How to Write for The Screen: An Interview With Screenwriter Chantelle Victoria Dickson

How to Write for The Screen: An Interview With Screenwriter Chantelle Victoria Dickson

‘I’ve never felt truly finished when writing a screenplay, ever – I just run out of time.’  

The screenwriter behind the Phoenix Rising Media produced short film Striativus, Chantelle Victoria Dickson, shares her inspirations, her current projects and her top tips for writing a stellar screenplay based on 10 years’ experience writing for the screen.

What first inspired you to get into screenwriting and what has inspired you since to keep going?

It’s actually quite an odd story. Starting from the age of nine, my family sadly lost multiple members very soon after each other, including three of my grandparents. I  struggled with the grief and desperately needed an outlet, and that’s when film really became a big part of my life. 

I’d always loved watching behind the scenes videos and bloopers so really, screenwriting became an extension of that interest that went far beyond a hobby for me. 

The one film that really sticks out to me is The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. Many of CS Lewis’ works are allegorical, and that really resonated with me at the time and inspired my first script.

And what’s inspired me to keep going since? Seeing my characters come to life on film, but also seeing the passion and camaraderie of the film industry applied to my own work. Having people in my life who support me has really helped too! 

What was the first screenplay you ever finished and what was it about?

The first screenplay I ever wrote was called Afterlife, and it was my way of expressing that grief. 

When I started out – over 10 years ago now – I had no idea how to format or structure a script. I think I actually copied the formatting from a playbook from my drama class! 

It was terrible. I roped my best friends at the time into filming scenes; I wanted it to be the first feature film entirely created by people under the age of 16. 

It was about a young girl, Tess, who gets called to what was essentially purgatory to stop a war between heaven and hell. It was pretty short, about 37 pages I think. It was incredibly therapeutic and taught me so much about being a storyteller. 

Why do you love screenwriting – what makes it different from other forms of writing?

Screenwriting is wildly different to any other form of expressive writing in my opinion. There’s a very fine balance between writing a good screenplay and writing prose, between not giving a character enough personality and becoming too overbearing and decorative. You have to be constantly aware that despite this being your story, the final product is a collaboration between tens, hundreds, potentially thousands of creative people. 

What’s captured during production will be an amalgamation of all of their visions, which are then filtered through an actor’s performances, a director’s vision, what the camera captures and, finally, the editor. You have to allow creative space for those people to work their magic without being too vague, and eventually allow for each spectator to interpret your film in their own way. 

Lastly, and most importantly – a really excellent screenplay could be filmed on a cheap mobile phone and would still be excellent. A really terrible one could be filmed on a £100k Arri Alexa, and it would still be terrible. 

Have you predominantly written screenplays for short films so far and do you ever plan to write a feature length screenplay?

Shorts are my favourites, but I have written series and features too! I’ve got three features on the backburner at the moment, with one completed and just waiting for a last edit. I like using features to tackle bigger issues. 

Fight For It deals with homosexuality in the setting of a Catholic school, The Beekeeper explores how a father’s death changes a maternal relationship and Dirty, Pretty Things looks at perceived morality, and how nobody in the world is entirely good or bad. 

I love shorts because they feel like dipping your toes into a swimming pool to check the temperature before you dive in. Some of my shorts have evolved into series, some have gone from a simple monologue to a feature. They’re a story you can write in a day and build on. 

What are some examples of existing films out there that you would encourage aspiring screenwriters to watch and why? And are there any specific screenwriters working at the moment who inspire you?

Every screenwriter should watch Life is Beautiful. It’s a tragicomedy written, directed by and starring Roberto Benigni and it makes me sob every time. It’s a storytelling technique that’s been around since Ancient Greece, and a great example of how to juxtapose two genres, each strengthening the emotional payoff of the other. 

In terms of screenwriters… There are so many talented people out there right now, but I’m always in awe of 80s and 90s writers. I’m a huge fan of Richard Curtis and I loved his newest film, Yesterday – he really modernised his approach. John Hughes and Nora Ephron are idols of mine. Got to put Spielberg in there too, of course! 

What were some of the biggest lessons you learnt as a writer from seeing your screenplay transition into film?

I’ve never felt truly finished when writing a screenplay, ever – I just run out of time. Once you’ve handed the script over to the producer, that’s it. It really is like handing your baby over to somebody and trusting them to look after it properly.  

I also learned that it can be difficult to be on the set of your own film, particularly when the dialogue doesn’t sound quite the way you expected it to or if somebody wants to drop lines that are really important to you. 

Sometimes there’s a complete disconnect when you watch it back, watching the characters that you created speaking lines that you made up in your head – it feels a bit alien and new. There are some great moments of affirmation too though! 

Sometimes an actor will ad lib some lines in character, which is exactly what Elliott Crossley and Alex Vlahos did on Striativus, and that interaction comes out so naturally and perfectly; It’s a real affirmation that you’ve written a character that has enough depth to really be known. 

