Post-Production: Editing

I thought developing a plot and storyboarding would be the hardest part, but then came the time for editing. I’ve had my go at editing short films, graduation videos and others of the like before, but the process for this one proved to be my trickiest (and lengthiest) one yet.

My prior experience lies with softwares such as Adobe Premiere Pro and Windows Movie Maker. As for the latter, it’s been long surpassed by more advanced technology by now. But as for the former, it lies beyond my budget and with my free trial already used up, I had to go looking elsewhere.

Speaking of free trials and their extremely short lifespan; this little fact has become the bane of my existence. The number of brilliant applications to use out there are by no means in any shortage― my affordability for them, however, is. The three major softwares I wanted to use were Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe Photoshop CC and Adobe After Effects. But in order to get my hands on them, the only choice I had was to subscribe to the full Adobe Creative Cloud package and pay either on a monthly  ($74.99/mo) or annual ( $49.99/mo) basis. Neither options were something I could afford for just one project.

Instead, for most of the basic video editing, I decided to use iMovie, a free software that was available on my Macbook. It turned out to be much more efficient than I thought it’d be; allowing me to add titles, themes, music, and effects, including basic color correction and video enhancement tools and transitions such as fades and slides.


TRIMMING AND JOINING

Though the idea of ‘cut and connect’ sounds like child’s play, the secret to creating a good video is knowing precisely when to cut and connect. Figuring out the how’s is the easy part, but it’s the when’s that are crucial in determining how smoothly a film flows.

From the thousand’s of videos I’ve seen throughout my life, one of the first things I’d noticed was how editors time their video to match the music. A change in beat synchronizes with a change in shot, a “drop” in the song leads to a climax in a film. And it works beautifully. More often than not, the regular viewer won’t even realize when this tactic is being used, but it stands out more when it’s not.

For the first 7 shots of the video, I chose to lower their speed using the slo-mo option offered by iMovie (turtle icon). Since they served as the opening credits of the film, I wanted a bare minimum of movement to be seen, with a heavy focus on setting the location and key elements of the film. Every object in each shot was carefully chosen to portray either a backstory, set the scene or simply create an aesthetic for the rest of the movie. The standard title sequence of a film or tv show tends to go on for as long as 1-3 minutes. But of course, since this is a project and we need to work within a time constraint, we had to keep it short at only 36 seconds and manage to pack in as much important information as possible through mise en scène.

An issue I faced regarding the slow motion was how patchy and erratic the footage started to look when slowed down too much. I realized the less stabilized a video was originally recorded, the more obvious those tiny uneven motions appeared at more frames per second. This led me to retake numerous takes of the same shot in hopes of reducing this shaky look, but even with my homemade shoulder rig, I was unable to completely avoid this without a professional slider.

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 3.05.07 AM
First seven shots with slo-mo as seen on iMovie’s interface.

MUSIC AND SOUND EFFECTS

I can’t stress enough how important diegetic and non-diegetic sounds can be for a film- I tried my very best to match the pace of the music with the scene being played, in order to execute the right effect. More importantly, I needed to pick out the most appropriate score or soundtrack to begin with. If it’s not done right, you’re left with one big jumbled mess like this:

Considering my opening relies almost entirely on music to convey any emotions or vibes, I took an extremely long time to finalize on a song choice. In the end, Yasamin and I agreed on What Have We Done To Each Other? by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross. Taken from the Gone Girl soundtrack, it wasn’t the only one I ended up using from the film.

Initially, I maintained this one sole song throughout the entire 2 mins 37 secs, but certain moments required a change in tempo and the feelings that were exuded. To build on a more edgy and suspenseful tone, I added an overlay of At Risk (also by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross) to the first song.

A prime example of the various overlapping sounds can be seen at the 1:51 mark:

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 9.06.35 AM
1:51 mark indicated by white line; 4 green boxes indicate 4 separate audio files.

This scene marks a pivotal change in atmosphere- the main character’s fear hikes, her hand starts to shake, she’s seen breathing heavily next and grabbing a knife. All of her actions evoke a heightened sense of anxiousness and fright, but none of these emotions could be conveyed properly without the aid of the music. That’s why at 1:51, I have four different sources of music playing to make this feeling more palpable:

  1. At Risk by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross (126%)
  2. What Have We Done To Each Other? by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross (25%)
  3. Something Disposable by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross (100%)
  4. Drone Dark Suspense 1 – iMovie stock sound effect (251%)

In brackets, are the volume adjustments I kept for each. This is essential if you don’t want to end up with a chaos of sound. Imagine having every song at an equivalent 100% – this is what that would sound like:

I’m no professional (or amateur) sound mixer so this was the best bet I had in merging various sounds to come together as one. A lot of my time was spent into adjusting the volume accordingly for each audio file, fading it in/out in some cases, then greatly increasing it for just 2.5 secs in between in another. The number one thing to keep in mind was to never let the music overpower the diegetic sounds that could be seen on screen, such as the tap running or the protagonist breathing heavily.

