The Making of “Steampunk Neverland: Episode 5 – “Forever.” A Film Director’s Journey (Production)

by Peter D. Marshall

The Project: The Entertainment Business Management (EBM) program of the Vancouver Film School (VFS) is in production on their third Compendium Series called “Steampunk Neverland.” These 5 high-end special FX short films (5 – 9 minutes) are being created for distribution into an interactive digital magazine.

“Steampunk Neverland” is a version of Peter Pan’s Neverland re-imagined with Steampunk technology. I directed the last film in the series called “Forever” which depicts the final battle between Hook and Pan.

I will be using this blog as my weekly journal to demonstrate what a director goes through during the three production phases of a film. My goal with this journal is to put you in the passenger seat with me and give you an insider’s view of how this short, low budget film was made – as it happens!

Please check out:
(1) “Steampunk Neverland – Forever” Overview
(2) “Steampunk Neverland – Forever” Pre-Production


(3) PRODUCTION

Friday, February 4, 2011

The big day! (And when I mean big, I’m not kidding.) Here are the logistics for this shoot: 6 page script; 4 sword fights; 35 set-ups on my shot list (with 2 cameras) and one 14 hour shooting day.

NOTE: The entire film was shot hand-held with two Red cameras. There were several reasons for this. First: this film is an action piece and hand-held shots help create that edgy feeling you can’t get from a steady frame. Second: speed. I had over 30 set-ups (and 4 sword fights) to accomplish in 14 hours. If I shot this film with the traditional dolly and tripod, I never would have finished my day.

The call time was 9:00. I arrived at 8:30 to oversee the art department as they dressed the set. At 9:00, Arun (1stAD) called the cast and crew together for a safety meeting. I then blocked the first part of the sequence so the crew could see where everything was going to take place. (The film is actually one long sequence so I divided it into two parts for ease of shooting.)

At 9:30, Vince (DOP) began lighting the set. The cast went back to hair and make-up. When they were done, Braun started to rehearse the sword fights with the actors.

By 11:30, we had out first camera rehearsal and started shooting soon after that. The first four shots were with the A-Camera only. We then blocked our first action piece. This is where we started to use our second camera.

By 3:00 we were suppose to break for lunch but we were now behind schedule (not unusual.) The decision was made to get two more shots before lunch which would clean up the Hook and Tink scene. This meant we could start a new scene right after lunch. BUT…just as we were about to roll, the fire alarm went off in the building and we had to evacuate the premises. By the time the Vancouver Fire Department gave us the all clear, we had stood outside for 30 minutes. Can’t shoot now. Time to go for lunch!

TIP: Acting Coach: Trilby Jeeves was also on set with us as an Acting Coach. After she gave the Buffoonery Acting exercises to the cast last Tuesday, the actors trusted her instincts and listened to her when she stepped in to give some final performance notes.

As a director, it is sometimes very valuable to have an acting coach on set with you. Since you are also involved with all the shots and other logistics, having someone you trust (and the actors trust) just concentrate on the actors performances is very valuable – especially when you have to shoot fast!

4:30. Back from lunch. We are now at least 1.5 hours behind schedule, so it’s time to cut some shots if we are going to make our day. After a discussion with the producers, we all agreed to lose the last VFX scene. This was a high angle, lock-off shot of Pan on the ship all by himself. We also had planned to shoot a plate shot of the empty ship. These shots were to be used as part of a VFX shot. We figured we could now do this scene either all VFX or all animation.

8:30. Dropped another shot and simplified one of the sword fights. 11:30 wrap is getting closer. Clock is ticking.

11:00. Almost done. On the last sword fight but we still need a little more time to finish. The crew is moving at top speed – a well oiled machine 🙂

11:30. Last shot completed (on Hook.) All the action and dialogue for the film is in the can! Just need two very important insert shots now.

11:50. DONE! Wrapped! Finished!

What a journey for everyone involved. All the sword rehearsals and the cast rehearsals before shooting has paid off. And all the prep work with the DOP and the 1stAD created an organized and pleasant shoot. And all the prep work I did enabled me to communicate effectively with the cast and the crew.

Shooting Action Scenes

Every action sequence in a film has its own particular creative demands and logistic needs. Because there are so many different ways to shoot film action, I will go into detail here on what our particular needs were.

With this film, the action scenes involved 4 different sword fights where each fight had a unique look and feel about them. This meant we needed to shoot each sword fight using slightly different camera angles.