The biggest lesson, however, is that it’s incredibly humbling to have people believe in your work and put some much love and effort into making that a reality. The gratitude I feel towards everyone who’s been a part of any project of mine is immense. 

What would you say to any aspiring screenwriters who have been too scared to give it a try?

Nobody else has lived their life in exactly the same way as you, so your voice is unique. Let your experiences lead the way. We’ve all got hundreds of really, really bad stories in us, so write them out of your system and get used to the idea of making yourself vulnerable – some of those critiques will be hard to stomach. Most importantly, don’t write for financial gain, or fame, or glory – write because you love it. Grow a thick skin, because you’ll need it!

And what practical tips do you have for them?

Take some time to learn the craft, it’ll make writing so much easier in the future and it doesn’t have to be extensive. Study some basic storytelling theory; Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, Syd Field’s 3 Act Structure, Christopher Booker’s 7 Basic Plots – all great foundations for you to build your story on. 

Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat is one of my favourites, and I learned how to format a screenplay with Viki King’s Inner Movie Method. For general production information, The Guerilla Filmmaker’s Handbook is the bible. 

Don’t bother investing in expensive screenwriting software unless a studio specifically requests it.  Celtx has free and paid plans, and offers almost identical benefits. 

The most important tip, however, is to just write. Structure and formatting will become second nature, and that’s when you can really have fun and enjoy writing. Find your passion in everything you write. Take the time to develop real personalities. When you really understand and know your characters – their history, their motivations, their passions – then the story will write itself. 

Remember that your secondary characters are just as important as your lead characters – often they’ll be their shoulder to lean on or a push in the right direction, so don’t forget to develop them too. 

When you’ve finished a screenplay what happens next – how many rewrites do you usually do, where do you submit it?

I’ll let you in on a secret… my library of incomplete screenplays is twice as big as that of my finished ones. I tend to bash the first draft out very quickly then send to it a few select people for review. Writers are sensitive and in touch with their emotions – that’s why we have this ability – but that doesn’t always bode well with criticism. 

One of my biggest supporters and harshest critics is my boyfriend Aston, but he’s great at telling me what’s working well, what isn’t working at all and where the weak spots are without making me want to curl in a ball and cry. 

I work quite extensively with Phoenix Rising Media Studio, who’ve developed both Striativus and my short horror, The Marionette. I’m currently working on building a portfolio to approach an agent with, and I’m also producing my own independent audio series with a few familiar voices. That’s really an excuse for me to explore genres and characters and then decide later whether to expand them or not! 

What inspired you to write Striativus and how long did the process take you?

Another secret… I wrote Striativus in two hours. I developed it as part of a module on my Digital Film Production and Screenplay Writing course at the University of Chichester with the intention of producing it in the latter part of the year. 

I knew we’d be filming a select few so I wanted to write something with very few locations so it would be fairly simple to produce, but highly emotional with a high-impact outcome. I drew inspiration from films like the Breakfast Club and Fight Club to have a group setting after talking to my course tutor, Mike Holley, and Striativus came from there. 

Unfortunately the uni version (despite so much dedication and hard work from everybody) had issues due to some artistic differences. I sat on the script for a few years then picked it up again after getting out of a bad relationship. Funnily enough, after that I felt a lot closer to the protagonist Kacey than I had when I was writing it. I shared it with PJ Saysell-Rosales, altered a few lines and the rest is history!

How important is dialogue to a screenplay?

Each genre has different requirements so it really is dependent on the story’s needs. I worked on Alex Vlahos’ short Here We Are last year, with a beautiful script by George Webster and amazing performances from Emma McDonald and Ferdinand Kingsley that was completely devoid of dialogue, but still incredibly emotional. 

I’m working purely with audio at the moment, so there are some action notes in there for the voice artists but very little description otherwise. The one thing I will say to any aspiring writers is to make sure that you’re not too descriptive with your actions unless it’s a really important moment – give your actors some free reign.

Dominant impressions are one of the most important things to learn to do right, as this is the primary description of your character. Otherwise, do what feels right! 

Historically filmmaking has been a male dominated industry. What advantages do you think you have being a female screenwriter and does this influence your work in any way?

You’re absolutely right, historically the scales have been very much tipped in that direction but I do believe that the film industry has begun to get closer towards equality in the last decade or so. 

I haven’t found that my progress has been impeded by my sex so far but of course, it’s all down to individual perception. I’ve been fortunate and worked with a lot of brilliant, open-minded people.

I did have one bad experience when I was younger though,  working with an older writer. He approached me to update a screenplay he wrote in the 80s and initially I was really excited – the project had a seven figure budget! Unfortunately, we had a fundamental difference in opinion as to what constituted a consensual sex scene in the film, so I left the project. 

Sometimes I do wonder if my career would be much different had I stayed, but I’m glad I stuck to my morals on that one. 

You’ve just got through to the second stage of a screenwriting competition. Can you tell us more about what you wrote for it?

