The Breakdown (poster)
The Breakdown (film)
On this particular project, I decided to raise the bar and push the limits of my abilities. All my previous short films - if you can call them that - were mostly filmed without dialogue and little sound - just a piece of music over the top, so on this occasion, I wanted to introduce a small piece of scripted conversation, record wild sound, and add-in sound effects.
The idea was to make a short unofficial marketing video for Warrington and Vale Royal college: the college where I am not only a student but also a member of staff. I don’t know exactly where this idea spawned from but I know the idea came easily: The muse was smiling kindly on one late autumnal evening. The seed was planted and the project started to take root, and like any well-nourished seed, the idea soon began to grow and take on a life of its own. The idea was to have a woman - aged around 30 years old - who is stuck in a low-paid, mundane, monotonous job, and on one evening whilst driving home from work, the woman experiences a series of unfortunate events: firstly, she would suffer a blowout and her phone battery would die. She’d then have to head out in the biting cold in search of a telephone. The first place the woman would encounter would be Warrington and Vale Royal College. She would go in, use the telephone and while waiting to be collected, she’d read a course prospectus. The woman would then leave and the film would cut to the future where she had enrolled on to a course as a student, completed the course and used the newly attained experience and knowledge to start her own hairdressing business. A rags to riches story fuelled by coincidences and re-education
I spent the next couple of weeks writing the script for the film and putting together a shot list which contained over 100 shots. While still working on the pre-production, I was quietly contemplating actors. I needed a woman around 30 years of age and so I started to spread the word to family and friends; unfortunately, nobody wanted to do it. I then decided that it might be worth trying to secure a performing arts student from within the college. I quickly finished and polished the script, printed out a couple of copies and handed them to John, my tutor, who then passed them on to the performing arts department. A few weeks passed and John told me that there were a couple of students interested in the film. Brilliant, or so I thought - I left this at the back of my mind and decided it was time to start shooting the B-roll.
On one pleasant Saturday, I dug out my bicycle and headed out to scout for locations. I had a rough idea of a few places where I wanted to film but wanted to take some photographs and test footage just to be sure. A couple of hours and about 15 miles later, I had a series of ideal locations to shoot, although I knew that they might not pan out due to inadequate lighting. To be sure, I needed to shoot some test footage on the camera that I was going to be using while filming. With a few locations in the bag, I set off on the cycle home. With around two miles to go, my bicycle tyre suffered a puncture and I didn’t have my bag with me which contained a spare inner tube, pump and tools. My phone battery then died and thus, I had to push my bike home. Ironically, both these events take place in my film - coincidence, I thought, or maybe the black cat, a glitch in the matrix, a wink from the universe.
With the script, shot list, and shooting locations complete, it was time to grab a camera and start capturing some b-roll. For the first month of shooting, I wanted to get the easy bits out the way first. This way I would have the time to redo shots over and over again while also getting familiar with the Canon 90D camera - a far superior camera than my Osmo Pocket which I’d currently been using. This would get me into the swing of things before moving onto scenes which were more difficult and had to be shot quickly - such as scenes containing “actors”.
I booked out a camera, and over the next couple of weeks, I headed out to shoot the opening establishing shots of the film which included the town skyline, cars zipping down the motorway, and trains departing. To increase the production value of the film, I wanted shots with some sort of elevation. I’d already scouted the top of the Golden Square multistorey carpark and therefore knew I could get a few great-looking shots of the skyline. I was also aware there was going to be a full moon that weekend; it would look extremely cool to shoot the town skyline with a bulging moon rising from the horizon. For this shot, I opted to use the telephoto lens as it would make the moon appear larger. I did a quick search of what time the moon would be rising and prepared the equipment. I then headed out on a Sunday evening to get the desired shots. I arrived at the multistorey at around 6 pm. The place was desolate - not a single car parked on the highest level. I parked up and waited for the moon to rise. While sitting patiently, the music from the carpark speakers stopped and I heard a muffled voice come over the tannoy - “this is Cheshire police, stay where you are. ”Bleedin’ Brilliant”, I thought. I’m going to be arrested and investigated for terrorism or something along those lines. I waited for about 5 minutes - half expecting armed police to arrive - but there wasn’t a peep. I got out of the car, set up the tripod and shot about 30 seconds of the skyline, albeit without the moon. I packed up my stuff and quickly left.
