Friday 15 July 2016

Colour correction / Grading

Colour correction can become a real obsession for filmmakers. As with the other aspects of the production we have also followed here a straightforward approach. The film was graded according to the locations: office, home and Greece.
The general approach was to use two plugins in Premiere: luma curve and the fast colour corrector. The luma was done by myself and the colour correction by Vasso.


The office is an old victorian place and the goal was to emphasise it in the grading:

On the right is the luma curve which has been used for the office. To create this look I did three things: slightly crush the blacks, then have a steep rise in the mid-tones and then a soft limit of the whites which made sure that the windows and the key lights always look a bit dim. This creates contrast in the faces but at the same time has a reduced contrast in the highlights.
The colours were de-saturated to about 50-70% depending of the scene.

At home

Here I used the opposite approach to the office to establish a different feel. Instead of crushing the blacks I lifted the blacks slightly. The mid tones received a lower contrast instead of a higher one and then the whites were emphasised. Many indie films are graded this way and this creates a "familiar" look. I wanted to have the domestic environment more "normal" in terms of perception.
Colour had to be corrected from time to time, mainly because the overhead fluorescent bulbs used in the kitchen and corridor have a slightly different colour temperature to the fluorescent film lights.


The shots in Greece were the simplest in terms of grading. They were left as they were without any correction which created strong colours. Some scenes were lit deliberately with tungsten balanced kino flos with the white balance set to 5500K so that they look quite orange. The flashback scenes are all at half the frame rate where frames were interpolated in Aftereffects. The settings were deliberately chosen in a way that the artefacts of the motion estimation add to the atmosphere.

Organising the edit: from logging, over digtial transfer to the timeline

In this post I describe our approach how the footage went from the camera to the editing program. The software we used was Premiere CC 2014.
The approach was the following.


Shock horror to all logging fanatics: we used simple plain sheets.

Every sheet had the scene on top of it and then we organised it according to setups (called here shots). In the example above it's setup #1 with 8 takes (CU on James/Robert) and then setup #2 (CU on Vasso/Anna). Logging was done by Nicholas (our 1st AD) and or by our 2nd/3rd AD. Before every take Nicholas would say "Scene #, shot #, take #". Remember that we recorded sound in camera so that we didn't need write anything on the clapper board but used the sound to identify the takes. This again saved time during the shoot.

Recording media

The camera was a Panasonic AF101 where we recorded externally on SSD with the help of an Atomos Samurai which also acted as the monitor for Jess (AC). The internal SD recorder acted as a backup. We used two 128GB SSDs which can store more than enough footage for one day. The Samurai allows to name the files according to the scenes/takes etc but we didn't use that feature.

On location: every scene becomes a separate premiere file


Reinis, our assistant editor and DIT then took the files off the SSDs. For every scene he created separate premiere files, for example, scene_78.pproj (see above) which contained all takes of scene 78  -- plus the backup audio from the external recorder and the backup video from the SD card. He then would watch all takes and added to the comment section the setup and take number. The ticks indicate the best takes (which might have changed later when I re-watched it).
The assistant editor then would give me every night a hard drive with all the ProRes files and audio files.

These files were copied into subdirectories: for every day there was one subdirectory and then again sub-sub-directories for the SSDs. Remember we had usually two full SSDs/day (one for morning and one for afternoon/evening) so that we arrived at a structure of for example:
/25Sept/1/ = 25th Sept, morning session
/25Sept/2/ = 25th Sept, afternoon session
/26Sept/1/ = 26th Sept, morning session
These media files would then be copied on the main editing computer every night. Usually Reinis would keep a copy of the media files on his laptop to make a rough edit overnight.

Rough edit

Directly after the shoot the assistant editor would then do a rough edit overnight. Every scene was edited in those separate premiere project files and then e-mailed to me in the morning for review to decide what needed to be reshot.
The rough edits were done without caring much about the sound transitions, channel allocations (usually boom+radio mike) and just in stereo (not 5.1). Still this allowed us to check both video and audio for technical glitches and to be sure we had everything we needed.

Creating the master premiere file

The separate project files representing scenes were then imported into the master premiere project so that every scene/premiere project file became a bin:

This is a fantastic feature of Premiere that one can include individual project files into one main project. These included project files then become bins in the main project. In the example above "Scene 78" was the premiere project file scene_78.prproj created on set and overnight. This was then imported into the master project as "Scene 78". In this screenshot there are two sequences for scene 78 where "Scene 78" within the bin is the overnight rough edit and "Scene 78 (5.1)" is the final edit of the scene in 5.1 (which was done much later).

Main project: nested sequences

Remember that every bin now contains one scene. See the example above it's "Scene 78 (5.1)". This contains now the sequence of scene 78 in 5.1 audio:

The whole film was then created by putting these separate sequences onto the main timeline:

The main timeline (again in 5.1) now contains every scene as a solid block. This has the huge advantage that the scenes are protected from accidental edits. The main timeline just contains the scenes and the score which often spans more than one scene.
If we zoom slightly in we see scene 78 again on the main timeline. A double click then opens the scene as shown above.