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 5.50.18 AM
iMovie: Syncing audio files with video and controlling their levels.

With so many audio files attached, keeping track of them got a little bit out of hand a few instances, but the more I worked on it, the more comfortable and well-accustomed I got to the software tools.

There were some scenes where the audio recorded via the speakers on the camera were clear enough to use, but as for the ones that weren’t, we recorded separate audio takes through Voice Memos on my iPhone.

(For when MC slides the knife out.)

(For when MC is seen gasping in front of the fridge.)


TITLE CREDITS

The film’s title only appears at the very end of the opening, as we wanted to delve right into the story first and give the audience an inkling of what was to come. I discovered that there’s a technical term for this method called a cold opening, where a television program or movie jumps directly into a story at the beginning or opening of the show before the title sequence or opening credits are shown. Technically, this doesn’t apply to us as our film does feature short opening credits before the action starts, but this is the effect we were intending for.

Creation of “The Night Of” title itself was done by me using Adobe After Effects. I downloaded the free 7-day trial and referred to the video below to help me create the glitch text effect:

aftereffects

night of gif

Following the instructions step-by-step was easy enough to catch on to and I developed more on my advanced editing skills thanks to this software too. Sadly, I was unable to use the application again once the trial ended, despite all my fruitless attempts to find a loophole in their subscription system.


COLOUR GRADING AND NOISE REDUCTION

My first biggest mistake was not reaching the colour grading stage sooner.

I had relied on iMovie itself to tweak basic coloring components such as saturation, brightness, contrast and temperature. Two such examples can be shown below:

EXAMPLE 1

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 7.40.53 AM

BEFORE

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 7.38.21 AM

AFTER

 

EXAMPLE 2

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 7.34.35 AM

BEFORE

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 7.33.12 AM

AFTER

 

In example 2, increasing the brightness and highlights helped show Yasamin’s face more clearly, but it also increased the visible noise in the shot.

Now, this is when I realized my second mistake.
Lighting.

Filming at nighttime is an obstacle of its own, and my solution to overcoming it was by increasing the ISO settings during production. What I only just realized in the middle of editing is that this resulted in a far more grainy version than I liked. Any dim scene with little light falling on the sensor would leave me with lots of image/video noise regardless of the ISO setting. But while the ISO may not have a direct relationship with the noise, what I learnt is that the lower it is, the less noise you are likelier to have.

As we did not have access to any high-tech lighting kits, we needed to rely on natural light, props or our electronic gadgets. For the above scene in the bathroom, our only source of light was from a yellow wallpaper on an iPad screen, acting as our key light. Using an iPad or tablet didn’t prove as efficient working as a back light as it wasn’t powerful enough to light up the subject, even with a diffuser sheet.

So, finding myself stuck in this conundrum, I went on a lookout for better programs that could help me with colour grading. I came across two: FilmConvert and Red Giant. Both some of the best film stock emulators out there, with hundreds upon hundreds of plug-ins and suites to select from and….you guessed it, totally out of my budget. These are the kind of softwares major studios use for effects like 3D motion graphics, broadcast design, colour correction and chroma keying. We’re talking Avengers: Age of Ultron level here; Guardians of the Galaxy, Saturday Night Live, Doctor Who, Good Morning America, the list goes on. So naturally, one suite alone would cost something like $999.

The specific package I had my eyes set on was Red Giant’s Magic Bullet Suite: a set of seven tools that provided me with colour correction, finishing and film looks for the best possible cinematic results. In particular, they had a plug-in called Denoiser-III which worked wonders in reducing noise. Luck was at least a tiny bit in my favour as they did offer a free trial- except. I’d be needing one of these host applications for it to work:

  • Adobe Premiere Pro
  • Adobe After Effects
  • Final Cut Pro
  • DaVinci Resolve
  • Sony Vegas

Yet again, Adobe had come back to haunt me and I really started to regret not hearing about Red Giant back during my active After Effects trial. The same applied for FilmConvert so I was forced to go ahead and download a 30-day free trial for Final Cut Pro X (FCP X).

softwares
All the different programs I downloaded over the course of editing.

Once that was done, I hoped I could finally get to completing this task once and for all, but like I said: luck was only a tiny bit on my side. Because when I tried to apply the FilmConvert or Red Giant tools to my video on FCP X, the application consistently started to hang up or get stuck. No matter how many times I’d restart and refresh, the same problem would come up each and every time, making the cursor move extremely slowly and making it near impossible to edit anything.

On the verge of giving up, I reached out to a friend of mine who’d studied Media Studies before and asked for tips and advice on what I could do. She recommended me with a software called CyberLink PowerDirector. Now, after several trials (quite literally) and tribulations, my partner Yasamin and I gave this software a shot on her laptop instead and it worked! She used it to edit and work on the color grading, making any necessary final touches.

I thought developing a plot and storyboarding it would be the hardest part, but then came the time for editing. I’ve had my go at editing short films, graduation videos and others of the like before, but the process for this one proved to be my trickiest (and lengthiest) one yet.

