I shot and edited a narrative film in the last month. It was a first for me. I had this scene in my mind of a person burying a suitcase or bag in the woods, like it’s something he or she wanted to hide or get away from. I had a second idea about a guy walking down a long passage way and knocking on a door with no one opening for him. I decided these two contrasting visual ideas will be my story.
I believe we all have these scenes or ideas that we want to shoot or direct, so I’m going to go through the workflow and tell you from arranging the shoot, shooting day, and editing it to produce it. Again, it’s a first, so it’s not perfect, but I surely learned a lot and there surely are certain things I’d do differently with the next one, like recording sound, and getting a Foley library where it’s possible to search and test different sounds, like a single footstep, rather than downloading a sample from the web and having to listen to ten minutes of someone walking on tar or gravel or rocks.
Visualizing the idea
First, you must have a scene. You need to have the story or moments figured out in your mind, and you must either be able to explain it to someone else, or you must be able to show it visually, with either photos or drawings. The people you are working with must have a clear idea of what you want to achieve. This also excites them, as they now have a better understanding of what is expected from them, and they also respect the time and effort you are putting into it, so they feel like they are working with someone who takes what they do seriously.
The actor I used in the scene was a friend of mine. He’s in the finance industry, but I’ve always had this gut-feeling that he will be a great actor if he wanted to. So we both concluded that it will be a good thing for both of us to shoot it, for our portfolios but also experience. There is no dialog, which made it less-stressful for us, and also, it’s a first attempt, which worked well for both of us, and for the story.
It’s also good to have an idea of where you’d like to shoot. In Cape Town South Africa, once you get out of the city, there are many changing landscapes, and although some places are off-limits, you can most certainly find a place where you can park the car and get a shots you need. I’ve driven past and walked through the woods I used in the short, so I had a good idea of what to expect and what I would get from the location.
Arranging the shoot day
In my plot or scene I only had one actor, so my styling, make-up, and location wasn’t too difficult to get hold of. We used one of his own suits, shoes, and hat, plus his mother collects old Mercedes Benzes so that was also a lucky strike. You might think this might not be relevant because I knew the actor, with a car etc, but if you look at your resources, friends, and what story you want to tell, you’ll soon find that it’s really amazing what you can put together with a budget basically covering the fuel for the car for the day.
I had the car, the actor, and his girlfriend (who was a great help on the day, assisting with the direction of the various scenes) in the car on the way to the location. I had the clothes, the gear, and the idea ready for the day. We got out early morning which worked perfectly as the mist on the mountain pass with the drive there was perfect for the mood of the story.
Gear for the shoot:
- Canon 5D Mark III
- 100mm Lens
- 24-70mm lens
- 17-40mm lens
- DJI OSMO + an additional battery
- DJI Phantom 3 Advanced
- SLIK Tripod
- Memory Cards
After the shoot
Importing to Adobe Premiere is now much easier than before, and it’s possible to ingest proxies, so it’s not needed to work with 4K footage and overload your laptop. I usually break up the shots into folders, depending on the scene. So I’ll have "driving there," "running into woods," and "waking up" as Bins and import the footage from all the cameras I used in to the allocated folder.
I’ll then add music, and although I’ve written about where to get music for your movies before, for this particular short I used 909music.com, which gave 99 tunes away as a launch promotion. I was lucky with the songs fitting in perfectly, quieting out with the tense moments adding to the tension, and then picking up as the scene needs it.
Gear for editing and post
What I learned for the next one
Inserting the Foley sounds with the footsteps is where I really took the most time, and it’s still not perfect. I need to get the volume of the footsteps fade in and out depending on how far he is from the camera, to give the sense of distance. This sounds like a small thing, but it makes a huge difference in the overall production quality of the film, and also just sounds like it must. Next time I will most definitely have sound recorded, just to give me a kind of idea of the sounds I need to get.
The OSMO’s recent update stops the fans when recording starts. This is good, but the gimbal still has gears running inside that make strange, unwanted noises, and the sound overall isn’t something you want and will most certainly not use.
My reflection appears every now and then, whether it’s in a window or the car’s black paint. I didn’t pick it up, and I only have a limited amount of shots so there’s really nothing I can do about it unless I want to crack open After Effects and setup some tracking masks. You can reduce reflections by using a polarized filter. I’ll definitely have this filter for the next video.
This is the first of what I hope will be many more. I can honestly say I had a lot of fun doing it. I was making something for myself. I think there isn’t really that much market for narrative stories like this, but that was not the point. The aim was to create a story I had in my head, and actually executing and doing it. It’s not perfect, and it’s not supposed to be. If you have any advice or positive criticism, please leave it in the comments.