Backups were done every night onto a DX115 carrier. The same used for digital cinema. These carriers are super robust and easy to get on ebay/amazon.

Sunday 10 July 2016

Building a character

So...   my first feature film! Wow.

My long-standing dream had finally come true and I got the chance to start preparing building a character for my first full length feature! The joy was double, as not only did I have the good fortune to work with a great collaborator, Bernd Porr, but I was also given the freedom to explore my character without really any restrictions as such.

Having never prepared for something so 'important' in my life before and not having anyone at hand who'd shot a feature film and could give me some tips of direction, coupled with the fact that I am an extremely stubborn person with a very strong sense of personal conviction, who hates following trends and copying others, only meant one thing -I had to find my own way of building a character and preparing for a role.

Never once did I pick up any of the Stanislavski books I had from my College years or watched youtube videos of other actors giving suggestions and telling you how 'they' did it. No. I thought to myself - 'you'll pull together all the experience you've amassed as an artist, actor and individual throughout your life and your performance training and do the best job you can out of it. There's no point looking 'outwards' at this stage, when all the knowledge you need resides within you already. All you need to do is trust yourself and find a way of unfolding your creativity; transmuting it into the task at hand -creating a new individual from scratch -your character.'

So I decided to recreate the 'Universe' of the film (all the places and spaces where the characters live and operate in) in my own set-up. For that purpose, I booked a rehearsal space for the duration of three weeks, where I would work every single day until the official shooting of the film began.

I had created separate sheets of paper, with a generic outline of each scene (if you imagine a brain-map or a skeleton of a concept, branching out to little pockets of detail), pointing out the main themes and highlighting them with bold markers, always written in capital letters (so as I would have a main heading that would instantly draw my attention when looking at it). Beneath each heading, I would restrict myself to writing a phrase, a few words or a maximum of a sentence that would give out a little more information regarding that brief section of the scene (just enough to get me a little deeper into what the scene is about but not too much so that it would visually clog up the sheet and result in me looking at it for more than a mere few seconds at a time).

I had 'blue-tacked' these sheets on the walls of the space I was practising in, placing them in chronological order of the story. I used them as an instant reference point whilst going through the motions of the story from the beginning of the script till the end.

Another thing I also did, is that I divided my rehearsal space into 'grids'. Or, in a more theatrical terminology, I had blocked the entire film script as a journey throughout the space I was in. I was fortunate enough to have had a rather spacious room in all directions, so I did my best to utilise the expansiveness of it and make it part of my characters journey.
Also, because of my applied arts/design background, my perception is very heightened when it comes to visual stimuli and I tend to decode/interpret things through shapes and structural grids.

So, additionally to the reference sheets of through-line of story and thought-process, I also created a little 'pathway' for my character to go through. The pathway would start from one end of the room, allowing myself to delve in all the motions and events of the story as I was walking through it, changing directions in the space, and eventually culminating at the other end of the room, which would also mark the end of the story.

I would kick-start my day by bringing myself into as much of an intense 'focus-mode' as I could, a meditative state almost, to aid my smoother and deeper transformation to the energy and essence of the character I was working on.

The first thing I would do as soon as I got into the space would be to put my headphones on and start doing some movement-release exercises, whilst listening to the music I had chosen for my character. I would let those movements gradually lead me into discovering the movement style of my character and keep working on that until I felt ready to take this into further action and eventually into running the script from beginning to end. 

This arrangement was in essence the main chapter of my preparation and working on the character of Anna. A lot of other more specific details regarding my approach to the work at hand and to character building could be added, but that would lead into me treating this as a personal journal and I shall spare you the experience! ;)

I hope you've found this helpful in some way and that the rehearsal process might resonate with some of you!

It certainly proved to be of utmost help to me, as it eventually lead to me winning a best actress award in a feature film, which I suppose, would be any aspiring actors/actresses ambition. Or at least, one out of many!

Best of luck with your endeavours and keep working hard and dream big! Pays off in the end.

Much love,

Vx  :)

Working with Bernd as an Assistant Director for the Greek Story

August 2014,

Vasso Georgiadou asks me if I could help mr Bernd Porr with his shootings in Athens. What an overwhelming opportunity: Feature length film shot in two countries, by a German director, and all the preproduction should be organized by Skype!
New applications and the Cloud are here to help us out collaborate from country to country, without limits.
Meeting the director/producer physically only two days before the shooting can be difficult for the organization of the pre-production of a film, but with Bernd everything feels simple. The most important aspect is the trust he showed to me so generously!
Using the Cloud all the documents and lists where available to anyone concerned. The location scouting and the casting became a simple process by sending photographs and discussing about them online.
Briefly, Bernd Porr has two of the most important values for a cinema director, he can be very well organized and he trusts the people he has chosen to work with. As a producer he is righteous and rewards his collaborators the best way he can!