My prior experience lies with softwares such as Adobe Premiere Pro and Windows Movie Maker. As for the latter, it’s been long surpassed by more advanced technology by now. But as for the former, it lies beyond my budget and with my free trial already used up, I had to go looking elsewhere.

Speaking of free trials and their extremely short lifespan; this little fact has become the bane of my existence. The number of brilliant applications to use out there are by no means in any shortage― my affordability for them, however, is. The three major softwares I wanted to use were Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe Photoshop CC and Adobe After Effects. But in order to get my hands on them, the only choice I had was to subscribe for the full Adobe Creative Cloud package and pay either on a monthly  ($74.99/mo) or annual ( $49.99/mo) basis. Neither options were something I could afford for just one project.

Instead, for most of the basic video editing, I decided to use iMovie, a free software that was available on my Macbook. It turned out to be much more efficient than I thought it’d be; allowing me to add titles, themes, music, and effects, including basic color correction and video enhancement tools and transitions such as fades and slides.


Trimming and Joining

Though the idea of ‘cut and connect’ sounds like child’s play, the secret to creating a good video is knowing precisely when to cut and connect. Figuring out the how’s is the easy part, but it’s the when’s that are crucial in determining how smoothly a film flows.

From the thousand’s of videos I’ve seen throughout my life, one of the first things I’d noticed was how editors time their video to match the music. A change in beat synchronizes with a change in shot, a “drop” in the song leads to a climax in a film. And it works beautifully. More often than not, the regular viewer won’t even realize when this tactic is being used, but it stands out more when it’s not. Take the following case for example:

For the first 7 shots of the video, I chose to lower their speed using the slo-mo option offered by iMovie (turtle icon). Since they served as the opening credits scene, I wanted a bare minimum of movement to be seen. An issue I faced regarding this was how patchy and erratic the footage started to look when slowed down too much. I realized the less stabilized a video was originally recorded, the more obvious those tiny uneven motions appeared at more frames per second. This led me to retaking numerous takes of the same shot in hopes of reducing this shaky look, but even with my homemade shoulder rig, I was unable to completely avoid this without a professional slider.

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 3.05.07 AM
First seven shots as seen on iMovie’s interface.

MUSIC AND SOUND EFFECTS

I can’t stress enough how important diegetic and non-diegetic sounds can be for a film- I tried my very best to match the pace of the music with the scene being played, in order to execute the right effect. More importantly, I needed to pick out the most appropriate score or soundtrack to begin with. If it’s not done right, then no matter what a video shows, the person watching won’t think a scary scene’s a scary scene if there’s upbeat music playing over it.

Considering my opening relies almost entirely on music to convey any emotions or vibes, I took an extremely long time to finalize on a song choice. In the end, Yasamin and I agreed on What Have We Done To Each Other? by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross. Taken from the Gone Girl soundtrack, it wasn’t the only one I ended up using from the film.

Initially, I maintained this one sole song throughout the entire 2 mins 33 secs, but certain moments required a change in tempo and the feelings that were exuded. To build on a more edgy and suspenseful tone, I added an overlay of At Risk (also by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross) to the first song.

A lot of my time was spent into adjusting the volume accordingly for each audio file, fading it in/out in some cases, then greatly increasing it for just 2.5 secs in another. The number one thing to keep in mind was to never let the music overpower the diegetic sounds

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 5.50.18 AM

With so many audio files attached, keeping track of them got a little bit out of hand a few instances, but the more I worked on it, the more comfortable and well-accustomed I got to the software tools.

Production: Filming

On the first day of filming, the majority of the scenes were shot using my Sony Alpha A5100 camera, but when it ran out of battery, we used Yasamin’s Samsung Nx 2000 camera to film the last remaining scene instead. We made sure the ISO, aperture and shutter speed were all adjusted accordingly so as to maintain the same visual look. Lesson learned? Never forget your charger at home. Or always have a back-up.

Another obstacle we encountered was the memory card getting full, but having experienced this problem during my initial shooting attempts in Dubai, I’d made sure to carry extra SD cards this time round. These little complications we faced helped us ensure they were not repeated again on our second day of filming.

The reason we only required a mere two days to film the entirety of our opening is because we only had one set location i.e. Yasamin’s house. Prior to filming, I visited her house to recce the location, familiarizing myself with it and determining its suitability. Location scouting wasn’t really necessary as 95% of the scenes we needed to film were indoors in the same location, and her villa’s lighting, atmosphere, and set-up worked out perfectly for our story. Where the first day consisted of principal photography, our second day mainly included re-shoots and pick-up shots.

My handy little camera also came with the ability to flip its LCD screen up, allowing me to see it like a “selfie.” This feature proved particularly useful when filming the fridge scene as I could place the camera inside the fridge and still be able to adjust focus and ISO settings.

FullSizeRender (6)The Sony Alpha A5100 used to film.

