mjhearle

Month: April, 2012

The Making of Winter’s Light Trailer: Part 2

It’s an exciting time to be a DIY filmmaker. There’s a whole range of DSLR cameras available now that can produce professional level image quality. I know, because I have one myself. A Canon 7D. Though I own this formidable piece of technology, I am yet to master it. I can’t wrap my head around the relationship between ISO’s, F-stops, and shutter speed. Every time I decide to experiment with a short film, I promise myself that I will sit down and learn why these variables matter. I never do and they remain inscrutable, baffling terms.

Shooting the trailer for Winter’s Light was no different. Half an hour before I was due to pick up Genevieve (my Winter) I was on YouTube watching Canon 7D tutorials. The preliminary kind that explain what a lens cap is and how to take it off. It’s a miracle I was able to capture any image at all. Along with being tech savvy, most filmmakers usually spend some time preparing for a shoot. They do a storyboard or a script. I did neither. I figured I was only shooting a vignette: Winter on a beach, holding the lodestone. How complicated could it be?

After picking up Genevieve (who was incredibly lovely and generous to donate her time) my crew and I drove to Miner’s Beach, which is a semi-hidden stretch of sand between Shelley Beach and Lighthouse Beach in Port Macquarie. I’d chosen the location specifically because of its remoteness. The weather over the Easter Long Weekend had been surprisingly balmy (usually its monsoonal) and the beaches were teeming with tourists. I figured Miners would be sparsely populated because it was off the beaten track. It’s also got a reputation for being a nudist beach which I hoped would mean less people. Sure, there might be one or two naked folks sunning themselves but I was confident I could frame my shots without any extraneous appendages making a guest appearance.

(In the previous paragraph, I made reference to ‘my crew’ which might be misleading. The word crew, in relation to film production, usually calls to mind images of teamsters, grips, gaffers, best boys, focus pullers and the like. The Winter’s Light Trailer crew was comprised of myself, mum, dad and my fiancée, Greta. However, what they lacked in industry know-how they more than made for with enthusiasm and I appreciated their presence, despite my Dad’s propensity of popping into shots from time to time. It’s not his fault; he’s a giant and thus difficult to hide. For future shoots, I might actually paint him blue so I can digitally erase him in post production.)

So, with cast and crew in tow we set off for Miner’s Beach. In my head, I’d imagined a lonely stretch of sand, with Winter sitting down near the water and not another soul to be seen. When I got down to Miner’s beach, I was a little disappointed to find the beach didn’t really match my pre-visualization. It was a lot shorter than I remembered (it’s been a while since I’ve been a nudist) and, worse still, was crowded with people.

Well, crowded is an overstatement. The beach was empty when we first arrived; it was only after I started shooting that the entire population of Port Macquarie decided to pass through. Apparently, nudist beaches don’t have the stigma they once did. While, I applaud my hometown’s progressive attitude towards the human form in its natural state I couldn’t help but feel a little frustrated that my supposedly isolated beach wasn’t so isolated. Whenever, I went to do a wide shot of Winter, invariably some jogger or kids with a dog would wander into frame. As such, my coverage was limited. I only did one wide shot which resulted in many headaches when it came to editing. Watch the trailer again, and see if you can spot a pretty egregious continuity gaff towards the end.

The beach didn’t resemble the one I’d created in my mind so I had to adjust my blocking. Instead, of having Genevieve sitting down near the water, I decided to put her on a rock. I don’t know why I did this? I saw the rock and made the impulsive decision to incorporate it into the scene, rather than ignore it and try and force the composition I’d previously pictured. I think the trailer still works, but ultimately it probably would have been more interesting visually to have found another beach and put her down near the water like I originally planned. Shots like the one where the lodestone is in the foreground with Winter behind it would have been much simpler to achieve as well. Unfortunately, when you’ve only got an actress for an hour and the light’s beginning to fade you have to make do with what you’ve got.

Despite the setbacks of awkward location and unwanted extras, I carried on, directing Genevieve to perform the same series of actions a number of times while I captured her from different angles. It’s very difficult to direct a performer, when you’re preoccupied with the technical aspects of filmmaking. I was too worried about the shot (the composition, angle, exposure, how it would marry with the other angles, whether or not there were joggers or dog walkers in the background) to worry about the subject of my image. Poor Genevieve didn’t know why she was sitting on the rock, staring at a painted green crystal. She’d started reading Winter’s Shadow but hadn’t made it to the end yet so the significance of the moment was lost on her. She needed motivation. She needed a director and at best I was a flustered camera man. Eventually, I managed to give her a garbled explanation of what I was hoping to achieve with the scene, but it’s a testimony to her acting ability that she’s convincing in the role. It’s certainly not down to my ‘direction’.

For the climatic moment of the trailer, when the lodestone starts flashing, I wanted Genevieve’s face to be lit by a flickering glow. I’d tested an effect using a torch and a piece of paper that looked pretty good at home but for some reason the technique didn’t work outdoors. The light was too diffuse or something. I had to trust that I’d figure out some way I could do the effect digitally in post production. This is always a scary proposition when you’re not tech savvy.

When we were finished I took some random shots of the ocean and the rain forest behind the beach. Thank god I did this as this footage was vital in the edit suite. A few instances I didn’t have an elegant solution for cutting from one angle to another so relied on the extra shots to smooth over the transition. Tip for would-be filmmakers: capture plenty of cutaways as you’ll never know when you might need them.

