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Borderline Shorts are Bob Vine and Graeme Webb. Based in South East London, they have been making short films together for two years. Bob works for an international organisation in graphic design and Graeme is a media consultant. They use high end DV and HDV cameras and Apple post-production kit. Their film Car Park won a Gold and a sponsor's prize at BIAFF 2006. Head won 4 stars at BIAFF 2008.


Head way - the making of Head
by Bob Vine and Graeme Webb

Conception and birth

Head from Borderline on Vimeo.

I don't know about you but externalising personal visions at 25 frames per second is very hard for me. As each frame is digitally captured I feel like I am giving birth to some unholy monster that has its own direction and purpose.

The short film Head was no exception to this and had morphed over the two years of its life cycle from a one line horror flick to a dark dystopian dream.

tunnel

I and Bob Vine had spent the best part of a year working on Last Drop which was an attempt to purge ourselves of the gangster genre after Bob's Car Park. We felt we had reached a point where we needed to push ourselves further than the technical and acting difficulties that we had encountered on Last Drop. We had 'made our bones' as Moe Green had put it in The Godfather and it was time to explore a different world.

Head had languished (some may say festered) for a year and, although the central narrative of the sad pathetic creature trying to rid itself of 'something' and then trying to find 'meaning' which the 'feel' of the film hangs on remained the same, the industrial look and soundtrack of the film evolved as we planned it.

Planning ( Do we have to do this? ....YES)

When we have an idea we start by flowcharting it. This enables us to structure the logic prior to scriptwriting and storyboarding.

This process is fundamental to the success of any project and also allows us to improvise in shooting and postproduction without loosing direction. In effect we try to design out operational and technical failure to enable us to concentrate on the creative side of things. The devil is in the detail and in film making you cannot be too organised.

We always cover any locations with photographs which are inserted into the storyboard and for this purpose we use either Keynote, or Frameforge. Any script items, direction or camera moves are included in the story board.

Green screen test If we have CGI or green screen scenes we will make mock-ups and test these prior to shooting as often some things will work better than others.

We use Celtx for scriptwriting more ambitious projects with a lot of dialogue which also has the ability to incorporate pictures and files. Celtx produces the script in a format that is familiar to most actors.

Also at this point we will try to get a feel for the soundtrack which as far as we are concerned is more than an equal partner to the visuals and plays a major role in setting mood, style and significance.

Myself and Bob have worked together on a few films and music videos over the past three years and have come to understand how each other works.

We both use Apple Mac technology and our systems as far as software goes are mirrors of each other. This makes life a lot easier and gives us access to Apple's powerful and dedicated video editing and music production tools.

We both work on all aspects of pre-production and one or the other will take a lead in pushing the project forward. The tasks are divided up into the various skill sets that each of us has.

We are both reasonably competent at camera work and sound recording in the field and in this film Bob handled the comping/montage side of things in Shake and Motion, I handled any other green screen layering effects and editing inside Final Cut Studio, Apple's NLE application, and composed the soundtrack.

We find the work flow of these applications easy to use as even Soundtrack and Logic PRO 7 integrate fully with Final Cut Pro.

Bob works full time for a international company in their design team. I freelance.  This means that I will normally pick up any other jobs like preparing DVD's, looking after the Blog, entering films into festivals etc.

At the end of the day it's teamwork which provides synergy to the project and enables you push forward with it. It is give and take and if you don't get on then you have to find someone else to make films with.

Who the hell can we find to act in this film?

In previous films we had used actors who were friends of friends and came from amateur dramatic backgrounds. Although this worked reasonably well we were sort of stuck with who we had. We never auditioned. I think we tried to shoehorn some of the actors into parts that on reflection they may have not been entirely suitable for.

This was an important lesson. We decided that we would have to take more time and care in actor selection in the future.

We made the decision to use two of the on-line film community websites Shooting People and Talent Circle to find a couple of suitable actors for Head. I placed a brief advert with a very short synopsis of the film onto the websites. We had no money to pay actors but we offered expenses, and within 3 hours I had received 49 responses, fantastic!!!

We knew we wanted a certain look for the characters in Head so we trawled through the actors pictures and looked at their show reels until we found what we were looking for, contacted them and set up a meeting in the Coal hole in London's Strand.

Factory man  Iannis Aliferis (Factory man)

Tunnel man   Tim Wilderspin (Tunnel man)

Tim and Iannis had previous films under their belts and were also involved in writing screenplays. Both had experience of 'edgy' roles and were certainly up for what we wanted from them. We had a couple of further meetings prior to filming to read and discuss the script and work out the logistics of the shoot.

Location, Location, Location

Garage Filming Filming 2

Where do you find a cellar in a factory? Bobs 12x10 lock-up garage. We dressed this a week prior to shooting the opening scenes making a nest for 'Factory man' in the corner of the lock-up and placing the various homemade props around it. The shoot went as planned.

Two weeks later we did the scenes along the river. It's important to walk the route that the actors will follow at least a week prior to filming as there is nothing worse than finding that an area is closed off or someone has dug a big hole where your actor is going to sit. In the case of the underpass scenes the local council had removed most of the graphitti from the walls two days prior to us arriving and other than being pestered by the local 'loony' the shoot went to plan. We even got time for a pint afterwards.