Screen Shot 2017-03-13 at 12.16.21 AMA behind-the-scenes shot of me adjusting the camera in the fridge.


Behind-the-scenes

IMG_8359

IMG_8356Electronic devices such as tablets and smartphones used for blue lighting

IMG_8358
IMG_8363More behind the scenes from the kitchen shoot

My partner and I made a joint decision to use colours to complement emotions and moods for our opening. Since we lacked in the LED lights department, we wanted to make use of whatever we did have to its best extent. This video helped shed some light (pun intended) on the use of colour in film, taking Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo as a case study:


Shots

All shots were filmed by me. You may notice that some shots here are not present in the storyboard or look different; this is due to a result of improvising during production itself, when we noticed a shot looked better a certain way than we’d drawn out.

Shot #1: Close-up. 

Screen Shot 2017-04-22 at 10.23.54 PM

This shot was only taken once while I went around the house filming different objects that would suit the aesthetic of our film, whilst simultaneously setting up the location of the main character’s house, which is where our opening takes place. The reason I chose a blue fluorescent light is because this kind of lighting is present at several points throughout the opening. As for the slight blue tinge that looks like it’s been leached out of its color, this helps create a despondent, gloomy atmosphere.

Shot #2: Medium shot, almost a medium close-up.

Screen Shot 2017-04-22 at 10.24.11 PM

This shot is a stark contrast to the previous one, switching from light to darkness, but linked together by the central blue light. Once again, this shot serves as an introduction to aesthetic and location; except this time, the darkness layers on a heavier sense of gloom, bordering on sinister, as if something bad’s happened or is about to happen in the story.

Shot #3: Close-up.

Screen Shot 2017-04-22 at 10.24.37 PM

Though it may seem like an ordinary object now, this door handle plays a pivotal role later in the story. While the detective goes in search of finding out what really happened to Alisha the night she went missing, he discovers washed out traces of blood on this handle in our main character’s (Charlie) house. This serves as the biggest clue to our plot twist of Charlie being the mystery attempted murderer.

Shot #4: Small Wide Shot.

Screen Shot 2017-04-22 at 10.24.42 PM

Yet another very dark one, this slow sliding shot of the house gates serves as a minor establishing shot to set the outer location. I chose to keep contrast high and brightness low for this shot so that most of whats in the frame remains unseen. This gives off a more ambiguous vibe to the audience, as intended.

Shot #5: Close-up.

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 9.13.31 AM

This shot of alcohol bottles lying around -one empty, the other half full- indicates that the main character (who’s will be introduced a few shots later) has been drinking herself into a stupor and drowning in her sorrows. This connection is made clear when the audiences realize that the main character’s best friend has been missing for some days.

Shot #6: Medium close-up.

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 9.13.41 AM

A close-up was chosen for this shot to allow the audiences to clearly see the name (Alisha Jones) and face of the missing girl so that they can recognize her face and link it up to the next shot.

Shot #7:  Extreme close-up.

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 9.13.49 AM

This shot shows a picture of the same missing girl with someone who appears to be her best friend (this someone being our protagonist). I also chose to add the opening credit for “Editors” in this shot as it shows both me and my partner’s names as well as our picture together. Once again, the slight blue light is present as well for the sake of continuity. At least 5 takes were taken for this shot to keep it as focussed and stabilized as possible, as it would be slowed down in editing.

Shot #8: Close-up.

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 9.13.58 AM

Another shot of a picture of the missing girl, this time with someone who appears to be her boyfriend (who is also a main character in the film that would have been introduced after the opening). He is also a prime suspect in Alisha Jones’ case. Blue lighting and the same table is maintained for consistency. This shot also required about 4 takes for the same reason as above.

Shot #9: close-up.

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 9.14.11 AM

The final shot of the opening credits sequence shows one last picture of a group of girls at a party, the central focus being given to the missing girl and her best friend from the first picture. There are faint traces of tears fallen on the picture to show that the person looking at it as been crying. Next to it, is another missing poster of Alisha, crumpled, which indicates that whoever has been looking at these pictures and reminiscing is angry and frustrated. The table and blue lighting are similar to the two previous shots, which means that they’re all laid out on the same table. It also ends with the “directed by” credit, which is normally the last one.

Shot #10

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 9.14.18 AM

An abrupt blank screen to mark the end of the opening credits as you hear an abrupt scream pierce through the whisperings.

Shot #11: Close-up.

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 9.14.25 AM

This shot acts as a dramatic introduction to the protagonist, the close-up clearly depicting the expressions of fear and panic on her face for the audience to see. Red lighting (presumably from a bedside lamp, and a candle as it is flickering) was used for this scene to complement the heightened feelings of panic and alarm.

Shot #12: Medium shot.

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 9.15.32 AM

Here, there is only one source of lighting coming from a different candle in the room that’s placed in centre frame to illuminate her silhouette and show her actions. Figuring out how to film in almost complete darkness while still allowing the audience to see her motions was tricky, but our improvisation helped create both a visually pleasing look, as well as one that kept the aura mysterious.