I was still desperate for a shot of the moon so the very next day, after finishing work, I headed out. This time I swerved the multistorey and decided to go to one of the highest points in Warrington- Hill Cliff. The problem with this location is that the open hill face overlooks west and the moon was rising in the east , but I had little choice and thought maybe I’d get lucky. After waiting around for half an hour in a dimly lit cemetery, the moon was nowhere to be seen: I was about to give up, but as the light departed, I noticed a milky glow just beyond the treeline to the east. And sure enough, the moon and its tinted rusty face revealed itself. I couldn’t get a shot of the moon ascending the town skyline so I’d have to make do. I threw on the telephoto lens and proceeded to get as many shots as physically possible. I packed up and headed home to analyse the footage - which turned out to be superb. In one particular shot, I recorded around 90 seconds of footage, so I increased the speed of the video in post and ended up with a 10-second timelapse of the moon moving through the sky.
Next up, I needed a shot of cars zipping down the motorway. Again, I used the telephoto lens (to give the impression that the cars were tightly bunched together). I knew exactly which bridge I was going to use as I’d already had a gander at two Bridges while location scouting. I decided to go with the bridge that overlooked the brightest motorway. When I arrived at the location, there was nowhere to park. I found a country road about 2 minutes away. I dumped the car, walked over to the bridge and got the shots in the can. On my return to the car, there was anHGV trying to squeeze past my car - I’d only gone and parked in a slip road exit for HGV’s. I was embarrassed and felt bad for the driver. God knows how long he’d been there. Fortunately, he didn’t give me any abuse - which I would’ve quite rightly deserved. I decided to edit the footage when I got home but I wasn’t particularly happy with the shots so I returned the following night for another go - this time parking in a suitable location. I got the shots and went home.
Later that evening, I received a text from my friend, Chris. Chris said that Kye’s mum had messaged him asking if I was okay as she’d seen me staring into space whilst looking over the edge of a motorway bridge! I reassured Chris that I had no intention of jumping - I was just shooting scenes for my latest project!
The next night, I went out to capture some footage of trains departing Warrington central station. I set up my tripod and checked the train times online - there were at least 4 trains which were scheduled to pass me by. I waited for one hour but only managed to capture one shot due to the unreliability of Network Rail. I returned the next night - which was like Groundhog Day - and managed to capture a couple of shots.
College Facilities Montage
My b-roll of the town was coming together nicely and so I started planning on shooting the montage of the college facilities. Ideally, I needed the campus as empty as possible. I looked at my rota and saw that I had an upcoming shift on a Sunday that involved opening the site and being on hand for a miniature train exhibition. Perfect. The exhibition would be localised to the canteen - I could take out a camera and shoot scenes all across the campus with little distraction. I had most of the shots preplanned which included a shot of a skeleton lying on a chaise lounge in the theatre - draw me like one of your French girl's style! Whilst working on the Friday lockdown shift and after everybody had left - I moved down the chaise lounge from the top floor of the art and design building and carefully scooted over the skeleton from an office in the health and social care building. The shot was ready to go for Sunday morning.
On Sunday morning, I opened up the college, made sure the exhibition organisers had everything they needed and then went to book out a camera. I was planning on shooting these shots static but when I arrived at the recording studio, my tutor, Phil, had set up a tripod with castor wheels on plastic pipes. This would enable me to get some movement and dolly shots making the footage more cinematic. I bundled together the gear and went to the theatre to bag my first shot of the skeleton on the chaise lounge - which took a lot of time to set up, but there was no way that I’d get another opportunity to shoot this scene, so I spent the next two hours getting as much footage as physically possible. I altered the theatre lights, adjusted the camera ISO, and used multiple lenses. With so much footage - I was bound to have at least one that I was happy with. After replacing the chaise lounge, I wheeled the skeleton outside and went back into the theatre to collect the camera bag and that’s when I heard the crash. I looked over to see the skeleton face-planted into the pavement. I was absolutely furious with myself - how could I have been so stupid to leave it momentarily freestanding? I was already thinking about Monday morning - how was I going to explain why an expensive skeleton ended in a mangled mess? I quickly rushed over and picked it up. To my surprise, there wasn’t any visible damage - I let out a huge sigh of relief. I carefully took the skeleton back to where I got it from and for the next 6 hours or so, I went around the campus and filmed as much footage as I could.