The first fight took place between Hook and Tink. Because of a major story point, this fight had to be shot totally from Pan’s POV – which meant I could not shoot coverage on either actor. But to help tell the story (from the audience’s POV) I also needed closer shots of the action as well as Pan’s full frame POV.

Here’s how we shot this sequence. As Pan was watching Hook and Tink fight, we shot him in a MS looking at the action off-camera. I then shot another angle of Pan watching – but this time it was a TCU of his eyes. Since this film is based in fantasy and not in reality, this meant I could have B-Camera shoot Pan’s “closer POV” of Hook and Tink with a longer lens, while A-Camera shot the “normal” wider POV.

This technique is what I call a “movie POV” which enables the audience to see the action closer than normal from a particular character’s POV. By showing the TCU of Pan’s eyes as he watched the fight off-camera, we can now cut closer to the Hook and Tink action –  and it will still be a believable POV for the audience.

The second fight took place between Hook on Pan on the Middle Deck of the ship. Hook basically “plays” with Pan and Pan realizes he can’t compete, so he runs down the stairs to the Lower Deck. I wanted this scene to be shot simply and with very little coverage.

In this fight, I decided to use two, 2-Camera raking shots. We started by placing both cameras together on one side of the action behind Hook. B-Camera had a Full Shot (a wide over) of Hook to Pan (facing the camera.) A-Camera was beside B-Camera and stayed on a MS of Pan. We shot three takes.

We then changed camera positions. We were now behind Pan looking at Hook who was now facing the camera. B-Camera had a Full Shot (a wide over) of Pan to Hook. A-Camera was beside B-Camera and stayed on a MS of Hook. We shot three takes.

The third fight was the big one and it required more coverage than the other 3 fights. In this scene, Pan and Hook talk for a half-page, then Hook charges Pan. They circle each other and end up in opposite positions. Hook furiously fights Pan and he eventually knocks Pan’s sword out of his hand. Pan stumbles backwards and falls down. Hook starts to walk toward him.

For the sword fight part of this scene, I used two, 2-Camera shots again but in different positions. A-Camera was on the Lower Deck starting in an OS Hook to Pan. When the fight started, Hook and Pan changed places so A-Camera was now in an OS Pan to Hook. B-Camera was on the Middle Deck shooting a MS profile shot of each actor by “panning quickly back and forth” between each actor during the fight. This “swish pan” technique helped create the frenzied and unstable feeling during any kind of fight. We shot three takes.

We then switched A-Camera to the other side to now start behind Pan. (OS Pan to Hook for the beginning of the scene.) When the fight started, Hook and Pan changed positions, so A-Camera was now over OS Hook to Pan (with Pan facing the camera). B-Camera stayed on the Middle Deck and focused on closer shots of the swords hitting each other. This gave me a total of 4 angles to choose from in the editing room.

The forth fight was when Pan disarms Hook, punches him in the face with the hilt of his sword and then gets the best of him. The scene starts with Pan laying on his back on the deck watching Hook walk toward him. Pan gets inspired when he hears Tink (in VO). He picks up a sword, charges at Hook and quickly disarms him.

I wanted to shoot this fight so we could focus on each actor’s face to see the transformation each character went through without them worrying about the fight choreography. For this fight, I decided to use only two anglesfrom each character‘s POV.

We shot Hook’s POV first. With Vince on A-Camera and Braun holding Hook’s sword beside the camera, Pan ran towards the camera – from a FS into a MS. With two swords flashing and swirling in front of the camera, Pan then “punched” the lens with the hilt of his sword to end the shot.

We then shot Pan’s POV. Again, with Vince on A-Camera and Braun holding Pan’s sword beside the camera, they started with Hook in a FS. They then ran towards Hook into a MS. With two swords swirling in front of the camera, we saw Hook react to the fight. We did this several times. We then did a pick-up for the punch of Hook at the end. Pan came beside the camera and he then “punched” Hook in the face with the hilt of his sword to end the shot.

Please continue to:
(4) “Steampunk Neverland – Forever” Post-Production

 

STILL PHOTOGRAPHS: By permission of Chara Berk Photography, Samantha Green and Trilby Jeeves.

 

Sign up now for your own FREE monthly subscription to “The Director’s Chair” filmmaking ezine and get Part One of my 220 page Film Directing Multi-Media Online course, “The Art and Craft of the Director Audio Seminar.

Previous post:

Next post: