Posts tagged ‘tea’

August 23, 2014

Assignment 2 – Creating Atmosphere

by Suzy Walker-Toye

Assignment 2 is about creating a strong sense of atmosphere in a scene. I chose from the list of activities and atmospheres provided, not just because creativity failed me at supplying my own story (I find that the hardest part of this course so far) but I found it an intriguing challenge to try and make a paranoid cup of tea.


Making a cup of tea comprises of fairly simple steps so I decided to use this as my shot list outline (we were restricted to no more than 12 shots)

• Go to kitchen
• Fill kettle with water
• Boil kettle
• Get Milk from Fridge
• Put tea, Milk and hot water in a cup (assuming we’re not using a teapot)
• Optionally add sugar
• Stir and drink

But how to make it have a paranoid atmosphere? Different shooting angles? Different colour schemes? Lens choice?

I thought it was important to have a sense of why the character might be paranoid, my actor Jimmy J and I came up with some ideas from simple to silly here are a few

1. He’s a Germaphobe.
2. He doesn’t like the way the tea tastes from the zip-tap water but isn’t really allowed to use a real kettle (for health and safety reasons) but does anyway.
3. He’s totally paranoid about something, he thinks it’s the tea or something about the tea but actually it’s the giant lion or sea monster in the room, or outside the window, eyeing him up.
4. He’s sure something is wrong, he drinks the tea and collapses. Someone sinister/official (men in black style) comes in and puts the tea bag in an evidence baggy and leaves.
5. Same as the previous one but that official waves a black gloved glowing hand over his face and steals his face & identity
6. He’s a total mess until he’s had his tea!

I storyboarded (see below) a blend of ideas 1,2 & 6 (I actually storyboarded it several times as we made adjustments). The planned premise is that he’s a very British Gent who is a mess until he’s had his tea and then everything is just fine. Originally we discussed having him clutching his own briefcase with full tea making equipment (including a teapot) but for practical reasons abandoned this idea (most briefcases just aren’t deep enough to hold a kettle & teapot). So it’s all about his paranoid state of mind, I wanted him to be really dapper at the end when the tea was made and the world was put to rights again so at first we messed him up, creased his suit, had him buttoned up wrongly and shirt hanging out (we had to shoot the tidy scenes first though). The clip is split into two mind states, the paranoid mess and the dapper gent, so I wanted there to be visual clues, not just in his dress and acting but in the film process itself. I decided to go with shooting the paranoid mess shots with a fisheye lens, its distorted – like his state of mind. Nothing is quite right. Also, I planned to edit the colour of the film differently between paranoid mess & dapper gent. Additionally, I wanted the action to ratchet up as he gets nearer and nearer his goal of finished tea, so I planned lots of tighter and tighter cuts & closer and closer cuts in the storyboard. To validate my theories I did a bit of research online and watched a recommended example of a paranoid film – Dark City which I reviewed here.

I wanted to use the kitchen at work, mainly because it supported the storyline for point 2 by obviously being a public kitchen so the mise-en-scene is mostly taken care of, but also because it has the same constant lighting (with small variations depending on the weather outside the windows, although they are mostly sheltered by another building next door). My friends health isn’t always predictable so for practical reasons we needed the potential for repeated access to the location. This posed some problems with curious co-workers during filming but nothing which couldn’t be overcome. Also, the sink & fridge is on one side of the room and the plug (for the kettle is on the other) which poses some sequencing considerations which I worked out with several iterations of storyboards. I did the story boards on post it notes so they could be rearranged during this planning process, I think this worked well, we also took some test video to see which angles might work best and that fed back into the story board before our day of shooting.

Please click them to open the gallery with descriptions. Ignore the numbers in the corners because they got a bit thrown out when I replaced the cupboard scene (at place 3-4-5) with the fridge scene which logically had to be later in the sequence but I’d already numbered all the posits.