All in all the shoot lasted less than an hour. My greatest fear was that I’d wasted – not only my time – but Genevieve’s, dad, mum and Greta’s. That the footage I’d captured would be unusable. Upon reviewing it when I got home, I was relieved to see that it didn’t look too bad. The footage was a little under-exposed (I really need to learn about ISO, shutterspeed etc.) but this wasn’t a major problem. Eventually, I wanted to grade the trailer with a shadowy atmosphere anyway. The important thing was you could see what was going on and it didn’t appear too amateurish.

So with the footage in the can, it was on to the most rewarding (for me anyway) part of the filmmaking process.

Post production.

(To be concluded in Part 3; where I learn you need a degree in astrophysics to operate Adobe After Effects)

M.J.

Making the Winter’s Light Trailer: Part 1

Book trailers are essentially a silly concept. Moving images and sound being used to sell a product that trades in neither. You don’t watch a book; reading isn’t a cinematic experience. It’s something much more subtly powerful. A book trailer can’t convey the tone of the writing, the language, the skill in which an author weaves his tale. At best they might be able to hit a few broad story beats and give an indication of genre. I didn’t create a trailer for Winter’s Light because it’s a smart marketing move. I did it because I was itchy to get back behind the camera and figured the book release was as good a reason as any.

My love of cinema constantly nips at the heels of my love of books. I wanted to be a filmmaker before trying my hand at writing. Can you blame me? Compare standing on set, hobnobbing with glamourous movie stars, lording over dozens of technicians and artists who are working in service of your creative vision to…sitting alone in a room, staring at a blinking cursor. Of course, now I’m a writer and have gained some perspective on the film industry, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Filmmaking is a collaborative medium and I am an intensely un-collaborative creator. I suspect if I’d ever managed to become a filmmaker I would’ve been constantly frustrated at having my stories compromised. All those studio executives and unruly actors passing on notes. In the world of words my power is absolute.

And so I am a writer who once dreamed he was a filmmaker, or a filmmaker who currently dreams he’s a writer. In either case, deciding to shoot the trailer for Winter’s Light myself did not require much deliberation; settling on a concept, however, did. For inspiration, and to get an idea of what worked and what didn’t in the world of book trailers, I jumped on YouTube. There were some pretty groovy examples out there (I love this one)  but most of them struck me as running too long and giving away far too much of the story.

I decided I didn’t want to make a trailer so much as a teaser. Something to pique the curiosity of the casual reader. As I was producing the trailer myself I was also limited by the scope of what I could potentially achieve. Having a budget of 5 bucks does not allow for extensive set building, special effects, or big casts. I had to think small. The image of Winter sitting alone on the beach holding the lodestone at the end of the first book was one I’d always found pretty evocative. Throw in a dash of mystery and magic and I had something which might work.

Now I just had to shoot it.

M.J.

(Stay tuned for Part II which covers the incredibly dramatic production of the Winter’s Light Teaser Trailer)

Winter’s Light Teaser Trailer

The teaser trailer for Winter’s Light is finished and ready for public consumption. It didn’t turn out as brilliantly as I first envisioned (nothing ever does) but it’s fun and hopefully mysterious enough to pique the curiosity of those unfamiliar with the series. I’ll write a proper post about the production of the trailer tomorrow but in the meantime I owe a big thank you to Genevieve Dinham for contributing her time (she makes a great Winter don’t you think?) and of course my Mum, Dad and Greta for being a (mostly) non-grumbling crew. As always, please feel free to embed the trailer, share it, tweet it, or take to the streets and sing about.

Here’s the sexy HD Vimeo version:

And the less sexy YouTube version:

Win a copy of Winter’s Light

Hey folks,

I ran a competition similar to this a few months back and didn’t get much of a response. I suspect this was due to the prize – a copy of Winter’s Shadow. If you’re reading this blog chances are you already owned the book so the incentive wasn’t there. This time round, I’m offering Winter’s Light  – my sequel to Winter’s Shadow. It’s not available in bookshops yet so hopefully more of you will be inclined to enter. Here’s the cover:

The competition details are very simple. All I’m asking is for you to tweet, or post a picture on facebook or some other social networking site of you reading Winter’s Shadow. The more public the location of the shot the better. I’m trying to raise awareness for the series by planting the book cover in the public consciousness. Trains and buses are ideal. Yep, I’m all about covert marketing techniques these days! You don’t know it, but I’ve already seeded several subliminal references to Winter’s Light and Winter’s Shadow in this post. See if you can spot them.

Hey, if nothing else the competition might give you an opportunity to chat to that cute guy/gal sitting opposite you on public transport. Someone has to take the picture, right?

To inspire you, this is a shot I had my workmate take earlier.

Once you’ve posted the pic, do a screenshot and send a link to mjhearle@gmail.com. Or better yet post it on the Winter’s Light facebook page. I have three books to give away which I will of course sign and personalise. I’ll announce the winners next Friday (April 27th) so get snapping! Unfortunately, the comp is only open to Aussie residents (Sorry! International post rates are a killer). Bloggers, I’d love it if you could share the comp with your followers.

Thanks for taking part,

M.J.

Forging the lodestone

Readers of Winter’s Shadow should be familiar with the term lodestone. It’s the green crystal–thingy that Blake gives Winter in the Velasco Place. For those who haven’t read the book, imagine a mystical necklace that operates a bit like a mobile phone only with slightly better coverage and no monthly charge. I spent the past Easter weekend searching for just such a piece of jewellery. Read the rest of this entry »

Gathering Momentum

In my last post, I offered a few random thoughts on why books will survive well into the digital age. To summarise, I think the reading experience goes beyond merely scanning words, that the tactile quality of books is more important than we may be aware of. Certainly, I believe we’d miss them if they vanished from our shelves and existed only as files on a computer. However, that doesn’t mean I’m anti-digital. Read the rest of this entry »