Creating a short film in six days is a challenge and doing it with a team of volunteers who have never worked on a film makes it even more interesting. The Spirit of Christmas, starring yours truly (sounds weird since I’ve been behind the scenes the majority of my life), was a great experience and a fun project.
On the first night of shooting, I took time to teach each crew person their job and the minimal basics of how to use the equipment. The sound guy was a business manager who recently joined his church staff. He was familiar with cables from playing music, but had never worked with a shotgun mic or digital recorder. He did a good job and I only had to digitally paint out three mic drops from the frame.
The cinematographer had a photography background, but had never shot a video or film in his life. Since our equipment didn’t have masks, zoom control or follow focus, I only taught him how to shoot a 2.35:1 frame with a 1.77:1 camera. I assumed his photo skills included composition, so I didn’t go over how to frame the talent.
The crew was extremely small due to last second schedules and since there are rarely any gaffers or best boys among volunteers who have never made films, we decided to use all natural lighting. In fact, the crew was so small that we didn’t even bother with reflectors. The entire film was shot in extremely low light conditions and the camera seemed to keep the image viewable.
The talent had a wide range of natural abilities from high school drama experience to, well…sales experience. The more confident actors spoke loudly, while those who were unsure of the situation used a softer voice. I encouraged speaking at a relaxed level and allowing the equipment to do the hard work. This coupled with the post mix helped balance the extremes.
Over all, the work accomplished by these first timers was wonderful. They all shared their enthusiasm for the project and we had a lot of fun. It was a great educational experience for all involved and most of them want to do it again in January.
My education came from the sad attempts I made in trying to figure out if my performance was good or bad. I was desperate at times for feedback, but we weren’t using a playback system. If we had, it would’ve been a lengthy process to double-check everything I did.
Instead, anytime I wondered about my performance, I turned to the crew for their opinion. They were nothing but encouraging, which made me wonder if I did well or if they couldn’t tell the difference. After all, what the camera sees and what crewmembers see can be very different.
When the film premiered yesterday to a group of 200 plus people, everyone raved about the performance of the woman and the child. I had several people come up to me and volunteer for my next training short, but I only recalled one comment about my performance. The rest of the comments were positive affirmation for the success that this beginning team of filmmakers created.
Being used to working behind the scenes, I wasn’t worried about the lack of acting comments that I received, but I did wonder how I got roped into playing the lead when I hadn’t signed up for it. Although, I felt pretty good about my first lead role. Hmm, or did I? (I sound just like an actor second guessing his performance.)
Here’s the film for your enjoyment…