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Leaves by Karen Cherrington, John James, Alan Robinson, Terry Tkachuk
& Neville Withers - also known collectively as 'The Partners' - got 4-star
awards at BIAFF 2009 and made an impact as the first film shown on the Sunday
gala show. In April 2009 Terry's local cinema in Bridport was showing the
film as a warm up before main features and the team heard that the young
actor who plays Louie, Max Edelsten, got a part in Ridley Scott's
latest film, $130m Hollywood blockbuster, Robin Hood.
Good film making isn't easy
A writer's tale - Terry Tkachuk
There is indeed a tiger prowling in my study and one that sums up all the challenges I face when I sit down to write a Partners script. Nevertheless I have to handle the beast with care as she's always been present over the many years that Partners have made films.
First off, I don't derive my income from my written work. My first challenge is therefore simply to find enough quality time to write a screenplay - let alone a screenplay of value. Setting time aside to write invariably means I have to juggle work, documentary projects, family responsibility and struggles with daily life.
A Partners film is typically low budget so the story and characters have to engage audiences while the production has to be filmable. A key part of this requires that production costs be as manageable as possible: so before I can scribble down a working title or one word of an outline or treatment, I have to carefully consider the type of story I wish to tell.
In this I am helped by our director Alan Robinson. Even though we live 150 miles apart we regularly meet up to discuss the idea of the film, its characters, basic outline, moods, conflicts and resolutions. Phone calls and e-mails ensure we can capitalize on developing and tightening the story.
Then it's time to feed the tiger prowling within the hidden corners of my study. In these dark corners I can examine very personal and powerful issues to produce a challenging and thoughtful screenplay.
Our film's title, Fallen Leaves, came late in the day but that isn't too surprising. Writing a screenplay is all about re-writing, and there were six months of that as characters grew or disappeared, scenes came and went, dialogue altered, deleted then re-worked.
But it's no good writing scripts that no-one will ever see. After signing off the script with Alan we turn to Karen our producer who now has the real challenge to turn the words on a page into a living reality.
Good film making isn't easy. It's challenging and tough, like getting up at 5am to travel to Wales, or standing outside in the wind and rain freezing your socks off. But it's also hugely rewarding: As producer, when the audience sees your film - delivered on time and on budget - projected onto the big screen, then it's all worthwhile.
Each production has to be built from the ground up. The key for us is that we devise a comprehensive production schedule detailing what we need to do on a monthly basis. This begins with regular production meetings so that everyone in the team knows exactly what's going on and what needs to be done next.
Our workflow then covers the necessary stages of budgeting, casting, location scouting, organizing rehearsals, props and costumes, catering through to the shoot. From there it's on to post production, screening and finally entering our film into festivals.
Throughout, we are sticklers for planning: It's important that cast and crew with equipment and props, are in the right place at the right time. We use a shooting schedule for each day's filming and allocate a specific amount of filming time for each scene. We also factor in time to dress the set, position camera, lights and sound, costume changes while not forgetting the all important meal breaks! One of the crew will keep a regular check on the time to keep Alan informed so that everything is completed to schedule.
Despite all the planning and attention to detail, there will always be unforeseen circumstances, like the weather or traffic problems. So a producer always has to have a contingency plan: When one of our locations fell through we had to move the production forward from April to June. This meant major re-scheduling but thankfully all were ok with the changes. And our secret ... it's all in the planning!
But my job doesn't end there. I have to turn my attention to film festivals and ensure that our films are submitted in time - such as the IAC competition but by the time the last festival is entered it will be time to receive Terry's next script!
My involvement on Fallen Leaves was to assist as technical supervisor and act as sound editor. We primarily used a Sony Z1 camera with its standard lens as there is no facility to use interchangeable lenses. We had received some technical insight by a professional cameraman although we didn't want him to do any shooting for us as that knocks our amateur status.
I worked closely with Alan on positioning the camera in a mixture of tripod and hand-held. The tripod was a Vinten Pro Touch PT520 fitted with a Pro 5 fluid head. Although the tripod is an older model it had been serviced by Vintens at their premises just outside Bury St. Edmonds. They offered a fantastic service and by personally delivering the tripod I was able to collect it later the same day.
We shot in HD and then down-converted to standard definition for editing because we wanted to be able to edit on two different PC's. Alan would do the main editing and his PC was not HD compatible. I would then take the project file to edit and sweeten the sound.
Alan suggested using a set of 3 Red Heads and stands where possible. Many of the closer shots had additional lighting provided by Alan's battery operated light. In the Newman's bedroom and kitchen we used a couple of Arri lights (650watts).
Sound is a key part to our film making so we used a Sennheiser MKH 416 shotgun microphone with boom. It is an extremely good microphone and we were able to place the microphone where-ever we needed. We also had a pair of Sennheiser tie-clip radio microphones but preferred to us the sound from the MKH 416 as this is not affected by the sound of clothes rustling on the tie-clips.
Adobe Premiere 6.5 was our editing platform and much of the grading was achieved using Canopus software. My preference was to use Sony SoundForge for audio. On occasions we had purposefully placed the mic' into shot when we were recording for sound only. Being able to see the audio waveform in Premiere makes it a breeze when syncing up sound in my edit suite. Creating a sound-scape is very time consuming but makes for a truly polished film.
At its best realistic drama consists of a progression of moods and feelings that play upon the audience transforming the writer's meaning into an emotional experience.
I approach the filming of drama with the great force of mood and feeling produced in the audience through the dramatic progression of the story. In breaking down the film, I never think of a scene in dialogue - facial expression, bodily actions and tone should convey the drama.
Terry and myself set out to explore the mind of a grief stricken boy and his family. Louie Newman, the central figure in the story, has a sense of loss that is faced up to, and healed, during the course of the film.
At the same time it was the inspiration of actual events in Afghanistan that made us feel capable of expressing certain things. I thought at length about how we could visualize this. For me, strong film-making happens when images stay with you and go deep into your unconscious. We worked to refine the essential story idea then subsequently worked out the best way of telling the story to cinema audiences. In addition we use music and sound to further explore cinematic language.
Trying to get films produced in the UK is difficult. Britain has to compete with Hollywood and too many screenplays remain in perpetual development because of high production costs and other obstacles. Shooting digitally and manageable production considerations make it possible to produce short films in-expensively.
It's a hard juggling act, balancing what is good box office and thought provoking art but it can be done: By combining the power of the dramatic form with strong subject matter, Partners films underscores important universal, timeless themes for a contemplative international audience. Organizations like the IAC are invaluable in carrying on this tradition.
Watch the film's trailer: