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“Ashes”

Saturday, January 5th, 2013

Happy new year! Hope everyone had a good christmas break.

I begin the sound mix on Monday 7th January at [email protected] in Bristol for “Judas Ghost”, so the film is now only a week away from being completed! In the meantime, here is the trailer for another project I worked on, this time as the camera operator – the short film “Ashes”, which was filmed on location in Dartmoor.

“Ashes” Short film trailer

The film was directed by Paul Dudbridge and shot using the Canon C300.

I ain’t afraid of no ghosts!

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Meet the heroes of Judas Ghost. From L to R, Simon Merrells as Mark Vega, Martin Delaney as Jerry Mackay, Lucy Cudden as Anna Gilmour, and Alexander Perkins as Ian Calder. Together they form the ghost finders, an elite team of paranormal investigators working for the covert organisation The Carnacki Institute.

They don’t take any shit from the hereafter.

Counting down…

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012
So, it’s been a while since I’ve made an entry to this blog (as I’m sure great hordes of you had noticed), so I thought it was
probably time for an update….
Well I’m just under a week away from starting production on feature number 2! “Judas Ghost” is a supernatural horror which will
be shot entirely on stage. The film is set within a single location and features only four members of cast. This presents an
interesting challenge visually as we have to maintain atmosphere and tension for 90 minutes within the same four walls. A
brilliant example of this is in Sidney Lumet’s film “Twelve Angry Men”, with Henry Fonda.
Tackling horror is also a new and exciting challenge for me, as I’ve always been intrigued by the notion of trying to make
something scary for an audience – whilst at the same time having to view it on set, so broken down into individual shots and
moments, with no music or sound being added until later, two things which are so key to effective examples of the genre. In many
ways it’s no different than creating effective drama or action I suppose – but, like comedy, to me it’s always seemed more of
a challenge. I guess I shall find out soon enough!
I have a great cast on-board who I’ve been working with in rehearsals this week, a part of the process that is more key than
usual given the single setting, as every member of cast will be on camera for the entire time.

From L to R: Lucy Cudden as team telepath Anna Gilmour, Martin Delaney as team leader Jerry Mackay, Simon Merrells as former Ghost Finder Mark Vega & Alexander Perkins as tech wizard Ian Calder

Finding a cast capable of taking on such a challenge was thanks to the support of Dowling Erdely casting agency, based in London,
who came on board the film in December last year. It was my first time working with a casting director and an extremely good
experience. Initially we had tried to cast the film ourselves, as I had always done previously, but we had almost 1000 responses
to our initial casting call and going through them all individually was just so time consuming, not to mention the process of
trying to set up auditions, and given the amount of pre-production needed we just couldn’t do it ourselves in the end.
Final auditions were set up through Dowling Erdely for the end of January and the decisions were made on cast just last week.
As we continue to rehearse our way through the script, set construction is underway, as well as last minute sourcing of some key
personnel.
Below are a few hints at what’s to come:

Our set.... in miniature!

The Judas hand! Our titular villain starts to take shape.....

A sculpted mock-up provides basis for the final prosthetic design, which will be produced by Mattes & Miniatures at Bray Film Studios

I’m going to blog from the set as much as possible over the next three weeks. We shoot for 18 days, a tight schedule for 84
pages of script, but one that should be manageable given our setting. Obviously being in studio we don’t have some of the same
concerns that might normally plague a film-shoot such as bad weather or fading daylight.
One part of the process I’m a little anxious about and which I’m sure will have the most affect on our schedule is the large
amount of VFX required. It will again be my first time working with them on this scale, so it’ll be interesting to see
how that goes. Thankfully we have a great FX team on-board in the shape of Peerless Camera Company, so I look forward to
working with them and am sure I shall learn a lot from the process!
For more info on the film itself, check out the projects page!
More soon……

“Intruder” Trailer online!

Monday, August 8th, 2011

Check it out below:

http://vimeo.com/27448260

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!)