Discarded cupboard scene:

This section was written after the filming but before the editing
What went well:
The late addition of the trip to the fridge into the story board was a success, originally I had him doing the peering in shot into the cupboard. I thought that the camera being inside the space when he opened the door was quite atmospheric and I didn’t want to lose it but we were slightly bending the story trying to think what he’d be getting from the cupboard if he was bringing everything with him. This shot was one of those which I felt worked particularly well with the distortion on the fisheye lens too. We had to put this one on manual focus so the focus didn’t shift as the door opened.

The footage was much less shaky than I’d anticipated – hooray for stabilisation on cameras. I used my Olympus Em5 camera instead of my GoPro this time so I had flexibility on lenses. I’ve shot a few short clips with it underwater but not really used it in anger so I was quite pleased how easily it was to use. Obviously I used a tripod where I could but sometimes I had to hand hold.

The macro lens shots of the kettle looked like they might come out as I’d imagined them in my head so I look forward to editing that together. Also, I shot extra footage to get the diegetic sounds for the soundtrack so I’m cautiously optimistic that it won’t have to be silent.

We didn’t film the shots in the same sequence as they will finally appear but I think I have all the shots in the bag for editing together nicely. For example, close up shots & shot where Jimmy doesn’t appear could be shot at a later date if we ran out of time so I planned those in last, whereas the shots where Jimmy is nice and neat (which appear at the end of the story) had to be shot first so that we could then crease up his suit. We had to be careful of continuity errors and took photos of things that we’d set out so that we could set them back into the same position when we came to shoot a scene which would show them in shot.

What went not so well:
I decided in the planning stage to use the fisheye distortion as a visual device to indicate all way not right, I knew then that it wouldn’t be ideal for every shot but I felt it was more important to be consistent across the paranoid mess portion but sometimes during filming I wished I could zoom in a little, the fisheye focuses very closely but its angle of 180 degrees and I’d forgotten just how wide that feels when you look into the view finder. I’d only done test footage of a couple of shots with it so when filming the whole sequence I revealed where it did and didn’t work so well. I’ll wait until I’ve edited it all together to really decide on whether this was the right approach to take or not.

As I’ve already mentioned, we used a public kitchen which was prone to interruptions. We only had an hour to do the shooting (which extended into two because we just had not finished). Even when people were not in shot they were making footsteps or other sounds which would have been discernible in the final sound track.

One major downside of the location was lighting. It would have been nice to have some nice contrasty & atmospheric lighting. I’d taken this into account somewhat in the planning stage and planned in the storyboard to shoot some scenes across the light (maybe also use a reflector to bounce some back on him) but although we choose a sunny day for shooting it soon clouded over and we lost that contrast effect.


What went well:
I like the effect of the fisheye lens.

I was surprised how well the colour change looked when I’d post processed the footage and Final Cut Pro isnt as difficult to get to grips with as I thought it would be (re Assignment 1 feedback). When I first applied it, it looked very overdone but when I played it back later it looked almost normal until the end when you see the normal colours. I might have to up the effect a little, I’m yet undecided. I’ll see what my tutor thinks.

I shot enough footage, I was concerned that I wouldn’t have enough and would trouble at editing time but I mostly had enough for the choices I wanted to make about the sequence.

I thought the sound worked out quite well in the end. I shot extra footage just for the sound track and that paid off. I had to spend some time in FCP working with the kettle boiling soundtrack to get it to flow nicely (because the kettle took much longer than was shown). Here is a screenshot of that area of the clip with the various little sub audio clips blended in. Its loud and overbearing on purpose because I think this serves to ratchet up the tension he’s feeling as he’s getting closer to completing his mission.

Final Cut Pro X Screenshot

I think the quick cuts around the kettle boiling and the footage of the fridge worked well. Just how I imagined. I know I didn’t follow the 12 shots rule of this assignment but my clip would have never worked the way I wanted if I had stuck too hard and fast to the instructions. I think this worked well for this clip and I hope my tutor agrees!

