I should have written this while I was in pre-production (we finished shooting on Jan 25), but I didn’t so I’m writing it looking back. This should give some context as to what it took prior to filming and after scriptwriting to get to production. I won’t talk in detail about the production design, costume design, or camera department in heavy specifics as that work was done by others. Maybe I can ask some of those awesome people to write a guest blog…
I wrote the leads for actors I knew so I only really had one crucial role to cast. Producer Hannah Moran organised the casting session and we had a very productive day meeting a number of talented young actors. One among them stood out as perfect for the role in Absolution, Melody Rom. I played through the scene acting with her and had her improvising on the spot. No matter what I threw at her, she just went for it. I was really impressed with how well she listened and responded to direction. We were able to really mold the scene in the rehearsal and even though she was acting on the kitchen floor, it already worked. She’s a natural actor and I’m thrilled to have her come on board.
Planning out the shots
I didn’t want to be guilty of “just getting the coverage” and making the actors do all the work. I wanted every angle and camera movement to be crafted with purpose – for effect. A while back I stumbled across a book at Planet Books called Master Shots by director/writer Christopher Kenworthy. I flicked through it when I bought it and thought it was pretty neat, but due to digging into another great book I bought, I left it aside for a while. I wasn’t actually in the process of getting ready for production on a film yet so I wasn’t as motivated to read it properly.
As Absolution etched closer, knowing I would be storyboarding very soon gave me motivation to dive in… When I started thinking about how I wanted the film shot and imagining the scenes in my head I found Mastershots a much more valuable and interesting read. Reading it led to me purchasing volumes 2 & 3 and devouring them. Literally, I ate them. Very nasty business that.
I found myself watching shots and sequences in films with a more critical/analytical eye again (like I was when studying at Uni… Not that I didn’t already do this as most filmies would, but by actively studying again and thinking about shooting Absolution day to day it became a lot more pronounced). I guess it’s a like a muscle, the more you exercise it the better it works.
Mastershots isn’t about copying shots from a book copied from other films. It’s a deconstruction that looks at why the shots are masterful and the psychology at play. Great stuff. Then getting a better handle on that you can apply it in your own way to your own stories and characters. Like learning guitar. You usually start off learning other peoples songs before writing your own, but the techniques you learnt from learning other songs allow you to write and play your own. It also just gets you WAY more focused on thinking about shots and encourages you not be slack with your choices. (Didn’t intend for this blog to be a plug but it’s the truth)
I read books 1 – 3 before I started storyboarding. I didn’t refer to them (maybe once or twice) and just tried to hold onto some of it and apply it in my own way.
In the past (and often in a hurry) I’ve imagined/visualised whilst I was storyboarding… big no no. That just encouraged a very formulaic approach. This will work, then this will work… What I’ve learnt works best for me is to keep storyboarding and visualising separate. Imagine and visualise first, then storyboard. That way my focus is first just on the scenes/shots themselves, then after that it’s simply creating (however poorly) representations of those shots on paper. When I’m storyboarding I’m not imagining the shots for the first time and my focus is just on drawing as well as I can, which for me isn’t that great.For Absolution I sat down with the script a few times and listened to the same song over and over. I’d close my eyes and try to see the scene in my head and look at it in different ways.
Then I kept visualising the scene whilst reading the script bit my bit (then without reading it going off memory) scribbling all over the script until it was coated in shot notes and choices. When I was done, which surprisingly only took a day or two, I’d basically shot the film in my head and recorded it in (an albeit messy) written form. I just had to translate it to storyboards for everyone else.
To me a big challenge is keeping a consistent of quality/style throughout sequences. Often films made by aspiring younger filmmakers have some AWESOME shots, then a kinda not so great one and it wrecks the flow and brings down the story. This was something I really didn’t want.
The other challenge which relates to the actors is the number of shooting/lighting setups or different angles. In my head I found myself pondering if it would be best to shoot the main scene with as little angles as possible, allowing the actors to totally concentrate on their performance with less starts and stops and repeats needed because the camera department needs multiple attempts to pull off a move or focus pull (Or the shots are too ambitious for our skill/gear). Or Alternatively, not worry about the actors in that way (perhaps believing in them more) and freely plan the shots to support and emphasize the performance and story (Not just being a well framed/lit/composed shot on a nice long lens where we can see the actors face clearly). I ended up going with the latter but all the while had in my mind how would it have turned out if I went the other way.
We didn’t have a lot of time due to crazy schedules, two part days for rehearsal. But I think it worked out just right. I asked the actors to learn the lines before coming to rehearsal so we could just get straight to work on it which they did.
It’s lovely working with trained actors. Dalip and Gemma genuinely question and try to find the truth in each beat and line. Often they would dig deeper that I did as a writer and subsequently we made changes to my original ‘vision’ of a scene in a way that would make more sense from a motivational perspective of both characters. Together we came up with some nice moments and changes from how I originally saw things going and this was definitely for the betterment of the film.
For ‘Absolution’ rehearsal was a way of looking deeper into the script. At this point I’d been pretty caught up with how to shoot it and just working with the actors for a couple days was a great way to let that go and go deeper into the characters and story.
We rehearsed at my house and also did a short block session at the location without any crew there so the actors had a sense of the location and where they needed to be prior to the test shoot. This ended up being really important because certain things we did in my house didn’t work in the location. For example originally Dalip’s character was going to see Gemma’s first, but in the location it didn’t work so we changed it around and the actors played it out differently. Had we not visited the location together there would have been some late changes that would have taken more time and the actors wouldn’t have been as prepared.
I won’t talk too much about this as it was really like a tech run for the camera department and a chance for the cast to showcase the scene (which they did from start to finish) for the crew so everyone was 100% clear on what we were actually shooting.
For me it was ensuring Shane and I were on the same page ensuring that the shots I’d storyboarded would get translated in camera and that all the movements were clearly understood. The camera department figured the gist of the lighting out and practiced a few setups.
One of the most useful/important take-aways for me was that a few key shots from the storyboards just couldn’t work on location due to reflections in glass so we needed to adapt, change and ditch a few shots.
We didn’t get through as much as I would have liked in terms of camera setups but by at least doing a test shoot we saved a lot of time on set later and allowed ourselves to pick up on and solve problems before shooting. It also gave Costume Designer Jacinta McDonald a chance to put the actors in costume on location and for Production Designer Kaylee Higgott to get a clear sense of what was needed (under lighting and in camera) and what parts of the space would be seen the most.
The test shoot was just a few days before filming. After that I organised catering (I’m Unit/Director) and everyone else finalised their preparations. Then we went shooting.
Alucinor Productions Narrative Drama