Intruder – Day 1

Monday, May 30th, 2011

Whew! After 3 action packed days production on “Intruder” is complete. It was pretty full on, tough going at times and definitely fast-paced, but also a lot of fun and I can’t wait to get it all into the edit to to start putting the film together. I think this is the most confident I’ve felt upon finishing a shoot. Hopefully that doesn’t change when I start going through the rushes – you’re usually moving so fast on a production you never have a chance to go back over and assess what you’ve done until afterwards. You kind of just have to keep moving forward, trust in your planning and hope for the best! I’m going to steal a quote from Sylvester Stallone now, who said shooting a movie is like dressing for the prom in the dark, you don’t know until the lights come on afterward what you’ve been left with. And he made “The Expendables”, so if he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, I don’t know who does…..

We were shooting split days, from 12pm-1am each day, as the entire film is actually set at night, so whilst some interiors could be cheated during the day we also had to make the most of the darkness once the sun set around 9pm. We wrapped around 2:30am last Monday morning, after which myself and the lighting camera-man James Blann stayed on location to film some establishing shots for the opening titles.

We had a lot to do (20 pages) in the 3 days, averaging around 5 ½ to 6 pages per day and whilst dialogue in the film is minimal there is a lot of action to cover, plus we were also shooting in a large space which required a number of set-ups to establish the geography and to chart a characters journey from one place to another.

The final day Sunday was certainly the toughest as this is when we had a SFX team on set rigging bullet and squib hits which was a first for me and whilst awesome to watch (more on that later!) took a lot of time, plus there was a lot of action taking place as it was for the finale of the film – and action always requires much more set-ups. In hindsight I probably would have scheduled a whole fourth day just for this one scene so that we could really take our time with it. We actually ended up slightly re-writing the final scene in the end – so as to condense the action down and to keep it in one location, as initially the script called for it to be spread across two separate locations inside the warehouse which ultimately we just did not have time to do. Time is just one of those things on a shoot you never ever have enough of, no matter how well prepared you think you are!

A quick note now on the camera – although I’ve used it for a few corporate virals, this was my first time directing a drama on the Canon 5D and going in I was a little apprehensive, I knew for sound it could be difficult, plus focus is critical and it’s not necessarily a camera best suited to the rough, handheld style we were going for – or so I thought. However, that being said I have to say I was very impressed and would happily use it again. Not only do you get such a distinctly cinematic look from the lenses, I actually found it to be extremely versatile – you can run with it, shoot in small spaces, it copes very well with low light, and it made things very easy on the final day when we had to move quickly between set-ups. It’s also very easy to check playback. I must point out that a lot of the credit for this should also go to James Blann, our camera-man, who was pulling focus himself, often on the move, and without whom I’m sure we wouldn’t have been able to shoot half the things we did. Thanks James!

THE PREP:

The week before was pretty hectic, not only did I have to source a sound recordist last minute, when a move in dates meant that unfortunately our previous recordist could no longer commit, there was also the race to obtain a licence for our child actor and then I was told just a couple of days before shooting commenced that I needed to source an armourer if we were planning to have any replica weapons on set. Whilst I knew this was the case if you were shooting blanks, I was unaware that simply to have prop guns, be they air-soft or otherwise, on-site, even on private grounds out of the public eye, you are still required by law to have an armourer present.

DAY 1:

On the Friday we started with our only day outside of the warehouse, shooting a small sequence inside the main characters flat, where he returns home briefly to say goodbye to his daughter.

This was a day for night sequence so upon arrival the first thing we needed to do was black out all of the windows to cut off any daylight. We actually shot segments of this sequence MOS (mute of sound) with a skeleton crew on the Thursday evening, including a couple of POV’s and some shots of Paul entering from outside, so as to save time on the Friday as I wanted to be wrapped and over to the warehouse location as early as possible. We were actually able to move very quickly as not only had we done this shooting in advance, our child actress was also extremely talented, she delivered her lines perfectly on every take and took direction well. I wish I could take more credit for this but despite only being 7 years old she was very professional!

Angel Galloway as Tracy, Kevin's daughter.

We arrived at the warehouse around 5pm and began prepping for our first interiors.

Once the sun started to set around 9pm we moved outside ready to shoot the opening of the movie, where we see a huddle of employees, including Kevin, our lead, exiting the warehouse. This is where the Canon really helped us. As the exterior of the factory was so well lit anyway, we only needed to put up a 2k inside in addition, to back-light the employees (which was actually more of a stylistic choice), and then for one shot suspend a 300W lamp above our lead in order to cheat an effect where he is plunged into darkness. It was around midnight when we wrapped this sequence, at which point I decided to call it a night. We had till 1am but the final scene scheduled for that day I knew would take a while to shoot so we decided to pick it up first thing Saturday morning, as opposed to getting halfway into it and then having to stop. Plus it was an interior so could be cheated during the day.

