To create a video on the subject of TIME was hard enough, to make your video last only three minutes and be a one shot movie meant the one luxury I didn’t have was ‘Time’.
I considered time lapse, slowing the footage or even speeding up the footage, but then all the success of the film was then down to the subject I chose to show. As we were shown such examples in the briefing, I wanted to make my film something different and more challenging. So it was very early on that my thoughts turned to a drama. The advantage of producing a film this way was that the success of the film was spread over lots of elements, actors, script, location etc as opposed to the time lapse idea where my eggs would be in one basket.
I created a mind map to try and channel my thoughts and even looked through Stephen Hawking’s ‘Brief History of Time’ but the exercises didn’t offer any clear leads.
I have a diverse DVD collection which leans strongly towards science fiction, and amongst the shelves of movies are several ‘Time Travel’ films. So that was where I started and slowly the idea of making a time travel movie arose.
The basic questions though were still to be answered: Who, what, how, when, where and why.
My initial thoughts were to send my traveller to the middle ages and I researched all kinds of scenarios from all sorts of sources to this end but my revised choice the Stone Age.
There was a TV series and a movie which influenced me due to their similarity to the idea. The original and very first Dr Who story – ‘An Unearthly Child’ (100,000 BC) – Anthony Coburn – BBC 1963 which involves two unwilling characters being transported back to the stone age and 2. an American B movie called ‘The Time Travellers’ – Ib Melchoir, American International Pictures 1964, which involves a group of scientists who convert a large TV into a door way through time. (I did say it was a B movie!)
Taking elements from both works a rough story emerged.
My film involves a 21st century man wearing a Christmas jumper and santa hat watching the TV after a heavy Christmas meal. The programme he is half watching is one about cavemen. His head starts to nod and eventually he rises from his chair to turn the TV off. As he reaches the screen all the lights go off. The screen then turns on again but now we see the 21st century man is in the TV programme, looking back through the TV at the now empty lounge. He looks around trying to figure out what’s happening turns and sees a group of people in the distance sitting around their fire and starts to walk towards them. As he gets closer he sees they are cavemen who all rise pick up their weapons and start to lick their lips. Their ‘Christmas turkey’ has arrived. Realising that their intentions are not to help him our 21st century man retreats, runs past the camera and is pursued by the hungry tribe who also run past the camera.
One of the cavemen then appears up close to the camera peering in on the watching audience. At that moment our 21st century man runs from right to left in the far distance, still being chased by the tribe. The caveman at the screen runs off to help his colleagues. 21st century man then appears at the screen out of breath, fists banging on the glass pleading for help. An arrow wizzes past his face, he screams. All goes dark again. 21st century man then rises from his living room floor his back to the TV, his face filling the view. Relieved it was all a dream he slowly turns around to see all the cave people’s faces up against the glass of the TV, peering out at him whilst dribbling and drooling.
The choice of the stone age also took some thought, but to me it represents the evolution of civilised man, from the days where mere survival was never guaranteed to today where being over fed at the beginning of winter is the norm. It shows how far we have come but at the same time how detached and oblivious we ‘modern humans’ are to the same struggles that many of our fellow humans still suffer today. Our ‘time traveller’ faces this when all his 21st century is stripped away and his civilised life is replaced by the hunter gatherer way, he being the thing that is now hunted.
My research revealed evidence of cannibalism has been discovered amongst the artefacts of archaeological digs of Neolithic sites in the UK and abroad where score marks on human bones suggests the flesh was stripped. So my film may have a grain of truth at its core.
‘In the German hamlet of Herxheim, archaeologists excavating a 7000-year-old mass grave of up to 1000 Stone Age people have concluded that the site was not a Neolithic graveyard, as previously assumed, but a killing field where hundreds of men, women and children met a grisly fate.’ – More 4 –
With the bare bones of a story in place my research now had clear objectives. I gained influence for the chase scenes from the silent movies of the 1920’s with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton and the Keystone Cops. Also the Georges Melies films we watched in film club had their influence as the stop motion basic special effects inspired me as well. Although stopping the camera is not allowed as per the rules of this assignment, inserting two ‘blackouts’ acted as vehicles that allowed me to instantly transport my traveller to and from the stone age by switching him from ‘real time’ to recorded TV.
Trying to make the stone age people look authentic was another challenge and the images below were along the lines of what I want to achieve, although with no budget corners were cut.
From the technical aspect first I have a choice of two cameras with which to film the movie. A DSLR and a mini camcorder. Both have their positives and negatives.
The camcorder, a Panasonic HX-WA10, is one I bought a couple of years ago and is small, light and films at full HD (1920×1080). The downside is that the lens is 41.5 – 207.5mm [16:9], which means its very poor at wide angle. (Source: http://www.panasonic.co.uk/html/en_GB/Products/HX-WA10/Specification )
The DSLR, a Nikon D7000, also shoots at full HD quality and has several advantages over the Panasonic in that I can use a Nikon 12 – 24mm wide angle lens. This will create a ‘fish eye’ effect which will add to the distorted dream / nightmare impression as used in lots of movies such as the Harry Potter films, and Tim Burtons ‘Alice in Wonderland’.
