BFI Film Academy – Film Shoot

Sam is one of the participants on our BFI Film Academy. Here he shares his experience of shooting their final film on location:

What do window factories, morph costumes, cold countryside moors and a dog have in common? Well, apart from all having the letter ‘o’ in them, each has some relevance to the BFI Film Academy shoot last week. And what a week it was – I learnt so much about filmmaking, from depth of field to neutral density to dead space, and managed to retain all the information to date (which in itself is a triumph). I experienced working with professional actors who were prepared to embarass themselves in particularly unflattering costumes, lovingly chosen by us. And most of all I had the pleasure of working with extremely talented people; the filmmakers, actors, producers and the other young people on the course. Here’s what happened in a chronological breakdown.

DAY ONE was a training day – getting to grips with the various high-tech, ultra expensive equipment and knocking together a DIY hoover with some pipes and gaffer tape. Seriously though, I’m a big fan of making practical things with a random collection of materials, so I really enjoyed the prop-making session. As for the theory behind sound and camera techniques, I increased my knowledge base by an uncountable multiple and I’ve said goodbye to the automatic settings on my personal camcorder for good. Getting to know how to give the look of a short film that extra polish is something that I’ll take far beyond this project and into anything that I create in the future. Last weekend I storyboarded a short film that I’m making just to add another layer of professionalism to the shoot, and already the shots are looking significantly better than anything I’ve filmed before.

It was DAY TWO and filming began. In the morning, everyone worked on a bedroom interior scene, shot in the Cornerhouse’s education suite. It was absolutely fascinating to see the creation of an authentic, believable set (a bedroom) fashioned in a room that wouldn’t contain any relevance to the setting of the scene (a room with loads of laptops – though if you’re Agent Cody Banks that probably is what your bedroom looks like. Wow, that was a horrible film). Anyway, the buzz on set was so electric that you could have harnessed it and used it to power all the heavy lighting that we had set up. I mean obviously, we’re all keen about film but actually filming takes that enthusiasm to the next rung on the metaphorical ladder of, err, film. At lunchtime, the group split into two so that more filming could be done and everyone had a chance to do their preferred role on set.

DAY TROIS was a taster of the cold weather to come as we filmed in a factory devoid of any warmth whatsoever – yet this was a well worthy sacrifice to work with a full on green screen and my chance to direct. I know that directing is what everyone wants to do, but that doesn’t deter me from wanting to achieve it. It felt very strange when I was directing professional actors in their 20s and asking them if they could deliver their lines in a different way, but it was an experience that I’m definitely glad I was able to do. It may not sound genuine, but I really was happy to do whatever on set, as long as I was making a valid contribution – including holding a bit of newspaper up to stop the light bouncing off one of the actor’s gaffer taped costume. Speaking of the actors, they were absolutely brilliant; the chemistry between them was evident both on and off set. And they weren’t half bad at doing Bane impressions, too.

Our group filmed in the morning of DAY FOUR for a segment of the film where the driver of the car has an encounter with his cringey father. I have to say this role was played to the upmost perfection by our actor Paul, complete with a stained vest to add to the part. This was great fun but also a challenge for sound as we were shooting a wide shot, the boom had to be pretty high up to be off shot. A ladder, the solution to most problems in life, became particularly handy in this instance. I also had the chance to be Director of Photography for the first part of our shoot, trying to get the exposure and angles right so that the footage was good. I hope the rushes look okay! One of my favourite parts of this day was seeing a home-made jib in action and the really fluid movement it gives to the camera, so much so that it’s inspired me to build my own.

With the ski jacket deployed and hand warmers at the ready, DAY FIVE was here, by far the most frostbite-enducing day of the shoot. We ventured out into the hills of Glossop (I think) for the final few scenes, and aptly so as it was the last day. I did seriously sympathise with the actors, dressed in comical costumes that really didn’t insulate. Every so often we’d huddle in the van for warmth and food, but mostly it was a heavy filming day and personally the most enjoyable, even when greeted by a light dusting of snow. When the wrap came, it was delicious. And when we finished filming, we smiled as the cold was over, but were saddened in our hearts due to the shoot being over. I can’t wait to start on the edit.

Here are the things I’ve learned from our week filming with professionals: organisation is key and doesn’t hamper creativity; always be prepared for anything; and that come hell or high water, nothing can decrease my passion for filmmaking. Oh yeah, and that you can always rely on some trusty ol’ gaffer tape.