Three Crows - Lost Contact
LOST CONTACT
MAKING LOST CONTACT.
Lost contact
Independent Film Production

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Making Lost Contact

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Write a script

Andrew Crawford wrote LOST CONTACT in 2 to 3 weeks. He didn't want to hang around for months on end developing a script through rewrite upon rewrite which was, on the face of it, going to become a £5000 movie. The principle was to make a movie, not write a perfect screenplay. Once he had the story in what he saw as good shape, he stuck to it flaws and all. It's content would reflect the possibility it could be turned into a film with minimum cost, taking into consideration few actors, a limited number of accessible 'real' locations and a concentration on interesting, off-beat characters rather than special effects, elaborate sets etc.

Secure use of a camera

He knew before he even started writing the script that he wanted to use a Canon XM1 and/or XL1 mini DV Camera. The most important thing about these cameras, apart from their '3 chip' technology, was the fact that they are capable of shooting in 'frames' as well as 'fields'. These cameras came to his attention via a filmmaking friend. He saw the XL1's capabilities while shooting in frames and knew immediately that making a feature film with this camera could be done. Shooting in 'frames' was vital to the project... this is why.

The XM and XL1 can shoot digitally onto tape in 'frames' like a cine-camera. This means you get all the 'motion blur' and frame rate feel you get with film but with less restriction. Tape stock is cheap (£7 for 1 hour) and there is no developing (of the 'rushes', this is footage reviewed at the end of each day). There is no independent sound equipment as the sound goes onto the tape with the images. (He did find out however that although sound on the XL1 was perfect as you could manually set the recording levels, the XM1 didn't allow you to do this and only had an auto setting. This meant that when there were pauses in conversation or moments of silence, the auto level setting would start 'searching' for sound. Levels would climb and static would get noisier and when someone did eventually speak the sound was horrible. He did back up everything onto dat though so some syncing was possible and needed in the editing.)

He acquired the use of a Canon XM1 for the four-week shoot from Aun Head Arts in Devon. Richard and Nancy were incredibly supportive and helped a lot with equipment and editing time. In exchange for the use of the camera, he gave them additional parts he purchased for the shoot. For example he needed a wide angle lens adapter to shoot scenes inside. Aun Head Arts didn't have this but leant the camera in exchange for this part when the shoot was over. The part cost around £130-150. It was needed for the film but Andrew had no use for it after filming was complete. This arrangement worked well.

His experience with digital video cameras had shown him that you can set up the lighting virtually as you want it and it will go onto tape as you see it. The two canons did, however, allow him to use them like cine-cameras in that he could control the lens settings, light and shutter speed etc. The flexibility of post-production with the digital format also meant he could adjust (to a large degree) the lighting contrast, colour, hue, sharpness and even where it is coming from, after the shoot. He had experienced this with his own short films, LOST CONTACT, and SLEEPWALKER. Editing is all done digitally on computer in a shorter time rather than cut on film editing equipment. The question was how to get it onto celluloid and do you lose any quality?

Lost Contact
Lost Contact
Film Production | Low Budget Movie Film Production

Film print?

Although the video and DVD market was where he was aiming, Andrew wanted it to be possible at least, to get a film print if it was wanted for a theatrical showing. His first short film, CHANCER, (see filmography) won Best Film awards in Italy and Scotland and was screened all around the world. It was shot on video and cost virtually nothing but he got a grant from The British Council to contribute towards getting a video to film transfer done. The cost of this is high but through 'sweet-talking' Andrew managed to get The Computer Film Company in London to do this in 'down time'. That is, time where equipment is not being used. All he paid for was the cost of the film stock and developing. Drew Jones at CFC was very supportive and explained how it worked. With CHANCER they had to separate the two video fields and select one. Film uses one field (a frame, which is in effect a photograph), video two. Separating the fields resulted in a loss in quality of picture (it still looked great on screen however and the degradation of the picture added to the style of the piece anyway). The Canon XM and XL1 can shoot in frames thus relieving the need to separate fields and reducing, if not eliminating completely, this loss of quality. Andrew spoke with Drew Jones about his feature film project and they talked over the process again except this time he mentioned that field separation wouldn't be necessary. They would quite literally take a photograph of each frame. Twenty-five in every second and the roll of film would be developed. Did Andrew intend to pay for a film print? No. This is costly for any individual however not for a distributor. The finished film is mastered onto a digital format and can be viewed through DVD or Videotape. It can even be broadcast without the need for a film print. The only reason you would want a film print is if you want it to be shown in cinemas. Shooting this film whilst knowing he could get a film print done if necessary was important to him.

