While both of these things are valid reasons that make filmmaking difficult, they don't always have to factor. In reality, making filmmaking has, and always will be, about using your imagination.
Don't have any actors? Make a stop-motion animation film, or a nature short. Don't have the perfect location? Make do with an imperfect one, and use those imperfections to your advantage.
At whatever cost...make it work!
It had been in my mind for some time to create a short film which championed imagination and resourcefulness over elaborate plot devices and all the latest gear. And, with that, Strange things happen in rural areas was born. Click the image above to see it on Youtube.
The film explores what is possible with a couple of cameras, free locations available to anyone and everyone, and the director doing everything – acting, writing, producing, etc.
A silent film was the way to go, I decided. Without sound to panic about, I could concentrate my efforts on crafting the best self-filmed short possible, with a real story to match the visuals.
I chose a location very close to me to cut down on wasted time, and I set myself a limit of one long afternoon to film all the shots, with no going back. The script was based entirely on the locations open to me, without the need for anything fancy, or permission from anyone (like unsettled farmers). The location had to be somewhere with intrinsic intrigue, and there was a black barn just down the road from me which offered the perfect location for filming to take place.
Before taking my tripod to the virtually deserted farm track you see in the video, I storyboarded the short entirely, taking into account the many – and sometimes crippling – limitations of self-filming. From past experience, I knew self-filming and acting would be difficult, so I considered the script as more a basic outline than a solid vision, and made myself understand that if I didn't get the perfect series of shots I had wanted, I would work with what I had.
I always, always recommend people storyboard or script a short to some degree. There is a lot you can do in editing and post production, but having those crucial shots which make the film what it is is fundamental. Always write some kind of script!
Filming this short was madness in a number of ways. First of all, the wind made things very difficult, and second of all, keeping track of the various shots myself – and maintaining a realistic degree of continuity – was very tough indeed. On top of that, people who made the daily walk up the farm track stopped every so often to talk to me about what I was doing. About half of them thought I had to be filming barn owls, and the other half thought I was a bit mad for doing what I was doing. Which is understandable...if you've watched the video.
At one point, about fifteen people making up a seemingly endless family group – the likes of which I have never, ever seen up there before or since – appeared out of nowhere and made the barn their home. At that point I had to take a break and wait it out (note: I did bump into a jogger who, it transpired, had an interest in filmmaking, and we had a good chat about things. So, there it is, you can make contacts...even out in the middle of nowhere!).
At first, the wind was my enemy. Everything about it seemed hell-bent on disrupting the filming of my short film! As I recall, I spent about 20 frustrating minutes attempting to keep a can stood up straight while I walked away to press record on the camera. It fell over repeatedly, and then an elderly walker would appear and ask about barn owls...again...
But that's what it's like, so I suppose I should say embrace it. Yes, embrace it. There is certainly plenty to embrace.
Then I realised something: if I set things up right, I could use the wind to add an extra layer of interest to the film. Once this happened, the fun began, and the shoot took on a bizarre new comic dimension. After a while, it became clear that the wind was going to become its own unique character. Looking back, some of the very best things which occurred were things that happened by total accident.
From the moment I came up with the idea for the script, I knew I was going to be using my Go Pro Hero for some of the shots. These little cameras may not have the quality resolution of more traditional cameras, but they – and I am sure you're already aware of this – are incredible when it comes to capturing life in the moment, from a very intimate, personal perspective.
As I mentioned early on in this blog post, I scrapped the idea of sound immediately, favouring, instead, unique camera angles and a variety of shots that would keep things from getting boring. A primary concern when there is only one real actor.
I used a Canon 5D mark III to film nearly all of the footage – in Full HD – and mounted it on a tripod for all of the shots. For all the Canon footage I used the Canon 24mm to 105mm F4 lens. It's a basic lens that works very well in daylight, and has a generally good sharpness across the apertures. This enabled me to create a deep depth of field, or a relatively shallow one where necessary. For most of the shots I went with a deep depth of field. First because it is easy to self-film in such a way – less focus issues, of course – and, secondly, because I wanted the viewer to see all of the location – as well as its fairly remote placement in the landscape.
For the self-filmed shots, the Go Pro Hero proved absolutely instrumental. I used it on what some people call a selfie stick, but I call just a plastic stick, because I am 34 and refuse to let this nonsense fashion-speak get to me. I'll never get used to this odd selfie lark.
Props, rocks and great big boulders
Another reason why I decided to film at the black barn local to me was props. It wasn't exactly a film set, but there was a lot of character to the place already, which has stood at this location, in various incarnations, for literally hundreds of years. Bits of rock, boulders and corrugated iron might sound unappealing, but for my short film they all added a distinct level of charm that would have been impossible to produce in a more sterile environment.
In fact, some of the shots blossomed solely out of the accidental props being there, and were never even considered in the script. Another reason why filmmaking is so fun, and addictive: you may have a fixed idea of what you're after, but sometimes, the end result being different is exactly how things ought to be.
Looking to have a short film or promotional video made? There are more details about my work over on the Video page. And remember, if you have a question, you can always Contact me and ask away.
Thanks for reading.