Friday, 29 July 2011

Taken From This Place

Over the last few weeks I've been working on a short film. A fabricated documentary, in the imagined style of a mid-80s Tomorrow's World episode, essentially a photo-roman but with moving images, albeit that the camera is still:

The style arose from necessity; I had no way to move the camera smoothly through space. It was all shot with a 5D MkII and a variety of lenses, with narration by myself. Recorded in the bathroom, where it was quiet. Not actually in the bath, though. The bath-room. I was also aiming for the general look of Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, particularly his use of graduated neutral density filters, which I replicated by using a set of actual graduated neutral density filters. Rather than by some digital magic. Actual real physical filters, imagine that. Shame I didn't replicate his subtle use of colour.

And I was thinking of all those films, like La Jetee and Sans Soleil and Robinson in Space, films that I have read about but not actually seen, that combine a voiceover with pictures. And of course documentaries. I recorded the narration with an old Asus Eee 700, because it has a solid state drive, and is thus silent, using an AKG Perception USB microphone, which is essentially a digital audio recorder stuffed into the body of an AKG XLR condenser microphone. Not much use for location recording, unless you plan on carrying around a small laptop or tablet - and perhaps you do - but fine for narration. Or indeed podcasting, remember that?

Still, back to the film. If I had a budget I would tighten the script, include some talking heads interviews, get rid of "was not yet advanced enough for this to happen", and hire Bob Peck to do the narration; I understand that he died in 1999, but he had a voice for this kind of thing, there must be a way.

There are few things more boring than having to sit through a friend's arty short film, so here are some screencaps:

I decided to go for a more cinematic aspect ratio than 16:9, so I masked off the top of the 5D's screen with gaffer tape, and cropped off the top of the frame during the editing process. I didn't want to put gaffer tape at the bottom of the screen, because that would have covered the frame counter. The Magic Lantern custom firmware allows for all kinds of different in-camera masks, but I wasn't too keen on fiddling with firmware.

The graphics were taken from a book I found on Project Gutenberg, and then forgot about and can't find again. An history of Britain, probably, but which one? In order to capture the feel of late-70s, early-80s television graphics I filmed the images from the monitor. I spent a short while cutting out cardboard cut-outs of men, women, and children, and then completely forgot to put them in the film!

This was actually shot in Barcelona, not Britain at all, and illustrates one of the 5D's problems, at least when shooting video; moiré patterns. The 5D is great for capturing smooth, undetailed people at close range, not so great for capturing sharp details from far away.

Some more of those moiré patterns (and this was shot, like the rest, with a custom style that had the sharpening turned down as far as it could go, at least in-camera). Here's a 100% crop from the original, unaltered .MOV file:

For the final shot I was going for a 1970s indie film feel. They all seemed to end with a shot of the sunset. All of them. THX-1138... and all the others. None spring to mind at the moment. Er, Capricorn One had a sunset at the beginning. But it wasn't an indie film.

So, there you have it. What to do now? Make more films, I guess.