Soundtrack.

Trained as a musician and with his own recording facilities Andrew knew he could, and indeed wanted to, write and record the soundtrack himself. This was completed around a month before shooting and is all original work bar a piece written by Johan Sebastian Bach. Owning the rights to everything is important. He didn't want the hassle of using someone else's work so like he says "if you haven't bought the product, make sure you created it". The cost of acquiring copyright or commissioning an original score could have cost anything up to around £20,000. Something he didn't have to pay for. He bought extra equipment and instruments (among them a drum kit and several high quality microphones) to help with the soundtrack he wanted to compose.

Lost Contact
Lost Contact
Film Cast & Crew Independent Film Maker

Get a cast and crew.

Andrew could operate the camera himself but got a lot of interest from local talent wanting to be involved in the project. Eventually he used a cameraman for about half of the shoot who was keen to get involved and who also as it happened owned a Canon XL1. Having a cameraman on board for half of the shoot helped a lot. For the larger scenes it left him to concentrate on directing the cast and crew and playing the un-envious role of producer. The cameraman did have to disappear for half of the filming but Andrew was able to shoot the other scenes himself.

There were around 16 actors wanting parts in the film. There were only four main parts with three other smaller speaking parts and a handful of extras. He narrowed down the list to a handful of actors (some professional who loved the script and some of them students at the local college for performing arts) who he felt could fill the roles. It seems Andrew wasn't worried too much about who would play what. Indeed he had a few people keen to do something even though they had not acted before in their lives. One or two parts weren't filled until a few days before the scene was to be filmed. The film was going to be made and if he was stuck he would grab just about anybody to play a role. Completing the film was the priority and at just £5000 there was no room for being pedantic.

All of the actors were happy to do this project without a fee though Andrew wanted to pay for their expenses, travel, food etc. As a profession it is hard to find work and many actors want to use their art form where possible and build on their CV's.

He had a sound technician (Atilla Mustafa - see Key Players) who was actually involved in every aspect of the film from an early stage. He proved vital as he believed strongly in the project and never let the project down. He was a technician at the local college and they actually gave him 'research leave' to be involved in shooting the film. This was very welcome as their support stretched to him having access to all the equipment he supervises: cables, lights, ladders etc. Filming in the summer months meant the college would be 'dormant' anyway.

Locations.

Being straight forward, polite and well mannered, and importantly, showing an interest in other peoples lives and giving them some time goes a long way in getting them to help you. Andrew had no problem getting permission to use 16 different locations over the shooting period which included a mariner, quayside, theatre studio and a huge disused warehouse with its surrounding area. All of this cost nothing. He kept everybody informed of activities (including the police. "Tell them everything and don't give them any reason not to trust you, after all they can stop everything if they even think you may not be 'playing ball' or if you're taking advantage".) and didn't overstep the mark by upsetting locals or leaving a mess. Always clear up after yourself. With the warehouse he actually cleared away several tonnes of rubbish which was in the way anyway and the owner was pleased because the place looked like it was in use and therefore was a more secure premises. Everyone was happy.

