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BFI Film Academy 7: Robert Waite

Rob Waite is one of the participants on our seventh BFI Film Academy (2018). Having almost completed the short film, we asked Rob how he has found the academy…

I love movies. They’re great. If I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed my time at the academy. But, luckily for me, the entire thing is about movies. I applied because I love films and any opportunity to make film, talk about film, learn about film – anything – is the perfect opportunity to take.

The course was broken into two halves. One half was the week night sessions; talks and tutoring from incredibly knowledgable people who anyone, no matter what they think they know about films, could learn from. The other half was the Saturday sessions (and the half term shoot week) in which, as a group of eighteen, we generated an idea, shot the idea and edited it. Our ideas generation took a long time as we had to start with eighteen ideas and end with one. A near impossible feat which took a good eighteen hours. Then we were on to the shoot.

Shoot Day 1:
This was during the October half term. The first day was a training day with all the beautiful equipment; a slick Blackmagic camera, lots of lights (I love lights) and some high tech sound equipment. We were taught the ins and outs of everything so as soon as the time came to shoot we were ready.

Shoot Day 2:
The plan for day two was to shoot half of the exterior dance scene in the morning and the entirety of the interior audition scene in the afternoon. In the morning I was picked as director. Lovely, the director, not too much responsibility then. We began with a dolly shot, the only one in the entire short film. We got the shot that I wanted and Yandass (the actor) was amazing. I got to try out directing talent rather than just crew which I’ve previously done.

After a quick brew we headed back out into the gales of First Street to finish filming and the morning went great. In the afternoon it was my first experience being a gaffer. I loved being a gaffer and love lights. The stage sequence was certainly the best set to be a gaffer on too as it was dream sequence. That meant colourful lights; red gels, blue gels, magenta gels; it also meant sexy back lighting that came with gorgeous lens flares as well as spooky lighting from LED panels on our threatening judges.

I was totally set up as gaffer. Fully blinged-out with heat resistant gloves in my back pocket, crocodile clips clipped to my belt and rolled up gels at hand. Being a gaffer on the stage set meant a lot of running up and down stairs, but I didn’t mind it. As long I was doing something I was happy.

Shoot Day 3:
We met at HOME once again to shoot the the living room bedtime story reading scene. We used the green room as the location but had to do a lot of set dressing to make it seem more homely.  This entailed the removal of countless play/movie posters, the addition of pillows, cushions and blankets, Martha going to the shop to buy some flowers and the taping of birthday cards to tables, the list goes on. Quite a fun aspect of production. The idea of building the world from almost scratch was a new concept for me so it was definitely a fun and interesting.

I got to be on camera for the morning shoot. We set up a wide shot of our two characters, Jackie and Dani, sitting on their sofa. We positioned some flowers in the foreground to fill in some empty space, adding to the vibrancy of the shot. We began the scene with a focus pull from the flowers to the characters which forced me to get good at focusing. I managed to get it dead-on almost every time.

As ex-gaffer I suggested that we used one tungsten light and one ‘moody blue’ light (aptly named by Judith) to give both a warm, homely feel as well as the suggestion of moonlight. The blue highlights this provided on our actors was also beautiful.

In the afternoon I was put on sound mixing which I have to admit, I quite enjoyed. I didn’t particularly want to do it but it was fun all the same. I always had to be on the ball and I got to shout ‘sound rolling!’ for every take as I pressed record. Martha was my partner on sound, she was working the boom, a job she was especially fond of and eager to do apparently. I did not want to go near having to hold a pole in the air for long periods of time, I’ve tried that bit before, no thanks. That was it for me. The final two days of the shoot were completed by the other half of the group. On to post production.

On the Saturday after the shoot, we began the edit. We had a MacBook Pro between two and we all edited the scenes we hadn’t filmed for the majority of the day. We learnt the ins and outs of Premiere, learning various techniques such as J edits and L edits. All great stuff. After a long day of typing and clicking, dragging and dropping, we sent all our edits over to John who put together a rough cut in a matter of minutes. It was surprising how quick we’d managed to put the whole thing together granted the transitions between scenes were hilariously bad at this point and a lot of things were missing, but within a day we’d managed to edit an entire rough cut that ran somewhat like our final short film. The other aspect of post production was sound. Bart, who helped us on set with this aspect taught us a lot about sound design, foley and all the other audio aspects that enhance the production. This was incredibly helpful for me as I have very little knowledge of sound, too many scary numbers.

Find out more about our BFI Film Academy, head here.