire trouble...there are always talented people out there willing to pick up a camera and learn the craft. That has to be admired in my view, because this is exactly the type of passion and stubbornness that you need to make a film in the first place. Can you imagine if Spielberg had never bothered to pick up a camera?

All these new people now trying something that they were not previously able to try will naturally mean a more saturated industry. But it will also mean that current directors will have to try harder, push boundaries further, be more experimental and creative than ever before...just to try and stay ahead. The wolf climbing the hill is not as hungry as the wolf on top of the hill. Ultimately it will make for a much stronger UK film industry and that can only be a good thing right now.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Resonance is a big hit at the London Film and Comic Con

Recently the crew of Resonance were at the London film and Comic Con in Earls Court.
LFCC takes place every summer at Earls Court 2 in London.  It celebrating the best of film, television, comics and sport. It is a huge arena that pulls in vast crowds and has many celebrities that make appearances over the weekend.

This year there were some great names from the sci-fi film world, including William Shatner (Star Trek), Edi Gathegi (Twilight), Sean Young (Blade Runner), Sean Pertwee (Event Horizon), Ben Browder (Farscape) and many more. Mike Tyson was even there making an appearance after his role on 'The Hangover', so it was an event that was very popular for all ages and all types of fans.

My favourite appearance of the weekend had to be the impressive tumbler batmobile from Chris Nolans' latest batman movies. This proved to be a real crowd-pleaser and I was able to take a crowd free snap just before the comic con opened and the tumbler was swamped with people.

This was the first time I had ever been to a Comic convention and it was a really great and unique event. Everyone was in great spirits and there would be unexpected visual feasts at every corner as a comic book hero would suddenly emerge in fully custom made costumes.

Of course, all this was very good and made for a slightly 'break from the norm' weekend, but I was there to film the days events for the new premier release of the eight minute edit of the Resonance pilot.

The day was fairly relaxed and consisted of shooting some time-lapse photography of the set-up stage of the arena. Then filming some interview style pieces to cam with the shows' creators and core team.

There was also a talk with Colin Teague, Aidan Turner, Tom Hill and Tom Dunbar about the creation of Resonance and what the future holds for the on-screen characters...then the long awaited first public viewing of the full eight minute pilot.

The pilot was very well received by the fans and the big question on everyone's lips was when are they going to get to see more, more, more. When fans are dying to see more of a great story...you know you have a great production.

Here is the video we filmed on location at the London Film and Comic Con.


Sunday, 1 August 2010

The best way to mount a camera to a car

I have mounted a variety of cameras to various cars with various kits and in a multitude of different angles and positions. As each car is different in shape and size, there is no particular rule of thumb for mounting a camera - it is a bit of a suck and see process. However, there are a few things that you can do to make the process a good one and make sure you get usable footage.

Generally the lighter the camera, the more stable it will be with a minimum of support. Heavy cameras tend to need strong cheeseplate rigs that have multiple supports to brace from. They also need to be fairly level and so some extreme angles are a bit more tricky to achieve. But this cheeseplate from Filmtools has a full sized ball leveling head on it that is easy and quick to change the camera angle.

The biggest problem you need to combat when mounting a camera is bounce. You really need to try to brace the rig so that it is solid and does not have any movement in the camera and ultimately the image.

Suction cups always need a fairly flat and clean surface. Unfortunately, modern cars have a lot more curves and less flat surfaces, therefore, it is very useful to have a variety of differing suction cup sizes (4", 6" and 8" cups). This way you can now mount off small flat surfaces like the sills of the car or a spoiler and this opens up a greater possibility for camera positions and stability.

For a strong and solid mount, try not to brace off the bumpers of the car. Bumpers these days tend to be plastic and naturally are designed to have movement in them. In the past I have braced a camera off a bumper and as soon as the car hit a bump in the road, the camera wobbled violently and made the image unusable. It is OK to use bumpers for additional support to the main brace, but don't use as you main fix points.

I have been using the Canon 7D to film most of the car work as it is small, light and very flexible to put in most positions. Using the 7D is great, but if you don't mount a solid grip then you will get the 'jello effect' that has been so widely documented. This is even more important if you are mounting a bonnet camera because as soon as you start the engine, you have a lot of vibration that transcends into the image sensor of the camera and that can completely ruin the footage. Its another reason that I favour the 7D over the 5D mark 2 for this type of work. The 5D has a slightly larger image sensor and therefore is slightly more unstable when it comes to vibration in the sensor - and these cameras are subject to quite a bit of turbulence and vibration when driving at speed off the side of a car and an uneven surface.