The disadvantage of the DSLR is that in movie mode the focus is manual.
The resolution to this problem perhaps is to shoot the movie once with the Panasonic and then again with the DSLR and let the results speak for themselves.
The basic concept of my movie involves filming a film which is playing on a TV. Any distortion of the image created by filming a film (Moiré pattern – the image distortion as the screen refreshes itself) I feel will add to the movie and enhance the separation of the traveller from his home. Experiments though have shown that the TV I intend to use, 50 inch plasma, offers very little distortion.
The scene, my front room, involves my traveller watching the television, getting up from his chair to turn the TV off and all the lights going out. This can be simply done with a crew member out of view turning off the room lighting. This will coincide with the TV screen going black. The room lighting, a standard low energy 60 watt bulb will create an orange colour cast. Setting the camera to compensate for this will correct the cast, although I am considering still having a warm cast to the internal shots as they would be in contrast to the cold effect I want playing in the movie on the television.
The film playing on the television has its own challenges. The outdoor location for this has taken sometime to find. The scene needed to portray a typical struggle for survival as experienced by our cavemen ancestors, in that it was mostly wooded, bleak and cold. The absence of any kind of shelter adding to their misery. It needed to be a place where a wood fire could be lit, offering my cavemen some comfort but devoid of any signs of the 21st century. The location I have found is a scout campsite in the village of Studham, Bedfordshire.
The camera would be fixed in place with all action either going to or from or past the camera lens. Setting the colour temperature to 6000 kelvins or higher will achieve a blue-ish cast. (Source: Get started in Short Film making, Chris Patmore, A and C Black publishers, ISBN 978-0-7136-7340-1) Obviously if the weather is bad this will add to the misery experience. As the camera will be fixed filming just the view ahead, the camera and waiting cast can be inside a gazebo. The sound whilst important will be dubbed afterwards.
The film’s ‘black outs’ along with various grunts and ugg’s as expressed by my cavemen’s dialogue (and recorded separately) would be added in post production. The whole film would then be burned to DVD and played on the TV whilst the 3 minute one stop indoor scene is filmed.
I have had much interest from friends (male and female) wishing to play the roles of the cave tribe, however obtaining furs at next to zero cost to make their costumes was much harder. Trawling round charity shops has produced some results, but I’ve concluded that my tribe will be limited to how many costumes we can make from what we have managed to find. Wigs was also a concern but as three of the men for my tribe have long hair, and the remaining one has access to a long wig this is no longer an issue.
The cast of the ‘Christmas Turkey’
Draft video on You Tube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9A-VzIvx4c&feature=youtu.be
The draft movie was much more difficult to film than expected mostly due to the atrocious January weather but also due to the unavailability of the person I chose for the lead role and some of the actors making up the tribe. The draft movie therefore contains only half the cast and the lead role is being played by another actor. Getting a fire started for the tribe camp was also an impossible task in the pouring rain.
The issue of focus came in to play as well. Leaving the camera focussed on close up meant the camp was out of focus. In some ways this is a good effect as you don’t actually see the ‘cave people’ in sharp focus until they are up close.
Light was also a problem as the only day we could film the draft it poured down. The break in the weather we needed arrived just as the sun was going down! We had just enough time for two rehearsals and a take!
The caveman sequence was filmed on a freezing January morning. I put a tent to act as a make up room for a volunteer make up artist. She had made some brow ridges to enhance the cave tribes primitive appearance and together with black make up and their cave tribe costumes they all looked the part. With a now large bonfire burning well to them all warm I shot a few sequences to act as the documentary my time traveller was watching prior to his trip. We then moved onto the chase sequence which took several takes to get all the actions perfected. Finally I shot the close up with all the cave tribe crowding the lens (three takes) and we were complete.
In an editing programme I selected the shots which were the best, assembled the documentary and added an audio of a film about Neanderthals recorded off You Tube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_Yxm8F2e8c
Adding a bluish tint added to the cold feel of the scene and setting a few seconds for the two blackouts completed the footage. To give me a better lead in I also added footage of a pantomime I had filmed last year which would be playing as the camera moved towards the ‘hero’ in the opening shots.The whole film was then burned to a DVD to play on the TV.
Part 2 the house shoot is where all the elements came together but was delayed due to the lead actor again not being available. Once a date had been agreed there was no time to rehearse.
The timing was critical to make the jump from real to recorded footage and back again and a couple of takes were unusable due to the actor moving out of shot too slowly. Perseverance paid off though as re take after re take the actor got sharper on his actions and we improvised his movements taking advantage of the wide angle lens used.
I was forced to add a video light as the light levels were poor. The DVD recording I created of the cave tribe sequence also caused a few banding issues when played on a TV and filmed but experimenting with shutter speeds and apertures I got this to an acceptable level.
The final take achieved 99% of what I set out to make, so overall I’m pleased with the result.