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Guest Post: I just completed my first short film in 18 months by Cal Thomson

5/23/2015 ISO 1200 Magazine 0 Comments

I have just completed my first short film in 18 months. That’s right, I’m a film-maker and haven’t made a new film in a year and a half. That’s not to say I haven’t been working. In fact, the contrary – I’ve been so focused on becoming a successful freelancer over the past year and a half that I simply haven’t had the time to work on projects outside of those that pay the bills and develops my business.

I’ve had a great year. I’ve worked on music videos, TV shows, commercials, hidden camera shows, sports TV, and corporate video. Every day is different and I’m very thankful I took the leap into self employment.

That being said, it was time for me to sink my teeth into something of my own, something that I had full creative control over.


I had originally written a 10 page horror script back in early 2014. I showed it to loads of other writers and even had a script editor review it and give feedback. All of them loved the idea and kept asking ‘When are you going to make this?’. That was when I panicked. I realised the film was rather ambitious for someone who hasn’t shot anything in so long. The film would have been at least 3 days shooting, including 2 night shoots, and weeks of editing. It would have involved prosthetics, big lighting rigs, and at least a couple of extra hands to help out. Not to mention the cost of renting kit, putting people up in hotels and paying for food (this is without paying people for their time).

That is when I decided to write something simpler, that could be accomplished in one day, with one actor, and see what happened. I wrote ‘Drive Safe’ in half an hour and developed it over the next few days.

I was heavily influenced by David F. Sandberg’s Light’s Out which is 120 seconds of pure horror with no dialogue. His film works in any language, and in today’s busy climate, where everyone has a million things to do, it seriously hits the horror ‘spot’ for people, in a very short amount of time.

Storyboards – Step back Picasso
I sent the script out to some eager crew members who had been talking about making ‘something’ and they all agreed to oneunpaid night shoot to help me out.

Now to find the actress to carry the film… With only one line of dialogue throughout the entire film I knew I needed an actress who could portray fear and confusion visually. I discovered Katie Burgess over twitter and arranged to meet for a coffee. We chatted about presenting work and Katie mentioned she enjoyed working on short films and has acted in 2 independent feature films. I sent over the script for Drive Safe and she loved it! We pencilled in a date to shoot a week later that fitted with the rest of the crew and I started on pre-production.

The next step for me,on any project, is to get the shots clear in my head and then down on paper in the form of storyboards. Storyboards are vital to show your crew on the day of shooting what you want and how you want to do it. It seriously saves time and means you don’t have to repeat yourself over and over, they’re also great to tick off as you move through the story. Nothing is worse than getting back to the edit suite to realise you’ve missed a pivotal shot somehow and you then have to edit around it (Thankfully this has never happen to me).


Directing the first scene of ‘Drive Safe’

This film was made with 5 crew members and one actress; There was myself (Director), Marco Fanton (Director of Photography), Katie Burgess (Lead Actress), Joseph Oldroyd (Camera Assistant), Ste Hull (Sound Recordist), Matt Hulme (Behind the Scenes/ Runner). I wanted to keep the crew small in order to be the most efficient. However, even though we each had our roles I specifically mentioned during a safety briefing that we are here to work on something potentially great and we’ll work as a team, everyone needed to chip in where necessary (I’m never too proud to hold a light or creak a door if that’s what the shot requires).

The crew couldn’t have been better on the day. We all met at 8pm at my house for a meet and greet, as some people had never met before so I knew it was important to break down any barriers and ensure that everyone felt comfortable. We shot ‘Drive Safe’ in May 2015, in Manchester, where the skies don’t go dark until 9.30pm onwards. This gave me a couple of hours to run through the story and give everyone a detailed brief of what I expected from them. Doing this meant when it came to shooting we would be as good team as possible.


Marco (Director of Photography) shooting with the Canon 6D, Rode Video Mic and Shoulder Mount

This film was shot with the Canon 6D, Tamron 24-70mm 2.8 and a couple of Samyang primes. The majority of the film was shot using a shoulder mount as it enabled Marco to follow the action, this in turn feels more immersive on screen.

Sound was recorded on the day using the Rode NTG2 and Zoom H4N. I knew I wanted to re-record the audio cleanly later. However, the on set recording was great reference audio and I did end up using it at certain points throughout the final film.

The film was lit with small battery powered LED panels as we were filming on the streets and didn’t have a permit. In the UK you don’t necessarily need a permit but I still didn’t want to draw unnecessary attention to ourselves by setting up huge HMI lighting. Also, to set up HMI lighting would have slowed the production down considerably.

No film shoot would be complete without a 4am wrap crew shot

Ste and Matt had to leave at 12.30pm due to their ‘real world’ commitments but I was very thankful for them giving up their evening.

Marco, Joe and myself soldiered on until 4am getting the final shots. In fact, the bulk of the film was shot between 1am and 3am.

This was when Katie really had a chance to show off her skills as an actress. She definitely didn’t disappoint. She took direction very well and delivered everything I asked of her. As I’m a camera operator by trade and not really a director I had to heavily rely on a good cast to get my mumbled direction onto screen. Katie was perfect for the role and I can’t wait to work with her again on future films.

We wrapped at 4am with very few hiccups during the shoot. I believe this was because of my detailed planning and the solid cast/ crew around me. We had a couple of scare moments, being out in the countryside at silly o’clock in the morning means you can’t help but hear noises. I think this real horror made the film even better!

Post Production

This started (as it always does for me) with backing up all raw footage. I then chucked everything onto Plural Eyes to sync the audio to the video.

Moments later I had a 2 hour long timeline with all my audio and video synced. This included all the Behind the Scenes video that we filmed alongside the main shoot. I like to edit in drafts and keep re-watching to amend mistakes or add slight tweaks, this process allows me to watch the film with fresh eyes at different times.

Foley recorded using Zoom H4N and Rode NTG2

I began on the edit in Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2o14 and by the end of the day I had a first cut sorted and could begin on audio. I re-recorded most of the audio in this film a few days later. Subtle foley sound effects like keys jingling, doors slamming and footsteps were all recorded by myself using the Zoom H4N and Rode NTG2. I then mixed these sound effects in the edit which makes for a much cleaner soundscape.

I had some minor visual effects to complete such as keying out the green screen of the phone and tracking the screen in mocha. I then added a glitch effect in After Effects and sound effect in Premiere. I did this as I needed the phone in the film to show no signal.

I graded Drive Safe in Premiere using the very powerful plugin film convert pro. I’m not a colourist by trade but I wanted the short film to look more like film than video. Film convert has some amazing built in presets that are very easy to change to your own liking.

Edited in Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2014

I then sent the final audio mix over to Ste Hull (sound recordist) to equalise the levels and add some subtle changes.

The last step for me was rendering the film off and beginning the huge marketing effort to get the film seen… After all whats the point in making a film if no-one sees it.

So why not check out the film here. Please feel free to comment, like and share the video. If you have any final questions then please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Stay tuned to see what happens next.

Original post via | Thanks friend for this amazing post.