Saturday, September 22, 2007

The making of The Circle - my first film in film school.

This week was a week of major decisions here as a film school student in Hong Kong - I made my first short film, and I decided that I would make a better screenwriter than a director. I might try to justify my second decision in a later post, but now I would like to write about the making of my first film in film school - The Circle.

The requirements are simple - in two weeks, make a "film" of just one scene. Only straight cuts - so no dissolve, no jump cuts, no editing tricks. 10-14 cuts is ideal, 3-5 lines per character, and at least 2 close-ups per character. According to our instructor, it should take no longer than 2 hours to shoot.

Of course, I follow these instructions, so I wrote a short film that's not really a film. The Circle is only a dialogue scene between three people - a Cantonese speaker, an English speaker, and a Mandarin speaker. They have some language clash trying to figure out how to put their language clash into a simple figure of speech, and we realize that they're literally walking in a circle. Not hard to film, right?

Before I headed out for the day, I wondered if I should've put up at incense on my Wong Tai Sin shrine at home. I was running late, so I decided not to. That would turn out to be a bit of a mistake.

Filming was to start at 4 sharp and end by hopefully 5:30-6. We got out of class at 3:15, and proceeded to check out equipment and test them (equipments used: a boom mic, a DV camera, and a mixer). But it was when we got the mixer that came the first of several disasters - the mixer needed batteries. Knowing my school neighborhood would tell you that a trip to the convenience store is a walk of at least 10 minutes, so one of my actors decided to trip at get one of school grounds with success. I have still yet to pay him back for the battery.

While my actor went outside, the second disaster happened - it started to rain. Why, of all the time over that Monday that was supposed to be sunny, did the sky decided to expel liquids onto the grounds of my school? I just needed an hour and a half to film one damn scene outdoors, and the gods decided to...

oh, wait, it stopped raining.

With the sky dried, we ran outside to set up, but I realized I had not rehearsed with my actors, and rehearsing with my actors is pretty damn essential in a dialogue scene. But wait, what's that noise? Turns out there were some major construction going on the slope next to where I wanted to film. Check with sound person - dialogue can be heard. Fine, let's film. It was already 4:30.

Filming seems ok so far. One of my actors kept changing her dialogue between takes, but that's ok - it was a long take anyway, and I can rescue it. But half an hour into filming, there was a peaceful silence. 5 pm...the construction workers decided to stop working. Since the sound needs to be consistent, that means we had to start all over again.

Then I have an actress who doesn't know how to push away someone else, and an actress who acts like she doesn't give a shit in between takes. Plus a shot where a boom mic is visibly in the camera (I selectively ignored it because of the rush) and the lights around me started coming on, I was feeling about how crappy the editing process was going to be. I couldn't get good sleep the whole week, and I came to find out that almost all of my classmates took at least three hours with their own films (one involved at least 6 takes of a platform dolly track shot. I pushed that dolly). I suddenly felt like a very efficient but shitty director.

But to my surprise, the image looked ok (except for that damn boom shot). I didn't do enough takes, and I didn't give enough time before yelling "cut," but at least it wasn't totally shit. I logged and capture all the good takes and just straight cut everything on Final Cut Pro (the first time I'm editing anything on a computer ever, if I may remind you), and I finished in a few hours. The end product is not perfect, but I think I am satisfied with what I got.

So the lesson of the day is that we may make fun of those movies with technical errors all the time, but we should know that getting all that shit filmed was a miracle in the first place. As a critic, some may criticize us for not treasuring the accomplishments of a film crew more, but beyond technical issues and what the crew does on screen, there's still no excuse for shitty writing and shitty acting. I had a shitty actress, and I managed to improvise to find her a more natural action to do. But I also realized one thing:

I think I would like to be a screenwriter instead.

Oh, I will eventually post the film somewhere, just not until I turn it in and get it exported to a .mov file.


munin said...

Very interesting read, thanks - I'll continue to follow your progress here, seeing as I intend to take a similar career route once I'm finished with school...

Here in Germany, film schools have insanely high requirements, but even a degree from such a school doesn't guarantee you anything...the whole industry is in a crisis here, and I've considered trying my luck in another country when I'm at the point to decide.

May I ask how you ended up in a HK film school? What kind of stuff did you do before?

GoldenRockProductions said...

Hi, munin,

Honestly, I have come to think that the school pretty much accepted anyone who applied, since there were people who did computer science and financing among my class. Which might be why I didn't even stand a chance for Northwestern and UCLA.

I'll probably go in more in another entry about myself and why I chose this place. Thanks for your comment.

Anonymous said...

Good point, strikes a chord, though hardly to the same complicated extent. My friends were content to leave it to the professionals, but I couldn't resist having a look at the mixing process, and mentioned that I felt the recording could do with a bit more bottom end. I sure learned the hard way that an analogue master tape has to sound quite top-heavy (too much treble, thin bottom end) to turn out balanced after cutting and pressing on vinyl. Yes, people used to listen to those funny black discs in those days :). No wonder many of those early (mid 1980s) CDs sounded so shrill :). Well, I was only seventeen at the time, and it's anachronistic, I know, but we do pick things up...

- NK