Shot #13: Medium Close-up.

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 9.15.39 AM

Once again, a close-up of her face to clearly show the distraught emotions she’s experiencing, but this time from a side angle so that the shots aren’t repetitive. From this angle, the lighting on her face falls from two light sources, appearing more orange, a mixture of the red and yellow tones from the two previous shots respectively.

Shot #14: Close-up.

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 9.16.37 AM

This was very clearly a hand-held shot as the slight shakiness supplements how shaken the protagonist feels herself after her nightmare. She picks the wrong empty bottle of pills first which indicates how flustered she is too. The inclusion of pills in the opening scene itself leads an audience to wonder what she’s taking them for; if she has a mental illness or not. The case later in the movie turns out to be one for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and bipolar disorder (this disorder being the main reason why she ended up almost killing her own best friend, Alisha, in the heat of the moment).

Shot #15: Medium shot; almost a medium close-up.

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 9.17.02 AM

I decided to film this scene as a tracking shot, which follows the movement of the pills first in her hands, then moving up to her mouth, where the camera stops to show the grimace on her face.

Shot #16: Medium shot/Midshot.

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 9.17.26 AM

This shot serves as a transition shot from one place to another as it switches from her sitting in her room to entering the bathroom. This was a particularly taxing shot to film as I was holding the camera with one hand and an iPad with the other as a light source. I needed to turn the light towards her the exact moment she “switched the lights on” without shaking the camera, so this required numerous takes.

(Why oh why didn’t we task someone else with the job of holding the lights? Because we hadn’t anticipated the need for one. We’d figured that all of our light sources would be placed on a platform but this wasn’t possible for the bathroom scenes. This was one of the biggest mistakes we realized along the way).

Shot #17: Close-up.

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 9.17.49 AM

In this shot, we decided to add focus on the protagonist clenching her hands on the sink which implies how tense she’s feeling after her nightmare. Dim yellow lighting was used instead of the bathroom’s actual lights to keep a dark, creepy atmosphere.

Shot #18: Medium shot/medium close-up.

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 9.18.14 AM

I employed a cutting on action technique to match the action of her hands collecting water in the previous shot to washing her face is this one. Here, the light only falls on the subject, so that no attention is given to the background and the dark atmosphere is maintained.

Shot #19: Medium shot.

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 9.21.09 AM

Another match on action example. The mirror angle was used for this scene to show the audience her expressions while she herself reflects on what she’s feeling as she stares into the mirror.

Shot #20: Close-up.

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 9.21.45 AM

A closer shot length was used here to take the audience into the mind of the character and her reaction to the screams. Choosing the camera settings for this scene was probably one of the most confusing ones as if I kept the ISO too high, the film’s noise would increase, but if I kept it too low, you couldn’t see very her face well in the limited light. This is why I attempted to reduce noise using plug-ins during editing.

Shot #21: Close-up.

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 9.22.10 AM

We connected this shot to the previous one via a graphical match cut of closing one door, then opening another. Keeping a front view angle at eye level (i.e. the camera becomes the point-of-view of he fridge) was the best way to show the most out of her reaction as it gave a clear sight of her face.

Shot #22: Close-up.

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 9.22.30 AM

In this shot, I kept the composition of the frame in a way that would evenly split the two types of lighting in half. This can be interpreted symbolically to mean that she’s turned away from the brighter, yellow light aka safety, towards the darker, gloomier blue, which could be a sign of danger or simply something bad.

Shot #23: Medium shot.

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 9.22.39 AM

I made sure to stick to the 180 degree rule here by filming the shot from her right side. Since the previous shot was also taken from her right side, switching sides for the next shot might confuse the viewer about her position and standing. In comparison to the previous shot, our MC goes from having light falling upon her to near complete darkness. The lighting is lowered in this manner to intensify the tension that’s building up.

Shot #24: Medium close up.

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 9.22.49 AM

Full emphasis is given to the subject in this medium close up, especially with her standing centre frame.

Shot #25: Close up.

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 9.22.58 AM

A close up puts all the attention on this singular action of sliding the knife out.

Shot #26: Medium shot.

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 9.23.29 AM

This is a tracking shot that follows the MC as she walks towards the door. The simple shirt and nondescript background encourage the audience’s eyes to lie straight at the knife, which is kept in the centre of the frame as it is the center of attention.

Shot #26: Very Wide shot.

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 9.23.39 AM

This is another example of match on action/cutting on action where the action of her walking towards the door in the previous shot is followed by the action of her opening that same door in this shot. A wider shot is used to take a break away from the line of close ups and medium shots, but more importantly, to give the audience a general idea of the outside setting. A wide shot also makes the MC’s silhouette seem smaller, weaker and more “swallowed up” by her surroundings. At the same time, she isn’t made out to be entirely helpless either as a low angle is used to put her in a towering position as compared to a cowering one.

Shot #27: Close up.