Yes, I’m actually getting my brief for the second heat of the NYC Midnight Screenplay Challenge in a few hours! 

For the first heat I had eight days to write 12 pages, and now I have three days to write eight pages so it’s certainly lived up to its name as a challenge. I was experiencing some pretty dire writer’s block and was in a bit of a slump when I applied and to be honest, I was ready to give up on screenwriting. Two or three hours before the application deadline, my boyfriend Aston convinced me to sign up. 

This is my first screenwriting challenge – the first one that actually gives me a brief, a page count and a deadline to work to. It was exactly what I needed to climb out of that slump! My brief was to write a comedy, featuring an acrobat and an exit interview. My version of comedy is dad jokes and cheese puns, so I felt way out of my depth.

I started writing a mockumentary style comedy about this lovely character called Debbie who, inspired by her love of Hugh Jackman and The Greatest Showman, retires from her job as a lawyer to start her own circus. The story didn’t really click until two days before the deadline though, when I realised that something was missing and added in her husband, Kenneth. 

They’re wonderfully mundane and sweet and their chemistry allowed me to explore the humour much more. I went from hating it to loving it in the space of a day, and it’s become one of my favourite shorts. It’s reignited my love of writing and raised my self-esteem for sure!

If you could go back in time and give advice to your younger self on writing would you? And what would you say?

You’re putting your heart and soul on a pedestal and asking people to look, but not touch, so get used to feeling vulnerable and embrace that. Your writing is an expression of who you are. It’s what you love, and sometimes you’ll lose sight of that. 

Not everything you do has to be profitable, not everything will be perfect. You’re allowed to make mistakes, just make sure you learn from them. Believe in yourself and keep writing, it’s cheaper than therapy!

Chantelle is 24 and lives in Worthing in West Sussex. She holds a BA Hons in Digital Film Production and Screenwriting from the University of Chichester. 

Her screenplays include Striativus, The Marionette, Fight For It, Mutiny, Dirty Pretty Things, and Siren, among many unfinished others. Striativus and Marionette are in development and The Greatest Show-woman, a mockumentary, was accepted for the NYC Midnight screenwriting challenge.

To find out more visit chantellevictoriadickson.co.uk or follow her on Twitter: @ChanWritesFilms.

Striativus is currently in post production.

Seeing Double: The pros and cons of a multi-camera setup

Seeing Double: The pros and cons of a multi-camera setup

So, you’ve got the script that you’ve been working on for what seems like centuries and you’re still not 100% happy with it. You’re starting to assemble your crew which changes daily, mostly new faces coming in, bringing on friend of a friend of a friend. You are in the heart of PRE-PRODUCTION. You’re trying to decide what camera to use and a friend asks, “Why don’t you shoot with two cameras?”.

STOP!

Is this really a good idea? Of course it is! You can shoot twice as much coverage in the same amount of time, right? Well…

A good friend of mine decided to shoot his first short on two cameras. It was a detective mystery drama with lots of spontaneous gun pointing and asking each other for lighters to smoke. The problem with shooting with two cameras is that there’s twice the amount of setup time, twice the amount of reflections, twice the risk of weird shadows in the background. Perhaps weird shadows are what you want for a dark detective drama but not when the shadow is clearly the boom operator and their boom pole. I have to hand it to him, the film won a few awards at film festivals, but a lot of time was spent re-adjusting cameras, setting up/packing away cameras and going for another take due to shadows, reflections or even one camera getting IN SHOT of the other camera.

If it’s so difficult, why should I shoot multi-cam?

Multicam isn’t only useful for shooting documentary or live events/performances. Using multicam in narrative is highly beneficial when shooting big explosions, stunts, or action sequences because you will save time not having to reset everything and go again for the sake of getting a different angle. This will be a time saver AS LONG AS you have enough lighting for two cameras AND a second camera crew to set up/pack away the other camera.

You may want to shoot with two cameras, because you’re shooting a very emotional scene in the morning where the character finds out their partner has been cheating on them with their best friend. Then after lunch, you’re filming the part where the character destroys their partner’s belongings with a sledge hammer. Using multicam for your tear-jerking scene prevents your talent from getting worn out. By the time you’ve moved cameras to do four set-ups, the actor may have already given their best performance. In this case, if you know you’ll be using mainly the Close Up for this scene, Script Supervisors will hate me for saying this: shoot the Close up first. Work on getting the performance right first where it counts the most, before your talent starts to get tired.

Okay, so multi-cam sounds good, but both of my cameras are different brands! Is that okay?

Ideally, you’d want to work with the same brand of camera for multicam, but if you have no choice then at least match white balance, frame rate, ISO, shutter speed, picture profile and time code. This is ESSENTIAL and NOT something you can just ‘fix in post’ by tweaking colour or exposure settings.

All of my camera settings are matched – do I need to buy (or hire) two clapper boards?

Not necessarily. In fact, it would be easier to slate with one board, so you get the same clap on both cameras, which will be very helpful when syncing the footage in post. Just remember when you call out the information to say “A and B CAM”.