Recently I mounted a bonnet cam on a chase car in order to film the new Fabia Vrs from the rear. I had always favoured a tripod mount that triangulates a solid footprint, because I had always thought that this was the best and most secure way to rig the camera.

However, I suddenly decided to try something different. I took a fourth fix from the car windscreen to the hotshoe of the top of the camera. This four point diamond shape really made the camera as solid as it has ever been. I could quite literally move the whole suspension of the car by just trying to move the camera...it was that strong and solid.

It also helped to run a long HDMI cable from the camera to the monitor in the cabin. This way you can see when the subject is in frame and in focus as we didn't have a remote follow focus on the rig. In my experience, this is without doubt the best way to mount a camera on the front of a car. I have not yet tried to mount this diamond footprint in any other positions and it could be quite difficult to do so without the angle of another surface, but I will try to replicate this again and see how it goes.

For suction kits, Filmtools.com has superior mounting equipment and pretty much everything you will ever need. However, the shipping costs can be high as the equipment tends to be fairly heavy, so always check first. A good UK based alternative is Cameragrip.co.uk , but their range is a little more limited and not as adaptable.

Monday, 26 July 2010

It's a bug's life

It was a rather sunny weekend last weekend and so I decided that I would head off into the wilderness to try and photograph some insects...after all, how hard can it be?

The first thing I noticed was that while you expect to see wildlife everywhere, it is actually quite difficult to spot it and so you have to uber-concentrate in order to spy a potential wee beastie. Once I had spotted a little critter, I quickly hurried over with my heavy footed size 10s and whatever it was that was lurking there, quickly disappeared into the long grass. This happened over and over and an hour in without a single photograph was starting to become frustrating. Therefore, I would have to become one with the world and dust off my ninja skills...'crouching Neil, hidden dragonfly'.

I had been chasing a butterfly for quite some time, but trying to get a photo of one was proving near impossible for me...but I did get close...ish!

OK, this wasn't going into National Geographic, so I decided that the quick moving and shy insects were too well adept to spotting me. So I would pick off some slow moving bugs if I could find them and gradually improve my skill at sneaking up on them.

So I managed to sneak up on one of the slowest I could find! :) This little fella didn't have much choice about being photographed! If I couldn't shoot a butterfly, I would shoot one before it became a butterfly!

The problem was that to get any decent close up images of bugs, means you need to shoot with a macro lens, this in turn means you need to get fairly close to the subject in order to photograph it...this is the point that they usually scurry/fly away.

The second problem with shooting a macro image is that you have a really shallow depth of field. It is so shallow that the front end of a bug can be in focus while the back end is out of focus. Now add in a multitude of variables like the wind blowing the grass reed that the bug is sat on, your breathing while holding the camera, the bug moving, bad balance while crouching, and you will end up with a soft image on the focal point. This is a real pain when you might only get one chance to photograph it before it hops off from the sound of the camera click.

After a lot of missed opportunities and many out of focus shots, I started to become a bit better at creeping up on the creepy crawlies and so I managed to get a few nice shots for my efforts.

I should also mention the light issue here as well. Flying bugs tend to move at a very fast rate, especially their wings. The common bee can beat it's wings up to 180 times per second, so if you want to capture it  in mid-flight, then you really need to have a camera that can shoot at extremely high shutter speeds...if you don't, then the wings will have a blurred look to them.

So, if you set up your camera with a high shutter speed, it means you are letting less light in through the camera lens and therefore you will have a darker image. This was especially true for shooting insect life as they tend to congregate in shaded areas under camouflage and in tall grass where they feel protected, this naturally means they are dwelling in areas with less light. I was quite fortunate as it was a really bright sunny day, but I think I would have struggled to get the level I got on an overcast day.

After a while I started to capture the really fast and twitchy type of bugs I had been striving for, and here are the results.

Ultimately shooting insects turns out to be a really difficult thing to do properly and it was a real eye opener for me. However, it was a great exercise in shooting a different subject and having to think your feet and tread lightly at the same time. I would recommend anyone doing this who is interested in photography or cinematography, after all, all you need is a camera, great outdoors and a bit of patience.