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 9.24.46 AM

This was the second most difficult shot to work with in terms of avoiding noise in the footage whilst keeping the lighting dark and low. A tracking shot is used to follow her motions down the stairs.

Shot #28: Medium shot.

In this last and final shot, I first used a sort of rotational 360 degree shot, wherein the camera stays in the same position and follows the subject in a curve. This kind of shot makes the audience feel more like a bystander as the MC walks towards what could be certain doom. In the same shot, I start to track her slowly so that the camera is closer (i.e. the audience is closer too) when the moment of surprise hits.

Pre-Production: Research Pt. II

Marketing and Promotion Techniques


The Posters

For the main poster, I’d go with something more minimal and artistic than the generic horror/thriller posters you’d usually see floating about. Take the following for example:


Name me one thing that makes one of these evidently stand out more than the other.

…There isn’t.

Movies centered around murder mystery always seem to have the same old mundane concepts plastered as their image; a trend that’s become exceedingly more common than it used to (or should) be. There’s a stark difference between the posters for the classic film, Scream and its 2011 sequel:

It appears the film industry has gone backwards when it comes to the art of poster making. The following designs are more similar to what I had in mind:

social_network_xlg little_miss_sunshine_poster men_women_and_childrenblack_swan her 20posters_moononly_god_forgives tangerine SONY-NPOS-01_031411_27x40_C_Layout 1

Case Study: La La Land (2016)

Another thing to keep in mind is the world. And by that, I’m talking about international posters: different parts of the world have different people with different tastes, which can only mean that different designs curated to suit particular demographics should be created.

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The Trailers

Initially, I’d drop a teaser showing glitchy, disjointed clips revealing little information to the audience and leaving them speculating; all about setting the mood for the movie and creating anticipation. (A bit like Radiohead’s suspense-creating tactics with A Moon Shaped Pool, as they released bits and pieces of the official video for their first single, Burn The Witch, over time on their website and Instagram.)

Next, I’d release a second teaser, presenting a more coherent structure as more characters are introduced and brought to the picture. It would be in the style of a rather vague trailer such as this promo for How To Get Away With Murder’s Season 3 Episode 14 promo. In the span of 30 seconds, glimpses of a backstory are showered upon us, each primary character is equally centered on and everyone is a suspect. A tactic used to throw the viewers off and have them as confused as ever on who the guilty party could be.

Finally, an official trailer would later be released, giving the audience a wider idea of the murder mystery plot and what’s in store for them, but most certainly not showing any vital plot points that may spoil the whole film. The general trend (and problem) with most trailera these days is that those 2-3 minutes make you feel like you’ve just finished watching the entire story in its summary. That is a mistake I’d avoid like the plague.


Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Let’s talk about synergy: the strategy of synchronizing and actively forging connections between directly related areas of entertainment. Assuming my story would be based off a young adult mystery novel, I’d arrange for it to be republished with new editions featuring the movie poster on its cover, thus garnering in a wider range of audience. CD’s of the official soundtrack with music featured in the film as well as the original score would also be released about a week after the movie’s release.


Online and Social

  • Use Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter as a means of social media attention, as well as an independent website with fun mini detective games and even quizzes.
  • Fans can retweet, reblog or share a post on social media to win a giveaway for tickets to the premiere.
  • Organize Q and A’s between the fans and actors e.g. Reddit’s AMA (Ask Me Anything) or a live Facebook chat.
  • Unexpectedly drop a single from the movie by a mainstream singer, accompanied by an official music video upon release. Said music video should possibly feature famous celebrity of the moment. If not, clips of the film featured in the video similar to Paramore’s Decode is an alternative.

Media and Publicity

  • Arrange a panel for the film at conventions.
  • Submit the film to indie film festivals to gain more exposure.
  • Plan interviews with major media institutions and the press in general.
  • Tease the public and create suspense by exclusively releasing “first stills of the movie” by popular magazines such as Entertainment Weekly.
  • Issuing subtle publicity stunts; for example, the lead actors dating for a period of time. The Twilight “pandemic” circa 2008 went on for nearly four years later largely due to the heavy media attention given to Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart’s relationship throughout that era.

Distribution


Hypothetically speaking, my film would have a standard release, one which is based off a business model called “release windows.” This is a strategy to keep different instances of a movie from competing with each other, allowing the movie to take advantage of different markets (cinema, home video, TV, etc.) at different times.

Upon research, I learned that in the standard process, a movie is first released through movie theaters (theatrical window), then, after approximately 16 and one-half weeks, it is released on DVD and VOD (video-on-demand) services (entering its video window). After an additional number of months, it is usually released to Pay TV and approximately two years after its theatrical release date, it is made available for free-to-air TV.

Ideally, 20th Century Fox would be the distributor I pick to distribute my film as they are known to do so for even the small independent film companies. My next step would be to arrange for 20th Century Fox to negotiate a deal with Netflix, the current largest online movie and TV show streaming provider. Boasting a hefty 98.75 million worldwide subscribers, Netflix is the #1 platform to reach out to teenagers and young adults with today. With a company like 20th Century Fox releasing my film in cinemas in numerous countries globally, combined with Netflix later distributing it for online streaming, this equals maximum exposure and publicity.