When I arrived home later that evening, I had over 100 shots to sift through. I picked out the best ones and discarded the rest. I shot for around 8 hours that day and had around 1 minute of usable footage but it was footage that I was extremely happy with.
With my b-roll coming along nicely, it was time to start getting serious about finding an actor. John had told me that there was one performing arts student who was very interested in the role, and advised that after half-term, we sit down and discuss the project, but the more I contemplated the idea of using a performing arts student, the more problems arose. Firstly, the student didn’t drive - so over half term, I asked my daughter to run through some test footage in the car to see if I could make the car look like it was moving - the footage was okay but looked too contrived. The next problem I faced was that I would need the student to be available on short notice and to shoot scenes on multiple days at inconvenient times. I just couldn’t expect a complete stranger to put in those kind of hours. I also needed to be sure that the person in the role wasn’t going to let me down. I adjusted the script and replaced the woman with a man as I had a few reliable friends in mind. I rewrote the story which was now about a man who would still experience the same unfortunate events that transpire in the original script, except this time, his job would be a mall Santa Clause and after retraining at the college, becomes a successful businessman. I called my brother, explained the idea, and he agreed to be in it. This relieved a lot of my doubts and provided a boost of confidence that I could now pull it off.
Now that the story had been adjusted, I needed to acquire a Santa suit and borrow a car for the final scene. I’d looked on Amazon and found some Santa Clause costumes for around £50. I didn’t fancy splashing out that much just for the sole use of this film, but if I had to, then I would. Fortunately, my wife told me that my sister-in-law has one. My wife dropped her a text and she okayed it. For the beginning of the movie, I planned on using my ramshackle car; I was just missing a half-decent car for after the transformation. One day while at work, I got talking about the project with the electrician, Ellis. I talked about the film and mentioned that I was looking for a decent car. Ellis unexpectedly said that I could use his. We walked out to the carpark to take a look and sitting there was a top-of-the-range Mercedes Benz, AMG line. I couldn’t have planned to obtain a more exquisite car, even if I tried, although I was sceptical that he would actually turn up when I needed it.
With only three weeks till the Christmas break, I needed to start shooting the story arc of this film. I checked my rota; I was scheduled to work the late shift that coming Wednesday. I had the Santa suit ready to go, so I phoned Liam to see if he could shoot on Wednesday night. Unfortunately, Liam didn’t answer his phone, and after 3 missed calls, I received a short message which didn’t fill me with confidence. By Tuesday morning, I was starting to feel anxious. I wasn’t scheduled to be on the late shift again this year so if Liam let me down at the last minute, it could have completely thrown a spanner in the works. I decided to text my friend, Kurt. Kurt had starred in my previous short film and I’d already pitched the story to him which he liked. I also knew that if Kurt said he was going to be there, he was going to be there. I received a phone call at dinner time - Kurt was in.
I arrived at work on Wednesday afternoon. The plan was to lock the place down at 9 pm, have Kurt turn up at 9.15 pm, and shoot as much as possible within the hour. Mark - the college caretaker who I was on shift with - was happy to stay a bit later. At 6 pm, only night classes were taking place and the majority of the staff had left. Mark and I decided to walk through the scenes so I could get a rough idea of where to place the camera. I decided that I was going to shoot the same scene 4 times from 4 different angles and cut them together rather than shooting short individual shots.
Originally, there was only supposed to be Kurt in the scene but Mark offered to stand in as a security guard behind reception which would offer more production value. Kurt arrived at 9.15 pm and was waiting patiently in his car. Now usually everybody is off-site for 9.30 pm at the very latest, but unbeknownst to us, on this particular night, the restaurant at the college was fully booked until 10 pm. I was starting to feel anxious as I had my main actor sitting in his car dressed in a Santa, and the clock eating into my shooting time. At 9.45 pm the place was finally empty. I had the camera set up for the first shot and walked Kurt through what he had to do. I placed a microphone under a table and was just going to let it run through the entire shoot and piece it together later. As the first scenes commenced, there were a few hiccups with Kurt not knowing where he was supposed to be going but I just kept the camera rolling - knowing I’d be able to cut it together in post. Although in haste, the shoot continued rather smoothly and within 40 minutes, I had everything I needed. We quickly packed up, locked the college and left.
