Beautiful Illusion

This film came about when myself and co-director Jessica Taylor were approached to film a short ballet for a graphic design student at our university. The student, Olivia Ratcliffe, was an ex-professional ballet dancer who unfortunately had to retire due to injury. However, she decided to put on her ballet shoes again for her project where the aim was to show the beauty and the pain of ballet. The project started out as a website (which you can view here), but she also wanted a film making to accompany the website, which is where we came in.

We shot the film in 4 hours, which required us filming it again and again simply going up and down on the tracks which we shot it off. It was an interesting and fun experience and is our first collaborative dance film, which also gave us the inspiration for our upcoming film The Ferryman. This film is quite different to The Ferryman as we didn’t have any influence on the choreography, however, it did help us when it came to thinking about how we wanted to film The Ferryman. So for us it was an essential film for us to make as it has provided us with so much more knowledge and wisdom for us to apply to our own film, where we have had a creative input on everything.

With Beautiful Illusion, the music that the dance was choreographed and performed to was written by Max Richter. However, this music was copyrighted and so for us to submit our film to festivals we would have had to get permission to use the music which would have cost us quite a bit. Instead we decided to get original music written for the dance after we had finished editing it. The music we had written for us was by Rebecca-Kate Leach who we think has done a wonderful job. It’s an approach I would use again, but not in a rush, as I like having the music that you will use in the end there at the beginning, as otherwise you can become too attached to the original music. For The Ferryman we managed to secure our music before we started choreographing so for our next film the music will be the same in the end as it was at the beginning. But we shall have to see if it makes a difference to the finished piece.

We have also entered a one minute version of the film into the competition which you can view here.

If you want to know more about Beautiful Illusion I have created a page specific for the film containing a synopsis as well as cast and crew bios which you can view here.

Be Proud Of Your Work

Last months post talked about how I was trying to break out of being type cast as the sound man. This months post is about being re-type cast as the sound man!

Back in October I took up the role of sound yet again for the films Subject 27 and Blind.

You can read the script for Subject 27 here: Subject 27 (Script)

Now the films are both finished. Shooting on them was pretty much back to back for me and so I was going solid, doing long days everyday for about two weeks. And we also had a set to build for Subject 27.

On set, Blind was much easier as there were a lot less shots to do and so more time was spent over them. Subject 27 though had lots more shots, as well as the make-up to do which took up a lot of time, therefore it was much more of a stressful shoot with everyones annoyance levels much higher!

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Both shoots went well though and then it came to the edit. With Blind I never actually touched the timeline. There were a couple of FX that were needed which I went out and got, but otherwise I just left it to the editor to get on with. So with Blind there wasn’t really any post-production work I had to do. On Subject 27 though it was a completely different story. The Director (Jack Bass) and Editor (Matt Hunt) were in the edit suite from November working hard on the film. I only did one day in the edit suite in December and that was just to play around with some sounds I’d got. I then came back in the middle of January with the Director and Editor and that’s when my post-production job really began. I worked pretty solidly on the film again, this time for about two and a half weeks. Myself and the Editor would both be working on the film on two separate computers which meant that we were able to work much more efficiently. I had a lot of post sound to do and so started to tackle it scene by scene, which is definitely the right thing to do.

Gradually I built up the layers on the soundtrack until myself and the director where happy. Then I went through the film again and again two audio lines at a time mixing the levels for the final version of the film.

The film was 95% done apart from the opening sequence. I’d already done some sound design for the opening sequence, but it was only a couple of days before the deadline for the film that the titles and images for the sequence had been done. I therefore had to create the sound for the opening sequence the day before the hand in date. I exported the visual sequence onto my own MacBook Pro where I worked on the sequence in Logic. Up until now I had been editing the sound on the university computers where we edited. I went through my favourite sound library website SoundSnap and picked out a number of sounds that I wanted and thought I could manipulate well. I then also recorded the Director saying a few lines which he came up with and processed his voice so that it would not sound like him. It was then a matter of adding these sound to the timeline I had on Logic. I spent a few hours choosing the sounds I wanted, placing them where I wanted and synching them up to the image.

I then had to mix my mini timeline and then export it as one audio file to import into onto the master timeline on the university’s computer, and then import and mix the single file so that the levels were consistent with the sound in the rest of the film.

The film was then finally finished after some very last minute work and here is the end product.

I think the film was a success and I’m very proud of the work that we’ve all done on it. I also think that whilst I was trying to break away from being type cast as the sound man I’ve done my best piece of sound design to date, and so might have shot myself in the foot a bit there in that regard. But oh well, I’m proud of the work I’ve done and come to realise now that my directing work is something I’ll have to pursue on the side.