 “But my cameras are pointing in completely opposite directions.”

 Then use two boards.

 “But I only have ONE board!”

Second sticks will do.

“I DON’T HAVE A BOARD!”

Get someone on screen to clap their hands. If you are going to spend the extra twenty minutes fixing lighting for two cameras, then you can spend the extra three seconds to clap.

Script Supervisors: The unsung heros

Script Supervisors: The unsung heros

You’re a script supervisor on a film set. It’s hectic, you’re losing light fast and still have a quarter of the scene left to complete. People from EVERY department will fire questions at you quickly and you have to know the answer.

Makeup: “Does she get the bruise on her knee before or after this scene?

Hair stylist: “Does the hair need to match scene 25 or has time passed?

Boom operator: “On what line does Jane stand up?

Sound Mixer: “How many takes did we do for 34 Apple?

Prop Master: “Was the window open on that last shot?

Director: “What was the timing on the rehearsal?

DOP: “What time of day is this?

2nd AC: “Was 23 Baker MOS?

Actor: “Did I look over my left shoulder or right shoulder?

AD: “What time was first turn over?

You get the picture. As a Script Supervisor you need to keep track of all of these things, ensure we have enough coverage to edit the scene AND keep consistent continuity while filming. Although departments such as hair, makeup and props will keep their own continuity, they are relying on you to be their safety net so that nothing slips through the cracks.

To maintain mental sanity, it’s good to have checklists of what to look out for before each take to ensure perfect continuity. Before they start rolling, look at EVERYTHING one by one. First, costume. Are the actors wearing the right costume? Is his shirt tucked in? Has her dress got that rip in the sleeve from the scene before? Then, hair. In front of or tucked behind the ears? It was raining in the last scene so shouldn’t it be a bit damp? Props: We have already shot the scene after this and the character was carrying a briefcase, so we need to see the character pick up a briefcase in this scene. Another one is time of day. One of the Script Supervisor’s jobs is timing the script to know it’s run time and also break it down into narrative days. Do the events in this film take place over a year? A day? An hour? What time is the clock on the wall in the background? Does that time match the time on the actors watch? If it’s midday, then there shouldn’t be long stretched out shadows on the floor.

One thing that can catch anyone out is eye line. Take screengrabs of whatever we are matching this shot to and make sure the actor is looking the right direction AND correct side of the line to cut with the reverse.

You also need to pay attention when actors say their lines. Adlibbing or the occasional slip up is to be expected, just be sure to keep your ears open to nudge them if they get stuck and make a note of any on-set script changes.

However, slip ups and errors don’t occur just on set, they can occur in the script long before filming begins. Part of your pre-production preparation is to get extremely familiar with the script. You are the Script Supervisor after all. You should know it inside, out, back to front. And this will happen naturally as you breakdown the script, noting location, costume, props, character, action, time of day etc. This will also help you spot any errors in the script. For example: a character says “I had such a lovely time on our dinner date today” when we have already established it’s the morning.  Or, it’s Monday, eleven O’clock in the morning and a woman looks out of her office window to see children running up to an ice cream van. Unless this is on purpose and a key beat in the narrative, normally the children would be in school at this time.

No point sugar coating it. There is a lot of pressure and work for a department of one. But every day is different. You know the story better than anyone else. You’re right next to the action, you are the director’s trusty right hand man/woman and you build friendships with every department on set. It’s a crazy job and you may feel like every day you’ve lost a few marbles but it’s one of the coolest and most fun adventures to get paid for doing.

Posters, Posters, Posters…

Posters, Posters, Posters…

Every movie has a poster to accompany it. These posters can be used for various needs such as marketing and funding.

Below I have answered some of the questions that you may have about movie posters:

Who creates the movie posters?

Posters are created by the graphic artists from the art department. Larger films have many artists working and certain people may be in charge of certain things like: on set art, posters, social art, etc.

Why do some movie poster have the wrong names over the wrong actors?

To answer this question, let’s look at the poster for ‘LIFE’(2017)

The actors names appear (in order) as:
Jake Gyllenhaal | Rebecca Ferguson | Ryan Reynolds

But the images appear (in order) as:
Ryan Reynolds | Jake Gyllenhaal | Rebecca Ferguson

This does not mean that the poster is wrong in anyway of it has been messed up by the graphic designer. There are several potential reasons for this, including but not limited to:

  • The actors contract states what order their name must appear on the poster.
  • The amount the actor gets paid.
  • The order of the image being used.
  • The popularity of their name.

Any of these reasons (or others) can cause the names not to match up with the images and if an image has been taken before any decision, it can change things.

Why the chunk of text at the bottom?