When I got home, adrenaline was still flowing and I was not at all sleepy. I put in 2/3 hours of editing and threw together a rough cut whilst laughing uncontrollably at Kurt dressed in the Santa suit. After watching the edited footage, I thought that the scene needed some dialogue. I had a bit of sound from the mic that I positioned underneath the table but it sounded amateurish and unusable. Over the next week, I went around the college recording the audio I needed. I recorded any ambient background noise, and sound effects in the sound booth and layered the two audio clips over one another. It wasn’t perfect but it was the best I had. The next day I wrote some small pieces of scripted dialogue and recorded Kurt and Mark regurgitating their lines. I recorded Mark's dialogue in the recording studio sound booth and Kurt’s in my car. I knew that the lines were not going to match the movement of their mouths but having that dialogue was better than having no dialogue and at the end of the day, I wasn’t making a Hollywood Oscar nomination, the assignment was all about learning and applying what i learned to future projects. While editing, I soon realised that the dialogue didn’t quite sound right - so I adjusted the levels to make it more natural. Next time, knowing what I know now, I will capture the dialogue in the location of the scene - giving the audio track a more natural feel.
I continued to edit over the coming days and had nearly the entire scene finished; the only shot I was missing was a short montage of a hot drink being dispensed from the coffee machine. On Monday night, after I finished work, I drove to Kurt’s to pick up the suit and headed to the college. I then asked Mark to put on one glove and one arm in the suit (he didn’t feel comfortable putting on the whole jacket as students were watching in the canteen). To an amused audience, we shot a close-up of the coin being inserted, a finger selecting a drink, and a drink being dispensed. I didn’t capture the sound as I’d already captured the wild sound a week prior. When I arrived home, I cut the montage together and overlaid the sound which, to my relief, matched perfectly. The short scene cost me a total of four pounds sterling due to the repurchasing of hot drinks,
The weekend later, I picked Kurt up to film the driving scenes. Due to the confined space, I opted to use the widest lens available. I shot the same scene from three different angles until my SD card unexpectedly decided it was full. Prior to shooting, I did delete all the existing data from the card so I was slightly baffled as to why it was full. With that being that, we decided to call it a day. When I got home, I investigated the problem and found that the SD card holds hidden deleted data. I formatted the card and wallah, problem solved.
A few days later, after finishing work, I once again picked up Kurt and headed to a sparsely populated street to finish the driving scenes. I needed to shoot a few scenes in angles that were unattainable whilst wearing a seatbelt. I also wanted a few shots which would require the mounting of my DJI gimbal to the exterior of the car.
The temperature was drastically dropping. It was 0 degrees Celsius and the pair of us were freezing. I managed to tick off all of the shots from my list and was about to call it a day, but when we got back in the car, it was low on fuel. As I needed to fill up, I asked Kurt if he wanted to shoot the petrol station scenes. He said, Okay”, but as we approached the station, he bottled it due to the station being busy. I told him, I understand, but as we were driving away, he turned to me and said, “fuck it - let’s do it”. We pulled back around and I jumped out and set up the camera at a distance using a telephoto lens. I was all ready to go. I phoned Kurt and told him we were set. He then pulled around in the car, got out, lifted the nozzle and started to fill, or at least so I thought. I collapsed the tripod and headed over. As I got closer, Kurt said that the pump wasn’t working. The clerk behind the counter then announced over the tannoy that pump number 10 wasn’t working. Everybody in the garage was now looking directly over at Kurt in a Santa suit. I was in hysterics. We got back into the car and although Kurt was not happy, I was ecstatic as I got to shoot the same scene from a secondary angle without having to come back on another day. I turned on the camera and started to shoot from the back seat. This shot turned out to be shaky due to my uncontrollable laughter although it was still usable.
I went in paid for fuel and drove Kurt home. We both smoked a cigarette and laughed at the events that had just transpired.
With the ending scene, the only scene left to shoot, I contacted Ellis and Kurt and they were both available on Saturday morning. The college does not open on Saturday but Mark was doing his weekend check and was okay with us coming on to campus to shoot.
