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The making of Commitment

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Commitment by Fingercuff (James Webber and Jamie Hooper) got 5-stars and the Best British Entry Award at BIAFF 2009 and a bronze medal at UNICA 2009. Fingercuff is a low budget production house specialising in music videos but (as you will discover) not a full-time job for the partners.The cast and crew of 'Commitment'.

Committed to Commitment

James Webber tells the story ...

Jamie edited the film whilst I wrote, directed, filmed, produced and made the tea!

The additional crew and cast were all unpaid friends or family. It was filmed in and around Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey as well as key scenes being shot at New Malden's iconic CI tower. I am 28 years old and have been making short films since I was about 17. I have always had an overactive imagination (which I put down to being an only child!) so filmmaking is a great way for me to vent all of these crazy ideas bouncing around in my head.

I wish Fingercuff was my full time occupation! I actually work in sales (for the past 6 years), on such highly regarded titles as Construction News and Daltons Weekly!  The Daltons staff all make cameo appearances throughout the film. My boss also let me shoot scenes in their office which was a great help. As well as making short films for myself, I also shoot music videos for unsigned bands in my spare time. I hope in the future to make a living from doing what I love!

Still from 'Commitment'. Still from 'Commitment'. Still from 'Commitment'.

I am not a member of a club but I have thought about joining them in the past. I am lucky to have a lot of friends who are interested in film making so this acts as a vital support to any of my projects. I don’t really have time for anything else between my day job and shooting films! Watching films, talking about films… I am a regular film geek through and through.

For me an idea starts with an image. In this case it was a girl sitting on the edge of a bed, a silhouette against the window, looking back at her boyfriend who is asleep. She seems unhappy, something is playing on her mind. For some reason I found this image quite haunting. I started to ask myself questions about this character. Who was she? Why was she upset? Then around this same time I had a conversation with a friend who was complaining about his over-possessive girlfriend. She would keep tabs on him and show up at his place of work to surprise him. This interested me. What would happen if I filmed this scenario but took it to that next level. The pieces fell into place and Commitment was born

The biggest problem I always face is that I imagine the piece having that perfect Hollywood ‘shot on film look’, which when you shoot on the more conventional DV camcorders is quite hard to achieve! With Commitment, rather than make this mistake again I visualised it as a DV film, almost like a twisted home movie at times. It may not have the Hollywood sheen but the DV format does have many advantages other than the affordability. It makes everything more realistic, giving it a fly-on-the-wall aspect which suited the nature of the film.

The Actors

I was very lucky! All the performers worked for no money so I was very grateful for that.

In the lead role of Sasha is Francesca Fowler. I had known Fran already for a number of years as she was a friend’s sister. We talked about the character and she knew exactly what was needed for the role. She became very involved, needing very little screen direction. She cleverly had the idea that as the film progresses and gets darker in nature, so does her costume. I thought was a great idea and is a subtle element in the finished piece. I was also more than happy with her performance, really nailing the 'silent' acting approach I was looking for, where an actor can say much more with a glance than they could possible say by speaking. Since making the short film she has gone onto bigger and better things, recently appearing in an episode of Doctor Who.

Appearing with her was Ben Carpenter in the role of her boyfriend Steve. I found Ben through the website Talent Circle. He came in working for free so he could get some footage for his show reel. My house mate Lauren also chipped in playing the villain / victim Rose.

Commitment was a refreshing change for me as I did not have to venture in front of the camera for once and make an utter fool of myself. I think it looks all the better for it!

Still from 'Commitment'. Still from 'Commitment'. Still from 'Commitment'.

I tend to work very quickly. I plan every little thing beforehand so I know when I have shot what I need. Actors and crew certainly appreciate this kind of planning and smooth running when they are giving you their time for free. The shoot took about 5 full days in all.

Having never really worked on a professional production I don't have too much to compare my own experiences too. I have always walked along the no-budget route for my work. I feel you can have a lot more creative freedom this way, free to craft a story you are personally interested in telling without anybody looking over your shoulder saying "Steady on. You're spending too much money!"

I also always try to maintain a highly productive but light-hearted atmosphere on set which certainly helps on those early morning shoots.

The edit went very smoothly. As the film had been well planned before the shoot and during the ed it was relatively straight forward. It also helps having a fantastic editor like Jamie Hooper who very kindly came to stay at my flat for a week so he could work on the film.

The real problems came when we worked on the music. It took about a month to get the score right. Nothing really seemed to be working until Sanj Surati, the composer, locked himself away for about two weeks. He then came back with material that I felt was absolutely perfect. It increased the film's mood and tension tenfold. I also wanted it to feature the music of a friend of mine, Esther Yoxall, a talented singer-song-writer. When writing the script, I listening to her track 'Clouds' over and over so, with her permission, it felt right using it on the end credits.

I realised throughout the making of this film that a lot of people could relate to elements of Sasha's character. I'm sure that everyone involved in relationships has, at some time or another, felt the stab of jealously. I have had feedback from friends and strangers who have viewed Commitment and felt pity for the main character, maybe seeing a bit of themselves in there. The duality of Sasha's character has been a big talking point, how in her eyes she is the victim but in reality is the villain. A few watchers also pick up on the fact that this is not the first time she has done something like this, that, in fact, her life is almost a constant circle of deeply disturbing behaviour.

Still from 'Commitment'. Still from 'Commitment'. Still from 'Commitment'.

The Kit

We shot the film on a Canon XL1 DV camcorder that a friend was kind enough to lend me. Since making the film I have purchased my own Sony Z1 shooting on HDV for future projects.

The camera work is mostly hand held throughout. This was done on purpose to increase the realism and fly-on-the-wall effect. I also did a lot of experimentation with focusing such as when Sasha is sitting on the edge of the bed at the beginning of the film the focus moves in and out to create the effect of her waking.

The film was 90% natural lighting that was digitally graded in the editing process. We used colours to provoke certain reactions in some scenes. Other lighting was courtesy of a £10 workman's light on a tripod that I purchased from B&Q. Simple but effective.

Commitment was edited on Final Cut Pro, a non-linear Mac based system. Although it can be daunting for first time users I would never use another program now.

Sound was recorded using a lightweight boom pole and mic. Once again I was lucky enough to be lent these by a friend. My editor, Jamie, did a lot of work on the sound in post-production from adding footsteps to the sounds of the knife and fork touching plates in the dinner scene. It's these little details, details that the audience has no clue about, which I truly appreciate.

All in all I am happy with the film and it has been fantastic sharing it with so many people lately especially at the Surrey Film Festival and hopefully the BIAFF in April. As an amateur filmmaker the true reward is sitting with the audience as your film plays on the screen. It makes all those early morning shoots, endless phone calls, late night scripting sessions, and general hard work worth it.

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Page updated on 06 October 2011
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