The bit of text at the bottom with all the names and titles on is called the ‘Billing’ this informs people of the main people that have been part of the film

Teaser Vs. Full Poster…

Most films have a teaser poster and a normal poster, the difference between the teaser poster and the normal poster is that the teaser poster comes out first to announce attract people to the film, this has no billing, just the title, date and the logos of the studio(s)

Movie Making Jargon Buster: Phrases and Terms

Movie Making Jargon Buster: Phrases and Terms

When you go to start work in the industry, one of the things you might not think about is having to learn a foreign language. Throughout the years, filmmakers have developed a vernacular exclusive to the industry with terms ranging from logical to downright bizzare.

The language though is part of the all-important setiquette (or set etiquette) and makes communication faster and more effective if everybody learns to use it correctly.

In Part 2 of this 3-Part jargon buster, you’ll learn some important phrases that you’ll hear from other departments who need to communicate things with you.

GENERAL TERMS

10-1 (Ten, One) This is a standard industry euphemism for “going to the toilet”. This can be called out over the radio to let the crew know that you’ll be unavailable for a short while or said in person to your department head. If the crew is asking for somebody who is currently on the toilet, you can say “(x) is 10-1”. You can also call “10-2” if you’re going to be a while…

10-4 / Copy
Message received AND understood. Usually said over the radio but could be said in person.

20
Location. As in “(x) – what is your 20?”.

Abby Singer
The penultimate shot of the day. It is named after a First Assistant Director who would always let his crew know that they can start packing away equipment. The term is used today for the same reason.

Back In
Called at the end of lunch or as a warning that lunch is almost over. “Back In in five!”

Champagne Roll
When 100 reels of film have been exposed (or when memory cards have been filled and backed up 100 times). The crew usually get a glass of champagne for this milestone.

Dailies / Rushes
A selection of takes from the previous day watched by the director, producer and anybody else who’s invited.

Flying In
Used to indicate that someone or something is on its way to set or the desired destination. You can ask for something to be flown in (“could you fly in an Apple Box”) or as a response to a request (“Apple Box flying in”) or if you know that somebody is on their way (“(x) is flying in. ETA 5 minutes”).

Hot Set
If somebody (or a big sign) tells you that a set is “hot” then leave it alone. It means that the art department (and sometimes camera and G/E) have got everything set up ready for filming. If you are stupid enough to go tinkering about then prepare to feel the unrelenting wrath of multiple departments.

Last-Man
In Lunch doesn’t officially begin until the last person has received their meal. Once this has happened, you’ll hear something like: “Last man in at 2pm. Back in and 2.30!”

Martini Shot
The very last shot of the day, so-called because the next shot would be taken out of a glass (i.e, post-shoot drinks).

Points / Hot Points
Sets are often cramped places and have lots of tight corners. If you are carrying something long, such as a stepladder or a c-stand, call out “points” so people know to watch out. Similarly, if you hear someone call “points”… watch out!

Striking / Sparking
Called by the gaffer or an electrician to warn everybody that they’re about to turn on (or off) a light. Film set lights are powerful so don’t stare directly into one unless you’re in a hurry to make a Specsavers appointment.

Waiting On (x)
This is a favourite of the First to put pressure on a department and let them know that they’re the reason why the cameras aren’t rolling. Never be the reason why cameras aren’t rolling unless you wish to be utterly humiliated.

WRAP
Another nod back to the days where films were shot on film and there were reels rather than cards, WRAP is an acronym for “Wind Reel And Print”. It is usually called at the end of the day or the whole production but could also be used to call that an actor or a prop has finished. For example, “that’s a wrap on (actor’s name)”.

CAMERA DEPT. PHRASES

Crossing
This is said by anybody walking in front of the camera to warn the operator or anybody at the monitors that they’re about to temporarily obliterate the frame.

Cut-Away / Insert
A shot (usually a close-up) of a particular object that the editor can cut to.

Mark
A mark is a specific area where an actor needs to walk to in order to be in focus or to improve the composition of the shot. A mark is usually indicated by gaff tape, golf tees or T-Brackets placed by the 2nd AC. Each actor will have a different coloured mark.

Pick-Up
A pick-up is where you only shoot part of a scene. You pick the scene up at a certain point, either at the beginning to a certain point, or from a certain point until the end. Either way, it is important that Pick-Ups are indicated on the slate, so the editor knows that there isn’t a mistake.

Second Sticks
Called when a take wasn’t marked properly (for whatever reason) and needs to be marked again. Highly embarrassing for the 2nd AC.

Soft Sticks
Smashing the clapperboard with any force right in front of the talent’s face will result in you losing your job. Not only is it rude but you will pull them out of their acting zone. Call “soft sticks” so the editor knows he needs to listen carefully or turn the volume up and GENTLY clap the sticks.

Turnaround
The time between starting to set-up a shot and when the cameras are rolling.

DIRECTING / AD PHRASES

Lock-Up
No, this doesn’t refer to locking the doors of the set. That’s the responsibility of the locations department. A lock-up means stopping everybody from coming onto set from traffic to pedestrians. This is extremely important when there are SFX in use.

Print
A term carried over from where films were actually shot on film, “print” is a term used by the director to indicate their favourite take.