I like how the happy hat flip looks at the end – thanks Jimmy for humouring me on that 🙂

What went not so well:
I found it a struggle to edit down all the footage I wanted into under 3mins. I started making harder cuts and choosing to miss out on some of the closeups that we shot. I even sped a few bits up. After a couple of reviews of that I removed most of the speed ups (they looked a little odd) and cut more severely, even now I’m not completely satisfied. There is definitely an art to this. Some clips I wanted them to be shorter but I also wanted the whole action of what he was doing so there was an internal editing struggle, for example the 2nd shot where he is walking in. I wanted him to walk in, get the kettle out and walk towards the sinks. I couldn’t see a way of keeping the action but shortening it, there seemed to be no cut point. I suppose I’ll get better at editing with more practice as the course continues. I cut the getting stuff out of the bag shot (after he comes back from filling the kettle) right down and it looked a bit abrupt, I put him doing a shifty look in as a distraction from the harsh cut but it still looks a bit hard in my opinion. The main footage is now 3mins, the uploaded file is now slightly longer only because I added the title & credits.

I didn’t notice how prominent the WC sign on the door in the first shot was until after I’d edited and was playing back the whole clip! Its not relevant to the story so had I noticed it was there whilst filming I would have tried to cover it with something or shoot with shallow DOF to blur it out a bit.

I should have taken more control of the settings. There are some technical issues which I only really noticed on playback on the computer. for example the fluorescent lights flicker in some of the shots. And although I shot the fridge scene on manual focus I thought the other shots were ok when I reviewed them on the camera, however on playback on the computer I noticed that the focus occasionally shifts unintentionally during the shot. I could try and claim it was another ploy to show his state of mind but I don’t think anyone would buy that 😉 Some of the hand held shots could be steadier and straighter (although its hard to tell straightness with a fisheye anyway so its not too noticeable).

During the filming I made sure I wasn’t noticeable in any of the many reflective surfaces however I didn’t release until computer playback how noticeable the reflection of the camera/tripod was in some shots. Its easy to forget just how amazingly wide a fisheye is! 180 degrees is a lot to cope with and I should have been more observant at filming/review time.

After reviewing the final clip several times (and showing it to some people) I’m not entirely sure that the reasons for his paranoia are as apparent as I thought they were. There seems to be some confusion as to why. I think the little plastic bags of cup and spoon etc all brought in from his home weren’t as obvious as they would have been if I’d have left in the unloading of them all from the bag.

Apparently (according to my husband) you can tell I’m not a tea drinker because no one puts the milk in first when using a teabag *sigh*.

What I learnt for next time:

Having an actor is harder than just filming myself and what’s around me at the time (re Assignment 1 feedback). So superb planning and adjustments are essential.

I need to get my storyboard reviewed by a tea drinking consultant (or whatever equivalent for the next project) to check for plot holes (re the milk first issue). Also, my backstory should be much simpler.

The posits were a great idea but I also need a shot by shot tick list while filming to be sure not to be distracted. It worked out well this time because I wrote one just before we started filming but next time I should be doing this earlier in the process.

More border patrol on footage. I should review the footage on the camera much more carefully (even when on a time budget) for unwanted things showing in frame.

Take control of the focus and DOF settings because its not always obvious on small screen playback when things have flickered.

Install a little bubble spirit level into my hotshoe while filming for straighter shots. And research what kind of reasonably priced rigs are available for making steadier hand held shots.

When planning, don’t under estimate how long simple things (like walking into a room or filling a kettle) take to complete. Shoot them several times from different angles for extra cutting options or just plan for them to be a major time sink and really make sure they are essential to the story.

Filming takes MUCH more time than I’d anticipated. 1 hour filming time for every 1 minute of intended footage sounds about right, this would allow more time for reviewing the footage for each shot more carefully.