That particular week, the UK was in the midst of a cold snap. The temperature dropped to -8 degrees Celsius and a thin blanket of snow covered the ground. By the time Saturday arrived, it was still bitterly cold and the ground was like an ice rink. The shooting conditions were less than ideal but there was no time to reschedule. I picked Kurt up at 9.45 am. When we arrived at college, Ellis was already there in his Mercedes and Mark was doing his walk-around check. We shot for around 30 minutes before calling it a day. With the temperature so cold, I decided against capturing any sound and decided there and then that the end scene would be overlayed with a music track.
When I got home, I cracked on with the editing and after a few hours, it was complete. Due to a lack of storage space and with the editing software holding over 100 shots, I edited the final scene as a separate entity and then dropped it into the main film editing timeline. This saved a lot of time and effort but the drawback was that I couldn’t edit any of the shots.
With one week left to go before the Christmas break, I was doubtful that I’d have it finished in time as there were some shots of the college campus on my wish list. But on Sunday night, I decided that it would be better to finish the film before Christmas for two reasons. Firstly, I didn’t want to come back after Christmas break and still be working on this project. I wanted to box it off and start afresh on the next assignment. Secondly, the film had a Christmas theme, therefore releasing it in January - when Christmas is over - would maybe emotionally induce a feeling of melancholy. So it was all hands on the battle stations.
The last week of term arrived and on Tuesday morning, I went to work early to reshoot a few shots that were either underexposed or out of focus. With the shots in the bag, I headed to the editing room, spent the next 3 hours editing the film and by dinner time, it was completely finished. I then created a webpage and published the video on my website.
The editing process didn’t quite go as smoothly as planned. Initially, everything was hunky dory but as the project progressed, I ran into a few problems. My iPad, which I was using to edit, had around 40GB of storage and I also had 200GB of storage space on iCloud. The SD card which I was using to capture the footage had 60GB of storage. Naively, I thought this would have been ample but I soon realised that shooting on 4K is memory intensive; as a consequence, I needed to store as much as possible on iCloud and format my SD card after nearly every shoot. This process quickly became chaotic and I had files stored all over the place, and by the end of the project, the editing software was unable to detect the file locations and repeatedly threw out a warning after each individual editing action. This considerably slowed down the editing process and was extremely annoying. I also found that Luma fusion keeps a copy of every clip and I started to run out of space on my iPad.
With that being said, when I eventually undertake my next project, I will opt to shoot in HD rather than 4K, and if I can afford it, look into purchasing an SD card with at least 250 GB of storage - this should solve many of the issues that I encountered.
Due to the shooting taking place over the span of a couple of months, I edited the film as I went along - using Luma Fusion for IOS. I enjoyed this process as it allowed me to see the film’s progression and as a consequence, I gained confidence and enthusiasm to complete the project. This method also provided me with feedback as to which shots worked and which didn’t; any that didn’t, I’d go and shoot again.
Whilst editing, I not only used cutaways between similar shots but also used them to meander around unstable footage, jumpy edits and unsynchronised audio. I tried to stay clear of using transitions as I personally don’t like them and think they’re overused, although I did use a circular motion transition to cut from the main film to the college montage. I used colour grading techniques in the ending scene - such as LUTs and filters - to create a stylised look.
Marketing and Distribution
Now that the film was complete, those who contributed were excited to see the end result; I was also excited to show them. I sent the link to my tutors, Ellis, Kurt, Mark and Liam. I received positive feedback from the film and as a consequence, it started to spread to the maintenance and operations departments. A few days passed and the buzz surrounding the film had subsided, so I started to focus my attention on completing my supplementary workbook.
Friday arrived - the last day of term before the Christmas break. The majority of staff were scheduled to leave at around 1 pm - paving way for the estates team to lock down the entire campus. I arrived at work at around 10.45 am. I had a few small jobs to box off and whilst on my travels, I noticed staff starting to gather in the crescent for mince pies, coffee, and the staff briefing.
I received a phone call from my line manager, Billy. Billy asked me to meet him in the theatre to complete a few jobs. When I arrived, the theatre was in complete darkness; I couldn’t see anything. I then heard Billy’s voice asking me to come up to the top and take a seat: I also heard giggling; I was confused. As I got closer, I saw a few members of my team and the entire marketing team nestled into their seats and at that point, it dawned on me - we were about to watch my film. I’m not a person who is easily shocked but this completely took me by surprise. I found the situation embarrassing, and overwhelming but also exciting at the same time.