Thank you Bernd! Thank you Vasso! :-)











Friday 8 July 2016

Focus pulling

This is Jess, the AC for Anna Unbound here, briefly taking over the reins to speak a little bit about focus pulling and, while I have you, the overall production value of the film. If you've been following this blog or other articles about Anna Unbound, you will know that this a micro-budget film. Pulling off a feature on this budget is no mean feat, especially given that everyone was paid! But what really sets it apart is the quality of production.

Bernd and I have worked together on many short films and he is incredibly knowledgeable about cameras and lighting rigs. He has built tracks, dollies, can quickly wrangle up a cable, the list goes on. But this technical wizardry meant that we could replicate shots and movement that you would see in high-budget films. Although, unlike high-budget movies we had a pretty small team and a lot more we had to achieve each day. And so, this meant we had to try and get far more into each shot. And in order to do this and give Anna Unbound an edge, Bernd divised these long shots, with lots of variety within them to also maintain the pace. And that's where I was required as a focus puller. We always shot the film with a shallow depth of field, which gave the film a cinematic quality and a consistency from start to finish, although it also meant a lot of focal points. So, I had to develop my own personal code.

The focus ring was my main tool. This seemingly chaotic series of letters, numbers and dashes corresponded to where each of the actors were in the scene, when we pulled to them. And it only made sense to me, in that moment. Now, I can make out that Vasso and Bill were in the scene and where it ended ('E'), but that's about it. However, due to the way we were making the film, we had time to block in the shots and I would be very aware of the actors movement and where Bernd, on camera, would be going next.

While I'm giving you an insight into the shots and camera work, I'll quickly tell you about my work on steadi-cam on Anna Unbound as well. We did a few key shots off the dolly or without a tripod. One in particular required everyone in our team to work together at once. It is a crucial scene in the film, so I won't give away too much that happens in it. But it's another example of Bernd's adventurous nature with shots and keenness to add production value to the film. In the lengthiest shot of the film, Bernd and I switch roles mid-shot. I'm in a stead-cam harness with an arm and pulley above my head and we move from the camera on the dolly to being strapped onto me, while some of the most intense action of the film is playing out in front of us. From there I have to chase the lead actor, Vasso and go freestyle on the focussing. All the while, the rest of our team were rearranging the set before they were seen back on camera, as part of the same shot. When you watch the film, see if you can spot this shot. It was certainly quite an adrenaline rush getting it.

Friday 1 July 2016

Lighting the office

I show you how the main office was lit for the day- and night-time scenes.

This is the lighting plan of the main office:
The key light is established by two 330W Kino-flo-like lights and one 125W HMI.
They are placed in a way that they are always slightly behind the actors or at a steep angle.
The key is lighting up Vasso's hair on the right and we see it on her forehead on the right. Similar in the background on Sharon.

In order to reduce the contrast we reduced the incoming light through the windows. For every window tile we cut out neutral density (ND) filters which reduced the incoming light by two stops. Note that there would be never direct sunlight coming in as it's heading north so that the light was quite constant over the day.

In terms of fill the approach was to use the house lights fitted in the ceiling. There were 16 fluorescent tubes of 58W. These were all about 10 years old and had terrible colour rendering. The fill would have looked green on camera. I decided to replace them with high CRI tubes from Osram which exactly match the tubes in the kino-flo-like fluorescent lights: Osram T8 L 58W/954 Lumilux DE LUXE Daylight G13. They have an impressive CRI of over 95%, match daylight colour temperature so that it feels as if it's just daylight coming through the windows.

In the photo above we see the key lights on the right (2x 330W fluorescent bank and one HMI) and the fill lights in the ceiling (and Reinis, our editor who heroically did the overnight edits of all the rushes!).

In addition we had one 110W fluorescent light as a mobile fill to shine light into the eye of the actors and which was more or less next to the camera. This can be seen on this photo (now looking from the other side of the the room) right at the back to the right. Again, the fluorescent tubes for the fill are visible at the top and the HMI on the left here.

What is also visible here is the boom arm of the 125W light which was used for the night time lighting to have an overhead light.

For night time the fluorescent tubes in the ceiling were off. The look was created by the key lights as in the daytime scenario, the overhead light and the desk lamps. These played an important part here which acted as the fill. Most of the time this was the bounce off the table as can be seen here:

The desk lamps had normal tungsten bulbs fitted, operated via dimmers and had a 1/2 CTB in them to make it look warm (camera white balance was always on the fluorescent lights).

For the horror part of the film the desk lamps turned into the key lights with no further fill from the front.
Both, Vasso and the instruments in the background were lit by the desk lamps. They have been moved behind Vasso so that we get a high contrast look not giving away too much. We cheated a bit with the desk lamp at the back with a full CTB to make the instruments look more clinical.