Home For Christmas

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Last week a bunch of friends got together a made a little Christmas movie. We had some borrowed equipment and sound gear rented for a commercial job. With a few hours notice everyone volunteered their time, and devised and shot this film over a single day. I’ve edited it together over Christmas.

This has been a shitty year for so many reasons. But it’s also the year Ireland has started waking up to homelessness, depression and mental illness. So many of us live such precarious lives, surviving cheque to cheque, rent payment to rent payment, freelance job to dole cheque. Telling ourselves we’ll be OK. That it could never happen to us. We know we ignore homelessness, we allow it to go on. We don’t know how we can really help. Help people living alongside us, who have nothing but what we decide to give them. Too often we give too little.

Please support Home Sweet Home and initiatives like it. Pressure our politicians to provide permanent housing for all our citizens. We really can end the crisis of homelessness. We hope you like our little movie, and have a great Christmas.

Staring Sebastian Connellan, Dominik Turkowski, Danii Byrne, Paul Gay, and Patrick O’Brien. With sound by James Van De Waal. Directed by Gareth Stack.

Special thanks to Orla Mc Nelis and Sebastian Dooris.

Ray Brown – Staten Island

As a quick turnaround creative project this weekend, I headed back to the Concrete Cathedral, in the company of actor James O’Connor. We made a super quickie video for my friend Ray Brown’s 2012 single Staten Island. Ray recently visited Dublin and performed a number of gigs with Cal Folger Day and Myles Manley. We shot on a borrowed 5D Mark ii, and edited the results in a few hours on the free Davinci Resolve package. Davinci is the video equivalent of Reaper on the audio side – effectively free, lightning fast, quirky to use but feature rich and powerful. There’s a lot to be said for rapid, limited scope projects which build a few concrete skills and fuel creative expression. This project gave me lots of hands on experience with the full frame Canon, and colour grading in post on Davinci – something that’s way less intimidating on a short fun project. Thanks to Shane Conneely who graciously lent us his camera and lenses (85mm, 14mm ultrawide, and 24-105mm zoom).

Spaghetti D*ck

Just over a year ago, I went along to an event run by Dublin Filmmaking Collective Kino D. Kino Kabaret’s are weekend long filmmaking jamborees. Anyone no matter their level of experience can take part in making a movie – usually lots of short movies. That weekend I helped out with a bunch of short and silly movies, doing everything from acting to sound. In the sleep deprived downtime between shoots I wrote a daft little script. We scrounged some time together and filmed it, my short – ‘Spaghetti D*ck’. Flash forward a few weeks and shot through with enthusiasm for zero budget filmmaking we remade this absurd flick in super ultra mega full colour hd. I’m a big fan of whimsey, and a movie about a man whose equipment is primarily pasta certainly qualifies. Making this silliness helped convince me that writing and directing films was something I could actually imagine doing. It introduced me to a bunch of incredibly talented actors and filmmakers I still count as friends today. Hope you like it. If not, suck a spaghetti d*ck.

Cheap video equipment for sketches and short films

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Over the past few months I’ve been working on ideas for sketches and short movies. Radio is great and all, but the audience for radio comedy is limited and for radio drama, practically non-existent. With that in mind, I’ve been developing some scripts and shooting a couple of test shorts – one of which has made it out into the wild. I’m lucky enough to have some extremely talented friends who’ve amassed cameras, lights and sound equipment and aren’t afraid to use them. That said, I always feel nervous using other folks equipment – if it breaks I’ll have to replace it, and feel awful, and I still won’t have my own camera. Plus, you always learn more when using (and having to pick) your own equipment.

After a few months of ferocious poverty, I’ll soon have a trickle of cash coming in from my latest drama series for Newstalk (more to follow on that, mucho excited). Now’s the time to pick up some very basic video recording equipment. Ideally I’m looking for an easy to use setup that has non-awful picture quality, steady shots, usable battery life, and decently long recording time. Since we’ll be recording sketches, it needs to work in ‘low light’ (in other words, inside a normal house, without additional lighting). And since I work in ‘the arts’ I can’t spent too much on the whole dealio. After buying a bunch of crap over the years I’ve figured out two things 1) you really need to try before you buy, or failing that ask people who regularly use the same stuff 2) the ‘best’ equipment is the equipment you can best use, not what can theoretically do the most in perfect conditions in the hands of an expert. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sat around on film sets while the DOP fussed with a camera and the light died – complex camera setups make simple things very much harder and longer to make.