Second Unit
Larger productions need more than one team of people working simultaneously in order for the film to be completed on time. The main unit will usually capture the dialog-heavy sequences where the talent will need a lot of direction, and the second unit will crowd shots, stunts, panoramic vistas, etc.

SCHEDULE-RELATED PHRASES

Meal Penalty
A fine paid to the talent and crew if they receive their lunch break later than 6 hours after their call time (or after their NDB). Have fun explaining to the Production Manager why these are having to be paid.

NDB (Non-Deductible Breakfast)
A short (usually 15 minute) break given on the clock (lunch is off the clock and doesn’t count towards the working day), to talent or crew to align their lunch break with the rest of the crew.

Per-Diem
A fixed sum paid to talent and crew for a meal that is not being provided on set when on a residential location.

Pre-Call
When an individual or a department is required to come in earlier than the unit call time. Always check your own times on the back of the call sheet.

Working Lunch / French Hours
This will be stipulated on the call sheet and means there will be no set lunch time. Lunch will be available within a certain period and the talent and crew eat when they can. Bad practice in my opinion, but fairly common.

SHOOTING PHRASES

Back to One / Reset
This is called either by the director or the first, sometimes then repeated by the keys, that means the talent, camera, set dressing and props all need to be exactly where and how they were when the scene started. Sometimes this is a quick job, however if there’s stunt rigs, special effects, lots of
blood, etc, then this can take a long while.

Blocking
The process where the director will work with the actors and the DOP to determine any movement within the shot, camera placement, etc. The first blocking is usually private and allows the director to work uninterrupted with the actors. There’ll then be a closed blocking where the keys will be
invited in to contribute their feedback and finally, once the blocking has been agreed, an open blocking for the rest of the crew to see what’s happening.

End Board / Tail Slate
Sometimes it is not practical to slate at the start of a take. In this instance the take will be marked at the end of the shot. It is frequently forgotten that takes need to be end-boarded so if you hear a director call “cut” and you know that it needs to be end-boarded, call “end board” or “tail slate”.

Last Looks / Final Checks
Called by the First to let department heads, in particular the art department and hair, makeup and wardrobe, know that filming is imminent and to make sure that the set and the actors are ready for a take.

Pictures Up
Called to let everybody know that everything is ready and that the cameras are ready to roll.

Rolling
The cameras are now rolling for a take. It’s time to be quiet. And quiet means silent. Microphones can pick up whispering, bottles opening, soft footsteps and your rumbling stomach.

SOUND DEPT. PHRASES

ADR / Looping / Dubbing
Stands for Automatic Dialogue Replacement and is when an actor will re-record their lines in postproduction, in sync with the picture.

MOS
Nobody can give a definitive answer on where this term came from, but it means that the shot is being recorded without sound. Loved by the boom operator who gets to rest their arms for a while.

Room Tone
The ambient noise of a particular set or location that will be recorded by the production sound department and is used in the edit to create a constant bed of sound to disguise cuts between dialog tracks.

Wild Lines / Wild Track
Sounds or dialogue that is recorded without picture. Think of it as the opposite of MOS.

PART 1: NAVIGATING AROUND THE SET
Movie-Making Jargon Buster: Around the Set

Movie-Making Jargon Buster: Around the Set

When you go to start work in the industry, one of the things you might not think about is having to learn a foreign language. Throughout the years, filmmakers have developed a vernacular exclusive to the industry with terms ranging from logical to downright bizzare.

The language though is part of the all-important setiquette (or set etiquette) and makes communication faster and more effective if everybody learns to use it correctly.

In Part 1 of this 3-Part jargon buster, you’ll learn how to navigate around the set as well as pick up on some basic item names that get thrown around!

Navigating around the Set

Unit Base / Basecamp
An area (sometimes located away from the set) where you’ll find crew parking, makeup and wardrobe trailers (or tents), catering and pretty much everything else. Sometimes crew parking can be away from basecamp which is then in turn away from the set.

Staging Area / Grip City
An area of the set where all of the cases and equipment not being used will be stored. Often a complete mess.

Video Village
An area of the set to which the cameras won’t be pointing and where monitors and play-back equipment will be set up for the director and the keys to watch the take.

Honey Wagon
Portable toilets. Don’t ask.

Craft Service (Crafty)
Crafty is the holy grail on a film set. It is where the talent and crew can find refreshments and sustenance between meals.

Holding
An area of the set where talent or background will wait. Talent and background are ALWAYS kept separately from each other. Thus, you have “background holding” and “talent holding”.

Typical Items on the Set

Apple Box
A wooden box with standardised sizes that is useful for pretty much everything. They can be placed in three different ways: “New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago / Texas”.

C-47
An industry term for a wooden clothes peg. There is lots of discussion as to where this term came from, but it’s become part of industry vernacular one way or another.

Clapper / Slate
The (traditionally) black and white chalk board which marks the scene, take and roll numbers. Nowadays they are white acrylic and can be customised to include the logo of the production. You can also get smart slates which have a digital timecode synced to the camera and sound mixer.

Courtesy
This is when the grip department uses a flag to provide shade to a cast member, crew member or a monitor.

Dirt / Sand
Shorthand for a sandbag.

Flag
A sheet of black fabric (usually duvetyn or “commando cloth”) that completey blocks unwanted light. It can be used as a noun or a verb. Flags come in different shapes and sizes such as Meat Axes, Cutters, etc.

Furnie / Furniture Blanket
A heavy blanket used to help improve the sound quality of a set by dampening echo or to protect the set from equipment.

Gaffer Tape / Gaff
A heat-resistant tape with a colourful cotton side used for pretty much everything.

Practical
A light that doubles as set dressing. For example, a bedside lamp.

Squib
A small explosive charge, sometimes filled with fake blood, to simulate bullet hits or something similar.

Sticks
The tripod.

Stinger
An extension cord.

Film Set Essentials

Film Set Essentials

Preparing for your first day of principal photography is as exciting as it is daunting and making sure that you have everything you need to make the film packed and ready to go is one task that you do not want to skimp on. Even on the most modest and simplest of films you’ll need to have more than your camera, lighting and sound equipment with you.

Toiletries

You can’t guarantee that you’ll have access to spare toilet roll and soap on your location and the chances are that toilets won’t be stocked to accommodate constant use from a film crew. A couple of hand towels, toilet cleaner, some loo roll and soap (or anti-bac gel) will get you going!

Please think about the ladies on your set as well. A lot of filmmakers (especially men) don’t consider female hygiene so have a stock of sanitary products available.

First Aid Kit

No matter how thorough your risk assessments are or how strict your Health & Safety policy is, somebody will more than likely sustain an injury one way or another. If you don’t know what should go in to a first aid kit, then you can buy an HSE compliant kit (or OSHA compliant for our US readers) from pretty much anywhere which will have everything you need for a set (or any workplace).

Always remember to check that the products inside your first aid kit are in date and keep a checklist so you know what should be in there.

Umbrellas & Rain Cover

British readers will understand that the weather can change within a matter of hours or less when filming in the UK. No matter what the forecast is, take umbrellas with you. You don’t want your talent getting wet when walking from the car to set if there’s a sudden shower. Umbrellas can also be used to shield equipment from rain and used as parasols when it’s hot to keep talent in the shade or as a courtesy for the crew.

Cleaning Box

Making a film on any scale will create a mess no matter how courteous your film crew is. Plus, it’s always a good gesture to leave a location cleaner than you found it. Put together a box with some bin bags, surface cleaner, cloths, gloves and anything that might be relevant to the space which you’re filming in. Don’t forget a dustpan & brush set and a vacuum cleaner, either!

I like to have cleaning boxes around the location if possible – at the very least one on set and one at Craft Service.

Petty Cash

Having a lockable tin with cash in for emergency purchases will save you a lot of hassle with repaying expenses later on down the line. No matter how organised you are, there will always be occasions when you need to send a PA to stock up on some supplies or pay for a taxi. Keep it somewhere observable and assign one person to hand out the money as appropriate.

Remember to have vouchers on set and develop a system of tracking everything so you know where your money is going. On larger projects you could have a petty cash float for each department.

Feeding everyone on a budget

Feeding everyone on a budget

Although it may seem easy to feed everyone on set, it is not as simple as you may think. Here is a list of some points to consider:

Consider dietary needs

Everyone has their likes and dislikes when it comes to finding food they will enjoy, but also consider personal dietary requirements like Gluten-free, diabetes, etc.
Getting this information early can save time and money when it comes to ordering large amounts of food for your team and ensure that everybody is happy.

Shop around

Different stores and suppliers have varied prices; consider starting a food warehouse account  (i.e. Booker) for your business as that may be cheaper option to feed your team. Supermarkets can be cheaper for some products so still bear that in mind when shopping around…

Utilise outside companies

This is a good option if you do not have the correct equipment and/or food hygiene certificates. Catering companies will generally do this for a fixed price per person per day so that you can keep control of your budget.

Ask friends and family

If you are lucky enough to know someone who can cook for large groups and has the relevant certification and experience, it may be a good idea to buy the required food and hire them to cook for the team for little to no charge. This will make things cheaper and ensure you can trust that the food will be to a appropriate standards.

BONUS TIP: Always feed your team with a hot meal. This is the absolute least you can do, especially if you’re not paying them! You may get away with buying everyone a sandwich on shorter shoots (generally up to 4 hours).

Foley: the hidden sounds of cinema

Foley: the hidden sounds of cinema

How often have you sat watching the credits crawl at the end of your favourite movies and wondered what some of the obscure job titles were? One of the roles you might be wondering about is a “Foley Artist” – some of the most unsung heroes of movie magic!

Foley artists work in post-production sound and are responsible for bringing all of the footsteps, rattles, punches and sound effects to life. Often the best foley is the interpretation of a sound rather than the literal sound itself and is a confluence of several different sounds. The single sound effect of the goblins’ shrill growl in The Hobbit is made of 16 different layers!