Pre-Production: Research Pt. I

Inspiration from Recognized Works


As far as storyline and directional style goes, my film is heavily inspired by ABC’s hit show, How To Get Away With Murder. When I first started it back in 2014, the storytelling style was what really caught my interest; a major plot point shown to us right off the bat, as the rest of the season slowly progressed with more crucial information revealed every episode. HTGAWM is highly known for it’s trademark use of flashbacks or flash-forwards for each new whodunit case, as well as its ability to mislead the audience on who the real suspects might be. Below is a clip of season 1 episode 1’s ending:

There are certain mise en scène elements that I’d like to incorporate into my own work such as the dark, shadowy color palette, with its blue hues to add to the mysterious atmosphere; the bright orange of the fire in contrast, which both clearly depicts the dead man’s face and serves as a visual aid to the strong feelings of shock and horror the audience must feel when they discover his identity.

Equipment and other Filming Technicalities


For the camera, I used a Sony Alpha A5100 to film all the scenes, except for the final shot outside of the house. I watched the following video to gain a detailed idea on its various features and uses:

A mirrorless digital camera, its small size, light weight and portability made it ideal for me to carry around and film with for long hours on end. Though not the typical choice for an amateur filmmaker such as myself (as compared to Nikon or Canon), I could still record full 1080p HD quality videos up to 50MB/s, with ultra-fast auto focus with 179 AF points and 6fps and also capture life in high resolution with a 24MP APS-C sensor. A bonus feature included 16-50mm and 55-210mm interchangeable lens, but I only ended up needing the former.

The one downside of this camera was its lack of audio input. Audio is recorded using the built-in stereo microphones, but there’s no means to connect an external microphone. Luckily, our opening includes only one line of dialogue, but as an alternative for any scenes that did require clear sound, we recorded separate audio using my iPhone’s voice memos app.

In terms of other filming tools such as a slider and a stabilizer, I first considered purchasing new ones. However, the costs for such professional equipment went far beyond our budget and so, I decided to make one of my own. I set about on Youtube searching for tutorials on DIY stabilizers and out of all the ones I found, this one proved to be the simplest and most affordable one:

Apparatus:

  •  Saw
  •  PVC glue
  • 2 ft PVC pipe 1 inch (1)
  •  Conduit 1 inch 90 degree corner pieces (3 of them)
  •  Standard PVC tee (1)
  •  Quarter inch 20 wing nut (1)
  •  Quarter inch 20 hex nuts (3)
  •  2.5 inch quarter 20 machine screw (1)
  • Budget: QR 100
    Actual cost: QR 47
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My first time testing the homemade shoulder rig.

YOUTUBE CHANNELS FOR GUIDANCE


I also came across several other channels that revolved around the art and technology of filmmaking, such as camera shots, editing techniques, color grading, lighting and more. It was these videos that offered me the most useful resources to refer to:

FILM SCORE


When I first got invested in the world of film, music was easily one of my favourite aspects about it. A film’s score could either make or break a movie― a video is at best, amateur and at worst, unwatchable if the audio isn’t up to par with the visuals. And to me, Hans Zimmer is the greatest composer of all time. So that’s where I started with: I researched all the different types of scores he’d composed for different genres of film to gain a wider insight into how this area of non-diegetic sound can be translated into emotions and atmosphere.

Further than that, I looked into how he employed empathetic sounds for particular scenes of significance. By empathetic sounds, I’m talking about the use of music or sound effects in film, whose mood matches the mood of the present action or scene. Below is a list of some of his best examples (in my opinion) of this practice:

Themes: Dramatic, emotional, build-up.
Movie: Inception


Themes: Fast-paced, tense, climatic, action.

Movie: Inception (music starts at 1:05)


Theme: Happy, light-hearted, romance.
Movie: True Romance


Themes: Suspense, anticipation, panic, edge of the seat nerves.

Movie: Interstellar (music starts at 0:58)


Themes: Adventurous, Playful, Epic.

Movie: Pirates of the Caribbean

A question I’ve often found myself wondering is if the scene is directed based off the music, or if the music is composed based off the scene. It’s always been like the chicken and the egg scenario to me: which came first? I only found out the answer to this upon researching and learnt that it actually takes place only during post-production. A fact -I’m sure- should have seemed obvious, but I’ve always had a knack for visualizing scenes based around the music rather than the other way round. I find that drowning myself in a song’s symphony is a lot like diving into a sea of ideas, fishing for the perfect one.

But after finding out that music tracks and songs are composed and recorded after the production phase, along with the designing of sound effects, I decided to do it the right way. I’ll talk more about the score I decided to go with in the post-production part of my blog.

Pre-Production: Development

In this section of my blog, I will be talking to you about all the planning and preparations that went into making the opening sequence.


