While I was looking into a final major project, I had been exploring the misinterpretation of words in day-to-day life. Primarily out of SMS conversations where all tonality and delivery is lost, thus breaking the words down into the blandest form. I decided to explore this in experimental short film form.
Teaming up with Craig Busek, writer, we looked into a 3 episode script of about 1 minute each in length, that could be delivered in 3 different styles and moods. This lead to the buzzwords; In this case, “honey” which is represented in the film as a term of endearment, the request for honey on toast, and a lazy response to eating honey roasted peanuts.
Alex Fine was the DOP and by working closely with him, we were able to produce a three-camera setup that minimised slate changes and reduced the likelihood of continuity errors.
(Fig 1. Camera Setup Diagrams, Tom Ottley 2013)
While using multiple cameras, rules and guidelines, such as the rule of 180, (Proferes,
(2005). pp. 5–7) and colour balance in the cameras setup (Composition, www.surreyborder.org.uk) were followed, as is the industry standard for film making. However I felt that the composition and framing would be purposefully off, I felt that this would help sell the concept of the real life situations and put across to the audience the focus on the words and situation rather than the picture perfect world of cinematography.
One of the few problems with working with a small crew was the range of tasks that everyone had to take on. A lot of time and effort was spent on camera angles and blocking of the actors. This also meant that there was not a dedicated location recordist, as I was directing as well. I therefore choose to work with lapel microphones for the majority. This allowed me to remotely record and direct. One issue we faced was attaching the lapels in such a way that would not show on camera and would allow the actors to move freely, Victoria and Tom’s costumes were not best suited for hidden lapels, the microphones were placed higher up on the sternum and the dialogue lost some of its high end fidelity and clothes rustle became a problem, this was not realized till the edit.
However, Ian and Nancy’s costumes allowed the lapels to be placed at 5 inch distance in the centre of the chest, they were also only covered by the button fold of the shirts, this meant that there was less high end filtering and the clarity punched though. (Viers, 2012, chapter 6) A strong technical and practical understanding came from the research in “The Location Sound Bible” by Ric Viers.
As we worked through the rushes and started to edit, I came to understand some of the reasoning behind film making choices and actor direction that takes places during a shoot. Principles and work flows that while I do not regret not doing, I would take on if I were to repeat the project. In the edit, I, as the director, was able to sit down with the editor and complete a cut in 4 hours. It was very necessary to be clear and confident in explaining the vision of the piece that I had as I had to trust and rely on the skills of editor, and throughout the production all the crew’s skill in the creation of this.
Because of the experimental nature of the piece, sound and music had a lot of open space to work with to further distinguish the moods in each section. This meant that to punctuate the tonality of the words delivered by the actors and follow the desire to put across the 3 separate moods between each character, music and sound were wisely adapted even with such an open field to play with. While romance, boredom and anger are easy to portray over the period of a minute, it was much harder to portray in seconds and as a result, I felt that the musical direction could explore the meanings of each episode, this would help drive the script and add another selling point to the core concept. We explored the music in the film “American Graffiti” (American Graffiti, 1973, film) and looked to it for inspiration. In this film, a continuous sound track plays diegetically (Terminology filmsound.org) through out, this effect keeps an idea of time and is story driven and matches the moods of the scenes. For Parallels, we did not want focus on time and so to have continuous diegetic music would not work, but the concept of music running throughout while being empathetic to each episode fitted. The composer and I then looked at the video game “Red Dead Redemption”,(Red Dead Redemption, 2010, video game) as the music is controlled by the action caused by the player it has to cut in and jump between several themes, the way the musicians worked to ease the transitions was to compose all the music in one key. I realised the potential of this technique could allow music to express different emotions but transition fluidly between each scene.
The sound design for this drama was more suited to a mix of external logic and vast extensions, and passive soundscapes. As the whole experience is based on the day-to-day, atmospheres, foley, dialogue and ambient noise would be mixed to show off real world situations and not be mixed for cinematic purposes. The best example is the level of traffic noise in episode 2 with Tom and Victoria. Traffic noise is high and contends with the dialogue, the added issue of the camera being off the face in this scene illustrates that these conversations in truth rarely take place face to face. This makes the dialogue becomes almost unbearable, however the brain is incredible at focusing on words and I feel that this scene demonstrates this.
In the same way that words can have such meaning, silence also has strong meaning too, episode 3 with Ryan and Becca waiting on the pregnancy test has long periods of silence. This is not a null extension; the same mixing theory as before goes into this scene, but as the characters are still, there is no noise. This is broken by the juxtaposition of dialogue and Becca walking away across the creaky floor. I wanted to demonstrate the real life feeling that while a character could be in their own world and having lost focus, sound is ever present and it is up to the audience to decide to be observers or partakers in the emotion of the scene.
Because the whole piece is so script driven, the performances needed to be the best they could be, I however was venturing into an unknown territory and using actors of varying quality, but the lines were delivered and captured and the team was organised well and there were no issues on the days of filming and will this may not win cannes, it has certainly been made and produced very professionally.
Fig. 1 Camera Setup Tom Ottley 2013
Proferes, Nicholas T. (2005). Film Directing Fundamentals (2nd ed.). Amsterdam: Focal Press.
Composition, Surrey Border
American Graffiti (1978) Directed by George Lucas [Motion Picture] USA Universal
Red Dead Redemption (2010) Created by Rockstar San Diago [Video Game] USA Rockstar