Archive for June, 2011

Intruder – Day 3

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

The third and final day of production was definitely the biggest on “Intruder”, as first up was a four page action sequence that makes up the finale of the film. For the first time I was going to be dealing with practical FX including blank-firing replicas and squib hits, where previously I had always done effects like this in post-production. In fact, the first time I used gun-fire in a film, a friend of mine just imported the individual frames into Paint and literally drew on the muzzle-flash! So naturally it was very exciting to get to do it all for real for the first time, but a challenge to stage too.

On top of this, all of our characters would be appearing together on-screen at once and a lot of actions would be happening simultaneously, so a lot of coverage was required to piece it all together in the edit.

Actor Oliver Park is rigged with squibs by SFX technician Danny Hargreaves.

To give a rough idea, our FX gimmicks included three people being hit with multiple squibs, each of which would require 20-30 minutes to set up (and that’s assuming we got it on the first take!) as well as spark hits on a wall to simulate bullets ricocheting as someone is being shot at. Thankfully, this last one turned out to be nice and easy – where I had assumed it would mean drilling into the wall to plant an explosive charge that you would then cover over, what our FX man brought instead was a paintball gun, loaded with ammunition that, on impact, gave off a huge spark to simulate gun-fire. So, for this effect we were able to move quickly as well as have multiple attempts.

SFX maestro Danny Hargreaves "I could have bought just a regular paintball gun, but I thought this looked much cooler." Can't argue with that.

As for the three body hits, these were trickier and required lots of rehearsal to ensure the action was effectively blocked out for camera before we rolled, as both budget and time restrictions meant we couldn’t really do lots of takes. Thankfully, we only had to do a second take for one effect, as an actor unfortunately took about half a step too far forward and blocked the squib detonating on camera.

This set-up was interesting as it also involved seeing the gun being fired on-screen in the same shot we see the person get hit – so where usually the SFX technician would detonate the squibs himself, instead he gave the remote control to the actor firing the gun, for him to hold off-camera, so that he could set off the charge himself at the same time his other hand pulled the trigger on the gun.

Hardened killers, actors (L to R) Tim J Henley, Rob Wainwright & Simon Pengelly.

Ideally I would have shot the whole scene in sequence, ie. roughly in order of how the scene would be cut together, so that I could keep track of what actions had been covered and what hadn’t and thus make it easier with so many set-ups to get through. However, we only had our FX guys on set for a few hours, which meant we had to jump ahead occasionally to shoot action from later in the scene before we had technically arrived there with our coverage. This was also tricky as it meant that once for example a certain character had been shot, they and their costume would have been made up and bloodied for the aftermath of the shooting, so we had to be sure before we “killed” them on-screen we had all of the shots in the can leading up to their demise – so we wouldn’t lose time getting them changed/cleaned up again. This again meant jumping around a lot, as it would mean shooting all of our masters and singles with that one person first, for every sequence they had leading up to that point – before going back and doing all the reverses on the people they were talking to afterward, once we had shot their death and also whilst their squibs were being rigged.

I remember being told once about an interview with Mel Gibson on “Braveheart” where he was asked about how he set up and went about shooting such large battle sequences – and what he said was that all you can do in that situation is just take it one shot at a time, because as soon as you step back and look at the big picture and how much you actually have to get through you start to panic and lose it. Having a shot list written out beforehand was invaluable in this case as well, because even though we didn’t stick strictly to it, it helped every now and again to be able to go back through and make sure all the important dramatic and story beats from the script had been covered before we moved on.

Myself and DP/Operator James Blann.

It also became clear towards the end of the day that if we stuck to the scene as scripted we were unlikely to get it all done, as this wasn’t the only scene on our schedule. In the original script, the finale is staged across two separate locations within the warehouse, but to have done this on the day would have cost us a lot of time, not only logistically because it would mean moving all of our cast, crew and lighting elsewhere, but also because the set-ups needed to have this effectively play out on-camera would have added hugely to our shot list.

Luckily, my good friend and writer Chris Marshfield was on-set visiting so the two of us had a quick brainstorm and walk around the location, plotting out how and where we could re-stage the latter part of the finale, whilst maintaining the tension and drama of the original scene. We then had to determine exactly what FX would be used in this new sequence, so that these elements could be shot first. This revised scene helped hugely to condense down our shot-list and set-up time, and hopefully, we were successful!

Originally hoping to have this scene in the can by about 5/6pm, we ended up finishing shooting at about 9:30pm! So in hindsight I think I was a little optimistic with my scheduling and I think next time I would allocate a whole day for shooting a scene like this. That being said we got it all done and I hope when it’s all put together in the edit it will make for an exciting climax to the film.

I have such an increased appreciation now for people like Michael Bay and Justin Lin (Fast & Furious, Fast Five) who have to stage these huge action sequences for their films – as whilst they may have a Hollywood crew and budget at their disposal, the level of expertise and skill needed to break all that down and keep it together in your head as you shoot is incredible. Critics may look down on their films, but you can’t knock the technical ability these people must have to pull them off.

The remaining sequences were all exteriors, starting with the second half of a foot-chase that we’d already shot part of the day before. This is where we went into “Narc” territory and saved huge chunks of time simply by running after our actor with the camera and thus getting him from A to B in one or two shots as opposed to four or five.

The final scene for the day wrapped up just before 2:30am, so an hour and a half after our scheduled wrap. This was purely because the finale had taken so long to do and it pushed everything else, but I had intentionally shot this scene first, as it was the one sequence I didn’t want to have to compromise on. I’d hate to have scheduled it for the end of the day and ended up with half a scene or one that was half as exciting to watch because we ran out of time.

After we’d packed up and cleared the location, myself and the DP James Blann stayed behind to shoot some establishing shots of the warehouse, for possible use in an opening title sequence. We got home at about 4am in the end and I remember the birds outside had already begun their morning chorus as my head hit the pillow!

It was a great day though and a fantastic shoot overall. A huge thanks to all the cast and crew for the time and work they put in to help make “Intruder”.

Our shooting area had to be blacked out to block daylight spilling in from a row of large windows at the back of the warehouse.

Trailer coming soon!

By the way, James Blann now has a blog of his own to showcase his work, check it out at:

http://sodiumhug.tumblr.com/ – His new showreel includes some early clips from “Intruder”, in case you needed a good excuse to click the link!

Shooting the finale…

Monday, June 6th, 2011

As promised here is a little snippet of the behind the scenes footage from “Intruder”, showcasing some of the practical effects used in the film’s finale… enjoy!

\”Intruder\” – The FX

Intruder – Day 2

Saturday, June 4th, 2011

We started today with the scene that was dropped on the Friday night. Even though it is actually set at night we were inside with no external windows to worry about so once the house lights were off it was almost pitch black. One of the benefits actually of the shoot dates moving was that we were forced into using an alternate location that from a lighting point of view actually worked out better. The space we were set to work in before did have a large external window at one end, much too large to black out, so had that been where we stayed cheating it in the day like we did would have been impossible. So every cloud….

There was some spill from the flourescents in the warehouse next door and we had a 300W lamp rigged to give us a little bit of fill around the area in which most of the action would be taking place, but other than that the lighting style, as with the rest of the film, was very minimalist. We had one practical which was the torch carried by our main character, and then another torch with some diffuse over it to give us a bit more fill whenever we were in tight, but that was it.

Kevin (Paul Tonkin) searches for the hidden money.

This first scene shot was one in which our hero, Kevin, finds a stash of money and steals it. Despite seemingly being very simple on paper (a man opens a box and takes something from inside), it was actually fairly complex to shoot – simply because you need that much more coverage to ensure the scene is as tense and atmospheric in the edit as it should be. Plus the warehouse space we were using was actually completely empty, so the few items we had to fill it – such as cones, dumpsters, palettes etc, all had to be moved for each shot to ensure the frame was always very busy – thus giving the illusion that the space was full.

The warehouse set.

Also, the main source of tension in the scene comes from the fact that the security office is only a short distance from where Kevin finds the money. However, in reality our security office was in a completely separate section of the warehouse, so we had to be careful when shooting Kevin’s CU and then the POV that the two looked like they were in the same place. This also of course meant moving both the crew and also some of our props to place in foreground between shooting.

Once this scene was complete, we then moved upstairs into a small side-room where we remained for most of the afternoon which (without giving anything away!) is where a large portion of the action takes place. Here we did have windows to worry about, so we covered them with some orange gel, which made the daylight look like sodium street-lamps, and then covered that with bin bags and newspaper, so it became part of our set dressing. The only light in the room then came from one practical work-lamp which we kept on the floor. This was nice as it gave us a lot of shadows and kept our characters as silhouettes, all of which perfectly suited the intended look and feel of the film.

Kessie Bartlett as Emma.

The afternoon and evening was a lot of fun, as we were doing a lot of running and chasing! Our approach to this was simple – have the camera-man run after the lead character and do his best to keep him in frame! Again something the Canon, being so small, is perfectly suited for and this gave the chase scenes a great sense of urgency and energy, and was inspired by the opening foot-chase in Joe Carnahan’s “Narc.” (A very good film by the way.) They used a similar approach, interestingly because I think they simply ran out of time to do anything else! But it worked and went on to become the most iconic and recognised scene of the film. I think it was Spike Lee that said most of the stuff you get credit for in your movie is the stuff you never planned…. or something like that! Anyway, we did plan this and it was brilliant so…..

Kevin (Paul Tonkin) makes his escape.

We were outside once again to end the day, shooting a sequence where Kevin is trying to escape the factory and is stalled by an electronic security gate that opens slowly whilst his pursuers are fast gaining on his car. The hero of this scene was the PAG light from the top of our making-of man’s camera! Other than the available street-lighting, this was all we used in strategic locations (usually just held by a member of the crew) to throw some extra light on our hero’s face. It was perfect really as just like the camera it was quick and easy to move between set-ups.

Myself, DP James Blann & the PAG light!

The day wrapped around 1am, where once again unfortunately we had to drop a scene, so clearly I was a little over-ambitious in my scheduling for the exterior scenes. I think in hindsight I would have had us start later in the day, maybe 2 or 3pm, so that with a 12 hour shooting day we could finish that much later and have more time outside once the sun set. As it happened even if we wrapped on time inside, we couldn’t really start shooting outside until around 9:30, as it just wasn’t dark enough.

I’ve just had some making-of clips delivered so those should be online soon, and also I’ve now begun cutting the film so hopefully I should be able to knock up a trailer soon. Initially I wasn’t sure how best to approach the post as I don’t yet have the facilities to cut in HD, but now I’ve had all my rushes down-converted by [email protected] in Bristol to DV res, so that I can import and cut them in Avid Xpress Pro. The film will then be up-converted back to HD once the edit is complete. Simples! (Hopefully…)

Part 3 and the final part of my set report coming soon! (As I know there are thousands of you out there waiting for it with baited breath, calm down, it’s coming!)

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