Below are some examples of how every day items were used to create some of the most crucial sound effects that you may recognise!

TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY (1991)

The unique antagonist in this Science Fiction classic was a construction of mercury. So just how do you get the sound of liquid metal? Well, it turns out all you need is a bucket of water, flour, furniture cleaner and a condom.

The condom was wrapped over the microphone which was then submerged into a bucket filled with the above mixture. After some editing, it produces that slimy “glooping” sound that we’ve come to associate with the T-1000.

MEN IN BLACK (1997)

The film opens following a dragonfly cruising through the night. Now you would have a hard time capturing the sound of an actual dragonfly’s beating wings, so the actual effect was made using nothing more than an everyday handheld fan with a cloth and duct tape wrapped around the motor.

JURASSIC PARK (1993)

We all must have fallen in love with the baby dinosaurs when they emerged from their eggs. Of course, nobody knows exactly what a hatching dinosaur egg sounded like but it’s a safe bet that it wasn’t anything like a chicken egg.

The sound actually comes from crushing up an ice-cream cone and mixing it with the sound of massaging melon flesh whilst wearing soapy gloves.

THE MARTIAN (2015)

The red planet where Astronaut Mark Watney is stranded needed to be more than a landscape – it needed to be an antagonist. A monster. Amongst the tribulations which Watney endures is having to live in a habitation held together on one side by a sheet of tarpaulin and duct tape during a horrifying storm.

To create the ominous sound of being inside such an environment, low frequencies were played through subwoofers that had been installed inside metal filing cabinets. The result is that horrifying and somewhat alien crashing sound you hear.

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012)

Whilst on their journey to the Misty Mountain, Bilbo Baggins and the Hobbits get into trouble with a subterranean city of Goblins. Seeing as Goblins don’t exist, the team had to think outside the box and imagine what they might sound like.

The sound of their scuttles was achieved by one of the foley artists donning banjo picks on each finger and scratching, dragging and tapping them against a variety of different surfaces.

In case you were wondering, the term “foley” is named after sound effects artist Jack Foley who in the 1920s pioneered sound design in Hollywood (and subsequently the rest of the industry) by recording the effects in sync with the picture.

BONUS FACT!

DOCTOR WHO

Whovian or not, EVERYBODY knows which sound heralds the arrival of the quirky Time Lord. But how does one work out what a time machine sounds like?

Well, the base for the iconic sound comes from a house key being run along the bass strings of a gutted piano!

Is cinema dying?

Is cinema dying?

With the success of online streaming platforms such as Netflix, HULU, Amazon Video, etc you have to wonder if these platforms are the way forward and are going to replace cinema entirely;

Here is a breakdown to what I believe are some of the pros and cons to both platforms:

CINEMA

Atmosphere

  • PRO: The atmosphere at a cinema is thrilling and you can share the excitement of going to see a film with others, be it your friends, family or people you meet whilst you are there.
  • CON: Being in a room for hours filled with people can sometimes get uncomfortable.

Going out

  • PRO: It is always nice to go out with a group of people or on your own and have a good time.
  • CON: Travel can be expensive whether that is by bus, train, taxi or car.

Big screen and experiences

  • PRO: When you go to watch a film in the cinema you get to see the film on a big screen and with new technology it can be viewed and evenfelt differently, with some cinemas offering a movie experience where the seatsmove, you also have the option of 3D and even screens which take up all yourvision so all you can see is the film which can make it seem you are in themovie itself.
  • CON: All of this new technology comes at a price for the cinemas so the ticket prices can become more expensive.

Food & drink

  • PRO: At the cinema you want to get the FULL experience and can purchase food, like popcorn and a drink to go with it to add to the magic.
  • CON: Some smaller cinemas cannot offer as many varieties of food and drink as the larger chains and it can become expensive.

Comfy seating

  • PRO: Cinema seating is almost always comfy to sit in with fabric and leather seats and some cinemas also offer booster seats for the kids.
  • CON: The seats can become uncomfortable the longer the film.

Online Streaming

Quality

  • PRO: Most streaming services play at the highest quality that you can receive via your internet connection given you have the correct screen to view it on.
  • CON: Internet speeds vary in different areas and with different data transfer types.

Controls

  • PRO: You can have the freedom to play, pause and even rewind a film you are currently viewing, allowing you to make a drink or even go for some needed toilet time.
  • CON: If you are watching in a group you may have to wait for them to come back before you can press play again.

Private viewing

  • PRO: With streaming service’s you can watch a film in your own home and can have the freedom to sit around in your PJ’s, or not…if you prefer.
  • CON: You do not get the same buzz you would get by going to a cinema with loads of people to all share the same enjoyment.

Access to all

  • PRO: everyone can view the same film at the same time of day if needed, depending on region restrictions.
  • CON: Someone who is underage may still be able to view the film by ticking a box and say they are old enough.