As for Blind, I shall upload that film next month, and I also have some behind the scenes photos and a little behind the scenes video to show as well.

In terms of my other projects, myself and co-director Jessica Taylor have been working on a ballet short called Beautiful Illusion. We’ve done three out of our two shoots for the film, but have unfortunately had a bit of a relapse. The gallery where we did the first two shoots has now changed the artwork that is on display, and we still have one shoot left. Fortunately we only need close ups of the ballet dancer and so hopefully you won’t actually be able to see the artwork which will mean we will be able to intercut it with the stuff we already have. Otherwise it might be a case of having to reshoot the stuff we already have. We’re really pleased with the stuff we’ve already shot so it would be a shame to have to reshoot it all. Either way we should hopefully have finished shooting and editing by the end of the month and then it is just the graphics and the music to do, before we will be able to enter it into some film festivals. Hopefully Subject 27 and Blind will also make the festival circuit as it would be great if just one of them got recognised. In the mean time here is some slow motion test footage we shot of the ballet.

Since I’ve now taken down the John Stewart Talk (Part 2), which I posted last month, from my SoundCloud account, to make space for other things, I’ve uploaded the file here instead, so you should still be able to download it for the next few months.

Here is the next and last one in the series though:

Black Swan

Black Swan is a dance film and dance films are very close to my heart, because ever since I was little I’ve always had a dance in my head. Now dance is a great means to express yourself and as I’ve been watching Got To Dance on Sky 1 (Sunday’s at 6pm), I’ve found it really interesting hearing the stories of kids, teenagers, even adults and how dance helps them express themselves and the emotions they can feel. So how do you express that feeling onto the screen. It is something that I have been fascinated with, and I guess you might even say become obsessed with. There have been many many dance films and very rarely do I see a dance that I think, wow that was filmed amazingly. Every single moment in Black Swan was like that though for me, it was just incredible. The opening scene was by far my favourite. The camera moves so quickly and yet you can still see the dancers, it really is like you become part of the dance. And what I particularly loved about the scene was the use of CGI as Natalie Portman‘s partner in the opening sequence transforms from a human into a demon. This is the sort of thing I’ve always had in my head and yet I’ve never seen anyone else do until now.

However, whilst I would say that Black Swan is the closest film that exists to perfection when it comes to my vision of a dance film the actual dancing isn’t filmed that well because the camera does not focus on the hands, the feet or even the dancers body, but instead focuses on their face. And their face being Natalie Portman’s, because her character (Nina) is who the film is all about. And her performance is absolutely sublime, and in my opinion is her best performance to date. The film is all about what she feels and what is going on in her head and so the main focus on the dance scenes (and throughout the rest of the scenes) is her face. And yet still I find that the dance scenes are shot incredible due to the movement of the camera, as it really gave me a sense that I was dancing.

The film is basically a literal telling of the story of Swan Lake, and it reminds me of the David Lynch film Inland Empire, because the characters in Black Swan are rehearsing for a performance of Swan Lake whilst the actual story of Swan Lake begins to happen to Natalie Portman’s character. Similar to Inland Empire in that Laura Dern‘s character is acting in a movie and as the production goes on the events of the movie begin to happen to her. Fortunately for the audience Black Swan is a lot easier to understand then Inland Empire!

I’ve only seen two other films by Darren Aronofsky, Requiem For A Dream which I really didn’t enjoy and The Fountain which was simply amazing in my opinion. It seems in terms of themes that Aronofsky has returned more to his roots with drugs and sex being a strong motif throughout Black Swan, and what I enjoyed about the film was that he kept his surreal sort of style as well. 90% of The Fountain is a pretty normal story, but the end can be quite confusing if you think about it too much because it is quite abstract. Well whilst I wouldn’t say Black Swan is confusing there is an element of the abstract world in the film, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

There are horror elements to the film as it progresses and whilst some people I’ve spoken to have said they are too over dramatic I found that they were just right because they are meant to be over dramatic. Scored by classical music by Clint Mansell and using themes from Tchaikovsky‘s original ballet score, brings a whole other level of dramatics to the scenes which I thought spoke beautifully of ballet itself, which the film is representing. It is the film version of a ballet and so must be dramatic.

Overall it was an amazing film which is up for several Oscar Nominations, including Best Picture which I think personally it should win. But then I love dance so I’m bias!

If you’re interested in sound design then here is a short featurette on the sound of Black Swan.