On the subject of multi-location shoots I would suggest that you should try to get them all in the can as soon as possible. Last Drop had too many delays due to the fact that we couldn't get all the actors in the right place at the right time as they had other commitments. There was a delay of 15 weeks between the shot of Vince in the bathroom and him entering the garage (and almost a year between him leaving the garage and dying in the street). This can cause continuity problems which you may not have anticipated.

Its important to stress to the actors upfront about their commitment to your project. Always have contingency for such events.

The locations are as important as the actors and should be 'auditioned' as such. We photograph or video areas and process them with the sort of look and feel we have decided the end product will have, just to make sure it all fits together.

Two weeks, darkened room, coffee...

We both feel that modern audiences are now quite sophisticated and will not accept poor production values even from 'amateur' film makers.

The post-production element of the project is potentially the most creative part and should not be thought of as just the chore of linking all the clips together but more as a virtual pallet of images and sound. This is where the synergy of soundtrack, visual effects and graphics come together, where that old saying "The whole is greater than the sum of the parts" really does mean something.

Understanding both visual and audio elements of your editing tool set and studying film and TV techniques will improve production values. Reading books from the likes of Walter Murch 's 'In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing' and Mike Figgis' 'Digital Film Making' can help enormously. There are thousands of books on the subject and the ones written by actual filmmakers are the more valuable ones. There is no substitute for the real thing and although we have differing tastes, we both visit the cinema to see at least 20 films a year.

We had something like 3 hours of raw footage from the Head shoots. We use a clapper board at the start of each shot because we record sound separately on a Tascam HDP2. This kit combined with a Sennheiser K6 system and muffler enables us to get high quality sound.

After identifying and marking the clips in the Final Cut Pro capture system I then batch capture them and synch the sound files from the Tascam in the time line. This takes a bit of practice but after a while I found the easiest way is to do it visually (looking at the wave forms and pulling the clips along at the frame level).

When I had completed this I discarded the on camera microphone audio and locked the new visuals and audio together.

Final Cut Pro

I finished this part of the job by colour correcting all the raw footage. A rough assembly was made from these clips and any cutaways that were filmed on the day. We are a bit obsessive with planning and storyboarding so we know how the film will be put together and the final look and feel the film will have (this we agree on at the start of post).

This assembly formed the basis for the film and I layered the green screen and special effects on top. Even with a pretty organised time line the post on Head was about 13 full days due to the excessive rendering times for the final special effects.

the box Graffiti Clock

Nothing is quite what it seems in the film and Bob produced the furnaces in Shake from photographs taken in the Science Museum and some of the external locations using composites of industrial building pictures around the Thames Barrier. The matte paintings were done in Photoshop and either incorporated in Motion or Shake with green screen elements (the head flying in space for example).

When all of these elements were in place it was time to start putting the soundtrack together. The soundtrack for Head ended up being 25 pairs of stereo tracks layered on the time line. Most of these are industrial drones prepared in propellerhead's Reason using the NN19 digital sampler and various industrial noises I have recorded. There are also samples from one of my favourite audio sites The Freesound Project.

Using my midi keyboard I doodled a small theme that appears a couple of times in the film just to change the mood of things. The track used at the start of the film is a piece by Geraldo called 'I'm confessing' and the final track is 'Forgotten Dreams' by Sandy MacPherson at the Blackpool Tower organ.

These two pieces of music (especially the Geraldo one with the added heavy distortion and reverb) takes me back to my childhood as I struggled to hear the radio through the bedroom wall just before falling asleep.

When the rough edit was complete I used Genarts Saphire filters lighting plugins to apply the night effect to some of the later shots in the film and a Magic Bullet plugin to desaturate and control the gamma of the black and white sequences. Finally a tint, animated visual noise and CHV-Electronics film grunge (hair, flicker, dust) plugin was added for the final edit. The colour of the scenes that take place in the tunnel were based on the colour of the lighting in the Saw horror movies.

Stepping back

Head was filmed in HDV 1080i but looks as if its 8mm film, that's what we were aiming at.

The story evolved over a year from a man waking in bed and finding something odd in his wardrobe (the original idea) to a creature caught in a bleak desolate landscape who's only escape is into another world of uncertainty and horror, until he is released by confronting what's inside the box. The seed is now free to go and populate/infect other dreams/universes.

Carrying box Nest Silhouette

Head is all a dream of course and should be viewed as such, more of an audio visual experience than a straight forward piece of film making. There was also an opportunity to pay a small homage to two people who have influenced my film making and thinking: J G Ballard and David Lynch (the Brothers Quay are also standing somewhere in the shadows).

I am re-editing the soundtrack with a soundscape from fellow collaborator Mark Pover a composer from the UK which will be finished sometime in May. It is quite exciting visiting this world again and seeing new colours and moods generated by the new soundtrack.

It was an interesting journey for Bob and myself technically and creatively and although the films we have in production at the moment are a million miles away from Head it will be interesting to return to that universe at some point in the future.

Head lines

The major lessons we have learnt from making the film:

  • Give ideas time and space to grow. Don't rush it. If it's worth it, it will be even more worth it in 6 months time.
  • Engage your actors, it's their film as well.
  • Make sure there is someone to catch you when you fall.
  • Push yourself: - you're only as good as your last production.
  • Stay true.
  • Don't worry about what the critics say. What do they know? :)

Bob Vine and Graeme Webb,  Borderline Shorts 2008

The Borderline blog

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