The film looked and sounded great on the big screen and when it finished, I was congratulated with a round of applause and greeted with very positive feedback, although I initially took this with a pinch of salt as people in my outer circle would probably feel too polite to offer any sort of critique. The marketing manager, Nicola, asked if it could be shown at the end of the upcoming staff briefing. At this point, I was truly overwhelmed. I reluctantly agreed - as much as I felt embarrassed, It felt good that people would see my work.
As an introvert and someone who doesn’t like to be the centre of attention, I didn’t want to watch the film alongside the entire college staff, so I anxiously waited in my office. As the staff briefing reached its conclusion, my colleague, Carl, came into my office and tried to persuade me to watch it, but I refused. A few moments later, Laura (another colleague from the office next door), came barging into my office. She grabbed me by the arm and dragged me into the crescent - I took a position at the very back.
The film concluded. I was greeted with a round of applause for the second time that morning albeit this time by hundreds of people. The principal of the college, Nicola Newton, praised my work, saying it was fantastic. A few colleagues tried to get me up to the front but I adamantly refused. I said thank you and quickly headed back to my office.
As the next couple of hours passed, colleagues congratulated me on my work. I felt elated. The only similar experience that I’d ever experienced was winning boxing bouts to an audience of hundreds of people but this was different - I wasn’t being congratulated on physical prowess but on a creative endeavour that started life as an idea within my conscious mind. After locking down the college, I got changed and headed into town to meet the ops team for a much-needed, alcoholic beverage.
The target audience for this film would ideally be anyone from the age of 25 upwards - a person who is stuck in a rut and dissatisfied with their current career or job role. The film aims to convey the message that you are never too old to dream a new dream, and on any given day, you can massively change the direction of your life - especially through reeducation.
At this point in the assignment, I’m now supposed to explain how I’m going to sell and distribute my film, but if I’m being totally honest - apart from family, friends and colleagues - nobody from outside of the college is going to be interested in this film although it’s a solid addition to my portfolio. Don’t get me wrong, I know why it’s in the assignment - it’s meant to prepare students on how they would go about selling their film and drumming up exposure on social media, but realistically, The whole purpose of my film is to learn as much as I possibly can about filmmaking. I have no interest in monetisation and even if I did, it would be highly unlikely that I’d make a penny from it anyway as my work is lacking professional quality. This section of the assignment also exposes what’s wrong with not only Hollywood but the world as a whole - everything needs to be assigned a monetary value. What happened to undertaking creative pursuits for the love of it?
As far as social media goes, I only use Twitter. I have no desire to create any social media accounts on any other platforms. I do not publish or share my work on Twitter - the sole purpose of the account is to observe, keep updated on world events, and follow individuals with knowledge and expertise in areas of particular interest. - I don’t even tweet. The majority of other social media platforms not only censor free speech but also have immoral data harvesting policies. When I do eventually make a feature film, I will approach streaming platforms and production companies directly.
This assignment was the most challenging project that I’ve undertaken thus far, but with great difficulty comes a wealth of knowledge and experience. One of my biggest weaknesses is sound and audio, and on this project, I made a lot of mistakes - mistakes that I can learn from and make improvements to on my next project.
I also used more dialogue this time around, although, only a minuscule amount. On my next assignment, I’d like to focus my efforts on producing a film which consists of more dialogue and less action, as I've been hesitant to use heavy dialogue. This may result in the next project being a failure, even unintentionally comedic, but that's okay as once again, I will take any failures as learning experiences. And besides, it's a waste of time to focus my efforts on my strengths - I will see the greatest improvement by focusing on my weaknesses.
I also learned that there's some sort of misconception with ideas - that one should keep one's cards close to one’s chest until project completion. But when it comes to making movies, I found it best to shout my ideas from the hilltops - informing everybody and anybody of the project I was making. This serves two purposes - Firstly, when I share my ideas publicly with others, I am more determined in keeping my word. There’s nothing worse than being asked about how a particular project faired and having to reply with excuses of why the project fell through. And secondly, from my experience, when people hear your ideas, some will want to help out in whatever way they can.
To conclude, I made a lot of mistakes, learned a lot, and improved my skill set but most importantly, I had an absolute blast making this and I'm excited to dive head first into the next one.