An added incentive to companies helping was that they were promised recognition in the closing credit sequence of the film itself. This was always welcomed

Lost Contact
Lost Contact
Short Film Production
Film Set & Location

Lights

Lights were mainly 500watt household security lights and you can get them for as little as £3 each. For the smaller scenes he used little halogen spotlights.

Props.

Andrew bought a 15 foot 'Klinker' style open boat. It was not in great shape however it did float and that is all it needed to do. A large part of the film takes place in this boat and filming took place in an inlet which for miles around is only waist deep but at night the effect was of being in open water. "I filmed at night so you couldn't see the background. I used this principle a lot. I actually filmed one small scene right in the middle of another larger set. Because it was dark you couldn't see the edges and had no idea we were in the middle of a later scene". The boat cost £60 and £20 to deliver. Because he owned the boat it meant he could set dress it how he liked and treat it how he wanted. He also didn't have to worry about hiring etc. (The boat did take a large amount of reconstruction. Time is money though and he had time so didn't need the money). A friend of his also owns a boat and this was used for the crew and lights where needed and his trailer for transport.

Andrew acquired many props for some of the scenes. Set dressing is really important and he constantly looked out for anything useful. He spent around £50 at a boat jumble acquiring chains, ropes, charts, floats, fibreglass, netting and anything he fancied. Wayne Steel at Generak kindly offered dealer prices on any of their Generators. The project ended up with a 4KW generator at less than half the price and delivered to the door for free. "Wayne steel was very cool and more than willing to help with this. This was my power (I needed long cables though to run the generator out of microphone distance.) and I needed quite a machine to run the number of lights I would need for the larger scenes. I actually sold the generator for the same price I bought it for and with the money sorted out my editing needs".

Instead of hiring replica guns from a prop company Andrew bought two. It cost the same but he had them for as long as they were needed and he could throw them around. He actually needed three guns in one scene but he doubled up with the revolver and edited carefully.

Props and set dressing are essential to a scene. Finishing touches are everything. Andrew acquired everything he could, even the 'kitchen sink'. He used a kitchen sink when building the set for the inside of Felix's boat. He bought fibreglass, paint, maps, cigarettes (the characters in the film were always smoking. It was kind of an in joke because Andrew has never smoked and as they were messing up everything else he figured it was only apt that they were doing it to themselves) The local recycling centre had a lot to offer, everything he needed from furniture to weighing scales etc.

Tape stock and editing.

Andrew bought 50 mini DV tapes from Aun Head Arts at around £5 each. He shot 22 hours of footage then made copies of everything. 22 hours was to turn into a 90 minute film. An inexpensive shooting ratio.

When it came to editing he had a similar deal with Richard and Nancy at Aun Head Arts. He bought a fire wire drive for their Apple G4 computer. They let him use their editing system in exchange for keeping this piece of equipment at the end. He needed it anyway to edit such a large project but had no need for it afterwards (see 3rd line on home page). They gave him keys to the studio and he used it at any time as long as no-one else was. He edited using Final Cut Pro. Andrew had never edited before but soon got the hang of it (He had no choice) and Richard was on hand for technical support. It was difficult doing it on his own but he made it through.. It took around four months with a couple of weeks break in between.

Lost Contact
Lost Contact
Film Location
Independent British Film

Conclusion.

Andrew undertook many tasks with this film (see 2nd line on home page) and at times thought maybe he had taken on too much (see 4th line on home page). This was where he really saved money as he didn't have to pay for anything he did directly. To see what can definitely be done you need look no further than yourself (again 4th line of home page). Anything extra is a bonus. Outlined above is just some information on how Andrew got through LOST CONTACT. He wasn't to know however that many of the themes running through the script were actually applicable to the making of the film also. In his own words:

"Ultimately I just started, then worked my way through to the end. Martin O'Neil (manager of Celtic Football Club, Scotland) said a great thing once and I remember thinking of the beauty in his statement's simplicity".

"I never try to make a right decision… I make a decision, then try to make it right."