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The making of A Fistful of Conkers

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At BIAFF 2014, Wales High's Film and Animation Club(Dir. Liam Sanderson) won a Diamond award, Best British Entry and Best Entry for an Affiliated Club for A Fistful of Conkers
Still from 'Conkers' We started filming A Fistful of Conkers during the summer of 2012 and finally premiered it at the Worksop Savoy cinema in January 2014.

Conkers is the second large scale film production by Wales High School, made with the involvement of the school's students. Our previous film, Challenging Behaviour, a horror comedy about a serial killing head teacher received Four Stars at BIAFF 2012.

Inspired by the popular Spaghetti Western genre, A Fistful of Conkers is best described as a classic tale of revenge, set against the backdrop of a school conker tournament.

Still from 'Conkers'
Brandon Fletcher as The Boy with No Name
Year 10 student Brandon Fletcher stars in the lead role as The Boy with No Name who has unfinished business with reigning conker champion One Eyed Jack, played by former Sixth-form student Max Marsh.
Max left Wales High last year and is now studying a degree in drama and performance at London's South Bank University. Still from 'Conkers'
Max Marsh as One eyed Jack
The film also stars fellow Year 10 students Neal Russell and Devon Whiteley.
Neal plays William, the underdog conker player who is enlisted by Brandon's character to strip One Eyed Jack of his conker title.
Still from 'Conkers'
Neal Russell as William
Still from 'Conkers'
Devon Whiteley as Josie Wales
Devon plays school reporter Josie Wales who, desperate for a scoop, agrees to help the pair win the coveted golden conkers trophy.
Still from 'Conkers'
John Day as Head Teacher
John Day, the former head teacher of Wales High who retired in 2012, makes his screen debut as the Head Teacher - a role he was born to play.
The plan was to shoot the film during the summer holidays of 2012; the students agreed to come in for a couple of weeks during August when the school is closed. This is an ideal time to film as the school is generally empty.
However due to the amount of construction and redevelopment work happening around the school site, we often had to abandon filming because it was just too noisy - even with the help of recent Sheffield Hallam graduate Luke Pietnik who had offered his services to record the sound.

We shot as much as we could but the summer holidays soon passed and we found ourselves filming the rest of the scenes after school during the week and on a weekend when the school was open.

The film was produced entirely with equipment from the Media Studies department. We used a Canon 550d DLSR, employing the Canon EF f1.8 50mm lens for every single shot, shooting wide open to achieve a reduced depth of field. This helped us achieve the cinematic quality of the classic films we were attempting to emulate.

Everything was lit with a basic kit of two Interfit 650w softboxes, a Film Gear 650w tungsten fresnel and a prehistoric 2k Mole Richardson tungsten fresnel. Still from 'Conkers'
For the most part, we kept camera blocking fairly simple. Shooting wide open on a 50mm lens meant that focus was critical. If an actor missed a mark they would be completely out of focus. However I didn't want the film to feel static, therefore where possible we used the Hague tripod tracking dolly and the DSLR Devices portable crane to inject some dynamic movement in to the film.
Still from 'Conkers' The film offered many logistical challenges, the first being that we started to make a film about conkers during the month of August, two months before conkers generally fall. I managed to buy a job lot of conkers off eBay for a 1 but I still needed more. I posted a message on a local forum and somebody kindly donated a large container of conkers which they had collected the year before. Through the course of filming, I worked out that we managed to obliterate over three hundred conkers.
The most difficult shot to film was the underwater POV shot of The Boy with No Name's head being flushed down a toilet. We achieved this by supporting a fish tank on the edges of two tables, this allowed us to film under the fish tank and point a camera upwards through the glass. We then stood Brandon on a chair and got him to duck his face fully in to the water. Later, I asked a visual fx artist to insert a matte porcelain surround in to the shot that helped create the perspective of being inside the toilet and looking up. Still from 'Conkers'
The film was edited as the film was shot and a final cut was soon completed. Luke Pietnik, who recorded the sound, also produced the film's brilliant sound design, incorporating Richard D Taylor's fantastic score. Richard produced over 18 cues that emulated Ennio Morricone's original music from the Dollars trilogy, but he also managed to inject his own personal style in to the film's dense music score.

Overall, the film was a great experience for the students and myself, we're incredibly proud of the final film and it was great honour to win Best Affiliated Club Film and Best British Film at this year's BIAFF.

Liam Sanderson
September 2014

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