The employees line up to shoot the opening sequence.

One week to go!

Sunday, May 15th, 2011

So “Intruder” starts shooting on Friday and of course no self-respecting film shoot is complete without something going wrong in the 11th hour, so in the course of the last week I’ve had to replace 3 members of the cast, my sound recordist, and one location! Unfortunately this is purely down to the dates of the shoot having been moved which has then clashed with other paid commitments for some people. This again came about as Sky are shooting a new sitcom at the same location so we’re having to work around them.

I’ve managed to replace the missing actors and the recordist, and am almost there with the location – viewing two possibles tomorrow afternoon. One of the new actors is also a 7 year old girl so in a first for me I’m having to request a child employment licence from my local city council in order to have permission to take her out of school for the shoot.

Previously the girl I had lined up for the part was much younger and hadn’t actually started school yet, so provided her mum was on-set as a chaperone there wouldn’t be a problem, but unfortunately she was one of the people who became unavailable when the dates of the shoot were forced to shift so now I’ve cast someone a little older. It’s a new experience for me as a producer/director to have to work with not only such a young actor, but also the various admin associated with it – so it’s good to be doing it, I’m just a little nervy about cutting it so close! Usually the licence would take 21 days to process, but the council have assured me if I get all the relevant information to them (doctor’s note, birth certificate, proof of insurance, letter from the school) by Tuesday, they’ll clear it for Friday – so the race is on! Never work with kids and animals as they say…..

Experiences like this are what makes these kind of projects such a great learning curve though, as next time I’ll be much more prepared should I need to do it all again, and the new actors and recordist I’m sure will all prove to be vital new contacts for future projects so it’s no bad thing.

In some exciting news this will also by my first shoot working with practical FX, as Danny Hargreaves from REEL FX (Being Human, Doctor Who) is kindly offering his services, providing some bullet and squib hits for the action packed finale of the film.

Meanwhile, I received word last week that my 2 minute short film entry to last years Virgin Media competition, “Brian the Bear”, has been highly commended by the judges and selected as one of three runners up in the 2011 John Brabourne Awards for “Best Newcomer”, which is great news. Thanks to all those who helped make the film. You can now view it online via the link below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmFRZfcBozA

The competition winner was a short film called “Barry”, and you can view that along with the other runners up here:

http://www.productionwizard.com/news/13/apr/2011/

Finally, with the final mix now delivered and the film completed, here is the DVD cover for my last short “Broken”:

I’ll be having a cast and crew screening in Bristol soon as I prepare to send it out to festivals.

Recommended reading…..

Monday, May 9th, 2011

So production on the next short “Intruder” is now just less than two weeks away, set to take place on the 20th-22nd May, and some hectic last minute preparation is underway – but in the meantime I thought I’d point you in the direction of a couple of things I’ve been reading lately. The first is a fantastic book on screenwriting by Blake Snyder called “Save the Cat”, Blake has made millions selling scripts on spec in Hollywood and if you are even remotely interested in selling commercial/mainstream scripts to the major studios, this is the book for you. It’s pretty short and easily digestible compared to some screenwriting books out there and is certainly one of the few written by someone who has actually made a living selling their stuff.

I was put onto it by my friend and writing partner Chris Marshfield, and speaking of Chris – the second thing I wanted to recommend was his own blog which he just recently started. On it he’ll be sharing some of his thoughts, theories and observations on writing, as well as a few other musings that may or may not be of interest!

Worth checking out if you’re an aspiring writer yourself or maybe just bored…..

http://chrismarshfield.blogspot.com/

Once production on “Intruder” starts I shall be uploading some pics and video here to give you a little preview… speak soon!

Simon Pearce Blog

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Here’s where to come for all the latest news on where Simon is, what he’s doing – and what he is shooting! Through this blog he’ll be keeping us updated on everything from the trials and tribulations of getting a film made, trying to make it as a young director, fighting for work as a freelancer, as well as keeping us abreast of all the news and information related to his latest production.

Check back regularly for updates.

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