I already have a decent sound recorder (the Zoom H6) and mic (Rode NTG2) , which I use for radio work. I also own a cheap DSLR I picked up in the states a couple of years ago – the Canon Rebel T4i (known in Europe as the 650D). Right now I only have the ‘kit lens’ it comes with, which sucks for video, especially in low light. The Canon has a whole bunch of limitations. It doesn’t like to record for more than about ten minutes at a go. The battery dies after maybe 30 minutes of video. It’s slow to focus, even with a good lens. And it’s relatively complicated to use. So here are the options I considered.

Options

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1) GoPro Hero 4 Black
+ cheap steady rig available
+ lots of shooting possibilities due to tiny size / simplicity
+ tiny and easily set up
+ up to 2 or 3 hours battery life
+ numerous accessories (e.g.: batteries, mounts, mic inputs, super long 12 hour batteries)
– really expensive, distortion needs to be corrected in software
– video is washed out

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2) Better video equipment for the Canon – a better film lens, better memory card, longer lasting batteries, and a cheap ‘steadicam’
+ by far the best video quality
+ cheap batteries and lenses available
+ cheap steady rigs available
– much more complicated use
– slow to focus
– limited shot length before overheating / hitting the camera’s file size limit
– good lenses are expensive

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3) A point and shoot camera or camcorder
+ reasonable image quality
+ relatively inexpensive
+ really easy to use
+ reasonable sound in the camera
– point and shoots have very low battery life
– difficult to steady
– looks like video
– difficult to import video for editing

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4) A cheap android phone with a good camera
+ cheapish
+ also a phone
– limited memory (32 gig max)
– shooting a lot could wear out the phone
– battery life
– cameras aren’t good until you hit a pretty pricey phone
– phones break, crash, and get grumpy when wet.

After chatting with a bunch of friends, including camera geeks and comedians who regularly shoot sketches and shorts, this is what I’ve decided to pick up.

What to buy

1 * Sony HDR-CX405 camcorder – 215.00
– This tiny camcorder seems to work unusually well in low light, gets a couple of hours video on one battery, it can transfer video via wifi, and has very good depth of focus and good onboard sound. Hopefully it’ll be perfect for simple sketches.

1 * Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens – 134.00
– This ‘nifty fifty’ lens has a really low f.stop, which the camera geeks assure me means it’s great for low light. It’s also got a quiet STM motor, for less jarring and noisy focusing. It’ll help me learn to shoot video better on the DSLR, and perhaps be good enough for making shorts – although issues with staying in focus, and more complex setup means we’ll probably not use it for sketches, at least at first.

2 * replacement T4i batteries – 20.00
– Cheap, if slightly dodgy batteries should greatly extend recording time on the Canon.

1 * 64GB Class 10 SD card – 35.00
– A cheap if slightly low spec memory card. Should be fast enough for video recording on both the Sony camcorder and the Canon camera.

1 * low cost steady cam rig – 100.00
– This ultra cheap steady cam thingamejig is a little bulkier and heavier than I’d like, but it should work with both the camera and camcorder, and let us do handheld shots without too much horrific shakiness.

Thanks

Thanks to Sean Burke, Seb Dooris, Shane Conneely and Orla McNelis for all the advice.

Kino D – Culture File

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Kino is an international filmmaking movement that’s been running in cities around the world since 1999. The concept is simple – aspiring filmmakers of all levels of experience, meet over a weekend; write, direct, edit and screen films all in a two day blitz. Over time the movement has expanded to included week long ‘international kabaret’ events. The next of these is planned from July 12th – 19th in Dublin. I’ve participated in two Kino events, doing everything from writing / directing to sound, acting and even craft services. What’s unique about the event is the openness to filmmakers of all levels of experience and none. Camera people who work professionally in the industry, rub shoulders with first time actors and vice versa. It’s a full immersion introduction to the minimum viable product of a film. If you’re interested in taking part, you’ll find all the info you need at Kino’s facebook page. Back in March I attended one of the Dublin Kino D weekends, and spoke to Kino D founder George Hooker, as well as a bunch of enthusiastic attendees. Take a listen.

Download: ‘Kino D’


Tracks used

Xiu Xiu – Clowne Town
Jason Shaw – Thingamajig