264MC – Short Film Evaluation

The Small Hours is a collaborative group piece made by G5 (Group 5) Productions, the team consisting of myself and nine others. I had some thoughts before initially finding a group that I’d like to try and work in an area of expertise that I hadn’t really utilised before, and fortunately I was able to find a group that allowed me to operate the camera as my role – and considering I’d usually avoided actually filming in favour of lighting, sound or other jobs, this was definitely an expansion of my personal camera skills, looking back at how I performed at the start of this module.

My role within G5 Productions relates heavily to the practical video production of The Small Hours, and I believe that as my camera skills have developed, this will be reflected in our final product, as myself and the director of photography have worked closely throughout the past month in planning and executing shots to create a quality short, filled with creative technical elements, which will be evidenced in part within a small ‘behind the scenes’ mini-documentary that will feature our work behind the camera and accompany the film itself. Additionally, I think that one of the many practical successes of the film is the scene planning achieved by the trio of myself, the DOP and the actor – as Peter D Marshall said; ‘Blocking is the first, and most crucial, aspect of this 5-part sequence’ (Marshall 2010). This worked because of our actor’s background in theatre and our emphasis on blocking after noting the importance from many articles and books provided, resulting in well shot scenes in the final piece. Dawkins and Wynd suggest that there are some key components to creating a thoroughly good short film, those being; a story worth telling, convincing actors with credible dialogue and appropriate locations/costumes/props (Dawkins/Wynd 2010:241). Although I had little involvement with the editing of the script, we’ve provided an interesting and intriguing story that generally avoids the pitfalls of typical clichés while following a standard linear story structure, starting with the exposition followed by the climax, then the resolution – which then links into the second point highlighted. Looking back, we were incredibly privileged to have been able to find the talented actor Kesser Hussein, who aside from learning his lines inside out methodically, brought an incredible realism to our work as his dialogue spoken felt so unbelievably genuine. This is shown even further, because Kesser’s character actually has very little conversation with anybody else other than an unresponsive child, making his speech more like personal monologues, which some actors may struggle to do convincingly without others to exchange with, so our focus is purely on him. To conclude Dawkin’s and Wynd’s point, our use of locations works well for the film’s overall atmosphere, and especially in Beckett Park (Northampton) where we were able to find exactly what the original script had described and more. This was beneficial to the film, as we were able to film the scenes initially written by Julia Viljanen, but with our own artistic preferences involved, as we’d decided that we wanted to convey visually that The Small Hours was set in a dark city which we were able to successfully represent in the background of most of the canal-side shots due to the other side of the water housing some construction sites. Alongside some minor features that added little details, such as flickering streetlights, benches and a generally scenic area, we also benefitted from using a well-furnished house in most of our early shots, as it enhances the feeling of realism and it is aesthetically better viewing, rather than just plain student housing, for example.

Needless to say, it wasn’t all smooth sailing and there were definitely issues with the shoot that ultimately affected the final product. I know that it’s a cliché of self-criticisms, though from this heavily team reliant project, I have relearnt the value of a whole team communicating truthfully with each other, as we’d encountered issues that could have been easily avoidable with a well place conversation. For example, lack of communication with the family of the director resulted in some of the original plans working inadequately, which therefore limited the time we had to shoot with the child actor – then leading on to new negative impacts as our timetables became constrained causing some footage to become unusable. In some respect, lack of communication within the group has had knock-on effect involving the final product, as there was little communication between the editor and other members; and while the film still reflects about two months of quality work, it isn’t what some people had imagined in terms of ordering, as the editor couldn’t possibly know. I personally think that the reasons behind this are that group members didn’t want to appear confrontational and pushy, therefore letting some things slide which aren’t appropriate nor suitable for the film. I’ve also felt that there may have been some post-production issues involving my role as camera operator, as the issue was raised that the ISO was too high in some scenes, having then being lowered and resulting in some scenes looking darker in the rough cut, even though I personally would have preferred a higher ISO for shooting darker scenes.

To conclude positively, I think that my main success on The Small Hours is that I’ve accumulated a massive increase to my camera skills, from starting this project with little to no knowledge of the Black Magic Ursa, to being able to use it confidently and professionally (As noted by the actor) in a filming environment by the time of our shoot. Finally, there are also noted issues that I would attempt to remedy for our next shoot, such as the importance of good scheduling, cast and crew morale, then communication between important roles ultimately.

Bibliography

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