ROLES AND CASTING

Initially, I planned on working independently for my coursework, but after a complicated time filming footage in Dubai, I quickly realized this was a job that couldn’t be done as a one-man show. So after developing a new storyline, me and my fellow media studies classmate, Yasamin, decided to pair up and work together.

Directing, filming, editing, storyboarding – Me. I decided to overtake the roles of directing and filming as instructing people and improvising during takes is my speciality. I’ve also had experience working behind the lens before and had the skills needed to use our editing software. Personally, I found the storyboard to be my biggest challenge due to my lack of an artistic prowess, but after surveying some simple examples and taking notes, I managed to make do.

Acting, financier, editing, costume – Yasamin. She was picked to be the one in front of the lens as she’s had five years worth of experience taking acting classes, and her house served as our major location. She was also in charge of financing for our shooting day expenses (including food and transport) and thanks to her skills in photography, also aided in the color grading process of editing.


AUDIENCE SURVEY AND RESPONSES

Before we set off with production, me and my partner decided to conduct an online survey (Google Forms) asking some basic questions about movies, in order to better understand our target audience: teenagers. Below are the results we got from 14 of our fellow classmates:

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Based off these results, we made the following decisions:

  • Our film would be more in the vein of a mystery thriller rather than a horror, as not only did it appeal to our audience more, but it was also a more accessible genre to create and act in for us.
  • Despite our inexperience, we wanted the opening to feature as realistic acting as possible, as it plays a huge deciding factor for whether or not the audience likes it.
  • A lot of focus would be put on music and sound editing to create a sense of the right mood and atmosphere.
  • We picked a teenager to play the protagonist’s role (as well as most of any other main characters).
  • We added a plot twist into our hypothetical full length film’s story, and by doing so, tried to incorporate subtle hints about the twist into our opening.

STORYBOARD

I’ll admit, me and the idea of storyboarding don’t exactly share a good relationship. In my past experiences with filming anything, I’ve always relied on improvising in the moment and not planning out specific shots and angles in advance. But after undertaking this project, I realized that avoiding a storyboard for such a monumental task would only make my job more difficult.

This proved to be my biggest challenge yet, but I managed to create a mostly coherent sketch to generally outline the order of events that will play out in our opening, along with what kind of shots and lighting to use.

(Note: MC= Charlie)

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STORY DEVELOPMENT

When it comes to filmmaking, formulating the story is decidedly one of my most challenging aspects to deal with. With all sorts of ideas and themes buzzing around in my head, finally sticking to just one and building on that has become quite the task. More often than not I end up getting too ahead of myself, considering the technical limitations.

And so, I set about searching for inspiration instead of waiting for it to bestow upon me. After weeks of listening to music, watching title sequences and scouring through books, I believe I’ve come to a resolution.

My story begins with Charlie, our main female protagonist and best friend of Alisha Jones, the girl who’s been missing and presumed dead for three days. At the start, the audience is given glimpses of the wreck that Charlie is left in, drowning in alcohol and pills, and envisioning nightmares about what must have happened The Night of the campfire party. In our opening, after Charlie startles awake and repeatedly hears the screams of her friend, she goes out to investigate and is shocked to find Alisha still alive at her doorstep.

The rest of the movie would follow a sequence of flashbacks of The Night alongside present time events, as a detective tries to figure out what really happened The Night Alisha disappeared, seeing as she’s lost all memory of it. The major suspects would be Alisha’s boyfriend (who’s shown in one of the pictures during the opening shots) and another friend who was last seen with her The Night of the party (when she went missing). However, there’s a big plot twist at the end: Charlie is revealed to be Alisha’s mystery assailant this whole time. She’d been the one to attack Alisha and had left her for dead, which explains why she’s so shocked at her reappearance. There are subtle hints in the opening which point towards her guilt, that I will expand on shot by shot.

Note: It is necessary for you to know how the rest of the movie would have hypothetically drawn out, as we kept that in mind when creating the opening.

Of course, my job is to simply convey the key elements and mood of such a narrative within 2 minutes worth of an opening. I say “simply” now, though it’s anything but. The best opening pages of a screenplay, and later, the best opening scenes of the eventual film, MUST engage its audience. If the first few moments fail to grasp their attention, the urge to stick around and watch the rest unfold is bound to be missing. This is the biggest reason we decided to end our opening at a sort of “cliffhanger,” to leave an impact, and have the viewer wanting more.

TITLE: The Night Of
GENRE: Mystery Thriller
RATING: PG-15
TARGET AUDIENCE: Young adults


MOOD BOARD

Still in the early stages, I’ve decided to create a mood board for my film (or rather, opening of a film). This is so I can find an outlet to express the kind of aesthetics and concepts I’m going for. I took the liberty of using the almighty Google for my sources, along with a fair share of Pinterest. Here’s what I’ve managed to assemble so far:

The Nightmare

nightmare-mood

Bathroom + Kitchen Scene

kitchen-mood

Outside the House

outside-mood