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BFI Film Academy 8: Finn Chadwick

Finn Chadwick is one of the participants on our BFI Film Academy 8 (2019). Having almost completed the project, we asked Finn how he found the shoot for their short film…

I have a huge interest and passion for film and I’m keen to persue a career in the industry. To do so it is essential to gain knowledge and experience and that is what the BFI Film Academy has given me. What follows is a recollection of my first experience of a film set while shooting our short.

Shoot Diary

Tue 29 Oct

We started today to film all the dialogue scenes in the lounge where the detective asks his questions. To begin with I was behind the camera which involved setting up the camera, adjusting shutter speed and aperture settings, framing the shot so the director was happy, finding focus and controlling any camera movements. This shot was a dolly shot that pans forward into the action, this sounds simple at first but I had to adjust focus as I got closer and I had to do it all in a fairly confined space making it somewhat challenging. Unfortunately, the first shot I filmed, I actually didn’t film as I forgot to press record stupidly but that one mistake meant I stayed sharp for the rest of the shoot. Once I was actually recording it it all ran smoothly but I was told by the director to keep the dolly movement as smooth as possible with no change in speed which was very hard to control and measure. However, it was amazing to finally see our words we had written in the scripts a few weeks beforehand coming to life in front of our eyes with real professional actors performing them.

As we went on to the next scene we changed roles with a change in director and I was put in the camera department which didn’t give me much to do as the lights were already set up from the last scene. As no one should ever be doing nothing on set, I joined the prop department and set up props and ensured continuity throughout all the takes.

As we moved onto the next scene, I got into the directors chair which meant I had to talk to the actors and ask them to do as I instructed. This mainly involved talking to them about their emotions, facial expressions and eye lines. In this role I learnt things I could only learn from experience because when you watch interviews with directors they will always say don’t tell the actors exactly what to do, however, these actors I was working with did want to know exactly what to do. Something I hate as an actor, but I guess I learnt that all actors are different and you should find the right balance for each. Still, having the opportunity to direct real actors was an amazing opportunity and an extremely useful and informative experience to help me learn the ways of a director.

We then went over each scene again but now filmed an over the shoulder shot instead of a head-on mid-shot, keeping the same directors for each scene. When I wasn’t directing I was the second camera operator which mainly involved clapper-boarding which is always fun and I was a boom operator which is tiring but entertaining and vital to production.

Unfortunately, we ran over schedule as it took awhile to set up and for everyone to settle in so we couldn’t finish these scenes completely with close-ups and some fancier camerawork so we’d have to leave it up to the second half of our group to finish those scenes off.

Wed 30 Oct

Today we set out to film two of the murder scenes in the garden so we knew it was going to be cold one on this chilly Autumn day. We started with a scene at a garden party that goes a bit wrong when someone poisons the tea. I started on the camera crew again so I helped setup the camera and frame the shot so that you could see all three actors with little headroom until the director was happy. When everything was setup I was on the clapperboard which involves positioning it clear in frame, reading out the scene, slate, take and then clapping it down. This is done so that the editor knows where the scene starts when the lines on the board connect and where there is a peak on the sound wave. It was loads of fun to get to watch the actors throw up the blood all over the place and die in front of my eyes but it did make a mess. We repositioned the camera a few times to get close ups of all the actors and one shot of the dead bodies on floor with the granny happily watching on.

It was the second half of the day when I really got stuck in though as I sunk down into the director’s chair again, putting me in charge of the infamous garden shears scene in which the granny has a boy strapped down to a garden chair with a hose pipe and slits his throat with a pair of garden shears. I had a very clear vision for this scene in which the granny would slowly walk towards the boy, indulging herself in the moment dancing towards him with a huge smile on her face. I started by getting a wide long-shot where the granny is at one side and the victim on the other and she slowly approaches.

The next shot we got was a POV from the victim’s perspective where the granny keeps eye contact with the camera and moves towards it and stops in front with a big smile and the shears open which was difficult to achieve for the camera department as the focus had to be adjusted as she approached but ended up being a really nice shot. We then got some quick handheld mid-shots of the pair.

To conclude, we finished the long, cold day with a lot of fake blood. Our actor got strapped into his prosthetics and strapped into his metal chair and the blood started pouring but the prosthetics didn’t quite work properly and we were loosing light so we had to get as many shots in as little time as possible, therefore, unfortunately there wasn’t much room for direction and the camera crew just kept rolling while I shouted at them what to do. However, in the end we got all the possible shots from all the possible angles so I think we will have something to work with in post.

​Overall this has been an amazing and enlightening experiencing, from learning how to use the professional film cameras to just wandering around a real, functioning film set. My favourite role was definitely being the director, being able to craft a whole scene with proper cameras and prosthetics which will eventually be on a big screen. Being in control of such a large group of passionate people was such an honour, all with one goal; to make an amazing film.