Monday, 16 May 2011

My First Spellbook, Or Musings Of A Sound Guy

This morning marked the end of my foray into this year's grad films. The kit was returned (after some confusion over who was meant to be returning it and when), whatever wasn't put back was given to the next group and my work was done. Sort of. It's been a strange couple of weeks, during which I've taken on roles I normally wouldn't have, angsted at what it is I'm supposed to be doing, discovered I have better upper-arm strength than I originally though and thought alot about what it'll be like when it's our turn next year.

I've often wondered if there's a certain 'formula' or type of film which is likely to get chosen over another script, but Gavin Laing's My First Spellbook completely disproved all of this. Children? Check. Filming in a school during school hours? Check. Special effects wizardry? Check. Giant hairy tarantula? Check and check again. When I first read the script I thought, if this can get chosen, nothing me and my slightly smaller imagination can write will seem outlandish at all.

In all honesty, I'm not entirely sure how much I was looking forward to the shoot. I've been feeling a little disheartened lately with regards to the course and feeling as though I haven't developed or gotten what I should have out of it. Whether that's just my own paranoia, I don't know, but my original choice of specialism was camera and I don't feel anywhere as up to speed on it as the others who are choosing it too. We'd all been assigned roles based on our specialist choices, and my original role was 'B' camera clapper/loader. I was ready to take it on head on, and even volunteered to go and muck out one of the locations, a derelict flat in Anniesland.

The next week, however, I was informed that the camera crew had swollen to nine people and there was a chance that some roles might be cut. I was offered the choice to stay on the camera crew, where my role was quite shaky, or boom op/sound assist, which no one else had volunteered to do, and they were apparently struggling for someone to fill the role. The 'A' camera clapper/loader was Amelie. If anyone was getting cut, it was going to be me. I opted for sound.

I thought I was going to be on set for the full two weeks, but then found out that I was only on 5/8 days. The boom op for the first week was there when I turned up on the Saturday, and there wasn't really anything for me to do. It was pretty disappointing, but hey, I picked myself up and threw myself into it on Monday. I wanted to show there was more I could do than stand outside in the rain and protect lights with an umbrella.

I'd camera opped on the scenes that half the class had shot with Peter Mackie Burns the week before, and it had re-invigorated my fondness for camera, so I wasn't entirely sure that I'd made the right decision, but there was nothing I could do about it. I was all ready for a camera job too- I'd even went and got my eyes tested and got glasses and everything, so that whatever I captured wouldn't be all blurry and soft. I couldn't wait for the chance to say "LOOK! It wasn't just me being incompetent! It was a disability all along!". Alas, the chance never came.

On Monday, the first scene was a musical number. I turned up with my own cans- Sennheiser ones, no less- and prepared myself for a baptism of fire. In the end, it wasn't too difficult. Like camera, you just have to follow the actors, but unlike camera, you have to be very careful not to get yourself in shot for even a second. Holding a boom in the air for extended periods of time was quite difficult at first but I got used to it. In the end, I even kind of enjoyed it. I don't take to things naturally and have to work hard to keep up, but I do work hard, and if there's anything needing done, I'll ask what I can do to help with it. By the second day, I was hoisting the boom mic above my head like I'd been doing it the whole time, relieed that I'd finally found a use of my gangly, overly-long arms. I knew I couldn't have spent my whole life trying to find sleeves that fit for nothing.

I liked the way the shoot was organised in terms of its timeframe. When children are involved, guidelines are much stricter and schedules must be adhered to alot more strictly. We were filming in a primary school while classes were on too, which put further constraints on our time. Last year, a typical day would involve waking up at 6 and crawling into bed round about 1am, for an intense but brief time period. This time around, we started at 10:30 and would wrap for the day around 5 o'clock, and it was stretched over 8 days. I found this alot more relaxing and a far better way to worl. I understand that shoots cost money, as do time and mistakes, but I don''t think a producer or AD barking about needing a shot before lunch is going to get it done any better. It's not going to get the best performance out of your actors, and it brings down the morale of everyone involved. It was nicer to feel like a human being working in a team, than a functioning mechanical part who was considered useless for not being able to capture a particularly tricky shot in record time.

Working with children wasn't as difficult as I'd anticipated too. The lead actress was a little chatterbox and often got quite easily distracted, but that's part of being a kid. I'd be the same if I had a week off school to go and make a film at that age! I was amazed at how naturally the kids took to being on set and took direction without too many major problems. I even managed to mind my language, go for most of the day without a cigarette or coffee and found out I have alot more patience than I thought I did- no mean feat

Before I knew it, the week was over. It's strange, how the first day is spent getting used to how everyone works, and it quickly becomes the norm, then before you know it, you're thrown back into real life again. I almost felt a twinge of sadness before realising this meant I had to start working on actual coursework again! I felt like a learned alot about a different section of film making I hadn't worked on before. It was tiring, and my arms were aching after the first couple of days, but it was good experience. While I may not have had the most 'creative' role, I did the job I was asked to do as best as I could. And I can't do much more than that really, can I?

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