Original article published 2014, updated February 2023
I was out running on the coast near my home when I came across the remains of Lavernock Fort, a Second World War gun battery. It seemed like a great location for a short film.
I like to use short examples at the beginning of my filmmaking courses, to help people realise how much is involved in telling a story with film. So I decided that my film would use a variety of shot sizes, lenses, sound, editing and camera angles.
I came up with a story about someone discovering a mysterious object. I drafted a storyboard in pencil, and then recruited actor and film educator Matt, and my daughter Rhian, to act in the film.
The first page of my storyboard. I used this to create a detailed shot list.
I filmed it on a Canon 60D DSLR. I bought mine new, but you can pick them up used for £150/$200, a fraction of the price I paid. The most expensive item I used was a 10-22 ultrawide lens – again, they’re very affordable used. For the shallow focus shots I used vintage 50mm, 85mm and 200mm Olympus OM Zuiko manual focus lenses.
I also used a plastic Steadicam JR stabiliser I bought on eBay (not recommended – it doesn’t stay balanced). I also used a tripod, a monopod, an old wheelchair, and five-in-one reflectors.
Filming would have been easier with my current setup, a Panasonic G85 and DJI Ronin-SC stabiliser.
It took several sessions to get all the shots I wanted. I followed the shot list, and filmed extra shots as well. I returned on my own later to record ‘B-roll’ (details of things like walls, plants and puddles).
I added almost all the sound effects at the editing stage. The only live sounds are the foot splashing in a puddle, the sound of the foot kicking the object, and the sound of the man handling the object.
For the long shot of the foot knocking the object, I copied and pasted the audio from a closeup of the same action.
I recorded the heavy breathing separately using an audio recorder.
I also filmed a dialogue scene, using a Zoom H1 recorder mounted on a boom pole. The dialogue sounded OK on headphones, but when I got home I realised there was terrible echo from the concrete walls.
I ended up having to do manual ADR (automatic dialogue replacement). Basically I re-recorded the dialogue, with several different takes of each line. In my editing program I lined up the waveforms that matched best, adding ‘room tone’ (silent background sound) underneath. Next time I’d use wireless lavalier (clip-on) microphones, or record from lavs into phones and sync the sound afterwards.
When I came to edit the film I ended up leaving out several shots that seemed redundant in favour of a shorter, punchier version without the dialogue scene. I edited, sharpened and graded the film in Final Cut Pro X.
All the shots in the final film.
Edit it yourself
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